Stoics, Epicureans, Skeptics


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With text from Robert C. Solomon & Kathleen Higgins, "Passion for Wisdom"

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Stoics, Epicureans, Skeptics

  1. 1. Epicurus (341 - 270 B.C.) ,a follower of Democritus, believed in peace of mind ( ataraxia )... His main goal was freedom from anxiety, or tranquility. Death is nothing, hence nothing to fear. ( 44)
  2. 2. EPICUREANISM Do you want to be happy? Of course you do! Then what’s standing in your way? Your happiness is entirely up to you. This has been revealed to us by a man of divine serenity and wisdom who spent his life among us, and showed us, by his personal example and by his teaching, the path to redemption from unhappiness. His name was Epicurus. The fundamental obstacle to happiness, says Epicurus, is anxiety. No matter how rich or famous you are, you won't be happy if you're anxious to be richer or more famous. No matter how good your health is, you won't be happy if you're anxious about getting sick. You can't be happy in this life if you're worried about the next life. You can't be happy as a human being if you're worried about being punished or victimized by powerful divine beings...
  3. 3. Even in modern times, the critics of Epicureanism continue to misrepresent it as a lazy-minded, shallow, pleasure-loving, immoral, or godless travesty of real philosophy. In our day the word 'epicureanism' has come to mean its opposite--a pretentious enthusiasm for rare and expensive food and drink. Please have the courage to ignore two thousand years of negative prejudice, and assess this philosophy on its own considerable merits. -- D. S. Hutchinson , The Epicurus Reader
  4. 4. Epicurus (341–270 B.C.) founded one of the major philosophies of ancient Greece, helping to lay the intellectual foundations for modern science and for secular individualism. Many aspects of his thought are still highly relevant some twenty-three centuries after they were first taught in his school in Athens, called “the Garden.” Epicurean Philosophy texts
  5. 5. Misfortune seldom intrudes upon the wise man; his greatest and highest interests are directed by reason throughout the course of life. Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance. Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know. Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exists.
  6. 6. “ The art of living well and the art of dying well are one.” --Epicurus Epicurus noted that two things impede man from living happily: Fear of God; and Fear of the horrors beyond the grave. It was necessary, therefore, to have a physics (metaphysics) in which there would be no further reason for the existence of these fears... Radical Academy
  7. 7. The universe, the Epicureans said, is infinite and in the infinity of space worlds are formed and dissolved by the same law. Between one world and another there are empty spaces. In these spaces the gods, made up of atoms, live happily among themselves, unconcerned with the world of men. The human soul is also formed of atoms which are separated at death. No thought, therefore, of death and of the time which will come after it enters the Epicurean teaching. Similarly, we should have no thought of the time before our birth, for then our soul in its original state was dissolved into atoms. In a world of this kind, where there is no fear of the gods or of the life beyond the grave, man, governed by mechanical laws, must strive to live as best he can. Radical Academy
  8. 8. Epicurus is one of the earliest philosophers we know of to have raised the Problem of Evil, arguing against the notion that the world is under the providential care of a loving deity by pointing out the manifold suffering in the world. IEP A life free of mental anxiety and open to the enjoyment of other pleasures was deemed equal to that of the gods... prayer for the Epicureans consisted not in petitioning favors but rather in a receptivity to this vision. Nor is such pleasure difficult to achieve: it is a mark precisely of those desires that are neither natural nor necessary that they are hard to satisfy. Epicurus was famously content with little, since on such a diet a small delicacy is as good as a feast, in addition to which it is easier then to achieve self-sufficiency, and “the greatest benefit of self-sufficiency is freedom.” SEP
  9. 9. The Epicureans also said not to be afraid of the gods, because the gods did not interfere with people's lives. When things happened, it was just because of natural, scientific causes, and nothing to do with the gods. Epicureanism, like Stoicism, lasted throughout the Roman Empire. Lucretius was a famous Roman Epicurean in the time of Julius Caesar who wrote a long book on the subject, On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura). Epicureans are still found as late as the 200’s AD. Epicureans had an important influence on Christianity. The Christian idea that holy people should separate themselves from the world, not think about their bodies or about the things they own or their friends and family and focus just on Heaven owes something to Epicureanism. But Christians hated Epicureans for denying the existence of heaven and hell, and the immortality of the soul, and for their reliance on pleasure as a good thing. So Epicureanism became less popular partly because of the rise of Christianity. Kidipede
  10. 10. "...we ought to make statues of the gods genial and smiling, so that we may smile back at them rather than be afraid of them". Oinoanda was built on the top of a high mountain in the ancient province of Lycia, which is now modern southwest Turkey. Toward the end of his life, the second-century AD philosopher Diogenes presented to his city a large inscribed limestone wall conspicuously located in an open area generally referred to as the "Esplanade." The inscription proclaimed the wisdom of Epicurus, who had lived five centuries earlier. This unique text, rediscovered in the late nineteenth century, has attracted many modern readers.
  11. 11. The removal of all feeling of pain is the limit of the magnitude of pleasures. Wherever a pleasurable feeling is present, for as long as it is present, there is neither a feeling of pain nor a feeling of distress, nor both together. Pleasure reaches its maximum limit at the removal of all sources of pain. When such pleasure is present, for as long as it lasts, there is no cause of physical nor mental pain present – nor of both together. Jeremy Bentham - feeling no pain
  12. 12. Thus that which is the most awful of evils, death, is nothing to us, since when we exist there is no death, and when there is death we do not exist. Epicurus Similarly, Wittgenstein said that death is not an event in life. Oh, really?
  13. 13. Epicureanism Instead of trying to win over whole cities and nations as had previous philosophers, Epicurus instead aimed at attracting individuals to an Epicurean subculture while observing the religious and legal forms of the larger society (an important consideration in an era when philosophers were routinely executed or exiled for impiety) and developing an attitude of tolerance towards non-Epicureans. The Garden had a carefully-designed program of advertising and education to attract and instruct students, and those whoaccepted Epicurean teachings were encouraged to formally proclaim their Epicurean identity, build friendships with each other, revere the founders of the Garden as role-models, and celebrate specifically-Epicurean festivals.
  14. 14. One of the founders of America, Thomas Jefferson , was an avowed Epicurean in his later years, and many others were largely under the influence of Locke and the other English intellectuals of the preceding century. Jefferson wrote a Letter to William Short where he outlines his Epicurean views. While Jefferson is sometimes portrayed by scholars as being a sphinx-like mystery, his Epicurean orientation in fact explains many of the seeming contradictions of Jefferson's life—his dislike for organized religion, his higher estimate of his roles as an advocate of liberty and education over his roles as Governor of Virginia and President of the United States, and even the love that he may have had for one of his slaves (such attitudes reflecting the willingness of Epicurus to admit slaves and women into his school in ancient times)
  15. 15. Stoa (roofed colonnade) in Athens, late third century BC, a place of meeting. To the right a philosopher addresses his disciples. The Stoics, founded by Zeno (c. 333 - 262 BC), were so called because members met in a stoa.
  16. 16. There is biblical evidence of less-than-sympathetic encounters between the Greeks and early Christians: Acts 17:18: “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him [St Paul]. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.” - Virtual Stoa
  17. 17. In previous centuries Cicero was considered one of the great philosophers of the ancient era, and he was widely read well into the 19th century. .. Like most intellectual endeavors in Cicero's time, philosophy was an activity in which Greece (and especially Athens) still held the lead. The Romans were more interested in practical matters of law, governance, and military strategy than they were in philosophy and art (many of Cicero's writings include justifications for his study of philosophy and arguments that it ought to be taken seriously). (c. 106-43 B.C.)
  18. 18. But with respect to injustice there are two types: men may inflict injury; or else, when it is being inflicted upon others, they may fail to deflect it, even though they could. Anyone who makes an unjust attack upon a fellow human being, whether driven by anger or by some other perturbation, seems to be laying hands, so to speak, upon another human being. But also, he who fails to defend a fellow human being, or to obstruct injustice when it is within his power to do so, he is at fault just as if he had abandoned his parents or his friends or his country. – Marcus Tullius Cicero , De Officiis - Quotes
  19. 19. Stoics had an almost fanatic faith in reason. They regarded emotions as irrational judgments that make us frustrated and unhappy. Like Buddha they urged: minimize your desires and you will minimize your suffering. Anger is pointless and can only be self- destructive. Love and friendship can be dangerous. The wise form only limited attachments. (44)
  20. 20. My ?: Do you agree with the Stoic notion that while we may be powerless to alter certain events, we nonetheless remain free to choose our attitude towards them? How do you respond to the suggestion that even our thoughts are subject to external influences - our upbringing, our genes, our circumstances - that may rob us of the internal freedom to choose our attitude? Do you worry about this? Or, do you find it in any way consoling to think that literally everything may possibly be outside the range of your effective action? Would this be a source of “pleasure” or peace? Or would it be a source of regret and (ineffectual) worry?
  21. 21. "The point is, not how long you live, but how nobly you live." "That which Fortune has not given, she cannot take away." Seneca (4 BC- 65 AD) "Let Nature deal with matter, which is her own, as she pleases; let us be cheerful and brave in the face of everything, reflecting that it is nothing of our own that perishes." "Virtue is nothing else than right reason." Serving under the corrupt Emperor Nero, he was ordered to commit suicide – and he did. The philosophy of the Greco-Romans was designed to cope with such tragedies and injustices... (43)
  22. 22. Born in Spain in 4 B.C., Lucius Annaeus Seneca (known as Seneca or Seneca the Younger) was sent to Rome where he studied Stoic philosophy mixed with neo-Pythagoreanism. Seneca wrote tragedies, possibly not intended for dramatic performances, letters, and possibly a Menippean satire about the death of Nero's step-father, the bumbling Roman Emperor Claudius. This Menippean satire is known as the Apocolocyntosis, a title translated as the "Pumpkinification of Claudius." Seneca served as tutor to Nero, and then, when Nero became emperor, he served as advisor to Nero. Eventually Seneca fell out of favor. Nero, turning to other advisors, had suspicions about Seneca. In Roman fashion, Seneca took the honorable way out of his troubles. He committed suicide, in A.D. 65.
  23. 23. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC - AD 65) was the tutor, and victim, of Nero and the first patron of Martial. The second son of Seneca “the Elder”, he was born in Corduba in Spain, of a brilliant family. He was brought to Rome at an early age and was influenced by the Stoics, whose philosophy ran counter to that of the Epicureans in that its keynote was “duty” rather than “pleasure”, and it allowed for the existence of an overall spiritual intelligence. Seneca’s pretensions as a practising philosopher are questionable: he condoned various dynastic murders, was banished for eight years under suspicion of having an affair with one of Caligula’s sisters, and, on his return, while undoubtedly but temporarily curbing the worst excesses of his pupil Nero, grew rich in the process. He also wrote a lampoon on the dead Claudius, entitled Apocolocyntosis, which means “metamorphosis into a pumpkin” [a play on apotheosis - metamorphosis into a god, which had apparently actually happened to Claudius after his death!] - The Romans
  24. 24. Seneca also said: "Let Nature deal with matter, which is her own, as she pleases; let us be cheerful and brave in the face of everything, reflecting that it is nothing of our own that perishes." "Virtue is nothing else than right reason.” Seneca & Nero
  25. 25. Major works of Philosophy by Lucius Annaeus Seneca Consolationes Ad Marciam consoles a lady on the loss of a son Ad Helviam matrem consoles Seneca's mother on his exile Ad Polybium consoles freedman Polybius on the loss of a son. De ira ("Whom they have injured they also hate.") [Written to his older brother.] De clementia on mercy which Seneca approved. De tranquillitate animi ("There is no great genius without a tincture of madness") De constantia sapientis On Stoic virtues: De vita beata De otio De providentia ("Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men.") Misfortune but not evil happens to good men. De beneficiis on benefits. De brevitate vitae on the shortness of life which only philosophers know how to live well and fully. Epistulae morales 124 moral essays to Lucilius.
  26. 26. Seneca's works include: Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium de Providentia de Consolatione ad Polybium de Consolatione ad Marciam de Consolatione ad Helviam de Constantia de Otio de Brevitate Vitae de Tranquillitate Animi de Vita Beata de Ira de Clementia Apocolocyntosis Medea Phaedra Hercules Agamemnon Oedipus Proverbs
  27. 27. Fortuna, the Goddess Fortune – with the power to bestow favors and change destinies, to deal death and disaster without warning. She inflicts harm with the moral blindness and indifference of a hurricane. She accepts no rules, we're foolish to be angry when she violates ours. “No promise has been given for this hour .” Hence, Anger results not from an eruption of the passions, but from a correctable error of reasoning .
  28. 28. With the turn of her wheel we gain or lose money, position, love, health... and life. “We are mistaken if we believe any part of the world is exempt and safe.” PRAEMEDITATIO . Start each day with the thought Fortune gives us nothing which we can really own... we live in the middle of things which have all been destined to die... expect everything... your peace of mind does not depend upon fortune.
  29. 29. We mustn't place ourselves hostage to fortune, but “if a choice is offered I will choose the better half.” (Just don't get attached to your big house, fine possessions, public influence – be prepared to walk away from them without rage or despair. A wise man does not want to relinquish friends or the other goods of life, but he can if he must. He aims first to be a friend to himself . But... this doesn't mean that we have to tolerate and accept everything that happens without complaint. “The motor of our ingenuity is the question 'Does it have to be like this?'” How else can we ever expect to get “the change we need?”
  30. 30. We, too, are never without a leash around our neck... but unlike the dog, we have reason – which allows us to determine when our wishes are in irrevocable conflict with reality... We may be powerless to alter certain events, but we remain free to choose our attitude towards them... 109
  31. 31. Seneca turned to philosophy. He could not escape Nero, and what he could not change, reason asked him to accept... Glaciers, volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes remind us of all that we are powerless to change, of all that we must accept. But there are forces entirely indifferent to our desires. “ That which you cannot reform, it is best to endure.” “ What need is there to weep over the parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.” 112
  32. 33. "Permit nothing to cleave to you that is not your own; nothing to grow to you that may give you agony when it is torn away." "He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." Epictetus (50-125) “ Demand not that events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and you will get on well.” (44) "Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one's desires, but by the removal of desire." "Where is the good? In the will. Where is the evil? In the will. Where is neither of them? In those things which are independent of the will." "Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them." "If, therefore, any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone."
  33. 34. Epictetus – a slave - also said: "First, decide who you would be. Then, do what you must do." "No man is free who is not master of himself." "I am formed by nature for my own good: I am not formed for my own evil."
  34. 35. "If you are distressed by any external thing, it is not this thing which disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now." Marcus Aurelius 121-180 "How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life!"
  35. 36. “ Even when the mind is feeling its way cautiously and working its way round a problem from every angle, it is still moving directly onwards and making for its goal.” "Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill... I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together..." Marcus Aurelius
  36. 40. Skeptic Skeptical Inquirer
  37. 41. Some people believe that skepticism is the rejection of new ideas, or worse, they confuse “skeptic” with “cynic” and think that skeptics are a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons unwilling to accept any claim that challenges the status quo. This is wrong. Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas — no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position. Ideally, skeptics do not go into an investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon might be real or that a claim might be true. When we say we are “skeptical,” we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we believe.
  38. 42. The key to skepticism is to continuously and vigorously apply the methods of science to navigate the treacherous straits between “know nothing” skepticism and “anything goes” credulity. Over three centuries ago the French philosopher and skeptic, René Descartes, after one of the most thorough skeptical purges in intellectual history, concluded that he knew one thing for certain: Cogito ergo sum — I think therefore I am. But evolution may have designed us in the other direction. Humans evolved to be pattern-seeking, cause-inferring animals, shaped by nature to find meaningful relationships in the world. Those who were best at doing this left behind the most offspring. We are their descendents. In other words, to be human is to think: Sum Ergo Cogito — I Am Therefore I Think.
  39. 43. Skepticism has a long historical tradition dating back to ancient Greece, when Socrates observed: “All I know is that I know nothing.” But this pure position is sterile and unproductive and held by virtually no one. If you were skeptical about everything, you would have to be skeptical of your own skepticism. Like the decaying subatomic particle, pure skepticism uncoils and spins off the viewing screen of our intellectual cloud chamber.
  40. 44. Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, which involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions. Some claims, such as water dowsing, ESP, and creationism, have been tested (and failed the tests) often enough that we can provisionally conclude that they are not valid. Other claims, such as hypnosis, the origins of language, and black holes, have been tested but results are inconclusive so we must continue formulating and testing hypotheses and theories until we can reach a provisional conclusion.
  41. 45. The term 'skeptic' derives from a Greek noun, skepsis , which means examination, inquiry, consideration. What leads most skeptics to begin to examine and then eventually to be at a loss as to what one should believe, if anything, is the fact of widespread and seemingly endless disagreement regarding issues of fundamental importance. Many of the arguments of the ancient skeptics were developed in response to the positive views of their contemporaries, especially the Stoics and Epicureans, but these arguments have been highly influential for subsequent philosophers and will continue to be of great interest as long as there is widespread disagreement regarding important philosophical issues. IEP
  42. 46. Pyrrho (365- c.275 BCE.) Pyrrhonian Skepticism “Skepticism is not posited on account of its speculative interest, but only because Pyrrho sees in it the road to happiness, and the escape from the calamities of life. Opinion we may have, but certainty and knowledge are impossible. Hence our attitude to things (the third question), ought to be complete suspense of judgment. We can be certain of nothing, not even of the most trivial assertions. Therefore we ought never to make any positive statements on any subject. * * * * Epicurus, though no friend to skepticism, admired Pyrrho because he recommended and practiced the kind of self-control that fostered tranquillity.” IEP
  43. 47. Pyrrho taught that all belief is nonsense, that nothing can be known. He was famous for his recklessness – for almost wandering off cliffs, walking into horses and chariots, eating erratically, surviving thanks only to the keen watch of his friends and pupils. Given that he lived to be about 90, his philosophy seems to have had its therapeutic virtues.
  44. 48. Sextus Empiricus was a Roman philosopher, astronomer and physician. His philosophical work is the most complete surviving account of ancient Greek and Roman skepticism. In his medical work, tradition maintains that he belonged to the empiric school , as reflected by his name. He (like ancient skeptics generally) advises that we should suspend judgment about virtually all beliefs. That is, we should neither affirm any belief as true nor deny any belief as false. This view is known as Pyrrhonian skepticism...
  45. 49. Skeptics went beyond the “dogmatic” Stoics and argued that belief of any kind, including belief in reason, is illusory and unjustifiable. This belief too was a form of therapy, a way of detaching oneself, a way of achieving serenity and freedom from anxiety. 45
  46. 50. Pyrrho taught that all belief is nonsense... Did he expect his pupils to believe him? He was famous for his recklessness. Maybe he really doubted the existence of chariots, and would doubt the existence of the large moving vehicles in the streets if he were among us today. That would make him consistent, at least, but not more plausible. The skeptics’ belief that “belief of any kind, including belief in reason, is illusory” (again, isn’t this incoherent?) “was a form of therapy, a way of detaching oneself, a way of achieving serenity and freedom from anxiety.” That’s not the tenor of modern skepticism, we’ll see, but it may have made more sense for a powerless person (especially a slave) in ancient times. For us, though, relying as we do on technology and affirming our resolve to get things done, to make the trains and planes run, to build bigger and better mousetraps and computers and SUVs... we need to believe some things, to disbelieve others, and to engage (not detach from) the world. Skepticism should not calm the modern breast.
  47. 55. More skeptical cartoons More still
  48. 56. My ?: - “Belief of any kind, including belief in reason , is illusory and unjustifiable.” 45 Is this extreme form of skepticism a livable, possibly “therapeutic,” philosophy? Or does it contradict itself?