Nederlog

 

 March 27, 2011

 

The Principal Doctrines of Epicurus, with my comments

 


Enjoy and give pleasure, without doing harm to yourself or to anyone else - that, I think, is the whole of morality.
   -- Chamfort

What I really am - apart from a person with ME who presently keeps short-circuiting between too little sleep and too much pain - is a philosopher who lived before his time.

But being this, I have lived accordingly, in a way and to an extent no one I know of as living in my time and circumstances did, that worked out much to my disadvantage, as explained below in my comments to what's known as "The Principal Doctrines of Epicurus", a Greek philosopher, with a lemma in the Wikipedia here:

that starts thus, with the image copied from a bit later in the text:



Epicurus
(Greek: Έπίκουρος, Epikouros, "ally, comrade"; 341 BCE – 270 BCE) was an ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works. Much of what is known about Epicurean philosophy derives from later followers and commentators.

For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia, peace and freedom from fear, and aponia, the absence of pain, and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. He taught that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and evil, that death is the end of the body and the soul and should therefore not be feared, that the gods do not reward or punish humans, that the universe is infinite and eternal, and that events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space.

I much agree, in principle - see my Philosophical Dictionary, for example - and consider it a great loss for human civilization that the works of Epicurus, and indeed also of Demokritos and Leukippos, have all been lost apart from fragments.

As the Wikipedia article also rightly says

Epicurus is a key figure in the development of science and the scientific method because of his insistence that nothing should be believed, except that which was tested through direct observation and logical deduction. Many of his ideas about nature and physics presaged important scientific concepts of our time.

Today I didn't feel like writing about ME or indeed me (though the last is generally difficult: I can't write "sans y mettre du mien") so I copied a summary of what is known as his principal doctrines, namely as reported by Diogenes Laertius.

Here it is, with my remarks of today, linked at the end of the sayings of Epicurus. If you are interested in his doctrines, you should get a copy of Lucretius's De Rerum Natura, which is rather amazing reading, since it clarifies how much Lucretius, Epicurus, Democritus and Leucippus - all between -500 and 0 in the Christian dates - got right in modern scientific terms. (The Loeb-edition of Lucretius, though expensive, is good.)

You get them twice: Once without my comments, and once with, reached by clicking the title that follows:


The Principal Doctrines of Epicurus

The four-fold cure for anxiety:
Don't fear the gods;   Nor death;   Goods are easy to obtain;   Evils are easy to endure
[0]

1)  A blessed and imperishable being neither has trouble itself nor does it cause trouble for anyone else; therefore, it does not experience feelings of anger or indebtedness, for such feelings signify weakness.

2)  Death is nothing to us, because a body that has been dispersed into elements experiences no sensations, and the absence of sensation is nothing to us.

3)  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.

4)  Continuous physical pain does not last long.  Instead, extreme pain lasts only a very short time, and even less-extreme pain does not last for many days at once.  Even protracted diseases allow periods of physical comfort that exceed feelings of pain.

Pleasure and virtue are interdependent

5)  It is impossible to live pleasantly without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking (when, for instance, one is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly) it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.

Social and financial status have recognizable costs and benefits

6)  That natural benefit of kingship and high office is (and only is) the degree to which they provide security from other men.

7)  Some seek fame and status, thinking that they could thereby protect themselves against other men. If their lives really are secure, then they have attained a natural good; if, however, they're insecure, they still lack what they originally sought by natural instinct.

8)  No pleasure is a bad thing in itself, but some pleasures are only obtainable at the cost of excessive troubles.

Through the study of Nature, we discern the limits of things

9)  If every pleasure could be prolonged to endure in both body or mind, pleasures would never differ from one another.

10)  If the things which debauched men find pleasurable put an end to all fears (such as concerns about the heavenly bodies, death, and pain) and if they revealed how we ought to limit our desires, we would have no reason to reproach them, for they would be fulfilled with pleasures from every source while experiencing no pain, neither in mind nor body, which is the chief evil of life.

11)  If we were never troubled by how phenomena in the sky or death might concern us, or by our failures to grasp the limits of pains and desires, we would have no need to study nature.

12)  One cannot rid himself of his primal fears if he does not understand the nature of the universe but instead suspects the truth of some mythical story.  So without the study of nature, there can be no enjoyment of pure pleasure.

13)  One gains nothing by securing protection from other men if he still has apprehensions about things above and beneath the earth and throughout the infinite universe.

Unlike social and financial status, which are unlimited,
Peace of mind can be wholly secured

14)  Supreme power and great wealth may, to some degree, protect us from other men; but security in general depends upon peace of mind and social detachment.

15)  Natural wealth is both limited and easily obtained, but vanity is insatiable.

16)  Chance has little effect upon the wise man, for his greatest and highest interests are directed by reason throughout the course of life.

17)  The just man is the freest of anyone from anxiety; but the unjust man is perpetually haunted by it.

18)  When pain arising from need has been removed, bodily pleasure cannot increase – it merely varies. But the limit of mental pleasure is reached after we reflect upon these bodily pleasures and the related mental distress prior to fulfillment.

19)  Infinite and finite time afford equal pleasure, if one measures its limits by reason.

20)  Bodily pleasure seems unlimited, and to provide it would require unlimited time. But the mind, recognizing the limits of the body, and dismissing apprehensions about eternity, furnishes a complete and optimal life, so we no longer have any need of unlimited time. Nevertheless, the mind does not shun pleasure; moreover, when the end of life approaches, it does not feel remorse, as if it fell short in any way from living the best life possible.

21)  He who understands the limits of life knows that things which remove pain arising from need are easy to obtain, and furnish a complete and optimal life. Thus he no longer needs things that are troublesome to attain.

Happiness depends on foresight and friendship

22)  We must consider the ultimate goal to be real, and reconcile our opinions with sensory experience; otherwise, life will be full of confusion and disturbance.

23)  If you argue against all your sensations, you will then have no criterion to declare any of them false.

24) If you arbitrarily reject any one sensory experience and fail to differentiate between an opinion awaiting confirmation and what is already perceived by the senses, feelings, and every intuitive faculty of mind, you will impute trouble to all other sensory experiences, thereby rejecting every criterion.  And if you concurrently affirm what awaits confirmation as well as actual sensory experience, you will still blunder, because you will foster equal reasons to doubt the truth and falsehood of everything.

25)  If you do not reconcile your behavior with the goal of nature, but instead use some other criterion in matters of choice and avoidance, then there will be a conflict between theory and practice.

26)  All desires which create no pain when unfulfilled are not necessary; such desires may easily be dispelled when they are seen as difficult to fulfill or likely to produce harm.

27)  Of all things that wisdom provides for living one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.

28)  The same conviction which inspires confidence that nothing terrible lasts forever, or even for long, also enables us to see that in the midst of life's limited evils, nothing enhances our security so much as friendship.

29)  Among desires some are natural and necessary, some natural but not necessary, and others neither natural nor necessary, but due to baseless opinion.

30)  Those natural desires which create no pain when unfulfilled, though pursued with an intense effort, are also due to baseless opinion; and if they are not dispelled, it is not because of their own nature, but because of human vanity.

The benefits of natural justice are far-reaching

31)  Natural justice is the advantage conferred by mutual agreements not to inflict nor allow harm.

32)  For all living creatures incapable of making agreements not to harm one another, nothing is ever just or unjust; and so it is likewise for all tribes of men which have been unable or unwilling to make such agreements.

33)  Absolute justice does not exist.  There are only mutual agreements among men, made at various times and places, not to inflict nor allow harm.

34)  Injustice is not an evil in itself, but only in consequence of the accompanying fear of being unable to escape those assigned to punish unjust acts.

35)  It is not possible for one who secretly violates the provisos of the agreement not to inflict nor allow harm to be confident that he won’t get caught, even if he has gotten away with it a thousand times before. For up until the time of death, there is no certainty that he will indeed escape detection.

36)  Justice is essentially the same for all peoples insofar as it benefits human interaction.  But the details of how justice is applied in particular countries or circumstances may vary.

37)  Among actions legally recognized as just, that which is confirmed by experience as mutually beneficial has the virtue of justice, whether it is the same for all peoples or not. But if a law is made which results in no such advantage, then it no longer carries the hallmark of justice. And if something that used to be mutually beneficial changes, though for some time it conformed to our concept of justice, it is still true that it really was just during that time – at least for those who do not fret about technicalities and instead prefer to examine and judge each case for themselves.

38)  Where, without any change in circumstances, things held to be just by law are revealed to be in conflict with the essence of justice, such laws were never really just. But wherever or whenever laws have ceased to be advantageous because of a change in circumstances, in that case or time the laws were just when they benefited human interaction, and ceased to be just only when they were no longer beneficial.

So happiness can be secured in all circumstances

39)  He who desires to live in tranquility with nothing to fear from other men ought to make friends.  Those of whom he cannot make friends, he should at least avoid rendering enemies; and if that is not in his power, he should, as much as possible, avoid all dealings with them, and keep them aloof, insofar as it is in his interest to do so.

40)  The happiest men are those who enjoy the condition of having nothing to fear from those who surround them. Such men live among one another most agreeably, having the firmest grounds for confidence in one another, enjoying the benefits of friendship in all their fullness, and they do not mourn a friend who dies before they do, as if there was a need for pity.


Comments:

He who has peace of mind disturbs neither himself nor another.

- Epicurus


The following are my comments to the above 40 theses, that I repeat for you convenience in blue, with my comments in black directly under it, and the number at the beginning linking back to thesis of that number in the series without my notes:

[0]                      The Principal Doctrines of Epicurus

The four-fold cure for anxiety:
Don't fear the gods;   Nor death;   Goods are easy to obtain;   Evils are easy to endure

The text of these Principal Doctrines is taken from a fine site about Epicurus:

The epigraph of the Principal Doctrines says this:

The Principal Doctrines of Epicurus

Epicurus Principal Doctrines (Κyriai Doxai in Greek)  come down to us from Diogenes Laertius' 10th book of his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers.  The scholiast commentary are notes of uncertain authorship found embedded in the actual manuscript source.  The authenticity of  the Principal Doctrines is also asserted by testimonials found in several works of antiquity.

The enumeration (1-40) is not actually part of the original text; they are standardized divisions employed since the late 19th century.  The italicized section headings are an original thematic overview.

This presentation produced by Erik Anderson, 2004.

I know the "Principal Doctrines" from several sources, in several translations, notably in German in a fine volume printed in the German Democratic Republic (not so fine, perished in 1989), called "Die Griechische Atomisten".

In the comments that follow, the links are all or nearly all to my Philosophical Dictionary.

[1]  A blessed and imperishable being neither has trouble itself nor does it cause trouble for anyone else; therefore, it does not experience feelings of anger or indebtedness, for such feelings signify weakness.

The first half seems quite true, and indeed the miseries of the human world, in so far as it does not derive from human stupidity and ignorance, are mostly due to the harm that unhappy people have done to others.

The problem is whether it is given to men and women on average to be "A blessed and imperishable being", and the answer, from human history, is: "No - only few have sufficient intelligence and self-control for this, even in relatively easy circumstances."

[2] Death is nothing to us, because a body that has been dispersed into elements experiences no sensations, and the absence of sensation is nothing to us.

I quite agree. That is: I am no believer in souls that persist after the death of the body. Even so, I would assume that the main problem for most men is not so much death as dying.

[3] 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.

I don't believe this: While what is pleasurable and what is painful are interdependent and to a considerable extent mutual exclusives, in that the same thing at the same time cannot feel pleasurable and painful, this is not always so, and besides there seem to be several kinds of pleasures and pains, notably pleasures and pains of the body, and pleasures and pains related to one's self, as praise and blame.

Also, pain seems to be a stronger motivator than pleasure in this sense: One always strives to lessen pain, but a modicum of pleasure is often enough to enjoy that rather than strive for greater pleasure.

[4] Continuous physical pain does not last long.  Instead, extreme pain lasts only a very short time, and even less-extreme pain does not last for many days at once.  Even protracted diseases allow periods of physical comfort that exceed feelings of pain.

As the Latin has it: "Si gravis brevis; si longus levis" - freely translatable as "if it hurts much, it will hurt briefly; if it hurts long, it does not hurt much".

This seems mostly true for physical pain, though perhaps not necessarily for all forms of this, whereas it seems not true of mental pains, such as are due to discrimination, denigration, defamation and the like, that may last a very long time, also as motives for actions.

Incidentally, note that with mental pains, it may not be so much felt pain that is the motive, as the - moral, human, esthetical, practical - felt value attributed to something: Many are more and longer pained by offensive words than the blows they received at the same occasion.

[5] It is impossible to live pleasantly without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking (when, for instance, one is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly) it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.

This seems to me to depend too much on special meanings given to "pleasantly", "wisely", "honorably" and "justly", and especially the first of these.

It seems to me that in an everyday commonsensical meaning of "pleasantly", many of those who are well off financially and in good health, and living in peaceful circumstances, may well live quite pleasantly, without living wisely and honorably and justly, while conversely many of those who, living in peaceful circumstances, and doing so wisely and honorably and justly, may therefore not be be well enough financially to be able to obtain many pleasures they desire. 

What is true is that if one can manage to curb one's desires and live within one's means, whatever these are, one increases one's chances on feeling well.

[6] That natural benefit of kingship and high office is (and only is) the degree to which they provide security from other men.

I disagree with the interposed "(and only is)": Surely, kingship and high office, since they come with power and influence over others, offer many more chances to gratify one's own desires than merely being secure from such threats as other men, with less power, may pose to one.

[7] Some seek fame and status, thinking that they could thereby protect themselves against other men. If their lives really are secure, then they have attained a natural good; if, however, they're insecure, they still lack what they originally sought by natural instinct.

What seems true to me is that fame and status rarely bring the happiness that those who seek fame and status expect from them, and indeed also that one who has a strong and individual character does not commit or omit things in order to find fame and status.

[8] No pleasure is a bad thing in itself, but some pleasures are only obtainable at the cost of excessive troubles.

This depends on the meaning attributed to "a bad thing in itself", and seems to trade on the rather artful restriction of "pleasure" to the feelings of those who has them. If one considers that some - indeed most ordinary people, in many circumstances - derive pleasures from seeing or causing suffering of those they dislike, hate or fear, and that quite a few men derive pleasure from tormenting others, or abusing them for their own ends, some pleasures may be bad, even if they feel well to those who have them.

What is true, though, and interesting, is that human ends, and especially the more complicated and difficult ones, only rarely get realized as one hoped, with the pleasures, gratifications, and well-being one expected from their realization.

[9] If every pleasure could be prolonged to endure in both body or mind, pleasures would never differ from one another.

I do not see the reasons for this. Instead, I observe the pleasures of the mind - from humour, from company, from art, from study - differ from those of the body, and tend to be less intense and longer lasting, whereas there are different kinds of pleasures of the body - from food, from sex, from exercise, from health - that have a different weight and rank and interest for different persons.

[10] If the things which debauched men find pleasurable put an end to all fears (such as concerns about the heavenly bodies, death, and pain) and if they revealed how we ought to limit our desires, we would have no reason to reproach them, for they would be fulfilled with pleasures from every source while experiencing no pain, neither in mind nor body, which is the chief evil of life.

This is none too obvious, and I discern three theses in it.

First, it seems Epicurus suggests that the pleasures that "debauched men" enjoy, presumably through debauchery, are not such as to put an end to all fears that seem natural and common for men to have. This probably is true, but then one generally does not think of the fears that all may have and sometimes do have, while enjoying oneself with debaucheries.

Second, it seems Epicurus suggests that the problem with debauched pleasures is not that they are debauched, but that they do not solve one's fundamental problems (as Epicurus sees them). As argued under [8], I agree with the conclusion but not with the premise.

Third, Epicure says that the the chief evil of life is pain, whether in mind or body. This is true, but hardly enlightening, as there are several kinds of pains and pleasures, and as one of the moral problems of life is to rank these in importance.

[11] If we were never troubled by how phenomena in the sky or death might concern us, or by our failures to grasp the limits of pains and desires, we would have no need to study nature.

This suggests that the reasons to study nature are limited to practical ones, that help people not to be afraid and to satisfy their desires, but seems to forget that men are naturally curious.

[12] One cannot rid himself of his primal fears if he does not understand the nature of the universe but instead suspects the truth of some mythical story.  So without the study of nature, there can be no enjoyment of pure pleasure.

No. First, one can succeed in getting rid of one's fears by some false doctrine or wishful thinking; second, one can know from one's own childhood there can be enjoyment of pure pleasure without any relevant study of nature.

[13] One gains nothing by securing protection from other men if he still has apprehensions about things above and beneath the earth and throughout the infinite universe.

No, these are two different classes of well or ill being: The pains other men can cause one, and the miseries one can cause oneself by one's own imaginations or delusions.

[14] Supreme power and great wealth may, to some degree, protect us from other men; but security in general depends upon peace of mind and social detachment.

This is mostly true, especially in the suggestion that one's own happiness, given one is not dependent on others for one's well-being or survival, and given one is healthy, free from pain, and not in need of the basic necessities of life (food, warmth, sleep), mostly depends on one's own habits, reasoning and character, and not on others.

[15] Natural wealth is both limited and easily obtained, but vanity is insatiable.

The first is not true, practically, in that many compete for a piece of the socially produced wealth, but few succeed in acquiring a large piece, and most must make do all their lives with much less than the supposedly happy and wealthy few.

What is true is that wealth does not bring happiness: It brings chances and means to realize one's ends and to gratify one's desires.

[16] Chance has little effect upon the wise man, for his greatest and highest interests are directed by reason throughout the course of life.

Even so, chance or what looks like it: Events beyond one's own power to bring about or stop, such as diseases, wars and natural disasters may have great consequences for what a man can, may and must do, however wise.

[17] The just man is the freest of anyone from anxiety; but the unjust man is perpetually haunted by it.

One would hope so, and it seems Epicurus is correct in his suggestions that (1) there is, in many cases, a practice that most would consider just in the circumstances; that (2) this practice is often missed, because it would be less profitable, more pleasant or more difficult than the just practice (video meliora proboque; deteriora sequor - Ovid); and that (3) those who behaved justly and kindly to others have least to fear from them.

[18] When pain arising from need has been removed, bodily pleasure cannot increase – it merely varies. But the limit of mental pleasure is reached after we reflect upon these bodily pleasures and the related mental distress prior to fulfillment.

No. Bodily pleasures can be increased without need, as indulgence in drugs, alcohol, sex, and sports show, though indeed not without limit, and not at the same rate. And what is the limit of mental pleasures - humor, conversation, reading, science, art, games - is rather difficult to ascertain, since so many different things may enter into them, or may fail to be present to make them even better then they are.

[19] Infinite and finite time afford equal pleasure, if one measures its limits by reason.

Perhaps, but I have no firm grasp of "infinite time", nor do I see its human relevance, here and in most places.

[20] Bodily pleasure seems unlimited, and to provide it would require unlimited time. But the mind, recognizing the limits of the body, and dismissing apprehensions about eternity, furnishes a complete and optimal life, so we no longer have any need of unlimited time. Nevertheless, the mind does not shun pleasure; moreover, when the end of life approaches, it does not feel remorse, as if it fell short in any way from living the best life possible.

Perhaps. I am none too sure about what is meant here, and only observe that (1) it is true that there is something like a human measure of life in time, which is such time as ordinary men live, and make their lives in, or fail to do so; that (2) both bodily and mental pleasure tend to involve a considerable amount of education and learning, next to requiring certain conditions to be possible at all, or in specific forms; and that (3) indeed "apprehensions about eternity" seem worth "dismissing", since they are based on the vain or fearful expectation of an eternity in some hereafter.

[21] He who understands the limits of life knows that things which remove pain arising from need are easy to obtain, and furnish a complete and optimal life. Thus he no longer needs things that are troublesome to attain.

Well... provided one is healthy to start with, and lives in at least moderately fortunate circumstances, such as not living in a police-state and not being a slave. With these provisos in place, I agree that (1) much misery men suffer is - then, in those circumstances - their own doing, through their own incomprehension of facts they could have understood as they are, but didn't, or through their having desires or delusions about themselves that they cannot realize or practice, and could do very well without, while (2) for ordinary men in ordinary bearable circumstances, much of the pleasures of life come from being a social success according to one's place in society and the accepted standards for men and women who occupy such a place.

[22] We must consider the ultimate goal to be real, and reconcile our opinions with sensory experience; otherwise, life will be full of confusion and disturbance.

This seems true and important: First, it makes a lot of sense to choose one's ends of life in commonsensical terms and in this and not in a future life, and second, it makes a a lot of sense to choose one's practices towards one's ends in the light of the best known or best available factual relevant information.

[23] If you argue against all your sensations, you will then have no criterion to declare any of them false.

True, and more generally speaking: Since you cannot reach any conclusion without making assumptions, generally the best assumptions are of a naturalistic, common sensical or scientific kind if about possible facts, while the best assumptions for reasoning and reaching conclusions are those of logic and mathematics. Furthermore, if any of these assumptions are false, they have the great merit that their falsity can be ascertained by natural or logical means.

[24] If you arbitrarily reject any one sensory experience and fail to differentiate between an opinion awaiting confirmation and what is already perceived by the senses, feelings, and every intuitive faculty of mind, you will impute trouble to all other sensory experiences, thereby rejecting every criterion.  And if you concurrently affirm what awaits confirmation as well as actual sensory experience, you will still blunder, because you will foster equal reasons to doubt the truth and falsehood of everything.

Or much more briefly:  "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence" (W.K. Clifford) and It is always right to try to think rationally and try to act reasonably.  

[25] If you do not reconcile your behavior with the goal of nature, but instead use some other criterion in matters of choice and avoidance, then there will be a conflict between theory and practice.

Put otherwise: It is more sensible to assume that men are primates rather than divinities or devils, and that their gifts and shortcomings, as a species and individually, are natural gifts and shortcomings, produced by their education and native talents and lacks.

[26] All desires which create no pain when unfulfilled are not necessary; such desires may easily be dispelled when they are seen as difficult to fulfill or likely to produce harm.

It is good general advice to try to fit your desires, or at least your practices intended to realize your desires, to the means you have rather than to the dreams you have.

[27] Of all things that wisdom provides for living one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.

Perhaps, but it seems to me Juvenal got closer: A sane mind, in a sound body, seems generally speaking both the main condition for realizing a happy or satisfactory life, given none too difficult circumstances, as they also seem to be a main end.

[28] The same conviction which inspires confidence that nothing terrible lasts forever, or even for long, also enables us to see that in the midst of life's limited evils, nothing enhances our security so much as friendship.

The last may be but need not be true, as seen in police-states, while the first may be true in that nothing may last forever, and in the true but not very heartening consideration of Sir Thomas Browne that "death is the cure of all disease".

[29] Among desires some are natural and necessary, some natural but not necessary, and others neither natural nor necessary, but due to baseless opinion.

Quite so, and among ordinary men in ordinary circumstances, most of their desires, and values, and ideas, are "neither natural nor necessary, but due to baseless opinion", as produced by social fashions in opinions and behaviours.

[30] Those natural desires which create no pain when unfulfilled, though pursued with an intense effort, are also due to baseless opinion; and if they are not dispelled, it is not because of their own nature, but because of human vanity.

This seems to me an exaggeration: Sure, one may live without books; one may live with very little knowledge; one may live on little food and little else; one may do with less sleep and so on - but there are some desires that are natural to men, including a desire for knowledge, and personal freedom, and interesting worthwile companions, and quite a lot more, that may be vain in that one could, perhaps, do without them, and, perhaps, feel none the worse for lacking them, but that seem to come with being human.

What is true, though, is that most desires of most men that go beyond the satisfaction of their natural needs are acquired by education and learning, both of which very well may have been wholly or partially misguided or misinformed.

[31] Natural justice is the advantage conferred by mutual agreements not to inflict nor allow harm.

True - and Chamfort expressed a similar idea thus:

Enjoy and give pleasure, without doing harm to yourself or to anyone else - that, I think, is the whole of morality.

[32] For all living creatures incapable of making agreements not to harm one another, nothing is ever just or unjust; and so it is likewise for all tribes of men which have been unable or unwilling to make such agreements.

Leaving the consideration of men to the next Epicurean aphorism and note, and agreeing that justice depends on agreements, and that human beings have, through language, the capacity to agree and disagree about far more than other animals, it may be asked whether some socially living animals are altogether defunct in moral feelings of any kind. I doubt it: One of the things hyenas, wolves, chimps and human beings - all animals that live in hordes, say - is that one who belongs to Us (Our Group) is, therefore and thereby, better than one who belongs to Them (not Our Group). Indeed, such a feeling tends to support cohesion and cooperation within the group, if not between groups. (See: Groupthinking)

See the next aphorism and note:

[33] Absolute justice does not exist.  There are only mutual agreements among men, made at various times and places, not to inflict nor allow harm.

What is true is that human justice - much of which is comprised in the concept of fairness: in the same situation and with the same merits and deserts, men are entitled to receive the same amounts of benefits and setbacks - does depend on mutual agreements among men, that do serve to to inflict nor allow harm.

But then, as human beings are each and everyone more similar to each other than different, and as each human can quite well understand about any human much about what would pain or please the other, and as all human beings seem to have the same sort of human nature, that makes them all this kind of primate rather than that kind of animal, there seems to be something like humanly shared sense of justice, even if much of it will concern local habits, benefits and setbacks.

[34] Injustice is not an evil in itself, but only in consequence of the accompanying fear of being unable to escape those assigned to punish unjust acts.

No, there seems to be more involved than a fear of the police or the magistrates. I argued under the previous Epicurean aphorism that there seems to be room for a concept of natural justice for human beings, that relates to ideas of fair sharing of benefits and pains required to produce these benefits, and of a shared human nature, but apart from that, sometimes persons agree they misbehaved, and indeed know they misbehaved, at least by reference to such norms and practices as hold in the community that seeks to punish them, and as they themselves subscribe(d) to.

[35] It is not possible for one who secretly violates the provisos of the agreement not to inflict nor allow harm to be confident that he won’t get caught, even if he has gotten away with it a thousand times before. For up until the time of death, there is no certainty that he will indeed escape detection.

True, though this also holds in case one has made enemies, and independent of the reasons or moralities involved.

And again, human justice, although for a large part bound up with local habits and practices, seems to involve the ideas of a shared human nature, that allows different human beings to understand each other, and come to agreements on how they want to live, and what their society or their companionship has as ends.

This is also why breaking agreements and breaking promises are so easily seen as immoral: Making and keeping agreements, promises and contracts is the fundament of human cooperation and human social existence.

[36] Justice is essentially the same for all peoples insofar as it benefits human interaction.  But the details of how justice is applied in particular countries or circumstances may vary.

Indeed, and as argued above under [33], [34] and [35].

[37] Among actions legally recognized as just, that which is confirmed by experience as mutually beneficial has the virtue of justice, whether it is the same for all peoples or not. But if a law is made which results in no such advantage, then it no longer carries the hallmark of justice. And if something that used to be mutually beneficial changes, though for some time it conformed to our concept of justice, it is still true that it really was just during that time – at least for those who do not fret about technicalities and instead prefer to examine and judge each case for themselves.

Most of what I might remark here I remarked already, except that what is "legally recognized as just" need not at all coincide with what impartial judges would agree is just: The law usually is drawn up to serve more interests than just the interests of all to receive a fair treatment and not to be punished or persecuted for what they did not do.

[38] Where, without any change in circumstances, things held to be just by law are revealed to be in conflict with the essence of justice, such laws were never really just. But wherever or whenever laws have ceased to be advantageous because of a change in circumstances, in that case or time the laws were just when they benefited human interaction, and ceased to be just only when they were no longer beneficial.

Most of what I might remark here I remarked already, except that "the essence of justice" may require and given better definition than they got here, and that indeed the reason for having laws is to enable the peaceful interaction and the give and take in the interests of the interacting and giving and taking parties, that is itself the main reason for human beings to want to cooperate socially.

[39] He who desires to live in tranquility with nothing to fear from other men ought to make friends.  Those of whom he cannot make friends, he should at least avoid rendering enemies; and if that is not in his power, he should, as much as possible, avoid all dealings with them, and keep them aloof, insofar as it is in his interest to do so.

Quite so. Indeed, for those who are not ordinary men or women themselves, a certain amount of aloofness probably is wise: As Jung Chang, who survived the Cultural Revolution in Communist China, and who is herself uncommonly gifted, put it:

I learned that the best way to get by was to be regarded as an unobtrusively aloof outsider. Once you become 'one of the masses,' you immediately let yourself in for intrusion and control. (p. 565, "Wild Swans")

The underlying reason is that for ordinary men, what they regard as Our Group and Our Leaders are supreme, for which reason morality easily reduces to conformism: One is good to the extent one is like the average, which is good to the extent it conforms to such norms and behaviours as the leaders have imposed and the masses believed.

[40] The happiest men are those who enjoy the condition of having nothing to fear from those who surround them. Such men live among one another most agreeably, having the firmest grounds for confidence in one another, enjoying the benefits of friendship in all their fullness, and they do not mourn a friend who dies before they do, as if there was a need for pity.

Quite, and the first sentence should not inspire great happiness in men - if to be happy depends on being left alone to do as one pleases.


P.S. Corrections have to be made later.
-- Mar 28, 2011: Some have been made today, and a remark on values and feelings was inserted under [4].

And I wrote this today rather than something else because I felt like writing something about philosophy. I'll probably put a copy in the Philosophers section soon.


As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

2. Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT:  
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence".
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
 


    "Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
"
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 


    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)

 


See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources


Maarten Maartensz (M.A. psy, B.A. phi)

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