Posted on december 14, 2020
how can epicureanism be the basis of morality
This type of philosophy is able to free the individual from annoying desires. (4), It is also possible to divide Foucault’s work into three axes of analysis: archaeology, genealogy, and ethics. The second stage is known as genealogy and revolves around the question of power. The morality of a human act is its condition of being good or bad. Despite being these three levels well marked in each of the three stages mentioned above, they can appear together in any of their works. Instead paradoxically for Christianity, self-care implies a renunciation of oneself. It was in large part on Epicureanism that the 18th Century rested its disbelief. 33 Poster, M., ibid., p. 229. 11 Ibid., p.26. We saw the enormous part played by representatives of Epicureanism in the movement that swept along the spirits of the time. They also do not take account of the importance of the emotional element of human experience. In any case, whether one talks about “works of morality”, “way of relating to oneself”, “technologies of subjectivity”, “historical ontology of ourselves” or “ethics”, reference is always being made to the the last stage of Foucault’s work, and it is in it that the text to be analyzed in this work is found, contained in Volume II of “History of sexuality”. – Epicurus’ Principal Doctrine 11. He disapproved of them, because nothing obliges the soul of the wise man to think in the same way as the common people...The role of the philosopher at the time was to think like the few and to speak and act with the multitude.” One can’t help but think that in writing these lines Gassendi was reflecting on himself and thought of his century as much as of Epicurus’. But in The history of sexuality, he studies how people exercise power over themselves, that is, how they constrain themselves. Foucault himself has also reflected on the development of his work and made some self-criticisms. What he hasn’t proved is that this spontaneity exists; he doesn’t even try to prove it. The Epicureans are also innovators in religion. As has been noted, his doctrine was less immoral than others, for example that of Mandeville; nevertheless, it was attacked even more. All Epicureans, and this is the fundamental idea of their doctrine, are in agreement in affirming that pleasure and pain are the sole forces that set being in motion, the sole levers with whose aid we can produce any kind of action. Hobbes before Spinoza attempted to construct a geometry of morals, Helvetius constructed a physics of morals, d’Holbach a physiology of morals. Reflection lets us know that the highest pleasure is the suppression of pain. I will try to identify the ethical substance, i.e. Helvetius is frankly liberal, and d’Holbach in particular is radical, and virulently attacks royalty and its inevitable drawbacks. Wilson uses many contemporary situations to help us examine how an ancient philosophy can still have impact in our modern lives. Whoever suffers for what he does not have and desires, can never be free or happy, so it is necessary to evaluate the pleasures in order to know which are necessary and which are not. An act is good or bad depending on whether or not it leads man to his last end—God—and … The history of the progress of a doctrine is nothing but a kind of living critique, often more interesting and useful than a judgment that is never definitive. Morality and its Norms Freedom makes man a moral subject. “For none among the foolish are content with what they possess, but they grief for what they do not have.” (22). According to what Foucault tries to demonstrate in Volume III, for the Greeks asceticism is not a resignation but the souci de soi, that is, the care of the self. Science seeks, not what pleases intelligence or sensibility, but what is. Epicurus was born around 341 B.C.E., seven years after Plato's death, and grew up in the Athenian colony of Samos, an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Community life for the Epicureans was very important. But love for young people could lead young people to a passive life which is incompatible with the practice of freedom for which young people should prepare. Expressed in this way, their Utilitarianism seems at first glance to be of a manifest inconsistency, and we will elsewhere examine if it doesn’t contain, in fact, any inconsistency. What would a purely personal and egoist pleasure be? Meditation and calculation of pleasures are also self-care practices. In Volume II, “The use of pleasures”, Foucault denies the possibility of writing a history of regulative moral codes since these constitute neither the only or the most important element of morality. So after his death, the fundamental precept of his school was this: “Act always as if Epicurus was watching you.” This means that one of the most important elements by which Epicurus’s followers felt compelled to abide by their precepts was by their master’s own influential figure. One must recognize that belief in freedom is an anomaly in Epicurus’ system. For the moment, instead of a still premature appreciation, we will limit ourselves to showing the points where Epicurean thought has developed among the current successors of Epicurus. But in a new book, The Power of Ideals: The Real Story of Moral Choice, renowned moral development experts William Damon and Anne Colby take aim at views that claim morality is largely driven by emotions or is the result of environmental influences beyond our control. Her views are her own. Despite defenders like Gassendi the majority of historians only saw Epicurus through Cicero’s eyes and weren’t able to appreciate his doctrine at its true value. It is in Lucretius that we found the idea of human progress expressed for the first time. We believe in the same values, with certain changes bec… The model that guides the moral actions of the Epicureans is that of the one who has achieved both ataraxia (absence of mental perturbation, which is experienced as tranquil pleasure) and aponia (absence of bodily pain). If I am free I can found a morality on this and ignore the principle of interest. It was translated by Hiram Crespo and shared here with her permission. Pleasure is obtained by avoiding pain. It can be the body, sexuality, pleasures; that will be transformed, shaped in such a way that they constitute the way through which the subject in turn is self-transformed as a moral subject. At this very moment the English school has brought forth, in the face of the Stoicism restored by Kant, an Epicureanism renewed by the facts of modern science. 15 Foucault, M., Hist. The third trend consists in recent scholarly advances illuminating the unique, plausible, and fruitful elements of Epicurus's ethical theory. 12 Ibid. – Epicurus’ Principal Doctrine 4. 24 Epicurus, Letter to Meneceus, 122, quoted by Mondolfo, Ancient Thought, p. 94. One of the most esteemed historians of ancient philosophy, Ritter, made this unjust judgment of Epicurus: “We don’t see in the totality of Epicurus’ doctrines a whole whose parts fit together. This third aspect of ethics is the one that answers the question: “What are the means by which we can transform ourselves into ethical subjects?” (17) The concept of self-sculpting or asceticism in the broad sense can be equated with what Foucault called “technologies of the self”, which he defines as those operations that the individual performs on his body and his soul, his thoughts, or any form of his being. Please note that the idea of asceticism is here treated in terms of exercises in self-care, rather than self-denial, and also please compare Foucault’s ideas about ethics as self-care with Epicurus’ sermon on moral development. Or more specifically it claims to “show how, in ancient times, sexual activity and pleasures were made problematic through self-care practices, by creating criteria for an aesthetic of existence”. 17 Foucault, M.; On the genealogy of ethics, interview by Dreyfus-Rabinow, p.202. The purpose of moral action is not only the adequacy of certain values and norms, but also aims at the constitution of the individual as a moral subject. The predominant part played by sociable sentiments must be taken note of by every doctrine and in whatever way we may conceive the principles of morality. This work aims to carry out an analysis of these aspects and their identification in Epicurus’ ethics. But who could praise Epicurus’ morality, either the virtues it contains or its originality, or finally the logical series that reigns there? The primitive agreement between men seems to have become for them a true contract, passed before witnesses, with defined and precise clauses. In order to maximize pleasure, a person must minimize the fear of reprisal. 18 Foucault, M.; Subject’s hermeneutics, p.59 quote 5. In summary, the Epicurean doctrines exercised an unquestionable influence on the development of human thought. For example, accepting the division according to the methodological aspects (archaeology, genealogy, techniques of subjectivity), may lead one to believe that each of the methodological procedures that were used by Foucault would substitute each other. In this there is a notable divergence between the Epicureans and the contemporary English school. The way of subjection to the law may be given as a divine law, by belonging to a community of which the individual feels a part or by being the means to attain a more beautiful existence. This not only occurs through an external discipline process that is exerted on the individual, but the individual self-disciplines. Most people would agree that human beings know the difference between right and wrong, or between good and bad actions. Epicurus held that a social ethical system would maintain in the absence of universal values enforced by deities, because it is less fear and anxiety inducing (painful) to live in a society where mutual trust and safety are ensured. 27 Epicurus, Sent. of sex., II. Epicureanism as a distinct school flourished with varying fortunes until a period as late as the century A.D. With the decay and dis appearance of the school, its influences how ever did not cease, but lived on, and will live; for Epicureanism represents an attitude of mind which will ever appeal most strongly to certain natures, and in a way to all natures. 22 Ibid. 2 Ibid., p.9 6 Foucault, M., Three Lectures at the University of Toronto, 1982; quoted by Morey, ibid., p.35 This doctrine, which on first glance doesn’t lack in grandeur, in practice arrives at the most deplorable consequences. Beyond some nuances, there is an agreement to divide Foucault’s work into three stages. the physics) to eliminate the fears that afflict individuals. Hobbes attacked miracles and what is more, he gave religion no other “natural seed” (semen naturale) than fear, ignorance, and, in a word, “man’s innate penchant for hasty conclusions.” Did not the venerable Gassendi himself, who never abandoned the great respect he had for the religion in which he was a priest say, in speaking of Epicurus: “If Epicurus attended a few religious ceremonies of his country, while disapproving them in his heart, his conduct was to certain extent excusable. Then indeed is Morality founded on a basis that cannot be moved; then indeed can it speak with an imperial authority the "ought" that must be obeyed; then it unfolds its beauty as humanity evolves to its perfecting, and leads to Bliss Eternal, the Brahman Bliss, where the human will, in fullest freedom, accords itself in harmony with the divine. In Miguel Morey’s introduction to “Technologies of the self”, the author argues that the conventional divisions of Foucault’s work can lead to conceptual errors. The imperative to change must come from within us, if it comes. Every man and woman should attain happiness. Pleasure is not something immobile, as Epicurus believed: it constantly varies. (19). In our time the English school goes even further; it will show that sensibility accompanies our activity in its progressive development. Epicurus founded his first philosophical schools in Mytilene and Lampsacus, before moving to Athens around 306 B.C.E. Only insofar as an action has sprung from compassion does it have moral value; and every action resulting from any other motives has none." (8) Ascetic austerity and the measuring of pleasures are not conceived as prohibitions but as lifestyle, as a luxury within a society. 25 Epicurus, Sent.princ., 11, quoted by Mondolfo, Ibid., p. 95. To enjoy means to act, and acting means advancing. Helvetius reproduces the same idea by applying it particularly to law and legislation, an idea that is found in d’Holbach and most thinkers, Epicurean or not in the 18th Century. As a Utilitarian said, morality thus understood is nothing but the regularization of … I have already answered this question from a a logical, rational, inescapable point of view  — i.e. He can only own himself who is not a slave to his desires. It is located between 1961 and 1969 and the central works are “History of Madness” and “The Archaeology of Knowledge”. The telos with which they tend to fulfill moral actions is also changing; thus the individual will aim to transform himself into a pure, immortal being free from his passions. Volumes II and III of “History of Sexuality” can be understood as a study of the relationships between these four aspects of ethics in Greek and Roman society. Modern utilitarianism is founded upon Epicureanism. Everywhere the affirmation of Epicurean ideas excited the most violent reactions against its authors, and Epicureanism has, till today, more often had adversaries than judges. There is no doctrine that has been the object of more attacks and criticism than ancient and modern Epicureanism. This self-control or self-discipline occurs with the more or less implicit purpose of becoming a certain kind of person. It was not about coercing men, but persuading them, which did not exclude authority. The first is that of methodological works, among which the main one is “Words and things”; the second includes the works on power, where another of his main works stands out: “Surveillance and punishment”; and the third is dedicated to works on morality, distinguishing the three volumes of “History of sexuality” that constitute a truncated series since Foucault died before completing the fourth volume he had planned. See our “Morale anglaise contemoporaine”. It is understandable that a determinist could be a Utilitarian; but that a partisan of free will, who believes he feels in himself a certain amount of the absolute, a cause living and acting by itself, possessing intrinsic value and dignity should submit this to an external rule of action, turn it toward a foreign end and make of it an instrument of pleasure, this is a contradiction from which we were right to defend the modern Epicureans. But such incitement is exercised by the subject on himself and has to do with the way in which the law is presented to him as obligatory. With regard to the pursuit of goods, he argues that it is easy to achieve and seek the limit of goods. What is more, there has never been one that went more strongly against received opinion on the subject of two things that are dear to the human heart: morality and religion. In short, Epicurean ethics is characterized by: taking pleasures as an object of transformation (ethical substance); basing obedience (to laws and conventions) in loyalty to Epicurus himself and in community, mainly based on the bonds of friendship (means of subjection); practicing self-care through philosophy, cultivation of friendship, meditation, and the calculation of pleasures (self-transforming activity); and by pursuing happiness–understood mainly as ataraxia (moral subject’s teleology). M. Zeller himself, the most comprehensive of historians of ancient philosophy, is quite severe concerning Epicurus. In the moral and social sciences the doctrines derived from Epicureanism are also more powerful than they ever were. He, however, insists on the impossibility of returning to those earlier forms of understanding. Pursuit and avoidance are decided on the basis of consequences, but each pleasure is a good in itself, each pain an evil in itself. In making this shift from the analysis of the methods of discipline that are exerted on the subject to the forms of self-discipline, and in particular when finding sexuality a central element in the self-construction of the subject, Foucault had to abandon the study of sources of modernity and look back on the Greeks. It is a topic that can be debated almost endlessly. The theoretical value that Aristotle attributed to philosophy, the value of knowledge for its own sake, changes with Epicurus and it becomes practical value. In common life let us compare the part left to pure egoism and that of “altruism;” we’ll see how relatively small the former is. What is the interest of this kind of morality for the contemporary subject? See La Morale Anglaise Contemporarine,: Part two. However, many (traditional) moral theories are unable to meet the second criterion and simply fall short of the high deman… According to them, there is harmony in most cases between the pleasure of the individual and that of others. Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor; – Epicurus’ Epistle to Menoeceus. 8 Foucault, M., Hist.de sex., II. We cannot judge Epicureanism if we don’t take account of the English doctrines, and so we proposed in another work  to particularly study these doctrines. Upon entering the community, one gave an oath: “I will be loyal to Epicurus, according to whom I have chosen to live.” That loyalty was identified with friendship, as his followers were called “friends.”. The ethical substance is not always the same, it was acquiring different forms and is one of the points that Foucault wants to demonstrate when comparing Greek ethics with Christianity. Let us utterly drive from us our bad habits as if they were evil men who have long done us great harm. This divergence grows from Bentham to Stuart Mill and especially to Mr. Spencer, with whose principles we can for the first time construct a nearly complete physics or physiology of morals. At the same time it undermines the purported universality of the contemporary model of sexuality with its implications with respect to morality. Under the title Moral and Practice of the Self, he asks what aspect of morality will be analyzed. As for science, Epicurus was concerned only with the practical end in view. The central question is how the constitution of the self occurs through the various discourses about sex. . It is about determining “under what forms sexual behavior was problematized, becoming the object of restlessness, element of reflection, matter of stylization.” (10). Since the founding of the Garden School, rather than the study of books, the essential thing was community life; and the best form of learning was that based on personal contact and dialogue. Theory is not enough. Here she discusses the link between Epicureanism and modernity, the seventeenth century's ontological commitments, Leibniz, contractualism and utilitarianism, the politics of the time, Cavendish, morality, moral animals and the idea of morality as 'advantage reduction', egalitarianism, art emotions, and women philosophers in the Academy. The self-training activity is the medium or the whole of them, through which the individual changes, transforming to become an ethical subject. Yet we recognize our own tendencies toward evil, especially in an excess of our desires. This was even more the case because we know that La Mettrie had, in the eyes of his adversaries, the enormous fault of dying of indigestion. In his will he prescribed that the house be preserved and that the philosophers would all live together. of sex., II. Epicurus’s considerations on these points are found in the Letter to Menoeceus, which is an invitation to the philosophical attitude. The search for knowledge has the liberating function of being a “four-fold medicine”. If we were not troubled by the thought of heavenly things and that death means something to us and not knowing the limits of pains and desires, we would have no need for the science of nature. For them, human societies are not born in one blow, by a sudden act of human wills; they are slowly constructed by an accumulation of habits and customs, by the gradual accommodation of individuals to each other. Foucault pays attention to this aspect of human life and not to another because “unlike most other major interdiction systems, the one concerning sexuality has been paired with the obligation of a certain deciphering of one same”. The Objective Basis of Morality Challenged The origins of morality and what is defined as "good" or "bad", "unethical" or "moral" can easily boggle the mind. Still today still it is the sprit of old Epicurus who, combined with new doctrines, works away at and undermines Christianity. We first find in Hobbes and then other later in the 18th Century Epicurus’ ingenious theory which bases society on a contract. It also allows us to determine several categories of desires: natural and necessary (e.g. Sexuality is approached by Foucault as a historically singular experience in which the individual is objectified for himself and for others. In popular parlance, Epicureanism means devotion to pleasure, comfort, and high living. As Couzens argues: Although he does not build a totally different ideal than we can aspire to, his story makes us more aware of the inconveniences of our self-understanding and our practices. he essay On the Basis of Morality (Über die Grundlage der Moral) is one of Arthur Schopenhauer's two major works in ethics. Epicurus preached: “It is not the drinks, nor the enjoyment of women, nor the sumptuous banquets that make life pleasant, but the sober thought that discovers the causes of all desire and all aversion and takes away the opinions that trouble souls.” (21) The teachings of Epicurus led to self-care through the measuring of desires. In the natural sciences Democritus’ and Epicurus’ cosmological system appears to have triumphed in our time. Foucault calls “determination of the ethical substance”, “the way in which the individual should shape such or that part of himself as the main matter of his moral conduct.” (13) This aspect of ethics would be the one that answers the following question: “What part of myself or my conduct concerns moral conduct?” (14). CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2007. For it is never too early or too late for the health of the soul. (31) In this regard, judgments, summaries, and dialogues with friends were considered to be the privileged means of exercising themselves on the road to wisdom. This scale that thought just traveled, humankind has already traveled in part in its evolution. 10 Ibid For them sexuality was part of the moral, political, economic customs and became self-care. And in fact he did attend them, since civil law and public order demanded it of him. Another fundamental element in the self-forming activity prescribed by Epicureanism is the cultivation of friendship. If the disciples were impelled by the teacher’s image to obey the law or the precepts he gave them, one might wonder what subjected Epicurus himself to the obedience of certain moral standards. The Epicureans of the 18th Century reason better in political and social morality than in pure morality. There are at least two main criteria that each moral theory must fulfil: first, the criterion of justification (that is, the particular moral theory should not contain any contradictions) and, second, the criterion of applicability (that is, the particular moral theory should solve concrete problems and offer ethical orientation). Evolutionist morality, which can in a way be considered a development of Epicureanism, is also its best criticism. The complexity of Michel Foucault’s work is such that it is very difficult to make a full assessment of it. But this is nothing but the condition of pleasure, and if we examine it more closely in itself we will recognize that precisely this internal equilibrium allows us a more expansive action in all directions. “On the contrary, it is easy to see that each of the great figures of sexual austerity relates to an axis of experience and a beam of concrete relationships…” (9) such as the relationship with health or with their own sex. 4. desire for a crown). Epicureans believed that everything should be done in moderation and that gods have no role in life—superstition does not exist. Far from explaining it, they are explained by it. Tell M.Foucault, p. 199. Tension is given by the relationship between “superior” and “inferior”: ruler and ruled, free man and slave, young and adult. According to this classification, the measuring of pleasures is prescribed, and then the wise will be able to achieve the greatest degree of pleasure giving satisfaction to the first kind of desires, and as Epicurus himself sustains “with a little bread and water, one rivals even Jupiter in happiness“. 4 Dreyfus, H., Rabinow, P., On the Genealogy of Ethics.
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