Marx’s Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy
“[...] as a common end for it (pleasure) Epicurus has set the removal of all pain. For he believes that our nature adds to pleasure only up to the point where pain disappears and does not allow it to increase any further (although the pleasure, when the state of painlessness is not reached admits of certain unessential variations). But to proceed to this point, accompanied by desire, is our stint of pleasure, and the journey is indeed short and quick. Hence it is that becoming aware of the poverty here they [the Epicureans] transfer their final good from the body, as from an unproductive piece of land, to the soul.” p. 1088.
“[... ] do you not hold that the gentlemen [the Epicureans] do well to begin with the body, where [pleasure] first appears, and then pass to the soul as having more stability and bring the whole to consummation in it?"
The answer to this is that the transition is correct, but
“When you hear their loud protest that the soul is so constituted as to find joy and tranquillity in nothing in the world but pleasure of the body either present or anticipated, and that this is its good, do they not appear to you to be using the soul as a funnel of the body, through which they pour pleasure, like wine, from a worthless and leaky vessel into another and leave it to age there in the belief that they are turning it into something more respectable and precious?” p. 1088.
Here too, Plutarch fails to understand the logic of Epicurus; it is important to note anyhow that he does not see a specific transition from the voluptas corpis ad voluptatem animi [Pleasure of the body to pleasure of the soul], and Epicurus’ attitude in this respect should be more closely defined.
“... the soul takes up the memory ... but retains nothing else .,. and the memory of it [pleasure] is obscure...... p. 1088.
“Observe the greater moderation of the Cyrenaics, though they have tippled from the same jug as Epicurus: they even think it wrong to indulge in sexual commerce when there is a light, and instead provide for a cover of darkness, so that the mind may not, by receiving the images of the act in full clarity through the sense of sight, too often rekindle the desire.... the other set ... hold that the superiority of the sage lies above all in this, in vividly remembering and keeping intact in himself the sights and feelings and movements associated with Pleasure, ... thus recommending a practice unworthy of the name of wisdom by allowing the slops of pleasure to remain in the soul of the sage as in the house of a wastrel.” p. 1089.
“For it betrays a violent and brutish longing for present and anticipated enjoyments, when the soul revels with such bacchanalian, attachment to recollection.” p. 1089.
“It is this, I believe, that has driven them, seeing for themselves the absurdities to which they were reduced, to take refuge in the ‘painlessness’ and the ‘stable condition of the flesh’...; for the ‘stable and settled condition of the flesh’ and the ‘trustworthy expectation’ of this condition contain, they say, the highest and the most assured delight for men who are able to reflect. Now first observe their conduct here, how they keep decanting this ‘pleasure’ or ‘painlessness’ or ‘stable condition’ of theirs back and forth, from body to soul and then once more from soul to body, compelled, since they cannot retain volatile pleasure, to begin again from the beginning, and though they lay the pleasure of the body as he says at the base of the delight of the soul, they again let the delight pass through anticipation into pleasure.” p. 1089.
This remark is of importance for the Epicurean dialectics of pleasure, although it is wrongly criticised by Plutarch. According to Epicurus, the wise man himself is in this vacillating condition which appears to be the determination of hdonh. [pleasure] Only God is makariotos, [bliss] the pure rest of nothingness in itself, the complete absence of all determination; this is why he has his abode not inside the world like the wise man, but outside it.
“For whereas a ‘stable condition of the flesh’ occurs frequently enough, no certain and firm expectation where the flesh is concerned can arise in a reasonable mind.” p. 1090.
Plutarch criticises Epicurus on the grounds that because of the possibility of pain there can be no freedom in a healthy present. But in the first place the Epicurean spirit is not one which concerns itself with such possibilities, but because absolute relativity, the accidental nature of [every] relationship, is in itself only unrelatedness, the Epicurean wise man takes his condition as unrelated, and as such it is for him a stable one. Time is for him only the accident of accidents; how could its shadow penetrate into the solid phalanx of ataraxia [ataraxy]? But if he postulates that the immediate premise of the individual spirit, namely the body, should be healthy, this is only [postulated] to bring back home to the spirit its own unrelatedness, its inborn nature, that is [by postulating] a healthy body not externally differentiated [from the individual spirit]. If, when one is suffering, this real nature of his hovers before him in the guise of fantasies and hopes of individual conditions in which that characteristic condition of his spirit would be realised, that only means that the individual as such contemplates his ideal subjectivity in an individual way — a completely correct observation. For Epicurus, Plutarch’s objection means simply that the freedom of the spirit is not present in a healthy body because it is present; for it is superfluous to remove the possibility outside precisely because reality is determined only as a possibility, as chance. If on the other hand the matter is regarded in its universality, then it is precisely a renunciation of universality if the true positive condition is to be obscured by accidental details; this simply means that dwelling in the free ether one thinks of particular mixtures, of the exhalations of poisonous plants, of the inhalations of tiny living things, this means to renounce life because one is liable to die, etc.; it means not to allow oneself the enjoyment of the universal but to fall out of it into particularities. Such a frame of mine concerns itself only with the very smallest things, it is so meticulous that it fails to see anything. Finally, if Plutarch says one must take care to maintain the health of the body, Epicurus also repeats that same platitude, but with more genius: he who perceives the universal condition as the true one takes the best care to maintain it. That is human common sense. It believes it has the right to counterpose to the philosophers its most foolish trivialities and commonplaces as a sierra incognita. It thinks itself a Columbus when it stands eggs on end. Apart from his system (for this is his right, summum jusa [supreme right]) Epicurus is on the whole correct when he says the wise man considers illness as a non-being, but the semblance disappears. If therefore he is ill, that is to him a disappearance which does not endure; if he is healthy, in his essential condition, the semblance does not exist for him and he has other things to do than to think that it could exist. If he is ill, he does not believe it the illness; if he is healthy, he acts as though this were the condition to which he is entitled, that is, he acts as a healthy person. How lamentable in comparison with this resolute, healthy individual is a Plutarch, who recalls Aeschylus, Euripides, and even Doctor Hippocrates merely in order not to rejoice in health!
Health, as the condition of being identical with oneself, is forgotten of itself, there is no reason to busy oneself with the body; this differentiation begins only with illness.
Epicurus desires no eternal life: how much less can it matter to him that the next instant may conceal some misfortune.
Just as wrong is the following criticism made by Plutarch:
“Criminals and transgressors of the law, they say, pass their entire lives in misery and apprehension, since even though they may succeed in escaping detection, they can have no assurance of doing so; in consequence fear for the future lies heavy on them and precludes any delight or confidence in their present situation. In these words, without knowing it, they have also spoken against themselves: we can often enjoy in the body a stable condition’, that is, health, but there is no way to acquire any assurance that it will last. Hence they cannot but be constantly anxious and worded for the body in facing the future.” p. 1090.
In actual fact it is just the contrary of what Plutarch says. Only when the individual violates them do the laws and general customs begin to be premises for him, he sets himself against them, and his escape from this state of tension would only lie in pistis, [trust] which, however, is not guaranteed by anything.
In general, the interesting thing in Epicurus is that in every sphere he eliminates the condition by which the premise as such is provoked to appear and he considers as normal the condition in which the premise is concealed. In general, it is nowhere a question of the mere sarx. [body, flesh] Punitive justice is a direct manifestation of inner connection, mute necessity, and Epicurus eliminates both its category from logic and the semblance of its reality from the wise man’s life. The accidental fact, on the contrary, that the just man suffers, is an external relation and does not wrest him out of his unrelatedness.
Hence it can be seen how wrong is the following criticism made by Plutarch:
“To do no wrong does nothing to bring assurance; it is not suffering deservedly, but suffering at all that is dreaded.” p. 1090.
What Plutarch means is that Epicurus must reason in that way according to his principles. It does not occur to him that Epicurus may have other principles than those which he, Plutarch, attributes to him.
“For the nature of the flesh possesses in itself the raw material of diseases, and as in the jesting proverb we speak of getting the whip from the ox’s hide, so it gets the pains from the body, and suffices to make life precarious and full of fears for wicked and honest men alike, once they have been taught to let their delight and trust depend on the body and on expectation for the body and on nothing else, as Epicurus teaches in his treatise ‘On the Highest Goods’ and in many other passages as well.” pp. 1090-1091.
“Inasmuch as their [the Epicureans'] good is an escape from ills, and they say that no other can be conceived, and indeed that nature has no place at all in which to put its good except the place left when evil is expelled [...].” p. 1091.
“Epicurus too makes a similar statement to the effect that the good is a thing that arises out of your very escape from evil and more and from your memory and reflection and jubilation that this has happened to you. His words are these: ‘For what produces a jubilation unsurpassed is the contrast of the great evil escaped; and this is the nature of good, if you apply your mind rightly and then stand firm and do not indulge in meaningless prating about good."’ P. 1091.
“Shame!” exclaims Plutarch here.
“Therefore in this they are no whit inferior to swine or sheep.... Actually, for the cleverer and more graceful animals the escape from evil is not the end. ... since once they have escaped evil they instinctively seek out the good, or better, let us say that they reject everything painful or alien as an impediment to the pursuit of the real, better kernel of their nature.” (For what is necessary is not good*, what is worth seeking and choosing lies beyond the escape from evil .... ) p. 1091.
Plutarch thinks himself very wise when he says that besides the necessity of flying from evil, the animal seeks the good, the good that lies beyond the escape. Its animal nature lies precisely in the fact that the animal seeks something good over-beyond. According to Epicurus, no good for man lies outside himself; the only good which he has in relation to the world is the negative motion to be free of it.
That all this is understood individually in Epicurus follows from the principle of his philosophy, which he formulates with all its consequences; Plutarch’s syncretic senseless argumentation cannot measure up to this.
“For even if an itching of the skin or a rheumy flux in the eye is unpleasant, it does not follow that scratching the skin and wiping the eye are anything special; nor does it follow that if pain, fear of the gods and anxiety about what awaits one in Hades are evil, escape from them is enviable bliss [... ].” p. 1091. “No; these men coop up their delight in quarters that are small and cramped ... advancing beyond the usual stupid notions and taking as the final goal of wisdom that which, it would appear, is naturally present in irrational beasts. For if it makes no difference in the freedom of the body from pain whether it has got free by itself or through nature, so too in ataraxy it is of no importance whether the unperturbed condition is achieved by the soul or through nature.... For likewise these gentlemen will be seen to be no better off than the brutes in this matter of not being disturbed by what awaits them in Hades or by tales about the gods and of not anticipating endless anxiety or pain [pp. 1091-1092.]
(* on this point Aristotle has quite different views; he teaches in the Metaphysics that necessity rules free men more than it does slaves)- Note by Marx.
“...Epicurus himself ... says, ‘If we were not troubled with misgivings about meteors and again with fear of death and pain, we should never have stood in need of natural philosophy."’ p. 1092.
“... since, however, the aim of their theology is to have no fear of God, but instead to be rid of anxieties, I should think that this condition’ is more securely in the possession of creatures that have no faintest notion of God than of those who have been taught to think of him as injuring no one. For they [the animals] have not been delivered from superstition, since they have never even been its victims; nor have they put aside the nation of the gods that is disturbing, but have never even adopted it. The same is to be said of things in Hades.” p. 1092.
“[...] misgiving and dread of what comes after death is less the portion of those who have no preconception of death than of those who still have to conceive that death is no concern of ours. Death is a concern of these men to the extent that they reason about it and subject it to inquiry; but the brutes are relieved of any concern whatever for what is nothing to them, and when they avoid blows and wounds and being killed, they fear only that in death which the Epicureans fear as well.” p. 1092.
That the Epicureans are said to demand that mathematics should be shunned. Plutarch, op. cit., p. 1094D.
“... in admiration and most hearty commendation of one Apelles they write that from the beginning he held aloof from mathematics and thus kept himself unspotted.” loc. cit.
Likewise history, etc., cf. Sext. Empiricus. Plutarch considers as a great fault of Metrodorus that the latter writes:
“[...] so if you must admit that you do not even know on which side Hector fought, or the opening lines of Homer’s poem, or again what comes between, do not be dismayed.” loc. cit.
“[...] Epicurus ... says ... that the wise man is a lover of spectacles and yields to none in the enjoyment of musical and theatrical shows; but on the other hand he allows no place, even over the wine, for questions about music and the philological enquiries of critics”, etc. p. 1095.
“Why, the Epicureans themselves assert that it is more pleasant to confer a benefit than to receive one.” p. 1097.
These antoi [themselves] are precisely those qui in haeresim Epicuri illapsi. [who have fallen into the heresy of Epicurus]
“But Epicurus himself allowed that some pleasures come from fame.” p. 1099.
[...] more worthy of consideration than the above-quoted shallow moral objections of Plutarch is his polemic against the Epicurean theology, not that polemic as such, but because it is revealed how ordinary consciousness, adopting, on the whole, the Epicurean standpoint, shies only before the obvious philosophical conclusion. Here one must always bear in mind that Epicurus is concerned neither with voluptas [pleasure] nor with sensuous certainty, nor with anything else except the freedom of the mind and its freedom from determination. Therefore we shall go through Plutarch’s considerations one by one.
“One point, that of the pleasure they derive from these views, has, I should say, been dealt with [by Epicurus]: where their theory is fortunate and successful, it does remove fear and superstition in a way; but it gives no joy or favour of the gods. Instead it puts us in the same ~ of mind in relation to the gods, of neither being alarmed nor rejoicing’ (i.e., being unrelated), “that we have in relation to Hyrcanian fishes, from which we expect neither good nor evil. But if we are to add anything to what has already been said, I think we can take this from them themselves: first, they disagree with those who would do away with grief and tears and lamentations at the death of friends, and say that an absence of grief extending to complete insensibility stems from another, greater evil: callousness or unrestrained ambition and infatuation. Hence they say that it is better to be moved somewhat and to grieve and to melt into tears and fret and manifest other sentiments which make one appear soft-hearted and affectionate. For this is what Epicurus said in many other passages...... [p.] p. [1100-1110].
Plutarch does not understand the fear of God at all in the sense that Epicurus does; he does not grasp how philosophical consciousness wishes to free itself from it. The ordinary man is not aware of this. Plutarch therefore quotes trivial empirical examples showing how little terror this belief has for people at large.
In contrast to Epicurus, Plutarch first considers the belief of the polloi [multitude] in God and says that with the multitude this habit of mind indeed takes the form of fear; to be precise, sensuous fear is the only form in which he can grasp the anguish of the free spirit in face of a personal almighty being which absorbs freedom in itself and is, therefore, exclusive. He says:
1. Those who fear him (God): “If they fear him as a ruler gracious to the good and hostile to the wicked, they are freed by this one fear from doing wrong and do not need many redeemers, and since they let evil die down within themselves, in all calm, they are less tormented than those who make use of it and behave impudently but suddenly experience anxiety and regret.” p. 1101.
And so by this sensuous fear they are protected against evil, as though this immanent fear were not evil. What is then the essence of the empirically evil? That the individual shuts himself off from his eternal nature in his empirical nature; but is that not the same as to shut his eternal nature out of himself, to apprehend it in the form of persistent, isolation in self, in the form of the empirical, and hence to consider it as an empirical god outside self? Or must the stress be laid on the form of the relation? Then God is punitive m relation to the evil, lenient in relation to the good; and the evil here is what is evil to the empirical individual, and the good what is good to the empirical individual, for otherwise whence would this fear and this hope come, since the individual is concerned with what is evil and what is good for him? In this relation God is merely what is common to all the consequences that empirical evil actions can have. So does the empirical individual refrain from doing evil out of fear lest from the good which he achieves by evil actions a greater evil will result and a greater good will be forfeited, that is to say, in order that the continuity of his well-being will not be broken by the immanent possibility of being snatched out of that continuity?
Is that not the same thing as Epicurus teaches in plain words: do not act unjustly, so as not to go in continual fear of being punished? This immanent relation of the individual to his ataraxia [ataraxy] is therefore presented as a relationship to a god existing outside the individual, but again having no other content than this ataraxia, which is here continuity of well-being. Fear of the future, that condition of insecurity, is here inserted into the remote consciousness of God, considered as a condition which pre-exists in him, but also as a mere threat, and therefore precisely as in individual consciousness.
2. Plutarch says that this striving towards God also procures voluptus. [pleasure]
“No, wherever it believes and conceives most firmly that God is present, there more than anywhere else it puts away all feelings of pain, fear, and worry, and gives itself up so far to pleasure that it indulges in a playful and merry inebriation in amatory matters...... p. 1101.
He goes on to say that old men, women, merchants, and kings rejoice in religious feast days....
“For it is not the abundance of wine or the attraction of the meats that cheer the heart at festivals, but good hope and the belief in the benign presence of God and his gracious acceptance of what is done.” p. 1102.
There is need for closer study of how Plutarch describes this rejoicing, this voluptas.
First he says that the soul is most free from sorrow, fear and anxiety when God is present. So the presence of God is defined as freedom of the soul from fear, sorrow and anxiety. This freedom is manifested in exuberant rejoicing, for this is the individual soul’s positive manifestation of this its condition.
Further: the accidental difference of the individual situation disappears where this pleasure exists. And thus the individual is freed from his other determinations and in this rejoicing the individual as such is determined, and this is a substantial determination. Finally, the pleasure is not in the separate enjoyment, but in the certainty that God is not something separate, but that his content is to rejoice over this pleasure of the individual, to look down benevolently on it, and hence to be himself in the determination of the rejoicing individual. Therefore what is deified and celebrated here is the deified individuality as such, freed from its customary bonds, therefore the sofos [wise man]of Epicurus with his ataraxia [ataraxy] God is worshipped not as non-present God, but as the present pleasure of the individual. This God has no further determination. Yes, the true form in which this freedom of the individual emerges here is enjoyment, and indeed individual, sensuous enjoyment, the enjoyment which is not disturbed. ‘Alcapa.Ct’ therefore hovers overhead as the general consciousness, but it manifests itself as the sensuous voluptas of Epicurus, except that what is here a living isolated condition is there total consciousness of fife, and that for this reason the individual manifestation in Epicurus is more indifferent [to external conditions], more animated by its soul, by ataraxia, while in Plutarch this element is more lost in individuality and both are directly blended, and therefore are directly separate. Such is the pitiful outcome of the differentiation of the divine which Plutarch asserts in his polemic against Epicurus. And, to make another remark, if Plutarch says that kings do not enjoy their publicis conviviis et viscerationibus [Public feasts and entertainments] so much as the sacrificial meals, this means nothing else than that in the first case enjoyment is considered as something human, accidental, and in the second as divine, that individual enjoyment is considered as divine, which is precisely Epicurean.
From this relation of the ponhroi [bad] and the polloi [multitude] to God Plutarch distinguishes the relation of the beltion anqrwpwn kai qeajilestaton genos. [Best men and most agreeable to God] We shall see what point he wins here against Epicurus.
“... what great pleasures they have through their pure notions about God, who for them is the guide to all blessings, the father of everything honourable, and may no more do than suffer anything base. For he is good, and in none that is good arises envy about aught or fear or anger or hatred; for it is as much the function of heat to chill instead of warm as it is of good to harm. By its nature anger is infinitely far removed from favour, wrath from goodwill, and from love of man and kindness, hostility and a forbidding disposition; for the one to belong to virtue and power, the other to weakness and vice. Hence the deity cannot have in itself anger and favour together; rather, because it is God’s nature to bestow favour and lend aid, it is not his nature to be angry and to do harm.” p. 1102.
The philosophical meaning of the proposition that God is the hgemwn agaqwn [Master-principle of all good] and the father pantawn kalwn [Of all that is beautiful] is that this is not a predicate of God, but that the idea of good is the divine itself. But according to Plutarch a quite different result follows. Good is taken in the strictest opposition to evil, for the former is a manifestation of virtue and of power, the latter of weakness, privation and badness. judgment, difference, is therefore removed out of God, and this is precisely a basic principle with Epicurus, who is therefore quite consistent when he finds this absence of difference in man theoretically as well as practically in his immediate identity, in sensuousness, whereas in God he finds it in pure otium. The God who is determined as good by removal of judgment is the void, for every determination carries in it an aspect which it receives in contrast to others and encloses in itself, and hence reveals in opposition and contradiction its orgh [wrath] its misos [hatred] its jobos [fear] to renounce itself. Plutarch therefore gives the same determination as Epicurus, but only as an image, as imagination, which the latter calls by its conceptual name and does away with the human image.
There is therefore a false ring to the question:
“Do you think that those who deny providence require any further punishment, and are not adequately punished when they deprive themselves of so great a pleasure and delight?” [pp. 1102-1103.]
For it must be affirmed, on the contrary, that he experiences more pleasure in the contemplation of the divine who sees it as pure bliss in itself, without any notionless anthropomorphic relations, than he who does the opposite. It is already in itself bliss to have the thought of pure bliss, however abstractly it be apprehended, as we can see from the Indian holy men. Besides, Plutarch has abolished pronota [providence] by opposing evil, difference, to God. His further descriptions are purely notionless and syncretic, and besides, he shows in everything that he is concerned only with the individual, not with God. That is why Epicurus is so honest as not to make God bother about the individual.
The internal dialectics of Plutarch’s thinking thus necessarily leads him back to speak about the individual soul instead of about the divinity, and he arrives at the logos peri juchs [Consideration on the soul]. Of Epicurus he says:
“Consequently it (the soul) is overjoyed at receiving this most sapient and godlike doctrine that for it the end of suffering means ruin, destruction and being ,nothing.” p. 1103.
One must not let oneself be misled by Plutarch’s unctuous words. We shall see how he negates each one of his determinations. Already the artificial means of escape tou kakws prattein peras [the end of suffering] and then in contrast apolesqai [ruin] and jqarhnai [destruction] and mhden einai [being nothing], show where the centre of gravity is, how thin one side is and the other three times stronger.
The study is divided again into that of the attitudes of, first-, the twn adikwn kai ponhrwn, [Unjust and the wicked], then the pollwn kai idiwtwn, [Many and the uneducated] and finally the epieikwn kai nous econtwn [Decent and the reasonable ] (p. 1104) to the doctrine of the continued existence of the soul. Already this division into hard and fast qualitative differences shows how little Plutarch understands Epicurus, who, as a philosopher, considers the position of the human soul in general; and if, despite its determination as transient, here mains sure of hdonh [pleasure] Plutarch should have seen that every philosopher involuntarily extols a hdonh which is alien to him in his limitation. Fear is again adduced as a means of improvement for the unjust. We have already dealt with this point. For in fear, and indeed an inner, unextinguishable fear, man is determined as animal, and it is absolutely indifferent to the animal how it is kept in check. If a philosopher does not find it outrageous to consider man as an animal, he cannot be made to understand anything.
“The great majority, free from fear of what happens in Hades, have a myth-inspired expectation of eternal life; and the love of being, the oldest and most powerful of all our passions, provides pleasure and bliss overcoming that childish terror.” p. 1104. “Indeed, when men have lost children, a wife, or friends, they would rather have them exist somewhere in hardship and survive than be utterly taken away and destroyed and reduced to nothing; and they like to hear such expressions used of the dying as ‘he is leaving us’ or ‘going to dwell elsewhere’ and all that represent death as a change of residence of the soul but not as destruction...... p. 1104.
“Such expressions as ‘it is the end and ‘he has perished’ and ‘he is no more’ disturb them.... but they are dealt the finishing blow by those who say: We men are born but once; there is no second time....’ Indeed, by discounting the present moment as a minute fraction, or rather as nothing at all, in comparison with all time, men let it pass without enjoying it. They neglect virtue and action and despise themselves as creatures of a day, impermanent and born for no high end.” [p. 1104.] “For being without sensation and dissolved and the doctrine that what has no sensation is nothing to us does not remove the terror of death, but rather confirm it by adding what amounts to proof. For this is the very thing our nature dreads: ... the dissolution of the soul into what has neither thought nor feeling; and Epicurus, by making the dissolution a scattering into emptiness and atoms, does still more to root out our hope of immortality, for which, I had almost said, all men and all women are ready to be torn to pieces by Cerberus and carry water to the leaky urn, if only they may still continue to be and not to be blotted out.” p. 1105.
We now come to the view of the polloi [multitude] although it becomes apparent in the end that there are not many who do not share it and that, indeed, all, dew legein pantas, [Without any exaggeration, all] swear allegiance to this banner.
Actually there is no qualitative difference from the preceding stage, but what appeared in the form of animal fear appears here in the form of human fear, the form of feeling. The content remains the same.
We are told that the desire to be is the oldest love; of course, the most abstract and therefore the oldest love is love of self, love of one’s own particular being. But actually that would be to formulate the matter too bluntly, it is taken back again and surrounded with an ennobling radiance by the appearance of feeling. So he who loses wife and children wishes that they should be somewhere, even if things are bad with them, rather than that they should have completely ceased to be. Simply as a matter of love, the wife and the child of the individual as such are cherished deeply and faithfully in his heart — a much higher form of being than empirical existence. But the matter stands in a different way.
Wife and child in empirical existence are merely wife and child, insofar as the individual himself exists empirically. The fact that he wants to be assured that they are somewhere, in spatial sensuousness, even if things are bad with them, rather than that they do not exist at all, means nothing more than that the individual wishes to be conscious of his own empirical existence. The cloak of love was only a shadow; the naked empirical ego, self-love, the oldest love is the kernel, and it has not been rejuvenated into any more concrete, more ideal form. Plutarch is of the opinion that the name of change sounds more pleasant than that of completely ceasing to exist. But the change must not be a qualitative one; the individual ego in its individual being must persist; the name is therefore only the sensuous presentation of that which it is, and is meant to signify the opposite. It is therefore a.lying fiction. The thing must not be changed, but only put in a dark place, the interposition of fantastic remoteness is only intended to conceal the qualitative leap — and every qualitative difference is a leap, without which there is no ideality.
Plutarch is further of the opinion that this consciousness of finiteness makes one weak and inactive, [generates] dissatisfaction with the present life; only it is not life that passes away, but merely this individual being. If this individual being considers itself as excluded from this persisting universal life, can it become richer and fuller by maintaining its tininess for an eternity? Does this relation change, or does it not rather remain ossified in its lifelessness? Is it not the same whether it finds itself in this indifferent relation to life today or whether this lasts hundreds of thousands of years?
Finally Plutarch says outright that it is not the content, the form, that matters, but the being of the individual. To be, even though torn to pieces by Cerberus. What is then the content of his teaching on immortality? That the individual, abstracted from the quality which gives him here his individual position, persists not as the being of a content, but as the atomistic form of being; is that not the same as what Epicurus says, namely, that the individual soul becomes dissolved and returns into the form of the atoms? To ascribe feeling to these atoms as such, even though it is granted that the content of this feeling is indifferent, is but an illogical fantasy. Plutarch therefore teaches the Epicurean doctrine in his polemic against Epicurus: but he does not forget always to present the mh einai Non-being] as the most fearful thing. This pure being-for-self is the atom. If in general the individual is assured of immortality not in his content, which, insofar as it is general, exists in itself in general, and, insofar as it is form, eternally individualises itself, if as individual being he is assured of immortality, then the concrete differentiation of the being-for-self ceases to exist, for the differentiation does not mean that the individual continues to exist, but that the eternal persists, unlike the transient, and all that this comes to is the assertion that the atom as such is eternal and that the animate returns to this its basic form.
Epicurus carries his teaching on immortality thus far, but he is philosophical and consistent enough to call it by its name, to say that the animate returns to the atomistic form. No compromise helps here. If some concrete differentiation of the individual must disappear, as is shown by life itself, then all those differentiations must disappear which are not in themselves universal and eternal. If the individual must nevertheless be indifferent to this metabolh, [change] then there remains only this atomistic husk of the former content; that is the teaching on the eternity of the atoms.
To whom eternity is as time
And time as eternity,
He from all strife
says Jacobus Bohemus.
“Hence in abolishing belief in immortality they [the Epicureans] also abolish the sweetest and greatest hopes of the multitude.” p. 1105.
If therefore Plutarch says that with immortality Epicurus takes away the sweetest hopes of the multitude, he would have been far more correct if he had said what he says meaning something else,
he “does not remove [the terror of death] but rather explains it.” [p. 1105.]
Epicurus does not negate this view, he explains it, he expresses it as a concept.
We now come to the class of the epieikwn and nous econtwn. [Decent and reasonable] Needless to say, it by no means takes us any further than the preceding, but what at first appeared as animal fear, then as human fear, as anxious suspiration, as reluctance to give up atomistic being, now appears in the form of arrogance, of demand, of entitlement. Hence this class, as Plutarch describes it, departs most of all from reason. The lowest class puts forward no claims; the second weeps and will put up with anything to save the atomistic being; the third is the philistine who exclaims, “my God, that would be too much, that such a clever, honest fellow should have to go to the devil!"
“What then do we believe about the hopes of the good, whose lives have been pious and upright and who anticipate in the other world not evil, but the most beautiful and godly gifts? For in the first place, just as the athletes do not receive a wreath without a contest, but only when they have contested and won, so it is not to be wondered at, that those believe that the reward for victory in life will be conferred on the good only after life are intent on virtue; these hopes include also that of seeing at last the deserved punishment of those who in their wealth and power are injurious and insolent now and in their folly laugh to scorn those who are better than they. In the next place, no one longing for truth and the vision of reality has ever been able to find full satisfaction in this world.... Hence I regard death as a great and perfect blessing since only in that other world will the soul five its real life, whereas [here] it does not truly live, but is as in a dream.” p. 1 105.
So these good and clever men expect the reward for life after life; but how inconsistent it is, in that case, to expect life again as a reward for life, since for them the reward for life is something qualitatively different from life. This qualitative difference is again clothed in fiction, life is not raised to any higher sphere, but transferred to another place. They only pretend to despise life, they are not concerned with anything better, they only clothe their hope in a demand.
They despise life, but [for them] their atomistic existence is the good thing in that life and they covet the eternity of their atomistic being, which is the good. If to them the whole of life seemed a spectre, something bad, whence their consciousness of being good? Only from knowledge of themselves as atomistic being, and Plutarch goes so far as to say that they are not satisfied with that consciousness, that because the empirical individual exists only insofar as he is seen by another, these good men rejoice now because after death those who until then despised them will truly see them as good and will have to recognise them and be punished because they did not previously consider them to be good. What a demand! The bad must recognise them in life as good and they themselves do not recognise the universal powers of life as good! Is that not the pride of the atom screwed up to the highest pitch?
Is that not saying, in plain language how arrogant and self-conceited the e is made and how eternal the and being-for-self is made when it has content! It is of no avail to conceal this with phrases, to say that nobody can satisfy his curiosity in this respect.
This demand does not express anything else than that the general must exist in the form of the individual as [individual] consciousness, and that this demand is eternally fulfilled by the general. But inasmuch as it is demanded that it should be present in this empirical, exclusive being-for-self, it means nothing but that it is a question not of the general, but of the atom.
So we see how Plutarch, in his polemic against Epicurus, says the same thing as Epicurus at every step; but Epicurus develops the conclusions simply, abstractly, truly and plainly and knows what he is talking about, whereas Plutarch everywhere says something else than what he means to say and at bottom also means something else than what he says.
That is in general the relationship of common consciousness to philosophical consciousness.
“Colotes, my dear Saturninus, whom Epicurus used to call affectionately his ‘Colly’ and ‘Collikins’, brought out a book entitled On the Point that Conformity to the Doctrines of the Other Philosophers Actually Makes It Impossible to Live.” p. 1107.
If in the preceding dialogue Plutarch tried to prove to Epicurus quod non beate vivi possi [That it is not possible to live happily] according to his, Epicurus’, philosophy, now he tries to vindicate the dogmata [doctrines] of the other philosophers against this objection on the part of the Epicureans. We shall see whether he succeeds better with this task than with the preceding one, in which the polemic can in effect be called a panegyric in favour of Epicurus. This dialogue has an important bearing on Epicurus’ relationship to the other philosophers. Colotes makes a good joke when he offers Socrates hay instead of bread and asks him why he does not put his food in his ear, but in his mouth. Socrates occupied himself with very trivial matters, this being a necessary consequence of his historical position.
“Leonteus ... writes ... that Democritus was honoured by Epicurus for having embraced the true teaching before him, and ... because he had first discovered the principles of nature.” p. 1108.
“... the man who asserts that the majority are deceived in supposing that what heats is heating and what cools is cooling [is himself deceived] if he does not believe that from what he asserts it follows that nothing is of one nature more than of another.” p. 1110.
Plutarch feels an itch every time Epicurus’ philosophical logic breaks through to the front. The philistine is of the opinion that whoever argues that the cold is not cold and the warm is not warm, relying on the way such things are judged by the multitude in accordance with their sensations, deceives himself when he fails to assert that neither the one nor the other exists. Our learned friend does not realise that the differentiation is thus merely transferred from the object to consciousness. If one wishes to’ solve this dialectic of sensuous certitude in itself, one must admit that the attribute is in the combination, in the relation of sensuous knowledge to the sensuous, and as this relation is directly differentiated, so must the attribute also be directly differentiated. Thus the error will not be ascribed either to the object or to knowledge, but the whole of sensuous certainty will be considered as this fluctuating process. He who has not the dialectical power to negate this sphere as a whole, he who wishes to let it remain, must also be satisfied with the truth as it is present within this sphere. Plutarch is too incompetent a gentleman to do the former, and too honest and clever to do the latter
“... so that of every quality we can truly say, ‘It no more is than is not'; for to those affected in a certain way the thing is, but to those not so affected it is not.” p. 1110.
So, Plutarch says, one would have to say of every property that it no more is than is not, for it changes according to the way one is affected. His question alone suffices to show that he does not understand the matter. He speaks of a fixed being or non-being as a predicate. But the being of the sensuous consists rather in not being such a predicate, in not being a fixed being or non-being. When I separate these in this way, I separate precisely that which is not separated in sensuousness. Ordinary thinking always has ready abstract predicates which it separates from the subject. All philosophers have made the predicates themselves into subjects.
“He [Colotes] says that Democritus’ words ‘colour is by convention, sweet by convention, a compound by convention, ... [what is real is the void] and the atoms’ are in conflict with our senses, and that anyone who abides by this reasoning and applies it is not capable of reflecting whether he is [dead] or alive.” “Against this proposition I have nothing to object, but I must say that this is as inseparable from Epicurus’ doctrine as shape and weight are by their own [the Epicureans'] assertion inseparable from the atom. For what does Democritus say? That entities infinite in number, indivisible and different, destitute moreover of quality and of perception, move scattered about in the void; that when they draw near one another or collide or become entangled the resulting aggregate appears in the one case to be water, in others fire, a plant, or a man, but that everything really is atoms, ‘ideas’, as he calls them, and nothing else. For there is no generation from the nonexistent and again nothing can be generated from the existent, as the atoms owing to their solidity can be neither affected nor changed. From this it follows that no colour comes from the colourless, and no nature or mind from things without qualities.... Democritus is therefore to be censured not for admitting the consequences which flow from his principles, but for setting up principles that lead to these consequences. For he should not have posited immutable first elements; but having posited them, he should have observed that the generation of any quality become impossible and denied it although he had noted it. But Epicurus is quite unreasonable when he says that he lays down the same first principles, but does not say that ‘colour is by convention’ and so the other qualities. If this is the case with ‘not-saying, does he not then admit that he is following his usual practice; for he does away with providence and says he has left piety; he entertains friendship for the sake of pleasure, and says that he is ready to assume the greatest pains for friends; and he posits an infinite universe but does not eliminate ‘up’ and down’.” [pp. 1110-1111].
“'What then? Did not Plato too and Aristotle and Xenocrates find themselves producing gold from something not gold ... and everything else from four simple and primary bodies?’ ... But in their view the first principles combine at the outset to generate every thing and bring with them their inherent qualities as no inconsiderable provision; and when they have combined, and wet has come together with dry, cold with hot, and so on, bodies which interact on each other and change throughout, then by another mixture they bring into being another product. But the atom stands alone and is destitute of any generative power, and when it collides with another owing to its hardness and resistance it undergoes a shock, but it neither suffers nor causes any further effect. Rather the atoms receive and inflict blows for all time, and are unable to produce a living thing or mind or natural being or even to produce out of themselves a common mass or a single heap in their constant colliding and scattering.” p. 1111.
“But Colotes... fastens in turn on Empedocles, ... who writes:
This too I'll tell thee:
No nature is there of a mortal thing
Nor any curst fatality of death.
Mixture alone there is and dissolution
Of things commingled, and men call them nature.” p. 1111.
“I for one do not see to what extent it is in conflict with life to assume that there can be neither generation of the non-existent nor destruction of the existent, but that ‘generation’ is a name given to the conjunction of certain existents with one another, and ‘death’ a name given to their separation. That he used ‘nature’ in the sense of generation Empedocles has indicated by opposing death to it. But if those who say that generation is a mixing and death a dissolution do not and cannot live, what else do they [the Epicureans] do? Yet when Empedocles cements and joins the e together by the operation of heat softness, etc., he somehow opens the way for them to a ‘mixture’ that coalesces into a natural unity; whereas those [i.e., the Epicureans] who herd together unchangeable and unresponsive atoms produce nothing out of them, but cause an uninterrupted series of collisions among the atoms. For an entanglement that is supposed to prevent dissolution produces rather an intensification of the collisions, so that what they call generation is neither mixture nor cohesion, but confusion and conflict.... so that nothing, not even an inanimate body, is produced out of them; while perception, mind, intelligence and thought cannot so much as be conceived, even with the best of win, as arising among void and atoms, things which taken separately have no quality and which on meeting are not thereby affected or changed; indeed their meeting or fusion produces neither mixture nor coalescence, but only shocks and rebounds. Thus by such doctrines life and the existence of living things are made impossible, since they are based on principles which are void, impassive, godless, and moreover incapable of mixture or fusion.” “Then how can they claim to leave room for a thing’s nature, for a soul, for a living being? As they do for an oath, for prayer, for sacrifice, for worship ... in words, by affirmation, by pretending, by naming things while by their principles and their doctrines they do away with all this. So by ‘nature’ they merely mean a thing that naturally is, and by ‘generation’ a thing generated, just as something wooden is commonly called ‘wood’ and what harmonises ‘harmony’.” [p]p. [1111-]1112.
“Why (says Colotes, scilicet adversus Empoclem) [To wit, to Empedocles]) do we wear ourselves out, toiling for ourselves and seeking certain things and avoiding others? For neither do we exist nor live in association with others. ‘Why never fear,’ one might say, ‘my dear little Colotes; no one keeps you from taking care of yourself when he teaches that Colotes’ nature is nothing but Colotes himself or from attending to affairs (affairs for you and your company being pleasures) when he points out that there is no nature of cakes or odours or intercourse, but that there are cakes and perfumes and women.’ No more does the grammarian, who says that ‘Heracles’ strength’ is Heracles himself [, deny the existence of Heracles],. nor do those who declare that accords and rafterings are mere forms of speech deny the existence of sounds and rafters......
‘When Epicurus says, ‘the nature of existing things is bodies and void’, do we take him to mean that ‘nature’ is distinct from ‘existing things’, or simply to indicate ‘existing things’ and nothing more, just as it is his habit for instance to use the expression ‘the nature of void’ for ‘void’ and, by Zeus, ‘the nature of the universe’ for ‘the universe'? p. 1112.
“What else, then, has Empedocles done when he teaches that nature is not distinct from that which is generated nor death from what dies?” p. 1112.
Empedocles is quoted:
“'When what is mixed [comes] to the light of day As man or as a beast or plant or bird, [Men say] ‘tis born; but call the parts disjoined Unhappy fate.'
Though Colotes cites these lines himself, he fails to see that Empedocles did not abolish men, beasts, etc., by saying they are produced by the mixture of the elements — but rather, when he showed how wrong those are who call this combination and separation ‘nature’, ‘unhappy fate’ and ‘lurid death’, he did not wish to abolish the use of the current expressions for them.” [p. 1113.]
“'Fools! For they have no thoughts that range afar
Who look for birth of what was not before
Or for a thing to die and wholly perish.'
These are the words of one who says in ringing tones for all who have ears to hear that he does not abolish generation, but only generation from the non-existent; nor abolish destruction, but only out and out destruction, that is, the destruction that reduces to non-existence.” [p. 1113]
“'No sage in his prophetic soul would say
That, while men live (this thing they call their ‘life'),
So long they are, and suffer good and ill;
But both before the joining of their frame,
And once it is disjoined, why, they are nothing.'
For these are not the words of one who denies the existence of men who have been born and are living, but rather of one who takes both the unborn and the already dead to exist.” [p. 1113]
“[...] but [Colotes] says that in Empedocles’ view we shall never so much as fall ill or receive a wound. But how can one who says that before life and after life each person suffers ‘good and ill’, leave no suffering to the living? Who is it, Colotes, that really find themselves impervious to wounds and disease? You yourselves, compacted of atom and void, neither of which has any sensation. Not this is objectionable, but that there is nothing to give you pleasure either, since your atom does not receive the causes of pleasure and your void does not respond to them.” p. 1113.
“Yet I do not see how, by saying that ‘the universe is one’, he has made it impossible for us to live. So Epicurus too, when he says that ‘the universe’ is infinite, ungenerated and imperishable, and subject neither to increase nor diminution, speaks of the universe as of some one thing. When he premises at the beginning of his treatise that ‘the nature of things is atoms and void’, he treats that nature as one, dividing it into two parts, one of them actually nothing, but termed by you and your company intangible’, ‘empty’, and ‘bodiless’. So that for you too the universe is one.... Observe right here the sort of first principles you people premise for generation: infinity and the void — the void incapable of action, incapable of being acted upon, bodiless; the infinite disordered, irrational, elusive, disrupting and confounding itself because of a multiplicity that defies control or limitation. Parmenides, for one, has abolished neither ‘fire’ nor ‘water’ ... nor ‘cities lying in Europe and Asia’ (in Colotes’ words).... But before all others and even before Socrates he saw that nature has in it something that we apprehend by opinion, and again something that we apprehend by the intellect...” [pp 1113-1114]
“... what belongs to the world of the intellect ... is
'Entire, unmoving and unborn’,
to quote his own words, and is always like itself and enduring in what it is [p. 1114.]
“Colotes says outright that Parmenides makes a clean sweep of all things by affirming that the universe is one.” [p. 1114.]
“... the world of the intellect ... which he calls ‘being’ because it is eternal and imperishable, and ‘one’ because it is uniform with itself and admits of no variation; while he puts what belongs to the world of the senses under the head of disordered and moving nature.” [p. 1114.] “'Here most persuasive truth...’ which deals with what is thought and forever unalterably the same, and there
... man’s beliefs, that lack all true persuasion’,
because they deal with objects admitting all manner of changes, accidents, and irregularities.” p. 1114.
“Thus the contention that being is one was no denial of the plural and perceptible, but an indication of its distinction from what is thought.” p. 1114.
A proof of Plutarch’s unphilosophical manner of thinking is provided by the following passage on Aristotle:
“As for the ideas for which he (Colotes') denounces Plato, Aristotle, who everywhere assails them and brings up against them every sort of objection in his treatises on ethics and on physics and in his popular dialogues, was held by some to be more contentious than philosophical in his attitude to this doctrine and bent on undermining Plato’s philosophy..... p. 1115.
“[... ] but he [Colotes], who has not a grain of wisdom, took ‘man is not’ to be one and the same as ‘man is non-existent’. But in Plato’s view there is a world of difference between ‘is not’ and ‘is non-existent, for by the former is meant the denial of any kind of being, by the latter the otherness of the partaken and what it partakes in that later philosophers brought under the head of a mere difference of genus and species, and went no higher because they became involved in greater problems of logic."
(Yet another passage from which one can see the immanent, self-satisfied stupidity beati Plutarchi. [of blessed Plutarch])
“The relation of the partaken in to the partaker is that of cause to matter, model to copy, power to effect.” p. 1115.
If Plutarch says about Plato’s doctrine of ideas,
“... he does not deny the sensuous, but asserts that what is thought has being”, p. 1116,
it is because the stupid eclectic does not see that this is precisely what Plato must be reproached with. He does not negate the sensuous, but he asserts that what is thought has being. Thus sensuous being is not expressed in thought, and what is thought too has a being, so that two realms of being exist one beside the other. Here one can see how easily Plato’s pedantry finds a response among common men, and as for Plutarch’s philosophical views, we can class him among the common men. It goes without saying that what in Plato appears original, necessary, at a certain stage of general philosophical development splendid, is in an individual witnessing the departure of the ancient world a shallow reminiscence of the ecstasy of a dead man, a lamp of antediluvian times, the perverseness of an old man who has relapsed into childhood.
There can be no better criticism of Plato than Plutarch’s praise.
“He does not deny the effect produced on us and made perceptible in us, but points out to those who follow him that there are other things more stable and more enduring"
(notions abstracted from sensuous perception and hollow)
“in being because they neither begin nor come to an end nor are subject to any influence
(note mhte — mhte — mhte [neither — nor — nor] 3 negative determinations),
“and teaches by formulating the difference more clearly in words” (correct, the difference is a nominal one),
“to call the one things that are and the other things that come to be.” p. 1116.
"The more recent [philosophers] have also done the like; they refuse to many important realities the name of being — the void, time, place and, generally, the whole class of nameable things, which includes all real ones. For these, they say, though they are not ‘being’, are nevertheless ‘something'; and they continue to make use of them in their lives and their philosophy as permanent and enduring magnitudes.” p. 1116.
Plutarch now addresses Colotes and asks whether they themselves do not distinguish between stable and transient being, etc.
Now Plutarch becomes waggish and says:
“... but Epicurus is wiser than Plato in acknowledging that all alike have being.... He holds that the transient has the same being as the eternal ... and realities that can never divest themselves of their being the same as those whose being lies in the fact that they are acted upon and changed and which never remain the same. Yet if Plato was indeed greatly mistaken in this, he should be called to account for confusion of terms by those who speak better Greek.” p. 1116.
It is amusing to listen to this swaggering respectability which thinks itself clever. He himself, that is, Plutarch, reduces the Platonic differentiation of being to two names, and yet on the other hand claims that the Epicureans are wrong when they ascribe a stable being to both sides (nevertheless they distinguish quite well the ajqarton [indestructible] and the agennhton [uncreated, having no beginning] from that which exists by composition); does not Plato also do this if the er at d stands stable on the one hand and the genesqai [becoming] on the other?