While discussing the literature of Walter Pater, Kurt Lampe argues that the function of (rational hedonistic) philosophy is “to remove impediments to the purest and most immediate reception of … experiences”.
Here, as I discussed in Tending the Epicurean Garden, philosophy (literally, “love of wisdom”) is not only a love of rational pursuits and of acquiring knowledge, but is expanded to infer a love of experiences, of knowing what certain things feel like and of directly knowing the nuances of living in this world. In my book, I cite how in the Bible knowing someone has a specifically sexual meaning and connotes that lovers taste and feel a certain way and clearly goes beyond blending of minds, and I also cite how we can know an apple only by tasting and eating one. This is not the same as identifying that a round, red fruit is called an apple. THIS other way of knowing is hedonistic, direct, real, and it’s a kind of knowledge the enjoyment of which we can educate ourselves to maximize.
Two observations can be made here. The first one takes us back to the Epicurean canon, and how reason is excluded from it. Many explanations for this are given in the writings, but here we can discern another one: reason can be seen as obstructing the immediacy of experience and creating distance between us and direct experience, whether sensual or relational. If reason distances us from an experience, then whatever pleasure is available to us in that experience is in danger of being Platonized and not directly enjoyed.
Therefore, reason is a tool that leads to certain intellectual pleasures and that can help us in the economy (oikonomia) of pleasure: the management of pleasure and pain in our choices and avoidances, the measurement of which started with the Cyrenaics. But reason can elsewhere impede a life of pleasure. Its place in our hedonic regimen is therefore limited and very specific.
Another observation, one which is made by Lampe, is on connoisseurship and how it may sometimes have the power to make things more enjoyable. Ergo, training or education in certain arts of enjoyment can serve to amplify our pleasure. A curriculum of hedonistic education then becomes possible, one which allows us to acquire greater adaptability and versatility to enjoy the simple pleasures that nature has to offer.
The author speaks of this in terms of “the wider music”, which includes ritual and other forms of art that, like music, have the power to inspire and produce rapture. His examples include wine or cheese tasting, learning music or art appreciation, and other forms of enjoyment of things available for consumption.
Aristippus included “speaking well” as part of the necessary education of a philosopher, as it secures more respect and creates greater confidence, and all of this enhances a life that is pleasant. The value of education is, here, accurately measured in terms of hedons and dolons (units of pleasure added, or of pain removed)
Notice the beautifully pragmatic art of living (techne biou, in Greek) that is being described here. We’ve come full circle and return to the beginning of our Cyrenaic reasonings, where we noted that the founder of this tradition argued that one of the things that philosophy did for him was to make him more adaptable. We said that he would “put less faith in his ability to control what happens in the future than in his ability to adapt to it”.
Some Closing Notes on Michel Onfray
Before we end our Cyrenaic Reasonings, there is one modern intellectual that Lampe discusses who deserves our attention. He is not known for making original contributions to philosophy, but does deserve credit for beautifully and intelligently synthesizing the ideas of many who came before him.
Michel Onfray understood the value of what is being said here when he founded the Université Populaire de Caen in order to teach his counter-history of philosophy. It is within this context that he echoed Nietzsche’s declaration that “art has more value than truth”. Perhaps what he meant by this was that, although truth is irresistible, art is heroic, creative, it dances, it moves us and frees us. Nietzsche’s influence can also be seen in Onfray’s artistic conception of self-creation and exercise of will: he speaks of sculpting the Self.
The rivers of thought of Grandfathers Nietzsche and Freud also meet and become a single current in Onfray’s insistence that “the repressed body produces civilization”. This is indeed one of the implied results of Epicurus’ doctrine of the materialist, “atomic” soul as the neural system entirely embedded within the body and inseparable from it. The nature of the psyche (Greek word for soul) can only be discerned and studied as an emergent, physical property. The following two Onfray quotes conclude our reasonings:
The ocean we must cross? Idealist philosophy in its triple form: Platonic, Christian, and German.
… Tension occupies the flesh for a long time. The body is a strange place where influxes and intuitions, energies and forces circulate. Sometimes the resolution of conflicts and mysteries, the solutions for deflecting shadows and confusions appear in a moment of exceptional density, which opens a gap in existence and inaugurates a perspective rich in possibilities. So the body of a philosopher presents itself as a crucible where existential experiences are developed, and later called to take form in logical and rigorous structures.
Finally, a quote from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra:
Once the soul looked contemptuously on the body, and then that
contempt was the supreme thing:- the soul wished the body meagre, ghastly, and famished. Thus it thought to escape from the body and the earth.
Oh, that soul was itself meagre, ghastly, and famished; and
cruelty was the delight of that soul!
But ye, also, my brethren, tell me: What doth your body say about your soul? Is your soul not poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency?
We are here being invited to philosophize with our feet on the ground, fully reconciled with nature, with our bodies, with our instincts–and not against them. This is the conclusion of the Cyrenaic Reasonings. Onfray says that Cyrene–the cradle of hedonism–is a “philosophical Atlantis”, and after studying and writing these reasonings, I’m obliged to concur. I invite all my readers to add to the vitality of this intellectual tradition by sharing, liking, commenting, and elaborating on these reasonings.
The Cyrenaic Reasonings were based on the highly-recommended book by Kurt Lampe titled The Birth of Hedonism: The Cyrenaic Philosophers and Pleasure as a Way of Life.
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