Life’s Purpose, The Pursuit of Knowledge?

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 7.2

“Hêrillos the Karthaginian said that our purpose was knowledge: we should live by adducing the life of knowledge to everything and surrendering nothing to ignorance. He believed that knowledge was a practice of the imagination, imperturbable by argument. He used to say that there was no single end, but that it changed depending on events and situations, just as a bronze figure could be made into either Alexander or Socrates.”

Ἥριλλος δ᾿ ὁ Καρχηδόνιος τέλος εἶπε τὴν ἐπιστήμην, ὅπερ ἐστὶ ζῆν ἀεὶ πάντ᾿ ἀναφέροντα πρὸς τὸ μετ᾿ ἐπιστήμης ζῆν καὶ μὴ τῇ ἀγνοίᾳ διαβεβλημένον. εἶναι δὲ τὴν ἐπιστήμην ἕξιν ἐν φαντασιῶν προσδέξει ἀνυπόπτωτον ὑπὸ λόγου. ποτὲ δ᾿ ἔλεγε μηδὲν εἶναι τέλος, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὰς περιστάσεις καὶ τὰ πράγματ᾿ ἀλλάττεσθαι αὐτό, ὡς καὶ τὸν αὐτὸν χαλκὸν ἢ Ἀλεξάνδρου γινόμενον ἀνδριάντα ἢ Σωκράτους.”

Lactantius, Inst. Div. 3.7

“The highest good according to Herillus is knowledge; according to Zeno, to live congruously with nature, and according to some Stoics, to pursue virtue.”

Herilli summum bonum est scientia, Zenonis cum natura congruenter vivere, quorundam Stoicorum virtutem sequi.

Cicero, De Finibus 2.14

“Erillus, moreover, since he refers everything back to knowledge, imagines one certain good, but it is not the greatest good by which you could steer a life. For this reason, Erillus has been dismissed for a long time. No one has directly disputed him since Chrysippus.”

Erillus autem ad scientiam omnia revocans unum quoddam bonum vidit, sed nec optimum nec quo vita gubernari possit. Itaque hic ipse iam pridem est reiectus; post enim Chrysippum non sane est disputatum.

Cicero, Academica  2.42

“I am not including the philosophies which now seem abandoned, for example Erillus who positioned the highest good in thinking and knowledge. Although he was a pupil of Zeno, you can see how much he disagreed with him and how little with Plato.”

Omitto illa quae relicta iam videntur—ut Erillum, qui in cognitione et scientia summum bonum ponit; qui cum Zenonis auditor esset, vides quantum ab eo dissenserit et quam non multum a Platone.

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Speech and Its Corresponding Meaning

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 36-38

“Next, let’s consider the way we learn, since learning happens wither through experience or through speech. But of these two approaches, experience comes from this which are demonstrable, the demonstrable is clear, and the clear—because it is obvious—is available to all in common. Such perception which is available to all in common is unteachable. Hence, anything apprehended through experience is not teachable.

Speech either corresponds to some meaning or it does not. If it corresponds to no meaning at all, then it teaches nothing. When it does correspond to some meaning it does it either by intrinsic nature or by established convention. It cannot, in truth correspond to meaning by intrinsic nature since not all people understand the same meaning when they hear it (as when the Greeks listen to barbarians or the barbarians listen to Greeks).

If speech signals meaning by convention, it is clear that people who have absorbed before the meanings to which these words correspond will also comprehend them now, and not because they have learned from them something which was not known—it is more like they are resuscitating what they knew before, while those who lack learning of what they don’t know will not do the same.”

τὸ μετὰ τοῦτο ἀπαιτῶμεν τὸν τρόπον τῆς μαθήσεως. ἢ γὰρ ἐναργείᾳ γίνεται ἢ λόγῳ τὰ τῆς διδασκαλίας. ἀλλὰ τούτων ἡ μὲν ἐνάργεια τῶν δεικτῶν ἐστί, τὸ δὲ δεικτὸν φαινόμενον, τὸ δὲ φαινόμενον, ᾗ φαίνεται, κοινῶς πᾶσι ληπτόν, τὸ δὲ κοινῶς πᾶσι ληπτὸν ἀδίδακτον· οὐκ ἄρα τὸ ἐναργείᾳ δεικτὸν διδακτόν. ὁ δὲ λόγος ἤτοι σημαίνει τι ἢ οὐ σημαίνει. καὶ μηδὲν μὲν σημαίνων οὐδὲ διδάσκαλός τινὸς ἐστι, σημαίνων δὲ ἤτοι φύσει σημαίνει τι ἢ θέσει. καὶ φύσει μὲν οὐ σημαίνει διὰ τὸ μὴ πάντας πάντων ἀκούειν, Ἕλληνας βαρβάρων καὶ βαρβάρους Ἑλλήνων ἢ Ἕλληνας Ἑλλήνων ἢ βαρβάρους βαρβάρων· θέσει δὲ εἴπερ σημαίνει, δῆλον ὡς οἱ μὲν προκατειληφότες τὰ καθ᾿ ὧν αἱ λέξεις κεῖνται καὶ ἀντιλήψονται τούτων, οὐ τὸ ἀγνοούμενον ἐξ αὐτῶν διδασκόμενοι, τὸ δ᾿ ὅπερ ᾔδεισαν ἀνανεούμενοι, οἱ δὲ χρῄζοντες τῆς τῶν ἀγνοουμένων μαθήσεως οὐκέτι.

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Virtue and the Arts: Some Aristotle to Start Your Day

Some Aristotle for this morning. I don’t think I actually believe the third point–because I suspect that insisting that human character is constant and consistent is actually (1) wrong and (2) impacts mental health negatively. But I like the beginning and the emphasis on that Aristotelian notion that doing something makes you something...

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 2.2-4

“Or is this also true in the arts? For spelling a word accidentally or with someone else guiding you is possible. Then, one will be a scholar if he spells something the way a scholar does, by which I mean according to the scholarly art itself. In addition, there is no real similarity between the arts and virtue. For the products of art are good in themselves—it suffices if they develop while having their own quality.

But acts of virtue don’t have their own intrinsic quality and are performed wisely or justly, but if the person who does them acts in a certain way. First, he must understand what he does. Second, he must choose to do it and for its own nature. And, third, he must act from a fixed and constant character. None of these conditions are necessary for the other arts apart from understanding the act. But knowledge is of little or no importance for the virtues while the other conditions are not minor but rather everything, if truly [virtue] emerges from repeatedly doing just and wise things.”

ἢ οὐδ᾿ ἐπὶ τῶν τεχνῶν οὕτως ἔχει; ἐνδέχεται γὰρ γραμματικόν τι ποιῆσαι καὶ ἀπὸ τύχης καὶ ἄλλου ὑποθεμένου· τότε οὖν ἔσται γραμματικός, ἐὰν καὶ γραμματικόν τι ποιήσῃ καὶ γραμματικῶς, τοῦτο δ᾿ ἐστὶ [τὸ] κατὰ τὴν ἐν αὑτῷ γραμματικήν. ἔτι οὐδ᾿ ὅμοιόν ἐστιν ἐπὶ τῶν τεχνῶν καὶ τῶν ἀρετῶν· τὰ μὲν γὰρ ὑπὸ τῶν τεχνῶν γινόμενα τὸ εὖ ἔχει ἐν αὑτοῖς, ἀρκεῖ οὖν αὐτά πως ἔχοντα γενέσθαι· τὰ δὲ κατὰ τὰς ἀρετὰς γινόμενα οὐκ ἐὰν αὐτά πως ἔχῃ, δικαίως ἢ σωφρόνως πράττεται, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐὰν ὁ πράττων πως ἔχων πράττῃ, πρῶτον μὲν ἐὰν εἰδώς, ἔπειτ᾿ ἐὰν προαιρούμενος, καὶ προαιρούμενος δι᾿ αὐτά, τὸ δὲ τρίτον καὶ ἐὰν βεβαίως καὶ ἀμετακινήτως ἔχων πράττῃ. ταῦτα δὲ πρὸς μὲν τὸ τὰς ἄλλας τέχνας ἔχειν οὐ συναριθμεῖται, πλὴν αὐτὸ τὸ εἰδέναι· πρὸς δὲ τὸ τὰς ἀρετὰς τὸ μὲν εἰδέναι μικρὸν ἢ οὐδὲν ἰσχύει, τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα οὐ μικρὸν ἀλλὰ τὸ πᾶν δύναται, εἴπερ ἐκ τοῦ πολλάκις πράττειν τὰ δίκαια καὶ σώφρονα περιγίνεται.

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Brtitish Library, Constitution of the Athenians

“Who Killed Him?” An Allegory from Euripides

Euripides, Bacchae 1259-1289

Kadmos
Oh, gods. Once you all understand what you have done,
You will feel a terrible pain. But if you stay permanently
forever as you are now
You will not be happy but you will not seem to be cursed.

Agave
What of this is not noble or is painful?

Kadmos
First move your gaze to the sky.

Agave
Look! What is this you are telling me to see?

Kadmos
Is this the same or does it seem to you to have changed?

Agave
It shines brighter than before and it is clearer

Kadmos
Is this high still there in your mind?

Agave
I don’t understand what you’re saying. But I think
I am somewhat aware, that I am coming down from my earlier thoughts.

Kadmos
Would you hear then and answer me clearly?

Agave
Father, I have forgotten what we said earlier.

Kadmos
To what home did you go after you were married?

Agave
You gave me to Ekhiôn, one of the sewn-men, people say.

Kadmos
Who is the child born to your husband at home?

Agave
Pentheus, the son shared by his father and me.

Kadmos
Whose face do you hold then in your hands?

Agave
A lion’s…that’s what my fellow hunters say…

Kadmos
Look again, carefully. It is a small labor to see.

Agave
Ah, what do I see? What is this I hold in my hands?

Kadmos
Examine it and learn it more clearly.

Agave
I see the greatest pain, what kind of wretch am I…

Kadmos
Does it seem to look like a lion to you?

Agave
No…but, oh wretched me I am holding Pentheus’ head…

Kadmos
This was mourned before you could see it, at least.

Agave
Who killed him? How did he end up in my hands?

Kadmos
How horrible a truth appears at the wrong time.

Agave
Tell me! How my heart jumps at the future….

Kadmos
You killed him. And your sisters too.

 ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
φεῦ φεῦ· φρονήσασαι μὲν οἷ᾿ ἐδράσατε
ἀλγήσετ᾿ ἄλγος δεινόν· εἰ δὲ διὰ τέλους
ἐν τῷδ᾿ ἀεὶ μενεῖτ᾿ ἐν ᾧ καθέστατε,
οὐκ εὐτυχοῦσαι δόξετ᾿ οὐχὶ δυστυχεῖν.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
τί δ᾿ οὐ καλῶς τῶνδ᾿ ἢ τί λυπηρῶς ἔχει;

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
πρῶτον μὲν ἐς τόνδ᾿ αἰθέρ᾿ ὄμμα σὸν μέθες.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
ἰδού· τί μοι τόνδ᾿ ἐξυπεῖπας εἰσορᾶν;

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
ἔθ᾿ αὑτὸς ἤ σοι μεταβολὰς ἔχειν δοκεῖ;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
λαμπρότερος ἢ πρὶν καὶ διειπετέστερος.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
τὸ δὲ πτοηθὲν τόδ᾿ ἔτι σῇ ψυχῇ πάρα;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
οὐκ οἶδα τοὔπος τοῦτο. γίγνομαι δέ πως
ἔννους, μετασταθεῖσα τῶν πάρος φρενῶν.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
κλύοις ἂν οὖν τι κἀποκρίναι᾿ ἂν σαφῶς;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
ὡς ἐκλέλησμαί γ᾿ ἃ πάρος εἴπομεν, πάτερ.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
ἐς ποῖον ἦλθες οἶκον ὑμεναίων μέτα;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
Σπαρτῷ μ᾿ ἔδωκας, ὡς λέγουσ᾿, Ἐχίονι.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
τίς οὖν ἐν οἴκοις παῖς ἐγένετο σῷ πόσει;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
Πενθεύς, ἐμῇ τε καὶ πατρὸς κοινωνίᾳ.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
τίνος πρόσωπον δῆτ᾿ ἐν ἀγκάλαις ἔχεις;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
λέοντος, ὥς γ᾿ ἔφασκον αἱ θηρώμεναι.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
σκέψαι νυν ὀρθῶς· βραχὺς ὁ μόχθος εἰσιδεῖν.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
ἔα, τί λεύσσω; τί φέρομαι τόδ᾿ ἐν χεροῖν;

ἄθρησον αὐτὸ καὶ σαφέστερον μάθε.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
ὁρῶ μέγιστον ἄλγος ἡ τάλαιν᾿ ἐγώ.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
μῶν σοι λέοντι φαίνεται προσεικέναι;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
οὔκ, ἀλλὰ Πενθέως ἡ τάλαιν᾿ ἔχω κάρα.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
ᾠμωγμένον γε πρόσθεν ἢ σὲ γνωρίσαι.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
τίς ἔκτανέν νιν; πῶς ἐμὰς ἦλθ᾿ ἐς χέρας;

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
δύστην᾿ ἀλήθει᾿, ὡς ἐν οὐ καιρῷ πάρει.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
λέγ᾿, ὡς τὸ μέλλον καρδία πήδημ᾿ ἔχει.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
σύ νιν κατέκτας καὶ κασίγνηται σέθεν.

Death of Pentheus, House of the Vettii in Pompeii

Homer, Odyssey 1.30-32

“Mortals! They are always blaming the gods
and saying that evil comes from us when they themselves
suffer pain beyond their lot because of their own recklessness.”

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ’ ἔμμεναι• οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν

“Nothing Taught Contributes to Wisdom”

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 1.1-2

“The schools of Epicurus and Pyrrho seem to have set forth the indictment against the professors of learning (toùs apò tôn mathemátôn) in a cursory way, although not from the same perspective. The Epicureans argue that none of those things that are taught may contribute to wisdom—this is an argument Epicurus made, as some contend, in order to cover up his own lack of education (for Epicurus was criticized by many for his ignorance: he couldn’t even speak correctly in everyday conversation!). In addition, he also antagonistic in this towards Plato and Aristotle, and other similar men, who were versed in many different fields.”

Τὴν πρὸς τοὺς ἀπὸ τῶν μαθημάτων ἀντίρρησιν κοινότερον μὲν διατεθεῖσθαι δοκοῦσιν οἵ τε περὶ τὸν ᾿Επίκουρον καὶ οἱ ἀπὸ τοῦ Πύρρωνος, οὐκ ἀπὸ τῆς αὐτῆς δὲ διαθέσεως, ἀλλ’ οἱ μὲν περὶ τὸν ᾿Επίκουρον ὡς τῶν μαθημάτων μηδὲν συνεργούντων πρὸς σοφίας τελείωσιν, ἤ, ὥς τινες εἰκάζουσι, τοῦτο προκάλυμμα τῆς ἑαυτῶν ἀπαιδευσίας εἶναι νομίζοντες (ἐν πολλοῖς γὰρ ἀμαθὴς ᾿Επίκουρος ἐλέγχεται, οὐδὲ ἐν ταῖς κοιναῖς ὁμιλίαις καθαρεύων), τάχα δὲ καὶ διὰ τὴν πρὸς τοὺς περὶ Πλάτωνα καὶ ᾿Αριστοτέλη καὶ τοὺς ὁμοίους δυσμένειαν πολυμαθεῖς γεγονότας•

Some counterpoints from the Gnomologium Vaticanum.

50: “Aristotle said that education is a decoration for the lucky but a refuge for the unfortunate.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη τὴν παιδείαν εὐτυχοῦσι μὲν εἶναι όσμον, ἀτυχοῦσι δὲ καταφύγιον.

259: “When Demetrios [of Phalerus] was asked what was the noblest of animals he said “A human adorned by education.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς τί τῶν ζώων κάλλιστόν ἐστιν εἶπεν· „ἄνθρωπος παιδείᾳ κεκοσμημένος”.

302: “[Zeno the Stoic] used to say that education was sufficient for happiness”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη τὴν παιδείαν πρὸς εὐδαιμονίαν αὐτάρκη.

314: “Heraclitus used to say that learning is a second sun for the educated”

῾Ηράκλειτος τὴν παιδείαν ἕτερον ἥλιον εἶναι τοῖς πεπαιδευμένοις ἔλεγεν.

439: [Plato] used to say that someone being educated needs three things: ability, practice and time.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔλεγεν ὅτι ὁ παιδευόμενος τριῶν τούτων χρῄζει· φύσεως, μελέτης, χρόνου.

469: “[Protagoras] used to say “knowing a lot helps a lot and hurts a lot.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη· „πολυμαθίη κάρτα μὲν ὠφελέει, κάρτα δὲ βλάπτει”.

Seneca, Moral Epistles 88.20

“Why do we train our children in the liberal arts? It is not because these studies can grant someone virtue, but because they prepare the soul for accepting it.”

“Quare ergo liberalibus studiis filios erudimus?” Non quia virtutem dare possunt, sed quia animum ad accipiendam virtutem praeparant.

Lactantius, Inst. Div. 3.7

“The highest good according to Herillus is knowledge; according to Zeno, to live congruously with nature, and according to some Stoics, to pursue virtue.”

Herilli summum bonum est scientia, Zenonis cum natura congruenter vivere, quorundam Stoicorum virtutem sequi.

Related image
Mosiac floor of The Hall of the Grain Measurers in Ostia (taken from Flickr)

Virtue and the Arts: Some Aristotle to Start Your Day

Before I got ready to shovel the snow from my driveway, I read some Aristotle this morning. I don’t think I actually believe the third point–because I suspect that insisting that human character is constant and consistent is actually (1) wrong and (2) impacts mental health negatively. But I like the beginning and the emphasis on that Aristotelian notion that doing something makes you something...

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 2.2-4

“Or is this also true in the arts? For spelling a word accidentally or with someone else guiding you is possible. Then, one will be a scholar if he spells something the way a scholar does, by which I mean according to the scholarly art itself. In addition, there is no real similarity between the arts and virtue. For the products of art are good in themselves—it suffices if they develop while having their own quality.

But acts of virtue don’t have their own intrinsic quality and are performed wisely or justly, but if the person who does them acts in a certain way. First, he must understand what he does. Second, he must choose to do it and for its own nature. And, third, he must act from a fixed and constant character. None of these conditions are necessary for the other arts apart from understanding the act. But knowledge is of little or no importance for the virtues while the other conditions are not minor but rather everything, if truly [virtue] emerges from repeatedly doing just and wise things.”

ἢ οὐδ᾿ ἐπὶ τῶν τεχνῶν οὕτως ἔχει; ἐνδέχεται γὰρ γραμματικόν τι ποιῆσαι καὶ ἀπὸ τύχης καὶ ἄλλου ὑποθεμένου· τότε οὖν ἔσται γραμματικός, ἐὰν καὶ γραμματικόν τι ποιήσῃ καὶ γραμματικῶς, τοῦτο δ᾿ ἐστὶ [τὸ] κατὰ τὴν ἐν αὑτῷ γραμματικήν. ἔτι οὐδ᾿ ὅμοιόν ἐστιν ἐπὶ τῶν τεχνῶν καὶ τῶν ἀρετῶν· τὰ μὲν γὰρ ὑπὸ τῶν τεχνῶν γινόμενα τὸ εὖ ἔχει ἐν αὑτοῖς, ἀρκεῖ οὖν αὐτά πως ἔχοντα γενέσθαι· τὰ δὲ κατὰ τὰς ἀρετὰς γινόμενα οὐκ ἐὰν αὐτά πως ἔχῃ, δικαίως ἢ σωφρόνως πράττεται, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐὰν ὁ πράττων πως ἔχων πράττῃ, πρῶτον μὲν ἐὰν εἰδώς, ἔπειτ᾿ ἐὰν προαιρούμενος, καὶ προαιρούμενος δι᾿ αὐτά, τὸ δὲ τρίτον καὶ ἐὰν βεβαίως καὶ ἀμετακινήτως ἔχων πράττῃ. ταῦτα δὲ πρὸς μὲν τὸ τὰς ἄλλας τέχνας ἔχειν οὐ συναριθμεῖται, πλὴν αὐτὸ τὸ εἰδέναι· πρὸς δὲ τὸ τὰς ἀρετὰς τὸ μὲν εἰδέναι μικρὸν ἢ οὐδὲν ἰσχύει, τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα οὐ μικρὸν ἀλλὰ τὸ πᾶν δύναται, εἴπερ ἐκ τοῦ πολλάκις πράττειν τὰ δίκαια καὶ σώφρονα περιγίνεται.

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Brtitish Library, Constitution of the Athenians

Some Useful Principles On Science and Fear

Some of Epicurus’ Maxims (taken from Diogenes Laertius‘ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers)

  1. “If fear of the skies or about death had never afflicted us—along with the ignoring of the limits of pain and desires—we never would have needed natural science”

Εἰ μηθὲν ἡμᾶς αἱ τῶν μετεώρων ὑποψίαι ἠνώχλουν καὶ αἱ περὶ θανάτου, μή ποτε πρὸς ἡμᾶς ᾖ τι, ἔτι τε τὸ μὴ κατανοεῖν τοὺς ὅρους τῶν ἀλγηδόνων καὶ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, οὐκ ἂν προσεδεόμεθα φυσιολογίας.

  1. “It is not possible to eliminate fear about the most important things unless one understands the nature of everything—otherwise, we live fearing things we heard from myths. Therefore, it is not possible to enjoy unmixed pleasures without natural science.”

XII. Οὐκ ἦν τὸ φοβούμενον λύειν ὑπὲρ τῶν κυριωτάτων μὴ κατειδότα τίς ἡ τοῦ σύμπαντος φύσις, ἀλλ’ ὑποπτευόμενόν τι τῶν κατὰ τοὺς μύθους· ὥστε οὐκ ἦν ἄνευ φυσιολογίας ἀκεραίους τὰς ἡδονὰς ἀπολαμβάνειν.

  1. “There is no profit in making yourself secure against other people as long as you fear what happens above and below the earth or elsewhere in the endless universe.”

XIII. Οὐθὲν ὄφελος ἦν τὴν κατ’ ἀνθρώπους ἀσφάλειαν κατασκευάζεσθαι τῶν ἄνωθεν ὑπόπτων καθεστώτων καὶ τῶν ὑπὸ γῆς καὶ ἁπλῶς τῶν ἐν τῷ ἀπείρῳ.

Image result for Ancient Greek Epicurus fear