IV. After Aristotle


I. What is everything? Atoms and the void.

II. How many cosmoi are there? An infinite number. (354) (Infinite number of atoms moving in infinite space.)

III. How do we know things? Effluences. (speedy and continuous) (354)

            A. Absolutely trustworthy. (355) (363)

            B. Falsehood or error arises when we make a judgement about it.

            C. Have to say this to avoid radical skepticism. (A pragmatic move.)

IV. The soul – the perceiving, thinking part.

            A. A body enclosed in our observable body. (357)

            B. Something which was actually incorporeal could not interact with body. (357-358)

C. What happens at death of the body? Soul is scattered. No perception. Does not exist as the perceiving, thinking part.

V. The heavenly bodies are gods (?), but they are…

            A. Blessed and indestructible.

            B. They do not interest themselves in human lives.

VI.  The point of studying the nature of things? Tranquillity.

            A. No dread of the gods.

            B. No fear of death.

VII. Ethics -- The goal is maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain for yourself.

            A. Life of excess? No!

            B. Attend to necessities and lead a simple life. (362)

VIII. Justice (364)

            A. The “compact”. Agreement not to harm each other, benefits each one.

B. “Injustice is not a bad thing in its own right,…” –

1. What’s bad about if for the perpetrator is fear of being caught.

                        2. What if I think I can get away with it? Can’t ever be sure.

3. [Rogers] What if you could be sure? Or what if the pleasure of doing the unjust thing outweighed the pain of the fear of being caught? Then you ought to do the unjust thing.

D. In general justice is the same for everyone – abide by the compact. Might work out differently for different cultures and peoples.


Epictetus – Stoicism

I. The Stoic cosmos

A. God – a mind inhabiting the physical universe. (Different Stoics put it differently…some say the physical universe is the substance of God, which sounds a little like Heraclitus.)

B. The eternal recurrence

C. seminal reasons

-- What Epictetus is concerned about is how to get and stay happy!  Freedom – in the sense of autonomy and peace --

II. Some things are in your control and some aren’t.

A. Your interior states vs. external things.

B. No point in stewing about the external things.

III. You should…

A. minimize desires – less to be dissatisfied about

B. recognize the natures of things – you’re prepared when things behave according to their nature.

            1. Death

            2. Not an evil in any case

C. Conform your desires to the events. (414 -5), (415-8).

D. Some specific advice

            1. Whatever role you find yourself in, play it to the best of your ability. (Stupid to bemoan the fact that things are not otherwise)

            2. Especially stupid, if you were not willing to do what it took to achieve whatever it is you are pining for.


Sextus Empiricus – Skepticism

I. The three basic positions

A. Dogmatists

B. Academics (Ironically the inheritors of Plato’s school) Too dogmatic for Sextus E.

C. The Skeptics.

II. “Do the skeptics deny appearances?”

III. Goal of skepticism – mental tranquility (437).

IV. The Five Modes (438)

            A. disagreement

            B. extension to infinity

            C. relativity

            D. assumption

            E. circle

V. Induction (440) (Adopting the methods of science don’t get us any closer to learning what is the case than not adopting them.)

VI. Is skepticism self-refuting?

            A. You ought to suspend judgement. (Maybe it would be good for you to suspend judgement.)

            B. Careful reasoning (e.g. the five modes) proves that suspending judgement is the most reasonable position to take.

                        1. If the conclusion is true the “proof” is undermined, since you have to suspend judgement about whether or not reasoning can prove anything.

                        2. So what? We can kick a ladder away once we’ve reached our destination (440).

                        3. A and –A in the same way at the same time?

                        4. Maybe instead say that reasoning is a tool to use to get us to mental tranquility, not a practice to access truth.

                        5. But then it seems we can choose to use reasoning that way or not.  (Here I am tap dancing. Would you like to join me?)

VII. Does suspending judgement lead to mental tranquility?

            A. A matter of temperament?

            B. Aren’t we sometimes forced to choose?

1. We are actors in the world, after all, not passive by-standers.

2. Sextus: Sure we can act, we just shouldn’t commit to any theories.

3. But is that humanly possible? Aren’t there theories where acceptance or rejection structure our whole lives, and we cannot sit the fence.?

 E.g. Socrates on the immortality of the soul in the Phaedo and Pascal’s wager.

VIII. For example – God and Pascal’s (1623-1662) wager. (Pascal is talking about the Christian God.)

            A. The evidence is mixed. (p.438)

                        1. Apparent order implies an Orderer.

                        2. But there’s evil which implies no Orderer.  God may have good reasons to permit evil, so we can’t prove that there’s no God.

            B. If the evidence is balanced, isn’t the most rational thing to sit the fence?

1. Pascal: No, because belief in God involves a certain lifestyle – belief in objective morality, where it matters to the agent how he behaves; gratitude, humility, love of neighbor.

2. On the ground, agnosticism and atheism involve the same sort of life. Failure to commit to objective morality, etc. A licentious life-style.

3. You can’t sit the fence. You have to choose. You are going to structure your life as if there is a robust objective morality which should guide your actions, or you aren’t.

            C.  The rational thing is to choose God

                        1. If you choose God and you’re right there is a God, you win big time.

                        2. If you choose God and you’re wrong there is no God, you don’t lose anything – chances are you lead a happier life.

                        3. If you choose No-God and you’re right you don’t win anything – maybe lead an unhappier life.

                        4. If you choose No-God and you’re wrong, you lose big time.



 Plotinus (Neo-platonism)

I. The basic project – systematize Plato and reconcile Plato and Aristotle

II. Influence

            A. Augustine…except for the attitude towards body and matter.

                        1. Christians CAN’T buy Plotinus’ position on the body and matter.

                        2. Conversely, Plotinus thinks Christianity is nasty!

            B. Greek-speaking Christians -- which introduces a new stream into Latin-speaking Europe.

            C. The Islamic Aristotelians. (The Theology of Aristotle)

            D. The (so-called) Renaissance

            E. Hegel

-- Let’s start at the bottom of the universe, in terms of value, and work our way up to the top.

III.  Corporeal things. The valuable would be the beautiful. (Rather broad understanding of “beautiful”. Whatever is good.)

A. They are beautiful because they share in the Idea of Beauty.

B. There must be this intelligible realm as Plato talked about it.

IV. There are incorporeal things that are beautiful.

            A. virtues of the soul.

            B. The soul – when it is cleansed of all accretions, nasty, bodily muck,-- is beautiful.

            C. To become fully itself it must look within, at the highest part of itself, the part that is joined with the Forms.

D. It must live in the World of the Forms.

E. Epistemology – Plato was right that to know requires immediate access to the Forms. It’s not recollections. We’re always there! 

V. The World-Soul.

A. The World of the Forms and Plato’s Demiurge, combined. (449)

            B. But the World-Soul itself isn’t perfect.

1. It is multiple. An ordered multiplicity implies a transcendent orderer.

2. And it’s engaged with matter.

            C. It must itself be the image of some higher thing. The Intelligence. Nous. (450)

VI. Nous

            A. The World of the Forms as unified, the Form of all the Forms.

            B. Thought thinking itself.

            C. Pure and perfect Being.

            D. Still some multiplicity. There must be a higher cause. (450, 451)

VII. The One (or the Good) – perfectly unified source of all that has being.

            A. Beyond thinking.

            B. Beyond Form. (Form implies some sort of limitation. This and not that.)

            C. Beyond Being. It is just the One. (A sort of Nothing in that it transcends all circumscribed things.)

VIII. How is it that the many come from the One?

A. Emanation (451)

B. A necessary self-diffusion.

C. The source always more unified than the product.

IX. Matter – a deliberate ambivalence

            A. The last and the least diffusion?

            B. Just there…the inert corpse…the nonbeing. (A sort of Nothing in that it falls below all circumscribed things.)

            C. The principle of EVIL. (But we can’t exactly say it’s “opposite” to the One.)

X. Ambivalence travels upwards. The activity of the World-Soul.

XI. The goal – union with the One. The Neo-platonic “return”.

            A. Human soul needs to turn inward and recognize its unity with World-Soul.

            B. World-Soul turns upwards to its source, as does Nous. We are carried upwards to mystical “vision” beyond reason.