Did Epicurus really state Epicurus' paradox?

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Did Epicurus really state Epicurus' paradox?

#1  Postby Hugin » Jun 26, 2011 9:53 pm

"Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?"

This statement is traditionally attributed to Epicurus, by Christian theologian Lactantius, who then goes on to criticize it (it's amazing how much of our knowledge of ancient religious skepticism comes from quotes by the faithful, as the original works are often lost). But did he really make that statement? The Epicureans did believe in the Greek gods, though they believed that the gods didn't infer in human affairs (or even created the world), making them polydeists.

If Epicurus didn't make that claim, then who really made it? I read somewhere that it might have originated from one of the Greek skeptics. Though from what I know, the Greek skeptics mostly criticized the philosophical certitudes of the Epicureans and (especially) the Stoics, and didn't bother too much with religion (but I could be wrong here).
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Re: Did Epicurus really state Epicurus' paradox?

#2  Postby fustbariclation » Jun 27, 2011 1:57 pm

We don't know.

Much, if not most, of what Epicurus wrote has been lost, all we have is fragments. There doesn't seem any evidence for anybody else having said it - an earlier quote along the same lines would prove that Epicurus didn't say it.

It is, as you say, a critic of Epicurus' position that credits him with having said it. It's possible that it might have been invented as a straw-man argument, simply to be destroyed, but I think that highly unlikely. The argument is simply too good. I'd expect that the first person to come up with it must have been pleased enough with it to want to be known as the author.

It is consistent with what we do know that Epicurus said - apart from the anachronistic use of 'god'. Epicurus spoke about the gods, not any particular one, so it'd be odd for him to state it in a monotheistic manner - but we're reading the interpretation by Lactantius, so you'd expect that sort of translation into his perspective.

The other thing that's odd about it is that Epicurus' general position is that the gods only exist because people believe in them and have nothing to do with human affairs. With that position, it isn't clear why there need be any 'problem of evil', for Epicurus to address. Maybe there's some early, missing, work in which he explores the position of a monotheist and develops this position.

In translations of Epicurus, the word 'evil' crops up, but it is usually liked to pain, in apposition to 'good', which is liked to pleasure. The complicated Christian view of evil that, no doubt, Lactantius would have held, is rather a long way from that.

If we consider the statement re-cast into Epicurus' terms, it would be something like:

Either the gods wish to abolish pain, and cannot; or they can, but do not want to. If they want to, but cannot, they are impotent. If they can, but does not want to, they are wicked. If the gods can abolish pain, and the gods really want to do that, why is there pain in the world?

I think that Epicurus position would be simply that the gods are impotent and don't have no interaction with, nor interest in, human affairs, so the question is pretty irrelevant. There is pain in the world because that is the way the world is. The gods wouldn't want to abolish it, if they could even think of the notion, and, having no interest in humanity, they'd not want to.

So it'd only be in answer to a fairly simple-minded, or foolish, notion that Epicurus would be bothered to ask the question. Epicurus, living 300 odd years BC, wouldn't have met any Christians, or Muslims, of course, since there weren't any, but he might have met some Jews, one of whom might have raised the question.

Maybe, some day, somebody will discover some more writings of Epicurus that help answer the question, but this isn't very likely. I think 'we don't know' is the best position. On balance, I think it possible that he'd have said something like the above, but highly unlikely that he'd have said it in the form in which it's quoted.
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Re: Did Epicurus really state Epicurus' paradox?

#3  Postby bob.davis » Apr 16, 2015 7:19 am

Maybe as intriguing question as "why does evil exist if there is a God?" might be "why does good exists if there is not a God?" To put it another way. Is it any more intellectually honest to trust there is no God since evil exists, than it is to trust there is a God because good exists? Just something I was puzzling myself about... If God is willing and able to produce good, than that being is benevolent.




Rather than being malevolent if God is able, but not willing to stop evil, God might be labeled slow to anger or slow to exterminate the cause of human suffering (other humans). Certainly, human history is allowed its tragedy and ambiguity.
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Re: Did Epicurus really state Epicurus' paradox?

#4  Postby smudge » Apr 18, 2015 8:29 am

bob.davis wrote:Maybe as intriguing question as "why does evil exist if there is a God?" might be "why does good exists if there is not a God?" To put it another way. Is it any more intellectually honest to trust there is no God since evil exists, than it is to trust there is a God because good exists? Just something I was puzzling myself about... If God is willing and able to produce good, than that being is benevolent.


The question is, more accurately; why would an omnipotent benevolent God make suffering, cruelty, and misery inevitable? Either this 'God' is rather keen on what we commonly call 'evil' or does not have the abilities normally ascribed to such a being.


bob.davis wrote:Rather than being malevolent if God is able, but not willing to stop evil, God might be labeled slow to anger or slow to exterminate the cause of human suffering (other humans). Certainly, human history is allowed its tragedy and ambiguity.


:lol:
So, God isn't a sadist. He's just v e r y ......v e r y .......s l o w ...?
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Re: Did Epicurus really state Epicurus' paradox?

#5  Postby Clive Durdle » Apr 18, 2015 9:05 am

Maybe the idea that the gods dont give a f about us needs repeating?
"We cannot slaughter each other out of the human impasse"
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Re: Did Epicurus really state Epicurus' paradox?

#6  Postby Thomas Eshuis » Apr 18, 2015 9:38 am

bob.davis wrote:Maybe as intriguing question as "why does evil exist if there is a God?" might be "why does good exists if there is not a God?"

Why not?
You're begging the question that one requires the other.

bob.davis wrote: To put it another way. Is it any more intellectually honest to trust there is no God since evil exists,

It isn't a matter of trust, but fact.
If an omnipotent and benevolent god exists, there would be no evil, as such a god would not want to hurt people and would have the power to stop and remove evil.

bob.davis wrote: If God is willing and able to produce good, than that being is benevolent.

If that god is able to remove evil, he's malovelent.




bob.davis wrote:Rather than being malevolent if God is able, but not willing to stop evil, God might be labeled slow to anger or slow to exterminate the cause of human suffering (other humans). Certainly, human history is allowed its tragedy and ambiguity.

Bollocks.
"Respect for personal beliefs = "I am going to tell you all what I think of YOU, but don't dare retort and tell what you think of ME because...it's my personal belief". Hmm. A bully's charter and no mistake."
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