The podcast version and discussion is here:
Episode 166 - The Lucretius Today Podcast…
Torquatus laughed. Come, that is a good joke," he said, "that the author of the doctrine that pleasure is the End of things desirable, the final and ultimate Good, should actually not know what manner of thing pleasure itself is!" "Well," [Cicero] replied, either Epicurus does not know what pleasure is, or the rest of mankind all the world over do not."
- Torquatus in Cicero's "On Ends" Book Two III:1 (Rackham)
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Epicurean philosophy is a full worldview based on fundamental conclusions about the nature of the universe, the nature of knowledge, and the nature of human life. This worldview provides guidance for living more fully, joyfully, and fearlessly, and stands in opposition to supernatural religion and virtue-based philosophies. Epicurus taught that it is good to use outlines to organize our thoughts, because we frequently have need of the major principles, but only rarely do we need to recall every small detail. Thomas Jefferson's outline of Epicurean philosophy can be found here, and in the chart below you will find a similar outline of the key principles as we discuss them here at EpicureanFriends:
There's nothing magic about the precise formulations you see above, and over time we regularly revise them in ways we think make Epicurus' views more clear and understandable.
One of the most helpful ways that you can enhance your own understanding of Epicurus is to follow his advice to Herodotus and prepare your own outline of the philosophy. Don't be surprised to find yourself regularly revising it and shifting the items up and down in order of importance. That is to be expected as your comprehension of the importance of the various issues matures. It will take considerable time to realize the many implications of the fundamental principles. EpicureanFriends.com has an entire section of our forum devoted to helping you draw up your own outline. Check out those resources here.
Most people who come our way have a correct understanding that Epicurus held the experience of mental pleasure to be as much or more important to us than purely bodily pleasure. Unfortunately, many such people also get the impression that this means that Epicurus advocated a withdrawn or ascetic or passive lifestyle.
Metrodorus Despite Epicurus' emphatic focus on Pleasure as the goal of life, the argument that Epicurus was essentially an ascetic asserts that Epicurus held a counterintuitive definition of pleasure by elevating absence of disturbance (ataraxia) or absence of pain (aponia) as something separate from and more desirable than Pleasure (hedone) itself. Those who maintain this generally argue that Epicurus taught that "resting" (katastematic) pleasures are far more important than the normal "active" (kinetic) pleasures, such as joy and delight, that most people normally cherish.
This argument tends to demoralize and turn off healthy people of active disposition, so if the suggestion that Epicurus was passive, shy, and retiring bothers you (and it should, because it's not true!) EpicureanFriends.com can help show you the error of the ascetic interpretation of Epicurus.
For a grounding on the history of the dispute, start with Boris Nikolsky's article "Epicurus on Pleasure." As Nikolsky explains, the distinction between katastematic and kinetic pleasure was very likely not taught by Epicurus at all, but instead derives from a later Stoic-influenced overlay on Epicurus' teachings. For more detail on what Epicurus really taught about pleasure, consult the chapters on Epicurus in Gosling and Taylor's "The Greeks on Pleasure," especially chapter 19 "Katastematic and Kinetic Pleasure," which shows how Epicurus embraced a normal and regular definition of pleasure as most of us commonly understand it. For further evidence that the ascetic interpretation of Epicurean philosophy contradicts core premises of the philosophy (and therefore cannot be correct!) see the Wentham article "Cicero's Interpretation of Katastematic Pleasure."
If you are concerned that you've heard that Epicurus was passive and retiring, and you know that attitude is not right for you, these articles should dispel any lingering concerns.
When you are ready for more, the best way to reboot your understanding of the philosophy is to consult the most thorough general book on Epicurus, Norman DeWitt's "Epicurus and His Philosophy." DeWitt provides the sweeping overview of Epicurean philosophy that every new student of Epicurus needs to read. In the process of starting from scratch, you'll see that DeWitt presents a comprehensive and coherent overview in which the katastematic - kinetic distinction rates little more than a brief mention. You'll then see why the best record we have of Epicurus' philosophy - the biography by Diogenes Laertius - raises the issue only by stating explicitly that Epicurus endorsed both types of pleasure.
For additional assistance in these and other issues, please check out our table of Major Issues In Understanding Epicurean Philosophy. And of course, ask questions in the Forum! There's much more to explain and discuss, but for now, thank you for dropping by, and please let us hear from you! Start now by reading and posting in our General Forum, or in any of the sections devoted to special topics.
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For one of the best and quickest ways to orient yourself to Epicurean Ethics, especially as to the central role of "Pleasure" (and not "tranquility") as the goal and guide of life, be sure to check out our recording of the longest and most detailed presentation of Epicurean Ethics left to us from the ancient world: the "Torquatus" presentation from Book One of Cicero's "On Ends." One of our regular participants here (Joshua) has graciously recorded this for us, and we think you'll see why this is a great introduction to the big picture of Epicurean Ethics. See the following thread for the latest version and discussion:
In January of 2023 Dr. Emily Austin allowed the LucretiusToday podcast team to interview her about her new book "Living For Pleasure - An Epicurean Guide For Life." This interview is a great introduction to the non-ascetic interpretation of Epicurean Philosophy which we promote here at Epicureanfriends.com. For more detail on the interview check here.
Read about Nate's "Allegory of the Oasis" graphic and make suggestions or comments here.
For a detailed summary of Epicurean Philosophy assembled from the passages of the ancient texts, see the video below. For discussion of this video please go here.