EPICUREANISM: Ancient Answers to Modern Questions" | Marc Nelson

  • Thanks Hiram - Comments as I watch:


    1. Starts off with argument that we should be interested in Epicurus because he is modern; which is not necessarily persuasive (except maybe in science)
    2. Epicurus "the original millennial."
    3. As he gets serious he goes down the standard road of "anti-commercialism" - no mention of gods; no mention of death; no definition of happiness as connected with pleasure -- just straight to an implicit pseudo-asceticism - "money doesn't buy happiness" -- live a simple life - meet basic needs.
    4. Own poor / cheap things so you won't stress about losing them.
    5. Most Epicurean car is a bicycle.
    6. Stop the cycle of desire! (ouch!)
    7. Forget about your desire for more - only want what you already have.
    8. "Things that really bring meaning to life."
    9. Best way to live is in a small apartment with poor possessions.
    10. At 10:10 he does say work can make us happier.
    11. Millenials care about meaningful work.
    12. At 10:48 he does use the word enjoy, but he is swapping words that are very different - "enjoy" vs "meaningful."
    13. Ends with "follow your bliss" which is good.


    OK so in sum my comment is that this is pretty much the standard modern approach, perhaps stated in a little better way than most because he is sloppy and includes words like enjoyment and bliss rather than focusing entirely on meaningfulness and asceticism, which would lead him straight to Stoicism if he applied it rigorously.


    At the same time, he has mentioned nothing about the core issues of religion, death, "pleasure" as the ultimate goal, the role of feeling vs logic, etc. which are what distinguish Epicurus from a generic self help guru (as this person appears to be).


    Probably this is useful for certain audiences. It is an interesting question at what point you introduce people to "true Epicureanism" and the controversial issues it entails, rather than keeping things at a superficial level that almost anyone could find something to agree with.

  • Many of these criticisms have been said before and the alternative is to give your own TED speech expressing your own view, if you can, in about 12 minutes. Something to think about.


    I respect his passion and audacity to stand in front of a large group of people to lecture about Epicurus. Michel Onfray and Jose Mujica are among the few others who have taken this important step in the West outside of Greece and Italy.


    I think we have to eventually accept that one of the interpretations of EP is the frugal one, and that it is one of the ways in which the Letter to Menoeceus can be read. In my particular case, for instance, simple living still makes sense for now, and as the gap between rich and poor continues to grow I imagine this interpretation will continue to be relevant for Many or Most people for many generations.


    Those who are privileged to be able to live a life of greater luxury should present EP together with their own autarchy curriculum to help others get closer to escaping the cycles of wage slavery, and present the bourgeois interpretation of Epicureanism (maybe appealing to the precedent from Philodemus and he House of Piso), but even there I remember that Horace had a character, Ofelius, who preached simple living.


    Also keep in mind that there were probably many college students in that audience, who are proverbially poor and in debt, I remember all the ramen noodles I ate in college ...


    The truth is that, for Many people (including many epicureans in Greece during the current fiscal crisis), frugality and anti consumerism makes a lot of sense.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • Hiram most of the comments you have made here I need to restate my own position:


    Many of these criticisms have been said before and the alternative is to give your own TED speech expressing your own view, if you can, in about 12 minutes. Something to think about. << Yes I have said them before and I will continue to repeat them. Talking about these subjects as if they are the primary meaning of Epicurean philosophy is deceptive and is a dis-service both to Epicurus and the people who are hearing the message. Yes it would be desirable to produce a more accurate TED talk, and that ought to be the goal. But continuing to post links to talks like this without commentary, as if you are totally endorsing them, is a disservice to the group, and the reason for the "no-links-only rule" which I will begin to enforce more strictly. I deal with links as I have time, but I do not want links with inferior material to be posted for new students to read and think are endorsed as accurate.


    I respect his passion and audacity to stand in front of a large group of people to lecture about Epicurus. Michel Onfray and Jose Mujica are among the few others who have taken this important step in the West outside of Greece and Italy. << I agree with that. I simply wish he would lecture about Epicurus, and not lecture about his own lifestyle preference primarily, simply using Epicurus as a prop, as he is doing here.


    I think we have to eventually accept that one of the interpretations of EP is the frugal one, and that it is one of the ways in which the Letter to Menoeceus can be read. In my particular case, for instance, simple living still makes sense for now, and as the gap between rich and poor continues to grow I imagine this interpretation will continue to be relevant for Many or Most people for many generations. << I filly accept that the worship of "frugality" is one of the interpretations of Epicurus. It is in fact the great majority interpretation. I simply maintain that it inverts the entire structure of the philosophy in a way that is plain and apparent to anyone who studies Epicurus and sees that PLEASURE is the ultimate goal/guide, and that frugality is simply one tool toward that goal. It is clear throughout the surviving text that there is a serious problem with "virtues" (such as frugality) being placed as the ultimate goal, rather than a tool, the continued perpetuation of this inversion distorts and destroys the philosophy.


    Those who are privileged to be able to live a life of greater luxury should present EP together with their own autarchy curriculum to help others get closer to escaping the cycles of wage slavery, and present the bourgeois interpretation of Epicureanism (maybe appealing to the precedent from Philodemus and the House of Piso), but even there I remember that Horace had a character, Ofelius, who preached simple living. << Hiram this is purely a political / neo-Marxist interpretation of Epicurus as a political doctrine. It is certainly one, but far from the only, set of political conclusions that can be reached based on Epicurean reasoning. You can adopt one and promote one if you prefer, of course, as that is your personal decision. But the linking of Epicurus to a particular political doctrine, left, right, or middle, when it is clear from the philosophy that the end is not politics but the pleasure of the individual living people who are applying the philosophy, is an inversion and something I do not want to be associated with.


    Also keep in mind that there were probably many college students in that audience, who are proverbially poor and in debt, I remember all the ramen noodles I ate in college ... << Yes I understand that when in Rome, you do as the Romans do, and you look for "hooks" to connect yourself to your listeners. if in fact this person giving the Ted talk were using this is an an introductory speech to get his listeners to be more interested in Epicurus, and then he was going to move forward to the details, then that approach would be understandable. But do you really believe that that was this speaker's intention? I would be glad to learn that I am wrong, but this speaker's approach, to my observation, is the beginning and end of the discussion of Epicurus, because it is a call to politics / lifestyle asceticism, and the fact that it mentions Epicurus is only incidental. if it leads to anything, this approach leads to Stoicism, because that is what it is, when this aspect of Epicurean reasoning is detached from the core.


    The truth is that, for Many people (including many epicureans in Greece during the current fiscal crisis), frugality and anti consumerism makes a lot of sense. << I certainly agree that frugality is an important tool, but of course that is not my point at all, and it never is my point. I am not criticizing lifestyle talks for the sake of interesting people in Epicurus. I am criticizing using Epicurus as justification for a particular lifestyle being a good idea for all people at all times, which is what this talk is saying, and thereby planting a premise (that ANY lifestyle choice is ALWAYS good for EVERYONE at ALL TIMES) which flies in the face of Epicurean philosophy.


    Thanks for posting your comments Hiram because this is an important overriding issue that needs to be addressed by all of us who are promoting Epicurean philosophy.

  • Just as an exercise, because this is one of the first things that come to my mind when I find a MODERN interpretation of Epicureanism that focuses on simplicity, I'd like you Cassius to read this poem by Horace, and see what reaction it draws from you. It's curious to me because this is part of how the "gospel of Epicurus" was preached in antiquity. I wonder if your opinion is that Horace was calling for ascetism.


    https://theautarkist.wordpress…-praise-of-simple-living/

    Horace: In Praise of Simple Living

    Learn how great the virtue is, my friends, of plain living …

    When exercise has made you less fastidious, hungry,

    Thirsty, then spurn plain food, refuse to drink the mead …

    Well, bread and salt will soothe a rumbling belly.

    Why so? The greatest pleasure’s not in costly flavours,

    it resides In you yourself.

    Gourmet eating is ridiculous.

    It’s a belly seldom hungry that scorns common fare.

    Now learn the benefits that accompany plain living.

    First good health …

    But the plain-living man who eats then snatches a nap

    Quick as a flash, rises refreshed for his appointed tasks.

    In times Of uncertainty who’s more confident?

    The man Who’s accustomed a fastidious mind and body

    To excess, or the man content with little, wary

    Of what’s to come, who wisely in peace prepared for war?

    Book II, Satire II


    (Notice that the ending verses seem to echo LMenoeceus)

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • Hiram I need to repeat the point. Yes, I agree that frugality was a good idea.


    As for Horace, who had just recently come back from fighting in the Roman Civil War on the side of Cassius and Brutus, he was himself in personal circumstances when he wrote that poem that called for frugality.


    We all agree that frugality was a good idea in many situations.


    The overriding point is that Horace knew that the end goal is pleasure, and Horace knew that his Epicurean friends knew that.

    Why has Horace's work survived when the more extensive work by Catius and the other Epicurean writers of Greece and Rome did not? I would contend that in large measure the parts that survived are those that could be enlisted by non-Epicureans into their own beliefs.


    That doesn't mean that we should ignore the parts that discuss frugality, but what it does mean that we have to keep the frugality in context as a tool, and a tool that is not ALWAYS the one most necessary to be at hand.


    There's lots of reasons I would argue in support of that, but simply using the Principle Doctrines as a priority list ought to be enough for now.


    If this Ted talker were interested in Epicurus would he be ignoring the gods? the issue of death? the meaning of pleasure? (he's not addressing that directly at all - he's mixing it with "meaningfulness" and other ambiguities).

    Would he be ignoring the issues of reason vs logic? Of whether there is really such a thing as objective good and evil, or depravity, or justice?


    He is ignoring every essential aspect of Epicurean philosophy that would ever point in any direction other than his preferred choice of frugality / asceticism.


    This is a huge issue and we ought to be able to at least agree on what the issue is.

  • The Greeks were not teachers with the narrow sense of the meticulous and the poor-speaker. They never advised as the grumble old women do. Neither did they come down to the people as the agents of the Law and austere rulers, to play it as panaceas and the leading experts of the Earth.


    Artists cautiously disheveled, night-time hearers and observers of stars, bright speakers, improvised debaters on the sacred road to Eleusis, ephemeral athletes, life-long lovers and lovers of eros. These were the Greeks at their base. They sacrificed in beauty, as flowers are sacrificing in the sun. I mean they stun the air with their colors and smells, and the next day they wilt.


    The Greeks were generous in their poorness, cruel in their persistence, and happy in their melancholy. We find them to prefer today's waste of time than to save for an ulterior motive of tomorrow. And here they are different from the Jews and other Orientalists of religions and dogmas.


    A banquet rich of philosophical discussions, with drinks and players of pipes, the Greek did not exchange it for even nine months more time of his life."

    ("Polychronion – Stoa and Rome" by Dimitris Liantinis).

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • Hiram, I agree with Cassius. These minimalists are limiting their tools for pleasure to the hammer of minimalism, and then worshipping the hammer. It doesn't help spread our philosophy if it's done badly.


    I have experienced some long periods of very limited funds in my life-- lots of ramen noodles, $10 a week for groceries, etc. I have gone through humid summers in the 95-105 degree range, without AC because I couldn't afford to buy one. I still found ways to enjoy life, and I won't even say I was frugal. I would eat ramen noodles and even fast for some of the month -- and blow all the rest on ingredients for one good dinner for my friends.


    It's rich people who can usually afford to be frugal, lol! Minimalist living these days takes some $-- those tiny houses don't come that cheap. Which is fine, if they enjoy it. The real lesson is that whatever your resources are, use them for pleasure. If rationing your resources gives the most pleasure, do that. If sharing them with friends does, do that. Epicurus had feasts-- if you want to hold a feast for your friends, and it's worth saving for, then go for it.


    To take a few quotes out of context of the rest of the philosophy is unwise. The version promoted by minimalists is easy for our opponents to tear down, whereas the philosophy you see by looking at the whole is very sturdy.

  • Just two greek words that have the same root and these are the "farmako" which means the <<pill>> and the "farmaki" which means the <<poison>>.


    "Frugalix" the newly invented medicine that a doctor gives to all of his patients without to examine the first causes and the details of the causes i.e. the symptoms of each one of his patient's illnesses. And then this doctor thinks that he gave the right farmako=pill that for many will be transformed into farmaki=poison. Sorry, but this one is not a doctor, he is a charlatan.


    The letter to Meneoceus has such a strong structure that can't be unstructured by any charlatan because it is in accordance with the right study of Nature and the methodology of the Canon.


    First thing first is that when someone has the desire to speak in public for EP, he has to examine what are the first causes that make the people for being greed, unfriendly and consumers without prudence. First, we examine the General Picture that is Nature, then we examine the causes, the details of the causes, the things akin to them and then we speak about the consequences. (see the ending paragraph to Pythocles)

    The main causes

    Fear of god

    Fear of death


    some details of the causes

    Fear of pain

    Fear to accept and withstand the reality

    Fear to be responsible

    Fear to be free

    Fear to give and get on the basis of the common benefit that is the basis of friendship.

    Fear or embarrassment to accept finally that pleasure is the goal in life as Nature has set for us.


    And the tool/methodology

    Ignorance of what is the tool/methodology and how Epicurus uses it for making the hedonic calculation that lead to the liberation of those fears.


    The main causes and some details of the causes that make someone to be greed, unfriendly, lonely, harsh, arrogant, depressed and a consumer without prudence and that means also that the selling and buying of useless things is the placebo pill to cover the fear of death that is the most important fear that leads to the vicious circle of the mentioned as above fears that are decoded with behaviors that lead to the incoherence of a society and finally its decadence.


    Epicurus in his letter to Meneoceus says to us for what purpose and how we can philosophize. He brings and is connecting all the concepts in real life for being experiences and for not being as abstractions and words without meaning. Then he examines the main causes i.e. the fears, some details of the causes and then he examines the consequences for giving his proposals e.g. the algorithm on the desires that lead the people to the : self-sufficiency that is connected with the right study of Nature that is connected with the generosity that is connected with freedom that is connected with prudence and all these that spring from the inner self that possesses eudaemonia which means that when someone possess eudaemonia he possesses himself i.e. he is FREE and that means also that he is not compromised and subordinated to his masters for living like andrapodo=slave.

    And all these according to the circumstances of the experiences in the reality that measured rightly and prudently through the hedonic calculation for leading to the natural goal that is pure pleasure.


    ES 49. It is impossible for someone to dispel his fears about the most important matters if he does not know the Nature of the universe but still gives some credence to myths. So without the study of Nature there is no enjoyment of pure pleasure. (see Principle Doctrine 12).

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • First causes :

    Fear of God

    Fear of Death


    “Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum” ." From Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, Book I, 101.

    And that means : "To such heights of evil has religion been able to drive men”.


    The Akathist Hymn and Small Compline to virgin Mary are two services which are sung in orthodox churches around the world on the first five Fridays during Great Lent.

    Here is a small excerpt of the Akathist Hymn (that includes insults against Greeks) in the parenthesis are some of my notes. The worse thing is that this hymn is heard and sung by the people in Greece who they called themselves as GREEKS !! Interesting eh?!


    Here it is :

    Priest : All Angels were quite amazed by the great deed of Your incarnation. For they beheld the once inaccessible God accessible to all as- a man living among us, while hearing from everyone: Alleluia.


    People : Alleluia.


    Priest : Eloquent rhetors we see mute as fish before you O Theotokos (this means "Birth-giver to a god named as Jesus Christ). For they are at a loss to explain how you had the power to give birth and yet remained a virgin. But we the faithful marveling at the mystery cry out with faith:


    Rejoice, you who has redeemed us from the pagan religion. (Here they mean the ancient greek religion)

    Rejoice, you who has rescued us from the works of mire. (They call the works of greeks as mire).

    Rejoice, you who ceased the worship of fire. (Fire worship in Graeco-Roman tradition had two separate forms: fire of the hearth and fire of the forge. Hearth worship was maintained in Rome by the Vestal Virgins, who served the goddess Vesta, protector of the home, who had a sacred flame as the symbol of her presence in the city. The Greek equivalent of the goddess was Hestia, whose worship took place more commonly within the household. The fire of the forge was associated with the Greek god Hephaestus and the Roman equivalent Vulcan. These two seem to have served both as craft-guild patrons and as protectors against accidental fires in cities. Also associated with fire is the titanic god Prometheus, who stole fire for humans from the gods).


    And they continue the insults for the purpose to transvaluate all the values and any healthy social system :

    Rejoice, you who saves us from the flames of passions. (Here are against the main two emotions that Epicurus called them as “Πάθη-Passions”, and that means they are against the hedonic calculation and the positive result that is the goal of pleasure)

    Rejoice, vessel of God's wisdom; (No comment!)

    Rejoice, storehouse of God's providence. (Here are against Epicurus and all the epicureans who do not believe in god’s providence).

    Rejoice, revealer of philosophers as fools; (Here are against to ALL the greek philosophers characterizing them as FOOL).

    Rejoice, exposer of the technologists as irrational. (Here are against all the sciences and the scientists/technologists characterizing them as irrational).

    Rejoice, for the fierce debaters are made foolish; (Here are against the debaters on philosophy, as the virgin Mary made them all to look like foolish).

    Rejoice, for the creators of the myths have wilted. (Here are against Homer, Hesiod etc).

    Rejoice, breaker of the webs of the Athenians' logic; (Here are against ancient Athenian philosophers and whatever they said are webs= fairytales)

    Rejoice, filler of the nets of the fishermen. (virgin Mary fills with fish the nets of fishermen. Fishermen are doing anything at all, this is the same with the manna-food that dropped from heavens. Please see and the following text by Dimitris Liantinis).

    Rejoice, drawer of many from the abyss of ignorance; (they mean drawer of many of knowledge).

    Rejoice, enlightener of many with knowledge. (they mean enlightener of many with ignorance).

    Rejoice, ship for those wishing salvation; (salvation ? See the following text by Liantinis)

    Rejoice, harbor for life's navigators. (navigators ? No way, they mean andrapoda = slaves)



    People (i.e. the andrapoda=slaves) : Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.



    “The transvaluation of the system” (from Liantinis’ book TA HELLINIKA)


    Christians in life's gifts they proposed death and sacrifice. In the world of senses and tangible things, their counter-proposal was the chaos of imagination and hypothetical assumptions.

    In health, they proposed weak and illness. In the events of the Gospels, protagonists are the blind and the deaf, the lunar and the paralytic, the lepers, the damn and the mummies of dead.

    The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deafs are hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Wealth struck poverty. The sister and the nymph of Saint Francis. The desert camel does not pass through the needle's hole, they said.

    In honor and glory, they responded with obscurity and humility. The end will be the first, they said. And the servants' purses of purple and crown. Hail the king of the Jews.In pride and the love of honor, they showed humiliation and shame. Blessed are you when you insult you and persecute you, they said.

    In the grace of mouth and in the delicious food they answered with fasting and Lents.


    In the care and welfare of the wise, in the responsibility of the state for tomorrow's demands, and in the wise commission of Prometheus, they responded with the voices of the birds and the signals of the trees. See the fallen from the sky, they said. They neither sow nor reap. And nighttime they sing.

    In the beauty of sentiments and in the pleasure of life they responded with the remorse of the flesh, and the dying of bodily expression. They sheltered the flower of youth. They have born from virginity and purity the neurosis. And the tender feelings of the bodies thundered to the devils' banquets and to the windbreak of the second cycle of Hell.

    In strength they responded by resignation. The "thank you" of the weak made it a pouch as a sword of the mighty savage. When they slap you on your cheek, they said, kiss their hand. Blessed are the good ones.

    In the joy and shine of the world, in the mist of the spring and the heroic white of snow, they replied with the gloom and blackness of the widow. Blessed are the mourners, they said.


    The virtue and the catalysts of the power of knowledge responded with ignorance and darkness. They declared a general strike of the mind for all. Blessed are the poor in spirit, they said. And they brought the Middle Ages, which for many brought people back to the cave-man of Tanzania and Java. And the worst came the Sacred Examination, and a barrage of fire and a haze of darkness was set up against the humanity and light of George Brenos and the Galileans.

    Finally, hunger and thirst they baptized them as the longing for an unwise justice, and the hunger of the hungry with fog and dream. Blessed are the hungry and thirsty for justice, they said. i.e. cunning and skirmishes. Because hunger and thirst first mean stomach and mouth. And then everything else. No one ever saw men without heads speaking in the Greek Agora and judging in the Roman Pretoria.

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • You're welcome Cassius. :)

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • Yes your post Elli reminds me that prioritization is such a huge issue. Dealing with the issue of gods / religion, and dealing with the related issue of Death, are just far too huge to ignore or put aside for other priorities, even for the discussion of pleasure. That's the sequence in which Epicurus addressed it, and I am convinced he was correct to do so.


    If the stories of the gods and the stories of punishment/reward after death are true, then every aspect of the pleasure calculation shifts dramatically. Every argument and aspect that we discuss in terms of "pleasure" here in life becomes upended if we can hope for "eternal" pleasure after death, simply (or in most cases) denying ourselves pleasure during life.


    People who skip over the "metaphysics" - or whatever your want to call these basic issues of the origin and nature of the universe, are doing themselves and everyone else a major disservice. We are *regularly* seeing people say that physics don't matter, and that only ethics is of real interest, and that is a prescription for making no headway whatsoever in rediscovering Epicurean philosophy.

    Epicurean philosophy divorced from Epicurus' position on these two issues is not really Epicurean philosophy at all.