The Neglect of Metrodorus’ Economics

  • http://societyofepicurus.com/o…perty-management-part-ii/


    I’m currently working on the audiobook, will include Philodemus writings and am re-reading some of them. While reading the closing paragraph of “Art of property management”, this grabbed my attention:


    Quote

    “We believe that the tranquil administration of one’s property does not require great subtlety and that wealth is superior to poverty. At the same time we believe that it’s necessary to hand down a tradition of the most general principles and to outline many details in the treatises concerning the care and preservation of possessions.

    I noticed here that the epicureans were being instructed to write Outlines of the Doctrines on Epicurean economics. This, like almost all else on this scroll, must have started with Metrodorus.


    Also noticed that throughout this scroll Philodemus is constantly mentioning “Metrodorus said this, Metrodorus said that”. And he cites many works that had been written by Metro on the subject of economics that did not survive to our time, as well as he mentions that Metrodorus was a great manager of property.


    This quote indicates that economics was an important and necessary part of the doctrine, but there seems to be very little interest in the subject among modern Epicureans except for myself. I’d like that to change.


    Have others read the translation of On the art of property management?


    https://www.amazon.com/Philode…reco-Roman/dp/1589836677/

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

  • I have a copy of that but I have only scanned it. I think there is or would be a TREMENDOUS amount of interest in anything reliably handed down by Philodemus, but not when


    (1) the Academic world keeps the material under wraps and makes it impossible to study freely by anyone, and

    (2) what is left is so fragmentary that the narrative is largely a matter of speculative reconstruction so that you don't really know whether to trust the rendering or not.


    For example this is what I see as to what you just quoted. The parts in brackets are reconstructed, but what about the rest of the text? What does the piece of paper or papyri that bears these characters look like? Is this a penciled version made by those who unrolled the text 100+ years ago? How do we know that they deciphered the texts correctly? As far as being instructed to write outlines, we know that Epicurus says that in the letter to Herodotus. But these words "to hand down a tradition" are in brackets - what is the basis for this reconstruction? Sounds reasonable, but how do we know?:


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    So as far as I can tell the best way to change and expand the level of discussion would be to find a way to bridge the gap between what we have free access to and the original sources.


    In writing this I mean no criticism whatsoever to anyone, Hiram or Voula Tsouna. All I am saying is that reliance on heavily reconstructed texts is perilous without a clear chain documenting the evidence at every stage. And maybe equally importantly, having it only be the available only at significant cost makes the work much that harder.


    Perhaps these texts are in fact available somewhere on one of the public websites, but tracking down that chain is a large part of the work that needs to be done.

  • Re: the fragmentary nature of it, this is one of the most complete scrolls, but also we should not shy away from developing A MODERN oikonomia tradition, translating those conversations into relevant discussions of today on how to best carry out hedonic calculus on these issues today, like they were doing.


    I think now that on this forum you have started podcasts and systematic studies of DeWitt and other sources, and are encouraging students to write outlines, it might be a good project to set aside some time to study this scroll and encouraging outlines of the economics, as well as having MODERN discussions of this content, since so much of it is relevant but we don't live in ancient Roman times and this needs updating.


    Philodemus even mentions that people should diversify their nest egg. I mean, we have a pretty developed doctrine of economics.


    Oh and I wanted to see if Vatican Saying uses the same word that Philodemus uses / oikonomia / so I checked the monadnock translation, which has the Greek next to the English. It does say "oikonomein". This means that the founders believed that the management of one's property and household is woven into how Epicureans should philosophize.




    41. One must laugh and seek wisdom and tend to one's home life and use one's other goods, and always recount the pronouncements of true philosophy. γελᾶν ἅμα δεῖ καὶ φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ οἰκονομεῖν καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς οἰκειώμασι χρῆσθαι καὶ μηδαμῇ λήγειν τὰς ἐκ τῆς ὀρθῆς φιλοσοφίας φωνὰς ἀφιέντας.

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

  • Certainly I agree that any reliable text material should be explored and discussed, so I will try to follow along and comment on anything you post in this area. I know my comments may appear to be negative but I do not intend them that way -- as long as we can present reliable and verifiable material to work with, and we make clear the limitations and what part is speculative and what part is clear, and what part is our own speculations, I'm all in favor of the discussion.

  • Below is my latest updated version of my commentary on the scroll.



    Also notice that there are two essays on Horace and how he writes about the “natural measure of wealth”. Keep in mind Horace was at Piso’s villa studying philosophy. So he was deeply familiar with these discussions, and even created a character Ofellus who embodied Epicurean teachings on economics and this might be worth studying to help us evaluate what beliefs and values Ofellus embodied.


    ——-


    In this scroll, Philodemus makes frequent appeals to the authority of Metrodorus, one of the founders of the School, who promoted the idea that hedonic calculus must be employed in the management of one’s household and economic affairs, making the point time and again that we must run certain risks and go through certain inconveniences in order to avoid greater ruin and gain greater advantages.


    He disagreed with the destitute life of the Cynics, and appears to have made this point while arguing against them and in favor of a doctrine of the natural measure of wealth. This corresponds to that which is needed to secure the natural and necessary pleasures, and to have the confident expectation that we will be able to secure them in the future.


    Metrodorus argued that some things cause pain when present, but cause even more pain when absent and, therefore, shouldn’t be avoided. This is the case with health, which requires some work and some inconvenience to secure, but without it we suffer greatly. It is also the case with family members and friends who oftentimes are difficult to understand and to get along with, but whom we miss when absent.

    Quote

    Indeed, I think that the right management of wealth lies in this: in not feeling distressed about what one loses and in not trapping oneself on treadmills because of an obsessive zeal concerning the more and the less. – Metrodorus

    Philodemus also advances the idea of expressing value in terms of social capital. He compares our investment of time, money and effort in our dearest friends with “those who sow seeds in the earth. From these things … it becomes possible to reap many times more fruits”. For this reason, he says that the philosopher who manages property will secure his natural measure of wealth, and use some of the surplus generously with his friends. This way, he will be able to count on his friends when in need, and they will also add to his happiness and security in the present. By comparison, a property manager who is not informed by Epicurean philosophy, will likely avoid spending time with friends, and will deprive himself of the enjoyment of their company and of the many other benefits that come from having good friends.


    Philodemus was teaching philosophy to wealthy Romans, and in the scroll on the art of property management he helps his students to distinguish the good property manager from the good philosopher who happens to be a property manager. In other words, Philodemus concedes that a good property manager may be immoral or amoral, and may suffer from greed and other vices, and that the practice of philosophy among friends may lead to a shift in priorities that puts losses and gains aside to some extent. However, Philodemus maintains that a philosopher may still be a good property manager, and gives advice to help his students enjoy a life of pleasure while managing property.


    Since, he says, “the philosopher does not toil”, some of his advice involves the delegation of tasks to assistants. Philodemus says that earning a living from teaching philosophy is the noblest profession. He also praises having a diverse nest egg, rather than putting all of our eggs in one basket, and so investing seems like a legitimate contemporary outlet for a philosopher.

    Some of the professions available in antiquity–such as “equestrian”–as well as the practice of slavery, do not transfer into our modern reality, but Philodemus said that rental income is a dignified way to make a living, as is the gainful employment of others–so long as it’s not in a dangerous or demeaning activity, if we are to infer from Philodemus’ criticism of those who make their slaves work in mines.


    The key takeaway of the scroll is that Metrodorus sought to demonstrate that the Epicurean methodology of hedonic calculus is highly practical when applied to how we manage our money, our business, and our property.


    Quote

    We believe that the tranquil administration of one’s property does not require great subtlety and that wealth is superior to poverty. At the same time we believe that it’s necessary to hand down a tradition of the most general principles and to outline many details in the treatises concerning the care and preservation of possessions.


    Towards the end of the scroll, we learn that ancient Epicureans were instructing their students to keep outlines of Metrodorus’ doctrines on economics, saying that it was considered “necessary to hand down a tradition” of the general principles they were discussing. One of the goals of the study of this scroll is to plant the Epicurean conversation on economics and self-sufficiency firmly in the modern world so that the people of our day can relate to the teaching and more easily apply its prudent calculations to their lives. I have distilled the contents of the scroll into Seven Principles of Epicurean Economics. They are as follows:


    1. There is a natural measure of wealth (as opposed to the corrupt, cultural measure of wealth), which is tied to natural and necessary desires. Understanding this will provide us with serenity and indifference to profit and loss.

    2. There is social wealth in addition to the wealth of things and possessions.

    3. Philodemus plainly stated it: the philosopher does not toil. However, we must always remember that toil is evil, not productivity.

    4. Association is important in labor. We must choose our company prudently.

    5. Our revenue must more than meet our immediate needs: it must facilitate a dignified life of leisure.

    6. It’s always prudent to cultivate multiple streams of income, among which deriving fees from the Garden’s teaching mission, rental property income and business ownership, which includes gainful employment of others, have special priority.

    7. It’s also prudent to have fruitful possessions. The various forms of ownership of means of production is another way to independence that can potentially relieve us of toil.


    Further Reading:


    Philodemus, On Property Management (Writings from the Greco-Roman World)ir?t=ataraxia0c-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1589836677


    Horace, Ofellus and Philodemus of Gadara in Sermones 2.2, by Sergio Yona


    An Epicurean measure of wealth in Horace

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

  • Hiram anything on Horace is presumably fully in public domain with cites to the full text where everyone can read the original and see the original context. Do you have cites for those?


    I note also that the third link does not work.

  • Thanks Hiram. THIS statement from that article is RIDICULOUS, which is why we need to process this material and not accept the existing discussions at face value. And more than that, we have to keep in mind that the majority of such articles are statistically going to be written expressing this kind of ridiculous opinion. Ridiculous, of course, unless we are going to accept that Epicurus was a total hypocrite by amassing the slaves and wealth that he held at the time of his death:


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  • I also find these sections in red borderline ridiculous, and this emphasizes to me that it is useless and counterproductive to keep talking about "measure of wealth" without defining what we mean. How is this "measure of wealth" any different from any other measure of any other tool for happiness in the Epicurean perspective? I don't think it is, so why imply that there is some magic here? (talking to the writer, not to you, Hiram).




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  • Two more points here: (1) the writer is again being ambigous and tending to make people think that the acquisition of anything by means of ANY harm (pain) is to be avoided, when that is clearly not the case.


    (2) I think that this distinction about "the sage" is a dangerous distinction to. No doubt Epicurus did consider at time what the "founder of a school" might do different from any other wise person, but a philosophy oriented toward founders of schools is worse than useless -- Epicurean philosophy is oriented toward wise people in all stations of life, not specifically concerned with "sages"


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  • Ok this is the final paragraph, which seems to me to summarize that nothing new is being added: the ultimate point is that wealth is to be judged just like any other choice, by the amount of pleasure and pain that it brings:


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    I don't have anything really negative to say about the article, and all the detail is certainly interesting from many points of view. But what I do have a problem with is essentially the same as the Epicurean criticism of Socrates: Don't hide the ball. Make your point and explain at the outset where you are going and the ultimate point so that the reader can process the information efficiently. There is nothing strange about the "Epicurean measure of wealth" any more than that there is an "Epicurean measure of ice cream." To me, it is distracting and disconcerting to go on and on with details about translations and what other people argued without being clear what the ultimate point is.


    And in fact in this closing point, the writer is actually DISMISSING the ultimate point as if there is some reason not to keep that front and center.


    OK with all that being said there is a lot of good material here for discussion as an example of the Epicurean calculus of action, but NOT toward the direction of poverty that the writer seemed to want to plant in the reader's mind as Epicurus' viewpoint!

  • I also find these sections in red borderline ridiculous, and this emphasizes to me that it is useless and counterproductive to keep talking about "measure of wealth" without defining what we mean. How is this "measure of wealth" any different from any other measure of any other tool for happiness in the Epicurean perspective? I don't think it is, so why imply that there is some magic here? (talking to the writer, not to you, Hiram).

    This is the importance of working with this material.


    The conclusion says that we believe ( meaning, METRODORUS taught) that wealth is preferable to poverty. We should elaborate in our writings and commentaries on why that is.


    Also we must never lose sight of the fact that Epicurean philosophy is a coherent system and all things refer to the first principles.


    This natural measure of wealth is not arbitrary, it cannot be, its based on nature and corresponds to the natural and necessary goods which, in LMenoeceus, is what’s needed for life, health and happiness. The doctrine of the natural measure of wealth was central to Metrodorus economics and his emphasis on self sufficiency. To love pleasantly we need to secure these things and have the confident expectation that we will be able to secure them in the future. I think this is the core of Metrodorus’ theories about household management and economics.


    Also the natural measure of wealth, by nature’s definition is not poverty, this is a mis interpretation by the commenter.


    Also according to Philodemus, Metrodorus was highly critical of the cynics, so if we try to imagine what this consisted of, we can clearly articulate an Epicurean position against poverty and destitution, which is what the cynics represented.


    (If we wanted to have fun with this, we COULD use the parody of foul-smelling Gryphon visiting the Garden in Few Days in athens, to illustrate what metrodorus would’ve been criticizing )

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

  • I think I am agreeing with you Hiram, but I still sense danger in "wealth is preferable to poverty" and "this natural measure of wealth is not arbitrary." I agree that those statements can generally and easily be interpreted in a way that makes clear that the goal is pleasure and that all tools are subjective and relative to context.


    However lots of people will make the leap on those to hearing "wealth is ALWAYS or INTRINSICALLY preferable to poverty" and "this natural measure of wealth is not arbitrary BUT ABSOLUTE" and I think we have to constantly be on guard against that. This is related to the entire issue of the natural and necessary categorization, which I also think is easily misunderstood to imply that there are bright lines such as a Platonist or Aristotelian or Stoic would assert (which they would assert derives from gods or from virtue).


    In fact that's the danger I see in the phrase "natural measure of wealth" is that it will be misunderstood almost as much as would be the word "god" and so demands almost immediate definition in Epicurean terms.


    And THAT's the issue I have with the article we're discussing -- it buries the conclusion under reams of details that most people won't read, and then when it gets to the end it doesn't even make the point clearly then.


    I agree that it helps a lot to discuss these issues and strategies for presenting them because I think that there IS a hugely important issue here, which is that Epicurus doesn't advise poverty any more than he advises aiming for great riches. But that's what 98% of the people talking about Epicurus seem to think or advocate, so if you take up this issue and make the fundamental point then I really applaud the effort.

  • ... so if you take up this issue and make the fundamental point then I really applaud the effort.

    I will have to do it because I seem to be the only one who sees the lacuna in Epicurean doctrine concerning economics and wants to fix it.


    I think you should challenge yourself, though, on your unwillingness to address Epicurean doctrines. The points you mention can easily be mentioned along with the doctrine. The ancient Epicureans are never seen avoiding the discussion of any subject with the excuse that "this or that could be misinterpreted by XYZ". Instead, what we always see is that words are defined clearly according to nature (as we saw with Philodemus when he mentions the prolepsis of a good property manager), and the discussion moves on and the matters can be addressed.


    Concerning "natural measure of wealth", this is mentioned enough times that it clearly serves an important purpose in our evaluation of how to manage our estate using Epicurean principles. There is no reason whatsoever to confuse "absolute" for "natural", just as we don't confuse the terms when we speak of natural desires (we don't say "absolute desires"). I believe Metrodorus used this in his critique of cynics, but also that this is a fundamentally Epicurean understanding of oikonomia, and if you notice what is meant by natural (for health, happiness, and life / safety) measure of wealth, you will see that this relates to the BODY. It's a materialist philosophical concept that separates the endless whims of culture from nature. Which is, again, an Epicurean way of understanding things and calling things by their proper name according to nature.


    The danger of seeing "a danger" at every corner and avoiding delving into what EP says about economics or any other subject, is that it gives the impression that we are armchair philosophers and that our philosophy is an impractical retreat from reality and from pragmatic matters.


    The matter of economics and against limitless desires (which = anti-consumerism and related anxieties and false opinions) is a huge point where Epicurean teachings give moral guidance that is urgently needed in the modern world, as the Uruguayan ex-president has said before.

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

  • I think you should challenge yourself, though, on your unwillingness to address Epicurean doctrines

    Ok I don't understand you here at all. I AM addressing Epicurean doctrine, and taking the position that "natural measure of wealth" is no different that natural measure of courage or friendship or anything else.


    The matter of economics and against limitless desires (which = anti-consumerism and related anxieties and false opinions) is a huge point where Epicurean teachings give moral guidance that is urgently needed in the modern world, as the Uruguayan ex-president has said before.

    I think your citing this is further evidence of my concern. "Anticonsumerism" with which of course I agree is in no way near the most important issues involved in Epicurean philosophy, and what I am trying to say in a diplomatic way to you is that I disagree with efforts to reinforce that impression, which I believe will be a result of choosing to focus on this issue as if it is different from the general rule.


    I think that's what you are interpreting as my "unwillingness." I am not unwilling to deal with and explore any Epicurean doctrines, but I do my best to nudge people away from paths which seem to me to be less productive.


    There is no reason whatsoever to confuse "absolute" for "natural", just as we don't confuse the terms when we speak of natural desires (we don't say "absolute desires")

    For example, I agree with you that there is no reason whatsoever to confuse
    "natural measure of wealth" with "austerity" or "minimalism." Where I disagree with you is that it seems to me that 98% of the internet commentary DOES make that mistake, and unless you first and foremost highlight that that is NOT where you are going, then the more times "natural measure of wealth" gets discussed WITHOUT that clarification, then it just digs a deeper and deeper hole.

  • If Metrodorus thought there was such a thing as a "natural measure of wealth", I would say he was wrong. That's a silly idea, and it will get people obsessed with trying to assess and maximize some abstract quality called "natural", lol, instead of maximizing pleasure.


    Culture itself is entirely natural. The alternative is supernatural, and there's no such thing. Some of culture is not _innate_, meaning an infant could be raised in different cultures and absorb them, within a range of biology. But I wouldn't get caught up in trying to find the amount of wealth I "innately" need. That can lead to a futile effort trying to unravel nature and nurture, and humans always develop some sort of culture. There's no single culture we are born to fit.


    Dropping those overly complicated ideas, I would tell Metrodorus to stick to maximizing pleasure and leave off distractions. Unless he enjoyed all that, lol.

  • If Metrodorus thought there was such a thing as a "natural measure of wealth", I would say he was wrong. That's a silly idea, and it will get people obsessed with trying to assess and maximize some abstract quality called "natural", lol, instead of maximizing pleasure.

    well, and that would be your view, not his :)

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

  • Ok I don't understand you here at all. I AM addressing Epicurean doctrine, and taking the position that "natural measure of wealth" is no different that natural measure of courage or friendship or anything else.

    well, I guess my initial reaction was that it sounded a bit dismissive. Maybe it was not. It seems to me that an argument for a natural measure of courage or friendship would have to be related to the canon (empirical / scientific studies) or to the concepts in LMenoeceus on our natural desires.


    For instance, I argued that there's a natural measure of community, following the Philodeman and Metrodoran approach with wealth, and I based this on 1. studies on how isolation is bad for one's health (therefore friendship / relations seem to be natural and necessary for happiness and health), and 2. Dunbar's number (which shows that our brains are only able to process about 150 interpersonal relations).

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

  • Pending further detail from clear texts of Metrodorus and/or Philodemus that says otherwise, my position is that what Elayne is stating IS the "natural measure of weath" and her reaction to the term is more evidence that people think that it implies an absolute.


    If that term is really present in a well-preserved text (and it sounds like it does) then I am sure I am going to expect that it's meaning is what we are saying -- that there IS no "absolute" rule for measuring wealth that is different from measuring anything else -- the rules is going to be "choose the measure that maximizes pleasure" whatever that may e under the circumstances.


    Sometimes you are going to tune your wealth lower, sometimes you are going to tune your wealth higher, but always with the result (the "natural measure") being that amount which maximizes pleasure.


    But that's just the same as with wine, food, sex, friends, etc-- no difference in principle.