"Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists." Review.


    “…As the Roman Republic crumbled from internal decay, and the two Caesars, Julius and then Augustus, substituted imperial for republican rule, the new empire championed the philosophy of the Stoics, which seemed to answer far better to the required virtues of duty and self-sacrifice for the common good than did the apolitical and pleasure-based morality of Epicureanism…In addition, while Stoicism argued that the natural order was divinely ordained and the gods watched over human affairs, Epicureanism denied any relation of the gods either to nature or human affairs – and moreover had the malodorous reputation of being either openly or secretly atheistic…”

    “…But during the first four centuries of Christianity, Epicureanism was a living rival, strong enough and pervasive enough to be an object of worry, and hence an object of scorn, both in regard to its focus on pleasure and the denial of the soul’s immortality, and its alleged atheism…”

    “…The thirteenth-century incorporation of Aristotle as the pagan philosopher most compatible with Christianity deserves our special attention…it was Aristotle’s account of nature, as taken up by Christianity, that formed the intellectual foundation of scholasticism; as a result scholasticism was the reigning intellectual approach going into the Renaissance…much of the success in reintroducing Epicurean materialism on friendly terms in the West depended on a general discontent with the excessive dry formalism into which scholasticism had unfortunately fallen by the Renaissance…Christians, at least some of them, were therefore ready to use one pagan philosophy (Epicureanism) to uproot another (Aristotelianism)…”

    “…because of some who were enamoured with Aristotle and neglected or downplayed Scripture as a source of truth, other Christians (the so-called radical Augustinians) came to see Aristotle’s thought as a kind of spiritual contamination and tried to destroy its influence. The theology they used to combat Aristotelianism, called nominalism, inadvertently paved the way for Epicureanism…”

    “…In the spring of 1417 Epicureanism was awakened from its deep slumber. Poggio Bracciolini, infected with the characteristic Renaissance desire to…” [Here, Wiker summarises the rediscovery of De Rerum Natura. The story is told in disparaging terms, of course, just the opposite of “The Swerve”. There’s a moment in which he even hints that the destruction or loss of Lucretius’s book would have saved us lots of trouble. ]

    “…The works of Epicurus, along with those of his poetic spokesman, became once again available…the publishing history of both attest to the spread of interest in Epicureanism all over Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and the firm restablishing of Epicurean materialism by the seventeenth century…”

    “…First, there was the not-such-a-bad-guy approach of simple restoration without advocacy…Second, there was the honey-on-the-rim-of-bitter-poison approach of introducing Epicureanism through an appreciation of Lucretius the poet…A third way attempted to subordinate the materialism of Epicureanism to Christianity, creating a Christianized hybrid of two utterly irreconcilable views of the universe…”


    “…As we go from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, the atomism of Epicurus and Lucretius moved from being an alien smuggled into Christianized culture in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to being the only tenable theoretical view of natural philosophy during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The time period may be conveniently marked by the contiguous lives of Galileo Galilei (1554-1642) and Isaac Newton (1642-1727)…”

    “…chief among the various figures who contributed to the victory of materialist atomism in science…Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655) and Robert Boyle (1627-1691). These three are extraordinarily interesting because they combined atomism with fervent Christianity. The link that allowed this new combination was a common hatred of Aristotelianism…”

    “…Bruno was the martyr for the cause…Gassendi was engaged in ongoing conversations with the most famous philosophers and scientists of the day – Kepler, Galileo, Mersenne and Thomas Hobbes – and his books enjoyed a wide and enthusiastic readership. Finally, Boyle was the great advocate of taking atomism from the theoretical realm of the physicists to the very practical realm of the chemists…”

    “…If we may provide the briefest statement that characterizes the Galilean-Newtonian revolution, we might call it the vindication of atomism through the victory of mathematics…With the complete theoretical victory of Epicurean materialism, all the essential elements of Epicurus’s system – the eternal and indestructible atoms, the infinite universe with the unlimited number of worlds, the banishment of the creator God, the rejection of miracles, the displacement of design in nature by chance and material necessity, and the elimination of the immaterial soul – fell into place…”

    “…For those living in the two centuries between Newton’s Principia and the dawn of the twentieth century, the world was as Newton had described it, and that world was almost exactly as Epicurus had planned it. To understand that moral Epicureanism followed necessarily upon the adoption of theoretical Epicureanism, and that moral Darwinism is the culmination of moral Epicureanism, is to understand the modern world…”


    „...There are three major points of transformation in the modern reembrace of moral Epicureanism…“

    „...First, Epicureanism became Machiavellian in strategy because it arose at a time when Christianity was powerful and able to persecute its detractors...Obviously, the best place to understand this Macchiavellianism is its source, Machiavelli himself...“

    „...Second, modern Epicurean materialism shifted the original asceticism and embraced hedonism instead...May we not push the material limits boundaries, so that we, and not chance, determine the limits of pleasure? And so, rather than turn our powers towards ourselves in an effort to control our desires, as Epicurus had counseled, modern Epicureanism bids us to turn our powers against nature itself in an effort to control it, and remake it according to our desires...Our main focus will be on Francis Bacon...“

    „...Third, Epicurean materialism became political rather than remaining apolitical, as it had been originally. This move followed upon the second transformation, the mastering of nature and the consequent releasing of desire from its natural limits...modern natural rights,an invention designed to replace natural law, a vestige of the old view of cosmology that Galilean-Newtonian atomism was in the process of displacing during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries...Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau...“


    „...The materialist revolution of the nineteenth century could not have taken place without undermining the authority of Scripture, a process that began in the seventeenth century, spread in the eighteenth and became a kind of scholarly discipline in the nineteenth...“

    „...Hobbes gave us the first Epicurean-friendly interpretation of the Bible, stripped of all miracles and spirits, and focused on this-worldly happiness and peace. Spinoza not only duplicated Hobbes‘s efforts, but bequeathed to modernity the great fiction of Christ the merely moral man, the harmless messiah for the nonscientific masses. Strauss completed the work of both Hobbes and Spinoza, excising all elements of the Bible that did not fit into the Newtonian universe, and providing the model and method that defined modern scriptural scholarship thereafter...“