Posts by Hiram

    The word exists in both French and English as financier (noun) so it must have entered English when Normandie ruled England

    And this is consistent with the designation of Metrodorus as an administrator in his biographies.



    A person concerned with the management of large amounts of money on behalf of governments or other large organizations

    In addition, it’s possible to resume some of Metrodorus’ theses concerning both the sources from which one may procure wealth, as well as the manner by which one may preserve it. However, he constantly accentuated as a matter of fact, that to meet occasionally with perturbations, worries and troubles is much more advantageous for the best mode of life possible than the opposite choice. - Philodemus…us-epistle-to-timocrates/

    Timocrates of Lampsachus was both the brother of Metrodorus (one of the founders of Epicureanism), as well as an apostate of the first Epicurean community–although not a lethal enemy like the archetypal Judas. Because of their ties of blood, Timocrates was quoted as saying “that he both loved his brother as no one else did and hated him as no one else.”

    Their differences were made public in epistles that they addressed to each other, which later circulated among many who either followed the teachings of the school, or were opponents interested in the gossip and the controversy. Metrodorus also wrote one work against his brother, and Timocrates a polemic against Epicurus entitled Delights.

    Only fragments from third parties citing these sources survive. Here, I will cite passages from Metrodorus’ Epistle to his brother Timocrates, and will try to interpret the meager–yet essential and useful–content that is available.

    The Belly Argument

    It seems clear that Timocrates’ enmity with the Epicureans stemmed from not accepting that pleasure is the end that our nature seeks, although many sources cite the center of the controversy as being Metrodorus’ insistence that the belly is the “criterion” of all that contributes to the good life. Some people have argued that the attribution of this was done by enemies of Epicureanism to discredit the philosophy–and in fact they did use this to mock the Epicureans. But the “belly argument” is attested many times, and the epistles between the two brothers were circulated widely enough that it seems clear that many contemporaries and later commentators were aware of the main details of the controversy.

    Let’s therefore assume that Metrodorus indeed argued that “the seat of good is the belly“, as he is credited. And let’s also assume that the first Epicureans very carefully chose their words so that they convey the intended meaning–as this is what they were known for, and we also known they criticized the unclear and flowery speech of poets and rhetors. We have no reason to suppose that Metrodorus was speaking poetically to generate confusion. What did he mean by this? One extant proverb may help to shed light on this.


    What cannot be satisfied is not a man’s stomach, as most men think, but rather the false opinion that the stomach requires unlimited filling. – Vatican Saying 59

    The Epicurean Inscription from Diogenes’ Wall is another source to help us interpret the belly passage. It taught that “desires that outrun the limits fixed by nature” are among the three “roots of all evils, and unless we cut them off, a multitude of evils will grow upon us“. And Principal Doctrine 20 establishes that it is up to the mind to understand the limits set by nature and to tame the flesh.

    Here, we begin to see a way in which the belly might be a “criterion” (or measuring stick) by which nature guides us. The belly teaches us that we only need so much nutrition, so much food, and no more. If we over-eat, our belly lets us know via lethargy, tiredness, fatigue, or sleepiness. If we eat too little or fail to eat, it lets us know via pangs of hunger. It literally growls like a wild beast. Similarly, we only need a natural measure of friends and community, a natural measure of wealth, etc. Not too much, not too little. And it is nature that sets these limits.

    The Epicureans philosophize with our bodies, fully reconciled with nature. It is interesting that the belly was described as a “criterion” by Metrodorus–if we take this to be true and not an invention of enemies of the School. In our epistemology, the Canon (criteria of truth) includes pre-rational faculties which furnish raw data from nature with no rational input: hearing, taste, seeing, pleasure and pain, etc. I think that what Metrodorus was arguing is that we must pay attention to the pain and pleasure of the belly as guides from nature so that we may better understand the limits set by nature, and realize how easy to secure the natural and necessary pleasures are.

    The belly argument also reminds us of Nietzschean and Freudian conceptions of the human animal as inhabited by a multitude of irrational drives and instincts vying for control over the chariot of our bodies and our lives. We are rational animals, but that is not all that we are.

    Our opinion about our belly, and our relationship with it, helps to define how happy and satisfied we are with life overall. Many eating and health disorders are tied to people’s psychological states, philosophy of life, and sense of self-worth. But does it not make sense that healthy eating also correlates to healthy psychological states, a healthy philosophy of life, and a healthy sense of self-worth?

    This may be pure coincidence, but it’s an interesting side note: we know today (although the ancients could not have known this) that it is in the belly that the “happiness hormones” like serotonin and anandamide are manufactured by our bodies, and that the bacteria in our gut play a crucial role in our habitual state of happiness or depression.

    The “Need” to Save Greece

    The above passage seems indicative of some of the objections that Timocrates presented against Epicurean doctrine. He seems to have advocated ideals like patriotism, and vain pursuits like fame or glory. Perhaps he called for the teaching of philosophy in the public sphere? Epicurus banned the practice of public sermons in favor of private ones after angry Platonists exiled him from the island of Lesbos, his ship wrecked and he nearly died. Timocrates’ points seem to be related to the “need” for acceptance and praise from common people in the city. The Timocrates affair may have inspired the following quotes:


    I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.

    To speak frankly as I study nature I would prefer to speak in oracles that which is of advantage to all men even though it be understood by none, rather than to conform to popular opinion and thus gain the constant praise that comes from the many. – Vatican Saying 29

    As you grow old you are such as I urge you to be, and you have recognized the difference between studying philosophy for yourself and studying it for Greece. I rejoice with you. – Vatican Saying 76

    An anarchic and libertarian spirit sustained the early Epicurean community, which seems to have had a strict policy of separation of philosophy and state! Epicurus was not a philosopher of the polis, but of his own self-sufficient community. He did not trust public education (as we see in VS 76). One can make a strong argument that the early Epicureans raised and educated their own children in the Garden, and that modern Epicureans should also create their own educational establishments–like Michel Onfray did recently in France.

    From the exchange between the two brothers, it also seems that Timocrates was making arguments in general defense of the virtues that were part of Greek cultural convention:


    Besides, they would not buy for a penny the lot of all the virtues (if they’re) cut off from pleasure. – Metrodorus’ Epistle to Timocrates

    On Public Life

    While the “Live unknown” adage attributed to the early Epicureans is easily and often misinterpreted as a call to live a monastic life–which it was not–, the Timocrates affair may furnish some insight into the instances where Epicureans decried a life in public. Timocrates, on the other hand, seems to have defended the desire for the acceptance of common people, even of strangers. This desire is neither natural nor necessary, according to Epicurean ethics.

    On this last point, Diogenes of Oenoanda in his Wall Inscription had this to say:


    Diogenes states that the “sum of happiness is our disposition, of which we are masters”, by which he argues against choosing a career in military service–which produces dangers to our lives and health–or public speaking–which produces nervousness and insecurity.


    From all these considerations, we may conclude that the some of the main controversies related to Timocrates’ apostasy had to do with the following points:

    1. Metrodorus defended the doctrine that pleasure is the end that our own nature seeks; Timocrates rejected this view, and was defending traditional Greek virtues instead, which were often considered as empty virtues by the Epicureans.
    2. Metrodorus saw the need to defend the focus on natural and necessary pleasures as a path to happiness and self-sufficiency; Timocrates was arguing in favor of patriotism, fame, glory, and other vain ideals that are neither natural (although patriotism may be) nor necessary. Furthermore, these ideals may require huge sacrifices from us. The “need” for “saving Greece” seems to indicate fantasies of carrying out epic, (self-) sacrificial, and/or heroic deeds for a cause, or for fame, or for an imagined collective.
    3. Metrodorus’ ethical focus is on making sure that we are secure and have control over our lives, our space, and our circumstances. Because of this, the teaching of Epicurean philosophy happened in a private, intimate, safe and informal setting, among friends–not in the agora. Timocrates may have argued that desiring to have a public life (or perhaps teaching in public in order to be recognized for one’s wisdom) was natural and/or necessary.

    There is one final question we should ask: Why was this controversy turned into such an important public affair? Epistolary literature was a means to promote Epicurean doctrine in the early years. I believe that the controversy between the two brothers serves as a lesson in who can be an Epicurean and who can not be one. It seems like the main doctrinal point on which even brothers can not reconcile is that pleasure is the end. But this has many ramifications for public versus private life, for our choices and avoidances, for our choice of career, and in many other areas of life.

    Further Reading:

    The 17 Scholarchs and the Empress

    Natural Community Versus Polis

    Michel Onfray frequently speaks of the mathematics of hedonic calculus. While reading a book recently on business planning, I found they recommend a spreadsheet with pros and cons of various business models, where a person may consider time involvement for each project and potential profitability.

    … it WOULD be interesting if Epicureans today developed a model / excel sheet that can be used for hedonic calculus. Even a simple pros / cons sheet, like the ones used by accountants where the red / left side represents debit and the green / right side represents credit, to have a visual representation of what one is calculating and to measure and compare what one values most.

    These PD's and the middle portion of LMenoeceus:


    26. All desires that do not lead to pain when they remain unsatisfied are unnecessary, but the desire is easily got rid of, when the thing desired is difficult to obtain or the desires seem likely to produce harm.

    29. Of our desires some are natural and necessary, others are natural but not necessary; and others are neither natural nor necessary, but are due to groundless opinion.

    30. Those natural desires which entail no pain when unsatisfied, though pursued with an intense effort, are also due to groundless opinion; and it is not because of their own nature they are not got rid of but because of man's groundless opinions.


    I loved the movie. It was very sensual, and a celebration of warm Mediterranean imagery, food, and environment.

    The young actor is currently filming the DUNE sequel which comes out next year, and I'm REALLY looking forward to.

    I don’t know Greek or have access to the original but that is the literal translation from the French. I wonder if a preceding portion was needed for clarity.

    BUT It makes perfect sense if he is talking about ***bad*** habits, which become strong when we neglect our character.

    The more you benefit your friend, the more you serve your own self-interest. In fact, the kindness provoked by these benefits will come back to us.

    Habit is born of small things, but gains vigor through neglect.

    Polyaenus of Lampsacus

    P 205 of Les Epicuriens

    1. Not "the greatest good for the greatest number," but the greatest pleasure for me and my friends and close ones

    2. Not "humanism" but ____________ —- I personally don’t mind humanism as long as it is understood to be very generic and not very concise. It in itself stands as better than supernaturalism and dehumanization. But if humanism was to be replaced with a more concise doctrine, it would be Epicureanism

    3. Not "hard determinism" but compatibilism? Or whatever ism says some things happen by chance, others by necessity and others by our action

    4. Not "hedonism" but Pleasure ethics

    5. Not "absence of pain" as a full statement of the goal of life, but constant pleasures

    6. Not "living unknown" as best way to organize one's life, but living surrounded by great friends

    7. Not "creation" but evolution by natural selection

    8. Not "faith" but empirical knowledge

    9. Not "individualism" or "collectivism" but natural community

    10. Not "egoism"/objectivism or "altruism" but mutual advantage

    11. Not "idealism" but naturalism / study of nature

    12. Not monotheism but "atheism" or humanism (it is we who should live like gods)

    Not logic, but empirical reasoning

    Not consumerism but moderation

    Not flattery but frankness

    Polystratus would have added:

    Not moral relativity but moral realism

    Metrodorus would have added:

    Not vulnerability but self sufficiency

    P 189 of Les Epicuriens

    Back then you were not a sage but now you are making efforts to become one. Replay in your spirit the life you led previously and the one you live presently, and ask yourself if back then you bore being sick like you do now, and if you mastered wealth like you master it now. - Epicurus, in an Epistle to Idomeneus

    Quote (found in Les Epicuriens):

    This is why Timeus affirms that, whenever they begin any enterprise, sages always in some way invoke divinity. But the Epicurean Hermarchus says: “How do we avoid regressing to infinity in all enterprise if, even for a minor matter, we have need to turn to prayer. Because for one prayer we will need yet another prayer, and we will never stop praying at any point. ”

    I had already written a commentary of a commentary on this book (from an English source), but I have re-read the book in French from Les Epicuriens, with new insights. Here is the initial essay I wrote years ago:…-25-on-moral-development/

    My notes:

    The work has many long sentences, and is hard to follow sometimes because of that.


    We see in philosophy and anthropology a tension between nature and culture, and this is reflected in this book, where Epicurus compares "the original constitution" of an individual versus the "product in the process of development" (his character), and finally the "developed product"--a fully mature character of someone who understands his "causal responsibility".


    Epicurus talks about the "germs" or "seeds" (spermata) that we carry from birth of both wisdom and virtue, as well as ignorance and vices. In p. 103, E says "at first people act out their "seeds", but later, a time comes where the developed product ... depends absolutely on us and on our own opinions, which we ourselves have formed". Our opinions or beliefs are linked to our moral development in this manner

    p. 106 E says again "I don't stop rambling on this point", referring to how the "permanent attribute" of our character is the same as a sort of seed or germ, and he says that many things we do by contribution of our nature, many we do without its contribution, many where we discipline our nature, and many where we use our nature as guide that "leads us out of our inertia"



    p 104 says we have an "anticipation of our causal responsibility" (moral faculty in the canon), and this has repercussions on praise and blame



    E says that if all our views are born of necessity, then no one can change the opponent's mind.

    This reminded me of a study that shows that political ideology may be pre-determined or is genetic; I wonder what others make of this…tive-or-a-liberal/280677/



    This is distinct from the problem of "empty words" that E addresses elsewhere.

    In p 104, E says that determinists are "merely changing names" when they make moral claims or assign blame / praise, or classify people for their right / wrong thinking.

    In p 105, Epicurus says he does not stop re-hashing and restating that what determinists are arguing is nothing more than a mere exchange of words.