Posts by Hiram

    Ok. And what is the proper context to say that an atheist can become Epicurean? I'm an atheist and I don't know if it's proper that I am here. I'm curious.

    I can't speak for the adherents of Epicurus-only-fundamentalism. But as far as I'm concerned if you think that we should live pleasantly following the guidelines in L Menoeceus, and if you agree with the basic scientific understanding of the nature of things and reject all supernatural "reality", you can proudly call yourself Epicurean because Epicurean teachings are guiding how you live your life.

    So if the realist and idealist positions do not exist outside of this forum, I guess my question is what do you make of all the sources cited in the Epicureanism piece on Wikipedia, for instance?


    The manner in which the Epicurean gods exist is still disputed. Some scholars say that Epicureanism believes that the gods exist outside the mind as material objects (the realist position), while others assert that the gods only exist in our minds as ideals (the idealist position).[36][37][38] The realist position holds that Epicureans understand the gods as existing as physical and immortal beings made of atoms that reside somewhere in reality.[36][38] However, the gods are completely separate from the rest of reality; they are uninterested in it, play no role in it, and remain completely undisturbed by it.[39] Instead, the gods live in what is called the metakosmia, or the space between worlds.[40] Contrarily, the idealist position holds that Epicurus did not actually conceive of the gods as existing in reality. Rather, Epicurus is said to have viewed the gods as just idealized forms of the best human life,[37][41] and it is thought that the gods were emblematic of the life one should aspire towards.[37] The debate between these two positions was revived by A. A. Long and David Sedley in their 1987 book, The Hellenistic Philosophers, in which the two argued in favor of the idealist position.[37][38] While a scholarly consensus has yet to be reached, the realist position remains the prevailing viewpoint at this time.[37][38]

    (and here are sources for notes 36 through 41:)

    • ^ Jump up to: a b c O'Keefe, Tim (2010). Epicureanism. University of California Press. pp. 155–156.
    • ^ Jump up to: a b c d e Sedley, David (2011). "Epicurus' theological innatism". In Fish, Jeffrey; Sanders, Kirk R. (eds.). Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. pp. 29–30.
    • ^ Jump up to: a b c d Konstan, David (2011). "Epicurus on the gods". In Fish, Jeffrey; Sanders, Kirk R. (eds.). Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. pp. 53–54.
    • ^ Mansfeld, Jaap (1993). "Aspects of Epicurean Theology". Mnemosyne. 46 (2): 176–178.
    • ^ Buchheit, Vinzenz (2007). "Epicurus' Triumph of the Mind". In Gale, Monica R. (ed.). Oxford Readings in Classical Studies: Lucretius. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 110–111.
    • ^ O'Keefe, Tim (2010). Epicureanism. University of California Press. pp. 158–159.

    Now, do I think a personal God(s) exists? No. Do I think there's an afterlife judgment awaiting us all? No. My point of contention with the Atheists rests on my belief that nothing comes from nothing - one of the central and fundamental Epicurean doctrines about the nature of the universe. Another issue is that I derive happiness from thinking about the creator(s) of the universe; as Epicurus intended for us. Others may not and that's okay, I've no issue with that - to each their own.

    this is the idealist view, except that the Epicurean gods were not creators, they were created by nature.

    and Hiram, also, I am not opposed to people disagreeing with Epicurus on things that don't bring down the whole structure of the philosophy.
    Ideas that are inconsistent with an entirely material universe, lacking any absolute morality or supernatural agents; with the method of knowing what is true, through the Canon (more so than the particular facts asserted, the method itself is the critical part); and that the goal of our lives is the feeling of pleasure, felt purely subjectively and specific to each individual? Not Epicurean.

    Cool. That's why I keep citing the Ilkka essay, because he goes back to the canon to argue the atheistic interpretation.


    If it's true that Epicurus rejected atheists and atheism generally. How then can you, Hiram, claim Atheism as part of the Epicurean tradition...

    Because so many those who identify as Epicureans today call themselves atheists :) and because, as I've said before, I see Epicurean philosophy as an evolving, living tradition rather than an irrelevant study of a history of itself.

    We are the ones who are creating Gardens, communities, or circles of friends to study Epicureanism for our own pleasure and for our own sake. It is we who must carry the tradition forward. Epicurus isn't here. It is we who have to decide whether we will subject atheists to the treatment that Epicurus subjected atheists to--however they are defined... (or, for that matter, subject monotheistic Deists like Thomas Jefferson to excommunication).

    And concerning "Friends of Epicurus"--here I must cite Michel Onfray's "counter-history of philosophy from the perspective of the friends of Epicurus and the enemies of Plato" ... (he is also the author of a "Manual of Atheology"). We're not a dead intellectual tradition. There are Epicurean friends still having conversations in many languages.

    Hiram, I am not atheist in regards to the type of beings Epicurus referred to. I am atheist in terms of the supernatural, which Epicurus was also. If I have been unclear on that, I am surprised. Just like with the word atoms, the word atheist no longer means exactly the same thing as it did in Epicurus' time.

    So you subscribe to the realist interpretation? You believe with certainty that immortal, blissful gods with bodies made of particles, exist? It didn't seem to me that you held that view. It seemed like you were agnostic about the Epicurean gods (or withholding your opinion until evidence is presented) and atheistic about the monotheistic god.

    And that's one reason we are talking about this in the context of a list of tenets of a "Society of Epicurus." It would certainly not be acceptable to me to be a member of a society that held that Epicurus was a liar or a coward and simply trying to avoid the fate of Socrates.

    Only Norman DeWitt seems to have been willing to treat Epicurus fairly and respectfully, ...

    Cassius at this point I’m not sure if it’s honest of you to characterize this as what I’m saying.

    It is possible to hold the view that:

    Epicurus sincerely believed in his gods,


    To hold the view that I do not agree with his view. (Atheist opinion)


    Maybe to even hold the view that religious practices still have some utility (idealist opinion)

    This is not disrespectful. And it does not imply he was a liar or coward. Each one of these is a sincere opinion and here it is you who are demeaning those who hold these views and accusing them of insulting Epicurus, when at no point that was said or implied in any of the tenets, or in the literature provided to justify their views by the epicureans who hold these views (Ilkka and myself, and others).

    In O'Keefe, the author introduces the issue by stating that what the Epicurean god(s) are is unclear but discussed two theories about what Epicureanism proposed for the nature of the gods. The issue, Hiram, with SoFE tenets is that you declare there are three acceptable Epicurean positions when, for all we know, Epicureanism has only one position we just aren't certain which one it is.

    Well, "Epicurean-ism" is not a person with a single mind and a single opinion on the matter. WE are the people who hold the label "Epicurean", and we hold a diversity of views.

    What I AM saying is that members of SoFE are willing to accept as Epicureans people who hold these three positions, frankly, because there are good arguments for all three. All three are Epicurean, as far as I’m concerned, because they are part of our tradition.

    The view that Epicurus held was clearly the realist view, but if we required all Epicureans today to hold this view, there would only be a handful of people who understand, much less accept this view, and we would almost all of us have to excommunicate ourselves from what we're doing.

    The idealist and the atheist views are both not what Epicurus opined.

    In fact, Elayne in particular is making claims of orthodoxy and then says that she adheres to the atheist view. If she were to follow the “only one interpretation possible” approach, she would have to exclude herself from epicureanism. Epicurus WOULD NOT HAVE ANYTHING TO DO with atheists in his day! :-) In the scroll on piety, Philodemus mentions an account of three atheists who are mentioned by name. In my commentary of the scroll, I wrote:

    It’s ironic that so many atheists today consider Epicurus as one among their number. Epicurus mentions the need to despise atheists, reproaches them as mad, Bacchic revellers and admonishes them “not to trouble or disturb us”, mentioning Critias, Doagoras and Prodicus by name.

    The piety of Epicurus and his followers is mentioned frequently in the Philodeman scroll. It describes how celebrations of the 20th were, originally, in part religious and Epicurus’ “house was decorated piously” for the occasion. The oaths and invocations were, also, religious in nature and in his Epistle to Diotimus, Epicurus is said to have warned against “violating the covenant of the sacred festival table”.


    Therefore, even if they are now in the majority, Epicurean atheist thinkers are part of the contemporary branch of the tradition and could not have emerged at the roots of our history. Epicurus would not have had it.

    So we have to, at all times, humbly embrace the fact that what we are doing is a modern revival of Epicureanism.

    I can agree with a lot of the above. I found your book TtEG delightful and appreciate the encouraging message therein for readers to develop their own wisdom tradition. As for an outline of my personal philosophy, I'm using every Twentieth of 2020 to focus on developing and sketching it out. After December 20th, 2020, it will be interesting to know and revealing to see just how much -- from a philosophical perspective -- I've grown and changed over the time of just one year.

    Congrats on the new book, I look forward to reading it :)

    If you don't have a blog, I hope you create one!

    Concerning the idea that gods emit particles that we can perceive, this was part of one of our discussions on the gods and was dismissed by Alex because, in an expanding universe paradigm, we are getting further away from the intercosmia and therefore the particles would eventually no longer reach us. This is just another problem with the realist position. Are we content to state something knowing that we will remain forever without evidence for it?

    Just because O'Keefe says a thing doesn't make true. Idealism is a ridiculous position contradicted by reality. Allowing that into your definition of Epicurean stretches the meaning beyond comprehension. You can do that to any label you want to, of course, but it removes any claim to consistency or coherence.

    I think we have to be careful to attack the label "idealist interpretation" without considering the substance attached, because the key issue here is whether contemplation on the gods is USEFUL for pleasure.

    In other words, the difference between the atheist and idealist interpretation is that the atheist does not see the point of contemplating on the gods in any way, while the so-called "idealist" does (and Epicurus, as a realist, did).

    So we should not rush to attack the label's name without considering the point being made. If someone wishes to write an essay claiming the label, or re-naming the label for the sake of clarity, I would be happy to comment on it and help to re-brand the so-called "idealist position". But the key here, let's not forget, has to do with the utility of pious practice to experience certain kinds of pleasures even if we do not believe in physical gods (and the problem addressed here is also the "naturalness" of religiosity, or the idea that humans are by nature religious and that we should "not force nature").

    Yes, most of us believe that Lucretius was true to Epicurus. (The author of "Ontology of motion" disagrees, if you're interested in reading a counter-point).

    Concerning the point that Epicurus had no interest in science for the sake of science, yes he was a philosopher and the role that philosophy plays for science and religion and other human projects is to provide ethical guidance. In his case, he pointed the finger at pleasure. This is the role of philosophy. On the one hand, those who are scientism enthusiasts put too much faith in human artifacts instead of nature; on the other hand religious people and anti-science activists want to advance policy that leaves us all at the mercy of unempirical doctrines that impede human progress (think: stem cell and other forms of useful research). So it is important to understand the role of science as producing empirical data, and the role of philosophy as providing moral guidance for how to use this data. This does not mean that someone like Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins who is in awe of nature and its processes should not or would not find EP useful--on the absolute contrary. Both science and philosophy are necessary, and both have their roles.

    Concerning the accusation that Epicurus was hypocritical, that is one possibility, but another one is that (I don't remember the source now, but I remember reading somewhere, maybe in Laertius?, that) "the Mollusk" had a problem with drinking too much wine, which sometimes has the tendency to make people obnoxious. We can't know today what Nausiphanes was like when sober, or when not-sober. But I have a feeling that there was more than a difference of opinions in their proverbial parting argument.

    Also, consider that Epicurus arrived very late in the philosophy game, and received many of the arguments that had been previously presented as well as counter-arguments. This allowed him to put his intellect to work with the best benefits possible. He benefited from this, creating a synthesis of impressive maturity of all the most important insights of ancient Greek thought: the atomism of Democritus, the Cyrenaic pleasure ethics. Even his ideal of "ataraxia" was informed by an encounter with Pyrrho, who left a very deep impression on young Epicurus--so that he replaced Democritus' ethical ideal of cheerfulness with "ataraxia". Now, obviously, he did not take in the Skeptic doctrine of Pyrrho, only his demeanor. And he went on synthesizing the best of what he found throughout his life into a philosophy that made progressively more sense.

    Oscar I hope you write a blog detailing your own personal philosophy. (I think everyone should do this, and update it periodically because your views will evolve).

    My book TtEG was published in 2014, and a couple of years later I wrote Six things I learned since writing it. Tomorrow is the official publication date of "How to live a good life", for which I wrote the "Epicureanism chapter" (originally I had wanted to title it "Choices and avoidances" but the editors required that each chapter be titled after the tradition it represents). It contains a 5,000-word essay, which I wrote as if it was my narration of the most updated version of MY outline of Epicurean philosophy. This was extremely useful and allowed me to organize my thoughts. My review of the other chapters in the book will go live tomorrow.

    They're not my own. The first two are the widely accepted academic interpretations. For instance, if you look up the wikipedia article on Epicureanism it says:

    The manner in which the Epicurean gods exist is still disputed. Some scholars say that Epicureanism believes that the gods exist outside the mind as material objects (the realist position), while others assert that the gods only exist in our minds as ideals (the idealist position)

    This is followed by three sources, which are:

    1. O'Keefe, Tim (2010). Epicureanism. University of California Press. pp. 155–156.
    2. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e Sedley, David (2011). "Epicurus' theological innatism". In Fish, Jeffrey; Sanders, Kirk R. (eds.). Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. pp. 29–30.
    3. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Konstan, David (2011). "Epicurus on the gods". In Fish, Jeffrey; Sanders, Kirk R. (eds.). Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. pp. 53–54.

    So as you see this is a very complex subject, and I believe it's tied mainly to the problem of how much can we infer about life in other worlds based on what we see about life in this world (this is treated in "On methods of inference" by Philodemus); and it's also linked to the problem of the Canon and the requirement that it be based on EMPIRICAL data from nature. It seems like some ancient Epicureans argued that the gods could be "perceived" as anticipations, but this is very problematic. Therefore I adhere to the third / atheistic interpretation.

    I find it possible that in the ecology of the cosmos there may exist super-intelligent, super-blissful beings; and I find it possible that they may exist for thousands of years, but I find it impossible (it doesn't pass the test of conceivability, which is an important criterion cited in "On methods of inference") that beings of any species would last an eternal lifetime when all else goes to dust, as we see in nature, even suns and planets.

    Here is a piece by Ilkka on the subject, where he also articulates the third view (the atheist view). He was the first one who initially posited this view in terms of the canon, so it would be unfair to attribute it to me although I adhere to it. He argues that the Epicurean gods do not pass the test of the canon, that they are unempirical.

    Also, we have discussed this in the past among us. Here are records of our previous discussions. Feel free to start discussions elsewhere or here based on passages from these previous discussions.

    Dialogues on the Epicurean Gods -…es-on-the-epicurean-gods/

    “For there ARE Gods …” -

    "What’s so incongruous about a ruling-class philosophy that says that things are as they were fated to be, so just deal? ... In an era of massive inequality, it was only a matter of time before someone found a way to rebrand the oligarchs’ retreat from their social obligations as timeless, hard-edged virtue."

    subtitle of essay:

    In the most indulgent and self-satisfied place in America, Stoicism is all the rage.…-valley-stoicism-holiday/

    I don't know Greek nor am I able to verify the source versus any translations to see whether the original mentioned virtuous or pleasant life, although the pleasant life proposed by the ancient Epicureans WAS virtuous by their own definition … but I also know that many modern song-writers often sing songs and choose the words for their songs so that they rhyme, and not necessarily with didactic purposes.

    In that last paragraph, "existence" is an easier word to grasp than "essence," with "essence" carrying a lot more controversial implication, I would expect, as in some contexts I gather "essence" is comparable to a platonic form, which Epicurus would/did reject. I gather that there is an Aristotelian sense of "essence" that Epicurus also rejected.

    I don't think essence here is Platonic. It's CREATIVE. In other words, what's being said here is that first we have our material / social conditions (existence), and then we develop our characters and choices over those conditions as we gain responsibility for creating ourselves and our lives (essence, which is our creation to a great extent).

    Some of the philosophers who accept a radical form of freedom say that we SCULPT OUR SELVES, and that our lives as our great works of art. Onfray wrote about this in aesthetic terms in his "Sculpture de soi".

    Sartre in particular elaborated some of the complicated issues raised by the Epicurean view on freedom, and the creativity and responsibility that comes from those views which are terrifying for some people (which is why they invent mythical narratives to excuse themselves from owning these powers).

    Sartre said: "you are what you make of what life gives you"--which is basically a summary of Epicurus' sermon "On Moral Development". And like Epicurus in that sermon, Sartre and De Beauvoir worried about evaluating the extent to which we are free, and the extent to which we are bound by societal and natural conditions (freedom versus facticity / gravity).

    Epicurus evaluated freedom in On Moral Development in terms of our anticipation of agency and responsibility. But Sartre evaluated freedom in terms of POWER over others, and its inevitability in social relations. He evaluated our freedom in terms of how we objectify others, and the difficulties of having true inter-subjectivity. He explained this by saying that as soon as we LOOK at someone, that person becomes an object, and he argued that this is almost always uncomfortable for the person being objectified.

    And, obviously, his philosophical discussions and relationship with De Beauvoir and his other associates in Parisian cafés are examples of friendships based on philosophical interests, which is an important part of Epicurean practice also.

    This plays into several threads we are talking about -- we are not going to convert people like Sam Harris, or Ayn Rand (even if she were alive) but especially those who embrace some form of nihilism / nothingness like runs rampart through the "eastern" viewpoints.

    And it's fine if you don't want to engage "them", but many of their followers are sincere students who are not sold on this or that view and it's advantageous for Epicureans to posit their alternative theories and narratives and to capitalize on the visibility that these discussions and these celebrities have to present and contrast our views to theirs. Many of these readers DO NOT KNOW what Epicureans have to say, so they have no way of judging it.

    (I was once an avid reader of the "new atheists", and found Epicurean teachings in Hitchens' "Portable Atheist")

    Ok, I have my book, chapter on contemplation, and the source I cited is: - The effects of running and meditation on beta-endorphin, corticotropin-releasing hormone and cortisol in plasma, and on mood.

    -- - on neuroplasticity and how the brain's physical structure changes with meditation --- here, both Epicurus and Lucretius predicted the field of neuroplasticity when they argued that people are able to change the shape of their brain. Lucretius said people do this via habituation or when they memorize certain movements / games; Epicurus expressed moral development in material terms by arguing that a morally mature person was RESPONSIBLE for transforming the "atomic structure" of her brain in “On Nature”, Book 25: On Moral Development.

    Here is Moral Responsibility and Moral Development in Epicurus - by Susanne Bobzien…l_Development_in_Epicurus

    Here is Lucretius' Book 4


    And to whate’er pursuit

    A man most clings absorbed, or what the affairs

    On which we theretofore have tarried much,

    And mind hath strained upon the more, we seem

    In sleep not rarely to go at the same.

    The lawyers seem to plead and cite decrees,

    Commanders they to fight and go at frays,

    Sailors to live in combat with the winds,

    And we ourselves indeed to make this book,

    And still to seek the nature of the world

    And set it down, when once discovered, here

    In these my country’s leaves. Thus all pursuits,

    All arts in general seem in sleeps to mock

    And master the minds of men. And whosoever

    Day after day for long to games have given

    Attention undivided, still they keep

    (As oft we note), even when they’ve ceased to grasp

    Those games with their own senses, open paths

    Within the mind wherethrough the idol-films

    Of just those games can come. And thus it is

    For many a day thereafter those appear

    Floating before the eyes, that even awake

    They think they view the dancers moving round

    Their supple limbs, and catch with both the ears

    The liquid song of harp and speaking chords …

    This reminds me of a point I may have omitted to make before: I have a problem with the terminology "the chief goods." I do not recall this phrasing in the Epicurean texts, and it implies that there is a list of "goods" which is higher or more important than others. I think that's a repetition of the same issue commented on before.


    The bottom line here is that i suspect that "chief good" is just a phase that has been picked up for convenience in Society of Epicurus discussion rather than being based on a clear text. As always, please correct me if I am incorrect.

    The doctrine of the "kyriotatai" (= chief goods) was articulated in Philodemus' scroll "On Choices and Avoidances". He was adamant that we should keep the distinction between these natural and necessary goods and vain ones in our minds.

    I don't have this in front of me but we have to keep in mind that many of these scrolls were notes that Philodemus took while studying under Zeno of Sidon, who was the Scholarch at the time, so this would have been part of how the teaching was imparted to him.