Posts by Hiram

    In my book Tending the Epicurean Garden I discuss many ideas on planning and developing your hedonic regimen. These include laughter therapy, exercise, love-making, cooking and eating. I also delve into research on contemplation and meditation. I may expand that if there's ever a new edition, adding elements of the Nordic hygge lifestyle.

    The Cyrenaics had a practice known as "presentism" which was zen-like and involved being fully present for the pleasures made available by nature in the moment. But Epicurus expanded this. The sanctioned practices in our sources include reminiscing about past pleasures and anticipating future ones.

    The Epicureans also engaged in memorization / repetition of key teachings so that they would "become strong" in the psyche, and had other therapeutic practices (in the scroll on anger, Philodemus discusses "seeing before your eyes", for instance).

    Also, hanging out with friends and enjoying friendship and familiarity with others is one of the most important and easiest sources of pleasure.

    It helps to write essays or 20th messages revolving around a short, concise quote or powerful saying carefully identified from each of the chapters like the ancients did. We should do this with Dewitt. So that these sayings gain power of their own via repetition and frequent reference and discussion. So maybe a good strategy is to identify and then comment on these quotes.

    One way around DeWitt is to write tracts or commentaries making his exact same points, or paraphrasing them, and making them widely available / maybe even share them on youtube vids and other media. Sort of like I did with my reasonings on the Philodeman scrolls when I was unsure that they were in the public domain.

    The following is the translation of a chapter from the book Cosmos by Michel Onfray. Translated from the French by Ross Ragsdale. Edited for clarity by Hiram Crespo. The book was written by the eminent French intellectual shortly after the death of his father, and is an exploration of our place in the universe.

    Ancient philosophy functioned as an antidote to my Judeo-Christian education. I was intellectually, spiritually, and ontologically prepared by Roman Catholicism; it was hard for me to believe, at the age of 17, that we could not be moral without being Christian. Of course, I understood that being Christian did not in reality imply being moral: examples of vindictive priests, sadists, perverts, gropers of young boys, had proven that to me early on. The wrath of the parish priest of my hometown, the brutality and pedophilia of the Salesians that I endured in an orphanage, if not the immoral behavior of local figures who would go to the Sunday Mass … all this made up what I already empirically knew, that there existed a gulf between calling oneself a Christian and actually being one.

    It is probably during this time that my distrust of words and my decision to judge according to the facts had been born. Smooth talkers, rhetoricians, sophists, verbose men, and orators immediately collapse against this extremely straightforward yardstick. In contrast, many modest, discreet, taciturn individuals prove to be the heroes of common life, for, without saying so, they do good around them. Secular sanctity exists. I've met her …

    I loved learning that one could be moral without being a Christian. This was taught to me by my old master, Lucien Jerphagnon, who gave an epic account of Lucretius’ Roman Epicureanism. I discovered On the Nature of Things as an existential support from which I could organize my life while attempting to develop it properly, while honoring the Roman values of friendship, civicism, integrity, the given word and moral conflict. And then, discovering the rotundity of the earth–I was only seventeen years old, and one is quite serious when one is 17–I understood that pre-Christian thought provides a precious ore for a post-Christian philosophy, for at the time of Lucretius, (modern) fiction is in distant emergence.

    I loved that an answer to the problem of death responded to the existential crisis of my time. This simple, succinct, efficient, frighteningly efficient, that where I am, death is not, and where death is, I am not, immediately convinced me that the event of death was not the idea of death, that the former is less present in a life–for death can be brief, immediate, sudden–and the latter can pervert actual death through anxiety, fear, worry, dread. We must live, while awaiting the day that shall not fail to occur but lacks immediate reality. The true certainty lies not in the existence of a life after death, but that of a life before death, a life of which we must make the best use.

    Whence Epicurean hedonism. The Roman Epicureanism of Lucretius, its Campanian method, its belated truth with Philodemus of Gadara or Diogenes of Oenoanda, give Epicurus’ Greek Epicureanism another appearance. Nietzsche is right to say that philosophy is an autobiographical confession; that of Epicurus was the thought of a sick, fragile man with a weak body distorted by extremely painful kidney stones during a period that was unaware of any effective sedation. This is why his hedonism is austere, ascetic, minimal, and defines itself by the absence of pain. To refuse to satisfy all desires, (focusing mainly on) those of hunger and thirst, then to make of this satisfaction the peace of the body, therefore the peace of the soul, this links the hedonism of Epicurus to a wisdom of renouncement.

    On the other hand, the Roman Epicureanism of Lucretius turns its back on the Greek formula. We are unaware of the biography of this Roman philosopher. We can barely affirm that he was a knight during the first year of the Common Era, but from his work we can deduce that his body was one of great health. Lucretius does not wish to define ataraxia as solely the satisfaction of necessary and natural desires; he wishes that all desires be satisfied if they are not repaid by a greater displeasure.

    Where Epicurus thinks that quenching thirst and hunger is done with water and a bit of bread, Lucretius does not exclude what constituted the basic menu of the Herculaneum Epicureans whose Villa was found decorated with philosophically edifying works of art: sardines fished in the Mediterranean, olive oil produced with fruits from the garden, fish marinated with citrus from the orchard, butter, milk, cream and eggs from the farm animals, lamb’s meat grilled with the vine from which they would make fresh wine, bread made with the wheat from the surrounding fields. Roman Epicureanism–which was more practical, more empirical, livelier than Greek Epicureanism–appeared to me in my youth as an ontological Mediterranean sun.

    The founder’s Greek Formula forbids (1) sexuality: for Epicurus, the libido is inscribed in the logic of natural desires, common to both humans and animals, but is unnecessary. Unncessary, for not satisfying sexual desire does not impede upon the life of the individual being and does not prevent the being from persevering in his being. We appreciate the pro domo advocacy from Epicurus, for whom sexual vitality should not be more powerful than non-sexual vitality. At 17 years old, when we have neither Epicurus’ modest body nor his modest health, Lucretius appears more satisfying.

    On the Nature of Things does not forbid sexuality, unless its practice must be repaid by inconveniences that disturb the sage’s wisdom. Therefore, there isn’t a deontological posturing from Lucretius (a common characteristic of Roman thought), but rather a consequentialist affirmation (a character trait from Roman thought): if sexual desire troubles the soul, one should satisfy the desire; if this enjoyment is repaid by a displeasure, one must renounce it; if, on the contrary, the trouble of the desire resolves itself through pleasure, then we simply give free rein to our desire. Lucretius affirms that we are sexual beings, that sexuality is neither good nor bad, that her exercise need not produce disagreements that impede the sage from exercising his discipline. The Roman philosopher imagines a concrete life with a concrete sexuality for the concrete man where the Greek sanctity of Epicurus places its ethics on summits unattainable to the sage unless he renounces the world … to truly live as an ectoplasm (1).

    What I did not see at the time when I first read Lucretius is the consolatory philosophical role he gives to science. It’s only today that I understand it. The Epicureans do not concern themselves with useless knowledge in order to lead a philosophical life. No taste for idle speculations, pure theory, intellectual rhetoric, disembodied speculation: they think in order to produce the happy life. Science herself is no exception to this logic: the atomic theory, physics, the knowledge taught in the letters to Pythocles and Herodotus, aim for nothing more than pacifying doubts, crushing fear, and evaporating anxiety.

    During my discovery of Epicurus, I was saddened to learn that only 3 letters remain, of which only one was devoted to ethics. The university only ever teaches the history of philosophy, but never the history of the history of philosophy. No one said that we owe the increasing scarcity of Epicurus’ complete work–who, according to Diogenes Laertius, had written more than 300 books–to the Judeo-Christian fury, which declared the ancient materialism null and void.

    Walking the walk and talking the talk (joignant le geste et la parole), the Christians had succeeded in what Plato had dreamed: a great metaphorical inferno for works incompatible with idealist, spiritualist, and religious fictions. Hundreds of thousands of sheep were slaughtered to tan the skins on which were recorded the texts of the Christian sect, and atomistic thought was scraped; its leathers became scrolls for the plethora of gospels, or were erased, neglected, vilified, forgotten, insulted, caricatured, despised. Three unfortunate letters have survived this barbarous massacre from the followers of the love of neighbor.

    These three letters, by chance, were summaries of the complete work for the disciples: dense and clear compendiums of what to remember, to teach to practice Epicurism. The Letters to Herodotus and Pythocles distressed me: what good are all these considerations on sounds, bodies, emptiness, arrangements, simulacra, perception, vision, celestial phenomena? And what of these claims that “nothing comes from nothing”, that “the universe is infinite”, or that teach the eternity of movement and other detailed considerations on the forms of the worlds, or that teach of the inifity of the worlds, of the true nature of eclipses, of meteors, of the movements and lights of the stars, of the variation in the duration of day and night, meteorology, light, thunder, lightning bolts, cyclones, tornados, earthquakes, hail, snow, dew, ice, the rainbow, the halo around the moon, the comets, stars that turn around one spot, those that wander in space–the shooting stars?

    Impatient, I wanted existential recipes here and now, practical and practicable wisdoms, life skills, some concrete spiritual exercises. But I had not seen that a more careful reading of Epicurus would have dissipated my first movement: the materialistic physics lays out a concrete ontology, and forbids the foolishness of a metaphysics apart from physics. In other words, Epicurus forbids a religion that hides its name (2) and talks to us about essences, concepts, ideas to better bring us back or lead us to God, and (he forbids) the worlds of servitude that this legitimates, explains, excuses, and justifies.

    Epicurus writes that scientific knowledge exempts us from subscribing to irrational cruelty. To advance knowledge is to contribute to the decline of the misunderstandings with which the legends, the fictions, the fables with which religion is nourished are formed. If we know that, in the sky, there is only matter, multiple atoms; if we discover that the gods are material and that, free of troubles, experiencing ataraxia, they function as models of practical wisdom, then we empty the sky of the gods of faith and theology, we stop submitting to false powers invested with false authority over men.

    Science worthy of its name–the grammar suggests that it is a transcendental Epicureanism–undermines religion, when understood as superstition, that is: a belief in false gods. The only true gods are material and their divinity resides in their subtle constitution and singular arrangements. In the letter to Pythocles, after having spoken about lightning and its impact–once considered sacred because it had been designated by the gods to send messages to humans–Epicurus gives his version (of what it is). The atomist philosopher summons materialistic explanations: gatherings of swirling winds, conflations, the rupture of a part of their mass, their violent fall, the density and the compression of the clouds, the dynamics of the fire, the interaction between the celestial movements and the geology of the mountains. Then he concludes his concrete analysis of concrete phenomena: “Let only myth be excluded!”

    “Let only myth be excluded!” This is the categorical imperative of what I call a transcendental Epicureanism. I am not usually a supporter of the transcendental, because the word is often used as ontological “loincloth” for the sacred, for the divine, for the immaterial, for the religious! I retain from this word the meaning which Littré attributes to it: “that which relies on data superior to sensible impression and observation” (3). In other words, there was a historical Epicureanism, dated, inscribed in dates, with philosophers, works, names, and books. The disciples of Epicurus found the word and the meaning.

    Let us start from the diversity of Epicureanism: that of the contemporaries of the founder, and of the others who came later, such as Diogenes of Oenanda–from the 4th / 3rd century BCE to the 3rd century AD. Let us note that there was more than half a millennia of Epicurean philosophy in Greece, in Rome or Herculaneum, and elsewhere in Asia Minor. Some adherents were contemporaries of the decadent Athenian city, others of the conquering Roman Empire. Let us conclude that, notwithstanding the differences, there is a powerful constitutive force of Epicureanism, an energy that will, moreover, subtly nourish the current of intellectual resistance to Christianity.

    I call transcendental Epicureanism this force which crystallizes around a certain number of untimely and unrealistic theses. The world is knowable; knowledge is the architect of happiness; happiness supposes the emancipation from all mythologies; mythologies are the only antidote to monistic materialism; monistic materialism fights religions; religions thrive on ascetic ideals; the ascetic ideal invites one to die in the world in his lifetime; to die in the world while alive is worse than truly dying one day; one must prepare to truly die one day; this preparation supposes philosophy–which is true knowledge of the true world, and recusal of fables and fictions. Da capo (4).

    This transcendental Epicureanism now assumes that philosophy, so often lost in the worship of the pure verb, revives the Epicurean tradition of taste for science. Admittedly, science has become complex, specialized, fragmented, difficult to understand for a non-specialist. Rarely can a man anymore–like Descartes–be both a brilliant philosopher and also an inventor who leaves his name in the history of science. But the impossibility of knowing everything about the science of one’s time does not prevent us from knowing enough to stop saying nonsense about the world in general or about a particular subject.

    The central questions in droves of considerations by contemporary philosophers–on bioethics, global warming, genetic engineering, natural gas, transgenesis, genetically modified organisms, patentability of life, biodiversity, cloning, the greenhouse effect–often come from the deontologist discourse. This resorts to the methodology of fear, which is dear to Hans Jonas, since it requires tapping into healthy reason. Magical thinking often feeds the rhetoric of catastrophism, which allows for a disconnected discourse of science. Ignorance of what science permits leads to a theoretical delusion that thinks more about science fiction than about science without fiction.

    Materialists and atomists, Democritus and Epicurus thought from the information provided by their empirical intelligence. The ray of light in which suspended particles dance gives the intuitive impulse to a concrete physics that leads to an ethics free of deities. A transcendental Epicureanism requires use of the information that science can provide to avoid delirium purely and simply. In this configuration of timeless Epicureanism, the transcendental proves to be a remedy for transcendence.

    Let’s ask astrophysics to provide an ontology that can illustrate what transcendental Epicureanism could be—in preparation for an ethics of ataraxia. We would discover that the atomistic intuitions of twenty-five centuries ago are globally corroborated by recent scientific discoveries in the field–whereas for the past two thousand years, science has never confirmed a single Christian hypothesis, and has furthermore invalidated them all: geology downgrades the Christian thesis of the world’s age, as astronomy does with geo-centrism, psychology challenges the thesis on free will, Darwinian naturalism dismantles the thesis of the divine origin of man, astrophysics that of the creationist origin of the world, etc.

    On the other hand, the contemporary sciences validate many epicurean intuitions: the monism of matter; (when) reduced (to their minimal components), things are made up of pure and simple material combinations; the eternity of matter; the temporality of its arrangements; the inexistence of a void in a configuration where nothing is created from nothing, and nothing disappears into nothing; the alternating dynamic of decomposition and recomposition; the particle as a primordial element present in all existing things; the infinity of the universe, therefore of space; the existence of a plurality of worlds; the perishable character of our universe, which has come into being, is and will disappear; the ordering of the cosmos in reducible order to a mathematical formulation and to the laws of nature–all without a God or Creator.

    Here is what we know about the cosmos as told by Jean-Pierre Luminet (henceforward, JPL), whose hypothesis of a crumpled universe seduces me. JPL is an astrophysicist, certainly, but also a music lover, musician, poet, writer, novelist, cartoonist, to whom must be added pedagogue, lecturer, professor, researcher. He resembles those men of the Renaissance who are by no means impressed by the universal, and who idly travel in all the intellectual worlds seemingly detached while unveiling all that is. JPL operates at the level of the big leagues, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, but our era does not like its geniuses.

    JPL quotes the philosophers, certainly. He knows well the philosophy of science, and happily moves in all the worlds: from the poetic cosmological thought of the Presocratic ones, to the hardest physics of the contemporary researchers while passing by the classics, from Plato to Leibniz, from Nicolas de Cues to Giordano Bruno, from Copernicus to Typhoon Brahe, from Einstein to Riemann, from Gauss to Lobatchevski, but he manifests a particular fondness for the atomist of Abdera (Democritus), Epicurus and Lucretius, and their brilliant intuitions.

    In the field of astronomy, the last thirty years have brought more than the last three millennia. Specialization of observation equipment brought about the advent of new concepts. Hence the astonishment to find that the finest apex of discoveries coincides with the empirical hypotheses of the materialists who, watching the dance of dust in a ray of light, construct a world, a universe, a cosmology, an ontology always from the point of view of foundations.

    If the philosopher deduces the nature of reality from a few grains of dust, the astrophysicist specifies things. Originally, the universe is a compound of gas and plain dust floating between empty space and stars. There is no sun yet. In this nebula are all the atoms discovered by the materialists: which constitute the planets of the solar system, the earth and all that is on the earth, the human bodies–even myself, who am writing this book and you, who are reading it–everything under your gaze at the moment you read, and when you lift the head from these pages, all this is a compound of atoms floating in the nebula that has engendered us. The monistic truth cannot be better said: from the flea to the planets, from the giant squid of the underwater world to the stars, from the woodworm dear to the philosophers for their demonstrations, to Darwin who expounds the law of evolution in the animal kingdom, from the blade of grass to the galaxy, everything comes from this protostellar nebula solicited by the explosion of a supernova, a very large star, whose shock-wave shakes the balance of the nebula that collapses on itself, and causes chain reactions, giving birth to the sun–this light that nourishes planet Earth.

    The mass of gas turns on itself, it contracts, the rotation accelerates, the cloud flattens and takes the form of a disk that makes possible the accretion, in other words the conglomeration of small bodies to form bigger ones until, from tiny dust, come the planets, including the earth, then man … the effects of gravity affect this movement of collapse of the Star on itself. For millions of years, these movements of accretions multiply.

    Could not we find a scientific, physical, astrophysical formulation of what Epicureans call the clinamen? When Lucretius explains that everything is composed of atoms, to then explain that we went from a multitude of atoms that fell in the void, to the composite bodies (we have now), he resorts to this scientific hypothesis which proves to be an excellent scientific intuition: the poetic postulate of the swerve (clinamen): the declivity of an atom which encounters another which makes the aggregation of what is possible, this poetic postulate, therefore becomes a refined scientific formulation under the pen of the astrophysicists.

    The sun that makes life possible on earth therefore has a date of birth: before it the universe was, after it the universe will be. When the latter happened, the universe was already 9 billion years old; its time is running out, it will last another 5 billion years. Before it, man was a potentiality without consciousness to think it; after it, man will not even be a memory, since no consciousness will be there to carry its memory. Man will have undergone an event in a huge atomic conflagration. But this event is believed to be everything and the center of everything, while it is buried in what is, in the same way as we see in stones and glaciers, volcanoes and storms, halo and rainbows.

    To remain local and modest to our universe, JPL claims that it is finite but boundless, creating an oxymoron, since the end assumes the limit, limits an end, and that one cannot be finite and limitless. (He is referring to) a three-dimensional Euclidean space, of course, because, in this configuration, our conceptual and mental habits force us into a certain type of representation. But in a non-Euclidean space, the oxymoron disappears in favor of a new mental figure which allows, for example, if one is in a cube, to go out through the ceiling and thus to enter (another cube) through the floor.

    This change in spatial paradigm makes it possible to solve a number of problems, including that of the shape of the universe. JPL says it is crumpled. In other words, much smaller than we imagine, and refracted by a device that makes us take for greater that it is. The real, at least what appears to us as such, is an immense combination of fictions, in this case optical illusions, topological mirages, ghosts. Lucretius held for an infinite universe because he wondered what would become of a javelin launched towards the finite at the moment when it would reach the limits of the universe: would it stop? Break against potential walls? But behind these walls of a finite world, what exists? And how do we name what would exist after the limit of the finite? Non-Euclidean geometry makes it possible to solve the problem: Lucretius’ javelin thrown towards the infinite would go infinitely into this finite but limitless universe: perpetual motion, eternity by the stars.

    JPL explains that what we observe deceives us: different ages seem to us like the same time. The fossil radiation of the universe assumes that all our information about it is given by the light that reaches our gaze distorted by the force that structures the universe. Light does not move except by gravitation. So the straight line is not the shortest way. Gravitation digs an abyss of forces, which become the course of light and make it write singular partitions: many lights, divided in time stages over millions of years, reach the observer at once. The multiplicity of light-times merges into a single observation time. So that we think that the same thing at different stages is multiple things, as if we were taking a character we see in ten thousand pictures from their conception to their death, and imagining him as different individuals. These gravitational mirages show that vastness is not so vast, as much as one might think it is after seeing it.

    JPL takes the example of a space whose interior would be lined with mirrors that would reflect a single candle: we would see as much as the refractions would allow, and yet it would be only the flame of a single candle as many times duplicated as there are mirrors. Real space is much smaller than the observed space. This universe is crumpled: a kind of mirror game enlarges a small representation. Our universe is a baroque theater.

    This world is small, but there are many of them, and astrophysics speak of the multiverse. Our universe would have detached itself from the quantum vacuum to obey its own temporal clock and its singular spatial geometry while the multiverse would live outside space and time by aggregating universes incessantly in formation with their times and their spaces. This is totally novel and absolutely inconceivable for a brain formatted in our space-time.

    Epicureans believed in multiple worlds and material gods between the worlds. Totally devoid of human form, of human feelings, their subtle atoms would embody a model of ataraxia which Epicurus called to imitate: the ataraxia of the sage was therefore shaped by the gods of the cosmos. The gods were anthropomorphic neither in form nor in substance, just ideal forms that could be activated as models of wisdom, which was reduced to pure pleasure of existence. (5)

    But the intermundia are validated by astrophysics: they are black holes that are defined as a force of such gravity that it absorbs everything that comes within reach, it ingests and digests material, even light. Time dilates, matter decomposes and is absorbed, light rays deviate. The boundaries that delimit black holes are called “event horizons” because we cannot observe anything beyond them. There is no interior and exterior, no space and time, and all is reversed. Near this horizon, space turns like a glove. It is distortion of space-time.

    Some say that the bottom of the rotating black hole is not a dead-end and that there are “worm holes”, which are kinds of tunnels that corresponding with other universes. We can also imagine “white fountains” that would be the opposite of black holes, which would not absorb but would spout matter engulfed by black holes. The bigbang would then be a huge white fountain perhaps connected to another universe that would have dumped some of its matter in our own universe. That’s how we are here.

    The Epicurean atoms of the protostellar nebula, the clinamen as a poetic intuition of the astrophysical phenomenon of accretion, the Lucretian javelin launched towards the infinite which discovers its trajectory drawn by the astrophysics of JPL, the plurality of Epicurean worlds validated by the multiverse of the discoverers: here is evidence that a contemporary transcendental Epicureanism is possible or conceivable, and that physics–in this case astrophysics–is an introductory course to ethics.

    Obviously, we see that the Judeo-Christian sky filled with angelic trinkets, paradisiacal fiction for glorious bodies, is outclassed by the assumptions of astrophysical science. This field of science claims its modesty: we know almost nothing about the universe and the cosmos. But what we are beginning to know forces us to revisit our conceptions of freedom, free will, choice, responsibility. Anyone who can reason understands that we are fruits of nature.

    But we are also fruits of the cosmos, and this is much less evident to the mortals who often ignore the discoveries of the most recent astrophysics. The latest work on Higgs’ boson–which was finally discovered–should compel the latter-day theologians to surrender arms and instead consider retraining in ontology, provided it is materialistic. The heavenly Judeo-Christian hodgepodge, even when we no longer believe it literally, left traces in the soul shaped by more than a thousand years of ideology.

    Magical thinking still exists in millions of human brains: from creationists to New Age shamans, from neo-Buddhists to Muslim theists, from custom-made monotheists from planetary megacities to spiritualism, from the anthroposophy of the proponents of biodynamic agriculture, devotees of Shinto spiritual creatures who invoke the gods of the lawn before carving them, from supporters of many sects–like the Raelians–who think that only the cloned will be saved and admitted into the spaceship that will ensure salvation to vodouisants and other African-American cults, there is no shortage of supporters of the supernatural recycled in religion after religion.

    A materialistic ontology leans on this transcendental Epicureanism which recalls the link between man and nature, certainly, but also between man and the little we know of the cosmos. Let’s tap into our ability to enjoy the spectacle of this immensity, which presupposes the sublime: the sublime is the path of materialistic, atomistic, atheistic access to the oceanic feeling that brought the body back into the configuration that existed before the Judeo-Christian separation (from nature). The lessons given by the sublime activate in the being a force that was neglected, despised, vilified, hunted down by monotheisms. Renewing the search for it according to hedonistic logic, allows a post-Christian ethics in which transcendental Epicureanism plays a significant role.


    1. Here, Onfray seems to make Epicurus seem more austere than he was. Most contemporary Epicureans would not accept the view that Epicurus forbids sexuality. In the sources (See Vatican Saying 51), he merely warns about the potential dangers of sexuality to be mindful of.

    2. When referring to a “religion that hides its name”, Onfray perhaps refers here to Christianity as nothing more than Platonism.

    3. In other words, by setting “Let only myth be excluded!” as the only non-empirical source in his epistemology, Epicurus set a new, scientific boundary for ultimate, transcendental reality, one which supplies us with many of the same cosmological underpinnings that people find in religion.

    4. “Da capo” means “from the beginning”; that is, “and back to the beginning”.

    5. Here, it sounds like Onfray is combining the realist and idealist interpretations of the Epicurean gods.

    Further reading:

    Cosmos (in French) by Michel Onfray


    “We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf.” – Epicurus

    This month, the Guardian published The friend effect: why the secret of health and happiness is surprisingly simple. This, plus the above quote by Epicurus, present us with an occasion and an excuse to randomly invite friends over for dinner, to cook and eat together, or have brunch together, and presents a powerful case in favor of developing culinary and brunch traditions with our friends.

    An essay titled The Evolution of Law in Epicurus and Nietzsche was published, as was a book review of Revolt of the Angels, which inspired some Epicurean thoughts on the curious evolution of Satanism into a mainstream religion.

    If you’re on twitter, you may follow me on twitter at Hclasalle , and you may also follow @SocietyEpicurus and @NewEpicurean.

    Also this month, NASA announced the conclusive discovery of organic compounds on planet Mars, which inaugurates a new era in the science of astrobiology and gets contemporary science closer to confirming the Epicurean doctrine of innumerable worlds, which was articulated in Epicurus’ Epistle to Herodotus, and later in Diogenes of Oenoanda’s Wall and in Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things, which says:

    “It is in the highest degree unlikely that this earth and sky is the only one to have been created … Nothing in the universe is the only one of its kind, unique and solitary in its birth and growth … You are bound therefore to acknowledge that in other regions there are other earths and various tribes of men and breeds of beasts.” – Lucretius, in De Rerum Natura, Book II

    Some years back, in a piece written for the classics publication Eidolon titled Swinish Herds and Pastafarians–which explores the continuity between ancient comedy and modern atheist activism–I explained that ancient Epicureans treated their philosophy, at times, as a parody religion complete with its own version of heaven and their own criteria for who gets in and who does not. Recently, someone on our Facebook groups mentioned the comedy Icaromenippus: An Aerial Expedition and how in this work, Lucian of Samosata–in a scene where his main character flies to the moon and looks back–took for granted that the Earth was round.

    Imagine yourself first descrying a tiny Earth, far smaller than the Moon looks; on turning my eyes down, I could not think for some time what had become of our mighty mountains and vast sea.

    His point was that this demonstrates that the ancient Epicureans of the second century of Common Era believed in a round Earth. In fact, Lucian has been credited (here, and in his True Story) with writing the earliest examples of science fiction in the history of literature. I read the work, and found more of the kind of secular mocking of vulgar religion discussed in the Eidolon piece. Lucian speaks out against creationists:

    Some say it had no beginning, and cannot end; others boldly talk of its creator and his procedure; what particularly entertained me was that these latter set up a contriver of the universe, but fail to mention where he came from, or what he stood on while about his elaborate task, though it is by no means obvious how there could be place or time before the universe came into being.

    Lucian elsewhere pokes fun at the overconfidence of the philosophers:

    To begin with, their feet are on the ground; they are no taller than the rest of us ‘men that walk the earth’; they are no sharper-sighted than their neighbours, some of them purblind, indeed, with age or indolence; and yet they say they can distinguish the limits of the sky, they measure the sun’s circumference, take their walks in the supra-lunar regions, and specify the sizes and shapes of the stars as though they had fallen from them; often one of them could not tell you correctly the number of miles from Megara to Athens, but has no hesitation about the distance in feet from the sun to the moon.

    And another portion of the work reminded me of the Pale Blue Dot sermon given by Carl Sagan. Lucian’s pale blue dot sermon questioned the pride men take in petty things, and compared cities to anthills.

    The whole of Greece, as I then saw it, might measure some four inches; how much smaller Athens on the same scale. So I realized what sort of sized basis for their pride remains to our rich men.

    In a scene where the main character sits next to Zeus while listening to the prayers of men, Lucian served another brilliant satire of religion:

    From every quarter of Earth were coming the most various and contradictory petitions; for I too bent down my head and listened. Here are specimens. ‘O Zeus, that I might be king!’ ‘O Zeus, that my onions and garlic might thrive!’ ‘Ye Gods, a speedy death for my father!’ Or again, ‘Would that I might succeed to my wife’s property!’ ‘Grant that my plot against my brother be not detected.’ ‘Let me win my suit.’ ‘Give me an Olympic garland.’ Of those at sea, one prayed for a north, another for a south wind; the farmer asked for rain, the fuller for sun.

    One of the points I made in the Swinish Herds piece, and later in my Epicureanism as a Religious Identity blog, was that the Epicurean tradition exhibits–even if at times robed in comedy and humor–many of the symptoms of being a religious tradition, complete with a foundational exile story (in his case, from Mytilene) like Muhammad’s hajj, Rama’s expulsion from his father’s castle, and Moses’ exodus. The flight to heaven motif is also a theme in Elijah, Muhammad (who flew to the seven heavens), Jesus (the “transfiguration” at Gethsemani), and other great prophets.

    While Icaromenippus takes place in Lucian’s comedy and is not meant to be taken seriously, it’s fully consistent with Epicurean tradition to have fun while philosophizing, while encouraging critical thinking, and while creating meaning.

    At one and the same time we must philosophize, laugh, and manage our household and other business, while never ceasing to proclaim the words of true philosophy. – Vatican Saying 41

    I hope you go on this adventure and fly to the heavens with Lucian, and that you eventually get to enjoy the pleasure of his other works: Alexander the Oracle-Monger (where he mocks a false prophet), True Story (another wildly entertaining out-of-this-world adventure), and his hilarious Sale of Creeds.

    Further Reading:

    In Praise of Lucian

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    Epicureanism as a Religious IdentityIn "Epicurus"

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    About hiramcrespo

    Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' and founder of He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets. View all posts by hiramcrespo → This entry was posted in Books, friendship, Review and tagged classics, comedy, eating, lucian. Bookmark the permalink.
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    The following is the anti-Platonic paragraph in chapter 20 of "Revolt of the Angels":

    "While the little children played at hop-scotch under the Abbey walls our friends the monks devoted themselves to another game equally unprofitable, at which, nevertheless, I joined them, for one must kill time,—that, when one comes to think of it, is the sole business of life. Our game was a game of words which pleased our coarse yet subtle minds, set school fulminating against school, and... put all Christendom in an uproar. We formed ourselves into two opposing camps. One camp maintained that before there were apples there was the Apple; that before there were popinjays there was the Popinjay; that before there were lewd and greedy monks there was the Monk, Lewdness and Greed; that before there were feet and before there were posteriors in this world the kick in the posterior must have had existence for all eternity in the bosom of God. The other camp replied that, on the contrary, apples gave man the idea of the apple; popinjays the idea of the popinjay; monks the idea of the monk, greed and lewdness, and that the kick in the posterior existed only after having been duly given and received. The players grew heated and came to fisticuffs. I was an adherent of the second party, which satisfied my reason better, and which was, in fact, condemned by the Council of Soissons.

    Full Review of this amazing book here:


    I recently had the pleasure of reading the highly-recommended book by Nietzsche, The Antichrist. Many of its paragraphs merely served to add depth and detail to some of the things I had previously come to understand from reading his notes in Will to Power and other sources, like Zarathustra. Other paragraphs offered new insights either because of the way in which they were passionately and emphatically stated, or by virtue of their content. Paragraph 57 is one of the latter cases and caught my eye because usually, when Nietzsche discusses the origins of laws and mores, he employs a cynical tone and seeks the ulterior motives of the proponents. Here, he takes on the anthropologist’s tone that we find in Lucretius and Epicurus, and it might be interesting to compare how he views the primitive origins of moral and legal codes versus how the Epicureans viewed them.

    In Nietzsche, the time when the laws are written down indicates a time when rules and contracts are standardized and experimentation is no longer encouraged as a result of certain legal precedents and practices becoming solidified in tradition. There are conservative and liberal interpretations of this process: to some–who are privileged by the existing laws–this creates a mythical “golden era” during which the population developed the best means to rule itself. To others, this imposes limits on how creative legislators allow themselves to be in adapting the legal code to new circumstances and keeping it relevant. Nietzsche, who is a staunch defendant of a type of aristocracy, supports the first interpretation, but nonetheless sympathizes with the second one.

    He then goes on to justify the caste system, which does not concern us for the purposes of this essay. I mainly wish to note that, against the conservative analysis we find in Nietzsche–who seeks to remind us of the original advantages that certified the ancient laws–we can posit the case for adaptability, progress and evolution of the legal code according to mutual advantage in the ancient Epicureans–who advocate for a fluid legal system that allows for perpetual processes of experimentation and adaptation.


    Among the things held to be just by law, whatever is proved to be of advantage in men’s dealings has the stamp of justice, whether or not it be the same for all; but if a man makes a law and it does not prove to be mutually advantageous, then this is no longer just. And if what is mutually advantageous varies and only for a time corresponds to our concept of justice, nevertheless for that time it is just for those who do not trouble themselves about empty words, but look simply at the facts.

    Where without any change in circumstances the things held to be just by law are seen not to correspond with the concept of justice in actual practice, such laws are not really just; but wherever the laws have ceased to be advantageous because of a change in circumstances, in that case the laws were for that time just when they were advantageous for the mutual dealings of the citizens, and subsequently ceased to be just when they were no longer advantageous.

    Epicurus’ Principal Doctrines 37-38

    Notice that, first and foremost, it is clear that men create the laws and that men have, at any point, the power to change them. Epicureans never allow for a “holy lie” to even plant its roots in the soil of philosophy. While Epicurean doctrines seem to allow for an aristocratic code (things of advantage may or may not be “the same for all”), we also find in the Epicurean sources a lack of emphasis on the priorities of the ruling class, and instead an egalitarian, anarchic, and–most importantly–pragmatic focus on mutual benefit.

    In Book 5 of On the Nature of Things, Lucretius mentions how “neighbors began to form mutual alliances, wishing neither to do nor to suffer violence among themselves“, echoing again the indication that Epicureans believed contractarianism to be the earliest type of law.

    fysin is the word used in the first image, fysis in the second. So what is being translated as nature shares semantic roots with the word "physics", with the physical. Maybe "the body" or even "the flesh" could sometimes replace this translation? Another translation might be "matter".

    As to your Venus reference, notice that "mater" (mother) shares semantic roots with matter. In Spanish, matter is "materia". I think in Lucretius' Latin tongue this shared semantic history would have been much more evident.

    More sources on this are cited in my essays on Diogenes' Wall. PD 20 displays a mind-over-matter logic that makes it clear that the mind is the agent that must understand the limits of pleasure and pain for the flesh, and that one must train the mind in this understanding.

    Later, Diogenes adds detail to this by encouraging people to sow seeds of pleasure with their choices and avoidances that will bear fruit both in the present and future, which creates an interesting concept in the art of living of "doing favors to our future self" (including the extirpation of dis-eased emotions), to increase our sense of confidence and hope (as E also says in one of the Vatican Sayings--we must make what is ahead better than what is behind us). We end up with a kind of mastery over our minds, our desires, and our selves, that is very different from the self-tyranny of ascetic ideals.

    Diogenes’ Wall: on Principal Doctrine 20


    The flesh receives as unlimited the limits of pleasure; and to provide it requires unlimited time. But the mind, intellectually grasping what the end and limit of the flesh is, and banishing the terrors of the future, procures a complete and perfect life, and we have no longer any need of unlimited time. Nevertheless the mind does not shun pleasure, and even when circumstances make death imminent, the mind does not lack enjoyment of the best life. – Principal Doctrine 20



    Diogenes’ Wall: on the Pleasures



    … [let us] not [avoid every pain that is present, and let us not choose every pleasure, as the many always do. Each person must employ reasoning,] since he [will not always achieve immediate success: just as] exertion (?) [often] involves one [gain at the beginning and] certain [others as time passes by], so it is also with [experiencing pleasure;] for sowings of seeds do [not] bring [the same benefit] to the sower but we see some seeds very quickly germinating [and bearing fruit and others taking longer] …………… of pleasures and [pains] …….. [pleasure].

    Let us now [investigate] how life is to be made pleasant for us both in states and in actions.

    Let us first discuss states, keeping an eye on the point that, when the emotions which disturb the soul are removed, those which produce pleasure enter into it to take their place.

    Well, what are the disturbing emotions? [They are] fears —of the gods, of death, and of [pains]— and, besides [these], desires that [outrun] the limits fixed by nature. These are the roots of all evils, and, [unless] we cut them off, [a multitude] of evils will grow [upon] us.

    Ecclesiastes in the Bible is also deeply pessimistic and shows some Epicurean influence (the Epicureans were a major school in Antioch and in the vicinity of Judea when it was written), but it can't ultimately be reconciled with E for its claim that all wisdom begins with fear of God.

    I started to comment too Hiram on the part about "stake in the future." If I recall correctly isn't this touched on in the Diogenes of Oinoanda inscription, where there is discussion of the pleasure we get today thinking about how how actions today will work out positively in the future. You aren't there to experience it yourself, but the anticipated future can still have a major impact on your life today.

    I think that's here:



    Fragment 33:

    Well now, I want to deflect also the error that … further inflates your doctrine as ignorant. The error is this: [not] all causes in things precede their effects, even if the majority do, but some of them precede their effects, others [coincide with] them, and others follow them.
    Examples of causes that precede are cautery and surgery saving life: in these cases extreme pain must be borne, and it is after this that pleasure quickly follows.
    Examples of coincident causes are [solid] and liquid nourishment and, in addition to these, [sexual acts:] we do not eat [food] and experience pleasure afterwards, nor do we drink wine and experience pleasure afterwards, nor do we emit semen and experience pleasure afterwards; rather the action brings about these pleasures for us immediately, without awaiting the future.
    [As for causes that follow, an example is expecting] to win praise after death: although men experience pleasure now because there will be a favourable memory of them after they have gone, nevertheless the cause of the pleasure occurs later.
    Now you, being unable to mark off these distinctions, and being unaware that the virtues have a place among the causes that coincide with their effects (for they are borne along with [pleasure), go completely astray.]…bout-philodemus-on-death/

    The meditation of the wise man is a meditation on life, not on death.

    – Wisdom 6:1, Humanist Bible

    The beginning parts of the scroll On Death are very fragmentary and very little can be deciphered, but the scroll gets easier to read in its later portions. After studying its contents, I found it refreshing that a scroll on how death is nothing to us took such pains to dismantle the death-based cultural forms two millenia prior to Nietzche’s accusation that Christianity is a cult of death. Although Nietzche is a post-Christian philosopher who is known for having announced the death of God, much of what we think of as Nietzchean discourse began much earlier than Nietzche, with the Epicureans and our philosophy of life.

    On the Error of Measuring Good by Time

    In our considerations On Choices and Avoidances we learned about the Doctrine of the Chief Goods. We return to this doctrine. The readable portion of the scroll begins with a consideration of how men shun untimely death hoping to gain goods in additional time. Philodemus argues that it’s better to have lived a young life with the things that matter than to die without finding anything naturally good.

    14.2 For it is characteristic of a sensible man to yearn to live on for a certain amount of time in order that he may complete his congenital and natural desires and receive in full the most fitting way of life that .. is possible … and consequently be filled full of good things and cast off all the disturbance that is concerned with the desires, sharing in stillness.

    Epicurus said that we should live as long as we’re alive. Quality of our life marks the difference between merely existing and truly living. This is an important precept. It is foolish to wish to extend our lifespan if we are miserable and do not know how to live. The foolish man gains nothing by living a long life as long as he lives with fear, violence, envy and other vices, instead of acquiring the things that make life worth living.

    For those who live a wretched life, death is a release (21.3-6) According to Philodemus losing our life at a young age, similarly, is only bad because we may be unable to procure the things that make life worth living, a task which requires some progress in philosophy. If we have lived a pleasant life, no one and nothing can take this away from us. When we die we won’t know that we have died because we won’t have our perception and awareness (19.27).

    Therefore, the only thing that will have mattered is that we lived well. As we have seen, these reasonings are all consistent both with the doctrine of the principal things (kyriotatai) that truly matter and with the goal of calcualted hedonism: in the end, life must be pleasant.

    On Rejoicing About Death

    Since the dead don’t mind mockery, only the living, this is considered foolish and it generates no suffering to the person mocked when that person is dead and no longer exists. Similarly, rejoicing at the prospect of our own death is foolish if we have good. It only makes sense to rejoice at our death if it is perceived as liberation from intense suffering.

    On Being Troubled by the Prospect of Death

    22.1 In fact it is precisely in anticipating this while they are alive that they have the (sort of) death that has to do with them, whereas we are not troubled at any such prospect.

    Because we only have perception and use of our senses while we live, the only way in which we experience our own death is indirectly as a prospect. In other words, we do not experience death when it comes. We are not there at all. Therefore, our apprehension of our future death is considered imprudent, as it is unavoidable that we will die and fearing it or losing our peace because of our future death does not change the fact of our mortality. Another way in which we trouble ourselves with death is by worrying about the extinction of our family line and about leaving a name. Because we won’t be there at all after we die, both relatives and strangers will have nothing to do with us and even people who have many descendants do not add enjoyment to their lives from their progeny after they die. Philodemus also argues that there are many others who bear our same name.

    On Inheritance

    Philodemus recognizes that it’s best to leave inheritance to our children, and that dying without offspring is naturally painful. So is leaving behind immediate family members who lack basic needs. One is to write a will to ensure that only the worthy will enjoy our inheritance. There is concern about the fruits of one’s labor going to relatives who might be wicked, who would not profit from our wealth at all. On the other hand, if one does not have worthy heirs, that is truly a reason for pity: it means that we haven’t lived well enough to nurture wholesome relations.

    On Perturbations Due to Manner of Death

    Ancient men often worried about things like dying at sea, or about dying a glorious death as a result of the belief that a better afterlife awaits those who die in battle (for instance: as heroes in Valhalla, or as jihadists with virgin attendants in the Islamic heaven) while old ladies who die a natural death, presumably, end up in Hades with all the other ordinary dead people.

    Conversely, many people who deserve glory and fame, and are remembered for having lived noble lives, died natural deaths. If only a so-called “noble death” in battle makes one glorious, then most cultural heroes of humanity would have to be deemed ignoble. Therefore, we should not deem heroic our deaths instead of our lives. Living heroically is what has value and honor, says Philodemus. A dead person can perform no glorious deeds, and whatever glorious deeds are performed happen while we’re alive.

    For a sensible person, the only way that dying in battle is desireable is if we are wounded and wish to be released from terrible pain. Philodemus derisively says that soldiers in battle die like cattle.

    These false beliefs about a noble afterlife for those who die in battle are a great moral evil and have always been promoted by warlords and governments with military interests who have profited from the carnage. We’re reminded of oil investors and investors in the military industrial complex who today benefit handsomely from the use of apocalyptic imagery by conservative Christians who legitimize military intervention abroad, as these few have become powerful and wealthy interests in Western politics. However, it’s usually the poor who die in battle.

    Many Catholics used to worry excessively about baptising their newborn in fear of a belief that unbaptised babies end up in limbo. When in recent years the Catholic Church changed its mind about limbo, many Catholics began raising questions about where these spurious afterlife teachings are drawn from and how they can change.

    As for dying at sea, or in a bathtub or jacuzzi or pool for that matter, the scroll compares worrying about this to worrying about whether one’s corpse will be “eaten by fish or by maggots”. It won’t make a difference.

    Some argued in antiquity that it was fortunate or noble to die in battle at sea, as if dying at sea for the sake of visiting friends or for the sake of learning was less noble. If anything is ignoble about dying at sea, it’s if one dies in search of profit or vain pursuits, but it is one’s life that’s wretched in this case, not one’s death.

    Another matter attended in the scroll is the death of Socrates and other innocent victims that are either executed by miscarriages of justice, or justly executed. If one is guilty, this is pitiable not because of the manner of death, but because of how one lived. If one is innocent, then the most one can do is attempt to endure nobly and to be moderately troubled, as if it was an illness.

    This portion is perhaps the least convincing in the entire scroll, which is otherwise powerful and cogent. We know in our day that there are countries where the innocent are put to death for apostasy, for being gay, or sometimes the punishment is not proportionate to the crime as in the case of stoning adulterers and women who wish to choose their husbands in Islamic societies. As Muslims move to Western countries, we are hearing more of “honor” killings of daughters by their own fathers or brothers, and even of “honor rapings” of women who do not cover their bodies “properly”.

    These practices are certainly a great evil and the moral problem raised by Philodemus concerning the execution of the innocent is very complicated. It is difficult, we must concede, to remain unperturbed. As to those who worry about sudden death, Philodemus argues that all death is sudden. There is nothing extraordinary about sudden death, on the contrary, we should be surprised to live exceptionally long lives.

    Unfinished Business

    We all have projects that we would like to see concluded. Many people feel that they wish to leave a lasting legacy, but Philodemus says that very few great men achieve this and that this is an empty and vain desire. If fame while alive is empty, then fame after one is dead is even less of a source of true pleasure.

    Sometimes it’s not death, but necessity or fortune that impedes us from achieving our goals in life and materializing our plans. Therefore, if we are concerned about dying prior to seeing one of our goals achieved, we should apply the same consolations that we apply in life to these troubles. If we know what matters (the chief goods), we’re unaffected and enjoy the good things in life, the things that make life worth living, unperturbed. It is here that Philodemus speaks of how the prudent man lives ready for his burial.

    38.14 The sensible man, having received that which can secure the whole of what is sufficient for a happy life … goes about laid out for burial, and he profits by (each) day as if would by eternity.

    One naturally feels concern for those close to us that have problems or who lack an art of living and haven’t learned to be happy. But these are things that are outside our control. Philodemus argues that the man who has lived well should not lament others’ miseries after he has escaped his own: he should go to his death happy that he lived well.

    On Funeral Planning

    There is another way in which people concern themselves too much with death and its cult. It is foolish to worry about the appearance of our corpse at the wake. Philodemus argues against those who are disgusted by the bad appearance of the corpse, or who worry about beauty, saying that all who die–beautiful or not–become skeletons within a short amount of time. He also argues against planning lavish burials as a waste of time and resources.

    We are reminded of many of the practices associated with kings and chiefs, which incorporated not only the inclusion of material goods in the tomb but even such evil practices as burial of live slaves and widows with them. These traditions persisted in most continents for millenia.

    Burials, if they are to be celebrated, are for the living, not for the dead. They help with closure. Philodemus praises decent burial practices that were emerging during his lifetime, where the expenditure that used to go toward lavish burials of wealthy senators were instead being spent on the living:

    31.5 Among lawgivers, too, those who made dispositions naturally and well can be seen actually to have prevented excessive expenditure at funerals on the grounds that the living were being deprived of services: many give orders to do away with their property precisely because they begrudge this.

    A lavish burial won’t fix a life lived wretchedly. On the other hand, a pleasant life well lived among friends can not be taken away from us if we don’t get a proper burial: this does not take away in the least from our happiness while we lived. Many great people have died without a burial. The scroll also argues convincingly against pitying the dead, for instance, if we happen to come across an unnamed tomb (32.24), saying that it is unintelligent to pity the dead.

    32.20 Who is there who, on considering the matter with a clear head, will suppose that it makes the slightest difference, never mind a great one, whether it is above ground or below ground that one is unconscious?

    The pain of not being remembered at all after death seems natural, but if one is friendless and has nothing good, then we get no relief from being remembered well or even as blessed. If, on the other hand we have many friends and live well, then being remembered or not after we die, again, takes nothing from that.

    On the other hand, if our friends die before we do, then we might as well mourn everyone who was and ever will be. After we’re all dead, there won’t be anyone to remember us. Therefore, the issue of being remembered (or reviled, for that matter) after one dies should not be a source of perturbances. Instead, one should worry about living well.

    Live Well, Die Well

    It is important to understand that living well and dying well are the same thing. Philodemus criticizes rich men who think they won’t get old and die, don’t even write a will (an act which indicates some level of coming to terms with our own end), and are perplexed to see an old king as if power and old age were mutually exclusive. He says that they are attached to life out of fear of death, not because they live pleasantly. One should live while one is alive, but peacefully and prudently accept one’s mortality and natural limits.


    The above reasonings were inspired by Philodemus: On Death (Writings from the Greco-Roman World 29) (Greek and English Edition) by Philodemus and W. Benjamin Henry.

    Further Reading:

    Is it moral to respect the wishes of the dead, above the living?

    Back to the Main Page

    I'm not an expert, but it seems obvious to me that these ethical conclusions follow from Epicurean principles:

    1. Being absolutely mortal, I have no stake in the future.

    ...Though I count myself an admirer of Epicurus, unlike others I find his philosophy deeply pessimistic...

    It's the exact opposite. In Vatican Saying 48, the founders of this School said:

    While we are on the road, we must try to make what is before us better than what is past; when we come to the road's end, we feel a smooth contentment.

    And Norman DeWitt said: "the unplanned life is not worth living". We plan for our future LIFE to sculpt it as one that is filled with pleasures, not for a posited afterlife.

    As for death, the most complete summary of the ethical repercussions of our teachings was given by Philodemus, and I comment on them here:…bout-philodemus-on-death/

    From this 20th message: https://theautarkist.wordpress…to-the-basics-the-ethics/


    Very often, in our public forums questions are raised about choice-making that require us to not confuse the means with the end. The answer to moral problems in Epicurean philosophy is always found in hedonic calculus, but this calculus requires an understanding of what our nature is and what the limits of our desires and pleasures are, if we are to live a blessed life of pleasure, satisfaction and contentment.

    It usually seems to me that the easiest route to answering moral questions is found in the middle portion of Epicurus’ Epistle to Menoeceus, which is the summary of the ethical doctrines of the school and provides general guidelines for our choices and avoidances. This is why Epicurus said we must keep going back to the basics until they become strong and firm in our minds. More specifically, when it comes to choices and avoidances, it is in the middle portion of the tract that we find the most concise, clear instruction by which we find the most fail-safe way of creating for ourselves a life filled with all the pleasures that nature makes available to us. Below is the Bailey translation of the middle portion, and the exhortation (which comes at the end of the epistle) to study philosophy daily, and both alone and with kindred spirits.

    Please take the time to carry out a detailed study of Epicurus’ Epistle to Menoeceus. It is a pearl of the highest value among classical, ethical and humanist literature: wise, concise, brief, detailed, and potent. It teaches us that the essence of morality and of moral reform is not found in becoming subservient to external ideals, but in studying and living in accordance to our own nature and becoming empowered in our choices and avoidances. We also add the most to others’ happiness and flourishing by choosing naturalness and authenticity over cultural convention–particularly when we study and practice philosophy together with them. There’s even a video version, the Cyril Bailey translation, and the Elemental Edition–all put together by New Epicurean. Please share these pearls of wisdom with others!

    Daniel Van Orman do you mean fixing your section "Teachings on Higher Pleasures"?

    My favorite summary on pleasure as the end is the one I drew from Lampe's book on the Cyrenaics, which I mention in the Aristippus essay, under "Ethics":



    There is one key doctrine that both Epicureans and Cyrenaics share. To the Cyrenaics, pleasure is satisfying and ergo choice-worthy for its own sake, and pain is repellent and ergo avoidance-worthy. These truths, they argued, are directly experienced and self-evident, and require no arguments or logic. Epicurus also refused to argue about pleasure and pain, saying that these are faculties within our own nature that receive raw data from nature, and not subject to logical formulas or arguments.

    This is the clearest, simplest, easiest way to put it, in my view. But in practice, this doctrine has to be qualified, and the best source for that is the middle portion of the Epistle to Menoeceus, where Epicurus discusses choices and avoidances and how sometimes, for the sake of a greater pleasure, we choose a pain, etc. You'll find that in our tradition, ethics are often framed in terms of CHOICES AND AVOIDANCES, and that we tend to move from the abstract into the concrete as much as possible for the sake of clear speech. Speaking of choices and avoidances concretizes ethical discussions.

    Notice how we always refer back to the direct experience of the sentient being--and we believe every compassionate and useful system of morality should concern itself with the immediate, direct experience. The moment we start worrying about collectivities, about making everyone else happy, about happiness "for the majority" or for the mobs, our investigations become Platonized and increasingly conceptual and abstract, and the ethics of pleasure fails to satisfy and produce consistent results because this is an individualist ethics and there is great tension between the individual and the mobs / societal and cultural conventions.

    Also, I'm not sure that Diogenes of Oenoanda says that pleasures of the mind are "higher" or "superior" to those of the flesh, necessarily. This is very controversial among some Epicureans. What he DOES say is that pleasures of the mind are longer-lasting, and can be both anticipated and remembered more intensely; and that when the mind is sick with depression this has psycho-somatic repercussions on the body and affects the health of the body, and may even cause suicide and self-harm in other ways.


    Pleasure and pain are the only good and evil in life. They motivate every decision one makes and it is everyone's moral responsibility to increase their pleasure while relieving their pain. Utilitarian philosophers extend this with the Principle of Maximal Utility, saying it is everyone's duty to increase the pleasure and decrease the pain of all others.

    Yes, pleasure motivates every decision we make, but I do not think that we have a "moral responsibility" or "duty" to increase it or decrease our own or others' pain. We are free. Duties are only born from the contracts we sign, willingly. Epicurus' ethics are descriptive of human nature, and what he was saying is that it is in our self-interest and better for us if we follow or go along with nature, rather than against it.

    ...he derived no inner satisfaction from knowing that he had helped another, I believe he would no longer help them.

    This is hedonic calculus, and the 'search for meaning' can framed according to our nature as a search for the pleasure of meaning. Many people say they are looking for "meaning", and for many the use of philosophy is to create meaning for life, and this is noble and understandable, but what is this meaning? It's the OBJECT OF PLEASURE that justifies the PAIN we are willing to endure--whether it be the knowledge that our loved ones will be / are safe and happy and/or healthy, or the Master's or PhD degree we will earn at the end of our toils (and higher wages), or the anticipation of any other future pleasure.