Posts by Hiram

    SOE10 All that exists, exists within nature. There is no super-natural or un-natural “realm”; it would not have a way of existing outside of nature. Nature is reality.

    • I'm a scientific and objective realist. I don't think within/without are appropriate and can instil more sense of confusion than clarity. To say something is "within" means you know the boundary or edge of reality? Epicurus taught us to wisely that reality is eternal and infinite. There is only reality, so I personally, don't use the word "within".

    (Objective/subjective categories were removed some time ago from Tenets 1 and 2) This is an affirmation that there is no "otherworldly" reality, and a rejection of the empty words of theologians who might say "God exists outside of nature", or something along those lines.


    Hiram, I personally do not subscribe to nor view myself as belonging to the continental tradition. I presume you're aware of the split between analytical and continental philosophy.

    ... I'm concerned with anti-natalist thinkers (would you say Onfray is in that camp?) who think: "I wish I'd never been born" - since, I'm happy to be born and happy to live my life with pleasure.

    I am unfamiliar with the differences between the analytical / continental traditions, but European intellectuals have WIDELY divergent views and it's not too easy to categorize them all. I only have some familiarity with a few of the existentialists (Nietzsche, Sartre), and I know OF the German idealists and the Marxist tradition but not too in depth.

    Also, Onfray has a variety of interests, not only Epicurus--which makes classification even more difficult. He is also Nietzschean. No one claims he's ONLY Epicurean in his interests. But he's most likely the most vocal defender of Epicurus and the most vocal enemy of Plato in the world today.

    If Onfray ever expressed "I wish I had never been born" at one point, he may have changed his mind during his intellectual evolution. I know that DURING HIS CATHOLIC UPBRINGING, the Church made him feel like life wasn't worth living, and he goes into his biography and how much damage he suffered by the Church (they sent him to a Catholic boarding school where he was emotionally, physically, and psychologically abused) in the first chapter of Hedonist Manifesto.

    I also want to say a point on Michel Onfray's counter-history of philosophy before I forget, because Onfray wants Epicureans to become more engaged in public discourse, but oftentimes your censorship of so many issues keeps you from being able to form people intellectually to show how to use philosophy.…er-history-of-philosophy/

    Onfray mentions instances where Plato used omission, or mis-representation of the pleasure view, in order to make it look ridiculous. He discusses and exposes the (often dishonest) techniques used by Plato.

    Onfray's arguments throughout "counter-history" are that voice is important, speaking up is important and powerful, and that if the people who adhere to a perspective of "friends of Epicurus, enemies of Plato" do not become proficient at employing the arts of historiography in the same manner as Platonists have become proficient (history is written by the winners, and they HAVE BEEN the winners so far), then we don't have a right to complain that our views are invisible and attacked and mis-represented.

    And so Onfray teaches philosophers to engage in historiography, and also encourages Epicureans to SPEAK UP, to become engaged in public discourse and talk about contemporary issues and about history / past issues from an Epicurean perspective. He wants to prepare intellectuals to strike blows for Epicurus more effectively!

    This is a point I've tried to explain to you. It's also why I want to help form intellectuals capable of commenting on moral problems of our day using the tools of philosophy.

    We do not say "THIS is the Epicurean stance on vegetarianism, or on politics", but we HAVE to be able to say "These are the tools that you can use as an Epicurean for this or that problem", and empower intellectuals to demonstrate the methods and the usefulness of EP.

    Sam Harris has ALWAYS ignored or been ignorant about Epicurus and is 100 % sold on secular Buddhism.

    That's always been one of my main critiques of him. In my review of his "Moral Landscape" I argue that when he discusses the need for a nature-based morality, he is completely oblivious to Polystratus and Epicurus' case for pleasure-based morality. I often feel that he's trying to reinvent the wheel

    In my review of his "Waking Up" I also say that he's selling the Buddhist doctrine of no-self and that we need to posit a materialist theory of self to counter it.

    Even then, he makes a few good points, and I give him credit for calling for a "science of contemplation", BUT I insist that Epicurus was the first one to call for a science of contemplation. He didn't say: "that's idealism and so we shouldn't talk about it!". He called for the study of religiosity as a material, natural phenomenon and referred the study of religious practices to what happens in the mind and IN THE BODY when people engage in religious practices. That's why these quotes from "On Piety" are so important to me, because they an help us to continue the work of Epicurus in the modern age, and also to insert ourselves into these modern conversations and show how Epicurus had something to say and how he's being vindicated.

    I know of the benefits of chanting from experience, so this passed the test of the canon for me many years ago, but I specifically cited Diamond in my book, but a quick google search gives others:

    Neuro-scientist Marian Diamond from the University of California found that chanting helps block the release of stress hormones and increases immune function. It also keeps our muscles and joints flexible for a long time.

    For our purposes, we are looking for psycho-somatic effects of pious activities, in other words bodily and mental effects. Diamond proved that Epicurus was on to something there, that we can cultivate certain pleasant / healthy and happy dispositions through ethical / pious practices.

    I want to stress here that the point is not to say "Epicurans should do this", but to say "see, Epicurus was on to something" and to show how he placed piety in the body. And that this is a unique contribution of Epicurus to ethics.

    (I cite a Marian Diamond source in my book, but I don't have my book with me, I'm at work. But Diamond died in 2017 and was also a neuroscientist, so the study of chanting and contemplation is mainly happening in that field, and Sam Harris is probably the main proponent)


    A study by Dr Alan Watkins [senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London] revealed that while chanting, our heart rate and blood pressure dip to its lowest in the day. Doctors say that even listening to chants normalises adrenalin levels, brain wave pattern and lowers cholesterol levels.

    (I searched for this, there's a study on Gregorian chants in particular but he also did a study on sports and endurance that I can't open because it's PDF and my browser is acting up)

    Also, atheist author and neuroscientist Sam Harris has participated in studies on the brain while meditating. This is a whole emerging science. His essay Killing the Buddha inspired, in part, the chapter on contemplation in my book. He was arguing that if contemplation is scientific, then it is NOT merely Buddhist, just as alchemy became chemistry and is no longer Islamic. He says there needs to be a "SCIENCE of contemplation". In his essay How to Meditate, Harris cites many studies here:

    Cultivating this quality of mind has been shown to modulate pain, mitigate anxiety and depression, improve cognitive function, and even produce changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory, emotional regulation, and self awareness.

    The science here is still emerging.

    I think we have had this discussion before and I have the same issue. Is every breach of every agreement "unjust?"...

    hmmm I don't know if EVERY breach of an agreement is unjust, but PD 37 does not shy away from saying "whatever in the needs of mutual association is attested to be useful, is thereby stamped as just, whether or not it be the same for all". So the justness is tied to the utility in mutual association.

    In the case of rabbits that overrun a field and eat the farmers' carrots, it's useful to kill them for the farmers (who get to keep, eat, and sell more carrots) and for the people who enjoy rotisserie rabbit. So here, the PD is saying positively that killing and eating the rabbits is "just" for as long as this utility persists ("for the time being, it was just", it says).

    PD 38 also does not shy away from saying that, as per EP, there are laws that are NOT just when judged by their consequences. Presumably, what is being said here (to answer your question) is that "breaching that agreement" would be just, because the law is unjust?

    The point, in the end, is that the original Epicureans DID pass moral judgment on laws and policies, and that they appealed to the material utility and the observable consequences of the laws. Notice this is consistent with how Epicurus says that we think empirically concerning the actions based on the results observed from any course of action (On Nature, Book 18)


    38. Where without any change in circumstances the conventional laws, when judged by their consequences, were seen not to correspond with the notion of justice, such laws were not really just....


    Concerning Cassius ' feedback:

    SOE15: Under normal circumstances, we are in control of our mental dispositions.

    Objection to SOE15: The "under normal circumstances" probably is so ambiguous that it negates any benefit from this tenet. The Epicurean point in my understanding is that we should work to remain in control of our mental dispositions (like we work to control everything else) so that we maximize pleasure and minimize pain. By mentioning mental dispositions without really stating anything significant about them, the implication is that you are endorsing some kind of Stoic mind control that leads to suppression of emotions. Presumably you would only want to suggest that painful emotions should be kept under control, but even that would likely be a non-Epicurean interpretation, since it is recorded in DIogenes Laertius that Epicurus said that the wise man feels his emotions more deeply than others, and this is no hindrance to his wisdom.

    I was mainly thinking of Fragment 112 Diogenes, which states that the “sum of happiness is our disposition, of which we are masters". I considered this against PD 20 in one essay, so this is not a Stoic insight at all. The goal of each Tenet is to start a more in depth conversation and commentary on each, not to close the discussion where the Tenet ends (as I mention in the introduction of the Tenets, where I discuss the problem of over-simplification).

    When Philodemus addresses habitual fury or arrogance as moral diseases, he also refers to it as diathesis (a bad disposition) which needs to be replaced by a better, friendly, kind, disposition.

    So diathesis / dispositions are an important concept in moral development, and they deserve further discussion.

    I say "under normal circumstances" because of problems like drug use, addiction, and some mental health issues that I am not fully an expert on, but last night my neighbor texted me because he had a panic attack, and sometimes people (like when they lack sleep) can lose control of their dispositions. There are people who feel, maybe at times, unable to control their disposition. I can also think of diabetes and the emotional / mental problems that diabetes can generate. So it seems to me that, if we do not take care of our health (which is a natural and necessary pleasure), this affects our habitual disposition.

    Concerning Cassius ' feedback:


    SOE9: All things operate within the laws of nature, which apply everywhere.

    Objection to SOE9: The concept of "laws of nature" is very troublesome today. It is my opinion that this is regularly interpreted to be the equivalent of saying "laws of nature's god" or even "laws of god" in the sense that it implies that there is some being "Nature" which has adopted a set of rules about how everything must work. I think the proper statement is that the universe operates according to the properties of the essential particles, motion, and void, and that everything that we see arises from the interactions of those three things. There really is no such thing as a "law of nature" that applies everywhere; perhaps if you can somehow stipulate that under exactly the same conditions then the elements will respond the same way, but that seems very different from saying that "the laws of nature apply everywhere."

    I finally have some time to address more feedback

    Concerning "nature's God" or the "laws of god", that's not consistent with Epicurean theology even in the realist interpretation, so not sure that I need to address it.

    I was mainly thinking of the "doctrine of innumerable worlds" and its tacit understanding and view (expressed in LHerodotus) that we can infer about what is beyond in the heavens based on what we can see here on Earth.

    Also, the study of nature does teach us that there are laws of nature: gravity will always pull bodies, there are laws that govern what molecules are able to combine to form what elements, etc. Our sources say that there are innumerable particles but LIMITED possible combinations of particles--THIS is limited by the laws of nature, which will not allow every imaginable thing to happen, only certain things. Water becomes ice at a certain temperature, and methane becomes ice at a much colder temperature (which is why the moon Titan has methane lakes and we have water oceans and methane gas).

    The doctrine of innumerable worlds is based on the opinion that these laws operate always and everywhere, which is why the Epicureans in antiquity were confident in saying that there are other planets similar and different from our own, with beings similar and different from the ones on Earth.

    This is the line of empirical logic employed there: the same laws of nature operate everywhere. (with the additional conclusion implying that the planets / moons / stars are not gods who rule our fates but bodies like our own planetary body.)

    The way you frame it is as if your desired behaviors apply to all Epicureans, and that's not true.

    I guess the question of should each modern Epicurean engage in these "experiments in piety" is a separate question, that can be asked separately by different individuals or groups.

    But the point I'm making is a different one: that the ideas attributed to Epicurus in On Piety (that true, material, natural piety has psycho-somatic, observable repercussions) has a solid foundation of empirical evidence. That certain ethical or pious practices do seem to affect the health of mind and body. And modern Epicureans should be happy to accept that vindication with curiosity, and referring it back to the sources. We should be happy to say: "Look! Epicurus was on to something here!"

    Also, chanting happens in both Catholic rosaries and Buddhist and Hindu mantras, so this is not a vindication of a particular culture or chant. These studies vindicate a NATURAL process, not the cultures in case.

    No doubt you would reply that you think I am promoting a "Cassius Amicus Interpretation of Epicurus." But in dealing with that back and forth, the important distinction is that I recognize that some or all of your preferences are legitimate lifestyle choices if they bring you (and people like you) pleasure. All I am saying is that not everyone agrees with those lifestyle choices and I think it is improper to suggest that Epicurean philosophy leads to a single set for everyone.

    I suppose I disagree in that when you have empirical evidence for something (in this case, a study on the benefits of any number of pious practices), you are not discussing culture, but nature. And you are also dismissing canonic (because, empirical) insight.

    Which is not to say that the analysis can't be done. Not only can it be done, it MUST be done by the people involved. It's urgent that it be done! It's essential that it be done! If you back away from doing it you're not a man, you're a worm! (Let me not go too far in emphasizing my Nietzschean variation on the Epicurean tune that you have but one life to live and that nihilism for losers and so you must live as vigorously as you can! ;-) )

    Thank you!

    But do you agree that EP offers the tools to help a lawmaker consider the advantages and disadvantages in a particular moment and circumstance to make his choices and avoidances (to pass a law)? And that it gives us the tools to determine whether an existing law is JUST for now, or for a given time?

    Because if that's not the case, then we convict Epicurean philosophy of being escapist and impractical. The tools are there, in PD 37-38, and you keep imposing censorship on any attempt to use those tools, and accusing me of idealism when I am applying the CONCRETE, MATERIAL methodology--is this useful or necessary to mutual association, does this produce mutual advantage? Here they are, for the record:


    37. Among the things accounted just by conventional law, whatever in the needs of mutual association is attested to be useful, is thereby stamped as just, ***whether or not it be the same for all***; and in case any law is made and does not prove suitable to the usefulness of mutual association, then this is no longer just. And should the usefulness which is expressed by the law vary and only for a time correspond with the prior conception, nevertheless for the time being it was just, so long as we do not trouble ourselves about empty words, but look simply at the facts.

    38. Where without any change in circumstances the conventional laws, when judged by their consequences, were seen not to correspond with the notion of justice, such laws were not really just; but wherever the laws have ceased to be useful in consequence of a change in circumstances, in that case the laws were for the time being just when they were useful for the mutual association of the citizens, and subsequently ceased to be just when they ceased to be useful.

    So to repeat back the quote that I pasted above, I hear you talking about advantage in a way that sounds correct, but then you take that away with your conclusion that that "justice" is involved, because there was never any agreement with those rabbits in the first place.

    If the people in the community AGREE to protect a species, then this is their agreement and it's THEIR posited justice, not because they owe a duty to the rabbits but because they owe an agreement to each other. (I think a similar case is argued byLucretius when he discussed the origin of friendship, and he said that people agreed to not harm those weaker than themselves--what comes to mind is my autistic niece who is non-verbal, but elders in the community have agreed to protect her)

    Then, too, did neighbours ‘gin to league as friends,
    Eager to wrong no more or suffer wrong,

    And urged for children and the womankind

    Mercy, of fathers, whilst with cries and gestures

    They stammered hints how meet it was that all

    Should have compassion on the weak.

    So the source for Hermarchus is Porphyry…and-treatment-of-animals/

    I do think there are things that can be said, from an Epicurean perspective, with respect to various policies, and I approve of your intention to work in that direction. But what I have seen so far of your method completely ignores that fact that pleasure is subjective. If you don't keep that firmly in mind, then IMO you are departing from Epicurean philosophy rather than extending and applying it.

    Hi Todd (I don’t think i know you)

    I shared the hermarchus example elsewhere and am curious to know what you think about it because the scholarchs, it seems, would have wanted us to apply these Doctrines in real life situations and under diverse conditions rather than be armchair philosophers.

    Also Hermarchus may have been deciding for himself whether to eat animals, but it seems like he was speaking of policy makers at different points in history and describing HOW they came up with policy based on concrete advantage and disadvantage at various times.…and-treatment-of-animals/

    Here are the passages--notice that Hermarchus doesn't say "oh we CAN NEVER posit a certain policy because that's idealism", no he said "these are the philosophical tools and here's how to use them in the real world with a concrete example", and also notices that he speaks of concrete advantages and disadvantages:


    Since, if we suffered them to increase excessively, they would become injurious to us. But through the number of them which is now preserved, certain advantages are imparted to human life. For sheep and oxen, and every such like animal, when the number of them is moderate, are beneficial to our necessary wants; but if they become redundant in the extreme, and far exceed the number which is sufficient, they then become detrimental to our life; the latter by employing their strength, in consequence of participating of this through an innate power of nature, and the former, by consuming the nutriment which springs up from the earth for our benefit alone. Hence, through this cause, the slaughter of animals of this kind is not prohibited, in order that as many of them as are sufficient for our use, and which we may be able easily to subdue, may be left.

    But Hiram you take from that starting point that you should endorse particular policy prescriptions that apply to everyone as something that would be endorsed in the name of Epicurus???

    I do not follow that analysis at all!

    no but I think I addressed this elsewhere minutes ago, this is at the heart of your confusion with what I’ve been saying.

    Pd 38-39 make this clear. Policies can be just, for a time and under certain conditions. These conditions involve mutual advantage for concrete people involved. Their ”justness” should be articulated in those terms.

    The immediate example that comes to mind is when Hermachus, who was a Scholarch, said that people should consume certain animals if they were too numerous in order to control the population. Here, policy is being called for based on advantage. Less competition for food between our species and theirs if the animals eat what we do, plus more food sources for those who consume those animals.

    And so an Epicurean should feel free to call for policy based on advantage, and this has nothing to do with applying always and in every circumstance and for everyone; only for those involved, in the case of Hermarchus, whoever inhabits a land overrun by too many rabbits eating their carrots, for instance.

    Of course once the population is under control then this may no longer be just because of the disadvantage of letting them be extinct and never being able to enjoy rabbit again, and the disadvantages of their large numbers not existing anymore..

    The source would be whoever translated the source, but also I did a search online for the word attest, which my immediate instinct is that it means “to witness”, and his is what what came up:


    1. provide or serve as clear evidence of. "his status is attested by his recent promotion"
      • declare that something exists or is the case. "I can attest to his tremendous energy"
      • be a witness to; certify formally. "the witnesses must attest and sign the will in the testator's presence"


    The obvious relation to the canon and to enargeía is that it implies that evidence is being presented to us and we are certifying it.

    That is the problem with "Humanism" and I do not see you even acknowledging the issue, much less taking the non-asbsolute position that Epicurus's doctrines would plainly call for.

    The problem with humanism is that it means many things to many people. It seems like different organizations agree on different sets of principles for their humanism, which is THEIR hedonic covenant, the rules that THEY have chosen for their organizations. EP says that people will do that, that that is natural morality: an agreement between people. Whatever manifestos people write for their organization is THEIR manifesto, their agreement. The evaluation of the content of these manifestos is a huge task, well beyond the scope of what I can offer, I'm sure I'll agree or disagree with many points, but I'm not gonna lose my mind because a bunch of atheists agree on a set of principles, particularly when they do not claim to be Epicurean and have no reason to state their set of principles in Epicurean terms :) I'd rather participate in an organization that chooses Tenets I am okay with living with.

    For example you are taking the last ten doctrines on "justice" and extrapolating that a certain set of conclusions on social issues should be "the Epicurean position." .

    THIS SPECIFIC POINT, THIS is where you're either misconstruing or misreading: No, I do not.

    It is clear in PD 37-38 that THAT which is just or moral will change depending on circumstances.

    There's a whole section in my review of her book on mutual advantage. There, I do argue that there are METHODS for addressing issues of policy and that Wilson SHOULD HAVE used the method of evaluating what concrete advantages and disadvantages involve the concrete people affected by policies, so that these moral problems can be addressed through an Epicurean lens. She didn't do that. She stated policy offerings without applying any method, or appealing to PDs on how people set rules.

    I care about this because I feel that we should be helping to form Epicurean intellectuals capable of arguing the ways in which EP is useful and practical and relevant for modern people. We should not just say: "oh that's idealism" and shut the conversation, as if we all didn't know that we are philosophical materialists. We should say: "what tools does our philosophy offer to help us deal with this problem? To what extent can those tools prove useful" and demonstrate how best to use those tools.

    But perhaps I have put words in your mouth. Can you tell me what you mean by perfect person without referring to any ideas you can't show me with perceptual examples? How do you define that?

    I was paraphrasing a quote from Philodemus of Gadara's Peri Parrhesia (I think his "On Arrogance" may have said something similar):


    "For how will the sage hate the one who commits pardonable mistakes, remembering that he is not perfect himself and that all men are accustomed to err?" - Philodemus of Gadara

    The quote is an appeal to offer criticism to each other with the right spirit. I have it fresh in my mind because I just translated into Spanish DeWitt's "Organization and procedures in Epicurean groups".

    Your obsession with labeling everything I say as "idealism" makes it impossible to use words as conventionally understood: a perfect person would be a person with no flaws or failings whatsoever, of any kind.

    Now if "perfect" is an idealism, well that is the point! We are not ideal persons. We are real persons.