Posts by Hiram

    Many of these initial verses of books, plus on reason and senses will likely be included.

    Also, porphyry’s Epistle to Marcella.

    He mentioned Plutarchus but am trying to talk him out of that due to his being a hostile and unreliable source. As well as too long. Instead I’m attempting to see if he can get a hold of several Herculaneum sources to include.

    I am thinking that Hiram just asked the question here out of a sense of being cautious, since he is a regular collaborator with Robert, rather than hearing from Robert that he has an issue.

    I haven't talked to him in years actually. I tried to get him to link his content to the Epicurean sources and explain how it connected to the doctrine, but he does not accept parrhesia.


    I have been contacted re: an opportunity to add passages from Lucretius' De Rerum Natura to a collection of foundational Epicurean texts for an audiobook.

    So my question is, what passages or portions do others consider ESSENTIAL MUST-READ portions of Lucretius for an introductory collection of Epicurean literature, that you think should be included in an anthology?

    The Gassendi and Laertius lineage of ideas is something I have not considered, so am unfamiliar if / how this came to his knowledge. Maybe Charles knows something?

    But I don't think these are "severe limitations", except insofar as you consider his writing a commentary on previous thinkers. I think a case could be made that his evaluation of an anatomy of the soul is ESPECIALLY valuable if it's not based on previous sources because it would mean that, without knowing these Epicurean sources, a student of nature is able to come to similar ideas than Epicurus. I almost see it as a demonstration of the soundness of the system.

    Also, another thing I noticed is what seem like almost parallel sayings in La Mettrie and in Few Days in Athens. I know Thomas Jefferson lived in France, knew French and may have read La Mettrie. Many arguments against the clergy ("the theologians") and their grip on the intellectual life of people are similar in both works. Same with the insistence that people reason "without bias or prejudice", which informs the anti-dogmatism that seems to appear in La Mettrie in spite of his acknowledgement that he has created "an Epicurean SYSTEM"--and his critique of the pendantry and arrogance of philosophers, which (when he starts naming names), specifically refers to idealists of whom he says they "build castles in the air". So I wonder to what extent a transfer of ideas from La Mettrie - to Jefferson - to Wright took place.

    I have been reading Julien Offray de La Mettrie's "Natural history of the soul" and "Système d'Epicure" ( thank you Charles ), and will read his "Man Machine" and "Anti Seneca" soon. I have many initial impressions, of which I will write in the future, but I'd like to bring up some points regarding La Mettrie's study of the canon, noting the following initially:

    1. He was unfamiliar with Epicurus as a direct source. His familiarity was with Lucretius, which was a popular document in the intellectual life of anti-clerical intellectuals of his day.

    2. Much of what he wrote were commentaries on Lucretian ideas.

    3. He does not use the same words as Lucretius may have, or as Epicurus may have, in his native language to name things that we know as anticipations, canon, dogmatism, etc. He used "système" for dogmatic systems of philosophy, and referred to anticipations as they related to memory and speech.

    4. This specifically bears to mind that the word "recognition" itself gives us the anticipation of a re-encounter with something that we have known previously: re-cognition. I don't know if a careful evaluation of anticipations as they relate to memory has even been done, but either way we have modern scientific insights on memory that any discussion should be checked against.

    5. La Mettrie regards reason and the canonic faculties similarly to how the orthodox Epicurean does. He says of reason that it's a "mechanism which often fails". In page 93, he argues that the fact that we remember or recognize ideas with or without the consent of the will is seen as proof that they are pre-rational; ergo sub-conscious. He frequently uses the term "internal causes" here (as opposed to "external"), perhaps admitting some acknowledgement of the existence of the unconscious or subconscious mind. But that he goes to such lengths to argue that these faculties are pre-rational is very interesting to me.

    The following are a few notes I've taken from La Mettrie's "Natural history of the soul" which seem to constitute, again, a commentary on Lucretius.

    The first note is that he establishes anticipations as a pre-rational ("mechanic" in his words) faculty.


    The cause of memory is in fact mechanic, as memory itself is. It seems to depend on that which the bodily impressions of the brain that trace ideas that follow it, are nearby, and which the soul can not discover a trace, or an idea, without remembering the others which customarily went together. - La Mettrie, speaking of the "bodily impressions of the brain in p 88-89 of "Natural history of the soul"


    Ideas are "bodily impressions" in the brain. This is remarkably scientific, considering when it was written. Today we know that ideas are, concretely, electric signals shared by neurons according to established connections in the nodes between them, which are tied to habitual and instinctive behavior by the animal.

    Also notice "trace ideas that follow it". This may be my awkward direct translation from the French, but the clear connotation is a pathway inside the brain. The established Epicurean conception of ideas is that they are physical and are lodged in (or happen to) the brain.


    Because in order for a new movement (for instance, the beginning of a verse or a sound that hits the ears) to communicate on the field its impression to the part of the brain that is analogous to where one finds the first vestige of what one searches (that is, this other part of the brain **) where memory hides, or the trace of the following verses, and represents to the soul the follow-up to the first idea, or of the first words, it is necessary that new ideas be carried by a CONSTANT LAW to the same place to where the other ideas of the same nature as these were carried. - La Mettrie, speaking of the "constant law" by which memory functions in p 89-90 of "Natural history of the soul"

    ** (note: he uses the word moelle, which translates as "bone morrow", but he must be referring to brain tissue or brain lobe of some sort)

    These passages in particular relate to the passage where Lucretius mentions neural pathways in the brain.

    There is a reason why this was an important teaching where the ethics are concerned. Epicurus is the only teacher who ever posited a theory of moral development based on the physical structure of the brain. This has been a long-buried jewel of his genius. In his "On moral development" we find that Epicurus claimed that, in the process of moral development, one has the power to change one’s beliefs, and even to atomically change one’s mind. He speaks of how we may transform our dispositions in order to have a final developed product (a mature, happy, and healthy character)--but he SPECIFICALLY frames this in terms of changing the material / physical structure of the brain. And it's here that his moral theory rests on his physics theory.

    Elsewhere La Mettrie speaks of "la penetration", of attention, of focus as a faculty of the soul. The word in Greek, epibole (translated as the act of focusing a particular faculty) is one of the words that Epicurus used in On Nature Book 18 and which seemed to be of great importance. I'm not sure what word Lucretius would have used, but if he did, then this portion of La Mattrie might be a commentary of that portion of Lucretius, which might link back and be related to the conversations from book 18 On Nature, which focuses on the importance of clarity of thought and speech.

    I have many more notes on many other subjects from La Mettrie, but wanted to share these ideas here in the hopes that others make other connections I'm not making, particularly those with more familiarity with Lucretius (or the science of how memory works).

    My impression is that La Mettrie was DEEPLY steeped in the study of the canon, and that his "Natural history of the soul" was an attempt to posit a non-religious theory of the self and of the mortal soul that was as scientific as you could get in the pre-Darwinian generations.

    Just like my reply to Godfrey, I acknowledge that Philology is important not only in the study of Epicueanism but also in the study of everything. But my question is "Did Epicurus think of Philology whenever he mentioned philosophy? We know how Epicurus reiterates the importance of philosophy.

    First: I don’t know whether the word “philology” was directly used by the early founders but a. By the time of Philodemus there were “professional” philologists as a category of hierarchy (teachers or assistant teachers) who helped to teach Epicurean philosophy, and b. we know that one of the other founders, Polyaenus, wrote a treatise “On Definitions”. This means they had discussed the subject enough to have formed clear ideas about he problem of definitions.

    Second: We also know that one of Epicurus’ books “On nature” was a sermon he gave “against the use of empty words”, and I refer you to it here:…t-the-use-of-empty-words/

    This is the most important source to consider in these matters. It delves into how to reason empirically about both things and actions (based on their consequences). It also talks about their practice of re-assigning meanings to words according to the concrete impressions (or “attestations”) we get from nature in our senses and faculties, and on specific terms that had been redefined.

    It restricts “redefinitions” to only words of which we have evidence. Words that are not available to our faculties can not be redefined following their methods. It also mentions that Metrodorus and Epicurus had had conversations about this in the past and their ideas had evolved.

    Also, Mike Anyayahan its possible you will later take an interest in Philodemus’ scroll “On methods of inference”…-on-methods-of-inference/

    Hiram I did a quick word search for philology in that PDF but I don't see a form of it there. Am I missing it or are you inferring that from something DeWitt said.

    For purposes of this I'll take this to be the definition of philology:


    You have to use Greek alphabet fonts then. Same for all the other categories of Sophos (of which Metrodoros and Epicurus were considered both “sages”), philosophos and Kath-hegetai.

    Also it seems the philologist were concerned with language and definitions, or with learning and teaching all the literary sources, or both.

    Yes. But did Epicurus think of Philology whenever he mentioned philosophy? And if not, what do you think Epicurus would think of philosophy? Logos? Logic? Metaphysics? Or what?

    Philologists were one of the categories of members of the Epicurean community mentioned in Philodemus’ scroll on frank criticism, as attested by DeWitt in “Organization and procedures in Epicurean communities”.…e-in-Epicurean-Groups.pdf

    From Epicurus LTM : We must then meditate on the things that make our eudaemonia, seeing that when that is with us we have all, but when it is absent we do all to win it...


    As I said above is already engraved/intuitive in the molecular basis of DNA/RNA in the body of human beings, because if we observe carefully the neonates of just a week we will realize that when they are clean and with a full stomach and during their sleep or awaken are smiling often.

    One of the things I noted from Metrodorus' Letter to Timocrates is that the founders frequently started their philosophical discussions and proofs by appealing to the authority of the body and its drives, and Metrodorus particularly appealed to the stomach, so this is very in line with how EP has always been taught. The stomach teaches us about pleasure and pain, also about fullness, and about the limits of our desires. These are all central ideas of Epicurean ethics.…us-epistle-to-timocrates/

    Also, I doubt it will make sense to try to record these in full video for a while, but it would be very easy and helpful, before posting it to youtube, to make some "slides" to add as a video component to each episode. At the very least the text we are reading from ought to be visible as the video component, even if the podcast is mostly audio.

    Would also help to add links to blogs and commentaries on the portions read, since there is a lot out there in our various blogs and, say, the Caute (Unitarian) blog, Partially Examined Life, and other places.

    So I finally had the time to listen to the podcast, and enjoyed it :) Thank you Cassius  Elayne  Martin  Charles for putting this together. Are you guys going to go through the WHOLE DRN book cover-to-cover, or only select passages?

    Oscar we've talked about this elsewhere, but so if you go back to Menoeceus, Epicurus says that pleasure is our FIRST INNATE GOOD. Babies are born and no one has to teach them to shun pain and seek pleasure. So based on the study of nature, Epicurus said, we can see that THIS is what we are naturally drawn to doing. The key is that we should not force nature, but to work with her (PD 20). Epicurus is a very gentle teacher. He doesn't think you should work against your nature, he thinks you should be authentic.

    Another way to think about this, if you don't like thinking of our ethics in terms of the goal, is to say that Pleasure is how we EXPERIENCE the good. Pain is how we EXPERIENCE evil. We are sentient beings, and a true and compassionate ethics concerns itself with the immediate, direct experience of sentient beings.

    Cassius you made an interesting point before that the modern usage and term for describing happiness wasn't in Epicurus' vocabulary. Eudaimonia, however, was around the time of Epicurus. Can you clarify the difference between happiness and pleasure.

    It seems a lot of people are seeking happiness, how would you convince them that happiness is not the goal of life, that pleasure is the ultimate goal/chief good in life?

    These discussions have one on for thousands of years among the Schools that follow pleasure ethics. In the review of Lampe's book on the Cyrenaics, while discussing Aristippus, I delved into his matter (under the heading "Ethics"):


    Lampe thinks that Cyrenaics are eudaimonics (believed in happiness as the end, not just pleasure), but most scholars disagree. It’s likely that a variety of views existed within the school regarding the end. One of the key arguments for pleasure as the end in its inception had to do with how pleasure is not the same thing as happiness. Pleasure is an instance, happiness is a collection of pleasures, and as such happiness is therefore an abstraction, a platonized alternative to the real experience of pleasure. This argument is interesting, and still generates debate and various opinions today.

    So to be clear, Hiram, you agree that "pleasure," and not "ataraxia," is the goal of life articulated by Epicurus?

    Correct, plesure is the end.

    That ataraxia is the end has never been stated by anyone in Epicurean philosophy :) "Pleasure is the end".

    But as someone who has embraced the idea of the teaching mission of the Epicurean Gardens, I don't think it's healthy to shun the word "ataraxia" without, later, re-visiting the word within its proper context and with its proper proportion and place in the doctrine. If we dismiss ataraxia without discussing what it is and what its role is, that does not serve the teaching mission.

    Yes pleasure is the end, but how do we go about living pleasantly in the real, contextual, complicated reality that we inhabit? To dismiss ataraxia is to impede our teaching from being contextualized and lived. Right now the world is being shaken by earthquakes and volcanoes (Puerto Rico, Indonesia, Philippines, New York, Delaware, and now Alaska) and there are priests everywhere inviting people to get on their knees and turn themselves over to a deity that is imagined as a cosmic Saddam Hussein. You can't live pleasantly if you don't study nature enough to understand that this is unnecessary. So ataraxia, the demeanor and disposition of someone who is without apprehensions about natural phenomena, someone who is confident to get the natural and necessary goods, is necessary to live pleasantly. THIS TOO is part of the doctrine, and without it you can't connect theory and practice as an Epicurean.