Posts by Hiram

    So Hiram, do you contend that "ataraxia" was the goal of life for Epicurus rather than pleasure?

    No. But I do contend that in the sources, nowhere is this being said. To speak of ataraxia does not constitute its replacement instead of pleasure. I contend that ataraxia is an important part of the anatomy of pleasure, as understood by the Epicureans, and that it's hard to connect theory with practice without it.

    There is no doubt that the term ataraxia is used occasionally and in certain contexts; that is not the issue. The issue is whether we should draw the conclusion that "ataraxia" is correctly identified as equivalent to a specific type of pleasure, or as a unique "highest pleasure," which I contend is not the case, nor do those cites establish that point. The goal of life stated over and over again by Epicurus and others is pleasure, not "ataraxia." Pleasure is the overriding ultimate term, ataraxia is a subordinate concept.

    Correct, the end of the calculus of pleasure vs. pain is net pleasure. But we should not dismiss ataraxia itself for this reason.

    As for "higher pleasure", the closest thing to that is in Diogenes of Oenoanda, where we find the argument that pleasures and pains of the mind are more intense and of longer duration than those of the body - https://theautarkist.wordpress…on-principal-doctrine-20/

    Putting aside the telos, Ataraxia and aponia are themselves important criteria when it comes to carrying out choices and avoidances, says LMenoeceus. We must refer our choices and avoidances to them. This is in line with Metrodorus' teaching that we should acquire the confident expectation that we will be able to secure our natural and necessary desires (if we worry about where our next meal will come from, or where we are going to sleep, we can't live pleasantly). We study nature to avoid perturbations (the -tarax- portion of ataraxia) about natural phenomena, etc.

    Yes that (the focus on tranquility / ataraxia / peace of mind as some unique kind of highest pleasure) is a common assertion that I reject, Mike, and I think you will find that Dewitt states it considerably differently. In fact I do not believe that either ataraxia or aponia are "kinds of pleasure." I believe they are adverbs that describe ways / contexts in which pleasure (ordinary pleasures of all kind) are experienced. In other words, the best way to experience any pleasure is "without distraction" (ataraxia) and "without pain" (aponia).

    For the record, this is Cassius' view and is not shared by all. The sources that use ataraxia include Letter to Menoeceus:


    The steady contemplation of these facts enables you to understand everything that you accept or reject in terms of the health of the body and the serenity of the soul — since that is the goal of a completely happy life.

    τούτων γὰρ ἀπλανὴς θεωρία πᾶσαν αἵρεσιν καὶ φυγὴν ἐπανάγειν οἶδεν ἐπὶ τὴν τοῦ σώματος ὑγίειαν καὶ τὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ἀταραξίαν, ἐπεὶ τοῦτο τοῦ μακαρίως ζῆν ἐστι τέλος

    (where ἀταραξίαν/ataraxian is translated as "serenity of the soul"). And so this term is used in LMenoeceus by Epicurus, where it is offered as a criterion for choices and avoidances.

    Also, in Diogenes' Wall, we find this, where we are able to contrast ataraxia versus the ills of the soul that it's meant to heal: the perturbances of the soul:



    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.

    This letter was published anonymously some years back by a disenchanted objectivist who converted to Epicureanism:

    I share it here because St Andre says he is inspired by both Epicurus and Ayn Rand, which has a few problems. He's therefore a bit too conservative for my taste, and I find that people who credit Ayn Rand for being a great philosopher tend to see the world in black and white and to ignore all the other colors :) But in spite of all that, I think he's made unique and valuable contributions to the teaching of Epicureanism. I'm just not sure how he solves the animosity against feeling and pleasure in Rand, and the tension between our ethics and Rand's reliance on logic. I've had good exchanges with him, but never addressed this with him.

    I suspect Metrodorus would view this statement, as I do, as fairly ridiculous. No action or tool is "intrinsically" a pleasure, unless it is some form of pleasure itself. So Metrodorus would never call ANYTHING a "preferred indifferent" which is a peculiarly Stoic manner of talking in fairly ridiculous terms -- not terminology an Epicurean would use -- only someone who likes talking in pretzels, like the Stoics love to do.

    Yes, that seems like something that the author who was commenting on the Philodeman scroll may have been saying, not something Metrodorus would have said. However, it's not inaccurate to say that Metrodorus would have "preferred" wealth over poverty, particularly considering that he was VERY concerned with autarchy.

    It _would_ be inaccurate to classify wealth as an "indifferent" good from an Epicurean perspective. Philodemus classifies "the natural measure of wealth" as that which is needed to secure what is natural and necessary, and anything beyond that we can assume qualifies as natural and unnecessary wealth. Indifference is not a qualifier to us.

    How comprehensive are you wanting these entries to be? :-) because, as you know, not only are there more views on this among modern epicureans than what Epicurus thought about the gods, but the gods are also more complex and described in more detail.

    For instance the first PD says that they neither experience favor / gratitude nor hostility/violence against mortals because that would imply weakness. This is a huge statement.

    Favor and hostility go together. They are tied to the belief that the gods enjoy Autarchy, that they are completely self sufficient and so no one can harm or help them. And the scroll on Piety has much more to say about the gods and about religiosity.

    I have a theory about that (well, it's not MY theory because the author of "Red Mars" depicted a future where this was a huge controversy)

    IN the novel Red Mars, one of the first female scientists that goes to the planet during colonization is firmly opposed to terraformation because she wants to protect native Martian life and wants the planet to stay pristine. If the planet is BELIEVED to be completely sterile, then it will be easier to argue in favor of terraformation (which may destroy native life forms).

    So if NASA knows of life there and does not divulge it, it may be that it anticipates strong resistance to future terraformation (which will be very expensive and hard to sell to tax payers, if funded publicly)

    BY the way, NASA just announced the graduation of 13 new astronauts that may go to Mars.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    It is possible to hold the view that:

    Epicurus sincerely believed in his gods,


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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