Posts by Hiram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    This is followed by three sources, which are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “For there ARE Gods …” -

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

    subtitle of essay:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Here is Lucretius' Book 4


    And to whate’er pursuit

    A man most clings absorbed, or what the affairs

    On which we theretofore have tarried much,

    And mind hath strained upon the more, we seem

    In sleep not rarely to go at the same.

    The lawyers seem to plead and cite decrees,

    Commanders they to fight and go at frays,

    Sailors to live in combat with the winds,

    And we ourselves indeed to make this book,

    And still to seek the nature of the world

    And set it down, when once discovered, here

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

    All arts in general seem in sleeps to mock

    And master the minds of men. And whosoever

    Day after day for long to games have given

    Attention undivided, still they keep

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

    Those games with their own senses, open paths

    Within the mind wherethrough the idol-films

    Of just those games can come. And thus it is

    For many a day thereafter those appear

    Floating before the eyes, that even awake

    They think they view the dancers moving round

    Their supple limbs, and catch with both the ears

    The liquid song of harp and speaking chords …

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


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

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

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

    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.)