Cleveland Okie Level 01
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Posts by Cleveland Okie

    I have just finished "How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well" by Catherine Wilson. Here is what I just posted on the Goodreads website (if anyone is interested, I am "Tomj"):

    "The book has weaknesses, but I really enjoyed it. The chapters on applying Epicureanism to daily life, and how to think about interpersonal relations and death, are very good. I also liked the chapter comparing Epicureanism to Stoicism. Catherine Wilson is less convincing when she insists that Epicureanism dictates her preferences on contemporary political issues, and that's what keeps me from awarding five stars. But I read this as a library book, and I now plan to buy the Kindle so I will have this in my library."

    I would add for the benefit of this website that as far as anachronistically claiming Epicurus as an ally for modern political stances, Norman DeWitt seems more convincing to me in linking Epicurus to classical liberalism. It seems to me that Epicurus' advice to avoid politics and "live unnoticed" seems closer to DeWitt's political stances that Wilson urging that we all become political activists.

    Still, I have been looking for a book that applies Epicureanism to day to day living and life choices, and for the most part, Wilson seems sound to me.

    If anyone wants to recommend what I should read next, I will listen! I am leaning toward "On the Nature of Things."

    Of possible related interest: One of the reasons I enjoyed the DeWitt book is that I like reading about classical history and culture anyway: I just finished reading "Five Roman Lives," a recent translation of five of Plutarch's lives: Pompey, Caesar, Cicero, Brutus and Antony, and the lives sometimes mention Epicureans. Apparently at least some of Caesar's assassins were Epicureans; a book I have on hold at the library, "The Last Assassin: The hunt for the killers of Julius Caesar" by Peter Stothard apparently goes into some detail on that.

    I was surprised that the "Very Short Introduction to Epicureanism" doesn't mention DeWitt's book. So I looked up Epicureanism in my third edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary, and it doesn't mention the book either!

    As I've been invited to submit questions, I did have one: Has anyone seen any evidence that Epicurus might have been influenced by Buddhism? Of course, Epicurus did not advocate either indulgence or extreme ascetism but recommend a sensible middle course, and I'm struck by how his actual advice (as opposed to misconceptions) is rather reminiscent of the Middle Way of Buddhism. Siddhartha of course was raised in luxury and experimented with ascetism and ultimately rejected both.

    Just wanted to log that I am plugging away on my reading. I finished DeWitt's book and now tonight I finished Catherine Wilson's "Very Short Introduction" book. Wilson's book is not bad, but I thought DeWitt's was more interesting.

    I have "How To Be An Epicurean" on hold at the library, so that will be next.

    A few observations/questions:

    1. I'm most of the way through DeWitt's book, and in Chapter 14 he writes of Epicurus, "He favored a minimum of government and chose to look upon men as free individuals in a society transcending local political boundaries." Is this an eccentric opinion of DeWitt's, or would most experts on Epicurus describe him as a kind of libertarian or classical liberal? It is interesting to me that my current intense interest in Epicureanism was spurred by Bryan Caplan's recommendation that everyone read the "Letter to Menoeceus." (Caplan is a libertarian blogger, college professor and author. Many of his views are decidedly Epicurean, i.e. he stresses the importance of friendship.)

    2. Now that I know more about Epicureanism, thanks to DeWitt's book, I have to say that the Epicurean position that puzzles me the most is the denunciation of mathematics. Is there a ancient Greek cultural context here that I'm not getting?

    3. About sex, same question. Is Epicurus negative toward sex because he opposed older men hitting on young boys, or is there something else at work here? I don't see how, for example, married sex would contradict Epicurean principles.

    4. I didn't really get an answer to my query about Hiram Crespo's book, but related to that, I was browsing on Kindle the other night and I ran across Cassius' "Elemental Epicureanism" and bought it for 99 cents. At that price, and with its collection of basic texts, it ought to be recommended to every new person joining this website. I'll note that an "H. Crespo" recommended it and gave it five stars.

    Oh, I see you've created a useful thread!

    Cassius, I have been reading DeWitt's book, a chapter a day, and I'm about halfway through. It's a very good backgrounder on the philosopher and the philosophy, so it's a good early book to read, but I think my main interest is, as you put it, to "focus on the more practical aspect of applying Epicurean philosophy." What is your favorite among books that do that?

    I've finished "Epicurus and the Pleasant Life." I thought it was quite good, if a little uneven. I particularly liked Chapter 9, the chapter on Pleasure. This is one of the sentences I bookmarked in the chapter: "The wise man creatively leverages the capacity of the mind to look backward and forward, but those who look to the past with bitterness and to the future with fear ran the danger of transforming this ability into a weakness."

    And I liked this sentence from Chapter 30: "The physical pleasures through our senses and the mental pleasures through our mind are an endless ocean. All we need to do is become more attentive to the present and not allow ourselves to be pulled out of our ongoing pleasure by fear of future pain."

    I'm going to read Norman DeWitt's book next; I'm a little frustrated by not being able to find a Kindle or ePub edition, but I have downloaded a PDF.

    One of the reasons Epicureanism is attractive to me is many of the doctrines fit with conclusions I already had reached. For example, his advice not to become obsessed with politics seems more relevant than ever in the current age; I sometimes feel I am the only person in the U.S. who doesn't endlessly post political talking points on Facebook, repeating slogans from a favorite political TV network.

    In my day job, I come into contact a lot with people affected by the opioid crisis. Epicurus wasn't talking about heroin, I guess, but addiction to hard drugs seems exactly like the kind of pleasures that are not worth indulging in. It's hard to enjoy looking at a sunset or talking to a pretty girl if you are dead from an overdose.

    Thanks for the welcome.

    How I got here: I have run across references to Epicureanism before that made the philosophy seem interesting, but what sparked my recent concentration was this blog post by Bryan Caplan:

    40 Things I Learned in My First 40 Years - Econlib
    Today I turn 40.  To ease the pain, I’ve decided to write a list of important lessons I’ve learned during my first four decades.  In no particular order:…

    Where he writes, "The best three pages in philosophy remain Epicurus’ “Letter to Menoeceus.”

    I read the letter, I think the version on your website, and I am now almost finished with "Epicurus and the Pleasant Life" by Haris Dimitriades. I have downloaded a copy of the DeWitt book and I plan to read it soon.