New Epicurean Book is actually a critique of Nussbaum

  • There are multiple different issues here-- different groups of non-Epicureans and also Epicureans who have pleasures that may conflict with ours (which Cassius brings up). Others who can't or won't try to have pleasure. Individually, we can treat these people using our own hedonic calculus.

    However, it will be a failed project to promote the philosophy if we are not clear about who our audience is and what we are advising. That is why Epicurus was a dogmatist. His intended audience was the group he thought could make use of his words. He didn't spend time trying to find alternative philosophies for people who couldn't or wouldn't apply his, and he didn't hedge on his positions.

    Because this is such a rigorously thought out philosophy, trying to apply it in an eclectic way or use it only part-time is like trying to stand in several boats at once. It confuses people who are trying to learn and who could potentially benefit from the actual philosophy. To be a public guide in EP means to aim the teaching clearly and consistently at people who can use it.

  • Yes there are many levels of things going on here. At one level, we're all here for what this adds to our own pleasure in the immediate experience, and in that respect we accept whoever and whatever comes into our circle, at least for the moment, in a friendly way. But not everyone is going to enter our circle of trusted friends.

    So at another level, I think most of us (including me) want to do more than to just deal with whoever walks in the door. It would give me more/additional pleasure to see our efforts create something bigger than our own immediate circle, and potentially reach many more people who would be helped by it, thereby expanding our circle of friend and our own pleasure calculation. And in order to do that, we're going to need to be clear, as Elayne says, and also be firm about what we do and do not welcome in our circle of friends.

    So we're not a hospital simply opening our doors to whatever sick person wanders in -- although we will generally do what we can to help them. Epicurean philosophy isn't just for "the sick" who happen to be in trouble, it's for "everyone" - at least those with the intelligence to understand it - as a base foundation for living and applying in their own circumstances.

    So we're all going to have family/friends like Hiram who we treat in a way that is different from others who are more capable of applying the full message. But at the same time, and without any contradiction, we state clearly whenever possible what the full truth really is. That's where I see Nussbaum and her followers drawing back - they want to hide the truth from anyone they disagree with on "results" and frankly that causes a major immediate negative reaction in me.

    It seems to me that there's no reason in the world all this can't be approached the way Torquatus was explaining, when he said "No one rejects, dislikes or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful." We aren't going to expect young children, or people who are mentally infirm, or the like to be able to be full-blown Epicureans. But as to how we decide to deal with them, the principles involved are the principles that Epicurus taught, and everyone has to apply those principles as best they can, realizing that everyone isn't going to do it the same way or get the same happy results.

    I always catch myself wondering if I sound like a libertarian with those statements, but I don't think this is "libertarianism" as a political system. We aren't talking about a political system. We're talking about the fundamentals from which we analyse how to come up with a political system, but the details of every situation have to be considered, and in the end I don't see any conclusion other than that the general message is that there is no "one size fits all" arrangement. Maybe that ends up in a similar place with "libertarianism" - but it's not based on any kind of "first do no harm" or "no first use of force principle." In the end there are no overarching principles that override the actual on-the-ground feelings of the people involved.

  • And Joshua, while on an individual basis I have done similar things, I am hesitant to say a method works without data. If replicated research showed that traditional Lakota ceremonies, on an intention to treat basis, had a measurable effect and better or at least comparable to the current evidence-based therapies, then I would definitely recommend them as an option. Anecdotal cases are not enough to convince me.

  • .... Maybe that ends up in a similar place with "libertarianism" - but it's not based on any kind of "first do no harm" or "no first use of force principle." In the end there are no overarching principles that override the actual on-the-ground feelings of the people involved.

    Sounds good in theory, but in practice this or any other form of anarchism will risk becoming Somalia. The absence of state power and its monopoly on violence will allow evil ideologies to rise to the top (whether Christian or White supremacists in the US, or Islamists in Somalia) and society may degenerate into a pre-civilized state of savagery.

    I think this type of doctrinal libertarianism is as naïve and dangerous as any of the traditional religions.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • Ok, so let me make sure I understand: are you hesitant to promote Epicurean Philosophy and its moral relativism-- in which virtues are only good if they lead to pleasure-- because you are worried that your brother and others like him will not be able to use this type of advice for their own pleasure? And because you love him, of course this affects your pleasure too.

    Hmmm … I don't hesitate to teach Epicureanism to those who are "armed for happiness", as Epicurus said in "On Nature". But I am sincerely interested in the question of whether we should trust others, and in particular certain people, with moral relativism. I think this is an interesting challenge and I do not have an answer for it yet.

    We have observed religious people engaged in all kinds of hypocrisy, but also people for whom it makes a difference between being faithful to their wives and raising their children as responsible fathers, or leaving them. And I, for one, want my sister to continue having the support of my brother-in-law, and if religion helps then great!

    My brother will NEVER be able to profit from Epicureanism. He does not have the disposition to read books, much less philosophy books, and decades of alcohol abuse have distorted his pleasure faculty.

    So this is a case where I want him to be as happy / healthy as he can be considering his own personal history and innate?/psychological configuration.

    Would I trust my brother with "moral relativism"? No, but I also don't trust him with moral absolute belief. He's done a lot of harm to his own kids and ex-wife with his behavior, and I'm not sure whether it makes a difference what he believes, or what his coping mechanisms are or need to be.


    The 12 step programs, with their absolute morality, have no better effect than no treatment if "intention to treat" analysis is applied. There is a form of therapy-- an example would be Stanton Peele's life process therapy-- which is more effective. The focus is on helping patients find activities they enjoy so much that they lose interest in their addiction. It seems reasonably Epicurean to me, but the main thing is that it works. I am a pragmatic person about medical care.

    If you are interested in talking to Stanton, I can personally connect you. He helped me with a family member. I wrote an endorsement of a recent book he put out. His therapy is not inexpensive, but it's worth it.

    This, and the SMART Program against addiction, is interesting to me but I'm afraid I'm not familiar enough with the research or with the problems related to addiction, and have little time and incentive to delve into this considering it doesn't directly relate to my line of work, and my audience is not made up of many addicts as far as I know, so other content-creators in the Epicurean circles might come along someday and be able to do something useful with this information.


    I am glad we are talking about this. One thing that would help new people keep things straight is if you can clearly identify when you are approaching things from an Epicurean perspective and when you are not-- otherwise, others tend to assume it's all Epicurean, and they get muddled.

    I'm also really sorry things aren't going well for your brother, and that it causes you pain

    Thanks. We've come to accept him for who he is, but from time to time we see tips of the iceberg of how big his problems are (he fainted in my parent's house some months ago as a result of alcohol withdrawal, his son left him a 15-minute angry voice mail telling him of how he was never there for him, etc.). I could never see myself making the choices he's made, so it's become very clear to me that he has a different, addicted brain, that his brain works differently, and that different people need different mechanisms to cope or be happy.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • I think this type of doctrinal libertarianism is as naïve and dangerous as any of the traditional religions.

    Hiram I am certainly not advocating libertarianism of any other form of government as suitable for everyone, or as something that everyone should submit to my judgment on.

    Are you?

  • The conundrum here seems to be applying EP to society at large. PDds 31-40 address this, but not by describing a specific system of government. That is left up to negotiations concerning specific places and times. I don't consider this to be anarchy however.

    Regarding specific societal problems (such as addiction, poverty, abuse of minorities, infirmity, environmental issues and many others) oftentimes religions or local communities make an effort to promote change. Other times governments mandate change (or the status quo). Maybe a useful question would be if and to what extent an Epicurean community should make similar efforts.

    To my mind, the only group of Epicureans currently in a position to take such actions might be the one in Greece (and maybe the group in Italy?). Here in the U.S. we're still in the beginning stages of building a community and defining the philosophy, and trying to effect societal change is a bit out of reach at this time. If a time comes when we're in a position to do so, we would need to do so in conformance with the doctrines. But the doctrines don't preclude such actions nor do they mandate anarchy. Only autarchy, which to me is a precursor to effective action.

  • Hiram I am certainly not advocating libertarianism of any other form of government as suitable for everyone, or as something that everyone should submit to my judgment on.

    Are you?

    No, that would require too many answers that we don't have...

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • I am not sure which "answers that we don't have" you are referring to. You raised the example of Somalia and if you are referring to answers about the details of the Somalians I agree that we don't have them (at least I personally don't).

    But as to the overall analysis under Epicurean philosophy, PD30-40 make clear that there is NO absolute justice, so there is no one size fits all answers, only matters of agreement, where possible, or if there is no agreement, then there is no "justice" to refer to as a guide.

    Now if in fact the Somalians wish to live in anarchy and feel they are happier that way, then that is their decision and so long as they do not adversely impact we or our friends, then i would see that as a matter of "excluding them from his life" as per PD39.

    But even the decision to exclude is a morally "relative" decision, and in the absence of a universal concept of justice there is nothing higher than the calculation of the people involved (as individuals or as societies) as to how they relate to each other, if at all.

    With the ultimate point being that we all may have our own individual views as to what arrangements would be most productive of happiness for the people involved, but that in the end there is no (1) god or (2) ideal justice / virtue by which to calculate the to answer that question.

  • “Answers we don’t have” — I suppose I was thinking that people have not tried every possible model of government and also that we do not know all there is to know about human nature. Or maybe that human nature is too complex and varied to make universal assumptions. Questions about ideal Governments usually rely on assumptions about human nature.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • Questions about ideal Governments usually rely on assumptions about human nature.

    The very idea that there could be such a thing as an "ideal" government, IF we knew all possible information about human nature, is problematic. That is a social utilitarian perspective, and idealist-- not Epicurean. It's not even something an Epicurean would bother with.