Epicurean substitute for prayer

  • This is quite thought provoking Martin !

    Overall, I like it. But in the spirit of inquiry, can we really say that we don't have any beliefs without becoming Skeptics? For instance, I believe that I'm not a brain in a vat. Do I know that? I think so, but I could be wrong. I believe what science tells me, to the extent of my understanding as a lay person. Do I know it? Not really, I'm accepting the information provided by people that I consider honest and better informed than me. More "knowledgeable."


    1. 1. an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. "his belief in the value of hard work"
    2. 2. trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something. "I've still got belief in myself"


    1. 1. facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. "a thirst for knowledge"
    2. 2. awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation. "the program had been developed without his knowledge"

    Thanks for posting this: it's a good opportunity to clarify the definitions and ramifications of the terms knowledge and belief.

  • I think what you're talking about Godfrey is why DeWitt talks a lot about "faith" in Epicurean philosophy (if I recall correctly) in which I gather that he's talking about a blend of confidence based on information that we know to be limited but which we have good reason to think is sound. So just like a lot of words we have to parse "belief" and even "faith" to be sure exactly what we mean.

    Reminds me of my high school's motto which was Fide sed cui vide which they used to translate as "have faith but be careful in what"

  • Coincidentally, I just listened to this podcast which has a conversation on beliefs and science, beginning in the second half of the podcast.

    Clear+Vivid with Alan Alda - James Zimring: Fuzzy thinking and the Big Whopper
    Too many of us instinctively feel that a quarter pound hamburger is bigger than a third of a pound. And that’s just one of the mistakes we make in too quickly…

    That's a good high school motto BTW.

  • it's a good opportunity to clarify the definitions and ramifications of the terms knowledge and belief.

    Also, it's kind of contradictory to have a "non-belief creed" just from the definition of the word creed itself:

    From Middle English crede, from Old English crēda, crēdo, from Latin crēdō (I believe)

    I think "creed" should stay there though, what I don't think is appropriate is the "non-belief" part. Perhaps just calling it "Epicurean creed" and instead of starting with "I don't believe in anything", starting with "I believe in what I believe because...".

  • So just like a lot of words we have to parse "belief" and even "faith" to be sure exactly what we mean.

    Somewhere I have an etymology book that indicates “believe” in English originally meant “to hold dear.” This seems to have been (e.g. in the KJV Bible) a valid (if perhaps poetic) rendering of the Greek pisteo.

    Cognates of “believe” include lief, leave, furlough, love.

    But the word came to mean “what one thinks” – rather than a confidence or trust – which is what I take “faith” (in a very mundane sense) to mean. Christians often tend to take both terms to mean what one is certain of, regardless of actual evidence (as in the phrase “I believe in”) – whereas I view “faith” more as an attitude of – decisional – confidence in the face of uncertainty; something how the sports psychologists use it.

    For myself, I only use the word “believe” (or “belief” ) in the fairly mundane sense of: “it seems to me” or “it appears to be so” or “I think so” or “the evidence indicates that …”. Thus, it always something “checkable” empirically.


    Some years ago, I wrote a whimsy poem playing with the cognate words mentioned above:


    (an etymological poem)

    What is belief except to give leave

    to what your own heart’s desire

    would lief allow for you to follow,

    and to hallow always with your love?

    That is as much as I will believe—

    so long as beauty is safely left,

    her colorful tapestries, without

    furlough, to weave. As for all the rest:

    An it will harm none, do as ye lief

    and may all be well—beyond belief.

    I really think it is not a good poem – but it was fun to write. :)

  • This part of the thread does seem to revolve around something like the Greek πιστεύω pisteuō, from which I thought - up until 30 seconds ago! - we got the word epistemology.

    πιστεύω pisteuō

    Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, πιστ-εύω

    Epistemology on the other hand:

    Etymology Online: "theory of knowledge," 1856, coined by Scottish philosopher James F. Ferrier (1808-1864) from Greek episteme "knowledge, acquaintance with (something), skill, experience," from Ionic Greek epistasthai "know how to do, understand," literally "overstand," from epi "over, near" (see epi-) + histasthai "to stand," from PIE root *sta- "to stand, make or be firm."

    Etymology from ἐπί (epí) +‎ ἵστημι (hístēmi)

    Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, ἐπίσταμαι

    So, epistemology seems to conjure up for me that idea of the Epicureans being "dogmatic" in that they were "making a stand" They were willing to take a firm position as opposed to remaining forever skeptical and puzzled.

    btw, I like that word "overstand"! I think I would much rather overstand something than understand it ^^

  • I thought I had posted about prayer previously and sure enough - 2 years ago - I was going through Obbink's translation and commentary on On Piety:


    Not that it's any great insight! Just thought y'all could find it interesting.

  • Possible re-phrasing:

    Epicurean Creed

    Knowledge and faith in that knowledge must be backed by observation by the senses (or as augmented by trustworthy tools which can accurately take measurements).

    And if someone else is making the observations we must have adequate trust that they know how to correctly make observations. The correct way to make observations is: 1) to make sure that we are not confusing our observations with any opinions about what we wish to be true and so we must have the ability to separate our observations from our opinions 2) we make sure we have gathered enough evidence before drawing a conclusion. When making conclusions: 1) we understand that correlation does not imply causation 2) we cannot put our faith in something unless we know that the observations were correct and that the conclusion drawn is sound.

    I think this is worthwhile to do, and this may still need adjustment or more added.

  • Wikipedia article on the correlation / causation issue. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wik…_does_not_imply_causation

    Lots of subtleties because you wouldn't want to suggest that correlation is somehow itself misleading ... The issue seems to be that the error is in giving it more weight than it deserves rather than saying that it should be given no weight at all as an indicator and making sure that all other circumstances are given appropriate weight.

  • Thank you Mathitis Kipouros, I think this question you brought up and the result is very good (provided by Don in post 4). And this seems like a good prayer for children.

    As adults, especially ones who were raised in church, it might be good to also create adult Epicurean prayers. And there are various reasons for prayer: for when there is anxiety regarding the uncertainty of the future, for when there are difficult challenges, or for when there is sadness or illness. And also there is giving thanks and gratitude, at meals, at bedtime, and when waking in the morning. And I think it would be a good thing to add here to this thread -- and I will see if I can come up with anything and post soon. And Pacatus and Joshua with your poetic abilities if you have any adult prayer ideas you can come up with, please add :)

  • Kalosymi can you pithily condense to match Martin's formulation?

    I suppose my version in post 52 is very different than Martin's formlation (too different). Also, I still need to study PD24 to get more clear on that.

  • Kalosyni

    In the plain prayer of breathing –

    life-giving pleasure of breath,

    I [we] give thanks – and rest.


    For me, the best prayers are brief: easy to remember. And brevity poetry (like haiku) is deceptively hard.

    This one could preface a period (perhaps just a few moments) of silent prayer/meditation, focusing on the pleasure of your breathing (an Epicurean spin on breathing meditation), returning to that as unwanted thoughts intrude.

    The Trappist tradition of contemplative “centering prayer” uses a simple “sacred word” – not like a mantra, but simply to return to silent-mind prayer when thoughts arise. One would enunciate the word slowly. One could use an “Epicurean” word like hedone. Or pneuma, which can mean breath as well as spirit or soul. Or eudaimonia. (Just notions that came quickly.)

    I’ll keep thinking …

  • That's always been one of my reasons for advocating for the Tetrapharmakos :)

    That is both simple and familiar to an Epicurean. The usual English translations, though, seem more like instructions or rubrics, rather than self-expressive prayer or meditative affirmations. And not everyone will find the Greek either resonant or easy to remember/recite. 8|