Promising New Book ("Living For Pleasure") and Great New Article ("Are The Modern Stoics Really Epicurean?") Both By Emily Austin

  • EDIT: The following article popped up in a google search for me, and so I initially posted this thread about "Are the Modern Stoics Really Epicurean?" However that article quickly led to the new book "Living for Pleasure" by the same author (Emily Austin) so this thread is now covering both the article and the book.

    Great Article!


    Modern Stoicism has saturated the philosophical market—seminars, apps, podcasts, retreats, bestseller lists, psychotherapy. As a specialist in ancient Greek philosophy, I admit that I’m pleased to see so many people take an interest in what I study for a living. Stoicism has a lot going for it, and many of my students are powerfully drawn to its core commitments. All that is to say, I can see the allure.

    My aim here, though, is to convince readers, especially those committed to evolutionary science and modern physics, to learn more about Epicureanism, Stoicism’s oldest and greatest rival. Cards on the table—I prefer Epicureanism, and I have recently published a book on Epicureanism as a way of life. That said, I think even devoted, forever members of the Stoic caucus have good reason to study Epicureanism, if only because taking your rivals seriously is a sign of intellectual virtue, an indication that you have not grown complacent. As a more controversial point, I suspect that many Modern Stoics are already Epicureans, at least by the standards of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Let me explain.

    Let's work to give this one some exposure!

  • I don't know how quickly I can read and absorb the full book but hopping around I am *very* encouraged with what I see:

  • I will move this thread into the "recent books" section and re-title it with the Book title. I now have a copy and while I am just skipping around I can already say that I think this is by far the best recent book I have seen on Epicurus.

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Great New Article! "Are The Modern Stoics Really Epicurean?"” to “Promising New Book ("Living For Pleasure") and Great New Article! ("Are The Modern Stoics Really Epicurean?") both by Emily Austin”.
  • I am very pleased to see that she cautions against superficial use of the Tetrapharmakon and explains the need to get behind it to its root! I can't imagine that this book isn't going to zoom toward the top ranks of my "recommended for new readers" list. (My underline below)

    Absolutely phenomenal:


    The Fourfold Remedy is the core of a much larger nexus of Epicureanism’s philosophical commitments, the kind of complex nexus that undergirds any philosophy worth considering. We should never let anyone convince us of an overnight magic elixir, that a coin in our pocket with a catchphrase will make life manageable, that a quick fix will engender a fundamental life reorganization. Something like the Fourfold Remedy can only serve as a handy reminder of a deeper system of value and way of living that we fully inhabit and express.

    True, you can remember distillations like the Fourfold Remedy in a way that you could never remember this chapter. It would prove fruitless, though, to chant it over and over in isolation of its argumentative context, and perhaps that is why the distillation does not come from Epicurus himself. Distillations are for people who already know the “why,” and Epicurus was in the business of providing the “why.” At this point, you know the “why,” at least in broad outline and within the context of modern life. You have the tools to evaluate the project writ large as a system of value and decide for yourself.

    Yet a philosophy is to be lived, not simply evaluated in the cold light of reason, or squabbled over among scholars in a stuffy hotel conference room. Epicurus does not think it is enough to merely chant the words, nor even to understand the arguments he uses to support his claims. We must also internalize and act on them.

  • I think I want to memorialize this exchange over at facebook that occurred when I posted a link to the Austin article, to which Holly and then Elli replied, and to which I commented:

    Cassius Amicus

    Ha - look at the comments so far. The article / book author is Emily, the first comment by Holly, the next by Elli. I think also of Catherine Wilson, and it seems to me that in recent years female writers are putting the male proponents of Epicurus to shame. Leontium and Plotina have their modern counterparts it seems and we need to find the modern Lucretians and Diogenes of Oinonandeans to keep the score balanced! 😉

    Elli Pensa


    Cassius Amicus Women will change this world and the future that comes will be more pleasant. That's for sure. It is not by chance that there are many countries in theocracy that men are keeping women subordinated and in silence.

    Women have to be the great rebels. And their rebellion has to be like the sea water that hits slowly on the rock. Women must born and nurture the new little epicureans. If this will not happen there is no future for mankind.

    Cassius Amicus

    I know Edward Gibbon blames the spread of Christianity in the Roman world to a significant extent on women, and there may or may not be some justification in observing that. But it's at least as fair to say that when women finally wake up from being manipulated by religion there will be Hell to pay! 😉

    Elli Pensa

    Cassius Amicus Please tell to mr. Gibbon that it's another thing to spread ideas with passion and specifically that passion that brings pleasure to you and the next people to you, and another thing is to spread ideas under the fear to NOT have kicks and punches from your master that was that partriarch figure of father, brother and husband inside your home. Those figures that were following the instructions by the greatest double spy of all the spies with the name Apostle Saul-Paul. For this reason, I said to my comment for a rebellion that comes by women. Yes, women have to prepare their Hell to pay all the lies and so much PAIN which they have spread around for many centuries! And of course, to not forget that the material that they found was inside Plato. Plato is the father of illusions, myths, allegories, imagination and the fog that is eaten by the spiritually hungry. Plato still borns theocracy, authοrities and tyrants everywhere... and the stoics that were following Plato, and still are following him in our days, are the slaves that support Plato and all the tyrants around. 😛

  • I spent the morning looking for and skimming the book without finishing the article that prompted this thread. I have now finished the article. It's outstanding! She drives right to the heart of the difference between Stoicism and Epicureanism (the theism embedded in Stoicism) and she embraces the Epicurean side!


    I have good friends, students, and close relatives who fall on opposing sides of the providential creation divide, and I understand that people have their own reasons for choosing one commitment over the other. Modern Stoics, though, cannot simply set aside the fact that the Stoics fell squarely on the side of providence without risk of undermining some of Stoicism’s core tenets. Stoicism’s emblematic acceptance of suffering follows from their ability to reconceive it as divine providence, as God working in “mysterious ways.” Marcus writes that someone who suffers something “unpalatable” should “nevertheless always receive it gladly” because Zeus designed individual suffering “for the benefit of the whole.” Even Stoicism’s deep, admirable commitment to caring for all humankind, the notion that we are all “citizens of the cosmos,” is fundamentally grounded in the view that all human beings are manifestations of God.

    Epicureans, by contrast, build their practical philosophy on a natural science that denies a cosmic significance to suffering, and they see their endorsement of hedonism as an outgrowth of treating humans as sophisticated animals rather than as expressions of a divine rational nature. Epicurus was not an atheist, but he denied a providential God who created the universe or intervenes in its events. Perhaps, then, many Modern Stoics should consider reading more about Epicureanism, since Marcus admired Epicurus’ resilience, temperance, and approach to death, which all grew out of a science many Modern Stoics already accept (and that the Stoics vehemently opposed).

  • I just got the Kindle edition. It will take me awhile to read it all, I’m sure, with my piecemeal-patchwork, easily redirected brain.

    I already like her style, using modern images/memes to relate to the ancients – e.g. Seneca comparing Epicurus to “a drag-queen at a festival.” (Probably there were drag queens back then, but comedy drag shows are certainly in the contemporary culture wars.)

  • It's pretty good so far, very simple and glossing over some finer points, such as putting far too much trust in the Vatican Sayings. Though that is to be expected for a casual introductory book. My biggest issue though, are her chapter(s) concerning politics.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • I already like her style,

    Yes she does write very well!

    t's pretty good so far, very simple and glossing over some finer points, such as putting far too much trust in the Vatican Sayings. Though that is to be expected for a casual introductory book. My biggest issue though, is her chapters concerning politics.

    Charles it sounds like you have read further than I have, but I picking up hints of a similar vibe. It doesn't strike me as pronounced an issue as with Catherine Wilson, but if I had one wish I would recommend to everyone that they stay as far away from modern political allusions as they possibly can. It works great to cite examples that are rooted deeply in human psychology, as in referring to children, but taking sides on contemporary hot-button political issues probably scores very few points, and at the cost of rubbing some people the wrong way for reasons that have nothing to do with the philosophical reason for her writing the book in the first place. That being said I haven't gotten to "chapters concerning politics" so I will weigh in on that later.

  • I don't want any hint of negativity to come out at least at this point. I keep coming across passages like this which make me incline to think this is the best book I've read in a long time - she goes right to the heart of many issues:


    Epicurus thinks the key to unlocking our tranquility is a sober evaluation of our desires. Now, you might be thinking that a tidy solution to anxiety would be to adopt a scorched earth approach to desire. If desires produce anxiety, then just stop all that anxiety in its tracks by wanting as little as possible! Some philosophers encourage that kind of austerity, but Epicurus does not. He thinks extreme parsimony is as worrisome as excessive indulgence.1

  • I jumped ahead and read her first politics chapter. I think it's one of the best interpretations of "live unknown" that I've read anywhere. Short on time right now, but wanted to share that.

  • For what it is worth I am now on chapter 12. I continue to be impressed that this is a very useful book. The one germinating idea that I am maybe carrying over from Catherine Wilson is that I personally think that it is a bad idea to tie ones own credibility for the philosophic system to high-profile contemporary examples. I strongly agree with many and maybe most of her formulations, but I wince at the implication that one's assessment of John Kennedy or John McCain is a good way to make a point. I see the merit of talking to people at their own level, but just to muse on the subject I doubt that it's the best general way to proceed. A central part of the philosophy is the absence of a universally correct viewpoint, so assuming that we share specific viewpoints about specific people is fraught with danger. Even the references to Cicero are sometimes hard to evaluate - even though I strongly dislike his distaste for Epicurus he was still a complex character.

    But in sum after 11 chapters it's still by far the best introductory book I have read in a while.