Godfrey's Epicurean Outline

  • As to what spurred my interest in Epicurus: that question is adding some clarity to my thinking.

    Background: for several years I sat with a neighborhood Zen group. Although I enjoyed it, I didn't see myself as a Buddhist and eventually began looking for a suitable western practice. Stoicism came to my attention and I studied that for awhile, but I couldn't agree with the contemporary focus on ethics at the expense of physics and logic. I discovered Epicurus while reading Cicero's On The Nature Of The Gods: Epicurus' ideas struck a chord, particularly his physics. The fact that it is a unified philosophy which is still pertinent in the 21st century is very appealing.

    I realize now that what I've been trying to do with a "practice" category is a series of brief action statements. For instance, in retrospect I could reduce my personal Zen practice to "daily meditation and mindfulness". These were actions which kept my daily activities in a Zen framework, to which could be added study of the eightfold path, precepts, etc as desired or necessary for greater insight. These are also key to any Zen practice so they aren't just a to-do list of personal Zen-ness.

    To apply that to my personal EP outline: delete the Practice category. To the end of Ethics add these action statements (kind of a personal pharmakon?):

    - Spend frequent time with like-minded friends

    - Maximize pleasure

    - Review desires

  • That's very interesting and I have two followups:

    (1) so is there something about you that spurred your interest in Zen?

    (2) If in your "practice" category you are looking in part for "what can I do every day to keep connected with Epicurean thinking and see myself as part of a community of like-minded people" then that is exactly one of the main questions before the house that we need to be working on in this forum.

    And Godfrey, pat yourself on the back every time you think about the fact that you are not wasting as much time on Facebook as some of us are ;) Here I am really going to work to keep the community discussions productive, and the ban hammer is going to fall more quickly here on people who are just so negative or pessimistic that they black pill the whole site.

    And that's something that we will always deal with going forward. Epicurus is identified in common understanding as an "anesthesia" philosopher much like the Stoics, and so we are always going to draw a certain number of people who are so hurt (in many ways) that they just cannot see beyond the immediate need to escape pain. And while I want to do was much as we can for them, there is a natural limit to what can be done.

    That's the reason for my posting that Nietzsche quote today.

  • (1) My initial involvement with Zen was quite random: I was looking to learn meditation in a group setting so I could better navigate a stressful period of my life, and there happened to be a Zen group around the corner from my house. I'm a bit of a minimalist so the minimalist aspect of Zen appealed to me once I got involved.

    (2) Exactly! :thumbup:

  • I'd word it: - Prudence, honor and justice are prerequisites for A LIFE OF pleasure.


    - Autonomy is achieved by living frugally, only desiring what is natural and what can be maintained by a source of income which provides an excess of pleasure over pain.

    That is the most common way to live in autarchy, but there's no need to shun wealth or other goods, merely a need to understand the limits that nature sets for our desires. In other words, (there's a Vatican saying that says) there's also a limit to simple living where it doesn't lead to a life of pleasure.

    On practice, my book includes a chapter on elaborating your personal hedonic regimen. I rely mainly on modern research and suggest exercise, laughter therapy (also known as laughter yoga), meditational practices that are known to increase levels of oxytocin and serotonin (feel good chemicals that the brain secretes), foods (cooking, eating, as well as entertaining friends)--particularly foods that act as mood boosters like yerba maté, kava, chocolate, durian, etc. Also connect with the tradition of the laughing philosophers and enjoy good comedies, I particularly like Ricky Gervais and George Carlin as laughing philosophers because they're funny AND insightful.

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

  • Hiram, "Prudence, honor and justice are prerequisites for A LIFE OF pleasure" nails it.

    AS for autonomy/autarky, I agree with what you say. What I was trying to express is:

    - To maintain autarky, enjoy all natural pleasures as long as you don't stress out over money. And do work that you love.

    Or more formally:

    - Autarky is achieved by avoiding unnatural desires and by living a life where acquisition and disposition of means lead to an excess of pleasure over pain.

    To clarify a definition, is it correct that autarky refers specifically to economic self-sufficiency whereas autonomy is more general?

    One thing that I'm finding quite interesting is that, after a lifetime of living the Protestant work ethic, it's an entirely different and surprisingly challenging mindset to focus on the goal of living pleasurably. Among the items you list, I think that comedy and laughter can be particularly effective antidotes. In addition to focusing on like-minded friendships.

    Your book was one of the first that I read (and enjoyed :thumbup:) as I began to explore EP. I have to confess that I was reading and trying to absorb a lot at the time. Too much, actually. Now that I'm getting deeper into the philosophy and beginning to try to live it, it's definitely worth a second read.

  • I am making this as a general "thinking out loud" comment and not to make any specific point, but when you write:

    "enjoy all natural pleasures as long as you don't stress out over money..." and " Autarky is achieved by avoiding unnatural desires"

    This reminds me again of what is said in "On Ends" that:

    "One kind he classified as both natural and necessary, a second as natural without being necessary, and a third as neither natural nor necessary; the principle of classification being that the necessary desires are gratified with little trouble or expense; the natural desires also require but little, since nature's own riches, which suffice to content her, are both easily procured and limited in amount; but for the imaginary desires no bound or limit can be discovered."

    This is of course Cicero talking hundreds of years later, but I continue to think that the emphasis should be on "the principle of classification being that the necessary desires are gratified with little trouble or expense; the natural desires also require but little......"

    To me that makes perfect sense and is consistent with everything we know about the practical reasoning of Epicurus. But a problem I think occurs when we think that we can too easily know BEFOREHAND and "without context" what a "natural" or a "necessary" desire is. OK "necessary" would appear to be fairly reasonable, in that there are clear necessities of life like food and water and shelter. But even there, I see no bright line at where to stop. And what in the world does "unnatural" mean in terms of bright lines? We know that all pleasures are "good" because they are pleasing, but what is an "unnatural" pleasure?

    To me, it seems the analysis must originally have focused on how easy or how hard a desire is to attain. Labeling something as "unnecessary" or "unnatural" outside of a particular context seems to me to be a perilous course tending toward formalistic rules which would violate the spirit of much of the rest of the philosophy. And in fact there is in my observation no reliable statement from Epicurus or Lucretius giving a list of what goes into what category. I understand there may be some notes in Diogenes Laertius or perhaps other places, but nothing that looks authoritative to me.

    So my suspicion is that while the natural / necessary categorization may in fact originate with Epicurus, I don't see it working as an exception to the general rule of "What will happen to me if I make this choice or avoidance."

    Godfrey all of this wasn't spurred just by your comment, this is a continuing subject that interests me and comes up frequently. It just seems to me that trying to classify things as unnatural or unnecessary is a lot less productive an exercise than some people want to make it appear.

  • To clarify a definition, is it correct that autarky refers specifically to economic self-sufficiency whereas autonomy is more general?

    Autarchy IS (almost always translated as) self-sufficiency. Just as monarchy means rule of one, and oligarchy means rule of a few, autarchy is to rule oneself, personal sovereignty, which naturally implies self-sufficiency.

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

  • Cassius, when I'm reviewing a desire or considering a project I find it useful as a first step to think about whether the thing in question is something that could be considered an "imaginary desire" for which "no bound or limit can be discovered." After that I think about "what will happen to me if I make this choice or avoidance." So I like the distinction but only as it applies very subjectively and specifically. I also sometimes think of things in terms of being necessary for me in this instance, as well as a pleasurable embellishment for me in this particular instance. Then I consider the pain/pleasure cost/benefit of the embellishment.

    An example is a pleasure/pain calculus for a home renovation/remodel. Some things need to be done, some things would be cool to do, and some things are just keeping up with the neighbors.

  • That sounds like good reasoning to me Godfrey. Over time I'd like to devote some more time to thinking about "no bound or limit can be discovered." In regard to the total picture of pleasure as the guide, we DO have the limit as expressed in the full experience without any mixture of pain. I am sure that some desires are more easily categorized as without bound or limit than are others, but to some degree the general limit applies to all. Probably this is the kind of subject where discussing possibilities helps flesh out the real issues.