Best Way to Introduce Teachings?

  • Greetings, everyone!

    I was wondering, what materials or ways do we have for presenting our teachings to others who have never seen them before? How effective are they? How much do they draw interest? How much understanding do they provide? How well do they motivate others to learn more?

    Would it be useful to compile a list of these materials? Are there any gaps we could fill or materials to be improved?

    Among our materials, I find intermediate and rich depth for those already interested in Epicureanism, but not much for someone with only a little curiosity or just trying to make philosophy seem a little less foreign.

    In my personal efforts, I wrote a few fun stories which carefully present neat lessons. They are meant for to be enjoyed (so people will want to read them) as well as focus heavily on one topic or lesson. These stories could be shared with friends without them feeling you are forcing anything onto them and could help others feel more comfortable with philosophy in general.

    I am a utilitarian (I believe utilitarianism is directly based on Epicureanism), so these stories have both Epicurean and utilitarian elements.

    Edited once, last by Daniel Van Orman: Update: Added new materials: memes and then links for serious study. ().

  • These stories are fairly flexible with doctrine, but get ideas across in a friendly, understandable way.

    So, how do you share your personal beliefs with others? If one were to ask or show interest, but not want to spend much time learning Epicureanism, how would you help them? Should we spend time improving our materials or making new ones? Are there materials I am completely overlooking which should be made more noticeable?

  • One way to help people learn something new is to categorize and summarize pieces of a whole.

    This could be an outline of how to do so with Epicureanism:

    - Pursuit of Intrinsic Goods (Hedonism)

    - Friendship



    - Atomism?

    - Reasoning?

    Superstition & Fear

    However, we must organize those categories into Canon, Physics, and Ethics. I don't know enough to do that correctly.

    Are the categories missing anything or are there important subcategories missing?

  • Also:

    - How did you get the forum post to provide only the title and hide the body til clicked? That is very useful?

    - I don't have time to read the full essays at this moment but of course I applaud your efforts and hope you will expand them -- I certainly don't think there is only one approach and any efforts in any new direction are always appreciated.!

  • I wish we had answers to all your questions. No one has done marketing research on EP, I try to see trends and have only found that reddit brings in huge traffic to the SoFE webpage and others. How much of that traffic = steady interest, it's hard to tell. It seems to me that very few people develop a sustained interest in EP.

    Pamphlets and Brochures here:

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

  • Cassius

    It is good to be back! I have been busy with college and other priorities, so I would only check in rarely and update the Dropbox link to the topical guide every few months.

    The point of my post is we need to evaluate what approaches we are using and make them better and find new ones. Currently, I cannot find very much for a person with only a small interest in learning. This may be a missing approach. We might also want to create a list of all of the approaches and what they could be best used for (ex: "If you are new, click here for an introduction! If you are looking for original sources.... If you are looking for new discussions....").

  • Cassius


    I am not sure how much of it would be ready or useful for public showcasing and I am not sure where I would post it. I have been keeping everything on my computer, very rarely sharing it when the situation seems right.

    So far, I have the topical guide (posted on EpicureanFriends), a large document half composed of notes describing basics of utilitarianism (hedonism, consequentialism, utility, etc.) and common criticisms of it (the criticisms are posted on EpicureanFriends), several stories such as the ones shown in the initial post, sections of quotes/passages I organized to be easier to make into lessons or documents if needed, a small collection of pictures of utilitarian leaders, and organized notes of mine from studying act, strong and weak rule, and ideal utilitarianism.

    Most of these are oriented more toward utilitarianism than Epicureanism and are good for introductions.

  • Are there any simple, neat summaries of Epicurean core beliefs to help introduce people to philosophy? I think it would be fantastic if we had a document full of quick summaries of our core beliefs and, within easy access of that document, more detail explained plainly.

    As an example, I wrote some descriptions (seen below) to help describe hedonism in Epicureanism (please correct me if I am wrong - I may have misinterpreted things or accidentally thrown in utilitarian beliefs).

    Hedonism: Quick Summary

    Many people read hedonism is about happiness and immediately assume it is about sex and drugs. This is a terrible misconception!

    That is not happiness! Sex, drugs, and other destructive actions will never bring long-term, true happiness. It would be seriously concerning – and against Epicureanism and its hedonistic beliefs – for anyone to think otherwise.

    Just as numerous others' perceptions of happiness are not about sex and drugs, hedonism as part of Epicureanism is not about sex and drugs.

    [I wrote the above notes simply because of common misconceptions. I think those misconceptions must be eased before people are ready to hear the truth.]

    Pleasure and pain are the only good and evil in life. They motivate every decision one makes and it is everyone's moral responsibility to increase their own pleasure while relieving their own pain in the long-term.

    Simplification: "What matters is that you are happy"

    Hedonism: Details in Plain English

    Hedonism means pleasure and pain are the only important things in life. This includes both physical and mental pleasures and pains (ex: enjoying a good book and savoring chocolate would both be pleasures while worrying about others and injuring an arm would both be pains). Furthermore, all pleasure and only pleasure is intrinsically valuable (valuable for its own sake) and all pain and only pain is intrinsically disvaluable (not valuable for its own sake). Happiness comes down to one's pleasure minus one's pain (this is called prudential hedonism).

    These are some of what Hedonism Entails

    - Pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain influences every decision one makes, whether consciously or unconsciously (motivational/psychological hedonism).

    "Pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the starting-point of every choice and of every aversion, and to it we come back, inasmuch as we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing." - Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus

    "For the end of all our actions is to be free from pain and fear, and, when once we have attained all this, the tempest of the soul is laid; seeing that the living creature has no need to go in search of something that is lacking, nor to look for anything else by which the good of the soul and of the body will be fulfilled." - Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus

    - What makes an action important is the amount of pleasure or pain it creates (value hedonism).

    "So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed towards attaining it." - Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus

    - Pleasure and pain make one's life better or worse (prudential hedonism).

    - Choosing short-term actions to quickly gain pleasure or avoid pain generally, over an extended period of time, reduces one's pleasure and causes more pain (prudential hedonism).

    "No pleasure is a bad thing in itself, but the things which produce certain pleasures entail disturbances many times greater than the pleasures themselves." - Epicurus, Principal Doctrines, 8 and Vatican Sayings, 50

    - It is morally correct to pursue or increase pleasure and avoid or decrease pain (normative/ethical hedonism).

    Common Misconceptions

    Hedonism is not a philosophy which encourages sex, drugs, and impulsive behavior performed at the expense of one's self as well as others. This misconception is called "Folk Hedonism", as it only exists in the mind of the common people (the folk). Hedonism teaches most short-term, impulsive actions cause far more pain than pleasure and can reduce one's access and ability to feel pleasure – these destructive actions should never be done.

    As an example of how impulsive and destructive behavior is against Epicurean standards, listen to this advice Epicurus gave to a young man: "I understand from you that your natural disposition is too much inclined toward sexual passion. Follow your inclination as you will, provided only that you neither violate the laws, disturb well-established customs, harm any one of your neighbors, injure your own body, nor waste your possessions. That you be not checked by one or more of these provisos is impossible; for a man never gets any good from sexual passion, and he is fortunate if he does not receive harm" (Epicurus, Vatican Sayings, 51).

  • Daniel just time for a quick comment, but in my own discussions I do not like to use the word hedonism. I don't think the texts of Epicurus indicate that the ancient Epicureans referred to their philosophy as hedonism, as Epicurean philosophy is much more complex than that. I'm not saying that to be critical of what you just wrote, because I know many people in philosophy approach the subject that way, and there are many approaches that can be productive. Just personally for me I don't find talking about hedonism particularly effective.

  • I was using the word hedonism to describe one part of Epicureanism. There are many other parts (ex; Physics, Friendship/Social Creature, etc.) which could be described in detail to help people understand the whole of Epicureanism.

    I thought Epicureanism was a hedonistic philosophy. Is there something wrong with my understanding or saying it is?

  • Daniel to repeat I don't mean to be critical of you for calling it that, because I know many people fluent in philosophy do so. Categories can be useful things and I understand why they want to put Epicurus in that box. However my personal preference is dealing in a world of non-professional philosophers who are looking for practical ways to organize their lives. You are right that the "pleasure" focus is only a part, but an important part, of Epicurus, but what distinguishes him almost as much are his positions on the universe being natural/non theistic (atomism) and his views on the role of reason and the senses in his epistemology.

    I'm mainly just saying that in the circles I come into contact with it is confusing to use the term hedonism, especially since its connotation in English is so negative. The word carries no positive connotations whatsoever in my mind, or in the minds of people I generally deal with. That's unfortunate, but since there is no evidence that the ancient Epicureans used the word to describe themselves, I see no reason to fight a battle over that word when there are so many other battles to fight.

    Beyond the rhetorical considerations, I really don't think that Epicurus himself would approve of it. The role of pleasure in ethics is certainly an important conclusion, but I feel sure that he considered his conclusions on how to think, and how the universe operates, to come before his contributions on ethics. I gather that the experts think that the letter to Herodotus was the first in time that he wrote, and the letter to Menoeceus probably among the latter. Herodotus, like Lucretius' poem, certainly mentions the role of pleasure, but places at least as much emphasis on the physics and epistemology.

    But you're attacking an area I think is super-important: how to approach new people, and it seems to me the best way to start off with them is not to allow them to be distracted by a word that might turn them off before they've understood the other fundamentals of the philosophy.

    Now I will be the first to admit that you may operate in different circles, and the new people you are talking to may have no issues with the word "hedonism" at all. So if you think that is true, you should definitely proceed in the way you think best, using hedonism.

    One thing I firmly believe is true is that there is no single "best" way to pursue the promotion of Epicurean philosophy, so it is good to have alternative approaches.

  • More on the same topic as background, Daniel:

    It's no simple coincidence that my icon is a Roman soldier putting on a helmet. I consider the rivalries and disputes between the philosophies and intellectual war, and I firmly believe that not everyone in the world has the best interests of Epicureans at heart. I think people like Cicero and Plutarch did everything they could, while maintaining their credibility, to place Epicurean philosophy in a bad light. I think the great majority of commentators since then have done the same, because they deeply disapprove of Epicurus.

    That means that we have to take a fresh look at EVERYTHING, and accept none of the commentary (and even many of the translations) at face value. I don't think I would be here in the forum today, or even interested in Epicurus at all, if I had not come across the Norman DeWitt book that I promote so much, and seen how Epicurus stands apart and reacted against the earlier Greeks like Plato and Aristotle. There are so many modern presumptions about Epicurus (ie the interpretation of "absence of pain"!!!) that seem so wrong when viewed through the DeWitt perspective, that like I said it's necessary to start from scratch to really scrutinize what Epicurus really taught.

    If you're read any of the DeWitt book you probably know what I mean, if you haven't yet, I urge you to take a look at it, because his perspective is truly different from OKeefe and Warren and most modern perspectives.

  • Don't worry, I'm not taking anything you are saying as "critical" or "negative". It is helpful advice and I appreciate it.

    I use the word hedonism since it seems to be the most precise word to describe the main ethical part of Epicureanism. It does have a strong negative connotation, but I thought it might be worth trying to battle over that word for the sake of accurate, precise language. Now I see not everyone is a science major like I am. ;) What word(s) would you use to describe it instead?

    I think one useful way to introduce new concepts to people is to represent neat categories or "boxes" which fit together to create most of Epicureanism. I was wondering if you had descriptions for any categories already and whether we should write them. I started with hedonism as an example since I care most about the ethical part of utilitarianism (which is centered on hedonism/utility).

    To help non-philosophical people understand Epicureanism, should we work on neat, nice descriptions for atomism, logical reasoning and the senses (any better name?), superstition (including fear of death), and any other categories which seem necessary? Currently, I see numerous concepts, with various connections to each other, without much of a starting point or order of importance. It might help people understand them if those concepts were grouped together and those groups summarized.

    Are there any other methods or ways you think we should pursue? There are definitely other ways, each with pluses and minuses, which will appeal to different audiences/individuals.

  • 1- What kind of science major are you?

    2 - " for the sake of accurate, precise language" << On this I am not so sure. Elli here likes to remind us that Epicurean philosophy doesn't fit neatly under an "ism" heading, and especially if what is meant by "hedonism" is "pleasure-ism." If we were looking for a larger umbrella term "Nature-ism" or something that is wider would probably be more appropriate, but I bet that is why the ancient followers of Epicurus were just called "Epicureans" since the philosophy has so many facets.

    3 - i agree with all you wrote about formulating the categories in clear and appealing ways, but it goes through my mind a lot that there are profound implications of Epicurus demoting "reason" as not one of the elements of the canon, and talking so much instead about "Feeling." I think in the end we are persuaded of anything not so much by a dialectical reasoning exercise but by our personal "Feeling" that a thing is true. Of course that includes our observations through our senses, and also the "feelings" and the "Anticipations" that are part of the canonical faculties. The basic point I am making is that as we approach how best to introduce others to Epicurean thought, we ought to keep in mind that Epicurean thought is NOT a form of dialectical reasoning. Epicurus emphasized the importance of "feeling" (in a very broad sense) so I think we need to give at least as much thought to reaching people through a good "feeling" about the philosophy as we do chopping it up into logical parts. Remember how Lucretius talks about "rimming the cup with honey" as a means of getting across what is in some cases a bitter set of truths? I think that we ought to think about the implications of that perspective.

  • 1 - I'm a computer science major (I study how to program computers). In case it helps, as part of my major, I study a good amount of chemistry and physics. Neat, precise terms are valued in those fields, just as they are in computer-oriented fields.

    2 - I see "hedonism" as "pleasure and pain = only good/bad" and "folk hedonism" as "pleasure-ism" or "pleasure at any cost, including self-destruction". Epicureanism does has many facets, but we can define and describe the largest and most important facets to help teach it to others. In my mind, hedonism is a facet of Epicureanism - and one of the bigger and more important ones.

    3 - "Logical reasoning and the senses" was a very bad name on my part. I just don't know what umbrella or broad term describes those facets. Epicurus uses reasoning (whether emotional, logical, or otherwise), he tends to be very logical, and (at least from what I've seen) frequently relies on empirical evidence.

    Is a "describe each facet" approach worth working on? Is there a better way or something we already have which could be improved?

    Other than memes, I don't see much introductory material.

    As I mentioned in my initial post, other ideas could be creating neat, fun stories which teach lessons or finding/composing a reading list for beginners who don't want to spend much time trying to learn what Epicureanism is.

    Thank you for your responses.

  • Hi Daniel! Have you written an outline yet on the forum? For me the process of thinking through the overall philosophy (the more detail, the better), putting it in words and getting feedback on it was probably the most valuable way to clarify my thinking and understanding of the philosophy. It's possible that that process would be a good way for you to think about and tighten up the points you're concerned with, and could even suggest a path forward.