Hiram Level 02
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Posts by Hiram

    Have you ever read the end of the De Rerum Natura, the plague of Athens?

    At the moment we are not so desperate. :)

    That scene was mentioned in recent essays. A few things have been written from an Epicurean perspective on how to deal with coronavirus.

    Facts Not fear. Clean Hands. Open Hearts. An Epicurean meditation on how to respond to the ongoing epidemic (by a Unitarian minister who frequently writes on Lucretius)

    Thomas Nail--author of Ontology of Motion--wrote a piece for TheConversation.com titled Why a Roman philosopher's views on the fear of death matter as coronavirus spreads, referring here to Lucretius.

    (by the way Nail as a new book coming out next month on the "Ethics of Motion", another commentary on Lucretius, I saw the description and the list of chapters / index, looks interesting)

    by me - Living Pleasantly in Times of Coronavirus

    But what does everyone here think? How exactly do we hold each other accountable, including pleasure seekers who wouldn’t label themselves Epicurean and aren’t familiar with our concepts of frankness and justice, but otherwise share many of our values?

    I have another paragraph written on this topic about consequentialist thinking and how it can transform itself into an ethical system for hedonists and Epicureans, that disregards morality as it’s conventionally recognized and utilized, but I’d like to hear some thoughts on this before I delve into it any further. I also recognize that this isn't really an "Epicurean" topic, but I feel that it's answers do encompass Epicurean Philosophy.

    I think this is the key question Charles, and if you read Thrasher's essay on contractarianism and the final PD's and have any further questions about his arguments while you're writing your essay, you know where to find me.

    Concerning consequentialism, Epicurus (in Against empty words) says that we think empirically concerning the actions based on the results observed from any course of action. But there is no extant elaboration of this, and your essay may actually be very useful for further ethics discussions.

    Eureka !! We did find two magic words like "open sesame". It is the "mutual benefit". E.g. I have a mutual benefit with this person in the video who wants without legal papers to pass through the greek borders to Evros area, for proclaiming his purpose that is: "to f@ck up all Greeks". ….

    Are you saying that that's an example of mutual benefit? The entry of a person who might be dangerous for a society does not benefit the members of that society.

    There is nothing whatsoever that would lead to that "mutual benefit" conclusion.

    That's a very categorical rejection of several of the Principal Doctrines on your part.

    The last ten Principal Doctrines make frequent references to mutual advantage as the defining feature of justice.

    36. Taken generally, justice is the same for all, to wit, something found useful in mutual association; but in its application to particular cases of locality or conditions of whatever kind, it varies under different circumstances.

    37. Among the things accounted just by conventional law, whatever in the needs of mutual association is attested to be useful, is thereby stamped as just, whether or not it be the same for all; and in case any law is made and does not prove suitable to the usefulness of mutual association, then this is no longer just. And should the usefulness which is expressed by the law vary and only for a time correspond with the prior conception, nevertheless for the time being it was just, so long as we do not trouble ourselves about empty words, but look simply at the facts.

    38. Where without any change in circumstances the conventional laws, when judged by their consequences, were seen not to correspond with the notion of justice, such laws were not really just; but wherever the laws have ceased to be useful in consequence of a change in circumstances, in that case the laws were for the time being just when they were useful for the mutual association of the citizens, and subsequently ceased to be just when they ceased to be useful.

    Mutual advantage is the key concept in Epicurean social ethics. If instead of speaking of "morality" or in abstract terms, we refer to concrete social problems and seek to evaluate the issues of mutual advantage concretely and directly and in detail, the moral problems become clearer and easier to address from an Epicurean perspective. The following essay might be worth studying in detail by the Epicureans:

    Reconciling Justice and Pleasure in Epicurean Contractarianism - John J. Thrasher


    Lucretius refers to "The Great All" when he describes the evils of war. He describes species of animals being driven mad in fury when used for battle, and at the end of the passage he explains that this may not have happened on Earth, but "may have happened in the Great All", in some other planet--so it turns out the entire scene (in Book V) was science fiction.

    The visualizations reminded me of Philodemus' description of the Epicurean practice of setting-before-the-eyes used for therapeutic purposes of combatting the vices of arrogance, anger, etc. An Epicurean variation on this Buddhist practice *could* be a way of setting-before-the-eyes the reality of the finality of death, the dissolution of our atoms, and the preciousness of life.

    Nice to meet you here!

    I don't remember Philodemus applying "seeing before the eyes" to death, although maybe he did, but his scroll On Death is in my view the most important and valuable in Herculaneum.


    I DO wish to point you in the direction of the closing portion of Lucretius' On the Nature of Things. There, Lucretius carries out a somewhat morbid meditation on death that is reminiscent of the Buddhist and Hindu Tantric practices related to acceptance of death by witnessing it.

    This portion recently inspired a blog by a Unitarian minister:


    where he argues that it's important to adopt Epicurean doctrine about death rather than say "all views must be respected", so as to protect our minds from religious people who exploit our existential vulnerabilities during an epidemic or a crisis. Philodemus DID say something similar to this in Peri Parrhesias, something along the lines of "Men who are charlatans, too, divert many, seizing them after some stress and enchanting them with their subtle kindness. "

    Hiram I remember there was a thread where I quoted Torquatus that pleasure is the removal of pain, and there is no state between pleasure and pain. If ataraxia is not opposed to pleasure, is it pleasure? Is it the removal of pain? For stoics, ataraxia is not the removal of pain but numbness. The pain is simly not felt, but it exists.

    And if ataraxia is the removal of pain, it also means pleasure. And if ataraxia and pleasure are the same, why is there a need for these two words to exist across Epicurean texts? Why not use only either pleasure or ataraxia alone?

    Numbness is APATHEIA. Apathy. This is a Stoic ideal.

    Ataraxia isn't numb, it means no-perturbations, and if we follow Epicurus' logic that all sentience is either pleasurable or painful, ataraxia would be pleasurable.

    I think the reason why Epicurus used ataraxia is because he was arguing that we can not experience pure pleasure for as long as we experience perturbations like fear of death or of the gods, or unlimited desires. So one of the existential and psychological tasks of an Epicurean is to remove these.

    (Julien de la Mettrie adds unwarranted remorse to the list of perturbations we should remove--in other words, feeling religious guilt for things that we should have no guilt about)

    Hiram, I find this DL quote interesting for a couple of reasons:

    1) It states that tranquility (not cheerfulness) is the goal and opposes that to pleasure

    However there's a lot to sort out, and this particular topic is new to me. Can you recommend any sources where I could pursue this further?

    I do not think ataraxia is opposed to pleasure. Diogenes Of Oenoanda explains that when the perturbations leave the mind, pleasure can enter. A-Taraxia means no-perturbations. So Epicurean ataraxia is linked to the process of healing the mind so that we may experience greater pleasure, or to use the Lucretius parable of the broken jar, ataraxia helps fix the cracks in the jar of the mind so that it may receive pleasures.


    Here is the fragment:

    Let us now [investigate] how life is to be made pleasant for us both in states and in actions.

    Let us first discuss states, keeping an eye on the point that, when the emotions which disturb the soul are removed, those which produce pleasure enter into it to take their place.

    Well, what are the disturbing emotions? [They are] fears —of the gods, of death, and of [pains]— and, besides [these], desires that [outrun] the limits fixed by nature. These are the roots of all evils, and, [unless] we cut them off, [a multitude] of evils will grow [upon] us

    I don't remember the source but I remember reading that Nausiphanes and Epicurus once encountered Pyrrho, who had traveled to INDIA and met the gymnosophists (yogis) there.

    Pyrrho's Buddhist influence has been the subject of books linking this to the Gandara Indo-Buddhist culture.

    Either way, in this encounter Epicurus was so affected by Pyrrho's tranquil demeanor that he replaced Democritus' cheerfulness ideal with the ataraxia ideal. If Nausiphanes was with him, we have to assume that

    1. Epicurus was young

    2. He was still earning atomism from Nausiphanes and forming his own doctrines

    However Epicurus rejected the skepticism of Pyrrho. His ataraxia did not come from not having opinions, but from having doctrines that were aligned with nature and abolished superstitious fears.

    Cassius If wealth is not preferable to poverty nor poverty is preferable to wealth, does it mean that moderation remains significant?

    I think the Epicurean position was to juxtapose nature and culture, and to say: follow nature. Your body needs warmth, safety, something to eat, something to drink, clothing, etc. Culture will plant all kinds of cravings and desires that are foreign to your nature. So This is the focus. If you have all the natural needs met, you are wealthy. But if you're trying to "keep up with the Joneses" and constantly working to impress strangers, you need to adjust your opinions to nature.

    Hmmm...how do you guys interpet VS 25? It says "Poverty, if measured by the natural purpose of life, is great wealth; but wealth, IF NOT LIMITED, is great poverty."

    Here, we believe it was Epicurus who said it. Did Metrodorus contradict Epucurus if wealth is preferable to poverty?

    According to this, Epicurus articulated a "defense of poverty" while criticizing Empedocles (who in one poem personified Poverty as constantly in the company of a poor man when he ate, and even accompanying him to his funeral)


    In pages 116-117 (and I think this is mentioned afterwards) it says that Epicurus appeared before Leostratus and gives a teaching on wealth that Philodemus appears to be quoting, and here he attributes to Epicurus the teaching that there is a distinction between natural wealth that is easy to acquire and empty wealth which is not. It's possible that this is the context in which VS 25 may have been given. Either way it should be related to the PDs and VSs.

    Here is another example: "moderation / mean" is by no means the same as "managing wealth with anxiety nor fearing its loss! These are the words of a commentator trying to reach a preferred conclusion, not someone trying to be fair with the text and judge it from an unbiased eye.

    And that's fine, the translator or commentator is probably an academic and not necessarily Epicurean. If Epicureans write commentaries on this, those commentaries would be Epicurean commentaries. (I do remember both things being addressed separately, though: Metrodorus used the doctrine that you find controversial to argue against the Cynics, and we also see a discussion of anxiety over loss and profit, which presumably is a critique of the extremes of wealth)

    The only favor I ask of you moving forward is never again to accuse me of making up doctrines or putting words in the mouth of Epicurus or Metrodorus without first consulting the sources in good faith. That is a huge accusation, and I would never accuse other of that in that manner, particularly without checking the sources first.

    If he meant this as anything other than "pleasurable measure", he was wrong. IF, Hiram. IF. I do not think he meant it the way you are running with it.

    I do not think he was talking about some kind of Buddhist-like happy medium of wealth either. In many settings, extremes are unpleasant, but it is not because they are extreme that we avoid them, merely because they are unpleasant.

    I don't think you are deliberately leading readers away from pleasure. I just don't think you understand the big picture.

    I'm not "running with it" in any direction, Elayne. I'm reading what it says. This is one of the central points of the scroll Peri Oikonomias, and it's an Epicurean doctrine, a fact to which all the scholars who have worked with this text will attest to. You seem to agree with me, but you seem to attribute to me the view that these extremes are bad because of reasons other than they are unpleasant. Please cite where I have said that. I haven't.

    Again, this is from Column 12 of Peri Oinonomias (Philodemus' On property management)

    Hiram, let me be more clear-- I don't believe Metrodorus was promoting a "natural measure" of anything, as different to or opposed to a "pleasurable measure." I said "if" he had done so, I would have told him he was wrong. I am not calling Metrodorus wrong or silly. I am calling the way this material is being interpreted wrong-- and the concept of "natural" as a goal for measurement in place of pleasure is absolutely silly. I doubt Metrodorus did it.

    Okay, here: without buying another Herculaneum book, I will cite to you that one of the main points in these texts are as follows (not my words, but of the publisher):


    This article is a study and partial translation of two of Philodemus’ tractates, “On Wealth” and “On Household Management.” In both works, the Epicurean author mounts a polemic against the Cynics, and some of these arguments can be traced back two and a half centuries to Metrodorus, a founder of the Epicurean school. Philodemus argues for a mean of wealth, so that the extremes of both luxury and Cynic poverty (πτωχεíα) are vices. He argues for “natural wealth” and himself lived in the villa of his wealthy patron, while Cynics had nothing and were homeless.

    Here is the link:


    So again, Elayne, I'm neither making this up :) nor sharing this to confuse students, or anything of that sort. This is there, and I'm studying and trying to distill it for a modern audience of people that are committed to Epicurean teachings and who would find it useful.

    also, Cassius I'm glad you recognize both the lower and upper limit of the wealth that is necessary, because I was beginning to be under the impression that you always seem to recognize the lower but not the upper (you always argue against minimalism, but never against consumerism and limitless desire)--which I totally understand if you perceive that this is the main error you feel that you are trying to correct. But both limits must be acknowledged for different reasons, and the ancients (for whatever reason) had much more criticism for the upper than the lower limit (limitless desires, which Diogenes of Oenoanda counts among the three roots of all evils).

    Hiram I do not understand why you conclude that this subject is not of interest here. The SUBJECT is certainly of interest, but even in the title of this thread you are stating that the topic is "The NEGLECT of Metrodorus' Economics" and accusing me or others of "neglecting" it?

    I'm glad you're interested on the subject. As you know, the Philodeman translations on amazon sometimes go for over 200 dollars, so I felt that this was part of the work I wanted to do to make this available to modern people: comment on it, and comment from a MODERN perspective.

    I don't accuse you particularly of neglecting the subject of Oikonomias, but in general most Epicureans today, and this is in part because there hasn't been enough of an attempt to update those ancient conversations for a modern paradigm on our part.

    My first instinct when I read about a "doctrine of natural measure of wealth" was to use the canon, meaning empirical evidence. So I went after research associated with how happiness relates to wealth. That's when I found the study that claims that happiness correlates to wealth up to 60-75 K income, and beyond that other factors matter more.


    This allows us to begin to modernize those ancient conversations.

    But it also provides some evidence for what Metrodorus was arguing: if the studies showed that there is NO correlation between wealth and happiness, then this would have proven the Cynics' view that wealth doesn't matter, you can be fully destitute and be happy. But that's not the case. See? This is how I expect others to use the canon. If enough minds study these teachings in a focused manner, and with a modern outlook, rather than give up and say "oh that's silly", or "Metrodorus was wrong", then a modern version of the Oikonomias aspect of the doctrine can be articulated.


    So when you say:

    I don't think it is obvious at all what you mean. What kind of "evolution of discourse" is necessary in order to find reliable quotes, post them publicly, and analyse what they say? That is what I am trying to do by pointing out the basic context of the hedonic calculus, and then applying that general rule to economics so that we can judge in context what these fragmentary remains appear to say.

    Yes, we all agree that there are no absolute rules of justice, but we also agree that we need to furnish our basic expenses and necessities no matter when and where we live, and that our philosophy IS useful and HAS concrete things to say about how we go about securing these basic goods.

    Evolution of discourse, one of the things that comes to mind is how Epicurus had slaves and the ancients saw nothing wrong with that. We can not enslave people today. Also, this brings up many questions (on the objectification of others and to what extent it's inevitable, for instance, even if we are pursuing mutual benefit) that we should as modern Epicureans be ready to discuss and handle meaningfully and intelligently, using the tools we've been given. They're not EASY issues to tackle, but they're there, and it's a good intellectual challenge for us. At some point I will have to tackle this maybe with other authors, or with economist-philosophers maybe, to bring the useful points from Philodemus' "On wealth" and "On property management" into a modern context.

    Another thing that comes to mind is how Philodemus considered "equestrian" a bad profession choice, but that does not exist today.

    or how I can't make a living as a non academic philosopher, unlike Philodemus. So that first, and ideal, way of making a living that he recommended is not available to us today.

    Our economics paradigm is completely different, but similar criteria to what they employed in antiquity can be employed to figure out a modern appreciation of the Oikonomias aspect of the teaching. So when I speak of evolution of our discourse, of our discussions about Epicurean economics, those are some of the issues.


    I expect to have to debate the role of pleasure with academics who are set on interpreting Epicurus from a minimalist perspective, but I would not think it would be necessary for us to be debating that here -- and yet that is the clear implication of the way you are wording your approach - that you are looking for a "natural measure" framed in Stoic / absolute / virtue terms rather than in terms of pleasure always being the end goal.

    If what bothers you about the "natural measure of wealth" is that it's a minimalist doctrine, then I would challenge you to interpret is non-minimally. I would not say "discard it", because there are two main issues:

    1. On the lower end, there is the Cynical view that pleasure or happiness has nothing to do with wealth. This doctrine says that IT DOES, and that we do not recommend extreme poverty.
    2. On the upper end, it's limitless and empty desires, which is address again and again in the sources.

    And so it seems to me that the natural measure of wealth is meant to rectify both errors, and that we should be critical of both, not only of the minimalist one. It's not pleasant to be destitute, and it's also not pleasant to have endless cravings when so much of the banquet of life is already right under our noses.

    I do not think I need to even mention that our discussion must happen within an Epicurean context, and I should not have to repeat this every single time we investigate some philosophical issue.

    I believe that this natural measure of wealth was discussed in the context of choices and avoidances and of hedonic calculus, not in service of virtue. If you accuse me of that at this point after all these years, you're just talking past me and not with me. If I find a commentator like Yona who uses virtue as a referrent, then I'll switch the referrent to pleasure, but I won't dismiss the entire discussion for that reason, or the sources, or the moral questions being addressed which may be legitimate.

    I hope these issues become clearer. Epicurus says we should study alone and with others, and there are different benefits to both, and I'd like to be able to carry out focused study with knowledgeable people from time to time without so much unnecessary miscommunication, suspicion, and accusation.