Pacatus Level 03
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Posts by Pacatus

    I have finished reading the Philodemus essay, and also found this interpretation by Tim O’Keefe: “The Epicureans on happiness, wealth, and the deviant craft of property management” (Tim O’Keefe, Georgia State University) It is downloadable free as a Word doc here:…mail_work_card=view-paper

    O’Keefe sees Philodemus’ objection to the oikonomia of Theophrastus and Xenophon as a techne is that that is an expertise aimed at both preserving and maximizing wealth. He contrasts this with simply attaining “’natural wealth’ that is needed to satisfy our natural and necessary desires [and] is limited and easy to obtain.” For the Epicurean, then, property management does not require some special expertise (techne), but simple practical knowledge.

    In his conclusion, O’Keefe employs modern economic terms, describing the oikonomia of Theophrastus and Xenophon as “maximizing” behavior, and describes the Epicurean as following “satisficing” behavior: “When it comes to wealth, then, the Epicurean Sage is a satisficer and not a maximizer: she will not spend a lot of time worrying about finding the option that gets her the best financial return, but will go ahead and act once she’s found an option that’s good enough. And given the Epicurean conception of what we need in order to satisfy our natural and necessary desires, ‘good enough’ is easy to achieve.”

    In economics, "satisficing" is a behavior which attempts to achieve at least some minimum (satisfactory) level of a particular variable, but which does not necessarily maximize its value. [Herbert Simon, 1978 Nobel laureate in economics]

    O’Keefe also notes that, in modern economic terms, oikonomia would fall under heading of microeconomics, as opposed to macroeconomics – dealing with such things as inflation, unemployment, income distribution, government fiscal policy, etc. – which would be considered part of politike.


    This really may go at the heart of (neoclassical) microeconomics, where economic agents are assumed to continually strive to maximize (personal) utility (at the margin – i.e. in the immediate present) in the face of income/resource constraints (scarcity) – and to try to expand the current bounds of those constraints (even at the expense, say, of future environmental costs). Traditional (neoclassical) economics recognizes no natural constraints on utility (pleasure/satisfaction) or potential wealth.

    Any suggestion of natural bounds on utility maximization – which would mean a rational frugality in the face of the bounds of “natural wealth” (based on a hedonic calculus) – would be anathema to mainstream economics* (at least as I learned it). And that, it seems to me, might be the nub of an Epicurean alternative.

    I haven’t finished reading the essay on Philodemus yet, but it might also be related to his criticisms of Xenophon and Theophrastus?

    EDIT: I like your translation of "natural treasures" -- which I would take to be a better understanding of natural resources than the word "wealth." Modifications to what I just wrote might thereby be warranted, but I am too tired to make them just now. :(


    * For a scholarly debunking of that economics, anyone interested should read Steve Keen’s Debunking Economics (by which he means that neoclassical mainstream). It can be a tough read for those unfamiliar with the nitty-gritty of marginal analysis (or even for those who, like me, once were). Keen is an economist from Australia, who is one of those behind a blog-journal called Real-World Economics – which I still get and peruse from time to time.


    They were wiser about bees than we are. I recently read an article about Canadian blueberry farmers, who are seeing diminished yields because of the lack of bees for pollination (even with travelling beekeepers). Where we live now (in town), when we take a walk, we see plenty of white clover and areas where wildflowers have been planted – but hardly any bees (likely due to pesticides).

    When we lived at Terrapin Branch, I used to sit under a large, blooming Hawthorn tree – near our small blooming cherry orchard – and you could literally feel the hum of the thousands of bees. (We also seeded our yard space with clover.)

    The lowly honey bee would be an appropriate symbol for the Epicurean Garden.

    By the way, this whole discussion has reminded me of a book I read years and years ago by British economist E.F. Schumacher, called Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. He advocated building self-reliant economies at the community level -- using mostly local resources to meet local needs (e.g. community gardens), and using appropriately-scaled technology that is user-friendly and ecologically sustainable.


    From an ethical economics (oikonomia) point of view:

    On the investment side of things, I would suggest productive/unproductive in supplying people’s needs.

    On the consumption side, I would suggest that (1) Epicurus’ formulation on the naturalness & necessity of desires, and (2) the pleasure/pain hedonic calculus (toward eudaimonia – which I think of as sustainable happy well-being) would work.

    Savings versus consumption decisions might connect the two (how much do I spend to meet my needs, and how much do I save – both to meet future consumption needs and to go toward productive investment?).

    With regard to income/wealth distribution, I think one needs to define the concepts of just and unjust (in Epicurean terms). Maybe some synthesis of the utilitarian “the greatest good for the greatest number” and Rawls’ theory of justice that any inequality in social and economic arrangements should give greater benefit to the least advantaged, each idea being modified by the other. And I wouldn’t think we need to get much more complex than that, with regard to either theory. (Though Rawls included a personal liberty principle and an equal opportunity principle, all three principles needing to be balanced.) I’m not sure either one can stand on its own, but its been a long time since I really looked at them.

    That’s still pretty conceptual, as opposed to practical. (And I have just begun Philodemus). And I’m a bit tired today, so maybe not having a lot of clarity. ?(

    Interesting paper. (My academic background is economics – particularly labor economics; though my subsequent professional work was pension economics, first for a labor union and later for a pension trust. But all that was 20+ years ago.)

    I do remember well that (neoclassical) economics eschewed any ethical viewpoint (e.g., the Robbins quote in the article). But that was (is) really a kind of deceit, since the single acceptable goal was “economic efficiency” (defined in terms of “Pareto optimality”). That put a real restraint on any discussion of income distribution, for example – or concern about people whose resource constraints kept them out of the market at all (think poverty-stricken households and healthcare). Proposals were often met with the objection: “But that wouldn’t be efficient!”

    So, economic rationality was defined as efficient utility maximizing behavior via constrained choice (in the face of resource scarcity).This, of course, contrasts with the ancient Greek view of economic behavior “as rational when it was frugal in its use of means towards what they deemed as worthwhile ends.”

    Bottom line: I don’t think that economics really can escape from ethical considerations.

    I found it interesting (as a smalltime trader ;() that Aristotle classed market trading as an “unnatural” wealth activity – apparently because it does not produce any productive, physical (in economic terms “real”) capital (I would include “technological capital”) – as opposed to merely “financial capital”, the accumulation of which may or may not be turned to productive use (“supplying people’s needs”).

    As you can see, this paper stimulated some old memories. :) I have yet to read Philodemus, but hope to get to it soon.


    I just took the time to enjoy an afternoon martini on our shaded deck. This time, I left my smart-phone behind -- so that I could not compulsively check the news, etc. Just watched the breeze in the trees, listened to birdsong, and enjoyed the sight of a red-tailed hawk flashing her colors in the sun. Even in our towny setting, a "Walden moment." :) Thank you.

    I’m pretty much a clunk on this, but it seems to me that unnatural desires would be ones that do not lead to any (natural) health in body or mind – and hence to no natural pleasure (or ataraxia, or eudaimonia – which I would render as something like happy well-being). Fame, extreme wealth, any kind of braggadocio one-upmanship. I might include some Stoic (quasi-Kantian?) admonitions to duty, and a self-righteous pat on one’s own back.

    I would think that “getting high” – by which I mean certain pleasurable “altered states of consciousness” is natural – but one where the means might end up causing more harm (pain) than sustainable pleasure. As will excess. [I just enjoyed an afternoon martini, relaxing on our shaded deck – and I enjoy the pleasurable “afterglow.” But I know that a 2nd martini now will dull everything, and undo the pleasure.]

    I do not believe I can “hide” in an Epicurean Garden (not that I think that was what Epicurus advocated – even with his recommendation to, insofar as possible, live an obscure life)

    We had an interesting, in-depth discussion on "live unknown" a couple years ago:


    You might need interested in what was said in that thread.

    Yes, that thread is helpful. I especially liked this quote by you: "One may say he lived, let's say at most, unobtrusively but was NOT disengaged from society, his friends, and those that sought him out." Also, Cassius' point about Cassius Longinus.

    Yes. That's helpful. And not letting emotions become a hindrance also harks back to your earlier comments about keeping the day-to-day politics in perspective and embracing a worldview that makes the day-to-day politics "more livable." One can surely avoid becoming mired in what I call the "soap opera" without getting lost in some blank-mind "nirvana" of numbness. The sources I am weeding out are the ones that include too much toward soap-operatic stuff (where I got caught) -- as opposed to information and analysis, and reasoned opinion, which I can get from better sources.

    To live is to feel -- both sensation and emotion.

    First of all: thanks to all for your generous responses. I plan to take the time to read them all carefully (and more than once, including the links that Don provided) -- they deserve no less. My own responses will likely be patchwork, as I go.

    I want to say that trading is not, in itself, stressful to me -- but an enjoyable activity. I am not investing to build wealth, but merely to augment our current income a bit (which does have a secondary effect of some capital preservation). To that end, I have found a niche as a "swing trader," which works for me. We are satisfied with our fairly frugal, simple lifestyle. Although we occasionally feast, my wife (perhaps showing her inner Epicurus) often quotes to me: "Enough is a feast."

    With that said, I realize that I have neglected a hedonic calculus when it comes to balancing our private life and social concerns (as Godfrey reminds me). I have also been neglecting practices that I already have (such as various forms of meditation). The result is that my life has become out of balance. I need to be more diligent. Also, I hope to incorporate some of the fine suggestions you guys have offered -- like building in more "Walden time" (thanks, Joshua; Thoreau, who was also an ardent abolitionist and wrote about civil disobedience, is a good example of someone who sustained that kind of balance -- but I would do well to revisit On Walden Pond).

    I need to screen my news intake: what is helpful, what is not (hedonic calculus again) -- and start to weed out a bunch of it. The same for what I can and cannot reasonably contribute regarding social concerns -- without letting "the world's traumas" weigh me down. To monitor the kind of balance that I think Principal Doctrine 5 might describe.

    And I need to remember that life is transient (thanks Cassius): "Memento mori" -- which Don pointed out to me is not reserved to the Stoics ("Epicureans remember death to remind us to pay heed to the sweetness of life in the here and now")

    Again, thanks to all.

    Because I self-manage a chunk of our retirement funds (trading stocks, mostly), I feel that I have to keep up with the news – not just market/financial news, but geopolitics and local politics. Therefore, I spend a good deal of my daytime hours perusing multiple news sources.

    As I do so, I find that I am increasingly plagued by anxiety, dread and even rage (my reaction always to bullying of any stripe) at what I see happening – both in my own country and the world. [I will not identify specific social/political groups and activities, as I do not think that would be appropriate here.]

    I do not believe I can “hide” in an Epicurean Garden (not that I think that was what Epicurus advocated – even with his recommendation to, insofar as possible, live an obscure life). Even as I live a quasi-reclusive lifestyle, I am aware that what happens in the larger world can directly impact our lives. (And I am, in consultation with my wife, diverting some resources to what I consider just causes.)

    I recall that Cassius (Amicus) has spoken to this kind of thing before: e.g., in discussing the other Epicurean Cassius who participated robustly in Roman politics.

    I am just asking for some counsel from the wise people here on how to maintain some ataraxia as I confront the burgeoning tumult. Thanks to any and all in advance. (And apologies if this is not appropriate.)


    I have been married twice. The first was based on manipulation and deceit -- which, because of whatever blindness on my part (maybe unexamined passion), it took me years and years to recognize. That realization was deeply painful and disturbing: I sought counseling/therapy; and eventually ended the marriage (which action was met with great acrimony and the loss of not a few "friends" -- there were times when I could not rationally function).

    My second marriage started with deep and growing friendship: we were friends -- and eventually best friends -- before any romantic intimacy. Our marriage has lasted 27 years, and now we grow old together, still as best friends.

    I'm not holding that up as a model over the single life. We are all different. There are many socially-prominent and culturally-promulgated rules and notions that simply do not fit who I am. All I am trying to say is that -- even for an introvert like me -- Epicurus was, to my mind, right about friendship.

    I haven't been here for awhile, and just finished reading through this thread. Three comments:

    First, I want to thank Godfrey and Don for pointing out that "natural and necessary" etc. refer to desires, not pleasures. I made that error on my personal outline, and will now correct.

    Second, I do not find a sharp distinction between kinetic and katastemic pleasure to be personally helpful; I tend to think of them as complementary, perhaps shading into one another. With that in mind (as I play more with Latin than Greek), I tend to use amoenitas -- rather than the traditional voluptas -- to render hedone. Amoenitas can mean both pleasure/pleasureableness and pleasantness. (Though I sometimes use voluptas as well.)

    A phrase that I use for my own contemplation is "In amoenitate et otio manere" -- To abide in pleasantness/pleasure and ease.

    Third, I think this statement by Cassius is critically important: "On an individual level it is essential that we know our own selves and identify what types of pleasure are most valuable to our own natures." And I tend by nature to be more of an introvert. :)