Epicurus: Another Great Mind Worth Knowing

 

Epicurus is a great mind like John DeweyWilliam James, or Reinhold Niebuhr is a great mind — if somewhat less great than Plato, Shakespeare, Confucius, or C. S. Lewis. Everyone should know some great minds, and every great mind should be known by some people. But I admit you don’t really don’t have to care about Epicurus specifically. Don’t abandon the Bible, Plato, Shakespeare, Lewis, James, or Confucius to study him.

But if you have time and motivation to learn some basic Epicurus, it’ll be worth it. And you won’t need much time to learn the basics, because of two pointers on Epicurus below in this post. And also because I’ve recently recorded ten videos introducing Epicurus–enough to satisfy all your Epicuriosity about this great philosopher! Here’s the first video:

https://rumble.com/vnkzuz-epicurus-in-philosophical-context.html

I don’t think the software knows how to embed Rumble videos, but you can click on that or just keep reading for the background of Epicurus.

Western philosophers before Socrates were usually interested in metaphysics, the philosophical study of reality.  (Thales: All is water! Heraclitus: All is fire! Anaximenes: All is air! Democritus: All is atoms! Pythagoras: Numbers exist! Anaximander: “The things that are perish into the things out of which they come to be, according to necessity, for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice, in accordance with the ordering of time!”)

Socrates turns to ethics. As Aristotle puts it, he brings philosophy into the city! He wants to know what virtues like justice and courage are, how to have a well-functioning soul, and what is the best form of government. He doesn’t care much for metaphysics; what the universe is made of doesn’t matter nearly as much as the good life!

But even Socrates had to think about metaphysics sometimes. How are we supposed to know what is the good life for a human being in this universe without knowing what sort of thing a human being is and what sort of universe we are living in?

And “What is a human being?” and “What sort of universe are we living in?” are metaphysical questions.

That’s why, from Plato and Aristotle all the way to Thomas Aquinas about sixteen centuries later, western moral philosophers study metaphysics and ethics. Their strategy is to learn what is the good life for a human being by learning what a human being is and what sort of universe he’s living in.

So our first pointer on Epicurus is: He follows the same pattern! His philosophy is a materialistic version of this. He thinks all is matter, and knowing the truth about this is the right way to be happy!

Some of the details: We have souls, but souls depend on the body, and they do not continue after death–so no need to worry about being punished in the afterlife.  Even more comforting, after death we won’t even be around, so we won’t be suffering, so death is no problem!  Also, while gods exist, they don’t need us, and they don’t get all whimsical and vindictive and punish us for ticking them off.  So stop worrying about the gods!  Happiness comes from having about as much pleasure as we can expect for a physical being, and, crucially, from not expecting more.

And our second pointer on Epicurus is: He says we need virtue to be happy!

Yes, virtue.  According to Epicurus, all is matter, and the good in life is pleasure.  That doesn’t mean we should eat as much ice cream and have as much sex as possible while the eating and the having are good.  It means controlled appetites, limited desires, and virtue as a way of achieving the most pleasure, of avoiding the most pain in the body, and of avoiding the most anxiety in the soul.

Here’s where you can subscribe to me on Rumble, and here’s the Rumble channel for Epicurus where most of the new videos have aired.  (It looks like two or three didn’t; I should check on that later!)  Here’s a YouTube Epicurus playlist with a few older videos, and where the new ones will air a bit later.

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  1. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Saint Augustine:

    . . . enough to satisfy all your Epicuriosity about this great philosopher!

    A fine neologism from @hankrhody!

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I’ve only just started goofing around with Rumble.

    • #2
  3. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Percival (View Comment):

    I’ve only just started goofing around with Rumble.

    The first thing to learn is that a playlist is called a “channel” for some reason.

    • #3
  4. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Shocked and pleased!

    I adore Epicurus and his main vector, Lucretius.  My primary exposure is the admirable audiobook The Swerve.

    I shall say more when I am not typing with my thumbs.  

    • #4
  5. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    I’ll just add that if your exposure to Lucretius and Epicurus is derived through Saint Jerome, well Jerome was a man of his time and of his vocation, so take that with a hefty pinch of Lot’s Wife.  

    • #5
  6. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    BDB (View Comment):

    I’ll just add that if your exposure to Lucretius and Epicurus is derived through Saint Jerome, well Jerome was a man of his time and of his vocation, so take that with a hefty pinch of Lot’s Wife.

    Never studied Jerome on Epicurus, unfortunately, or even read Lucretius.

    I’ve seen a bit of Cicero and Seneca on Epicurus.  Seneca says wonderful things about Epicurus and his teachings, while harshly critiquing his followers.

    That “pinch of Lot’s Wife” is hilarious.

    • #6
  7. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    BDB (View Comment):

    I’ll just add that if your exposure to Lucretius and Epicurus is derived through Saint Jerome, well Jerome was a man of his time and of his vocation, so take that with a hefty pinch of Lot’s Wife.

    I favor original sources.  The Epicurus Reader published by Hackett is superb.

    • #7
  8. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Saint Augustine:

    Western philosophers before Socrates were usually interested in metaphysics, the philosophical study of reality.  (Thales: All is water! Heraclitus: All is fire! Anaximenes: All is air! Democritus: All is atoms! Pythagoras: Numbers exist! Anaximander: “The things that are perish into the things out of which they come to be, according to necessity, for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice, in accordance with the ordering of time!”)

    Socrates turns to ethics.  As Aristotle puts it, he brings philosophy into the city!  He wants to know what virtues like justice and courage are, how to have a well-functioning soul, and what is the best form of government.  He doesn’t care much for metaphysics; what the universe is made of doesn’t matter nearly as much as the good life!

    But even Socrates had to think about metaphysics sometimes.  How are we supposed to know what is the good life for a human being in this universe without knowing what sort of thing a human being is and what sort of universe we are living in?

    I’m fascinated by philosophy.  I really am. 

    But if any of that ever starts to make sense to me, I hope I’ll recognize that as a sign that my bourbon intake has moved from a hobby to a crisis…

    • #8
  9. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine:

    Western philosophers before Socrates were usually interested in metaphysics, the philosophical study of reality. (Thales: All is water! Heraclitus: All is fire! Anaximenes: All is air! Democritus: All is atoms! Pythagoras: Numbers exist! Anaximander: “The things that are perish into the things out of which they come to be, according to necessity, for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice, in accordance with the ordering of time!”)

    Socrates turns to ethics. As Aristotle puts it, he brings philosophy into the city! He wants to know what virtues like justice and courage are, how to have a well-functioning soul, and what is the best form of government. He doesn’t care much for metaphysics; what the universe is made of doesn’t matter nearly as much as the good life!

    But even Socrates had to think about metaphysics sometimes. How are we supposed to know what is the good life for a human being in this universe without knowing what sort of thing a human being is and what sort of universe we are living in?

    I’m fascinated by philosophy. I really am.

    But if any of that ever starts to make sense to me, I hope I’ll recognize that as a sign that my bourbon intake has moved from a hobby to a crisis…

    If it doesn’t make sense, that’s usually a sign it’s bad philosophy.

    (There are exceptions.)

    • #9
  10. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    De Rerum Natura (sp?) is breathtaking. Has any original Epicurus survived?  Or just references?

    • #10
  11. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    BDB (View Comment):

    De Rerum Natura (sp?) is breathtaking. Has any original Epicurus survived? Or just references?

    Three whole letters have survived. They’re in the Hackett book.

    • #11
  12. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    BDB (View Comment):

    De Rerum Natura (sp?) is breathtaking. Has any original Epicurus survived? Or just references?

    Three whole letters have survived. They’re in the Hackett book.

    Gracias!  Will check it out.

    …  Okay, just downloaded an audiobook:  https://www.audible.com/pd/Epicurus-of-Samos-His-Philosophy-and-Life-Audiobook/B088FY9Q6N

    That will get me over the target zone.

    • #12
  13. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    I got to Epicurus via Peirce’s 1892 article in The Monist, The Doctrine of Necessity Examined. 

    But Epicurus, in revising the atomic doctrine and repairing its defenses, found himself obliged to suppose that atoms swerve from their courses by spontaneous chance; and thereby he conferred upon the theory life and entelechy. For we now see clearly that the peculiar function of the molecular hypothesis in physics is to open an entry for the calculus of probabilities. Already, the prince of philosophers had repeatedly and emphatically condemned the dictum of Democritus (especially in the Physics, Book II, chapters iv, v, vi), holding that events come to pass in three ways, namely, (1) by external compulsion, or the action of efficient causes, (2) by virtue of an inward nature, or the influence of final causes, and (3) irregularly without definite cause, but just by absolute change; and this doctrine is of the inmost essence of Aristotelianism. …

    Which led Peirce to his doctrine of absolute chance, upon which I base my view that sh!t  stuff happens.

    • #13
  14. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Incidentally, Martha Nussbaum’s commentary on ancient Epicureanism in The Therapy of Desire is very good.

    • #14
  15. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Saint Augustine: I don’t think the software knows how to embed Rumble videos

    ‘Tis a shame that it doesn’t.  I realize Ricochet operates on a shoestring budget, but still, it would be nice to support an alternative to YouTube on equal footing.

    • #15
  16. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Saint Augustine:

    Here’s the first video:

    https://rumble.com/vnkzuz-epicurus-in-philosophical-context.html

    I don’t think the software knows how to embed Rumble videos, but you can click on that or just keep reading for the background of Epicurus.

    . . .

    . . . Here’s a YouTube Epicurus playlist with a few older videos, and where the new ones will air a bit later.

    Apparently I scheduled them to air on YouTube on Thursdays starting now.

    • #16
  17. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine: I don’t think the software knows how to embed Rumble videos

    ‘Tis a shame that it doesn’t. I realize Ricochet operates on a shoestring budget, but still, it would be nice to support an alternative to YouTube on equal footing.

    From my own experience, it;s more complicated than that.  WordPress ioncreasinlgy produces a product hostile to anybody who doesn;t want to share everything with Google & co.  In 2012, WordPress was “Open Source” in their dealing.   Within the last ten+ years, they’ve managed to become “open source” yet user/implementer hostile by embedding hostile practices into code, and embedding their products within a hostile ecosystem. 

    WordPress is now just another information broker stealing your privacy and selling affiliated products.  They make money coming and going. 

    The market is ripe for a new open source blog platform.

    • #17
  18. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Saint Augustine: Anaximander: “The things that are perish into the things out of which they come to be, according to necessity, for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice, in accordance with the ordering of time!”

    Well shoot. The list of things I need to read keeps growing exponentially faster than the list of things I have read. I’ll admit to some relief when I realized that this line is almost everything we know about Anaximander. At first glance I thought he was talking about the way we ought to perceive things not just as they are right now but instead as they were and as they will be, but now that I’m looking more closely I think he’s espousing a cyclical view of reality, which is less interesting.

    • #18
  19. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine: Anaximander: “The things that are perish into the things out of which they come to be, according to necessity, for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice, in accordance with the ordering of time!”

    Well shoot. The list of things I need to read keeps growing exponentially faster than the list of things I have read. I’ll admit to some relief when I realized that this line is almost everything we know about Anaximander. At first glance I thought he was talking about the way we ought to perceive things not just as they are right now but instead as they were and as they will be, but now that I’m looking more closely I think he’s espousing a cyclical view of reality, which is less interesting.

    Yes, cyclical.

    And that’s about all I have in my head about that.

    • #19
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