Category Archives: Philosophy

Advise to New Students of Epicurean Philosophy

The official release of the book r How to Live a Good Life: A Guide to Choosing Your Personal Philosophy by Penguin Random House (Amazon link here), was January 7th. It includes 15 chapters on various philosophies. I contributed the chapter on Epicureanism, and wrote a review of the rest of the book on the day it was published.

For the benefit of new students who wish to gain a deeper understanding of Epicureanism, here are a few guidelines to help you navigate your way though the online resources and communities, and the process of learning.

There’s a self-guided study curriculum at societyofepicurus.com, which constitutes a complete educational process for any intellectual wanting to gain a solid foundation. There are also two foundational epistles by Epicurus that are generally the first documents studied by students: the Epistle to Herodotus contains a brief intro to the canon and the physics (this was considered the “Little Epitome” by the ancients, which had to be studied by all new students), and the Epistle to Menoeceus contains the intro to the ethics. The Essential Epicurus includes all of these, and more. These works are also available via a web search, or on YouTube.

Here are a few points to keep in mind while studying:

1. Epistemological Dogmatism

Epicureanism is a dogmatic philosophy. In plain terms, this means that as a system, it teaches that truth is knowable and that there are knowable, measurable, observable Truths, as well as The Truth with a capital T. This set of epistemological positions are the precursors of the great human and historical enterprise of accumulating certified empirical data that we know as science. While the dogmatism that is familiar to us is that of the churches, whose claims originate in supposed revelation, this philosophical dogmatism is empirical and based on evidence and on the study of nature. At every step of the way, Epicurean philosophy respects the intelligence of the student, and refers its teachings to evidence.

As a result of this, Epicureans tend to have strong convictions. Some people do not like individuals with strong convictions. They would prefer to hear the familiar, post-modern doctrine that all religions, opinions, and cultures, are equally valid and deserve equal respect and an equal platform. If you sincerely wish to study Epicureanism, throw this out the door. It may seem odd to warn a student that she needs to be open-minded to consider a dogmatic teaching, but such is the paradigm that we find ourselves in.

Also, I advise new and old students to never think they have all the answers. Dogmatism does not have to entail arrogance. We can be people of conviction, and still have a considerate attitude towards others and openness towards many ideas. I wrote my book to take students with me on a learning adventure, but I have not stopped learning, evolving, and reading since, and relating new knowledge to what I had previously learned. I wrote Six things I learned after writing Tending the Epicurean Garden a couple of years after the book was published, and I could probably write a similar essay today. My essay for How to Live a Good Life is the most recently updated, most complete and mature version of how I would present EP to my readers, which is not to say that my views won’t continue expanding. What I’m saying by this is that Epicurean philosophy has not stopped being intellectually satisfying in spite of it being dogmatic.

2. Know Our Factions

For the same reason that we are dogmatists, and sometimes tend to have strong opinions, when we disagree with each other we sometimes tend to do so adamantly, and we sometimes have to agree to disagree. In the days of Philodemus, the two main factions were the orthodox (who stuck mainly to memorization and repetition of doctrines) and the rhetors (who elaborated the teachings and accepted the intellectual challenges of engaging ideas from various other schools).

Some of the people who call themselves Epicureans adhere to particular cultural traditions, like Secular Judaism, modern Satanism, or the Unitarian Church.  Some self-identify as eclectic, and think it’s possible to mix Epicurean philosophy with Stoicism, Objectivist, Buddhist, and other philosophies. And there are Epicurus-only fundamentalists who only adhere to specific things that Epicurus said (selectively or with a particular interpretation), and who often dismiss the writings of those who came after him. They are a small minority, but it’s important to know both that they exist, and that there are alternate views. One positive thing that must be said of the Epicurean fundamentalists is that they are staunch defenders of Pleasure. The EpicureanFriends.com forum is the main online space devoted to their perspective.

Some modern Greek Epicureans are involved in happiness activism (an idea which is rejected by others), while in the French world there are many who are greatly influenced by Michel Onfray. In the English-speaking world, many people are instead influenced by the new atheists. Then there are more-or-less apolitical Epicureans (insofar as one CAN be apolitical), as well as Epicureans with a diversity of strong political convictions–including the Greek nationalists.

I created the Society of Epicurus to propose an applied approach to Epicurean philosophy that connects theory with practice, and explores economics, friendship, etc. I have great interest in contemporary science-of-happiness research, and hope that in the future Epicureans will carry out concrete experiments to connect theory with practice, and complete translations and commentaries of the sources, for the benefit to other future students. I see Epicureanism as a conversation among friends and as an intellectual tradition that has evolved and grown, and that is in constant conversation with the world around us, with other philosophers, and with science. But not all Epicureans identify with my approach, and that’s perfectly okay!

The importance of understanding some of these factions, for the student, lies in the need to have a clear understanding of the sources of the information we find online. You should be able to filter out the idiosyncrasies and read the material critically, forming your own opinion and relating the content to your own ideas and existential projects. You should have the intellectual stamina to make this philosophy your own, if you hold its main convictions, while constantly testing your views against the views of others in the online Epicurean environment and outside of it.

3. Study by yourself and with others

Exercise yourself in these and kindred precepts day and night, both by yourself and with him who is like to you. – Epicurus, Epistle to Menoeceus

Our sources teach that, unlike other activities we may engage in where the pleasure comes after the activity, with philosophy, the enjoyment and the activity happen at the same time. Studying by ourselves and with others furnishes two types of pleasure: that of learning (mostly by ourselves) and that of friendship (with others).

Studying by ourselves also allows us to assimilate what we have learned from others, and to re-visit it from a distance, to question it, to certify it against sources and empirical evidence, and to form our own opinions.

If you do have the fortune and the opportunity of studying with others, consider whether the person(s) you are studying with seem to be happy. This may sound strange, but research shows that happiness is contagious, and since Epicurus taught that “at one and the same time we should laugh and philosophize“, a student of Epicureanism whose habitual disposition is anger or ill-will is not doing it right: this is a philosophy of pleasure. To paraphrase from Epicurus’ adage in Vatican Saying 14, “Don’t postpone your happiness!”

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Book Review: How to Live a Good Life

Today is the official book release date for How to Live a Good Life: A Guide to Choosing Your Personal Philosophy by Penguin Random House (Amazon link here), a collection of 15 essays edited by Massimo Pigliucci, Skye Cleary and Daniel Kaufman. In includes chapters on Epicureanism, Daoism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity Progressive Islam, Existentialism, and other philosophies of life as they are lived today.

The purpose of the book is to help people living in the 21st Century to tackle the challenges related to choosing a personal philosophy of life by giving them fifteen radically different examples of how others are doing it. Most of the essays were written by members of clergy or of academia. I wrote the Epicureanism chapter, and have had the opportunity to read the book in its entirety. From the intro, we learn that these are a few of the goals of the book:

First, to appreciate the sheer variety of philosophical points of view on life and better understand other human beings who have chosen to live according to a philosophy different from your own. Understanding is the beginning of both wisdom and compassion. Second, because you may wish to know something more about your own—chosen or inherited—life philosophy; our authors are some of the best and brightest in the field, and their chapters make for enlightening reading. Last, it is possible that you, too, have been questioning your current take on life, the universe, and everything, and reading about other perspectives may reinforce your own beliefs, prompt you to experiment with another philosophy, or perhaps even cause you to arrive at a new eclectic mix of ideas.

In the past, I have published commentaries on Buddhist, Daoist, Confucian, Humanist, Nietzschean and other philosophical traditions, as well as Christianity, Islam, and the Bahá’í Faith. I have learned much from each of these traditions. I’ve learned to appreciate Muhammad’s good business sense–even if I profoundly disagree with most of the rest of Islam. I’ve learned to come to terms with and appreciate some of the good aspects of my own Christian upbringing.

I even cheerfully stumbled across a Daoist philosopher who was Epicurean in all but name! One of my favorite chapters in the book was the one on Daoism, which coincidentally is the philosophy that has the most in common with Epicureanism. It reminded me that if there are innumerable atoms in infinite space, as Epicurean cosmology says, this means that the cosmos is very complex and phenomena may have multiple valid explanations from various perspectives. This modern Epicureans call “polyvalent logic”.

From Confucianism, I was reminded that relations are part of what defines our identities. From Stoicism, I learned that it is prudent to let go of what we have no control over. From the Progressive Islam chapter, I learned that the efforts to bring Islam into the future go well beyond ijtihad (independent interpretation of the Qur’an), and capitalize on the Qur’anic message of economic justice to make the religion relevant to contemporary progressive issues. From Reform Jewish Rabbi Barbara Block, I learned:

How wise our world would become if only we would all learn from each other!

I also learned that there is a non-theistic religion called Ethical Culture (aka Religious Humanism), which is in many ways similar to Humanistic Judaism and to the Unitarian Universalist Church.

Existentialist thinkers like Sartre and De Beauvoir were very interested in how people objectify each other, and asked questions about how we can best develop mature, intersubjective human relations between free individuals. The Existentialism chapter reminded me that enemies can sometimes be a source of healthy competition and–in a strange way–be at the same time good friends,

that other people are vitally important because they challenge us and open up possibilities in ways that we do not always see on our own, and the best kinds of relationships are those that are constructively critical

and that

signing up for a set of rules that someone else created is “bad faith,” meaning that we are not being authentic.

The Effective Altruism chapter reminded me that, if I’m going to be putting out efforts to help others, I may as well ensure that my efforts have the greatest impact.

It would be unfair for me to “review” the content of the Epicureanism chapter, since I myself wrote it. I will leave that to others. However, I will say that the experiment of writing this chapter was a great chance to re-evaluate my own personal philosophy and to re-visit many of the things that I’ve learned as a student of Epicurean philosophy, and that everyone should carry out this experiment as a way of assessing the ways in which we sculpt ourselves and our lives as pleasant, how we create meaning and value, how we deal with existential baggage and challenges, and how we discern truth from untruth. In fact, ancient Epicureans were known for writing Epitomes that summarized their doctrines as a learning and memorizing tool. So my exercise of writing this chapter is actually a recommended practice of the tradition.

If you read How to Live a Good Life and want to maximize the pleasure that you get from the book, my advice is that you take this project a step further and write an essay where you expound your own personal philosophy, perhaps inspired by a few of the things you read here. Most importantly, remember that philosophy is not just an exercise for academia: it’s an exercise for daily living.

Further Reading:

Lucian’s Sale of Creeds: an ancient satire of the various philosophies

How to Live a Good Life: A Guide to Choosing Your Personal Philosophy

On “-Isms” and Pleasure Wisdom

On “-Isms” and Pleasure Wisdom

Epicureanismvs.Epicurean Philosophy

The Society of Friends of Epicurus has dedicated extensive dialogue to the suffix “ism” regarding its relevance to the Epicurean tradition. In the Epicurean spirit of  παρρησíα  (or “parrhēsíā) meaning frank speech” or “speaking candidly”, the ancient Greek language did NOT employ the “ism” when referring to the tradition of Epicurus (nor, for that matter, of any other ancient Greek philosophy). Thus, while the word can be employed for practical purposes, Epicureanism” does NOT quite compliment the nuance of “Epicurean Philosophy.

ISMs

The English suffix, “-ism” — according to BOTH common and academic usages — is employed to designate a distinctive “doctrine“, “theory“, “attitude“, “belief“, “practice“, “process“, “state“, “condition“, “religion“, “system“, or “philosophy“. According to this definition, it is NOT incorrect to add a simple “ism” at the end of the philosophy of Epicurus“; it should, appropriately and accurately, render the word “Epicureanism” (or even “Epicurism).

In more succinct terms, we can visualize “Epicureanismsimply as “Epicurean-philosophy“.

While this works for practical purposes, it may lead to several misconceptions:

  1. Bracketing the suffix “-ism” to a name often indicates devotional worship of an individual (consider the differences between the old, misleading usage of “Mohammedanism” versus the preferred, contemporary usage of “Islam). Epicureans do NOTworship Epicurus as a supernatural prophet, NOR as a manifestation of a transcendental ideal.
  2. Bracketing the suffix “-ism” can ALSO indicate contempt for an individual or system. Consider, for example, when “Marxism”, “Leninism”, “Stalinism”, and “Maoism” are used by critics and detractors of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and many others. Thus, the word “Epicureanism” can be employed by critics and detractors of Epicurean philosophy as an indictment of Epicurus.
  3. In the modern era, “-ism” is frequently used to identify political typologies. Terms like “Monarchism”, “Liberalism”, “Conservatism”, “Communism”and “Fascism” express ideological systems that — contrary to Epicurean philosophy — presuppose the existence of an ideal state or utopia, organized according to the dimensions of a perfect, timeless principle.
  4. The suffix “-ισμός” (or “-ismós“) was rarely employed in ancient Greek; few examples of “-ism” (or “-ismós“) exist prior to New Latin, and the linguistic conventions of the modern era. In giving preference to the term “Epicurean philosophy”, we acknowledge the importance of privileging ancient Greek historical sources to the reliance upon Latin translations.

ISMVS

Our tradition of adding “-ism” to the end of words — in which we recognize distinctive “ideologies” — begins in the post-Classical period, corresponding to the Renaissance. Coming from the Latin “re-” (meaning “again”) and “nasci” (meaning “to be born”), this “Rebirth” resurrected the innovations and observations of Antiquity. The revival allowed scholars to adapt translations through the Latin language, using the Romanalphabet, sheathing many ancient Greek observations. Scholars began to liberally apply the suffix –ISMVS during this period of New Latin.

(I’m going to call the tradition — in which modern English-speakers partake — the “Ismism“, or, in other words, “the systemic practice of adding ‘-ism‘ to idea-expressing words”, sometimes as a celebration, sometimes as a derogation, sometimes as a religion, and sometimes as a political system. Due to the profound influence of Latin, and the linguistic conventions of the modern era, we ALL — in one way or another — have become dedicated Ismists.)

From the perspective of the contemporary world, the suffix –ISMVS (or “-ismus“) was first borrowed from the Old Latin language of the Romans, and later appropriated by post-Classical peoples as New Latin and Contemporary Latin. We find an abundance of “-ism” and “-ismus” in both Romance and Germanic language families. As with the Latin ISMVS, our contemporary suffix “-ism” is used to indicate distinctive “doctrines“, “theories”, “attitudes”, “beliefs”, “practices“, “processes“, “states“, “conditions“, “religions“, “systems“, and “philosophies“.

Here, however, is where we note a difference that our Mediterranean friends have often recognized: while the Greek language — like (for example) Celtic and Indic languages — has evolved from a common Indo-European root, it did NOT adopt Latin conventions the same way that Romance and Germanic languages have. Ancient Greek philosophers — perhaps, especially Epicurus — would NOT have thought of a “philosophy” as an “-ism”.

ize | ίζω | ízō |

We receive the Latin –ISMVS or “-ismus” from the ancient Greek “-ισμός” (“-ismós“), which, itself, is a bracketing of two other ancient Greek words, those words being “-ίζω” (“ízō“) and “μός” (“mós“). We’ll start with the former word. The suffix “-ίζω” (“-ízō“) was added to nouns to form new verbs. Let’s look at (x3) examples:

  1. canonize | κανονίζω | kanonízō
    κανών or “kann literally referred to a “reed”, and carried the connotation of a “measuring rod” or “standard”.
    + “-ίζω (“-ízō or “-ize“) rendered “κανονίζω“, “kanonízō” or “canonize” meaning “to make standard“.
  2. Hellenize | ἑλληνίζω | Hellēnízō
    ἑλλην or llēn literally referred to that which is “Greek”.
    + “-ίζω (“-ízō or “-ize“) rendered “ἑλληνίζω“, “Hellēnízō“, or “Hellenize” meaning “to make Greek“.
  3. synchronize | συγχρονίζω | súnkhronosízō
    σύγχρονος
    or “súnkhronos literally referred to “synchronous
    + “-ίζω (“-ízō or “-ize“) rendered “συγχρονίζω“, “súnkhronosízō“, or “synchronize” meaning “to sync“.

The key point with “-ίζω” (“-ízō“) — and our Modern English suffix “-ize” — is that we can turn any concept into a verb, or, in more philosophically interesting terms, we can ACTIVATE it.

μός | mós

The second suffix from which the ancient Greek “-ισμός” (“-ismós“) was bracketed is “μός” (“mós“). Contrary to the convention of ACTIVATING a word that represents a concept, adding “μός” (“mós“) ABSTRACTS an action. We can demonstrate this convention through (x3) other examples that translate well into Modern English:

  1. cataclysm |κατακλυσμός | kataklusmós
    κατακλύζω (kataklúzō) – literally meant “to wash away”.
    + “μός” (“mós“) rendered “κατακλυσμός“, “kataklusmós” or “cataclysm“, meaning a “great flood“.
  2. sarcasm | σαρκασμός | sarkasmós
    σαρκάζω” or “sarkázō literally, and figuratively meant “tearing apart” or “to tear off the flesh”.
    + “μός” (“mós“) rendered “σαρκασμός“, “sarkasmós” or “sarcasm“, meaning “(figuratively) tearing apart“.
  3. syllogism | συλλογισμός | sullogismós
    συλλογίζομαι (sullogízomai) literally meant “to compute” or “to infer”.
    + “μός” (“mós“) rendered “συλλογισμός“, “sarkasmós”, or “syllogism“, meaning an “inference“.

The key point with “μός” (“mós“) is that the ancient Greeks could turn any verb into a word that expressed an abstract concept, or, in more philosophically interesting terms, it could systematize activity into an idea.

ism | ισμός | ismós

The re-bracketing of the suffix “μός” (“mós“) appended with “-ίζω” (“ízō“) presents us with “-ισμός” (or “-ismós“) or the suffix “-ism“, a convention which systematizes a verb that has been activated from a noun. Very few examples exist in ancient Greek. A suitable example for English mono-linguists can be demonstrated in the word “Sabbath”:

  1. σάββατον | sábbaton literally means “the Sabbath” (borrowed from the Hebrew שבת or “shabát”)
    + “ίζω” (“-ízō or “ize“) σαββατίζω | sabbatízō means “to make, observe, or keep the Sabbath
    + “ισμός” (“ismós“) σαββατισμός | sabbatismós means “the state of keeping the Sabbath

UNLIKE the ubiquitous –ISMVS of Latin, and the overused “-ism” of Modern English, the ancient Greekισμός (or “ismós“) is almost NEVERused. The ancient Greeks did NOT shared our zeal for Ismism. When faced with the need to express a NEW word with FRESH meaning, the ancient Greeks built words from either [1] the names of people and objects they directly knew or observed, and [2] active forces they felt or experienced, but NOT as [3] abstract systems.

So, why NOT “Epicureanism“?

The philosophy of Epicurus recognizes that we EXPERIENCE NATURE DIRECTLY and NOT indirectly as an abstract system. Epicurean philosophy and the instruments with which humanity can make informed and ethical decisions — the sensation of an atomic reality, theanticipation of natural patterns, and the feelings of pleasure and pain — neither depend upon allegiance to a single leader, nor initiation into a secret society, nor longing for a golden age.

Christ’s resurrection would NOT be known without the Gospels.
Muhammad’s revelations would NOT be known without the Qur’an.

Even without the historical personage of Epicurus, human beings would still have sensed an atomic reality, anticipated the patterns of nature, and felt pleasure and pain, still have made mutual agreements, and still have formed friendships.

Without Jesus of Nazareth, Christians would NOT know to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
Without Muhammad, Muslims would NOT know to perform Salah to Mecca five times a day.

NATURE, itself, is so much LARGER, more important, and more fundamental than any one personage or tradition. Even without Epicurean Philosophy, humans would still have developed scientific intellects to their own advantage.

Epicureanism” (or, also, “Epicurism) carries a connotation – albeit very slightly – that the philosophy of Epicurus is just another doctrinal institution that advertises immaterial truths from an untouchable dimension. It is not quite as authentic to recognize serious seekers of pleasure as “Epicureanists” who follow “Epicureanism” as opposed to “Epicureans” who study “Epicurean philosophy“. Our endeavor rests within our own bodies; NATURE, itself, is the greatest teacher.

All that being said …

for practical purposes, there most isn’t anything inherently incorrect about preferring the term “Epicureanism; the “-isminnocuously identifies a “philosophy“. In Modern English, this does correctly indicate the philosophy of Epicurus, apart from any oath to a mythic person or principle.

Nonetheless, the employment of “Epicurean philosophy” over “Epicureanism” serves to keep our anticipations FRESH, to indicate to others that our interactions are bigger than disembodied souls paddling ideas back and forth in a court of Mind. It acts as a reminder that the path to wisdom is NOT a map that has been given to us from an Eternal Place of Perfection, but that we each carry a well-calibrated compass within ourselves to know the world and guide us to happiness.

DON’T call [my belief system] an –ism!

While the preference toward the phrase “Epicurean philosophy” may better reflect its ancient Greek origin, it should NOT indicate that the suffix “-ism” should be reserved as a derogation for non-Epicurean ideas, nor exclusively employed as a polemic toward Idealism. Even Epicurean philosophy, itself, incorporates the “-isms” of atomism, hedonism, naturalism, and materialism; these are most certain NOT idealistic.

Even ancient Greek opponents to Epicurean philosophy did NOT employ the “-ism”. Members of Plato’s Academy were “Academics”; members of Aristotle’s Lyceum with “Peripatetics”; members of Zeno’s Stoa were “Stoics”. It was only later that scholars began to employ the terms “Platonism”, “Aristotelianism”, and “Stoicism”.

Furthermore, this same acknowledgment applies to religious traditions:

The earliest rendering of the religion we refer to as “Judaism” was  יהדות  or “Yahadút”, from the Hebrew word  יהודי  (or Yhudá”) meaning “the Jewish people” and the suffix  ־ות  (or “-ót) meaning “the tradition of”. The ismed word that we employ — Judaism — is found in Maccabees 2 in the Koine Greek language by Hellenistic Jews, written around 124 BCE (over a thousand years after the foundation of Hebrew monotheism), rendered as  ιουδαϊσμός  (or “Ioudaismós”).

The word “Zoroastrianism” is first attested from 1854 as an anglicization of the ancient Greek Ζωροάστρης (meaning Zōroástrēs” or “Zoroaster”) borrowed from the Avestan word     or “Zarathustra”. Ancient Iranians referred to their religion as   orMazdayasna” translating to “worship of Mazda” (also romanized as “Mazdaism”). The wor   orMazda” both identifies the name of the Iranian Creator deity, and also, translates to “wisdom”.

The isming of the religion of post-Classical Arabs has been noted for its inadequacy, and identified in the contemporary era as being largely offensive to the Islamic populations. Until the 20th century, the monotheistic religion of  ٱلْإِسْلَام‎  (or al-Islām”) was identified by Europeans as “Mohammedanism” (or “Muhammadanism), inappropriately implying that the prophet Muhammad was divine himself, in the same way that Christians think of Jesus of Nazareth as divine.

People from the Punjab region of India refer to their religious tradition as  ਸਿੱਖੀ  (or Sikhī) anglicized to the English-speaking world as “Sikhism”. The word comes from the Sanskrit root  शिक्षा  or “śikṣā” meaning “to learn” or “to study”. (This recognition of the religious practitioner as a “student” is also found in the “Confucian tradition).

The same is true of “Hinduism”, an anglicization of the Sanskrit  सनातन धर्म  or “Sanātana Dharma” meaning “Eternal Order“. In fact, the word “Hinduitself was used by non-Indians to refer to people living around the Indus river. Ancient Indo-Iranian populations would have referred to themselves as आर्य or “Arya” (from which we get the term “Aryan“).

Jainism” is first attested from 1858 as an anglicization of the Sanskrit adjectiveजैन Jaina” which comes from the Sanskrit name for the 6thcentury BCE tradition  जिन  (or “Jina”). The word “Jina” is related to the verb  जि  meaning “to conquer”, coming from  जय  (or jaya”) meaning “victory”. The word “Jain” indicates a spiritualconqueror”.

Our rendering of “Buddhism” is an anglicization of the original Pali बुद्ध धम्म  (or “Buddha Dhamma“) meaning approximatelyThe Awakened One’s Eternal Law. The first recorded use of “Buddhism was in 1801, after Europeans romanized the spelling of Indic vocabulary.

There is NO direct Chinese equivalent to the word “Confucianism” since it has never been organized as a formal institution. The word was coined in 1836 by Sir Francis Davis, a British sinologist, and second Governor of Hong Kong who reduced the vast collection of ancient Chinese practices into a title named after the philosopher Kǒng Fūzǐ ( or “Master Kong”). While no single Chinese word or logogram represents the collection of beliefs and practices that developed from the teachings of Master Kong (anglicized as “Confucius”), the word  儒  (or “”) roughly translates as a “Man receiving instruction from Heaven” (also, a “scholar”), and is used to describe a student of Master Kong’s body of works.

The Taoists of ancient China identified the universal principle as or “Dào”, meaning “road”, “path” or “Way”. In China, the religious tradition is written 道教 or “Dàojiào” pronounced /’daʊ.ʨaʊ/ (or, for English mono-linguists, roughly transliterated asdow-chyow”). It was anglicized asTaoism” in 1838.

Shintoism”— the anglicized name for the native religion of Japanprovides an interesting example of an ismized tradition. The word “Shinto” is of Chinese origin, constructed from the Kanji logograms for the words  神 Shén”, (meaning “God”) and    Dào” (meaning “Way”) rendering  神道  or “Shéndào. However, Shinto populations do not employ this phrase as often as they do the Japanese  かむながらのみち  or “kan’nagara no michi”, (written in the Hirgana writing system) loosely translated as way of the divine transmitted from time immemorial”. Consequently, the word “Shintoism is the anglicization of two syllables from Japanese Kanji, inherited from ancient China’s Hanji logograms.

Christianity has been the dominant tradition of the post-Classical, and modern worlds; thus, it has avoided being reductively ismed (since the people who accused false traditions of being mere isms tended to be Christian, themselves). The word “Christianism” is occasionally used to express contempt for Christian fundamentalism (much like “Islamism” is used to indicate contempt for Islamic fundamentalism.)

Even early Christians did NOT refer to their tradition using the same vocabulary as do modern Christians. Like Taoists, they used the metaphor of της οδου (or “tês hodoû”) meaning “The Way“. A non-Christian, community in Antioch first coined the term  Χριστιανός  (or christianós“) to described the followers of The Way. Within 70 years, the early Church Father Ignatius of Antioch employed the term of  Χριστιανισμός  (or “Christianismós“) to refer to the Christianity.

Pleasure Wisdom

Regardless of a preference to “
Epicurean philosophy” versus “Epicureanism”, the insight of Epicurus’ philosophy demystifies nature and deflates the superstition of common religion. Epicurus anticipated the sciences of particle physics, optics, meteorology, neurology, and psychiatry. His logic was NOT one of theoretical axioms, but of a demonstrable hedonic calculus. Epicurus knew Virtue as a guide post to happiness, but NOT as happiness, itself.

Here, you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.

Cheers, friends!

Further Reading:
Hiram’s “On Ismshttp://societyofepicurus.com/on-isms/

 

Works Cited

Barnhart, Robert K., ed., Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, H.W. Wilson Co., 1988.

Beekes, Robert, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Leiden, Netherlands, Brill, 2010.

Buck, Carl Darling, A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages, University of Chicago, 1949, reprinted 1988.

de Vaan, Michiel, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages, vol. 7, of Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series, Alexander Lubotsky ed., Leiden: Brill, 2008.

Fowler, H.W., A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press, 1926.

Grose, Francis, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, London, 1785; 2nd ed., London, 1788; 3rd ed., London, 1796; expanded by others as Lexicon Balatronicum. A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence, London, 1811.

Hall, J.R. Clark, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 1894, reprint with supplement by Herbert D. Meritt, University of Toronto Press, 1984.

Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language, London, 1755.

Klein, Dr. Ernest, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, Amsterdam: Elsevier Scientific Publishing Co., 1971.

Lewis, Charlton T., and Short, Charles, A New Latin Dictionary, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1891.

Liberman, Anatoly, Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology, University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott, eds., Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford University Press, 1883.

McSparran, Frances, chief editor, The Middle English Compendium, University of Michigan, 2006.

Room, Adrian, Place Names of the World, 2nd ed., McFarland & Co., 2006.

The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., Clarendon Press, 1989.

Watkins, Calvert, ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000.

Weekley, Ernest, An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, John Murray, 1921; reprint 1967, Dover Publications.

Whitney, William Dwight, ed., The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, New York: The Century Co., 1902

The 20 Tenets of Society of Friends of Epicurus

Lea en español.

In the initial years of forming groups of friends and intellectual peers with the goal of studying, applying, and teaching Epicurean philosophy, we have frequently considered that it might be a good idea to have a concise, summarized set of clear Tenets to facilitate the process of teaching, to connect theory with practice, and to more clearly explain what it is that we believe in.

This has not been easy. We do not wish to risk over-simplifying ideas that, when summarized, lose either their potency or some aspect of them that requires further qualification in order to avoid grave errors. We also wish to keep a big tent that allows for opinions that are varied, yet orthodox enough to still be coherent with EP. Hence, for instance, the “three acceptable interpretations” of Epicurean theology in Tenet 12.

Ancient and modern Epicureans have always been encouraged to write down Outlines of their personal philosophy. This actually has great benefits: it helps to cognitively organize and make sense of what we believe, to find the coherence between our values and ideas, and to articulate them clearly. The Tenets are roughly based on the Outline that I (Hiram) wrote some time ago, edited and expanded.

The first five Tenets relate to the Canon (or, epistemology). The next five relate to the Physics (or, the nature of things). The final ten relate to the Ethics (or, the art of living). These are the three parts of Epicurean philosophy. In the notes section, you will find Epicurean sources and essays cross-referenced for each Tenet.

  1. Nature is knowable via the sensations (vision, audition, touch, smell, taste).

  2. Via the value-setting pleasure and aversion faculties, we know what is choice-worthy and avoidance-worthy.

  3. While sensations tell us that something IS or exists, it does not tell us WHAT it is. For THAT cognitive process, we must rely on a faculty tied to both language and memory. The faculty of anticipation helps us to recognize abstractions and things previously apprehended.

  4. We must infer the unseen / un-apprehended based on what has been previously seen / apprehended by any of our faculties; and we must re-adjust our views based on new evidence presented to our faculties.

  5. Our words and their meanings must be clear, and conform to the attestations that nature has presented to our faculties.

  6. All bodies are made of particles and void.

  7. Bodies have essential properties and incidental properties.

  8. Nothing comes from nothing.

  9. All things operate within the laws of nature, which apply everywhere.

  10. All that exists, exists within nature. There is no super-natural or un-natural “realm”; it would not have a way of existing outside of nature. Nature is reality.

  11. The end that our nature seeks is pleasure. It is also in our nature to avoid pain.

  12. There are three acceptable interpretations of the Epicurean gods: the realist interpretation, the idealist interpretation, and the atheist interpretation.

  13. The goal of religion is the experience of pure, effortless pleasure.

  14. Death is nothing to us because when we are, death is not and when death is, we are not. Since there is no sentience in death, it is never experienced by us.

  15. Under normal circumstances, we are in control of our mental dispositions.

  16. Choices and avoidances are carried out successfully (that is, producing pleasure as the final product) if we measure advantages/pleasures versus disadvantages/pains over the long term. This means that we may sometimes defer pleasure in order to avoid greater pains, or choose temporary disadvantage, but only and always for the sake of a greater advantage or pleasure later.

  17. To live pleasantly, we must have confident expectation that we will be able to secure the chief goods: those things that are natural and necessary for life, happiness, and health. Therefore, whatever we do to secure safety, friendship, autarchy, provision of food and drink and clothing, and other basic needs, is naturally good.

  18. Autarchy furnishes greater possibilities of pleasure than slavery, dependence, or relying on luck; The unplanned life is not worth living, and we must make what is in our future better than what was in our past.

  19. Friends are necessary for securing happiness. It is advantageous to promote Epicurean philosophy in order to widen our circle of Epicurean friends.

  20. Human relations should be based on mutual benefit.

Notes:

  1. “The doctrine of the first leg of the canon: sensations”. PD 23. The Epicurean Canon.
  2. “The second leg of the canon: pleasure and aversion”. The Pleasure / Aversion Faculty: an Introduction.
  3. “The third leg of the canon: anticipations”. The canon is known as the “tripod” because it stands on three legs. Epicurus and His Philosophy – Chapter VIII – Sensations, Anticipations, and Feelings.
  4. “The doctrine of inference”. Review of Philodemus’ On Methods of Inference. Philodemus: On Methods of Inference – A Study in Ancient Empiricism.
  5. Epicurus: Against the use of empty words.
  6. “Fourth, Nothing exists in the universe except bodies and space.  We conclude that bodies exist because it is the experience of all men, through our senses, that bodies exist.  As I have already said, we must necessarily judge all things, even those things that the senses cannot perceive, by reasoning that is fully in accord with the evidence that the senses do perceive.  And we conclude that space exists because, if it did not, bodies would have nowhere to exist and nothing through which to move, as we see that bodies do move.  Besides these two, bodies and space, and properties that are incidental to combinations of bodies and space, nothing else whatsoever exists, nor is there any evidence on which to speculate that anything else exists that does not have a foundation in bodies and space”. – Letter to Herodotus, Section 2
  7. “We must distinguish particles, which have eternal and essential properties, from bodies, which are combinations of particles and void, and which have qualities that are merely transitory while they are so combined. These temporary qualities we call “incidental” to the bodies with which they are associated. As with the permanent properties of particles, transitory incidental qualities of bodies do not have material existences of their own, nor can they be classified as incorporeal. When we refer to some quality as “incidental,” we must make clear that this incidental quality is neither essential to the body, nor a permanent property of the body, nor something without which we could not conceive the body as existing. Instead, the incidental qualities of a body are the result of our apprehending that they accompany the body only for a time. Although those qualities which are incidental are not eternal, or even essential, we must not banish incidental matters from our minds.  Incidental qualities do not have a material existence, nor do they exist independently in some reality that is beyond our comprehension. We must, instead, consider the incidental qualities of bodies as having exactly the character that our sensations reveal them to possess”. – Letter to Herodotus, Section 7
  8. First, nothing can be created out of that which does not exist. We conclude this to be true because if things could be created out of that which did not exist, we would see all things being created out of everything, with no need of seeds, and our experience shows us that this is not true. Second, nothing is ever completely destroyed to non-existence.  We conclude this because if those things which dissolve from our sight completely ceased to exist, all things would have perished to nothing long ago.  If all things had dissolved to non-existence, nothing would exist for the creation of new things, and we have already seen that nothing can come from that which does not exist. Third, the universe as a whole has always been as it is now, and always will be the same.  We conclude this because the universe as a whole is everything that exists, and there is nothing outside the universe into which the universe can change, or which can come into the universe from outside it to bring about change”. – Letter to Herodotus, Section 2
  9. PD 10-13.
  10. “To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise .. . without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence”. – Thomas Jefferson ; I conjure you, my brethren, remain true to the earth, and believe not those who speak unto you of superearthly hopes! Poisoners are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying ones and poisoned ones themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so away with them! Once blasphemy against God was the greatest blasphemy; but God died, and therewith also those blasphemers. To blaspheme the earth is now the dreadfulest sin, and to rate the heart of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth!” – Nietzsche, in Thus Spake Zarathustra
  11. “The doctrine of the telos, or the end”. “I call you to constant pleasures!” – Epicurus.
  12. The third way to look at the Epicurean GodsPhilodemus On Piety: Critical Text with Commentary
  13. Epicureanism as a Religious Identity; “We all regard our views as the true cause of our tranquility. … In On Holiness, he (Epicurus) calls a life of perfection the most pleasant and most blessed, and instructs us to guide against all defilement, with our intellect comprehensively viewing the best psychosomatic dispositions for the sake of fitting all that happens to us to blessedness …” – Philodemus of Gadara, On Piety; Philodemus On Piety: Critical Text with Commentary
  14. Review of Philodemus’ On Death. Letter to Menoeceus, third paragraph. Philodemus: On Death (Writings from the Greco-Roman World 29)
  15. Diogenes’ Wall: on PD 20.
  16. “The doctrine of hedonic calculus”. Back to the Basics. On Choices and Avoidances.
  17. “The doctrine of confident expectation”. See the Metrodorus portion in the essay In Memory of the Men.
  18. “The doctrine of personal sovereignty”. See the Metrodorus portion in the essay In Memory of the Men; How Epicurean Principles Can Help You Transform Your Financial and Personal Life. Vatican Sayings 36, 47, 65, 67; PD 15, 16
  19. “The doctrine of friendship”. On Friendship. Organization and Procedure in Epicurean Groups (PDF file), by Norman DeWitt. Health Effects of Isolation.
  20. “The doctrine of mutual advantage”. See PDs 31-40.

The Pursuit of Happiness: 21 Steps to Continuous Life Improvement

From the early days of the tradition, the founders have encouraged students of philosophy to write down concise summaries of their views in order to gain clarity and facilitate learning. We find that this practice of summarizing doctrines was mentioned and recommended in the opening portions of Epicurus’ Letters to Herotodus and to Pythocles.

We live in the age of short attention spans and of Wikipedia, and so naturally this tradition has been easily revived among us, and there is an entire sub-section in the EF forum dedicated to “Personal Outlines of Epicurean Philosophy” submitted by members. The following essay was written by “Garden Dweller”, a participant in the Epicurean Friends forum who, while slowly and systematically writing down his own personal life philosophy and while simultaneously studying Epicureanism, found himself agreeing with Epicurean teachings. Needless to say, this is his own personal philosophy, posted here with his permission. We encourage others to engage in a similar exercise here.

The Pursuit of Happiness: 21 Steps to Continuous Life Improvement

Learning how to examine one’s life and change it to maximize happiness is a very powerful skill. Increasing one’s tranquility and happiness can lift the human spirit to a high level of grace and dignity.

In this text, we propose a process of examining one’s life and carefully reconstructing it to maximize tranquility and happiness. We encourage each reader to examine his own life and make improvements based on his own judgment and free will.

This strategy is not for everyone: it requires a certain level of discipline to be able to choose behavior and action that benefits one’s life over the long term, rather than selecting instant gratification. If one is able to make decisions with maturity, the process of Continuous Life Improvement can lift one to a high level of happiness and contentment.

1. Be Sensitive and Learn From Your Senses!

Listen to what your body is telling you about the world. Your senses are your most direct and real connection with the physical world, and should be trusted more than dreams, imagination, things that you have heard from others or what you have been taught by others. Be sensitive to how your mind/body processes and reacts to physical sensations, and learn to recognize and distinguish negative sensations (pain) from positive sensations (pleasure).

Our written language is somewhat limited in the meanings it can convey through a single word. The words “pain” and “pleasure” are not adequate to describe the positive and negative sensations which we receive from our environment. Some synonyms for pain that one may sense include distress, dismay, discomfort, worry, anxiety, disturbance, fear, bother, discontent, displeasure, stress, distastefulness and unpleasantness. Synonyms for pleasure that one may sense include joy, peace, relief, comfort, contentment, enjoyment and satisfaction.

Learn to recognize which of your own feelings are positive, and which are negative by “listening” to or being aware of your own senses. Try to connect events, behaviors and actions which trigger these positive and negative feelings to identify cause and effect for positive and negative feelings.

Many sensations are not strongly painful or pleasurable, but one can often recognize that the body prefers one behavior over another, for example, depending on the outdoor temperature, the body may prefer sunshine to shade, or vice versa. Be open to these types of subtle sensations, both positive and negative.

2. Respond to Negative Feedback!

Be conscious of negative sensations and identify the actions, behaviors and situations that cause them. Find ways to change those behaviors to reduce or eliminate the negative sensations. Negative sensations include pain, discomfort, distress, anxiety, stress and fear.

When you recognize a negative sensation, try to determine which behavior or action caused the negative sensation and change it. Continually be aware of your sensations and strategically make changes in your life that relieve negative sensations. Eliminating behavior and actions that are the cause of negative sensations is a very powerful way to improve one’s life. Repeating this process over time will create enormous improvement in one’s life.

3. Be Rational!

The senses occur in the present moment, so one must use the rational mind to evaluate the cause of that sensation, which may have happened in the past. For example, “after drinking that tea, I became somewhat nervous and agitated…”, which might lead you to suspect that drinking that type of tea causes a certain level of distress. One can then eliminate this behavior to reduce one’s level of distress.

It is not always clear which behavior caused which sensation. The rational process of identifying cause and effect is an important skill and requires one to recall one’s actions over time and discover clues that indicate which behavior affected one’s sense of well being. Use cause and effect analysis to choose how to modify your behavior to reduce negative sensations.

4. Develop a Strategy!

A behavior or action which causes a negative sensation should be modified or eliminated to reduce the negative sensation. There may be a number of behaviors and actions that work together to cause negative sensations. Because the world is complex, this may require a multilevel strategy in response as one improves one’s life.

Changes in one area may have unintended consequences in other areas. A unified strategy that makes changes in many areas may be more effective than making a single change at a time. Learning from others and comparing strategies may be effective if others are following a similar philosophy.

5. Be Good to Yourself!

Choose behavior that maximizes positive sensations. Fill your day with pleasant places, people, activities and events. Listen to what your senses are telling you, and take action to move toward that which is pleasant. Seek out beauty, comfort, joy and contentment. Continually reassess a behavior or action to determine whether it continues to be pleasurable, or if it is becoming less positive over time. Improve your life every minute by constantly thinking about how you could increase your happiness and tranquility.

6. Use Long Term Cost/Benefit Analysis!

It is important to rationally choose behavior and actions which maximize positive sensations. Use a long term cost/benefit analysis to assess whether a short term pleasure is worthwhile over the long term. For example, a sexual relationship may cause emotional distress in the future if one is not selective about the type of person one has a relationship with. Avoid behavior that causes long term negative impacts on one’s life.

Assess a short term negative sensation which may resolve a problem based on the long term positive effects which it might bring. A visit to the dentist is unpleasant, but it can relieve a toothache and promote long term dental health. When considered on a rational basis, one can endure the short term pain for the long term benefit.

There are many such compromises which one must make in life. By focusing on the long term benefit, one can remain aware of the reason one is accepting the short term negative sensation. When the long term benefit no longer exists, one should then end the short term negative sensation.

In some cases, the best strategy may be to select a behavior which minimizes the negative effects of an activity which has some benefits. Working to earn money is a neccessity in today’s world. One can select a career with a minimum of negative impacts on one’s life, and one can live frugally to minimize the amount of money needed. The negative aspects of one’s time being controlled by others can be rationalized by the money which one can save for a future life unencumbered by work.

7. Control Desires!

Recognize that there are some desires which are needs that every human must satisfy, for example, the need for food, water, shelter and friendship. Respect these desires and focus on satisfying them with appropriate responses.

Desires which are not necessary for one’s basic needs are often desires which can damage one’s happiness if one pursues them. Pursuing desires for political power, sexuality, wealth, conspicuous consumption and fame might bring fleeting satisfaction, but over the long term cause distress and pain.

Learn to recognize the difference between desires which are necessary for one’s happiness, and those desires which are unnecessary and often destructive to one’s long term happiness. Use discipline to say no to unnecessary desires. Consciously reduce one’s thoughts about unnecessary desires.

8. Be Loyal to Yourself!

It is important to be relentlessly and completely true to your own self-interest. Every other person who you are in contact with will try to influence your behavior toward their interests. Organizations and governments will try to impress your mind with the “duty” to put their interests first. Businesses will try to influence your behavior in a way that is likely to increase purchases from them and will increase their profits.

In order to find true happiness, it is important to put your interests in the primary position. Delegating decisions which serve the best interest of others can lead to bitterness, dismay, and the feeling of being cheated. By following your own best interest, you will be honest, true, predictable and reliable to yourself and to others.

9. Choose Wisely!

There will be many decisions made throughout your life. They are all important. It is crucial to rationally choose the path your life follows, and to have the discipline to follow through with those choices. Many choices are difficult, and only by carefully considering the potential outcomes can one choose the optimum path. The best method is to rationally consider long term outcomes of action in the present. Consider, decide and act to live your life.

10. Cultivate Friendship!

Friendship is a necessary human need. Your state of mental well-being is affected by the mental state of those around you, in particular family and friends with whom you have frequent contact over a long period of time. It is human nature to need association with friends.

Seek out people with positive thoughts and lifestyles and get to know them. Reach out to communicate with friends regularly. Invite others and meet with others as often as you can to build a group of friends. Eat with friends, share your food with friends. Help friends, and ask friends for help when you need it. Learn how to develop friendship and how to respond to the social dynamics within a group of friends.

Support your friends to help keep them in a positive state of mind. Work to maintain lifelong friendships. As friendship develops over time, one gains trust and the friendship strengthens to the point of one’s friends being almost as important as one’s self.

11. Add Behaviors Which Bring Happiness!

As you make decisions on behavior throughout your life, be sensitive to feelings of joy, kindness, love, beauty, grace and other positive emotions. Select behavior and seek out situations that promote and maximize these feelings.

12. Shut Down Negative Thoughts!

You are enjoying something, and suddenly a thought comes flying out from your deep subconscious that causes you doubt, guilt, fear or anxiety. For example, you are taking a nice hot shower and enjoying it. Suddenly a thought comes through telling you that you should not waste hot water. Consider that thought, assess whether it is valid, and if not, let that thought pass, and continue to enjoy the shower. Don’t jump every time your subconcious mind comes up with an objection to something that you enjoy.

13. Recognize and Avoid Asceticism!

Ancient ascetics believed that the spirit was good and the body evil, and by punishing the body one enhanced the spirit. Some ascetics pursue this philosophy to the point of causing pain through self-flagellation, self-starvation and purposefully living in pain or discomfort. Some ascetics use a display of their self-torture as a way to draw attention to themselves. Avoid this behavior and always seek to increase happiness and tranquility in your life.

Asceticism includes simplifying or minimizing one’s life to an extreme level. When simplifying one’s life, do it to the extent that it increases happiness and tranquility. Don’t punish one’s self with pain or suffering for any reason other than cases where one gains a long term benefit through short term pain.

14. Ignore Negative Inputs!

Listening to negative news is debilitating. The information that enters your mind is what shapes your mind. Choose your incoming communication deliberately. Avoid media which push programming and choose media which allow you to select the information you wish to receive. Avoid people who are caught in negative thought patterns and who constantly speak about threats, dangers, crime and injustice.

Develop the state of your mind by choosing what enters your brain. Seek out a group of like-minded people to fill your day with thoughts of friendship and caring. Be kind and greet others with a smile to help others rise above the negativity. Doing so will benefit you as much as others.

15. Know that Happiness is Easy to Achieve!

It is easy to get the things necessary for basic human needs: food, water and shelter. A person who can obtain these basic things can be happy.

If your thoughts start to worry about how you are going to earn money to pay for something, ask yourself if you really need that item. Be calmed by the knowledge that basic human needs are easy to acquire, and anyone who has the basic human needs can be happy.

In addition to these items, by nature a human needs friendship, fascination (intellectual focus) and physical fitness. Friendship means social interaction and being part of a group of friends and family. Fascination and intellectual focus are the things one is passionate about. Often fascination is related to learning, building or creating. Physical fitness allows a person to be active and able to do a wide range of activities and it promotes health.

Note that the last three types of human needs can be satisfied without the need for money, if one chooses the right methods of obtaining these needs.

Comfort yourself with the knowledge that happiness is easy to achieve.

16. Preserve the Health of your Body

Your level of happiness over the long term depends on how you treat your body. Neglect and abuse can bring pain. Eat healthy foods, exercise and use your body to maintain your fitness level. Use appropriate hygiene and preventative medical care. Avoid alcohol and drugs in excess. Exercise is an example of a short term discomfort that has long term benefits. Strive to achieve a healthy mind in a healthy body.

17. Stay Frugal, But Enjoy!

Would you like to be able to decide how to spend your time each day? Frugality can give you this choice by reducing your expenses to an amount that you can fund with part time work or a small investment income. Reducing your desires to those things which you actually need will help you reduce your spending.

It is very important to spend less than you make. Spending more than you earn, buying on time, taking on credit, all of these bind you to servitude. When you spend money, think about the time that you will need to work to pay for that item.

It is good to save and invest. The purpose of savings are to allow you to live without work taking up your available time.

If you are fortunate to have a level of savings and are financially well off, feel free to do things with your money that bring you happiness. Be generous to others.

18. Use Rational Decisionmaking!

Rational decisionmaking means that one considers a number of criteria before making a decision on a behavior or action. For example, the choice of food that one eats is a complex prioritization that one makes every day.

Consider the following criteria used to select which food to eat:

  • Healthy
  • Low Cost
  • Tastes Good
  • Makes you feel good the next day
  • Easy to Cook

One might rate these criteria as to importance on a 1 to 10 scale. For example:

Importance Rating

10 Healthy

7 Low Cost

8 Tastes Good

5 Makes you feel good the next day

3 Easy to Cook

Then one might select a few food options and rate them according to the criteria:

 PIZZASALADFRIED RICE
HEALTHY287
LOW COST785
TASTES GOOD867
MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD THE NEXT DAY2108
EASY TO COOK385

Multiply each rating by the importance rate for that row and sum:

 PIZZASALADFRIED RICE
HEALTHY208070
LOW COST495635
TASTES GOOD644856
MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD THE NEXT DAY102016
EASY TO COOK92415
TOTAL152248182

The highest total amount indicates which choice would be most beneficial, based on the priority level given to each criteria.

This type of rational decision method for choosing food is an example of how one should approach many decisions, both mundane daily decisions such as what to eat, as well as long term life decisions. The criteria and rating system used in this example is a simplification of the process that people use to make decisions in real life.

The point here is not that you should use a spreadsheet to decide what to eat. The purpose of this example is to show how to make decisions based on consideration of the most important criteria, rather than based on immediate gratification. A certain level of discipline is needed to select the behavior or action that is most beneficial to one’s life over the long term.

19. Avoid Politics

Politics and discussion of politics involves dispute, disagreement, suspicion, rumor, lies, deception and retribution. To avoid the negative emotions that these actions bring, avoid participation in politics.

You may wish to participate in democratic voting. It may be best to inform yourself by researching the candidates or proposals in a very focused way rather than relying on media to inform you. Elections cause the media to behave in damaging ways. Often the candidates and media will try to convince the audience that things are desparately bad and changes must be made or disaster will strike. This leads to distress among those who are convinced by the narrative. To avoid this negative impact on your well-being, avoid watching media, in particular television. Select your news source based on its rational qualities and balanced reporting. Text-based news sources are best.

In some cases, you may wish to engage in political activity to defend a cause which is important to you. Be selective about how you choose to be an activist on an issue. Working in a support role will be less damaging to your mental health than being a candidate for office. However, if there are no other potential candidates and you see a need to protect something important to you, you may wish to be a candidate for an elected position. Do your best and try not to get caught up in the negative side of politics.

20. Overcome Your Fears!

What if I become destitute?

Remember that even in the simplest shelter, with simple food and water, one can achieve happiness. The things that one really needs are easy to get. By accepting a simple life, spending less than one earns and saving money for emergencies, one can maintain a secure, if simple, standard of living and achieve happiness.

How will I find a suitable partner if I am not rich?

The way to find a partner is to be socially engaged, to have a circle of friends that includes a number of potential partners, and to have inner peace and tranquility that allows for good communication with potential partners. A flashy car, new clothes, jewelry and trendy haircut are not required.

I will miss something in life if I do not become rich!

You need some wealth to live. However, extreme wealth does not necessarily bring happiness. In fact, it is more difficult for an extremely wealthy person to achieve tranquility. Work toward a level of wealth that allows you a simple life.

21. Simplify Your Life!

Most people will benefit from reducing the complexity of their lives. Simplification frees up the most valuable commodity which a person can have: time. However, simplification and elimination of things is not a goal in itself. Simplification and minimalism have value to the extent that they improve one’s life through reducing stress related to maintenance of things and by freeing up the time it takes to maintain them. It is also a frugal way to avoid unnecesary expenses. The goal of simplification and minimalism is to achieve a level of tranquility that is not disturbed by responsibilities and the maintenance of the things one owns.

Once a person reaches a minimalist state of tranquility and is enjoying the free time that simplification provides, one should seek to add behaviors and actions which increase happiness to one’s life. One may choose actions and behaviors that maximize positive effects while minimizing responsibilities and negative effects.

As one learns which things truly add value and happiness to one’s life, one can choose those beneficial behaviors which have a minimal impact on one’s financial resources. One can focus one’s time on a select group of friends that one knows are rational, kind, caring and without the overhead of drama, anger or deceit. One can spend time researching a subject which one is passionate about. One can create art, build furniture or perform music. One can express themselves through writing. Simplification of one’s life can lead to a flowering of expression that is made possible by reducing one’s responsibilities and maximizing free time.

Conclusion

In order to continuously improve one’s life, one needs to eliminate negative behavior and select behavior and actions that promote positive emotions.

These are the things that one needs to be happy:

  • FOOD
  • WATER
  • SHELTER
  • FRIENDSHIP
  • FASCINATION
  • PHYSICAL FITNESS

All of these things are easy to get. Some require a small amount of money. All of them require one to make good decisions about how to live one’s life.

August, 2019

Seven Reasons Why We Need More Epicurean Content Creators

From time to time, members of the Epicurean groups online ask questions like: “Wonder why Stoicism has such a wide appeal to moderns, where Epicureanism has languished somewhat?” … which often elicits some Epicureans citing this quote to justify their unwillingness to market the philosophy as it deserves:

I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know. – Epicurus

It’s a fair argument, I suppose, but I always wonder to what extent this device is meant as a way to mask a sense of defeat, or a refusal to admit that we have failed, in some important way, to promote a philosophy that would greatly benefit modern society.

Recently, a friend and contributor to The Epicurus Blog decided that he will create an Epicurus-friendly podcast. I will announce more on this as more information becomes available. In the meantime, here are seven reasons why I strongly feel that we need more Epicurean content creators:

1. Many of the old bloggers hardly create any content, and some have died. If you look at SoFE’s links page, you’ll find that Mark Walker’s The Epicurus Project posts an average of one blog per year, and the Menoeceus blog posted nothing last year. Worse yet, Jakko posted his good-bye blog in 2013 shortly before his death, and fortunately someone kept a copy of epicurus.info online in memory of Eric Anderson upon his death (when his page went offline for some time) … which made some of us concerned about who will continue our work when we’re gone. I can only conclude that a stronger network of collaborating Epicurean content creators is needed.

2. There are only two specifically-Epicurean YouTube channels that I’m aware of, and no Epicurean podcasts as of today. This would give us greater access to commuters and other audiences we have yet to reach.

3. There are some incentives for content creation available. It may produce a bit of income, may be treated as a business or a side hustle, and may even be a worthwhile experiment in autarchy. I will delve more into this in a future blog about affiliate marketing.

4. Many of the academic sources and interpreters of Epicurean philosophy are either indirect or hostile, and some online platforms have niches with similar attitudes. The subreddits /atheism and /philosophy have at times removed Epicurean content arbitrarily, rather than allow for an open market of ideas–sometimes relenting only after some level of activism on our part. Martha Nussbaum–one of the main contemporary interpreters of Epicurean sources in academia–has been notorious in her anti-Epicurean bias. She has said that Stoics and Aristotelians are superior to the Epicureans–whom she described as “parasitic” on the rest of the world–, that Seneca was “an advance of major proportions” over the Epicureans, and has even claimed that Epicureanism is not a philosophy. This all points to a need to have more people presenting EP on its own terms, both in our own niches and elsewhere.

5. Most Epicureans today exist in the non-academic world, and we must therefore rely on publishing platforms that have no academic or institutional support. There is almost no financial support available for the spread of Epicurean ideas (I have only one Patreon subscriber), and no non-profit organizations doing the educational work in the English-speaking world. Michel Onfray started the Université de Caen (and single-handedly published hundreds of books) to address this very problem in the French speaking world, but similar movements do not exist in the English- or Spanish-speaking worlds. As a result of this, one can hardly speak of there being an Epicurean intellectual movement in the world today.

6. Many of the noble initiatives that Epicureans have gotten involved in–like the Declaration of Pallini, which seeks to have the “right to happiness” recognized for all European citizens–would benefit from a greater audience and support.

7. The world needs Epicurean teachings. While there is much critique and pontificating around the problem of consumerism and limitless desires, and this has created alternatives like the minimalism/frugality and the tiny house movements, few intellectual traditions are positioned to provide people with the methods and theories to help them do the introspective work needed to become conscious consumers. Epicurean ethics’ curriculum of control of desires does this without falling into ascetic errors. In fact, our ethics have the potential to really help members of contemporary society to deal pragmatically with existential and economic problems like debt, anxiety, consumerism, isolation, lack of meaning, etc.

Even if you have little to no money to invest, you can start vlogging for free on YouTube, or create a free blog on WordPress, which is the most user-friendly blogging platform and easiest to learn. For more professional “dot com” websites, you may use GoDaddy or Bluehost. There is no shortage of YouTube videos and online educational sources that teach how easy it is to create professional websites with these services.

If we love philosophy, we should confer upon philosophy the kind of dignity that it confers upon us. If you love Epicurean teachings, please consider getting involved in content creation projects!