** This is the ninetieth in a series of weekly reports on news from the world of Epicurean Philosophy. Our home base for discussion is https://www.facebook.com/groups/EpicureanPhilosophy/ Copies of these posts, and links to active Epicurean websites, are stored at EpicurusCentral.wordpress.com.
** As of tonight, our group has grown to 1367. Last week this time we were 1360. We continue to grow steadily, and we welcome all participants and lurkers. If you apply to participate and don’t receive a reply promptly, please send an email to an admin about your interest in the group. We have been intentionally slowing down the approvals of new profiles when we can’t tell from the basic info whether the profile is a real person with real interest in Epicurus, or a spambot. (There IS a difference!) If you want to participate and are not approved immediately, don’t hesitate to send an email to one of the admins. We are here to discuss Epicurean Philosophy, have fun, and in the words of Lucian, “strike a blow for Epicurus – that great man whose holiness and divinity of nature were not shams, who alone had and imparted true insight into the good, and who brought deliverance to all that consorted with him!”
** Winner of the Most-Commented Post of the Week (at least so far) is this post contrasting Epicurus with the discourses of Epictetushttps://www.facebook.com/groups/EpicureanPhilosophy/permalink/779335375448758/ We had a couple of posts this week with similar themes, including this one to a post on a podcast by James Warren – https://www.facebook.com/groups/EpicureanPhilosophy/permalink/779809898734639/ We have many people here (including myself!) who were fans of Stoicism before they were fans of Epicurus, and this is an important topic. For those of you who have read some of the ancient commentary on both, has it not struck you as odd that the ancient Stoics were always complaining about the ancient Epicureans and denouncing them, but that modern Stoics seem to just love Epicurus?
I submit that this contrast is clue to an important possibility – that the modern mainstream view of Epicurus is not faithful to what Epicurus really taught. Instead, according to this possibility, what is taught today is a neutered, homogenized, strangled version that has been created to make Epicurus appear to have said what the Stoic-oriented crowd wants to see. The Stoics have denounced the pursuit of pleasure from day one. With their anti-Pleasure viewpoint, how could they **not** have denounced Epicurus? And they did in virtually every ancient text that discussed the goal of life. So what changed? What happened? How could apostles of austerity such as Seneca and Marcus Aurelius reconcile themselves to start quoting Epicurus as if he was a just an earlier version of Epictetus or Zeno himself? The answer, I submit to you, is that they were the forernners of a process that continues to this day – a process of downplaying to the point of erasing the fact that Epicurus promoted BOTH active and “static” pleasures. They have done so in this way: Epicurus observed that, in measuring ANY pleasure, the greatest intensity of that pleasure is present when there is no pain to dilute it. By dropping “active” pleasures from the list of acceptable pleasures, the Stoics conclude that Epicurus was holding up “absence of all activity” as itself “the highest pleasure.” (This, despite the fact that nowhere do we have Epicurus ranking pleasures in order of importance – a favorite game of other philosophers – to know which is “highest.”) In so doing, they have transmuted the Epicurean focus on pleasure into a focus on austerity, and made Epicurus a proto-Stoic.
This is not a debate that is going to be resolved here. Legions of mainstream scholars have published the proto-Stoic view, and there is only one significant modern scholar that I know of – Norman DeWitt – who has argued that they are wrong. Read both sides and judge for yourself. Obviously I have staked out my position in support of DeWitt, but the more important goal is not to convince you that DeWitt is right, but to expose you to his argument. The world is flooded with neo-Stoic versions that reduce Epicurus to a small footnote in their Stoic view that the world is marching toward austerity and self-denial as the goal of life. The opposite view- the understanding of Thomas Jefferson, of Frances Wright, and of others who refuse to agree that Epicurus told us to give up “joy and delight,” are less easy to find, but they exist, and I will cite them here as I can. Read both sides and judge for yourself, and in particular be sure to read this excerpt from DeWitt: https://www.facebook.com/notes/epicurean-philosophy/norman-dewitt-on-pd3-and-pd4-from-chapter-10-of-epicurus-and-his-philosophy/743679822347647
**In another important post this week, we found a new article focused on Epicurus published in a journal on public health. We made contact with the author as well, and welcomed him to the group. His article and the discussion about it is well worth reading, and can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/EpicureanPhilosophy/permalink/777906865591609/
**Hiram posted an excellent article this week entitled “Reasonings about Sam Harris’ THe Moral Landscape.” https://www.facebook.com/groups/EpicureanPhilosophy/permalink/777461125636183/ One of several reasons that this article is significant is that it contains references to the several surviving fragments from Polystratus, an early head of the Epicurean school. The surviving fragments are short but *very* significant, as they shed light on the Epicurean position that the qualities of things our senses can perceive are in fact *real* and not to be considered passing illusions or insignificant. This is another ongoing point of interest in Epicurean theory, and it is really one of the most basic fights Epicureans had with opposing schools. Can we rely on our natural faculties to discovery the things we need to know about life and how to live? Or must we resort to speculation without evidence? Hiram wrote a deep article and it is well worth reading.
**This past week contained the 20th, and my post on it featured the notice about the upcoming Epicurean Symposium in Athens early next month. If you haven’t visited the Athenians’ website, you’ll want to do that, as it contains a section in English with very interesting material. Hopefully the symposium will lead to some youtube videos and other presentations we can enjoy from afar. Stay tuned and we will report back on the conference, which is set for February 7 and 8. https://www.facebook.com/groups/EpicureanPhilosophy/permalink/778064402242522/
**We saw several posts this week, by Alexander and Dragan, on the news that progress was being made on reading the Herculaneum scrolls through computer tomography. https://www.facebook.com/groups/EpicureanPhilosophy/permalink/778178505564445/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/EpicureanPhilosophy/permalink/779812815401014/ It will be a tremendous achievement if more can be obtained from these. Maybe we will one day have new evidence on some of the controversies we discuss here, and maybe even new texts from Epicurus himself.
**In a recent post which has not yet had much time for comment, Hiram posted his reasonings and impressions on reading Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” This article contains some very interesting material. Nietzsche’s dense and often iron writing style makes him notoriously difficult to follow, but he is also famously insightful, and many of his viewpoints parallel those of Epicurus. This article ought to be one in a series we discuss over the years, as we’ve hardly scratched the surface. Nietzsche’s scholarship on points such as the “Dionysius / Apollo issue” are helpful jumping-off points to discuss these deeper questions. https://www.facebook.com/groups/EpicureanPhilosophy/permalink/779398125442483/
**Also this week Hiram announced the Spanish paperback version of his translation of “A Few Days In Athens.” You have heard me bang the drum for this book many times in the past, and you’ll hear me do more in the future. (www.AFewDaysInAthens.com) If there is one book that could open the eyes of a new generation to Epicurus, it might well be this one. At least in the United States (and for those around the world who know his reputation) we have the “hook” that this book was specifically endorsed by Thomas Jefferson. That relationship might be enough to get people who would never otherwise pick up a book on Epicurus to read this one, just so they can get more insight into the mind of Thomas Jefferson. Hiram is doing a great work by making this available in Spanish. https://www.facebook.com/groups/EpicureanPhilosophy/permalink/779447665437529/
**It may seem like I am closing where I began, but the most recent post as of this writing was by Eric S., citing a section on pleasure from the Discourses of Epictetus. In this passage, Epictetus is stating that pleasure is unreliable and does not inspire confidence and trust and a sense of certainty. This is another aspect of Stoic rejection of pleasure, and an important one. That brings to mind this comment: We no doubt have here in the group people with much more academic training do our admins, and we gladly welcome cites to sources that shed light on Epicurean views, even when they come from opponents of Epicurus. Epicurus wrote in an existing context of Platonic, Aristotelian, and other schools, and we have to expect that much of what he wrote was geared to responding to those schools, often in disgreement with their positions. The problem is that we have so few texts, and those we have are relatively short, so we do not always have ready at hand the context to which he was responding. (This is a particular issue in regard to the debate on Epicurus’ view of pleasure.) If possible, please state in your post the relevance of the other philosopher’s position to Epicurus, especially when that connection is not immediately obvious. But thanks to Eric for this post, and we hope for more from him and others. https://www.facebook.com/groups/EpicureanPhilosophy/permalink/779865275395768/
**All in all it was another good week. Thanks to one and all for your participation. Feel free to post any comments in this thread. I apologize if I missed anyone or anything. As always, if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, please add a comment or participate in the Epicurean Philosophy Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/EpicureanPhilosophy/ or hop around the internet world of Epicurean Philosophy by checking the links here: EpicurusCentral.wordpress.com
PEACE AND SAFETY!