- Promoting the Study of the Philosophy of Epicurus Mon, 20 Aug 2018 22:19:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Mon, 20 Aug 2018 22:19:15 +0000

Happy Twentieth of August! 

Oh my gosh the 20th is almost over here in my time zone and I haven’t issued a “Happy 20th” myself at Facebook or, or seen anyone else do so!  Life come at you hard sometimes with so many distractions, but I am in my eighth+ year of hard-core Epicurean studying, and I can say without reservation that it has changed my life for the better. I hope your time with Epicurus does as much for you as it has for me. Happy Twentieth and never forget what Epicurus, Metrodorus, and Hermarchus did for all of us!

As Seneca recorded: Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus! So do all things as though watching were Epicurus!

And as Philodemus wrote: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.”

Additional discussion of this post and other Epicurean ideas can be found at


Happy Twentieth of July! – “Dreading Nothing So Much As To Seem To Doubt Of Anything!” :-) Fri, 20 Jul 2018 16:12:21 +0000

Happy Twentieth of July!  Recent discussions of Epicurean gods provide a great opportunity to review one of the most delightful of the records preserved by Cicero, from his “On The Nature of The Gods.”  Here is confirmation C. Velleius, someone “then reputed by the Epicureans [to be] the ablest of our countrymen” liked to discuss the subject of the gods “with the confidence peculiar to the sect.” Not only that, but “dreading nothing so much as to seem to doubt of anything” and “as if he had just descended from the council of the gods and Epicurus’ intervals of worlds!

I take that last part to be humorous rather than biting, because we see the same attitude among religious people today who bitterly reject the contentions of modern science that their mystical protectors do not in fact exist.

But whether or not Cicero was in good humor when he wrote this, it’s important for us to take this example to heart and remember that it is supremely important for us to have confidence that we are not the playthings of supernatural gods.  This isn’t a subject about which to shrug our shoulders and say “maybe.” If we were to admit that the stories of the gods might in fact be true, then we would be fools to ignore their threats and rewards.

But based on Epicurean philosophy, however, we can say with confidence that the “fool” shoe is on the other foot.  Here’s just a part – the rest of this passage is here.














As Seneca recorded: Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus! So do all things as though watching were Epicurus!

And as Philodemus wrote: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.”

Additional discussion of this post and other Epicurean ideas can be found at


Happy Twentieth of June! — Vatican Saying 38 – Pleasure strengthens us; Pain Destroys Us Wed, 20 Jun 2018 17:27:40 +0000

Happy Twentieth of June!  Vatican Saying 38 is a very interesting contribution to our understanding of Epicurus’ view of pleasure, not as something simply to be consumed, but something akin to food which strengthens us.  Here is the Bailey translation:




As Seneca recorded: Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus! So do all things as though watching were Epicurus!

And as Philodemus wrote: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.”

Additional discussion of this post and other Epicurean ideas can be found at



Three General Points About the Canon of Truth Sun, 20 May 2018 17:39:02 +0000

Please go here to view the full article with the latest revisions.  The version as of 5/20/18 is below.

In yesterday’s discussion of Chapter 8 (Sensations, Anticipations, and Feelings) of Norman DeWitt’s book, the comment was made that there is likely a lot of confusion about what is meant by the “Canon of Truth.” The word “canon” is rarely used today, and when it is used it generally has the meaning listed first at “an ecclesiastical rule or law enacted by a council or other competent authority and, in the Roman Catholic Church, approved by the pope.” In fact there are fifteen separate definitions listed at all but one of which would be misleading if we applied it to Epicurus’ canon (see below).

Before getting to those modern usages, it is helpful to look at DeWitt’s observations about the Canon. DeWitt devotes a full chapter to the subject, but it seems to me that three of his points are probably the most important: They are (starting at page 121 of Epicurus and His Philosophy) –

As I understand DeWitt, the points he is making are:

  1.  The Epicurean Canon of truth is NOT a set of conclusions or opinions about any subject or object whatsoever. The Epicurean Canon of truth is a set of three tools of precision, or measuring devices, analogous to yardsticks, straight edges, plumb lines, or any other type of measuring instrument by which we receive data which is only thereafter evaluated by the mind. Modern technology has added many other tools which could be used as other analogies, for examples those which are included at this Wikipedia article, which opens with the following, much or all of which probably applies to each of the three canonical faculties: “A measuring instrument is a device for measuring a physical quantity. In the physical sciencesquality assurance, and engineeringmeasurement is the activity of obtaining and comparing physical quantities of real-world objects and events. Established standard objects and events are used as units, and the process of measurement gives a number relating the item under study and the referenced unit of measurement. Measuring instruments, and formal test methods which define the instrument’s use, are the means by which these relations of numbers are obtained. All measuring instruments are subject to varying degrees of instrument error and measurement uncertainty.” The takeaway is: Do not look to the Canon of Truth to give you a conclusion or an opinion. The task of forming conclusions and opinions is in the mind; the task of providing data for those conclusions comes through the canonical faculties. Smell the apple, feel its firmness, taste its flavor, look at its color, feel whether it is pleasing to eat – but do not expect these measurements alone to tell you whether to eat any particular apple.
  2.  It is a major mistake to confuse the tools of precision, or the measuring devices, with the objects which they are designed to measure. In DeWitt’s words, the “tests of truth” are not to be confused with the “content of truth.” For modern examples, a speedometer measures speed, but is not itself speed. An pedometer measures paces, but is not itself paces. A ruler measures length, but is not itself the thing that has the length we are measuring. A straight edge is an indication of straightness, but is not itself the straight (or crooked) item that is being judged. So in Epicurean terms, the Canon of truth is a set of measuring devices by which we receive data about those things with which we come into contact, but the Canon is not itself those things which we are measuring. Our sight of a bird is data about its color, shape, size, texture, and the like, but our sight of a bird is not itself a bird. Our feeling of pleasure at seeing a bird is a measure of our mental and physical positive reaction at, for example, seeing a bluebird, but which might be a negative reaction if what we see is not a bluebird, but a vulture. Our reaction to the bird, however, is an instance of experience that is being measured, it is not equivalent to some quantity of pain or pleasure inherent within the bird. The subject of our “anticipation” in regard to observation of a bird is controversial, and our interpretation will depend on our personal reading of the Epicurean texts and our position on what an “anticipation” really is. Regardless, however, whether an anticipation is a “concept,” as some argue, or an intuitive faculty of some kind (as DeWitt argues) the anticipation is NOT the same as the bird itself. The takeaway is: do not think that the measuring device is the same as the thing being measuredMeasure the apple to estimate its size, but do not expect to eat the measurement.
  3. The Epicurean Canon of truth is a triple contact with your environment. In DeWitt’s words, nature has equipped man with the canonical faculties as a triple contact with his environment. The “triple contact” part if clear enough, but the “with his environment” is frequently overlooked. The Canon of Truth is not a mystical compilation of information about about the universe at large. The Canon of Truth was not enough to enable an ancient Athenian to determine what the other side of the moon looked like – many things are beyond the reach of our present observational faculties. For those things beyond the reach of direct observation, we must resort to comparison, analogy, and other methods of reasoning based on inference (such as is discussed in the surviving portions of Philodemus’ On Methods of Inference). Our conclusions about those matters are necessarily speculative, and we must consider the principles of inferential thinking preserved in PD’s 22 – 25:
    1. PD 22. We must consider both the ultimate end and all clear sensory evidence, to which we refer our opinions; for otherwise everything will be full of uncertainty and confusion.
    2. PD 23. If you fight against all your sensations, you will have no standard to which to refer, and thus no means of judging even those sensations which you claim are false.
    3. PD 24. If you reject absolutely any single sensation without stopping to distinguish between opinion about things awaiting confirmation and that which is already confirmed to be present, whether in sensation or in feelings or in any application of intellect to the presentations, you will confuse the rest of your sensations by your groundless opinion and so you will reject every standard of truth. If in your ideas based upon opinion you hastily affirm as true all that awaits confirmation as well as that which does not, you will not avoid error, as you will be maintaining the entire basis for doubt in every judgment between correct and incorrect opinion.
    4. PD 25. If you do not on every occasion refer each of your actions to the ultimate end prescribed by nature, but instead of this in the act of choice or avoidance turn to some other end, your actions will not be consistent with your theories.

The takeaway from point three is: The Canonical faculties are our direct contact with our environment, and all inferential thinking (that is, all reasoning) depends on the accuracy of the data we get from the three canonical faculties. Truth is not revealed to us by contact with Platonic ideals (forms; divine revelations), nor can we derive truth based on logical calculations if the premises on which those calculations are based are not grounded in accurate observations through the canonical faculties.

To conclude this post, it’s interesting to note that lists fifteen separate definitions, most of which are not at all what is referred to in the context of the Epicurean canon. A quick review of the list shows that only one (item five – standard; criterion) is reflective of Epicurean usage:


Happy Twentieth of May: Don’t Surrender, Instead Retreat – Regroup – Advance! Sun, 20 May 2018 08:00:19 +0000

Happy Twentieth of May!

Epicurus is famously known to written: “To sea with your swift ship, blessed boy, and flee from all education (paideia, also translated as culture).”   This remark come to us with no context, as our only source is D.L. 10.6, which combines it with a slam from Epictetus, translated at Perseus this way: “And in his letter to Pythocles : “Hoist all sail, my dear boy, and steer clear of all culture. Epictetus calls him preacher of effeminacy and showers abuse on him.”

Because the traditional commentaries since the Epicurean age have been written by Stoics and other anti-Epicureans, this passage has been used to bolster the argument that Epicurus advised that we should live in isolation, figuratively (if not literally) walling ourselves off from the outside world.

Norman DeWitt rejected that argument as follows, concluding that it was Epicurus goal – not to retreat – but to establish a new culture which would compete with the prevailing culture:


DeWitt continues with his analysis in Chapter Two of his book, but for purposes of this post I just want to emphasis the ramifications.  Epicurus devoted his life to an extensive campaign of book-writing, letter-writing, and lecturing.  We know little about the personal life of Lucretius, but what we do know is that his “On The Nature of Things” was a monumental effort.  Of the other Epicurean lives we know enough about to cite, we know that Titus Pomponius Atticus was extensively involved in the cultural affairs of his time, and we know that Gaius Cassius Longinus was intimately involved in the political affairs of his time.  One could argue that the absence of knowledge of the details of the lives of the greater number of Epicureans is evidence of their choice to live obscurely, but there is nothing in the surviving literature to indicate that an isolated or uneducated or hermetic lifestyle was extolled as an example for Epicureans to follow.

What we have instead is the great body of Epicurean philosophy, which when taken seriously leads to the opposite conclusion.  Those who took Epicurus seriously will also take their own lives seriously, and lived those lives to the fullest extent possible.   If we start with first principles, how can we not live our lives as vigorously as possible?  Consider just a few of the Epicurean starting-points:

  1. There are no supernatural gods steering the universe for us or against us – neither the universe, nor we ourselves – are slaves to inexorable fate.
  2. To the contrary, like the universe itself, we are ourselves composed of combinations of elemental particles which are controlled only by natural principles, much of which is within our power to understand and to shape.
  3. What is not within our power is to stop the motion of these particles, and there is no final place of rest for them, or for us – so we know that our lives must be lived and our goals must be achieved during the limited time when we can sustain our own individual combination of particles.
  4. Not only are the elemental particles always in motion, but the universe itself is not only eternal in time but infinite in space, so we know that there can be no central point, no overarching creating god, from which any perspective can be viewed as permanent or final.  It is therefore absurd to suggest that there is any “absolute truth” or “universal reason” or realm of “ideal forms” against which our own feelings of pleasure and pain may be compared and found invalid.


As Seneca recorded: Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus! So do all things as though watching were Epicurus!

And as Philodemus wrote: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.”

Additional discussion of this post and other Epicurean ideas can be found at



Overview of Epicurean Philosophy – A New Outline Sun, 22 Apr 2018 15:31:35 +0000

For best viewing, click HERE for a frame-free full-screen version! See Below for A Video describing this outline

This new outline represents my most comprehensive work to date to translate Epicurean philosophy into outline form suitable for use in presentations to new students and as a review for those who are more experienced.  This version incorporates an “Orientation” section, distilled from Chapter One of Norman DeWitt’s “Epicurus and His Philosophy.” Many thanks to our friend Brett W. who assisted with the initial draft of this outline.

For a PDF of this outline click here.


Here’s the frame-free / full screen link again.

Here’s a video description:

Happy Twentieth of April – Questions To Ask Oneself About Epicurean Philosophy Thu, 19 Apr 2018 23:48:12 +0000

Happy Twentieth of April!

If you haven’t already watched the Youtube presentation by Elena Nicoli on how Epicurean philosophy has helped in her own life, I hope you will.   I set up a discussion thread on to talk about it in more detail, including an outline of her major points.   If you have comments or questions on this post, please sign in to EpicureanFriends and post them in the discussion there.

For this Twentieth post, however, I’d like to focus attention on aspects of Epicurean philosophy that were not mentioned in the talk, but which are essential to reaching the conclusions that were discussed.  I reworked the list into nine points, written in the form of questions that might go through the minds of someone in the audience as they listened to Ms. Nicoli’s presentation:

  1. All this sounds fine, but why should I accept Epicurus’ opinion that a simple life is all I should want out of life? Aren’t there more important things than pleasure and pain? Shouldn’t I live so that I will go to heaven, and not go to hell? Those things are more important than pleasure and pain aren’t they?”
  2. All my life I have been taught that I should be a good person – that “virtue is its own reward,” and that I should not ask for anything in return for being good.  Are you telling me that is wrong? Why?
  3. Haven’t we always been taught that nothing good comes easily? Why should the best part of life be easy to obtain? I see people around me suffering and dying in misery and pain all the time. They didn’t find a happy life easy to obtain. Doesn’t that show that Epicurus was wrong?
  4. I seem to hear you saying that avoidance of pain is the highest goal. Are you really saying that? If so, why shouldn’t I avoid all pain by killing myself?
  5. I hear you saying that the simplest life is the best. If I really want the best life, shouldn’t I go ONLY for bread, water, and a cave to get out of the weather? That would be the purest application of Epicurus, wouldn’t it?
  6. Did I hear you say that we should never want power? I live in a pretty bad neighborhood, and the people in the country next door are talking about invading our country. Right about now I would really like the power to put the criminals in jail and the power to stop the invaders before they burn my house. How can that be wrong – but you said I should NEVER seek power?
  7. OK now I hear you saying that “static” pleasure is the best kind of pleasure, and that comes from absence of pain and not from the senses. But then you’ve also said that static pleasure “feels good.” Are you trying to have it both ways? If the best kind of pleasure feels good, then I understand what you mean? But what kind of pleasure is worth having that I can’t feel?
  8. You say that your version of the pleasurable life can be satisfied, but that people who chase sensual pleasure can never satisfy their quest. Well tell me, then, how much time do I need to satisfy your definition of a pleasurable life? Can I take enough pain pills til I feel no pain, lie down in my bed, and stay there til I stop breathing from an overdose? If I’ve reached that state of total painlessness, there really isn’t anything more for me in Epicurean theory is there? Why should I be concerned if I die tonight from an overdose? I won’t feel any pain at all, and I’ll feel “high” on the way there, so isn’t that what you are telling me is the best way of life?
  9. I have heard that Epicurus also said “There is also a limit in simple living, and he who fails to understand this falls into an error as great as that of the man who gives way to extravagance.” (VS 63) How do you reconcile that statement with your contention that the most simple life is the best life?

Epicurus and his followers in the ancient world had answers to each one of the questions – answers that are persuasive even today.  But before you can decide for yourself whether to accept Epicurus’ answer, you have to be able to state that answer in terms that are understandable to you, and consistent with Epicurus’ position.  It’s one thing to disagree, but before you can disagree with someone you ought to be able to restate their position in clear terms.

Can you state Epicurus’ answer to these nine questions?

As Seneca recorded: Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus! So do all things as though watching were Epicurus!

And as Philodemus wrote: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.”

Additional discussion of this post and other Epicurean ideas can be found at



Torquatus’ Defense Of Epicurean Ethics – The Fighting Epicurean Tue, 10 Apr 2018 01:50:04 +0000

New graphic at

Back Up And Running On New Host! Tue, 03 Apr 2018 15:20:56 +0000

For anyone who has noticed, this is to let you know that NewEpicurean is alive and well, and has moved to a new host.  Salutations to commemorate the Twentieth of February and March of 2018 were posted on, and that is where I am posting most of my regular activity nowadays.  I am reserving for longer and more substantive posts, and I intend to renovate the menus and bring the entire site up to date as time allows.  But for the meantime, rest assured that is alive and well.  Forward!

Happy Twentieth of January – Join Us Today to Commemorate the Twentieth at! Sat, 20 Jan 2018 13:54:16 +0000

Happy Twentieth of December!

For the last several weeks we have been experimenting with closer interaction with our online Epicurean friends, including a “Merry Epicurean 25th” text chat on the 25th of December, and most recently an online voice/text chat to discuss the first chapter of Norman DeWitt’s “Epicurus and His Philosophy.”  I think the participants in all of those would agree that they were successful tests of the idea of closer friendship through direct online “meetings,” so later today we will be holding our first online commemoration of an Epicurean 20th.

Please check the page linked below for the server address to log in.  We are spread across the world and many of our friends join us at odd hours and great inconvenience to themselves.  So far we are finding a start time of 5 PM eastern time (in the USA) gives us greatest flexibility for friends in Greece and even in Thailand to participate.

Please join us today if you can, and we’ll give new life to an old Epicurean tradition!  Here is the link for the Epicurean Friends discussion chatroom at either go or




As Seneca recorded: Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus! So do all things as though watching were Epicurus!

And as Philodemus wrote: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.”

Additional discussion of this post and other Epicurean ideas can be found at the Epicurean Philosophy Facebook Group and