38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
D. S. Heersink
- Published on Amazon.com
Rarely do I recommend secondary sources over primary ones; this book in an exception. The reason is obvious: Epicurus, the most popular and prolific philosopher of antiquity, writing over 37 volumes, is largely lost to us. What the Church did to eliminate these texts one can only guess. But if any philosophy is set diametrically against Judeo-Christian-Islam, Epicurus's is. Since only fragments and reports from others in antiquity survive, Epicurus requires scholarship to pull it all together from so many disparate sources.
Epicurus, the Founder of Epicureanism, continues to be reviled for his materialism, hedonism, atheism, disproof of an afterlife, his tranquility of mind (ataraxia) toward anxiety, his praise of both emotions and reason, for his cultivation of friendship, his praise of love, etc. Let's start with the most "controversial" of his theories: Hedonism. The self-evident principle is to maximize pleasure, minimize pain. Pleasure, for Epicurus, requires a "disciplined" approach, not wild licentious abandon. For example, over-indulgence of any appetite, say deep-fried calamari (my favorite food), for each meal and snack every day of every week loses its pleasure. Calamari all the time makes calamari banal, if not detested. Thus, one must approach each appetite that brings pleasure with a modicum of discipline, balance, and moderation (a very Greek concept). Mutatis mutandis, every other appetite, including sexual.
Epicurus and his disciple Lucretius anticipated Darwin and a materialistic based universe, which, of course, is opposed by Platonism, Christianity, and other metaphysical schemes. His physics remains primitive by today's standards, but his claim that all are atoms or a void "fits" modern physics like a glove.
Like Plato and Aristotle before him, the Charioteer and Two Steeds (Psyche at the reins of emotion and reason) are intended to "govern" or "direct" human emotions to their moderate end through the use of reason. Typical of Greek ethics and values, excess and deficiency are vices, moderation is a virtue. Justice, for example, is taking anger over a violation and moderating the lawful and equal to its proper harbor, without an excess of anger leading to murder and mayhem, and without a deficiency of anger leading to indifference and abuse. Compare this view with Jesus's, who extols turning the cheek to be abused again. To the Greeks that would be unjust. Self-defense is moderate and a virtue, heated tempers an excess of anger, and turning the other cheek a case of masochistic abuse.
Several Church Fathers embraced Stoicism's apathea (apathy, indifference) rather than Epicurus's ataraxia (tranquility, imperturbability), regarding emotions as "brutish, animistic, and sub-human." Not Epicurus. Some emotions cannot be discharged through the moderating influence of reason (for any number of reasons), and those cases require a tranquil resignation of forces larger than ourselves. But where we can effect virtue, can alter an injustice into justice, our sense of justice requires it. Otherwise, in Nietzsche's famed statement, we submit to Slave Morality. Guess who figures prominently an Nietzsche's call to return to Greek values?
The ancient Skeptics disavowed both reason and the senses. Not Epicurus. Our sensory experience is always veridical. And, while reason is never infallible, it alone steers human sensory experience and emotions to the harbors of tranquility, and to the Final End of Human Flourishing. Anxiety, which the Stoics would simply choose to be indifferent to, is a force to reconcile, and if beyond the realm of resolution, simply to be resigned to. Sage Epicureanism: "if you do not reconcile your behavior with the goal of nature, then there will be a conflict between theory and practice."
The Angst of Modernity, the Death of God, the Pendulum of Extremes, the Rise of Irrationality are all predictable reactions when the "opiates of the masses" are removed, whether religious, Marxist, Freudian, or Cults like Heaven's Gate, Jim Jones, and the "Jesus Camp" folk. Without the certainty that Authority brings, whether the Church, the Bible, the Empire, Nationalism, Therapeutics, etc., it might serve our modern anxieties to become reacquainted with Greek thought, especially Epicurus. Commonsense, nature, and tranquility do not need "deities" or "opiates," just a sense of purpose, a sense of living well, and a commonsense that is simply obvious.
Gordon's synthesis from various sources produces an excellent alternative to the Reactions-to-Reactions. No philosopher of Antiquity remains more relevant, more stigmatized, more marginalized, and more despised, all of which are reasons to make Epicurus's acquaintance.