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Epicurus: His Continuing Influence and Contemporary Relevance Paperback – Nov 2003

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x93918de0) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9328048c) out of 5 stars Relevant, All-Too-Relevant 17 April 2007
By D. S. Heersink - Published on
Format: Paperback
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.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x936f2c00) out of 5 stars Print on demand 14 Sept. 2007
By Kevin I. Slaughter - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First - this is print on demand and I didn't know this when ordering. For $25 and only 223 pages I would have wanted decent printing and binding.
I'm not against the technology, but I want to know that a book is poorly printed before I buy it, because I really care about books.
Don't know why they charge so much for it, if you're not going to invest in a big print run, you can at least take a smaller cut of the profits. POD is more expensive per book, but you're not laying out thousands of dollars either.
The ink reflects light and the printing is poor, the lines of letters aren't crisp, it's like they're printed from a raster image. frustrating to read. Obviously the few illustrations are terrible, worse than my 6 year old laser printer.

Second, the title of the book is also the title of a 2002 conference on Epicurus held at Rochester Institute of Technology, when many of the ideas here were first presented. This is not a bad thing, just information not given on the Amazon page.

The publisher's website contains the following:
"Since the Cary Collection's inception in 1969, occasional publications have appeared, inspired by its holdings. Strong scholarship and editorial direction, elegant design, and fine printing have characterized these publications, which are usually historical in context. With the formal establishment of the Cary Graphic Arts Press, we hope to carry on these high standards with increasing regularity.
Though we will continue to produce high-quality letterpress and offset publications, one aspect of our expanded mission is to explore digital technologies and to branch into electronically generated content. In this way, the latest information delivery system will be infused with the best historic ideals--a combination that fosters an optimal educational experience."

Yes, they are an arts press that publishes books about bookbinding, lettering, etc. etc. And this book, however nicely the type may be set - it looks like crap when printed by whatever service they use.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94263330) out of 5 stars Conference Proceedings 17 Sept. 2009
By Reader From Aurora - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
`Epicurus: His Continuing Influence and Contemporary Relevance', is a brief anthology of essays stemming from papers presented at the 2002 Rochester Institute of Technology Conference of the same name.

The essays are in large-part centered on rather narrow and niche topics such as; the relationship between Pierce's ethics and Epicurean thought, Marx and ancient Greek atomic theory, the inscriptions at Oenoanda, etc. While not entirely uninteresting, the contributions are of modest quality and are probably only of interest to a very limited academic audience.

Overall, while these types of texts provide an excellent opportunity for lesser known academics to publish and gain exposure, they often have little appeal to a broader audience. Readers looking for a broad discussion of Epicurean thought would be best served looking elsewhere.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9360e00c) out of 5 stars Interesting, but not exactly what I was looking for 3 Nov. 2008
By DJ - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a series of academic essays of current scholarship surrounding Epicurus. My hope in purchasing it was to get a better sense of what Epicurus is saying in his (surviving) works. I did get that to some extent, but mostly indirectly, in that an understanding of Epicurus is partially assumed by most of the essays and their main points are more technical and less general. For example, two of the essays focus on the question of how friends/friendship can be an end in itself if your philosophy is hedonism (pleasure for one's self). And several of the essays compare Epicurus in relatively obscure details to other philosophers. Nevertheless I did learn a fair amount about current interpretations of Epicurus' philosophy.
13 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9323b96c) out of 5 stars you will not get seven virgins after your death ... 17 Aug. 2005
By FrizzText - Published on
Format: Paperback
It is the shabby trade of the denominations and religion bureaucracies, that they (with infiltrated awe for God and the beyond) again and again try to stir up and bedevil naiv humans: Epicurus (341 - 270 BC) wanted to cut those puppet works. In the today's fundamentalist meets ("in the sky", the Taliban suicide assassins are instructed (swindled), "you will get seven virgins for reward") religious stir-up-neighborhoods and other morasses know how to produce foolish terrorists. The scholars barely can be waiting to enter the promised life after death. "The Clash Of The Civilizations" (Samuel P. Huntington) since September 11 made a worse climax, 2300 years after Epicurus - and this completely uninfluenced by any realizations of Greek philosophy. One could generally doubt, if philosophy is able at all, to clear up brains. Fortunately in parts of Western cultures and counter-cultures however fragments of Epicureanism, Skepticism and Stoicism are still living on. Epicurus (with honorable persistence) tried to weaken the fear of Gods and their punishment-actions and the awe concerning the certain coming death (all animals fate) - and on the other hand he recommended to keep a distance to the political scene (which too often is involved into corruption or riot, filled with hollow slogans or hate-sermons). He prefered not to work on public places but only in his lovely garden, talking to a handful of well-known friends. This conception requires to proof not only the habits of a sensible life-style but more deeper the patterns of personal identity and the consciousness of using time. "A free live is not able to acquire much money , because this is not easy to get without being serviceable to the rich or the mediocre people ..." Epicurus wrote - and he is not frightened at the opulence deficit. "The voice of our bodies: do not be hungry, thirsty, cold!" Indeed, some non-European, i.e. African nations are demonstrating persistently to the rest of the world, how to overcome with low costs - without loosing dignity. Today, an Epicurean is thought of as a exhausted wine-sipping decadent, practicing unalloyed hedonism and wild orgies, sex and drugs and rock and roll. This is completely wrong. Pleasure is defined by Epicurus as the avoidance of pain and passion, of mania and addiction, is defined as a stabilization of emotions. Epicurus preached as a goal of our mortal life to minimize our excitements and anxieties, dependencies and crazes. Not an everlasting carnival was intended, but calmness as a lifestyle. Of course not a cramped indigence and having of no wants combined with self-punishment and nunful, self-indebted hate-the-own-body-attitude. Few philosophers have been more maligned and underappreciated. Epicurus still delivers important annotations. A last one: "You must comprehend the fact, that a long and a short statement are able to reach the same aim." I hope so.
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