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The cartoonist has perhaps mis-represented Epicurus’ thoughts. Whether deliberately or from the libels of early Christians, who knows?
Examples from Epicurus ?????? ????? (Sovereign Doctrines):
It is impossible to live pleasantly without living prudently and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live prudently and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking (when, for instance, one is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly) it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.
Of all things that wisdom provides for living one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.
It’s a shame that most of Epicurus’ works have been destroyed. Checking the meaning of translations would be easier with more documents to cross-refer to. Never the less Epicurus was not the hedonist he was later alleged to be. He appeared to value modest contentment in a setting of natural laws (whatever he meant by that!)
First off, I was the one that fingered Epicurus, but I had in mind his saying “Where death is, I am not”, which is the view that one’s interests evaporate when one is no longer living, because no-one exists when dead.
Certainly his teachings about a balanced life were misrepresented by theists, but the cartoonist suggests that once all humans are dead, there is nothing to have a sad reaction to their absence (the universe doesn’t care); and that seemed to me to be Epicurean.
Incidentally, I first learned about Epicurus from the works of a Christian scholar, namely William Barclay, whose book “Ethics in a Permissive Society” has a chapter on “The Christian View of Pleasure”. It had the sort of formative influence on me (particularly, on which neurons are most strongly linked to “Epicurus” in my brain) that is often the case for the first thing we ever read about a given topic. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
Epicurus was one of the very few philosophers who declared that pleasure is the supreme good in life. And we use the word epicurean to describe a person who is a devotee of pleasure. But when we do so, we do grave injustice to Epicurus. For Epicurus always insisted that it is essential to take the long view of pleasure, that it is essential to ask, not, what does this feel like just now? but, what will this feel like in the time to come? Epicurus was therefore himself the least epicurean of persons. He believed in a diet of bread and water, for such a diet has no ill consequences to follow. He believed in justic, in honour, in honesty, in chastity and in fidelity, for only when life is lived in these things are there no regrets.“
I agree with DiscoveredJoys. From what I understand of Ancient Greek philosophy, this sounds more like something from the Stoics than the Epicureans.
Me again. I’m going to have to argue over the emphasis on death in the Epicurean world.
Sure, Epicurus dismissed the fear of death by saying you would feel nothing. He also said that you should not fear dying since any pain would be short-lived. But Epicurus said these things because living the pleasant life was the most important thing. Fears of death and dying were merely unnecessary distractions from living the pleasant life. Not quite the same thing as saying sadness doesn’t matter.
Now if the title had said ‘Never let a follower of Nietzsche into a conservation conference’…
You don’t have to be an Epicurean or anything like one to wonder how a lifeless universe can be sad. As far as I know, even Lovelock hasn’t suggested that Gaia is literally conscious, though I’ve met a few environmentalists who believe in a World Soul.
Never mind philosophers not being allowed, a lot of geologists would not be welcome. As Geology is a field that looks at the history of the earth and deals with the numerous major exxtinctions and the reality that climate is always changing, I find the presumption of a lot of environmentalists that the earths climate should remain “stable” at it’s present incarnation fairly illogical. Radical climate change has happened before and will likely happen again and the earth and biosystems will adapt. Might the new climate be less than ideal for humanity, very possibly, even likely. Would that mean it’s “bad” or “sad”. Only when looked at from the narrow hubris of human kinds perception that the climate now is the “ideal” climate. The earth and it’s climate has varied significantly in the past, organisms adapt & evolve to the new conditions or die out. Would it be “sad” if humanity failed that basic evolutionary pressure? As John says, the universe doesn’t care and if we weren’t around anymore, who COULD be “sad”.
1. What makes you think it’s a climate change conference? There are other environmental issues you know.
2. The desire the to avoid large scale changes to the climate doesn’t require a belief that the current situation is the best of all possible worlds or has existed forever. It is as you rightly note a matter of self interest but I would say self interest is only undesireable when it causes us to ignore the interests of others. Who are the others who would benefit from the predicted changes?
3.You seem to impy that we should not try to prevent change because it has happened before and will again. How far are you willing to take this line of thinking. The same thing can be said of road accidents, does that mean that I shouldn’t move if I see a car heading for me?
4. Of course the universe doesn’t and can’t care, that is precisely why we have to do it for ourselves.
1) nowadays it seems people tie climate change into any and all environmental issues
2) who might benefit if the prime predator and most rapacious user of the planet were removed? I imagine almost everything
3) I’m not saying we shouldn’t reduce our impact, but I do question how much the average person worldwide is really prepared to alter their habits and reduce energy consumption. In addition how effective would the proposed changes be? Maybe mitigation isn’t the answer, maybe it’s adaptation? The point I was attempting to make was the underlying assumption in the whole climate “change” argument that considers our present climate as in stasis when it clearly is not.
4) do what for ourselves?
1)That may be the case in public debate, it may even be in academia I work in environmental consulting and you’d be surprised how rarely it comes up. The typical subjects for EIA’s I’ve worked on are ecology, heritage, geology and landscape with occasional additions of noise and air quality depending on the project. If climate change is mentioned it is usually along the lines of “these proposals must take account of potential future stresses such as climate change”
2) OK I see what you’re saying now, I was imagining some hypothetical creature that was better adapted to some future climate than the one it currently lives in. If you’re talking about removing humans rather than trying to keep the climate close to the recent range of variation then yes you’re argument makes a kind of sense.
3 a) Climate change isn’t really my subject but I thought climatologists already considered at least some of the predicted impacts unavoidable. If so it’s going to be adaptation anyway. Mitigation as well might keep the sclae and pace of change more manageable but again I’m no expert. Also tbe honest I had misread you as advocating no action of any kind on the grounds that some things are inevitable so we should just take the blows without wincing.
b) Maybe I’m not looking in the right places but I just don’t see the stasis argument being made. The arguments I see are that the current pace of change is greater than we have experience of dealing with but maybe the assumption is implicit and I’m just not seeing it.
4)Rereading that wasn’t nearly as well put as I thought at the time. I suppose what I meant was that if you want something for “moral” reasons whether it is environmental protection, human rights or whatever and act on that concern it is no good expecting some kind of cosmic justice to sort it, you have to do your own work to achieve your own goals. Of course if you don’t want any such things the question is moot.
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