Ideas from 'Letter to Menoeceus' by Epicurus [291 BCE], by Theme Structure

[found in 'The Epicurus Reader' by Epicurus (ed/tr Inwood,B. /Gerson,L.) [Hackett 1994,0-87220-241-0]].

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1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 2. Invocation to Philosophy
Begin philosophy when you are young, and keep going when you are old
                        Full Idea: Let no one delay the study of philosophy while young nor weary of it when old; for no one is either too young or too old for the health of the soul.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 122)
                        A reaction: I agree with this on both accounts. I think the correct age to begin the study of philosophy is four, and it is vital to continue its study up to the point where you can no longer remember your own name. 'Health of the soul' sounds right too.
16. Persons / F. Free Will / 6. Determinism / b. Fate
Sooner follow mythology, than accept the 'fate' of natural philosophers
                        Full Idea: It would be better to follow the stories told about the gods than to be a slave to the fate of the natural philosophers.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 134)
                        A reaction: At this point in history there is a blurring between autonomous decisions and what we now call free will, and also between fate and determinism, which we try to keep distinct.
16. Persons / F. Free Will / 7. Compatibilism
We should not refer things to irresponsible necessity, but either to fortune or to our own will
                        Full Idea: The best men have no belief in necessity (set up by some as mistress of all), but refer some things to fortune, some to ourselves, because necessity is irresponsible, and fortune is unstable, while our own will is free.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 133), quoted by Diogenes Laertius - Lives of Eminent Philosophers 10.27
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 3. Acting on Reason / a. Practical reason
Prudence is more valuable than philosophy, because it avoids confusions of the soul
                        Full Idea: The greatest good in avoiding confusion of the soul is prudence [phronesis], on which account prudence is something more valuable than even philosophy.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 132), quoted by Diogenes Laertius - Lives of Eminent Philosophers 10.27
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 4. Responsibility for Actions
Our own choices are autonomous, and the basis for praise and blame
                        Full Idea: What occurs by our own agency is autonomous, and it is to this that praise and blame are attached.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 133)
                        A reaction: I don't think this should be understand as an assertion of free will in the modern sense. The 'swerve' of the atoms just means that decisions can arise out of us - not that they are somehow outside of nature.
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / f. Good as pleasure
Pleasure is the first good in life
                        Full Idea: Pleasure is the beginning and end of living happily, and we recognise this as the first good.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 128)
                        A reaction: We might enquire what we would live for if our capacities for pleasure were surgically removed. Would we still experience intellectual curiosity, or an aspiration to some cold and remote goodness?
All pleasures are good, but it is not always right to choose them
                        Full Idea: Every pleasure is a good thing, since it has a nature congenial to us, but not every one is to be chosen, just as every pain is a bad thing, but not every one is such as to be always avoided.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 129)
                        A reaction: This kind of sensible remark would be wholly endorsed by Bentham and Mill. This fits in with the excellent distinction between what is right and what is good.
Pleasure is the goal, but as lack of pain and calm mind, not as depraved or greedy pleasure
                        Full Idea: When we say that pleasure is the goal we do not mean the pleasures of the profligate or the pleasures of consumption, but rather the lack of pain in the body and disturbance in the soul.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 131)
                        A reaction: I don't really understand the aspiration to a 'calm mind'. No one likes stress, but total calmness sounds close to non-existence. The mean! There is no achievement without pain.
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / i. Moral luck
Sooner a good decision going wrong, than a bad one turning out for the good
                        Full Idea: It is better for a good decision not to turn out right in action than for a bad decision to turn out right because of chance.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 135)
                        A reaction: This sounds right, and on the whole the law agrees. Notice that what we need is a 'good decision', and not just to 'mean well'. The well-meaning fool is wicked. I am opposed to consequentialism, and agree with this idea.
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 2. Happiness / d. Routes to happiness
The best life is not sensuality, but rational choice and healthy opinion
                        Full Idea: It is not drinking bouts or enjoying boys and women or consuming fish which produces the pleasant life, but sober calculation which searches out reasons for every choice, and drives out opinions which produce turmoil of the soul.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 132)
                        A reaction: This more or less sums up what I would call the philosophical life. Spontaneity is good, and some pleasures are killed by excessive thought, but on the whole actions are always better if good reasons are found, and error brings chaos.
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 3. Pleasure / a. Nature of pleasure
True pleasure is not debauchery, but freedom from physical and mental pain
                        Full Idea: When we say that pleasure is the chief good, we do not mean debauchery, but freedom of the body from pain, and of the soul from confusionů. which requires sober contemplation.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 131), quoted by Diogenes Laertius - Lives of Eminent Philosophers 10.27
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 3. Pleasure / c. Value of pleasure
We only need pleasure when we have the pain of desire
                        Full Idea: We are in need of pleasure only when we are in pain because of the absence of pleasure, and when we are not in pain, then we no longer need pleasure.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 128)
                        A reaction: This Buddhist aspiration to eliminate desire has no appeal for me. It just sounds like a recipe for boredom, and an aversion to risk-taking. Start by asking what is best in life; it inevitably involves pleasure of some sort. Anyway, desire isn't painful.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 1. Virtue Theory / b. Basis of virtue
Prudence is the greatest good, and more valuable than philosophy, because it produces virtue
                        Full Idea: Prudence is the principle of the rational life and is the greatest good. That is why prudence is more valuable than philosophy, for prudence is the source of all the other virtues.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 132)
                        A reaction: ['prudence' will be Greek 'phronesis']The interest of this is that it is almost copied straight out of Aristotle's Ethics. Epicurus was an opponent of the Peripatetics, but greatly influenced by them.
24. Applied Ethics / C. Death Issues / 1. Death
The wisdom that produces a good life also produces a good death
                        Full Idea: The same kind of practice produces a good life and a good death.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 126)
                        A reaction: This is the kind of old fashioned observation which we would do well to hang on to. The ideal of dying well has vanished from our culture.
Fearing death is absurd, because we are not present when it occurs
                        Full Idea: Death, the most frightening of bad things, is nothing to us; since when we exist, death is not yet present, and when death is present, then we do not exist.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 125)
                        A reaction: This is a fairly accurate observation. To fear not being in this life is a bit like fearing not being in Vancouver next Tuesday. It also involves the paradox of the present moment. E.g. Idea 1904.
It is absurd to fear the pain of death when you are not even facing it
                        Full Idea: He is a fool who says that he fears death not because it will be painful when present but because it is painful when it is still to come.
                        From: Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus [c.291 BCE], 125)
                        A reaction: Not very plausible, I'm afraid. It provides a good argument in favour of smoking, if the lung cancer is far in the future. Paralysing fear is daft, but some remote fears should be heeded.