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Christos

A Dialog On “Epicurean Ways of Thinking” and “ReHellenization In Light of Epicurean Philosophy”

[Note:  The following is an exchange recently held on the Epicurean Philosophy Facebook Group.  I have edited down the number comments to keep the thread more focused.  I plan to curate this into better form, but I want to go ahead and post the main structure.]

July 27, 2017:   Elli:  In the favor of this FB group of friends of Epicurean philosophy, I asked our epicurean friend Christos Yapijakis to translate in English language his paper work from the event at Promethea, because I think that it was the best among the bests. 
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10th Panhellenic Meeting of Epicureans, Mount Olympus, Greece Theme: «Re-Hellenization in light of Epicurean Philosophy» – Way of thinking – by Christos Yapijakis 1) Founding Member of Friends of Epicurean Philosophy “Garden of Athens” 2) Assistant Professor of Neurogenetics, University of Athens Medical School, Athens, Greece

For the friends of Epicurean philosophy, Re-Hellenization is the emergence of the best ingredients of Humanism, according to the essence of Epicurus’ saying “friendship dances around the world summoning us all to awaken to the recognition of happiness” (Sententiae Vaticane 52). In antiquity, the Epicurean philosophy was panhuman and universal, the first worldview which embraced people of all age, gender, ethnicity and social order, men and women, rich and poor, free people and slaves. In addition to Epicurus’ disciples of Hellenic (Greek) origin, Epicurean teachings influenced Syrians like Mithres and Lucian, Romans like Lucretius and Piso, Hellenized Jews like most Sadducees and the writer of Ecclesiastes, Carthaginians like Terentius, and Celts like Catius Insuber. Irrespective of ethnicity, all Epicureans in antiquity were Hellenized and humanized. After the barbaric interval of a thousand medieval years, the same trend of Re-Hellenization and Humanization continued from the Renaissance to the present day. As Isocrates wrote, Hellene (Greek) is anyone who participates in Hellenic humanitarian education. And not someone who has the mythical and non-existent ‘Hellenic DNA’ as some idealists claim unscientifically…

The purpose of Hellenic humanitarian education is eudaimonia (happiness). According to the Epicurean philosophy, the blissful life, in other words the pleasurable state of living, cannot be achieved by someone without prudence, without virtues and without justice, that is to say without having the right way of thinking. The way of thinking is of great importance, since it represents the methodology used by someone to analyze the information one receives from the environment. There is the right way of thinking, the Epicurean one, based on the best use of natural human abilities, on the perception of senses and emotions, but also on calm, objective and educated reasoning. This is the way of thinking based on empirical, naturalistic, and ultimately scientific knowledge of the world, according to the moto “senses come first”.

The objective way of thinking has the advantage of leading well-intentioned people to similar conclusions. This objective way of thinking has led Epicurus and his students to reach numerous conclusions about nature that were proven by modern scientific research to be correct. This objective way of thinking reduced the amount of unnecessary disagreements and led to the consistency of opinions, to sound reasoning, to favorable communication and to high-regarded friendship that characterized the Epicurean communities for about seven centuries until the coming of the Middle Ages.

On the contrary, the wrong ways of thinking do not lead to blissful life, but lead instead to confusion and barbarity.

The erroneous ways of thinking may be divided into two categories, the systematically wrong mentality and the foolishly misguided mentality. The systematic error, as it is called scientifically, is the way that may lead to disastrous results if we do not avoid it. The Epicurean Roman Lucretius points out: “Again, as in a building, if the first plumb-line be askew, and if the square deceiving swerve from lines exact, and if the level waver but the least in any part, the whole construction then must turn out faulty-shelving and askew, leaning to back and front, incongruous, that now some portions seem about to fall, and falls the whole ere long-betrayed indeed by first deceiving estimates: so too thy calculations in affairs of life must be askew and false, if sprung for thee from senses false. So all that troop of words marshalled against the senses is quite vain” (De rerum natura IV 513-521, W.E. Leonard 1916).

The systematically wrong mindset usually uses literary falsification of reality. Some manipulate speech, either with sophism, or with rhetoric, or with dialectical techniques, or with sterile obsessive logic, using ways of cheating others or deluding oneself, usually with political or self-serving purposes. Literary falsification of reality includes the ideal mythological approach of the world, the “political lie” considered by Plato as the right of people in power, the superficial commentary of the phenomena and sterile skepticism. All these verbal approaches based on the moto “mind comes first” are forms of subjectivity, idealism and intellectualism. These systematically wrong ways of thinking led the Hellenic world to intolerance and discord, and eventually to submission to Republican Rome, whose rising power came from collaboration of patricians and plebeians. These systematically wrong idealistic mentalities subsequently led mankind to the Middle Ages.

In the modern world, we may observe that subjectivity, obsessive ideologies, noncritical pluralistic chattering continue to result in barbaric disputes and inhuman fighting while the temporarily stronger prevails, according to the barbarous law of the jungle. In addition, there is the absurd misguided way of thinking, the impulsive, the “so I like it”, the variably eclectic mentality. This is usually an uncertain, shallow, and effortless way of imprudent dealing with any subject. It is characterized by lack of knowledge of reality, empty chattering, and myopic desires of the type “the purpose sanctifies the means”. An example result of this mentality is the recent decision by President Donald Trump to withdraw USA from the Paris Climate Agreement, which has sparked the outcry of many international scientific associations that called it “a dangerous denial of decision-making method based on scientific data”.

Nevetheless, there are many people against the scientific way of thinking and common sense, such as the Syndicate of Greek Electricity Workers that welcomed the Trump decision, combining unscientific nonsense and self-interest politics in an exemplary manner, since most of their jobs are still based on coal mining. Unfortunately, the nonsensical and superficial way of thinking is particularly widespread in modern societies. The Epicurean philosophy can assist its friends to combat this mentality of the many and to overcome the foolish, idealistic influences that create anxiety and turmoil. Studying and understanding Epicurean texts may help a well-intentioned reader to experience the objective, scientific and serene way of thinking of Epicurus without any misunderstandings. History teaches us that even charismatic people who did not understand the Epicurean scientific method made mistakes in their appreciation. For example, the great thinker Voltaire, who generally admired Epicurus, erroneously considered as absurd the Master’s views regarding chance and evolution in nature.

Perhaps even an intelligent person who uses merely rhetorical arguments can end up in foolish opinions, while observation and calm reasoning may lead a person of moderate intelligence to objective scientific thinking. The role of Science is not “to fight unemployment”, as an ignorant Greek High School student wrote recently in an exam. The method of Science, reminiscing the Epicurean Canon, provides the intellectual and technological resources for the liberation of thought and the pursuit of happiness of people, as was first recognized by Epicurus, the philosopher that enlightened humanity. The Re-Hellenization, which is synonymous with Humanism for the Epicureans, should be based on the education of all people in the scientific way of thinking, the objective observation of reality, the calm reasoning with ataraxia, and the friendly coexistence with the aim of the blissful civilized life.

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Cassius Amicus I very much like Christos’ article – here are a few comments that I have after reading it, not in disagreement, but in thinking through some of the issues raised. (This may seem disjointed but I am summarizing a few points I discussed directly with Christos that I think are worth repeating here) —

If it is true (as i think it is) that not everyone perceives the same types of pleasures (or pains) as of greatest significance to them, they sometimes come into conflict with each other not only on the idealistic level, but also in their personal preferences which may or may not be traceable to falsification of reality. If we start from the premise that there is no absolute universal “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “evil,” and that the pleasure and pain of individuals are ultimately the root of all decisions of what to choose and avoid, then I think we end up as did Epicurus with conclusions as to justice, and even as to personal morality, that many people find offensive – because those conclusions are clearly not consistent with ideals of universal “brotherhood” or absolute love of all other people indiscriminately.

PD39 and PD40, among others for example, seem to clearly contemplate that not everyone and every group will be friends, and that **separation** of those groups is the better course so that both can pursue their own views of happiness. PD10 is even more stark in stating that premise in very clear and extreme terms.

So where I am going with that is to observe that the closer we get to making conclusions that imply that any “political” decision is best for “everyone,” the more hazardous that conclusion may be. I perceive that to be the case because it may be that the divergent opinions which individuals (or groups) have reached may be based not on idealism or on superstition or any other abstract basis, but rather from their own personal interpretations of pleasure and pain and anticipations and of how they should live most happily.

For example in terms of the issue of co-existence with islam, of course that is largely a religious problem, but I would not discount that there are non-religious aspects involved in the mix. It seems to be that there are probably cultural and non-religions issues that lead groups of people to legitimately wish to live separately. And of course in that analysis, it is the Stoics/ Platonists who insist that all laws should be the same in Athens as in Rome, on their theory that god or a prime mover enforces the same rules of conduct on everyone.

So in conclusion I think one of the most interesting aspects of all this is that Christos is very correct in identifying “way of thinking” as the critical issue. In addition, however, as consider what a way of thinking means, we will also have to consider every person’s faculty of pain and pleasure will lead them to evaluate their own particular facts and circumstances. By the nature of an atomistic, non-theistic universe, views of pleasurable living may vary in ways that we cannot easily predict, and which are not fated. So that is a long way of saying that we face the same hazard as the idealists. Just as they think that their idealism and absolutism should lead everyone to the same good and away from the same evil, we have to be careful that we do not think that our own dispositions as to pleasure and pain are shared by everyone, and that everyone will reach the same conclusion as to what constitutes pleasurable living.


Elli Pensa Cassius, hi my friend. Proclaiming the genuine hellenic philosophy…we do not face any hazard as the “idealists , but as the Enlighteners. The enlighteners took action when “a great numbers of persons suffered from false notions about the nature of things, and the number who suffered was increasing”.

We the epicureans have a kind of responsibility to decrease something that is increasing. Pleasure can’t be achieved in a massive disaster of any barbarism.


Way of Thinking is based on the Strategic method to change things that are not beneficial anymore.

Thus, here is what our teacher Epicurus admonishes us : “You will attempt something only when you can attempt it in appropriate circumstances and in the appropriate opportunity. But when comes the right opportunity, you be ready to grab it….”, “When you contemplating the fleeing is prohibited to stay empty-handed … there is a hope for a way out even in the most difficult situations, if not in too great a hurry before the time, nor too dilatory when the time arrives…” From epistle to Idomeneus, on The Urgent Need for Action (Seneca’s Letters – Book I – Letter XXII).

And here is our Epicurean friend Diogenis of Oinoanda who did not stay empty-handed, and attempted in appropriate circumstances and in the appropriate opportunity, his huge inscription for the public.

“If only a few people were gripped by vain desires, and by false fears of death and of the gods, I would address them individually, and do all in my power to give them my best advice. But as I have said, a great multitude of people suffer from the same disease, as if in a plague. Great numbers suffer from false notions about the nature of things, and the number who suffer is increasing. In mutual emulation, many men catch this disease from one another like sheep. In addition to my fellow-citizens who are in this predicament, I desire to help future generations, for they too, though unborn, belong to us, as do any foreigners who may happen to come here.

The inscription on this wall has been set up to reach a large number of people, and I will use it to advertise publicly the medicines that bring salvation. These medicines we Epicureans have fully tested, for we ourselves have dispelled the fears that grip other men without justification. We have completely cut away those pains that are groundless, and those pains that are natural we have reduced to an absolute minimum”.



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August 4, 2017:  [The following post is an extended comment by Christos Yapijakis, one of the central leaders of the Athens (Greece) Epicureans, who is commenting on my response to his earlier excellent article on “Ways of Thinking.” It might logically be better placed in the earlier thread on that article that Elli posted, but I posting this as a new thread so that it gets the attention it deserves from the time that Christos put into it. In the comments here I will immediately link to the original post so that it can easily be found, and I will post a link in the original thread to this post.]

Can there be a universally common “way of thinking”? – Christos Yapijakis

In my recent article “Way of thinking”, I suggested a distinction between the right way of thinking, in my view the Epicurean / scientific one, that may lead to a blissful life and the wrong ways of thinking, the idealistic and rationalistic ones, that lead instead to confusion and barbarity”.

The Epicurean mentality, according to the moto “senses come first”, is based on the best use of natural human abilities, on the perception of senses and emotions, but also on calm, objective and educated reasoning. It is an objective way of thinking based on empirical, naturalistic, and ultimately scientific knowledge of the world, that has the advantage of leading well-intentioned people to similar conclusions. This objective way of thinking has led Epicurus and his students to reach numerous conclusions about nature that were proven by modern scientific research to be correct.

On the contrary, the wrong mindsets usually use literary falsification of reality, based on the moto “mind comes first”. They use subjective beliefs, wishful thinking, sophisms, rhetoric, dialectical techniques, or sterile obsessive logic. I concluded that in the modern world we may observe that subjectivity, obsessive ideologies, and noncritical pluralistic chattering continue to result in barbaric disputes and inhuman fighting while the temporarily stronger prevails, according to the barbarous law of the jungle.

My Epicurean friend Cassius Amicus commented on my article agreeing that “way of thinking” is the distinguishing issue between Epicureans and idealists/rationalists who tend to “falsify reality”. Nevertheless, he suggested that “not everyone perceives the same types of pleasures (or pains) as of greatest significance to them, and so they sometimes come into conflict with each other not only on the idealistic level, but also in their personal preferences which may or may not be traceable to falsification of reality”.

In addition Cassius suggested that “there is no absolute universal “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “evil” as the Stoics/Platonists believe and that the pleasure and pain of individuals are ultimately the root of all decisions of what to choose and avoid, then I think we end up as did Epicurus with conclusions as to justice, and even as to personal morality, that many people find offensive – because those conclusions are clearly not consistent with ideals of universal “brotherhood” or absolute love of all other people indiscriminately”. According to my Epicurean friend over the web, “since not everyone and every group will be friends, **separation** of those groups is the better course so that both can pursue their own views of happiness”.

I think my friend Cassius’ objections are common sense thoughts validated by the observations of widespread beliefs, skepticisms and mentalities of people in general. Nevertheless, as Epicurus said: “I would certainly prefer as I study Nature to announce frankly what is beneficial to all people, even if none agrees with me, rather than to compromise with common opinions and thus reap the frequent praise of the many” (Vatican Saying 29).

Epicurus had observed (and modern Science verified his view) that the basis of the human nature is mostly the same for everyone. That is, if we base our thinking, inference and discussion on human biology and limit the noise from cultural and sociological differences and preferences. And if we agree that happiness is the supreme good for every human being, and happiness is the pleasurable state (katastematic hedone) of lack of pain (aponia) and lack of agitation and anxiety (ataraxia), then it does not matter how each one of us reaches this state, i.e. our preferences for particular pleasures. In addition, another biological ability of humans is empathy that helps most of us to understand each other if we are prudent. Therefore, I may like meat more than fish, but I can understand that you may like fish better. Terentius, influenced by Epicurus’ friend writer Menander wrote: “I am human and nothing human is foreign to me”.

Prudence also makes us understand what Epicurus said about the study of Nature (Science). We would not need Science if we could enjoy living without fear of anything unknown (Principal Doctrine 12). The scientific way, i.e. proposing theories and then observe in an experiment which theory is right or wrong I think is the best endeavor of humankind. Well-intended scientists (not selfish crooks) are open-minded in that way since they believe only observed data. We are talking today about evidence-based medicine, evidence-based environmental science etc. I do think (and that was my point in my text) that the Epicurean way is indeed the scientific way. Most people’s choice or common sense cannot compare with observation of reality and serene knowledge of nature. The problem of modern Science is that it is motivated by curiosity or ambition (Aristotelian goals) instead of enlightenment and humanism/human happiness (Epicurean goals).

Neuroscientists have observed that decision-making of most people is influenced by biases that cloud their judgment (see for example http :// nordic.businessinsider.com/neuroscientist-most-important-ch…). Usually social cues compel people (even subconsciously) to make choices they would otherwise avoid. In all cases, it is not important what one prefer to eat, to drink, to dress, or which play to watch, but the most important decision is with whom one is surrounded. Epicurus was again right, when he observed that it does not matter what to eat or to drink, but with whom to eat or to drink. A universal “way of thinking” is indeed possible because basically people have the same biological needs.

Therefore, the Epicurean way of thinking includes objective observation and serene reasoning (scientific characteristics), prudence that aims to happiness and friendship (humanistic characteristics) through virtue and justice. Virtue is a necessary means for happiness according to Epicurus (Principal Doctrine 5), who also told us that “to do good to others is more pleasurable than to receive good from others” (Plutarch “Not even pleasurable living according to Epicurus” 1097a) and “friendship dances all over the world inviting all of us to join her in blissful life”.

Every human being without mental disabilities may be taught the Epicurean way and become a free, virtuous, friendly and happy person. Then, as Diogenes of Oenoanda wrote if most people are taught the Epicurean way then humans would live the happy life of gods.



August 5, 2017:  Cassius Amicus When I first posted this thread I had not yet read Christos article – I knew due to the source that it was important to post it and would be beneficial to the group here, so I wanted nothing – even a lapse of time – to come between the article and the readers who would benefit from it. And now that I have read it I see that my confidence in Christos was deserved, as I agree with every point he has raised.

As we consider what he wrote I think I can extend the discussion by highlighting several qualifying phrases that Christos used, so we can discuss what it “is” and what we “are not” saying. For example, here are passages with portions emphasized:

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– “It [Epicurean ways of thinking…. have] the advantage of leading **well-intentioned people** to similar conclusions.

– “and noncritical pluralistic chattering continue to result in barbaric disputes and inhuman fighting **while the temporarily stronger prevails**, according to the barbarous law of the jungle.

– “That is, **if** we base our thinking, inference and discussion on human biology and limit the noise from cultural and sociological differences and preferences…. And **if** we agree that happiness is the supreme good for every human being, and happiness is the pleasurable state (katastematic hedone) of lack of pain (aponia) and lack of agitation and anxiety (ataraxia), **then** it does not matter how each one of us reaches this state, i.e. our preferences for particular pleasures.”

– “In addition, another biological ability of humans is empathy that helps most of us to understand each other **if we are prudent**.”

– “**Well-intended scientists** (not selfish crooks) are open-minded in that way since they believe only observed data.”

– A universal “way of thinking” is indeed **possible** because basically people have the same biological needs.

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These are important qualifications. They do not diminish at all the thrust of Christos’ point – that Epicurean philosophy is the way forward toward wider cooperation and happier living for the greatest number of people throughout the world. However these qualifications warn us to keep in mind the ramifications of an unfortunate truth – that there are in facmany people who do not share our common vision for a happier mankind. If we are to live our lives happily ourselves, we must be ready to grapple with how to deal with those who not only do not share our vision, but would actively seek to do us harm.

It is not my purpose to suggest that we need to discuss the details of an Epicurean police force, or an Epicurean army, or an Epicurean nation-state. These structures are, however, something that we cannot afford to ignore, given that we depend upon them for the social structure that allows us to have these current discussions. To ignore the requirements of peace and safety for those of us who share our common vision would be very shortsighted, and would be to ignore the important qualifications that Christos has raised.

Note that I am not implying criticism in not addressing these issues in more detail to date. First steps come first, and Christos (and those of us in this Facebook group) correctly focus on first identifying the goal toward which we should work. Otherwise we would have no need to consider what supporting structure is necessary for the growth and continuance of that goal.

So I write this to make the point that while we work on identifying the goal we should also carry the discussion forward into the real world of how we achieve these goals. How do we preserve our own safety, and the safety of our friends, in a world where safety is not automatic and there are constant threats to our future happiness?

Christos wrote at the end of this post: “Every human being without mental disabilities may be taught the Epicurean way and become a free, virtuous, friendly and happy person.” I completely agree with that in the way that it is expressed, qualified by the same considerations Christos has pointed out earlier. It should not be necessary, but should be understood, to note that the “may” here implies “has the capability” rather than “will in fact.” It is essential to remember that in a world where there is no fate or enforcing god, and where free will and circumstances allow innumerable outcomes, there are no guarantees. What becomes evident is that “ways of thinking” do not exist in the abstract, but must be translated into “ways of acting” that are necessary to preserve and extend the pleasurable living that is the goal.

So I would add a similar clarification to the final sentence. When Christos says “Then, as Diogenes of Oenoanda wrote if most people are taught the Epicurean way then humans would live the happy life of gods” I would extend to add: “Then, as Diogenes of Oenoanda wrote, if most people are taught the Epicurean way [of *thinking AND acting**] then [those who learn and apply those lessons] would live the happy life of gods.

The reason I appreciate so much the opportunity to interact with other students of Epicurus in this facebook group, and around the world with such leaders as Christos, is that within our expanding circle of Epicurean friends – and I think here alone – do we have the opportunity to learn what is required, and how to translate that into action – so we can live the best lives that are possible to us. What we are having here are the kinds of practical discussions that we need to advance our goal.



To be continued!