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What the World Needs Now: Thoughts on Peter St. Andre’s “Letters on Epicurus: A Dialogue about Happiness”

Pompeii-coupleIn my last post I commented that I had learned of two recent updates by Peter St. Andre, and this is to comment on the second of those updates.  But first, let me drop back and say that I consider Peter to be one of the most interesting commentators on Epicurus on the net, most importantly because he regularly produces original work that advances the cause of greater understanding of Epicurus.  I don’t know Peter personally, but his bio is very impressive, and the philosophers and writers he admire indicate (at least to me) that he has an excellent grasp of the basic issues that color modern interpretations of Epicurus.

The purpose of this post is to draw attention to his latest update to “Letters on Epicurus: A Dialogue about Happiness.”  I gather that this is something of a work in progress, but apparently very advanced.  As the title indicates, it is a work in the form of an exchange of letters between two friends who are studying Epicurus and commenting to each other about their findings.  I think the result is a great piece of original work that promises to get even more valuable as Peter continues to polish it.

And with that comment, as I did last time, I am going to dash off in a totally different direction, because the “Letters on Epicurus” needs no commentary or suggestions from me.  What the “Letters on Epicurus” does prompt in me, however, is a broadside lecture (mostly to myself) on a very related topic:

That’s because what really strikes me about “Letters on Epicurus” is that this is the type of project — original thinking to produce new work calculated to bring Epicurus to the attention of new readers — that is exactly what the world needs now.

It has been very valuable to me to participate in online forums and the Garden of Epicurus Facebook page, and to exchange comments with other researchers on challenging points made by other philosophers, ancient and modern.  But what Peter’s essay reminds me of  is that my main interest lies elsewhere — in the projection of Epicurean principles at a fundamental level to those who may not even know Epicurus’ name, or the first thing about “philosophy.”

I do not personally come from the world of professional philosophy, and as much as I admire the work of those who labor there, I do not see much progress being made there in “making a difference” in the lives of normal people.  That’s a point made very well in an essay I saw earlier today (based on a Facebook link!) entitled “An Epicurean Manifesto.

As much as I enjoy learning new details about the ideas of Nietzsche or Gassendi or Hume or Locke, it is increasingly clear to me that I, and other modern admirers of Epicurus, should make a stronger effort to multi-track.   Unless we devote at least as much time to producing new, original, explanatory texts on Epicureanism — much as the original Garden did under Epicurus’ guidance — then many more generations of  people will never have a chance to here the message they need to hear.   This is particularly tragic – and almost unpardonable – since the tools are readily available today to make Epicurus’ message freely available to anyone who can read or listen.

One of Epicurus’ lines that Peter cites is “Friendship dances around the world, announcing to each of us that we must awaken to happiness.”  All of us who are fans of Epicurus should ask ourselves whether we are doing what we can to announce to our friends that they should awaken to happiness, rather than live in despair under the false gods of the modern world.

Peter’s “Letters on Epicurus” is addressed to an audience that already has some knowledge of philosophy, but I would go further and say that I hope that when he finishes that work, he will devote his great knowledge of Epicurus to produce works aimed at those who have NO existing knowledge of Epicurus in particular or philosophy in general.  Our modern educational system and academic establishment are controlled by exactly those who Epicurus warned us about, and they have been working so hard for hundreds of years — and successfully! — to produce minds that have no real knowledge or understanding of philosophy whatsoever.   These need our help the most, and for those who read this blog regularly, here comes the quote from Seneca (citing Epicurean ideas) you would expect me to cite:

Would you really know what philosophy offers to humanity? Philosophy offers counsel. Death calls away one man, and poverty chafes another; a third is worried either by his neighbor’s wealth or by his own. So-and-so is afraid of bad luck; another desires to get away from his own good fortune. Some are ill-treated by men, others by the gods. Why, then, do you frame for me such games as these? It is no occasion for jest; you are retained as counsel for unhappy men, sick and the needy, and those whose heads are under the poised axe. Whither are you straying? What are you doing? This friend, in whose company you are jesting, is in fear. Help him, and take the noose from about his neck. Men are stretching out imploring hands to you on all sides; lives ruined and in danger of ruin are begging for some assistance; men’s hopes, men’s resources, depend upon you. They ask that you deliver them from all their restlessness, that you reveal to them, scattered and wandering as they are, the clear light of truth. Tell them what nature has made necessary, and what superfluous; tell them how simple are the laws that she has laid down, how pleasant and unimpeded life is for those who follow these laws, but how bitter and perplexed it is for those who have put their trust in opinion rather than in nature.

The audience that needs Epicurus most cannot simply be pointed to Epicurus.net or Epicurus.info and simply told to “read this.”  That audience, our friends and relatives and co-workers who have cut themselves off from modern philosophy to maintain their sanity, will need new texts that take the surviving works of Epicurus and explain them in simple terms, as the ancient Epicureans would have explained their ideas to children.

Letters on Epicurus is a great example of the type work that the world very much needs to spread Epicurus’ message further.  Let’s hope there’s much more to come, and that Peter does not neglect the even wider audiences who have an even stronger need for Epicurus’ wisdom and for Peter’s talents!