My interview with Luke Slattery on his book Reclaiming Epicurus is now published on the Leather Library. Go here to find out more about the philosophy of pleasure…it’s probably not what you think.
UPDATE (2021): There used to be a link that would take you to my interview, but the blog on which it was published is now gone. So is the interview, unfortunately. However, I was able to find some of our email correspondence, and apparently I had only asked him one question:
Are you an Epicurean in the original sense? Do you believe that pleasure, refined and moderated, is the goal of human life?
No, I’m not an Epicurean in the original sense and I don’t believe that pleasure is the goal of human life simply because I don’t presume that there is a single teleological goal or end of existence. The Epicureans certainly did: pleasure, conceived in a rational way, was for them the sole moral good. But remember that they weren’t aiming at the amplification of sensual pleasure – more more more – so much as a state of serenity that comes with the mastery of desire. Very Zen.Epicureanism is very old – it predates Christianity by 300 years – and now and then pretty strange. Despite these disavowals, however, I still think it’s of value. By rejecting the agency of a god or gods the Epicureans turned their attention to the well-being of mankind, and I’m attracted to this nascent humanism. The key point about their moral philosophy – a kind of rational hedonism – is that it counsels us to moderate our desires, to learn how to take pleasure instead of all the time chasing pleasure. And it’s this simple message that I really do identify with. The identification has two aspects. The first is self-centred or egoistic in that I can be happier if I step off the rat-wheel of insatiable desire and learn to appreciate what I have; the second is social because insatiability – the compulsion to consume – is a threat to the planet.The ancient Epicureans didn’t have to think about this kind of eco-politics yet they did withdraw into garden communities that were open, in an age of severe social distinctions, to men and women, the free and formerly indentured slaves. They weren’t socialist but they did establish the basis of democratic dignity.We, on the other hand, can do our bit to cool and over-heating globe by taking some of the heat out of our consumption; by tempering our desires for more food and more stuff. We could also learn from their sense of democracy – their fellow-feeling and compassion.In conclusion then I’m not an original Epicureanism but I might be a kind of neo-Hedonist.One thing I’m still puzzling with is this: does the Epicurean accept an upgrade on an international flight.I got one on the way home from Italy and didn’t hesitate.