Author Topic: Neo-Epicurean Life Hacks  (Read 2432 times)

Offline Mequa

Neo-Epicurean Life Hacks
« on: November 16, 2014, 11:57:05 PM »
(Cross-post:)

According to Wikipedia.org,

"Life hacking refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. It is arguably a modern appropriation of a gordian knot - in other words, anything that solves an everyday problem in an inspired, ingenious manner."

The same concept has ancient roots, however. Ancient practical philosophers developed techniques to be able to live more wisely. The two most practical schools coming out of ancient Greece were Stoicism and Epicureanism. These were taken on by the more pragmatic Romans - emperor Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic and wrote his "Meditations" on Stoic philosophy. Both of these philosophies are mentioned in the Christian New Testament during Paul's visit to Athens in the book of Acts. Ironically, it was the Christians who killed off these ancient schools in an act of tyranny, which may otherwise have remained open to this day.

Extracting modernised "life hacks" from both these ancient schools, updated in light of 21st century technology, science and culture, is a field one could write many lengthy books on.

I'd like to touch on some in particular here from Epicureanism, which cut many gordian knots in terms of wisdom, happiness, what it means to live well, and the relationship between individual self-interest and concern for others.

Instrumental alignment

Quite simply, in the Epicurean form of individualism the highest value in life is your own purely selfish happiness (hedone/eudaimonia) and peace of mind (ataraxia), rooted in your own survival and health (of both body and mind). All other values are secondary and subservient to this one.

This is often wrongly understood as an overly selfish philosophy, but this is a misreading. Achieving individual happiness requires satisfying basic human needs, including the need for friendship and community, which gives rise to reciprocal altruism out of enlightened self-interest.

Standards of justice and friendship are established pragmatically, as a social contract (Epicurus was one of the first contractarians), and following them (to some degree of closeness) is an instrument to your own happiness, when it instrumentally aligns with it and this is determined via the available empirical evidence. This again follows this principle of even determining how far one should adhere to social norms such as justice and friendship, should be made subservient to the ends of individual happiness - and verified empirically.

By the same standards, wisdom is defined primarily as practical skill with utility or expediency towards your own lifelong personal happiness. Wisdom only has value to you in so far as it makes you happy in the long run.

Those traits which are considered social virtues, such as being a good friend, compassionate, just, and fulfilling obligations, are rejected as good in themselves (or "intrinsically" good"), and instead judged instrumentally as a means to the end of your own personal happiness. This is known as "hedonistic virtue ethics", where you empirically and pragmatically decide where to act "good" where it can personally make you happy.

For example, if you desire friends, developing the virtues of a good friend can help you to obtain good friends and thus satisfy your basic human needs more efficiently.

Thus the value of social virtue is judged purely instrumentally, towards your own individual ends, based on utility and empiricism. At the same time you will be following your own nature - both human nature in general and your own individual nature or disposition. So your results will vary considerably (in terms of conventional morality) depending on whether or not you are a psychopath, for instance.

Most humans are highly social creatures and desire companionship, so being smart means learning to get along and seeking like-minded individuals. Being too much of an asshole is usually self-destructive, detrimental to the end of your own individual happiness. Civil interaction establishes other persons have boundaries and rights, and failure to respect these usually carries negative penalties for yourself - social animals like humans are biologically programmed to strive for social order.

To myself, this neo-Epicurean form of individualism is a way out of existential and moral nihilism, which adds respect for one's own dignity and right to live as your own end as an individual, not compromising on self-interest but with a large incorporation on concern for others as instrumentally aligned towards this end. Although some may consider such a form of individualism as rather amoral, basing and rooting it in self-respect rather allows healthy (as opposed to self-destructive) respect for others, as well as genuine friendship and community, and avoids a more crippling, guilt-ridden and shame-ridden form of morality which poisons the spirit. You can strive for a win-win arrangement instead of opting for martyrdom and being the "lose" part of a win-lose. This validates your own dignity and moral worth as an individual and human being. This provides a basis for asserting yourself (without trampling on others).

What you have here is essentially the kernel of an epic life hack. The fundamental principle is that of hedonic calculus - maximising your own personal pleasure, happiness and peace of mind planned over the course of your life - and minimising your own pain, suffering and misery. In today's world this may involve researching the latest evidence-based psychotherapies and applied happiness research in fields such as Positive Psychology. But above all it means thinking for yourself using all your own natural faculties, going by the empirical evidence while also being able to use gut feeling and intuition as appropriate. This is how you determine what is best for you.

Of course, this is just an option. I am not holding this "end" of life out as the Way, the Truth and the Life. But loving yourself and respecting your own dignity is a viable path and antidote to existential nihilism, particularly given the void left by the absence of religion (as was touched on by Nietzsche).

I will likely be returning to this topic at a later date, and possibly discussing some specific applications of these ideas.

Mequa

Offline Solitary

Re: Neo-Epicurean Life Hacks
« Reply #1 on: November 17, 2014, 09:12:45 AM »
Good and interesting post! Thanks! Buddha in his "original" teachings said the same thing. Desire is good, as long as it isn't selfish desire that harms other living things. Something the CEO's of companies need to follow. Solitary
There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.

Offline stromboli

Re: Neo-Epicurean Life Hacks
« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2014, 11:29:05 AM »
Quote
Those traits which are considered social virtues, such as being a good friend, compassionate, just, and fulfilling obligations, are rejected as good in themselves (or "intrinsically" good"), and instead judged instrumentally as a means to the end of your own personal happiness. This is known as "hedonistic virtue ethics", where you empirically and pragmatically decide where to act "good" where it can personally make you happy.

From an evolutionary standpoint, this has essentially been proven. The herd instinct feeds into this, because the need for a harmonious interacting community is ultimately for the benefit of the individual. You can compare this to religion, where the need to do good is presented as an individual path to salvation-which is really more selfish than otherwise;  versus the overall well being of a group for both safety and positive feedback. I don't identify personally in the same terms that you provide, but I think the majority of us would fall in that philosophical grouping. I don't think of myself as a philosopher and don't self- identify in those terms.

Offline Deidre32

Re: Neo-Epicurean Life Hacks
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2014, 12:43:50 PM »
I've commented on this elsewhere, Mequa...but, interesting how when you read something a few times, you take away a different moral or message.

If we strive for the Epicurean ideology of happiness, and how to potentially achieve it...will that make us better suited to help those around us? The idea being, that if we are at our best, psychologically and emotionally (and physically)...won't we contribute more to the world around us, helping more of those in need? (than if we didn't follow his ideology)

The path towards peace and happiness may be different for everyone, but striving towards that goal CAN benefit others around us, even if the means to achieving happiness, doesn't *seem* altruistic at the time.

Does this make sense?
The only lasting beauty, is the beauty of the heart. - Rumi

Offline Solitary

Re: Neo-Epicurean Life Hacks
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2014, 12:54:14 PM »
It does to me! I've always felt that people that hurt other living things are not really happy. I don't think people that are driven are really happy either, because they are never satisfied, accept temporarily. It's like sex, great at the time, but still driven be desire after awhile trying to score again. Same with drugs.
There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.

Offline aitm

Re: Neo-Epicurean Life Hacks
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2014, 01:09:04 PM »
I have many times told people, when asked my affiliation, that I was an "Epicurean Existentialist" this usually ended further discussion of religion or philosophy.
A humans desire to live is exceeded only by their willingness to die for another. Even god cannot equal this magnificent sacrifice. No god has the right to judge them.-first tenant of the Panotheust

Offline Mequa

Re: Neo-Epicurean Life Hacks
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2014, 10:39:04 PM »
I've commented on this elsewhere, Mequa...but, interesting how when you read something a few times, you take away a different moral or message.

If we strive for the Epicurean ideology of happiness, and how to potentially achieve it...will that make us better suited to help those around us? The idea being, that if we are at our best, psychologically and emotionally (and physically)...won't we contribute more to the world around us, helping more of those in need? (than if we didn't follow his ideology)

The path towards peace and happiness may be different for everyone, but striving towards that goal CAN benefit others around us, even if the means to achieving happiness, doesn't *seem* altruistic at the time.

Does this make sense?
Yes, there are social advantages to this kind of philosophy - if your basic needs are met, you are better able to meet the needs of others. If you have some degree of inner peace, you are not only happier, but also less likely to lash out and hurt others. So it makes sense to consider the happiness of the individual seriously, including when you take the other side of the coin and consider this merely as a "utility to others" factor. But at the same time, one's own happiness is one's primary concern.

This fits with the kind of definition of individualism as given on Wikipedia: "Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual." By this standard, the worth of an individual cannot be reduced to their utility or usefulness to others. The individual is their own end, not merely a means to the end of others, and the individual has every right to reject being treated in the latter manner (which is what most people mean by "being used").

Going back to Epicurus, it's clear that he saw genuine friendship as instrumental to individual happiness, well-being and peace of mind. At the same time, one friend's needs are also valued. I find Epicurus' social philosophy to be quite fascinating. He described all kinds of friendship in terms of a social contract wherein both parties voluntarily establish certain guidelines, the specifics of which may vary in time and place, to prevent against both inflicting harm and having the other person inflict harm on you.

In modern terms this would be called the establishment of personal boundaries. Thus, out of the personal benefit gained by the friendship in terms of fulfillment of basic human needs, and thus the enormous instrumental value this places on the friendship, it becomes in your own self-interest to respect your friend's personal boundaries, as well as assertively defending your own. Then you can consider things from the friend's perspective and place yourself in their shoes, and consider what is in their best interests also. In this case, by considering both your own basic needs and that of your friend, you create a win/win relationship where the personal happiness of both parties is furthered. This principle is extended by application to one's relationship to communities.

Some have considered the Epicurean philosophy of friendship too selfish as it is ultimately based on self-interest (albeit mutual), and proposed that this has an ulterior motive and doesn't allow for genuine friendship which is supposedly "selfless". An example would be the Stoic philosopher Seneca who considered it too selfish to look to friendships to meet your own personal needs, and instead suggested looking for friends to sacrifice and die for, as that would constitute more virtuous friendship. I don't buy this, myself.

Furthermore, one person willingly sacrificing themselves to another is - from the other side of the equation - a person sacrificing another person to himself or herself, so the irony here is that martyrlike self-abnegation is often a form of not only enabling one's exploitation but also of enabling predatory selfishness, by refusing to honour one's own dignity. Sticking up for yourself, and refusing to be used and exploited, is therefore every bit as important as not trampling on other's rights (as defined by societal agreement and utility). The fundamental principle behind it is a respect for your own dignity. Your own natural faculties can guide you independent of any external authority, dogma or tradition.

This kind of ethic is personally empowering, liberating, and very smart and rational in my assessment. It seems to works for me. :)
« Last Edit: November 17, 2014, 10:41:08 PM by Mequa »

Offline stromboli

Re: Neo-Epicurean Life Hacks
« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2014, 10:20:31 AM »
You do a good job of defining and explaining your points. Unfortunately the audience here is, sadly, not the audience that needs to hear. As I said previously, we de facto probably fall into the group described. But in the context of religion, Epicureanism is foreign land.