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Tony Fitzpatrick

Chapter 2 outlines three principal objections. The parsimony objection says that Epicureanism demonstrates a tendency to prefer the utopian, the simplistic and the idealized in its explanations and accounts. The messy complexities of existential and psychological realities are either ignored or smoothed over. The non-hedonic objection claims that by making the hedonic the highest good, Epicureanism ignores the moral value of the non-hedonic. The right thing to do might involve facing and accepting certain pains and self-sacrifices, as in the case of death. Similarly, the emphasis on the hedonic seems to require a thoroughgoing egoism which arguably renders the Epicurean defence of friendship weak. The intrinsic value objection sees virtue either as entirely instrumental or as intrinsic only as a part of the intrinsic value of happiness. If virtue really is intrinsic, this surely implies that the good sometimes means preferring pain (the non-hedonic) and self-sacrifice (the non-egoistic).

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Tony Fitzpatrick

Chapter 3 offers an overview and critique of Aristotle in relation to the objections outlined in Chapter 2. In terms of the parsimony objection I contend that Aristotle does not represent a particular advance on Epicurus but offers much more when it comes to the non-hedonic objection. To expect that virtue is nothing more than a means to pleasure fails to capture the significance which the non-hedonic – including that which is kalon – has within social relationships and moral judgements. With the intrinsic value objection, a grounded, inclusivist reading of Aristotle is preferred which means regarding various distinctions, such as self/other and instrumental/intrinsic value, as permanently unsettled. Living well therefore implies awareness of what Epicurus and Aristotle both neglect: paradoxes, tragedies, accidents and contingencies, unavoidable ambiguities, catastrophes and the impurities of life.

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Tony Fitzpatrick

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Tony Fitzpatrick

Though Epicureanism is not synonymous with anarchism/libertarianism, it seems clear that the strong individualism of the former recommends withdrawal from the wider social world. In response, the chapter outlines what is called the ‘backseat dilemma’, leaving Epicureans vulnerable to those who dominate the public and political world. The chapter therefore begins to sketch a ‘new Epicureanism’ which implies a commitment to social justice and well-being, where the self is ever and always a social self. Though classical Epicureans valued friendship, their attachment to others is highly conditional because of the underlying hedonic egoism. That commitment therefore risks being weak given the emphasis placed upon independence, self-sufficiency and pleasure. Instead, we are most autonomous when we act with and for others in mutual projects.

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Tony Fitzpatrick

Classical Epicureans may have been the first proponents of social contract ideas. This chapter begins by considering three objections to those ideas, the most important of which involves free-riding. Overcoming this objection means invoking the softer, outward facing, more other-regarding form of individuality which was sketched in Chapter 4. This implies diluting the individualism of classical Epicureanism since this seems to depend upon a communal ethos of sameness. By regarding justice as a secondary concept, whose meaning and operation is always local, classical Epicureans assumed that social relations can entirely rely upon informal associations, with friendship, rationality and wise character paramount. If this is both naive and undesirable, we need something more formal, robust and sensitive to the messy diversities of the modern world. A new Epicureanism enables us to build upon the old Epicurean approach to social justice under three headings: well-being and needs; inclusivity and community; just distributions. Its specific contribution is to regard time as a critical social resource. We need a conception that encompasses both personal time and a politics of social time, in which the agency of the state enables social time to be distributed fairly.

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Tony Fitzpatrick

Does classical Epicureanism lend itself to environmentalism? On the face of it, Epicurean simplicity is what we need for ecological sustainability. Yet this chapter sets itself a harder task. Is it the case that Epicureans’ moral horizons encompassed a wider, ecological sense of space and time? This chapter proposes that a key contribution which Epicureanism makes to environmental ethics is in its rejection of a cosmic teleology. It then looks at two dimensions: ecological space and ecological time. In terms of the former, Epicurean commitment to rationality and the social contract could be said to leave little room for consideration of nonhumans. Yet the materialism and hedonism which characterize it means that Epicureanism incorporates an ethos of hedonic recognition, which is more fundamental still. In terms of ecological time, a new Epicureanism makes room for an objective account of the good of, and for, future generations.

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Tony Fitzpatrick

Chapter 7 summarizes the main debates with which a new Epicureanism must engage and uses these to develop a new social reform agenda, one based upon the freeing up of social time, personal time and a new ethos for the use of social space. It outlines a principle called the ‘social guarantee’ which addresses the social, economic, employment and ecological sources of insecurity.

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Tony Fitzpatrick

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Tony Fitzpatrick

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How to Live Well

Epicurus as a Guide to Contemporary Social Reform

Tony Fitzpatrick

The ancient moral philosophy of Epicureanism offers many valuable lessons for the modern world. How to Live Well updates and modifies Epicurean philosophy to offer an exciting new framework for contemporary social reform.