Despite the rampant success of books like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, intellectual circles tend to look down on anything that sells itself as self-help. And yet, in a certain light, the most original form of self-help might actually be philosophy—an older and more respected genre, even, than the novel. So this week, we’re going back to the past and asking that old chestnut: what is a meaningful life? The Stoics are awfully popular these days, but the philosopher Catherine Wilson joins us this episode to pitch a different kind of Greek: Epicurus, whose teachings live on most fully in Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things. For a few centuries, Epicurus was wrongly remembered as the patron saint of whoremongers and drunkards, but he really wasn’t: his philosophy is rich with theories of justice, empiricism, pleasure, prudence, and equality (Epicurus, unlike the Stoics, welcomed women and slaves into his school). Epicureanism advocated for a simple life, something that appeals to more and more people today with the return to artisan crafts, self-sufficiency, and, yes, the KonMari method.
Go beyond the episode:
- Catherine Wilson’s How to Be an Epicurean
- Read A. E. Stallings’s recent translation of Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things
- Or read Karl Marx’s university thesis on Epicurus, “The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature”
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