Despite the rampant success of books like Mari 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”
Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.
Download the audio here (right click to “save link as …”)
Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.
Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.