Neo-Epicurean Life Hacks
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08-11-2014, 10:58 AM
Neo-Epicurean Life Hacks
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
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08-11-2014, 12:25 PM
RE: Neo-Epicurean Life Hacks
Hai Mequa! Nice thread ...not until meeting you online, did I really dive too deeply into Epicurean philosophy ...and it's pretty fascinating, I have to say. I think why some find the ideas of 'maximizing' our pleasure and happiness, and trying to minimize suffering as immoral, is because we live in largely a Christian society, or at the very least a religious one. So, the idea of maximizing our pleasure or satisfying our desires -- can be seen as self centered, or egotistical. But, I see it as necessary to being instrumental in helping others. Only when we are at our personal bests, however that plays out for an individual...can we help another to be at their best.

But, I also believe that suffering has redemptive qualities...and yes, that concept comes from my Christian upbringing. The idea that clinging to suffering is somehow glorifying Jesus in his suffering, was something I used to strive for, as a Christian. So, the notion to put myself say above others in seeking happiness, would have been a foreign idea back then.

Thanks for posting this, it's definitely an intriguing topic. Smile

Be true to yourself. Heart
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