Man ist was man isst

THE NEW EPICUREANISM

In certain European Philosophical circles, there has been a recent spike of interest in Epicurus, and not only among Marxists. (Marx wrote his doctoral thesis on Epicurus.) Like every Greek, Epicurus was obliged to believe in the pantheon of Greek gods who lived on Mount Olympus; but he did so without having to suppose that these gods were even remotely interested in human affairs. As a result, Epicurus needed to find principles for living that were based not on theological, but on materialist (or, we might say, scientific) conceptions of the world – those which explained all nature, including mind and spirit, with reference not to the supernatural, but to harmonies and atomic processes. Marx Studied Epicurus because the Greek philosopher was the great ancient popularizer of the earlier materialist philosophers Lucippus and Democritus, who, in the fourth and fifth centuries b.c., were the first to propound an atomistic doctrine. Epicurus in turn directly influenced the Roman Lucretius, whose De Rerum natura became the authority for Renaissance materialism and the basis of the whole philosophical tradition that runs from Bacon to Locke to Hume and Hobbes and all the way to Feuerbach, who thought that “you are what you eat.

Neo-Epicureans argue that the entire philosophical tradition since Plato – perhaps philosophy itself – has always rejected materialism and has forever been in love with idealism. Even the so-called materialist philosophies exhibit forms of Platonic idealism; this idealism may be turned on its head, as it were, but its articulations are still on place. The new, radical Epicureanism, on the other hand, is non-philosophical. It is a new way of articulating the relation between theory and practice; it is a praxis of thinking about pleasure and its value, in and of itself, as well as from the standpoint of health.

Like Nietzsche, the Epicurean does not aspire to negate philosophy for that would only be another way of affirming it. Philosophy is nothing but the history of its successive negations. Rather, Epicurus teaches us how to look away from the tradition. “Looking up and away shall be my only negation”, Nietzsche asserts in The Gay Science. Like Nietzsche, neo-Epicureans start their thinking not with ideas but with what Epicurus insists is the origin of thought, the body.

Broadly put, neo-Epicureans suppose not only that you are what you eat, but that you think what you eat. Take German idealism, says Nietzsche. It has the leaden consistency and gaseous redolence of a diet thick with potatoes. Italian thought, one might add, is marked by the slippery texture and doughy blandness of pasta. Jewish metaphysics has the astringency and smoky intensity of briny pickles and cured fish. The indistinctnes of Buddhist thought resembles white rice. Neo-Epicureans aim to discover not just a philosophy of being, but a hygiene for living, not a universal system, but a way of thinking about good health in terms of the peculiar proclivities of the individual body.

Against Health, How Health Became the New Morality, Jonathan M. Metzl, Anna Kirkland, 2010, p23

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