Book Review by Michael Fontaine, and Some Thoughts on Scientism and the Pharmacracy

The latest review of Tending the Epicurean Garden has been published in The Humanist and will print in the Jan-Feb 2015 issue. The reviewer had previously written works comparing Epicureanism (favorably) with the work of psychiatrist Thomas Szasz. This influenced his response to my book.

He also perceived a critique of scientism (which he defines in the piece) in my work. I’ve always seen Epicureanism as a philosophy that criticizes blind consumerism, and hadn’t considered that perspective before, although I’ll admit that I’ve attempted to articulate how the hedonic covenant might inform our ethical choices with regards to science and, most importantly, with regards to transhumanism. To make a long story short, my general view is that science (like religion, by the way) should serve to maximize everyone’s pleasure/comfort and minimize everyone’s pain/discomfort.

Side note: I attempted to interview and discuss a few philosophical matters with the author of The Transhumanist Wager, Zoltan Istvan, who is very enthusiastic about the idea of some humans becoming post-human, and at first he seemed eager but then was apparently turned off by my (too?) candid questions about immortality and how a machine is something other than the brain that is uploaded to it (I was thinking of how the identity of a copy is not the identity of the original, and about the case of twins who look alike but are two distinct things), and other such questions. I feel bad that he shied away from my plainly-stated interrogations, which were sincere and not at all meant to demean him, his work, or his ideals. My hope was that he would perceive the philosophical and ethical challenge of his work as others might perceive it, and that he would have cogent and convincing comebacks to these questions.

It will probably be a while before I articulate my own views on scientism and its dangers more fully. For the record: I’m not yet for or against transhumanism. There are too many unknowns to make up my mind.

Fontaine closed his review with a challenge to all Epicurean intellectuals, which deals with what Epicurean thinkers can say to the people of modernity about our current paradigm of consumption and medication:

Only one question remains unresolved for me. It was courageous and commendable for Crespo to insist that proper diet, exercise, and moderation of our appetites are key to our happiness. He recognizes, as Epicurus did, that at the end of the day we alone decide what to ingest or inhale; those choices are our own. In candidly pinpointing self-control as a means of achieving happiness, Crespo puts himself squarely at odds with the dominant ethos of the medicalized society in which we now live. He doesn’t say whether kicking anti-depressants in favor of other approaches to finding happiness will help—whether the “pharmacratic” criticisms raised by Szasz, Schaler, Leifer, and others can be synthesized and integrated into his updated framework. That, I think, is the obvious next step for him and his companions as they embark on their mission to promote Epicureanism today. I will be watching the experiment with great interest.

That’s another one to ponder. Over the last few years, I wrote at least one diatribe against the cancer industry in Let Food be Your Medicine. However, there are diabetic patients who need insulin shots daily and I would never recommend that they abandon their doctors’ prescribed treatments in favor of a live foods diet, as much as I believe it would make a world of difference.

For-profit health care does create a clash between the interests of patients (who want to heal) and the interests of Big Pharma, one of the biggest lobbies in DC whose interests are for patients to purchase, to become dependant, and to keep purchasing, their products. For-profit health care creates a distortion of our values and views that must always be factored into our ethical questions.

That is just one problem. Then there is the matter of social control via medication, and if Big Pharma profits from keeping the population doped and influences policy, does this not create a (pardon the pun) lethal cocktail of serious moral problems? Some ethical questions we may ask are: who is really pulling the strings when people are doped? Who decides a diagnosis? And to what extent is a person with a certain psychiatric condition (say, schizophrenia) still responsible for his actions?

In my book, I discuss hedonic adaptation, or the hedonic treadmill, which explains how people who suffer great losses or good fortune (even if they’ve won the lottery or lost limbs), always return to a normal, natural, stable level of happiness and how certain pleasures decrease once we get used to them. Therefore, the science of happiness teaches us that we must always have a long-term perspective and while (to cite my own words) my general view is that science should serve to maximize everyone’s pleasure/comfort and minimize everyone’s pain/discomfort, and while I think Epicureanism is about control of our experience, this should not be translated as meaning that addiction-creating drugs should always be favored. Long-term health and stability should be favored, and it is always with this perspective in mind that we should conduct hedonic calculus and make ethical choices.

These discussions will likely continue in future blogs. In the meantime, please enjoy Michael Fontaine’s review of Tending the Epicurean Garden, written for The Humanist, a publication of the American Humanist Association.

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014), 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and Epicurus of Samos – His Philosophy and Life: All the principal Classical texts Compiled and Introduced by Hiram Crespo (Ukemi Audiobooks, 2020). He's the founder of, and has written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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