In the coming weeks I’ll be blogging commentaries on Michel Onfray’s Hedonist Manifesto, which contains a complete summary of his intellectual legacy. Onfray is an unapologetic French hedonist and neo-Epicurean who has written dozens of books, and about whose “counter-history of philosophy” I’ve previously written for both Society of Epicurus and The Autarkist.
I defend totalizing philosophy … in a coherent way … I want to propose a counter-history that problematizes the dominant idealist historiography. – Michel Onfray
The Hedonist Manifesto is a treat to the intellect: it presents a complete and coherent contemporary Epicurean worldview, and a firm rejection of idealism, that delves into aesthetics, the problem of modern nihilism, the need to redeem the body as our “irreducible ontology”, historiography, bioethics, eroticism, politics, and other subjects. I strongly recommend reading it to anyone who has acquired a good foundation in the canon, physics, and ethics of Epicurus and who is hungry for philosophical literature by thinkers who are kindred spirits.
In the fashion of therapeutic philosophers like Epicurus and Buddha, who must first diagnose the dis-ease before they can prescribe the medicine, Onfray begins his work with a biographical introduction that helps to explain his hatred of Catholicism and its tyranny, which evolves into anti-Platonic and anti-religious zeal: he was raised in a Catholic orphanage, where he was psychologically abused for years and taught hatred of the body, of sex, of pleasure, of hygiene even, all in the name of empty, Platonic ideals of virtue.
A kind of schizophrenia always threatens philosophers who segregate theory and practice … Ethics is a matter of body, not soul. – Michel Onfray
While in the rage of battle against Plato and his idealism, Onfray argues that ideas incarnate, that there never exists a real separation between spirit and matter. He argues that both our writing and our conduct constitute our work as a philosopher: “Your life is your message”.
Idealisms produce collateral damage. – Joseph McClellan
Most of Onfray’s content is available in French, and some is in Spanish and other languages. Very little is available in English. The choice of Hedonist Manifesto as an introduction to Onfray to the English-speaking world makes sense because it summarizes Onfray’s intellectual legacy, and the translator took the time to provide a lengthy introduction that helps to place Onfray among the great “new atheists” that are widely known and celebrated in the English-speaking world. This contextualization, it seems to me, might prove extremely helpful to the uninitiated.
In the introductory commentary, the translator Joseph McClellan criticizes Sam Harris and his Moral Landscape as still idealist, not contextualized in the history of western thought, and as seeking an “objective” neurological foundation when such a thing does not exist. I had previously written on the subject of Harris’ choice to seek what he can never find, to cite Diogenes, and of how entirely sold on Buddhist doctrine he is, and I won’t say more here except to note that I agree with McClellan’s assessment of Harris, and with his assertion that Harris’ error of giving credibility to idealisms is indeed harmful and produces “collateral damage”.