Are we all existentialists?

“The tension between (is and ought) is felt much less clearly in real life than at the conceptual level at which most philosophers like to dwell. They feel that we can not reason ourselves from one level to the other, and they are right, but who says that morality is or needs to be rationally constructed? What if it is grounded in emotional values?” – Dutch anthropologist Frans de Waal, in his book The Bonobo and the Atheist

Ronnie de Sousa recently wrote How evolutionary biology makes everyone an existentialist for Aeon. My initial reaction: Platonism–with its endless, pointless speculation that often leads nowhere, and at other times settles on denaturalized, decontextualized conclusions–makes people seek universals and absolutes and ultimately renders philosophy useless and confuses all inquiry. The Epicurean view on this is not accurately presented in the essay. As explained in a previous essay on the Cyrenaics:

There is one key doctrine that both Epicureans and Cyrenaics share. To the Cyrenaics, pleasure is satisfying and ergo choice-worthy for its own sake, and pain is repellent and ergo avoidance-worthy. These truths, they argued, are directly experienced and self-evident, and require no arguments or logic. Epicurus also refused to argue about pleasure and pain, saying that these are faculties within our own nature that receive raw data from nature, and not subject to logical formulas or arguments.

The Epicurean Canon also says that each set of faculties is the only and ultimate authority in its jurisdiction: the eyes can not judge what we hear, only hearing can do that. Similarly the ears can not judge what we see: only eyes can, and so on with smell, taste, AND PLEASURE AND AVERSION, the only faculties given to us by nature that communicate to us what is choice-worthy and avoidance-worthy. These are the conclusions we can draw from the study of nature.

The middle portion of the Epistle to Menoeceus tells us the best way to use these faculties in our choices and avoidances.

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014) and 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and founder of He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
This entry was posted in existentialism, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s