First Principle of Autarchy

The Seven Principles of Autarchy are seven general guiding ideas that were distilled from the reasonings about Philodemus of Gadara’s Herculaneum scroll On Property Management which were published in Society of Epicurus. They are guides to aid in memorization of key, useful points that can be gleaned from the scroll, following the Epicurean educational tradition of short, concise summaries of ideas, as well as conversation starters for students of philosophy who want to delve deeper into pragmatic aspects of the tradition–in this case, Epicurean economics. They are:

1. There is a natural measure of wealth (as opposed to the corrupt, cultural measure of wealth), which is tied to natural and necessary desires. Understanding this will provide us with serenity and indifference to profit and loss.

2. There is social wealth in addition to the wealth of things and possessions.

3. Philodemus plainly stated it: the philosopher does not toil. However, we must always remember that toil is evil, not productivity.

4. Association is important in labor. We must choose our company prudently.

5. Our revenue must more than meet our immediate needs: it must facilitate a life of leisure. Anything less is wage slavery.

6. It’s always prudent to cultivate multiple streams of income, among which deriving fees from teaching philosophy, rental property income and business ownership, which includes gainful employment of others, have special priority.

7. It’s also prudent to have fruitful possessions.  The various forms of ownership of means of production is another way to independence that can potentially relieve us of toil.

The first principle is:

There is a natural measure of wealth (as opposed to the corrupt, cultural measure of wealth), which is tied to natural and necessary desires. Understanding this will provide us with serenity and indifference to profit and loss.

Princeton University Study on Money and Happiness

An Epicurean “Measure of Wealth” in Horace, Satires 1.1, by Sergio Yona

The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure;
but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.
Principal Doctrine 15

[One] must [regard] wealth [beyond] what is natural [as of no more use than water] to a container that is full [to] overflowing.
We can look at the other people’s possessions [without envy] and experience [purer] pleasure than they can; for [we are free from cravings]. – Diogenes’ Wall, Fragment 108

[Expecting] that they will find the pleasant life [above all] in wealth, they embark on a frenzied quest for it; then, if they become wealthy, they are indignant at not finding what they expected. – Diogenes’ Wall, Fragment 124

Indeed, I think that the right management of wealth lies in this: in not feeling distressed about what one loses and in not trapping oneself on treadmills because of an obsessive zeal concerning the more and the less. – Philodemus of Gadara

Surely, Socrates always had the characteristic of impracticality. Besides, as regards his claim that five minae seem to him sufficient for the necessary and natural needs of men, that prosperity in life is something empty, and that he does not need anything more in addition to those, it is impracticable and conflicts with reason. – Philodemus, On Weath Management, Column IV

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About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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5 Responses to First Principle of Autarchy

  1. James Bridge says:

    I might just be slow on the uptake since I’ve got no background in philosophy, but could I ask you to more clearly define or explain the statement that, “There is a natural measure of wealth (as opposed to the corrupt, cultural measure of wealth)?” Much thanks!

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    • hiramcrespo says:

      In much of philosophy there has historically been a tension between culture and nature, and here also. There’s a whole section in my commentary on Philodemus’ scroll on property management titled “The Natural Measure of Wealth”, which delineates our critique of consumerism and of runaway desires bred by CULTURE (“keeping up with the Joneses”, or falling for ads that sell us things we don’t need, or simply being forever unsatisfied and never feeling like we have ‘enough’):

      The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure;
      but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.
      – Principal Doctrine 15

      One fundamental concept in the Epicurean understanding of economics is the concept of natural wealth. In our assessment of desires, we classify them as either natural or unnatural and as necessary or unnecessary. Those that are neither natural nor necessary, are said to be vain and empty. The natural measure of wealth is that which corresponds to our natural and necessary desires, as opposed to empty desires. (Those that are natural and unnecessary don’t necessarily have to be denied but they’re also not necessarily indulged, they merely add variety).

      This is how we believe that one who is able to fully enjoy the simple pleasures of things that are necessary (shelter, friends, simple foods, water), lives like a king. We have the proverbial example of Epicurus, who when he relished his favorite cheese sent to him by friends, felt like a God among mortals. The goal of our nature is pleasure–not simplicity–however, being able to find this kind of opulence in such simplicity also allows us to better enjoy the greater amount of opulence when we have it, according to the (middle portion of the) Letter to Menoeceus.

      Natural wealth corresponds to the third of the Four Cures in our doctrine, which teaches that the things that are pleasant are easy to procure. Just as friendship is seen as a type of insurance against difficulties, and it’s not so much our friends’ help but the confident knowledge that they will help that gives us tranquility, similarly our knowledge that we can easily obtain a natural measure of wealth given our skills should give us imperturbability.

      The sage must understand the natural measure of wealth. Philodemus says:

      “Indeed, I think that the right management of wealth lies in this: in not feeling distressed about what one loses and in not trapping oneself on treadmills because of an obsessive zeal concerning the more and the less.”

      This indifference towards profit and loss does not mean that the household manager will not work for a profit, but –even as he prudently seeks profit– he has the confidence needed to live happily and pleasantly whether he gains or loses.

      Philodemus also mentions the vice of philokrematia, or love of money, which opposes the virtuous confidence that we can procure natural wealth. By not having an accurate insight on what our true needs are and by not separating them from empty and vain desires, we may degenerate into Manonists, suffering from an immature attachment to the fantasies of what is vulgarly known as materialism in common speech. It’s this cult of Manonism that breeds needless desires that extend to infinity.

      While we must not fall into the worship of Manon/Money, we must also be careful to understand the instrumentality of money and that it is, indeed, a natural and necessary desire in human society to have means of exchange so that we can meet our basic needs. Money is not evil, it’s simply instrumental, and the evil lies in not having an accurate opinion about money. Philodemus argued that to live penniless was impractical and conflicted with reason:

      Surely, Socrates always had the characteristic of impracticality. Besides, as regards his claim that five minae seem to him sufficient for the necessary and natural needs of men, that prosperity in life is something empty, and that he does not need anything more in addition to those, it is impracticable and conflicts with reason. – Philodemus, On Weath Management, Column IV

      In column XXV, Philodemus gives practical advise against instant gratification and in favor of saving for the future, “for this strategy both gives us hopes right now and, when it comes to be present, makes us happy”. He later advises that we spend according to what we have and not based on the current price of things, in other words that we live prudently within our means. If we can’t afford a certain fashion, we should dismiss it.

      Here is one area where every Epicurean may analyse his desires and ponder, for himself, what true economics entails. We’ve all heard of Greece’s woes, and America’s ever-increasing national debt signals, to many, the end of the American era. Epicurus gives us a doctrine that helps us to do the introspective work needed to become conscious consumers.

      On Non-Monetary, Social Wealth

      Philodemus also advises that we share our wealth with friends “just as those who sow seeds in the earth. From these things … it becomes possible to reap many times more fruits“.

      This piece of advise is vindicated in recent research by Dr. Nicholas Christakis, who was able to compare the results of a study that linked happiness to wealth and another study that linked happiness to the amount and kind of friends one has, and boldly capitalized friendship by saying that “a happy friend is worth about $20,000”.

      I personally do not necessarily favor that we think of friends in such blatantly capitalist terms, but I do think this insight should change our wealth and value paradigms. When we say that friendship is a good, we mean that quite literally. What this means is that, in our philosophy, although this type of wealth is not monetary and not as apparently tangible as money, we should and in fact we do think of nurturing wholesome friendships as an auspicious investment that reaps, literally, the returns of social capital gains.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post.

    Are you saying that the Epicurean position is that prudence involves making money renting land and profiting from owning a business? Is that not pretty much advocating that I toil less by making others toil for me?

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    • hiramcrespo says:

      Yes, that is one of the models that allow a life of leisure and pleasure, but in the modern paradigm machines can also replace human labor and (in an ideal world) should help to emancipate people from toil.

      On the question of exploitation, Philodemus frowned upon it (discouraged philosophers from engaging in/employing people in mining and other hard labor). All Epicurean justice is based on mutual benefit, so insofar as the other finds advantage in the relation, it’s fair. A person who lacks job skills and can only earn so much doing certain tasks might find advantage in working for you, and the salary you pay them is their advantage.

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      • Thanks for clarifying that in your reply.

        Didn’t he ancient Epicureans not advocate co-operative labour in their ‘garden’ communes? If so, why would that not apply to the wider world?

        Arguably, finding advantage in a relation is a very low bar, since advantage can be found in almost any situation (or possibly every). Perhaps some boss-worker relations are not too bad, but in gauging mutual benefit I would have thought the broader social system which creates the conditions of existence for that relation should be considered and not just individual cases.

        Of course, I’m sure there are a few different ways to extrapolate a theory of justice / a politics from Epicurean principles.

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