By George B. Kauffman
Tending the Epicurean Garden, by Hiram Crespo; Humanist Press, 1777 T St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; 2014, paperback, $18.95, ISBN 978-0-931779-53-4.
According to ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BCE), who founded a highly influential school of philosophy now called Epicureanism, gods may exist. However, they are too far removed to care about humans. Therefore, our best purpose in life is not to please gods, but to be happy. This is not as easy as it sounds because short-term pleasures and selfishness create longer-term misery.
Hiram Crespo, founder of the Society of Friends of Epicurus, brings the Epicurean passion for maximum happiness into the modern age with this practical guidebook. The first step in what Crespo calls the “hedonic calculus” is to rein in desires so that they become easier to satisfy—exactly the opposite of the luxurious indulgence so often incorrectly associated with Epicureanism.
He offers numerous ideas, from healthy recipes that stimulate natural “feel-good” chemicals in the brain to the journaling of positive events, even on a bad day. However, the highest attainable happiness is communing with friends.
Unlike the dull prose of many professional philosophers, this book about being happy means using the best knowledge and tools available. Crespo skillfully describes the teachings of Epicurus and making them relevant to modern life.
He offers practical advice and tasks that an aspiring Epicurean can undertake, and he links them with Buddhism and modern research on happiness and the workings of the brain. He presents copious useful information for anyone wanting to enjoy a peaceful and pleasant life.
A legitimate concern about the decline of organized religion is that children are not being taught morals and ethics and thus can fall into modes of selfishness and mindless consumerism. Religions can be inconsistent and even harmful in some cases.
Epicureanism, focused on the full and pleasant life and wholesome relationships with others, is the rational answer. This book offers practical advice on how children and adults themselves can be brought up to live ethical and fulfilling lives.
The book’s 15 chapters are titled “Where Is Wisdom Hiding? The Need for Philosophy Today”; “Epicurus of Samos and his Legacy”; “Planting Seeds for a Future Harvest”; “The Four Remedies”; “Epicurean Therapy”; “Science of Contemplation”; “Developing Your Hedonic Regimen”; “The Treasure of Friendship”; “Autarchy”; “Holy Versus Wholesome”; “The Canon: The Standard of Truth”; “Physics: The Nature of Things”; “On the Matter of Cultural Continuity”; “Firmly Grounded in Reality: Our Scientific Cosmology”; and “Heaven on Earth.”
George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at Fresno State and a Guggenheim Fellow, is a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and numerous domestic and international honors. In 2002 and 2011, he was appointed a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, respectively.