Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I remember reading somewhere (I think it may have been in Christopher Hitchens' book God is Not Great) that the word apikores, which is the Hebrew (Aramaic?) word for heretic and the name of this blog, comes from the name of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. I don't know much about ancient philosophers, but according to wikipedia:
[Epicurus] taught that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and bad, that death is the end of the body and the soul and should therefore not be feared, that the gods do not reward or punish humans, that the universe is infinite and eternal, and that events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space.
I guess then that it is indeed appropriate to call myself an apikores, since I think Epicurus was pretty much spot on, especially for someone who predated modern science.

In particular I generally base my morals on the idea that we should minimize suffering. For example, I'm pro-choice, since a fetus can't suffer before it develops a nervous system, and the mother will suffer if forced to incubate against her will. (The issue is more complicated if the fetus is further developed, but I'd rather let the mother and her doctors decide, since we don't usually allow the government to force person A to go out of their way to help person B, especially when person B might not even really be a person. vihamayvin yavin.) It should be noted however that our morals are products of a complicated combination of evolution and environment (i.e. the society we are raised in), but I thing the "do no harm" approach is a pretty good way to go. Maybe I'll elaborate on this some other time.

I obviously agree with Epicurus that there is no life after death, since there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. Of course I wish there was an afterlife; after all, who wants to stop existing? But wanting something to be true doesn't make it so. It seems best to assume that this is the only life we have, so we should try to make the most of it. (sorry about all the cliches)

Similarly, I obviously agree that the gods don't reward or punish us, since they probably don't exist. (I'll definitely have to elaborate on the existence of gods in a later post, but for now it should suffice to say "flying spaghetti monster")

I'm not sure if he's right about the universe being infinite and eternal. We're pretty sure the universe as we know it had a beginning, but it's still an open question if there is anything "outside" our view of the universe (if there is, then maybe that should be included in what we call the universe. Is that infinite and eternal? I don't know, and I'm pretty sure you don't know either). Finally, I guess Epicurus lucked out in believing in atoms, since there was no available evidence to him that atoms exist.

Pretty impressive for someone living more than 2000 years ago, if you ask me.

1 comment:

  1. Seems to me he took the easy way out.

    Agav, what proof would you expect to find about an afterlife in this world?