Epicurus, the Foodies’ Philosopher by Michael Symons*
“Epicurus is often viewed as responding to Plato virtually point for point. He reinverted Plato’s world (as Marx would do with Hegel’s), making the opposite case at every level, physically, ethically, and epistemologically. The secret is that, for Epicurus, the belly ruled the mind, rather than vice versa. Head and stomach should perhaps work together, although materialism is hard to avoid if we believe, along with Epicurus, that philosophy has ultimately to serve practical needs. So, rather than pursue knowledge of its own sake, Epicurus wanted useful knowledge, which helped remove unnecessary personal burdens……..Of immediate interest to gourmets, Epicurus up-ended Plato by distinguishing the finite hunger of the stomach from endless desires, including for new taste experiences, which he blamed on the “ungrateful greed of the soul.” That is, an epicurean was to obey the stomach, rather than the soul’s hunger for novelty, which would never be satisfied.”
While I want to qualify Symons’ account of Plato and extol the virtues of an unsatisfied soul, the essay helps begin to explain the philosophical attraction/repulsion of food (a question I sort of asked in the previous post about the proliferation of food festivals). According to Symons’ account of Epicurus:
- Food insists on the importance of the everyday, the mundane and the terrestrial, the transient need for animal survival.
“His [Epicurus’] moral system took off from his hedonism – so that right and wrong did not come from on high, but proved themselves by the everyday contentment they produced.”…………… i.e. nothing makes a bad day go away better than a good meal in good company.
- Eating well exercises living well or rather living a “good” balanced life.
“The beginning and root of all good is the pleasure of the stomach; even wisdom and culture must be referred to this” quotes Symons of Epicurus.
- Who you eat with is more important that what you eat.
“You must reflect carefully beforehand with whom you are to eat and drink, rather than what you are to eat and drink. For a dinner of meats without the company of a friend is like a life of a lion or wolf.”
If eating well everyday in good company defines a good life guided by the principle of conviviality then I have a pretty good life. I feel reassured. Good essay!
- from Food and Philosophy edited by Fritz Allhoff and Dave Monroe, published by Blackwell Publishing Inc.
- Image from Words on Images http://www.wordsonimages.com/photo?id=182003-Epicurus%2C+quotes%2C+sayings%2C+fri