Haunted By Indifference

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 29 2012 @ 1:09pm

Morgan Meis argues the whole point of Epicurean philosophy is "to reach ataraxia, the point at which we look with indifference at the natural world":

Epicurus did not just advise his followers to keep a low profile. His philosophy, at its very core, is about quieting the desire to know how things work and disengaging from the world. The answer to every question of “why” comes down, for Epicurus and Lucretius, to one answer: “A random arrangement of atoms and void.” This answer does not stimulate a desire to conduct scientific experiments; it stimulates a desire to quell one’s curiosity about all phenomena. Eventually, the goal is to stop inquiring altogether. 

Meis considers modern-day manifestations of this philosophy. He argues that "we are not content to withdraw into the life of disengagement and simple joys recommended by Epicurus":

[Stephen] Greenblatt author of [The Swerve] is correct to think that an Epicurean mindset lingers in the modern age. But the little Epicurean within does not play the role Greenblatt thinks he does. He is not reassuring. “What is the point of it?” he thinks. “Isn’t it all just a matter of atoms and void anyway?” The Epicurean reminds us that our atomism and our physics reveal a root futility in our attempts to change things, since the atoms do not care. This is where the ataraxia in Epicureanism comes back to haunt the modern mind. Although we are pulled equally in both directions, we cannot love the world and be indifferent to it at the same time. The only way to be a modern Epicurean is to be split down the middle.

The Dish previously praised Greenblatt's book.