The Philosophical Garden website is designed to encourage critical exploration of philosophical issues. Of special interest is the value of ideas and approaches advocated in Epicurean philosophy, the philosophy of ‘the Garden’.
In the Introduction to his History of Western Philosophy (1946, 2nd ed., 1961), Bertrand Russell proposed that philosophy was intermediate between theology and science. The former concerned dogma, the latter definite knowledge. Neither was able to answer most questions of interest to ‘speculative minds’. These questions include the relationship of mind to matter; whether the universe has unity or purpose; whether laws of nature exist or are merely matters of belief; to what extent we are justified in pursuing a good and noble rather than a base life; whether wisdom exists or is utter foolishness. We cannot find answers to such questions in the laboratory, but studying them is ‘the business of philosophy.’ But why study them if we cannot answer them? We may answer this question in two ways (Russell explains): ‘as a historian, or as an individual facing the terror of cosmic loneliness.’ From a historical point of view, we can explore the interaction between people’s theories of the world and their circumstances. From a personal point of view, we should neither forget the questions of philosophy nor convince ourselves that we have settled them, but learn to endure uncertainty and decline the support of fairy tales. ‘To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralysed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.’
According to the outlook of Epicurean philosophy, honesty demands that we continue the philosophical quest with an enquiring, informed and critical mind, while appreciation for a number of useful ideas and ideals gives us indispensable guidance for successful living. Russell has a chapter on ‘The Epicureans’ (Book One, chapter XXVII). Much more can be said (I believe) to show that an Epicurean outlook can be of vital significance for us today. To me the historical task merges with the philosophical, and I have sought to explore questions at the intersection of history, literature, philosophy and current challenges in a collection of short essays entitled Epicurus for Everyone.
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