While the best way to grow as an Epicurean Humanist is within the community and its activities, it’s still very helpful to have a library of texts that can take you deeper into the subject at your own pace. In that spirit, here is a list of books that will, I hope, be of use to people who want to learn about Epicurean Humanism, as understood in the Barnsley Atheist Church.
- Religion for Atheists: A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion
By Alain de Botton
De Botton takes to his subject with his customary verve and insight. Well worth reading. But, as a former active church-goer, I have to say that, when he gets onto the meat of his suggestions, he gives the impression of commenting on a way of life that he has never sampled, except as a tourist. Still, he does (I think) a sterling job of making the case.
As a supplementary text, you might like to view his TED talk Atheism 2.0
- Letters from a Stoic
This is one of the absolute classics of Stoicism (one of the philosophies that goes to make up Epicurean Humanism). Although the book is nearly two thousand years old, it remains fresh and relevant today. Seneca writes a series of letters to his friend Lucilius, gradually developing the philosophy in a way that’s both accessible and engaging. Not to be missed!
- Sense and Goodness Without God
by Richard Carrier
Richard Carrier may be the most fearsomely clever person you’ve ever come across, but he argues the case for Metaphysical Humanism in a way that’s easy to follow. Take it slowly, think through what he’s saying, and you will see how it forms a complete and satisfying view of the world. His main target is Evangelical Christianity as it exists in the United States, but Metaphysical Naturalism is a brilliant system whatever your background might be.
- The Moral Landscape
by Sam Harris
One of the accusations sometimes levelled at Humanism is that it has nothing to say about morality. Harris beautifully debunks this, showing how conditional shoulds (for example, “if you want to be happy, then you should behave like this”) can generate a coherent moral system – and one, moreover, that can be tested and improved using science.
(“conditional should”, by the way, is not one of Harris’s terms, it comes from the theory of Epicurean Humanism).
- Travels with Epicurus
by Daniel Klein
Klein gently introduces Epicurean thought by this deceptively light tale of a group of friends, old men who meet for coffee and raki at the tavern on their Greek island home. Charming, yet with a real philosophical substance to it.
- A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
William B. Irvine
Before I read this book it would not have occurred to me to associate the words “Stoic” and “Joy”. One of the key words in Stoic thought is “apatheia” which means “absence of suffering”. While this is not to be confused with apathy, it still has rather a negative feel to it, the absence of bad rather than the presence of good. Irvine weaves a modern interpretation of the Stoic method that has Joy at its heart. Thoroughly recommended.
- Discourses and Selected Writings and The Enchiridion
The Enchiridion (or “Handbook”) is an executive summary of the more substantial “Discourses”, and is an excellent place to start your study of Stoicism. Epictetus was a freed slave who set up a school to teach philosophy to young Roman citizens, first in Rome and later in Nikopolis. These two books are, in essence, the lecture notes taken down by one of his students, Lucius Flavius Arrianus or “Arrian”.
- The Principles and Practice of Rational Emotive Therapy
by Ruth and Richard Wessler
The Wesslers were (and, for all I know, still are) a married couple, both clinical psychologists, who were trained in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy by Ellis. This is probably the best introduction to the method that I know, much better than most of Ellis’s own writings. REBT has been incorporated by Epicurean Humanism, so this is a text book for the advanced practitioner.
- Buddha in Blue Jeans: An Extremely Short Zen Guide to Sitting Quietly and Being Buddha
by Tai Sheridan
As a religious discipline Buddhism has the great virtue of not needing god. Zen is a highly condensed and practical form of Buddhism, and Sheridan’s manual is a highly condensed exposition of Zen.