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In Business on November 8, 2010 at 8:02 pm
Epicurus from Gargittos

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Full name Epicurus
Born 341 BCE
Died circa 270 BCE (aged 72)
Era Ancient philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Epicureanism
Main interests Atomism

Democritus, Pyrrho

Hermarchus, Lucretius, Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Michel Onfray, Hadrian, Metrodorus of Lampsacus (the younger), David Hume, Philodemus, Amafinius, Catius, Michel Foucault, Pierre Gassendi, Han Ryner

Epicurus (Greek: Ἐπίκουρος, Epikouros, “ally, comrade”; Samos, 341 BCE – Athens, 270 BCE) was an ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus’s 300 written works. Much of what is known about Epicurean philosophy derives from later followers and commentators.

For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia, peace and freedom from fear, and aponia, the absence of pain, and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. He taught that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and evil, 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.


His parents, Neocles and Chaerestrate, both Athenian-born, and his father a citizen, had emigrated to the Athenian settlement on the Aegean island of Samos about ten years before Epicurus’s birth in February 341 BCE.[1] As a boy he studied philosophy for four years under the Platonist teacher Pamphilus. At the age of 18 he went to Athens for his two-year term of military service. The playwright Menander served in the same age-class of the ephebes as Epicurus.

After the death of Alexander the Great, Perdiccas expelled the Athenian settlers on Samos to Colophon. After the completion of his military service, Epicurus joined his family there. He studied under Nausiphanes, who followed the teachings of Democritus. In 311/310 BCE Epicurus taught in Mytilene but caused strife and was forced to leave. He then founded a school in Lampsacus before returning to Athens in 306 BCE. There he founded The Garden, a school named for the garden he owned about halfway between the Stoa and the Academy that served as the school’s meeting place.

Even though many of his teachings were heavily influenced by earlier thinkers, especially by Democritus, he differed in a significant way with Democritus on determinism. Epicurus would often deny this influence, denounce other philosophers as confused, and claim to be “self-taught”.

Epicurus never married and had no known children. He suffered from kidney stones,[2] to which he finally succumbed in 270 BCE[3] at the age of 72, and despite the prolonged pain involved, he wrote to Idomeneus:

I have written this letter to you on a happy day to me, which is also the last day of my life. For I have been attacked by a painful inability to urinate, and also dysentery, so violent that nothing can be added to the violence of my sufferings. But the cheerfulness of my mind, which comes from the recollection of all my philosophical contemplation, counterbalances all these afflictions. And I beg you to take care of the children of Metrodorus, in a manner worthy of the devotion shown by the young man to me, and to philosophy.[4]

The school

Epicurus’s school had a small but devoted following in his lifetime. The primary members were Hermarchus, the financier Idomeneus, Leonteus and his wife Themista, the satirist Colotes, the mathematician Polyaenus of Lampsacus, and Metrodorus of Lampsacus, the most famous popularizer of Epicureanism. His school was the first of the ancient Greek philosophical schools to admit women as a rule rather than an exception.[5] The original school was based in Epicurus’s home and garden. An inscription on the gate to the garden is recorded by Seneca in epistle XXI of Epistulae morales ad Lucilium[6]:

Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.

Epicurus emphasized friendship as an important ingredient of happiness, and the school resembled in many ways a community of friends living together. However, he also instituted a hierarchical system of levels among his followers, and had them swear an oath on his core tenets.



Prefiguring science and ethics

Epicurus is a key figure in the development of science and the scientific method because of his insistence that nothing should be believed, except that which was tested through direct observation and logical deduction. Many of his ideas about nature and physics presaged important scientific concepts of our time. He was a key figure in the Axial Age, the period from 800 BCE to 200 BCE, during which similarly revolutionary thinking appeared in China, India, Iran, the Near East, and Ancient Greece. His statement of the Ethic of Reciprocity as the foundation of ethics is the earliest in Ancient Greece, and he differs from the formulation of utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill by emphasizing the minimization of harm to oneself and others as the way to maximize happiness.

Epicurus’s teachings represented a departure from the other major Greek thinkers of his period, and before, but was nevertheless founded on many of the same principles as Democritus. Like Democritus, he was an atomist, believing that the fundamental constituents of the world were indivisible little bits of matter (atoms, Greek atomos, indivisible) flying through empty space (khaos). Everything that occurs is the result of the atoms colliding, rebounding, and becoming entangled with one another, with no purpose or plan behind their motions. (Compare this with the modern study of particle physics.) His theory differs from the earlier atomism of Democritus because he admits that atoms do not always follow straight lines but their direction of motion may occasionally exhibit a ‘swerve’ (clinamen). This allowed him to avoid the determinism implicit in the earlier atomism and to affirm free will.[7] (Compare this with the modern theory of quantum physics, which postulates a non-deterministic random motion of fundamental particles.)

He regularly admitted women and slaves into his school, introducing the new concept of fundamental human egalitarianism into Greek thought, and was one of the first Greeks to break from the god-fearing and god-worshiping tradition common at the time, even while affirming that religious activities are useful as a way to contemplate the gods and to use them as an example of the pleasant life. Epicurus participated in the activities of traditional Greek religion, but taught that one should avoid holding false opinions about the gods. The gods are immortal and blessed and men who ascribe any additional qualities that are alien to immortality and blessedness are, according to Epicurus, impious. The gods do not punish the bad and reward the good as the common man believes. The opinion of the crowd is, Epicurus claims, that the gods “send great evils to the wicked and great blessings to the righteous who model themselves after the gods,” when in reality Epicurus believes the gods do not concern themselves at all with human beings.

It is not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, who is impious, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them.[8]

Pleasure as absence of suffering

Epicurus’ philosophy is based on the theory that all good and bad derive from the sensations of pleasure and pain. What is good is what is pleasurable, and what is bad is what is painful. Pleasure and pain were ultimately, for Epicurus, the basis for the moral distinction between good and bad. If pain is chosen over pleasure in some cases it is only because it leads to a greater pleasure. Although Epicurus has been commonly misunderstood to advocate the rampant pursuit of pleasure, what he was really after was the absence of pain (both physical and mental, i.e., suffering) – a state of satiation and tranquility that was free of the fear of death and the retribution of the gods. When we do not suffer pain, we are no longer in need of pleasure, and we enter a state of ‘perfect mental peace’ (ataraxia).

Epicurus’ teachings were introduced into medical philosophy and practice by the Epicurean doctor Asclepiades of Bithynia, who was the first physician who introduced Greek medicine in Rome. Asclepiades introduced the friendly, sympathetic, pleasing and painless treatment of patients. He advocated humane treatment of mental disorders, had insane persons freed from confinement and treated them with natural therapy, such as diet and massages. His teachings are surprisingly modern, therefore Asclepiades is considered to be a pioneer physician in psychotherapy, physical therapy and molecular medicine.[9]

Epicurus explicitly warned against overindulgence because it often leads to pain. For instance, in what might be described as a “hangover” theory, Epicurus warned against pursuing love too ardently. However, having a circle of friends you can trust is one of the most important means for securing a tranquil life.

Epicurus also believed (contra Aristotle) that death was not to be feared. When a man dies, he does not feel the pain of death because he no longer is and he therefore feels nothing. Therefore, as Epicurus famously said, “death is nothing to us.” When we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fear of death arises from the false belief that in death there is awareness.

In this context Epicurus said: Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo (I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not care) – which is inscribed on the gravestones of his followers and seen on many ancient gravestones of the Roman Empire. This quote is often used today at humanist funerals.[10]

The “Epicurean paradox” is a version of the problem of evil. It is a trilemma argument (God is omnipotent, God is good, but Evil exists); or more commonly seen as this quote:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”[11]

This argument was a type favoured by the ancient Greek skeptics, and may have been wrongly attributed to Epicurus by Lactantius, who, from his Christian perspective, regarded Epicurus as an atheist.[12] According to Reinhold F. Glei, it is settled that the argument of theodicy is from an academic source which is not only not epicurean, but even anti-epicurean.[13] The earliest extant version of this trilemma appears in the writings of the skeptic Sextus Empiricus.[14]

Epicurus didn’t deny the existence of gods. Instead, he stated that what gods there may be do not concern themselves with us, and thus would not seek to punish us either in this or any other life.[15]

Epicurus emphasized the senses in his epistemology, and his Principle of Multiple Explanations (“if several theories are consistent with the observed data, retain them all”) is an early contribution to the philosophy of science.

There are also some things for which it is not enough to state a single cause, but several, of which one, however, is the case. Just as if you were to see the lifeless corpse of a man lying far away, it would be fitting to list all the causes of death in order to make sure that the single cause of this death may be stated. For you would not be able to establish conclusively that he died by the sword or of cold or of illness or perhaps by poison, but we know that there is something of this kind that happened to him.[16]

In contrast to the Stoics, Epicureans showed little interest in participating in the politics of the day, since doing so leads to trouble. He instead advocated seclusion. His garden can be compared to present-day communes. This principle is epitomized by the phrase lathe biōsas λάθε βιώσας (Plutarchus De latenter vivendo 1128c; Flavius Philostratus Vita Apollonii 8.28.12), meaning “live secretly”, “get through life without drawing attention to yourself”, i. e. live without pursuing glory or wealth or power, but anonymously, enjoying little things like food, the company of friends, etc.

As an ethical guideline, Epicurus emphasized minimizing harm and maximizing happiness of oneself and others:

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing “neither to harm nor be harmed”[17]),
and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.[18]


Bust of Epicurus leaning against his disciple Metrodorus in the Louvre Museum

Elements of Epicurean philosophy have resonated and resurfaced in various diverse thinkers and movements throughout Western intellectual history.

The atomic poems (such as ‘All Things are Governed by Atoms’) and natural philosophy of Margaret Cavendish were influenced by Epicurus.

His emphasis minimizing harm and maximizing happiness in his formulation of the Ethic of Reciprocity was later picked up by the democratic thinkers of the French Revolution, and others, like John Locke, who wrote that people had a right to “life, liberty, and property.”[citation needed] To Locke, one’s own body was part of their property, and thus one’s right to property would theoretically guarantee safety for their persons, as well as their possessions.

This triad, as well as the egalitarianism of Epicurus, was carried forward into the American freedom movement and Declaration of Independence, by the American founding father, Thomas Jefferson, as “all men are created equal” and endowed with certain “inalienable rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean. [2]

In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume uses Epicurus as a character for explaining the impossibility of our knowing God to be any greater or better than his creation proves him to be.

Karl Marx‘s doctoral thesis was on “The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature.” [3]

Epicurus was first to assert human freedom as coming from a fundamental indeterminism in the motion of atoms. This has led some philosophers to think that for Epicurus free will was caused directly by chance. In his “On the Nature of Things,” Lucretius appears to suggest this in the best-known passage on Epicurus’s position.[19] But in his Letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus follows Aristotle and clearly identifies three possible causes – “some things happen of necessity, others by chance, others through our own agency.” Aristotle said some things “depend on us” (eph hemin). Epicurus agreed, and said it is to these last things that praise and blame naturally attach. For Epicurus, the chance “swerve” of the atoms simply defeated determinism to leave room for autonomous agency.[20]

Epicurus was also a significant source of inspiration and interest for both Arthur Schopenhauer, having particular influence on the famous pessimist’s views on suffering and death, as well as one of Schopenhauer’s successors: Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche cites his affinities to Epicurus in a number of his works, including The Gay Science, Beyond Good and Evil, and his private letters to Peter Gast. Nietzsche was attracted to, among other things, Epicurus’s ability to maintain a cheerful philosophical outlook in the face of painful physical ailments. Nietzsche also suffered from a number of sicknesses during his lifetime. However, he thought that Epicurus’s conception of happiness as freedom from anxiety was too passive and negative.


The only surviving complete works by Epicurus are three letters, which are to be found in book X of Diogenes Laertius’s Lives of Eminent Philosophers, and two groups of quotes: the Principal Doctrines, reported as well in Diogenes’s book X, and the Vatican Sayings, preserved in a manuscript from the Vatican Library.

Numerous fragments of his thirty-seven volume treatise On Nature have been found among the charred papyrus fragments at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. In addition, other Epicurean writings found at Herculaneum contain important quotations from his other works. Moreover, numerous fragments and testimonies are found throughout ancient Greek and Roman literature, a collection of which can be found in Usener‘s Epicurea.

Hero cult

According to Diskin Clay, Epicurus himself established a custom of celebrating his birthday annually with common meals, befitting his stature as hero ctistes (or founding hero) of the Garden. He ordained in his will annual memorial feasts for himself on the same date (10th of Gamelion month).[21] Epicurean communities continued this tradition,[22] referring to Epicurus as their “savior” (soter) and celebrating him as hero. Lucretius apotheosized Epicurus as the main character of his epic poem De rerum natura. The hero cult of Epicurus may have operated as a Garden variety civic religion.[23] However, clear evidence of an Epicurean hero cult, as well as the cult itself, seems buried by the weight of posthumous philosophical interpretation.[24] Epicurus’ cheerful demeanor, as he continued to work despite dying from a painful stone blockage of his urinary tract lasting a fortnight, according to his successor Hermarchus and reported by his biographer Diogenes Laertius, further enhanced his status among his followers.[2]

In literature and popular media

In Canto X Circle 6 (“Where the heretics lie”) of Dante‘s Inferno, Epicurus and his followers are criticized for supporting a materialistic ideal.

Epicurus the Sage was a 2 part comic book by William Messner-Loebs and Sam Kieth, portraying Epicurus as “the only sane philosopher.” by anachronistically bringing together Epicurus with many other well known Greek philosophers, republished as graphic novel by the Wildstorm branch of DC Comics.


  1. ^ Apollodorus (reported by Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 10.14-15

) gives his birth on the fourth day of the month February in the third year of the 109th Olympiad, in the archonship of Sosigenes

  1. ^ a b Bitsori, Maria; Galanakis, Emmanouil (2004). “Epicurus’ death”. World Journal of Urology 22 (6): 466–469. doi:10.1007/s00345-004-0448-2

. PMID 15372192


  1. ^ In the second year of the 127th Olympiad, in the archonship of Pytharatus, according to Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 10.15
  1. ^ Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 10.22

(trans. C.D. Yonge).

  1. ^ Two women, Axiothea and Lastheneia, were known to have been admitted by Plato. See Hadot, Pierre. Qu’est-ce que la philosophie antique?, page 99, Gillimard 1995. Pythagoras is also believed to have inducted one woman, Theano, into his order.
  2. ^ “Epistulae morales ad Lucilium”



  1. ^ The only fragment in Greek about this central notion is from the Oenoanda inscription (fr.54 in Smith’s edition). The best known reference is in Lucretius’s On the nature of things, 2.216-224, 284-293


  1. ^ letter by Epicurus to Menoeceus; see Diogenes Laërtius de clarorum philosophorum vitis, dogmatibus et apophthegmatibus libri decem (X, 123)
  2. ^ Yapijakis C (2009). “Hippocrates of Kos, the father of clinical medicine, and Asclepiades of Bithynia, the father of molecular medicine. Review”. In Vivo 23 (4): 507–14. PMID 19567383


  1. ^ Epicurus (c 341-270 BCE)

British Humanist Association

  1. ^ [1]
  1. ^ Mark Joseph Larrimore, (2001), The Problem of Evil, pages xix-xxi. Wiley-Blackwell
  2. ^ Reinhold F. Glei, Et invidus et inbecillus. Das angebliche Epikurfragment bei Laktanz, De ira dei 13,20-21, in: Vigiliae Christianae 42 (1988), p. 47-58
  3. ^ Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, 175: “those who firmly maintain that god exists will be forced into impiety; for if they say that he [god] takes care of everything, they will be saying that god is the cause of evils, while if they say that he takes care of some things only or even nothing, they will be forced to say that he is either malevolent or weak”
  4. ^ O’Keefe, Tim. “Epicurus

.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved on 2008-02-12.

  1. ^ Lucretius.
  2. ^ Tim O’Keefe, Epicurus on Freedom

, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.134

  1. ^ Epicurus Principal Doctrines

tranls. by Robert Drew Hicks (1925)

  1. ^ On the Nature of Things, 2.251-262, 289-293


  1. ^ Epicurus page on Information Philosopher
  1. ^ Reason and religion in Socratic philosophy By Nicholas D. Smith, Paul Woodruff Page 160 ISBN 0195133226
  2. ^ Paul and Philodemus: adaptability in Epicurean and early Christian psychology By Clarence E. Glad Page 176 ISBN 9004100679
  3. ^ The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics By Martha Craven Nussbaum Page 119 ISBN 0691141312
  4. ^ Paradosis and survival: three chapters in the history of Epicurean philosophy By Diskin Clay Page 76 ISBN 0472108964
  • Bailey C. (1928) The Greek Atomists and Epicurus, Oxford.
  • Bakalis Nikolaos (2005) Handbook of Greek Philosophy: From Thales to the Stoics Analysis and Fragments, Trafford Publishing, ISBN 1-4120-4843-5
  • The Works of Epicurus, January 2004.
  • Eugene O’ Connor The Essential Epicurus, Prometheus Books, New York 1993.
  • Edelstein Epicureanism, Two Collections of Fragments and Studies Garland Publ. March 1987
  • Farrington, Benjamin. Science and Politics in the Ancient World, 2nd ed. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1965. A Marxist interpretation of Epicurus, the Epicurean movement, and its opponents.
  • John Martin Fischer (1993) “The Metaphysics of Death”, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0804721041
  • Gordon, Pamela. “Epicurus in Lycia: The Second-Century World of Diogenes of Oenoanda.” 1997
  • Gottlieb, Anthony. The Dream of Reason: A History of Western Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance. London: Penguin, 2001. ISBN 0-14-025274-6
  • Inwood, Brad, tr. The Epicurus Reader, Hackett Publishing Co, March 1994.
  • Oates Whitney Jenning, The Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, The Complete Extant Writings of Epicurus, Epictetus, Lucretius and Marcus Aurelius, Random House, 9th printing 1940.
  • Panicha, George A. Epicurus, Twayne Publishers, 1967
  • Prometheus Books, Epicurus Fragments, August 1992.
  • Russel M. Geer Letters, Principal Doctrines, Vatican Sayings, Bobbs-Merrill Co, January 1964.
  • Diogenes of Oinoanda. The Epicurean Inscription, edited with Introduction, Translation and Notes by Martin Ferguson Smith, Bibliopolis, Naples 1993.

– Epicurean Philosophy Online: features classical e-texts & photos of Epicurean artifacts.

– Epicurus and Epicurean Philosophy

entry by David Konstan in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Tim O’Keefe

– Small article by “P. Dionysius Mus”

Karl Marx’s doctoral thesis.

– A documentary on the philosophy of Epicurus, first 11:25 of below, Greek subtitles.

– 24 minute documentary, Alain de Botton, UK Channel 4, no subtitles.

– useful summary of the teachings of Epicurus

Discussion, bibliography, 3D models of the lost portrait


The economist Milton Friedman, who died in 2006, believed government should keep its hands off the economy.

Joblessness is growing. Millions of homes are sliding into foreclosure. The financial system continues to choke on the toxic leftovers of the mortgage crisis. The downward spiral of the economy is challenging a notion that has underpinned American economic policy for a quarter-century — the idea that prosperity springs from markets left free of government interference.

The modern-day godfather of that credo was Milton Friedman, who attributed the worst economic unraveling in American history to regulators, declaring in a 1976 essay that “the Great Depression was produced by government mismanagement.”

Five years later, Ronald Reagan entered the White House, elevating Mr. Friedman’s laissez-faire ideals into a veritable set of commandments. Taxes were cut, regulations slashed and public industries sold into private hands, all in the name of clearing government from the path to riches. As the economy expanded and inflation abated, Mr. Friedman played the role of chief evangelist in the mission to let loose the animal instincts of the market.

But with market forces now seemingly gone feral, disenchantment with regulation has given way to demands for fresh oversight, placing Mr. Friedman’s intellectual legacy under fresh scrutiny.

Just as the Depression remade government’s role in economic life, bringing jobs programs and an expanded welfare system, the current downturn has altered the balance. As Wall Street, Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue seethe with recriminations, a bipartisan chorus has decided that unfettered markets are in need of fettering. Bailouts, stimulus spending and regulations dominate the conversation.

In short, the nation steeped in the thinking of a man who blamed government for the Depression now beseeches government to lift it to safety. If Mr. Friedman, who died in 2006, were still among us, he would surely be unhappy with this turn.

“What Milton Friedman said was that government should not interfere,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist for Decision Economics Inc., a consulting group. “It didn’t work. We now are looking at one of the greatest real estate busts of all time. The free market is not geared to take care of the casualties, because there’s no profit motive. There’s no market incentive to deal with the unemployed or those who have lost their homes.”

To Mr. Friedman, such sentiments, when turned into policy, deprived the economy of the vibrancy of market forces.

Born in Brooklyn in 1912 to immigrant parents who worked briefly in sweatshops, Mr. Friedman retained a sense that America was a land of opportunity with ample rewards for the hard-working.

His intellectual bent was forged as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, a base for those who saw themselves as guardians of classical economics in a world then under the spell of woolly-headed revisionists.

The chief object of their scorn was John Maynard Keynes, and his message that government had to juice the economy with spending during times of duress. That notion dominated policy in the years after the Depression. Mr. Friedman would spend much of his career assailing it: He argued that government should simply manage the supply of money — to keep it growing with the economy — then step aside and let the market do its magic.

So firm was his regard for market forces, so deep his disdain for government, that Mr. Friedman once said: “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there would be a shortage of sand.”

This antagonism toward bureaucracy seemed to spring from Mr. Friedman’s conception of his country as a bastion of rugged individualism. During an interview on PBS in 2000, he noted that Adam Smith, the father of classical economics, published his canonical work, “The Wealth of Nations,” in 1776, “the same year as the American Revolution.”

He spoke in the interview of his concern at the end of World War II that socialism was gaining adherents because countries had been forced to organize collectively to produce armaments.

“You came out of the war with the widespread belief that the war had demonstrated that central planning would work,” Mr. Friedman said. “The left, in particular, … interpreted Russia as a successful experiment in central planning.”

In The Vitriolic Potical Corner on November 7, 2010 at 1:53 pm



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Beating Procrastination 

Manage Your Time. Get It All Done.

If you’ve found yourself putting off important tasks over and over again, you’re not alone. In fact, many people procrastinate to some degree – but some are so chronically affected by procrastination that it stops them fulfilling their potential and disrupts their careers.

Stop procrastinating with James Manktelow &
Amy Carlson.

The key to controlling this destructive habit is to recognize when you start procrastinating, understand why it happens (even to the best of us), and take active steps to manage your time and outcomes better.

What is Procrastination?

In a nutshell, you procrastinate when you put off things that you should be focusing on right now, usually in favor of doing something that is more enjoyable or that you’re more comfortable doing.

According to psychologist Professor Clarry Lay, a prominent writer on procrastination, procrastination occurs when there’s “a temporal gap between intended behavior and enacted behavior.” That is, procrastination is occurring when there’s a significant time period between when people intend to do a job, and when they actually do it.

How to Overcome Procrastination

Follow these steps to deal with and control procrastination:

Step 1: Recognize That You’re Procrastinating

If you’re honest with yourself, you probably know when you’re procrastinating. But to be sure, take our Are You a Procrastinator? self test.

Here are some useful indicators that will help you know when you’re procrastinating:

  • Filling your day with low priority tasks from your To Do List.
  • Reading e-mails several times without starting work on them or deciding what you’re going to do with them.
  • Sitting down to start a high-priority task, and almost immediately going off to make a cup of coffee.
  • Leaving an item on your To Do list for a long time, even though you know it’s important.
  • Regularly saying “Yes” to unimportant tasks that others ask you to do, and filling your time with these instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list.
  • Waiting for the “right mood” or the “right time” to tackle the important task at hand.
Putting off an unimportant task isn’t necessarily procrastination: it may just be good prioritization! 

Putting off an important task for a short period because you’re feeling particularly tired isn’t necessarily procrastination either, so long as you don’t delay starting the task for more than a day or so, and this is only an occasional event. If you have a genuine good reason for rescheduling something important, then you’re not necessarily procrastinating. But if you’re simply “making an excuse” because you really just don’t want to do it, then you are.

In his 1986 article “At Last, My Research Article on Procrastination”, published in the Journal of Research on Personality, Lay noted that procrastinatory behavior is independent of need for achievement, energy, or self-esteem. In other words, you may be a procrastinator even if you’re confident in your own abilities, energetic, and enjoy achieving things.

Step 2: Work Out WHY You’re Procrastinating

Why you procrastinate can depend on both you and the task. But it’s important to understand which of the two is relevant in a given situation, so that you can select the best approach for overcoming your reluctance to get going.

One reason for procrastination is that people find a particular job unpleasant, and try to avoid it because of that. Most jobs have unpleasant or boring aspects to them, and often the best way of dealing with these is to get them over and done with quickly, so that you can focus on the more enjoyable aspects of the job.

Another cause is that people are disorganized. Organized people manage to fend of the temptation to procrastinate, because they will have things like prioritized to-do lists and schedules which emphasize how important the piece work is, and identify precisely when it’s due. They’ll also have planned how long a task will take to do, and will have worked back from that point to identify when they need to get started in order to avoid it being late. Organized people are also better placed to avoid procrastination, because they know how to break the work down into manageable “next steps”.

Even if you’re organized, you can feel overwhelmed by the task. You may doubt that you have the skills or resources you think you need, so you seek comfort in doing tasks you know you’re capable of completing. Unfortunately, the big task isn’t going to go away – truly important tasks rarely do. You may also fear success as much as failure. For example, you may think that success will lead to you being swamped with more requests to do this type of task, or that you’ll be pushed to take on things that you feel are beyond you.

Surprisingly, perfectionists are often procrastinators, as they can tend to think “I don’t have the right skills or resources to do this perfectly now, so I won’t do it at all.”

One final major cause of procrastination is having underdeveloped decision-making skills. If you simply can’t decide what to do, you’re likely to put off taking action in case you do the wrong thing.

Step 3: Adopt Anti-Procrastination Strategies

Procrastination is a habit – a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior. That means that you won’t just break it overnight. Habits only stop being habits when you have persistently stopped practising them, so use as many approaches as possible to maximize your chances of beating procrastination. Some tips will work better for some people than for others, and for some tasks than others. And, sometimes, you may simply need to try a fresh approach to beat the “procrastination peril”!

These general tips will help motivate you to get moving:

  • Make up your own rewards. For example, promise yourself a piece of tasty flapjack at lunchtime if you’ve completed a certain task. And make sure you notice how good it feels to finish things!
  • Ask someone else to check up on you. Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind slimming and other self-help groups, and it is widely recognized as a highly effective approach.
  • Identify the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task.
  • Work out the cost of your time to your employer. As your employers are paying you to do the things that they think are important, you’re not delivering value for money if you’re not doing those things. Shame yourself into getting going!
  • Aim to “eat an elephant beetle” first thing, every day!

If you’re pocrastinating because you’re disorganized, here’s how to get organized!

  • Keep a To-Do list so that you can’t “conveniently” forget about unpleasant or overwhelming tasks.
  • Use an Urgent/Important Matrix to help prioritize your to-do list so that you can’t try to kid yourself that it would be acceptable to put off doing something on the grounds that it’s unimportant, or that you have many urgent things which ought to be done first when, in reality, you’re procrastinating.
  • Become a master of scheduling and project planning, so that you know when to start those all-important projects.
  • Set yourself time-bound goals: that way, you’ll have no time for procrastination!
  • Focus on one task at a time.

If you’re putting off starting a project because you find it overwhelming, you need to take a different approach. Here are some tips:

  • Break the project into a set of smaller, more manageable tasks. You may find it helpful to create an action plan.
  • Start with some quick, small tasks if you can, even if these aren’t the logical first actions. You’ll feel that you’re achieving things, and so perhaps the whole project won’t be so overwhelming after all.

If you’re procrastinating because you find the task unpleasant:

  • Many procrastinators overestimate the unpleasantness of a task. So give it a try! You may find that it’s not as bad as you thought!
  • Hold the unpleasant consequences of not doing the work at the front of your mind.
  • Reward yourself for doing the task.

Finally, if you’re procrastinating because you can’t decide what action to take, and are putting off making a decision because you’re nervous about making the wrong choice, see our decision-making section. This teaches a range of powerful and effective decision-making techniques.

Remember: the longer you can spend without procrastinating, the greater your chances of breaking this destructive habit for good!

Key Points

To have a good chance of conquering procrastination, you need to spot straight away that you’re doing it. Then, you need to identify why you’re procrastinating and taken appropriate steps to overcome the block.

Part of the solution is to develop good time management, organizational and personal effectiveness habits, such as those described in Make Time for Success! This helps you establish the right priorities, and manage your time in such a way that you make the most of the opportunities open to you.

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Click “Next article” below to read about Activity Logs, the next article in this series, and an important tool for analyzing the way that you use your time.

Von Neumann and the Development of Game Theory

The Forgotten Father of Game Theory?

In 1921, Emile Borel, a French mathematician, published several papers on the theory of games. He used poker as an example and addressed the problem of bluffing and second-guessing the opponent in a game of imperfect information. Borel envisioned game theory as being used in economic and military applications. Borel’s ultimate goal was to determine whether a “best” strategy for a given game exists and to find that strategy. While Borel could be arguably called as the first mathematician to envision an organized system for playing games, he did not develop his ideas very far. For that reason, most historians give the credit for developing and popularizing game theory to John Von Neumann, who published his first paper on game theory in 1928, seven years after Borel.

John Von Neumann

Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1903, Von Neumann distinguished himself from his peers in childhood for having a photographic memory, being able to memorize and recite back a page out of a phone book in a few minutes. Science, history, and psychology were among his many interests; he succeeded in every academic subject in school.

He published his first mathematical paper in collaboration with his tutor at the age of eighteen, and resolved to study mathematics in college. He enrolled in the University of Budapest in 1921, and over the next few years attended the University of Berlin and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich as well. By 1926, he received his Ph.D. in mathematics with minors in physics and chemistry.

By his mid-twenties, von Neumann was known as a young mathematical genius and his fame had spread worldwide in the academic community. In 1929, he was offered a job at Princeton. Upon marrying his fiancee, Mariette, Neumann moved to the U.S. (Agnostic most of his life, Von Neumann accepted his wife’s Catholic faith for the marriage, though not taking it very seriously.)

In 1935, Mariette gave birth to Von Neumann’s daughter, Marina. Two years later, Mariette left Von Neumann for J. B. Kuper, a physicist. Within a year of his divorce, Von Neumann began an affair with Klara Dan, his childhood sweetheart, who was willing to leave her husband for him.

Von Neumann is commonly described as a practical joker and always the life of the party. John and Klara held a party every week or so, creating a kind of salon at their house. Von Neumann used his phenomenal memory to compile an immense library of jokes which he used to liven up a conversation. Von Neumann loved games and toys, which probably contributed in great part to his work in Game Theory.

An occasional heavy drinker, Von Neumann was an aggressive and reckless driver, supposedly totaling a car every year or so. According to William Poundstone‘s Prisoner’s Dilemma, “an intersection in Princeton was nicknamed “Von Neumann Corner” for all the auto accidents he had there.” (p.25)

His colleagues found it “disconcerting” that upon entering an office where a pretty secretary worked, von Neumann habitually would “bend way way over, more or less trying to look up her dress.” (Steve J. Heims, John Von Neumann and Norbert Wiener: From Mathematics to the Technologies of Life and Death, 1980, quoted in Prisoner’s Dilemma, p.26) Some secretaries were so bothered by Von Neumann that they put cardboard partitions at the front of their desks to block his view.

Despite his personality quirks, no one could dispute that Von Neumann was brilliant. Beginning in 1927, Von Neumann applied new mathematical methods to quantum theory. His work was instrumental in subsequent “philosophical” interpretations of the theory.

For Von Neumann, the inspiration for game theory was poker, a game he played occasionally and not terribly well. Von Neumann realized that poker was not guided by probability theory alone, as an unfortunate player who would use only probability theory would find out. Von Neumann wanted to formalize the idea of “bluffing,” a strategy that is meant to deceive the other players and hide information from them.

In his 1928 article, “Theory of Parlor Games,” Von Neumann first approached the discussion of game theory, and proved the famous Minimax theorem. From the outset, Von Neumann knew that game theory would prove invaluable to economists. He teamed up with Oskar Morgenstern, an Austrian economist at Princeton, to develop his theory.

Their book, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, revolutionized the field of economics. Although the work itself was intended solely for economists, its applications to psychology, sociology, politics, warfare, recreational games, and many other fields soon became apparent.

Although Von Neumann appreciated Game Theory’s applications to economics, he was most interested in applying his methods to politics and warfare, perhaps stemming from his favorite childhood game, Kriegspiel, a chess-like military simulation. He used his methods to model the Cold War interaction between the U.S. and the USSR, viewing them as two players in a zero-sum game.

From the very beginning of World War II, Von Neumann was confident of the Allies’ victory. He sketched out a mathematical model of the conflict from which he deduced that the Allies would win, applying some of the methods of game theory to his predictions.

In 1943, Von Neumann was invited to work on the Manhattan Project. Von Neumann did crucial calculations on the implosion design of the atomic bomb, allowing for a more efficient, and more deadly, weapon. Von Neumann’s mathematical models were also used to plan out the path the bombers carrying the bombs would take to minimize their chances of being shot down. The mathematician helped select the location in Japan to bomb. Among the potential targets he examined was Kyoto, Yokohama, and Kokura.

“Of all of Von Neumann’s postwar work, his development of the digital computer looms the largest today.” (Poundstone 76) After examining the Army’s ENIAC during the war, Von Neumann came up with ideas for a better computer, using his mathematical abilities to improve the computer’s logic design. Once the war had ended, the U.S. Navy and other sources provided funds for Von Neumann’s machine, which he claimed would be able to accurately predict weather patterns.

Capable of 2,000 operations a second, the computer did not predict weather very well, but became quite useful doing a set of calculations necessary for the design of the hydrogen bomb. Von Neumann is also credited with coming up with the idea of basing computer calculations on binary numbers, having programs stored in computer’s memory in coded form as opposed to punchcards, and several other crucial developments. Von Neumann’s wife, Klara, became one of the first computer programmers.

Von Neumann later helped design the SAGE computer system designed to detect a Soviet nuclear attack

In 1948, Von Neumann became a consultant for the RAND Corporation. RAND (Research ANd Development) was founded by defense contractors and the Air Force as a “think tank” to “think about the unthinkable.” Their main focus was exploring the possibilities of nuclear war and the possible strategies for such a possibility.

Von Neumann was, at the time, a strong supporter of “preventive war.” Confident even during World War II that the Russian spy network had obtained many of the details of the atom bomb design, Von Neumann knew that it was only a matter of time before the Soviet Union became a nuclear power. He predicted that were Russia allowed to build a nuclear arsenal, a war against the U.S. would be inevitable. He therefore recommended that the U.S. launch a nuclear strike at Moscow, destroying its enemy and becoming a dominant world power, so as to avoid a more destructive nuclear war later on. “With the Russians it is not a question of whether but of when,” he would say. An oft-quoted remark of his is, “If you say why not bomb them tomorrow, I say why not today? If you say today at 5 o’clock, I say why not one o’clock?”

Just a few years after “preventive war” was first advocated, it became an impossibility. By 1953, the Soviets had 300-400 warheads, meaning that any nuclear strike would be effectively retaliated.

In 1954, Von Neumann was appointed to the Atomic Energy Commission. A year later, he was diagnosed with bone cancer. William Poundstone’s Prisoner’s Dilemma suggests that the disease resulted from the radiation Von Neumann received as a witness to the atomic tests on Bikini atoll. “A number of physicists associated with the bomb succumbed to cancer at relatively early ages.” (p. 189)

Von Neumann maintained a busy schedule throughout his sickness, even when he became confined to a wheelchair. It has been claimed by some that the wheelchair-bound mathematician was the inspiration for the character of Dr. Strangelove in the 1963 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Von Neumann’s last public appearance was in February 1956, when President Eisenhower presented him with the Medal of Freedom at the White House. In April, Von Neumann checked into Walter Reed Hospital. He set up office in his room, and constantly received visitors from the Air Force and the Secretary of Defense office, still performing his duties as a consultant to many top political figures.

John von Neumann died February 8, 1957.

His wife, Klara von Neumann, committed suicide six years later.

Dr. Marina von Neumann Whitman, John’s daughter from his first marriage, was invited by President Nixon to become the first woman to serve on the council of economic advisers.

  • Carnahan, T. & McFarland, S. (2007). Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: Could Participant Self-Selection Have Led to the Cruelty? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 33, No. 5, 603-614.
  • Haney, C., Banks, W. C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). Study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. Naval Research Reviews, 9, 1–17. Washington, DC: Office of Naval Research
  • Haney, C., Banks, W. C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison. International Journal of Criminology and Penology, 1, 69–97.
  • Haslam, S. Alexander & Reicher, Stephen (2003). Beyond Stanford: Questioning a role-based explanation of tyranny. Dialogue (Bulletin of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology), 18, 22–25.
  • Musen, K. & Zimbardo, P. G. (1991). Quiet rage: The Stanford prison study. Videorecording. Stanford, CA: Psychology Dept., Stanford University.
  • Reicher, Stephen., & Haslam, S. Alexander. (2006). Rethinking the psychology of tyranny: The BBC Prison Study. British Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 1–40.
  • Zimbardo, P. G. (1971). The power and pathology of imprisonment. Congressional Record. (Serial No. 15, 1971-10-25). Hearings before Subcommittee No. 3, of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Ninety-Second Congress, First Session on Corrections, Part II, Prisons, Prison Reform and Prisoner’s Rights: California. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Zimbardo, P. G (2007) Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Interview transcript. “Democracy Now!”, March 30, 2007. Accessed March 31, 2007.

Abu Ghraib and the experiment:


What would Hermione say?

‘Topless’ Emma Watson is the talk of the campus

Emma Watson
Prank: Emma is determined to find out who was behind the fake picture.

A new topless picture of Harry Potter star Emma Watson has been doing the rounds at her American university.

The 20-year-old actress  – Hermione in the film series – is said to be appalled that the snap, apparently of her with a towel around her waist standing by a hot tub, has been emailed between students at the prestigious Brown University.

‘Emma is trying to seek out the source so she can put a stop to it,’ says a friend. ‘She says the picture has been faked.’

Emma’s spokesman said: ‘There have been a number of nude fakes over the past two months. Emma has seen them and finds them tiresome. People should know better.’

Meanwhile Watson revealed she is all grown up –  by declaring: ‘It’s time I got more naughty.’

In an interview following the filming of her final scenes, she revealed how she will be making the most of being a single girl.

She told The Sun: ‘I wished I’d done more naughty things.Three months ago I cut my hair and at that moment I felt I became a woman. I’m ready to start taking risks.

‘I’ve been in love once in my life, but it was complicated. I can’t tell you who it was because it wouldn’t be fair to any others. But I can say I’ve never had my heart broken.

Prestigious: Brown's University campus on Rhode Island where Emma Watson is the centre of attention
Prestigious: Brown’s University campus on Rhode Island where Emma Watson is the centre of attention

‘I like men with quick wit, good conversation and a great sense of humour. I love banter. I want a man to like me for me – I want him to be authentic.

‘But men don’t really ask me out. And I don’t get marriage proposals any more either. It’s not happening there!

‘At the moment I’m just happy to be single. I want to live life to the full. But I’m more grown up and confident now. I’m ready to take more risks. I feel less girlish than ever.’

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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Carlo Gambino

Carlo Gambino was born on August 24, 1902 in Palermo, Sicily. He arrived in the US in 1921 and settled in Brooklyn with help of relatives and friends who had already made it their home. He would later help his two brothers when they arrived in the US. In the United States Gambino got involved in crime and in 1930 he was arrested for larcency in the operation of the “handkerchief pill game”. By the 1930s he was heavily involved in bootlegging. From the money he made through bootlegging he bought restaurants and other legit fronts. After prohibition in 1939 Carlo Gambino continued the bootlegging and in May 23, 1939 received a 22 month sentence and a $2.500 dollar fine for conspiracy to defraud the United States of liquor taxes. Eight months later the conviction was thrown out and Gambino was a free man again. During the second World War Gambino made millions from ration stamps. The stamps came out of the OPA’s offices. First Carlo’s boys would steal them. Then, when the government started hiding them in banks, Carlo made contact and the OPA men sold him the stamps. All in all by the wars end Gambino had made millions through the stamps and the bootlegging.

Gambino also got involved in the narcotics trade. Gambino traveled to Palermo several times to set up the routes and make the deals. Using Sicilian men Gambino imported the narcotics into the United States. By 1957 Carlo Gambino had moved up in the Mangano Crime Family, he had become Underboss of Albert Anastasia. He also had a loving wife Catherine and three children (two sons and a daughter). 1957 was a great year for Gambino, on October 24, 1957 his boss Anastasia got whacked while he was getting a shave in the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel. With Anastasia gone Gambino assumed leadership of the Mangano Family, exactly his plan since it was Gambino who was behind the Anastasia hit. Listed as a labor consultant to the outside world Gambino was leading his Crime Family into better times.

Gambino was making loads of money by now. In addition to the illegal income Gambino also made loads with his legal businesses. Gambino owned meat markets, bakeries, restaurants, nightclubs, linen supply companies and on and on. Life was great for Gambino. His health wasn’t good but with both his blood and crime family doing well and money pooring in he didn’t mind. RICO hadn’t made it’s grand appearance yet and turncoats weren’t as common as they would be during the 1990s. The government knew who Gambino was and what he did for a living but to get to him was impossible. Gambino who entered the United States as an illegal alien still hadn’t become an American yet and so that’s where the government tried to take Gambino down. They tried to get him deported, but failed time after time. In 1971 Gambino’s wife Catharine died. His health was detoriating fast after that. His heart problems kept playing up and by 1975 Gambino felt it was time to choose his successor.

And there he made the only mistake during his reign as boss of the Mangano/Gambino Family. He chose Paul Castellano over his Underboss Neil Dellacroce. This decision cut the Gambino Family in two factions and would create a power struggle a decade later. But in the end Carlo Gambino is considered one of the great bosses of La Cosa Nostra. He died on October 15, 1976 of natural causes in his Massapequa, Long Island home.

£1 an hour to clear rubbish…new IDS blitz on the workshy

Iain Duncan SmithIain Duncan Smith wants to stop people living on benefits for years without bothering to look for work

The feckless unemployed will be forced

Read more:–new-IDS-blitz-workshy.html#ixzz14bZdpgDJ

he feckless unemployed will be forced to take part in a punishing U.S.-style ‘workfare’ scheme involving gardening, clearing litter and other menial tasks for just £1 an hour in a new crackdown on scroungers.

And if they fail to turn up on time or work hard they will be stripped of their dole for three months.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith will tomorrow unveil ‘compulsory community placements’ in an attempt to stop people living on benefits for years without bothering to look for work.

The ‘Workfare UK’ project will be targeted at tens of thousands of people suspected of sabotaging attempts to make them work.

The measure is a key part of David Cameron’s drive to slash Britain’s annual £192 billion welfare budget.

But Labour MPs condemned the scheme. One said: ‘This sounds like slave labour.’

The scheme is also likely to run into fierce opposition from some Liberal Democrat MPs.

Under Mr Duncan Smith’s anti-scroungers blueprint, employment office chiefs will be given the power to order the long-term jobless to take part in four-week mandatory work schemes.

Instead of receiving their usual £65-a-week Jobseeker’s Allowance for sitting at home doing nothing, they will get substantially less – and will have to clock on and off on time and work flat out.

The Government has not decided how much people on ‘community placements’ will be paid but it is understood the figure will be between £30 and £40 a week – the equivalent to £1 an hour, one sixth of the minimum wage.

They will also be expected to look for a ‘proper job’ for when they complete the scheme. Each participant will be expected to spend at least 30 hours a week on their specified ‘work activity placement’.

Teenage boys in hoods eating junk food in the streetsIf the unemployed fail to turn up on time or work hard they will be stripped of their dole for three months

A Coalition source said: ‘We cannot go on allowing tens of thousands of people to wilfully avoid getting a job. Some go to great lengths to sabotage all efforts to help them find work. That is partly why the welfare bill has gone up so much and it is why hard-working taxpayers get so angry.

‘Some have been out of work for so long that they are literally incapable of obtaining or holding down a job. They have lost the discipline and all sense of work ethic.

‘This programme is designed to address that. It is not intended
to apply to people who have genuinely tried to find work or who genuinely cannot work.

Some people have simply got out of the habit of working. Hopefully this scheme will help them get back into a nine-to-five routine.

‘But is it meant as a sanction? Yes – and we are convinced it will have an effect.

‘All research shows that when sanctions are applied to those who can work but try to avoid it, they soon get the message and get off their backsides.’

The projects will involve all kinds of work, from gardening to clearing litter, repairing vandalised bus stops and buildings and street cleaning.

There are an estimated five million people stuck on various kinds of out-of-work benefits in the UK. Britain now has one of the highest rates of workless households in Europe, with 1.9 million children living in homes where no one has a job.

The proposals are part of a Government White Paper on welfare reform which will herald a bonfire of dozens of complex benefits, to be replaced by a more straightforward single Universal Credit.

Read more:–new-IDS-blitz-workshy.html#ixzz14bZPmiAP

Bernardo Rucellai

Bernardo Rucellai wrote mainly in Latin. Although there is considerable correspondence between himself and Lorenzo de’Medici, Marsilio Ficino and Pontano, he wrote five treatises which have yet to be translated (into any other language): De urbe Roma liber, De magistratibus Romanis, De bello italico commentarius, De bello Pisano, De bello Mediolansi and Oratio de auxilio Tifernatibus adferendo. All but the last are histories.


Cosenza, Mario Emilio. Biographical and Bibliographical Dictionary of the Italian Humanists and of the World of Classical Scholarship in Italy, 1300-1800. Vol. 5. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1962.

Fido, Franco. Machiavelli, Guiccardini e storici minori del primo Cinquecento. Padova: Piccin Nuova Libraria, 1994.

Gilbert, Felix. “Bernardo Rucellai and the Orti Oricellari: A Study on the Origin of Modern Political Thought,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 12, (1949): 101-131.

Gilbert, Felix. Machiavelli and Guicciardini: Politics and History in Sixteenth-Century Florence. New York: Norton, 1984.

Pellegrini, Guglielmo. L’umanista Bernardo Rucellai e le sue opere. Livorno: Tipografia Raffaello Giusti, 1920.

Phillips, Mark. Francesco Guicciardini: the historian’s craft. Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1976.

The Search For The Neo-Business Elixir

In Business on September 19, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Jean Paul Getty (1892-1976) was a billionaire independent oil producer who founded and controlled the Getty Oil Company and over 200 affiliated companies.

Jean Paul Getty was born on December 15, 1892, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father, George Franklin Getty, was a lawyer, but in 1904 he moved his wife, Sarah Risher Getty, and his son to the Oklahoma territory to begin a successful career as an independent oilman. Two years later the family moved to Los Angeles, California, where young Getty attended private school before graduating from Polytechnic High School in 1909. After a European tour he attended the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley; he spent his summers working on his father’s oil rigs as a “roustabout.” In 1912 Getty enrolled in Oxford University in England, from which he received a degree in economics and political science in 1914.

In 1914 Getty arrived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, determined to strike it rich as a wildcat oil producer. Although he operated independently of his father’s Minnehoma Oil Company, his father’s loans and financial backing enabled him to begin buying and selling oil leases in the red-bed area of Oklahoma. Getty saw himself as a modern oil man, relying on geological data and not simply on the instinct of the experienced veterans, but he also thrived on the excitement, gamble, risks, and high stakes of the oil business. Getty’s own first successful well came in in 1916, and by the fall of that year he had made his first million dollars as a wildcatter and lease broker.

For the next two years Getty “retired” to the life of a wealthy playboy in Los Angeles, but he returned to the oil business in 1919. During the 1920s he and his father continued to be enormously successful both in drilling their own wells and in buying and selling oil leases, and Getty became more active in California than in Oklahoma. He amassed a personal fortune of over three million dollars and acquired a third interest in what was to become the Getty Oil Company.

After his father’s death in 1930 Paul Getty became the president of the George Getty Oil Company (successor to Minnehoma Oil), but his mother inherited the controlling interest, as his father had been upset with his son’s profligate personal life. During the 1930s Getty followed several paths to both short-term and long-term success. His wells continued to produce, and profits poured in. He also bought a controlling interest in the Pacific Western Oil Corporation, one of the ten largest oil companies in California. After a series of agreements with his mother he obtained the controlling interest in the George Getty Oil Company, and he began real estate dealings, including the purchase of the Hotel Pierre in New York City.

The Getty Oil Company

Getty’s ambition was to build up an independent, self-contained oil business involving refining, transporting, and selling oil as well as exploration and drilling. To that end he began in the 1930s to gain control of the Tidewater Oil Company. Getty pursued that goal in a series of complicated maneuvers, which involved tilting with the giant Standard Oil of New Jersey, until in the 1950s he had control of Tidewater, Skelly Oil, and the Mission Corporation. In 1967 these companies merged into the Getty Oil Company, the foundation of Getty’s fortune. Getty had a majority or controlling interest in Getty Oil and its nearly 200 affiliated and subsidiary firms, and he remained its president until his death in 1976.

At the outbreak of World War II, Getty, a yachtsman, volunteered for service in the Navy, but his offer was rejected. At the request of Naval officers, however, he took over personal management of Spartan Aircraft, a Skelly and Getty subsidiary. The corporation manufactured trainers and airplane parts, and it later converted to the profitable production of mobile homes.

After the war Getty took a lucrative gamble on oil rights in the Middle East. In 1949 he secured the oil rights in Saudi Arabia‘s half of the Neutral Zone, a barren tract between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. He made major concessions to King Saud, which shocked the large oil companies, but after three years and a $30 million investment, Getty found the huge oil deposits which helped make him a billionaire.

In his business career, Getty continued to invest and reinvest; his fortune consisted not of cash, but stocks, corporate assets, and real estate. A loner, he saw himself as a solitary knight in fierce battle with the giant “Seven Sisters” oil firms, and that competitive urge fueled his desire to build a larger and larger fortune.

A “Public” Personal Life

In 1957 Fortune magazine published a list of the richest men in America. Getty’s name headed the list, and the resultant publicity turned the reclusive Getty into an object of public fascination and legend. Getty complained about the fame, the requests for money, and the assumption that he would pick up every restaurant check, but he also furthered his own legends: he wrote articles on such topics as “How To Be Rich” and pretended to poverty by wearing rumpled suits and threadbare sweaters. The public was fascinated by Getty’s wealth and extravagance and also by his reputed stinginess. After 1959 he stopped living out of hotel rooms and established his home and offices at Sutton Place, a 16th-century, 700-acre manor outside London. The huge estate, with its gardens, pools, trout stream, and priceless furnishings, was also a near garrison, with elaborate security arrangements. Giant Alsatian dogs had the run of the estate, and there were also two caged lions, Nero and Teresa. Numerous stories circulated about Getty’s penny-pitching; the most famous incident was the installation of a pay telephone on the Sutton Place grounds. Getty offered various explanations, but the public preferred to see the phone booth as a symbol of his stinginess.

The public also seemed to like to read into Getty’s life the lesson that money does not buy happiness. Getty was married five times: to Jeannette Dumont (1923), Allene Ashby (1925), Adolphine Helmle (1928), Ann Rork (1932), and Louisa Lynch (1939); each marriage ended in divorce. He had five sons, two of whom predeceased him, and his relationship with each of them was difficult. His grandson, J. Paul Getty III, was kidnapped in Italy in 1973. Although he was returned for a ransom, part of his ear had been cut off. Getty was a celebrity, and public interest, fueled by envy and admiration, focused on Getty’s tragedies as well as his billions.

Besides oil, Getty’s major interest was art. He began serious collecting in the 1930s – European paintings, furniture, Greek and Roman sculptures, 18th-century tapestries, silver, and fine Persian carpets, including the 16th-century Ardabil carpet from Tabriz. He housed his collection at Sutton Place and at his ranch house at Malibu, California, one wing of which he opened as the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1954. In 1969 construction began on a new Getty Museum, also on his Malibu property. The huge building is a replica of an ancient Roman villa found near the ruins of Pompeii, and the extensive Getty collection was moved thereafter his death.

Jean Paul Getty died at Sutton Place on June 6, 1976; he is buried on his Malibu estate.

Further Reading

Getty wrote two autobiographies, My Life and Fortunes (1963) and As I See It (1976). He wrote about his art collection in The Joys of Collecting (1965) and published such advice books as How To Be Rich (1965) and How To Be A Successful Executive (1971). A biography written with Getty’s cooperation is Ralph Hewins, The Richest American: J. Paul Getty (1960); the New York Times obituary of June 6, 1976, also provides useful information. In The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies and the World They Shaped (1975) Anthony Sampson discusses Getty’s role as an independent oil producer. Two biographies in 1986 added little new information: The House of Getty by Russell Miller and The Great Getty: The Life and Loves of J. Paul Getty – Richest Man in the World by Robert Lenzner.

“Why You Should Buy Only
Foundation Endorsed and
Authorized Materials”

By Robert Johnson
Napoleon Hill Foundation
General Counsel

The Napoleon Hill Foundation is a not for profit charitable institution which uses the revenues it receives from sales of its books and audios for educational purposes. Its principal activities are funding scholarships, professorships and courses at the University of Virginia at Wise, Virginia and Purdue University-Calumet, and instructing adult and juvenile correctional institution inmates in Dr. Hill’s seventeen principles.

Unfortunately, there are some publishers of Napoleon Hill’s materials who are not authorized by the Foundation. While we do what we can to curtail these publications, we are not able to stop them all. We ask our loyal followers to avoid these unauthorized publications for two main reasons. First, many have been altered, either by deletions or additions to the original text, often undisclosed, and are accordingly not one hundred percent authentic Napoleon Hill material. Second, our Foundation receives no revenue from sales of these materials to use for its educational purposes.

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Seventeen Principles of Success – A Musical Overview
Arranged and Performed by Antonio Castillo de la Gala, Pianist

Certain types of music have been shown to accelerate learning. Magical effects can occur when the ingredients of music are used to advance and underscore instruction. Both the emotional tone and the intellectual message of music can aid in the retention of new learning and assist in unblocking any abilities that may have become closed due to emotional constraints such as worry, fear, and anger. Used in combination with the study of Napoleon Hill’s 17 Success Principles, this CD performed by Antonio Castillo de la Gala is certain to enhance your life not only due to the music played, but also due to the intended alignment with the Principles of Success. Enjoy the performance and remember the message. Both are worthy of the investment of your time and energy.

Judith Williamson Director, Napoleon Hill World Learning Center

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God Hates A Fag: The World View of An Accepted Religion

The relationship between cults and drug use is complex and contradictory. Traditionally, cults are groups that diverge from major religions or that form new philosophical/religious systems, often around a charismatic leader. Consequently, at any given time, it may be difficult to distinguish a cult from a newly formed religion. Some cults last and become new religions; some remain cults, some die. The line is hard to draw and open to interpretation, even by social scientists and the clergy who specialize in this field.


Historically, some cults and cultlike groups have sponsored the use of drugs as an integral aspect of ritual. In ancient Greece, for example, the use of ergot (genus Claviceps), a fungus that grows on grains and causes hallucinations, appears to have played a significant role in the rituals of the Eleusinian mysteries, celebrated in worship of the goddesses Demeter and her daughter Persephone. As poets noted, “I have seen the truth within the kernel of wheat”—a foreshadowing of the Countercultural Revolution/Love Generation, when a purified ergot derivative (LYSERGIC ACID DI-ETHYLAMIDE, LSD) offered a similar experience. Indeed, the word lysergic means “dissolving ergot.”

In Islam, alcohol is forbidden, but medieval Islamic sects were formed to use HASHISH (a form of Cannabis sativa, MARIJUANA). It came into use in the Islamic Middle East only centuries after the Prophet Mohammed (lived about 570 to 632) and his followers founded the Moslem religion; hashish was allegedly used to offer a taste of the paradise to come.

In pre-Columbian America, drugs of a wide variety were utilized in religious rituals; the Native American Church still continues to use the HALLUCINOGENS peyote and mescaline (both derived from the small cactus Lophophora williamsii). Recent court decisions have protected and reaffirmed the right of this church to use these drugs in religious ceremonies. As Preston and Hammerschlag (1983) have noted, this use of hallucinogens is rigidly controlled—part of a transcendent experience, accompanied by rituals of purification, and not lending itself to use on a promiscuous basis.


The 1960s and 1970s were characterized by an extraordinary youth movement of baby-boomers with an intense interest in the cultic and the occult—and by a popularization of drug use within mainstream American society. Some of this interest was fueled by the philosophies and practices of Asia, especially Southeast Asia, where the Vietnam War was being fought; some was inspired by the Shangri-La nature of the lands of the Himalayas, where Buddhism was practiced in secluded monasteries and nirvana was sought. As the “Greening of America” proceeded through these two decades, mind-altering joined ALCOHOL and NICOTINE, becoming available on the street, and were no longer confined to the disenfranchised or marginal. There was an increasing juxtaposition of the so-called transcendent religious experience (the mind-expanding experience) with drug use that often became drug abuse.

This juxtaposition had been anticipated by some earlier poets, such as William Blake (1757-1827), Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), and Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), by the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), and by cult figures such as Aleister Crowley (born Edward Alexander Crowley, 1875-1947). By combining aspects of their own experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs with elements of Transcendental Meditation/Mahareshi (movements based on Buddhism) in their song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (1967), the much adored singing group called the Beatles (the members born between 1940 and 1943, active as a group from 1960 to 1969) both mirrored and promoted the use of hallucinogens as providing a readily accessible transcendental experience—although in Buddhism the goal of all existence is the state of complete redemption (nirvana, a state achieved by righteous living, not by drugs). Unlike Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), who combined an interest in Vedanta (an orthodox system of Hindu philosophy) and the use of mescaline, the Beatles and their alleged mentor, the Mahareshi Mohesh Yogi, proclaimed the desirability of enlightening the masses rather than restricting enlightenment to a righteous educated elite.

In literary works of that era, such as Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City (1978), characters routinely advocate and use mind-altering substances (especially marijuana) without any apparent appreciation of their darker potential, which was consistent with the general attitude toward TOBACCO and alcohol use at that time as well. In addition, there was no special appreciation that drug use, in and of itself, might encourage cult affiliation, yet this was very much the time of the rapid growth of cults among youth in the United States.

The relationship of such cults to drug use is paradoxical. Deutsch (1983) has noted that prolonged drug use may encourage this type of cult affiliation, and many cult groups offer themselves to the public and to vulnerable persons as quasi-therapeutic contexts where the person will be able to transcend the need for drugs. This aspect of cult-appeal turned thousands of lost and confused free spirits and flower-children into vacant-eyed smiling cultists who signed over to the cult all their worldly goods—to spend their days wandering the streets, airports, and bus or train stations, seeking donations for their cult by shaking bells and tambourines or by offering flowers to passing strangers. Rigorous training programs, called “brainwashing” by parents of the lost children and by other skeptics, were fashioned to strip cultists of free will and substitute nodding acquiescence.


One charismatic cult leader was the Reverend Jim Jones, leader of the People’s Temple. His claim of curing drug abuse was only one of the lures. After moving around the United States for a while, he brought his followers to an isolated spot in South America, where one of the former substance abusers mixed for them a massive batch of poisoned Kool-Aid for the cult’s final event—a basically unexplained mass suicide.


The People’s Temple was not unique—organizations such as Narcanon (that is, narcotics anonymous) have stated that their treatment of substance abusers reflects the dianetics-based teachings of L. Ron Hubbard (born Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, 1911-1986), an American science-fiction writer, whose Scientology movement expanded in the 1950s when he moved to England (he was subsequently banned from re-entering England in 1968). Scientology is a quasi-philosophical system that claims to improve mental and physical well-being as followers advance within the cult, by undertaking (and paying well for) a series of courses.


Intense religious commitment is a significant aspect of much of the twelve-step recovery movement. Accordingly, there is concern that this level of commitment to a program can lead to a kind of cult affiliation. ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS (AA), the oldest, most constructive, and most respected of the TWELVE-STEP programs, is not considered a cult. Still, Rebhun (1983) and many others have noted the danger that drug-treatment programs can turn into cults such as SYNANON. Synanon was not unique; the history of residential drug-treatment centers includes a number of authoritarian and hierarchical organizations. Recovering substance-abusers often find it very difficult to leave the protection of the THERAPEUTIC COMMUNITY to become independent members of mainstream society. Often times program staff really help individual members overcome drug problems and other problems. Yet other times, a false resolution of these problems comes through fusion with an authoritarian and charismatic leader who will ostensibly provide the continuity and structure for which the substance abuser hungers.


Drugs and other mind-altering substances have formed an integral part of some cultic/religious rituals from very ancient times. In the mid-to-late twentieth century, the structure provided by groups that mobilize intense religious or quasi-religious feelings has sometimes enabled vulnerable individuals to transcend their personal difficulties. However, the very intensity of the substance user’s object hunger may enable the transformation of otherwise viable or valuable organizations into cults or cultlike groups.

(SEE ALSO: Religion and drug use)


DEUTSCH, A. (1983). Psychiatric perspectives on an Eastern-style cult. In David A. Halperin (Ed.), Psychodynamic perspectives on religion, sect, and cult. Littleton, MA: James Wright-PSG.

PRESTON, R., & HAMMERSCHLAG, C. (1983). The Native American Church. In David A. Halperin (Ed.), Psychodynamic perspectives on religion, sect, and cult. Littleton, MA: James Wright-PSG.

REBHUN, J. (1983). The drug rehabilitation program: Cults in formation? In David A. Halperin (Ed.), Psychodynamic perspectives on religion, sect, and cult. Littleton, MA: James Wright-PSG.

REICH, C. A. (1970). The greening of America. New York: Random House.

WASSON, R. G., HOFMANN, A.& RUCK, C. A. P. (1978). The road to Eleusis: Unveiling the secret of the mysteries. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.



“Cults and Drug Use.” Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol, and Addictive Behavior. 2nd Ed. Ed. Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt. Macmillan-Thomson Gale, 2001. 2006. 19 Sep, 2010 <