Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Epicureanism: an Introduction
Epicureanism is a humanist philosophical doctrine for human happiness. It requires us to make a firm resolution to live a happy life and to apply philosophical and empirical methods to the pursuit of happiness.
Its first tenets are contained in the Four Remedies:
Do not fear death
Do not fear the gods
What is good, is easy to attain
What is evil is easy to avoid
For non-believers, the first two negative statements may be translated as "Do not fear chance or blind luck, for it is pointless to battle that which we have no control over. It generates unnecessary suffering."
The latter two positive statements lead to Epicurean teachings on how we should evaluate our desires and discern which ones are unnecessary versus which ones are necessary, which ones carry pain when satisfied or ignored versus which ones don't. By this process of an analysed life, one learns to be content with the simple pleasures in life, those easiest to attain. The best things in life are free.
"The wealth required by nature is limited and easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity ... Do not spoil that which you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for." - Epicurus
The three goods are friendships, an analysed life, and autarchy which translates as autonomy or self-sufficiency. Epicurus taught that friends are the most important ingredient for happiness. Difficulties are much more easy to bear, and pleasures much more easily enjoyed, in wholesome association with our trusted friends. We should seek them often and blend our minds with them.
The process of living an analysed life leads to the cultivation of what philosophers called ataraxia: a state of satisfied serenity, content, and self-control. It translates as imperturbability. Its attainment signals philosophical maturity.
The serene grounds of the Epicurean Academy were known as the Garden. There, an egalitarian community evolved where men, women, and slaves discussed philosophical matters among equals. This was very progressive, and even scandalous, in those days. Epicurean Gardens flourished for over 700 years until the Christians destroyed all the philosophical schools and philosophy was banned.
We must not underestimate the influence of Epicureanism in contemporary political philosophy and in modern life. We ultimately owe the inclusion of the 'pursuit of happiness' in the Declaration of Independence to Thomas Jefferson, who was a disciple of Epicurus. In his letter to William Short, he said:
"As you said yourself, I too am an Epicurean ... I consider the genuine doctrines of Epicurus as containing every thing rational in moral philosophy"
For a vast resource of writings by Epicurean thinkers throughout history, visit:
The following is a series of videos detailing Epicurean philosophy by youtuber Lootra: