Monday, February 7, 2011

Drinking the Mortal Brew: Epicurus In the Medicine Cabinet

The philosopher I find myself going back to most often these days is Epicurus. His philosophy was at root simple and good, and I am at root a simple person (and I often try to be good).

Here are the basic precepts of Epicureanism, via Wikipedia:

"Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of Epicurus, founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, following in the steps of Democritus. His determinism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. Following Aristippus—about whom very little is known—Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear, as well as absence of bodily pain (aponia) through knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one's desires. The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism, insofar as it declares pleasure as the sole intrinsic good, its conception of absence of pain as the greatest pleasure and its advocacy of a simple life make it different from "hedonism" as it is commonly understood."

I stumbled onto Epicurus while I was in high school. After reading a little bit of Anton Lavey--as all teenagers of a certain variety must--I discovered that there was much in his philosophy that seemed silly and gaudy, much that seemed stupid, and a strain of thought that was very appealing. The silly and gaudy stuff was the rituals and theatrical language. The stupid stuff was the Objectivism and Social Darwinism, and the appealing stuff was the Epicureanism, which didn't really seem to belong with those other things.

It has stayed with me. Decrease suffering, increase well-being. It seems like a simple calculus: Sometimes you forgo a trifling pleasure in order to earn the greater pleasure of self control and greater health. Enjoy the people you love. Be helpful to them. Don't make misery holy, and don't waste time storing up treasures in heaven; There are treasures all around us.

It's a good worldview in my estimation.

What I propose to do over the coming months is to dedicate at least one of my weekly posts to a meditation on one of Epicurus's Vatican sayings. It will be hardly academic.

The reason I am doing this is that I have found that when I look at the world through philosophical glasses, I am happier than when i am just lost in the barrage of events that is life. Writing about philosophy will--i hope--keep me focused.

Our lives are often very busy, and very hungry. It's important to remember that everything we desire may not be good for us, and that much of what we're busy at may be frivolous. I live in a (mostly) capitalist country, and am immersed in the culture of 'get some!'. I know it helps me to remember the following Epicurean advice:

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Happiness is often only a perspective-shift away.

So, in short, if you don't enjoy watching strangers publicly masturbate, this blog may not be for you for a little while. If, however, that is your thing, grab a box of tissues and join my epicurean circle-jerk: the more the merrier.

read more here.


the elegant ape said...

The founder of my favorite paradox..
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?"- Epicurus
rock on.....

Lodo Grdzak said...

Epicurus eh? Guess I can steal a few things from him. Probably already have.

Keep 'em coming Spence!