Epicureanism Essay

Epicureans and Their Methods of Life:

Epicureanism is a stream of philosophical thought based essentially on the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epicurus who was born in Samos and lived around the year of 300 BC in ancient Athens. Epicurus’ ethics started with the ideas of his contemporary philosopher Aristotle. He agreed with him on some points, for example by saying that the “highest good is what is valued for its own sake” and the idea of happiness being the highest good. However, the ways of two great philosophers parted when it came to indentifying some principal points and making the distinction between Hedonism and Epicureanism. According to the principles of Epicureanism the absence of pain is the greatest pleasure that can be achieved even by living a simple life. But the approach to this point in Hedonism is different indeed. (Encyclopedia)

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Epicurus was a revolutionary thinker at his time because he was proclaiming atheism. He thought that being religious was a sing of ignorance and narrow-mindedness. The goal of spreading his philosophy was to help people loose their fear of the gods that was revolutionary indeed in the god-based Greek society of that time. However he never denied the existence of gods, moreover he believed they did exist. Still he held and spread the opinion that gods lived somewhere far away in space and had little or not at all influence of people on Earth. That made it clear that they cannot and should not be feared but just not denied and respected.

Epicurean movement in fact had a very important influence on the development of Christianity as a religion. The main principle of Christianity that people should disconnect from the world, their physical bodies, passions and possessions and focus just on God owes to Epicureanism. However since the rise of Epicureanism the church confronted it for denying the existence of heaven and hell. As well as the “immortality of the soul” and a strong emphasis on pleasure was sickening the church and its morals and values. So during the era of the rise of Christianity the popularity of Epicureanism declined. (Sedley, Long)

From the time it was originated the opinions on Epicureanism split poles apart. On one hand Catholics identified Epicureanism as “self-indulgent hedonism and godlessness”. But on the other hand the supporters of Epicurus praised his morals as well as his strong respect of and belief in the gods. He was respected for his near-asceticism and moderation. He was even thought of as a “Christian before Christ”, a savior who spoke the truth and who taught people how to be happy. (Encyclopedia)

Nowadays the term “epicure” or “epicurean” is used to describe the bohemian connoisseur of the artistic luxurious life and a seeker of physical pleasures. It is considered that Epicureanism only implies a love and enjoyment of good food and drink and other physical pleasures. However by thinking like that, the Epicurean doctrine is completely misunderstood. It is true that Epicureanism puts forward that pleasure is the ultimate good but it is absolutely wrong to consider that it advocates the momentary pleasures such as partying, orgiastic sexual excess and expensive food and drinking. It fact, the principal points of Epicureanism are far from that.

Epicurus based his philosophy on two main conceptions: ataraxia and aponia. Ataraxia is translated from ancient Greek as “tranquility” and “freedom from fear”, and aponia is the “absence of pain”. Epcicurus believed that only the combination of these two variables mentioned above: the tranquility and fearlessness can bring a person to the heights of happiness. So it can be derived that the philosopher regarded good sense as an important virtue. Moreover, he considered things like heavy drinking and gluttony to prevent achieving ataraxia and aponia, so they go against the Epicurean laws. (Long, Sedley)

Now I would like to present some basic principles of Epicureans that describe what real happiness was/is for them. As already stated above the most vital thing in the life is pleasure while the highest evil is pain. Epicureans explain their opinion by saying that the process is simply natural. Even animals seek pleasure and enjoy it, while evading pain as evil. That shows that Epicureanism as a part of Hedonism is truly in harmony with nature. The real happiness for Epicureans is to prepare themselves to fear neither death nor pain. They make their point by citing Epicurus that “in death there is no sensation, and hence no pain”. That proves that there is nothing to fear. As well as in life the pain is usually long-lasting but slight or serious but brief, hence tolerable. (Cicero)

Epicureans proclaim that the sickness of mind is much worse and more serious than the sickness of body and that is one more reason not to be afraid of physical pain. Because no physical pain, according to them, can be compared with the “pain” of the “sick”, uneasy mind. One peculiar thing about the philosophy of Epicureanism is that it values friendship highly. It is explained by the fact that the connection between friendship and pleasure is very close. People are the creatures that are ought to have others around them and who want to belong to somebody. So it makes it impossible to achieve happiness and reach the heights of an Epicureanism having no people to love, care for, belong to. (Cicero)

The interesting fact is that Epicurus considered not all pleasure to be good and not all evils to be harmful. According to him not all pleasures were worthy and all pains had to be avoided. So an individual should not expect life to be all roses and should not be scared of getting hurt. Instead, what on one should do is try to predict the long-term benefit, and give up what will bring pleasure and satisfaction in the short-term. It has been proved that waiting for a long-term pleasure leads to greater enjoyment for the individual, and then greater happiness is achieved.

According to the principles of Epicureanism there are two types of pleasures: “moving” pleasures and “static” pleasures. First occur when one is in the process of satisfying a desire, these pleasures stimulate senses, and are what most people call “pleasures”. However, after one’s desires have been satisfied, another kind of a pleasure comes in. The feeling of satisfying the need is already pleasurable as well as the aftermath of the satisfying. Epicurus called this a “static” pleasure, and stated that the “static” pleasures are stronger that the “moving ones”. (Long, Sedley)

Over the course of history, misunderstanding of the main principles of Epicureanism and religious dogma and hostility tried to push Epicureanism into dimness. However, Epicureanism has nonetheless influenced greatly the progressive thought particularly enlightenment thinkers and humanists. The Epicureans are more and more often called Existentialists, still Epicureanism today is neither irrelevant nor dead and has its followers all over the planet.

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