Posts Tagged ‘Epicureanism’

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die

August 6, 2017

The idea that most people have of the Epicurean teaching is, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”   The idea most people have of what an Epicurean is like, is the Petronius character in Quo Vadis

Petronius lives for pleasure.  He eats the finest delicacies, sips the finest wines, sniffs the most fragrant perfumes, surrounds himself with beautiful flowers and works of art, listens to beautiful music and has sex with beautiful slave women.

For fun, Petronius pretends to flatter the Emperor Nero while really ridiculing him.   When Nero catches on, he calmly commits suicide, with style.

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It’s true that the philosopher Epicurus taught that pleasure is the highest good.   But he said real pleasure comes from appreciating whatever it is you have.   His idea was, “Eat plain bread and vegetables, drink plain water and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”

His idea was to make yourself bulletproof against unhappiness by not wanting things you can’t have and by not wanting things that really wouldn’t make you happy anyway.

There are three kinds of desires, he taught: (1) natural and necessary desires, such as food, shelter, etc.; (2) natural but unnecessary desires, such as for rich food, and (3) vain desires, such as for power, wealth or fame.

Courage, justice and moderation, the basic Greek virtues, are not valuable in themselves, according to Epicurus, but because they are necessary to happiness.   Justice consists of neither harming other people nor allowing them to harm you.   The best life is quiet and obscure.

Our present-day economy is based on precisely the kind of thinking that Epicurus wants to rescue us from.   American consumers’ desire for possessions, pleasure and status keeps the economy going, but doesn’t make us happy.   We can learn from Epicurus.

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Some sayings of Epicurus

August 6, 2017

The blessed and important nature knows no trouble nor causes trouble to any other, so that it is never constrained by anger or favor. For all such things exist only in the mind.

Death is nothing to us: for that which is dissolved is without sensation; and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us.

Epicurus

It is not possible to live pleasantly without living prudently and honorably and justly, nor again to live a life of prudence, honor and justice without living pleasantly.  And the man who does not possess the pleasant life, is not living prudently and honorably and justify, and the man who does not possess the virtuous life cannot possibly live pleasantly.

No pleasure is a bad thing in itself, but the means which produce some pleasures bring with them disturbances many times greater than the pleasure.

Infinite time contains no greater pleasure than limited time, if one measures by reason the limits of pleasure.

He who has learned the limits of life knows that, that which removes the pain of want and makes the whole of life complete, is easy to obtain, so that there is no need for actions that involve competition.

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Three philosophies for hard times ahead

July 27, 2014

John Michael Greer, author of several books about the consequences of peaking of world oil supplies, thinks progress is a consoling illusion.  He does not believe there is anything about the nature of things that guarantees that this generation will be better off than the previous one, or that future generations will be better off than this one.

John Michael Greer

John Michael Greer

He writes a weekly web log, The Archdruid Report, which is one of the Blogs I Like.  In a recent post, he points to better and more enduring philosophies.

There is the Epicurean philosophy, which teaches you to be grateful for life’s blessings and not to wish for more than you have.  Epicurus did not teach the Playboy Philosophy.  He was a laborer who worked hard to support his aged parents, and who only enjoyed leisure late in life when his followers bought him a house and garden.

There is the Stoic philosophy, which doesn’t bother about happiness at all, but only acting constructively and with integrity no matter what the circumstances.   A Stoic would agree with one of my mother’s favorite sayings, “Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed.”  Stoicism provides a grim satisfaction that comes from not having expectations and from not basing happiness or self-respect on anything that someone else can take away from him.

The third philosophy, to which Greer adheres, is the Platonist philosophy, which is that our world is a a shadow of a divine order, which, when glimpsed and understood, makes everything make sense.

I am more of an Epicurean than a Stoic, and not a Platonist at all.  That is not to say I deny the truth of Platonism and other religious philosophies.  It is that I have not had the religious and spiritual experiences that I read about, and that people I know tell me about, and I cannot say anything one way or the other.

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