A brief glimpse to Epicureanism

The philosophy of a man called Epicurus, born in Greece around 2300 years ago, has been an important influence and can still be an inspiration for many. In this article, I talk about 2 of its aspects that, in my own prejudiced mind, can best help someone in their life. Meanwhile, I also speak about 2 other points of this philosophy with which the very same discriminatory mind of mine does not fully agree.

Epicurus’s definition of happiness can offer a glimpse and introduction into his thinking. He believed that happiness could be achieved if one lived modestly, learned about the world, and limited desires. As a side note, to me, happiness is a choice.

Epicurus argues that pleasure is the most important good in life. He thus encourages us to live life to maximize the amount of pleasure in it. He prioritizes pleasures associated with the mind over bodily pleasures. At the same time, he suggests being careful not to succumb to overindulgence and then suffer from it.

Simple life and friendships

Out of the reading I have done about this man, what I have found most interesting is the idea of simple and modest life that he advocates. There are a lot of movements and books that have been written about simplifying our lives in recent history. But we now refer to more than 2000 years ago, when today’s technology, tools, and convenience were unthinkable. The fact that, even from that time, men considered simple life as a way to happiness really says something. 

At the same time, Epicurus links simple life with desires. He believes that if we limit our desires, we can simplify our lives and move closer to happiness. He specifically talks about limiting unnecessary and artificial desires. I would replace the adjective “artificial” and use “social” desires instead. In other words, desires that have been put to us unconsciously by the social circumstances that we are in.   

No matter how interesting this may sound, the idea of limiting desires in our lives does not fully agree with me. Instead of limiting our desires, we can try to understand our desires and then consciously shape and choose them. This sounds like a better alternative to me. One may say that this is the same thing. Yes, consciously choosing your desires may result in decreasing your desires. But now, this would come out of a conscious choice from within and not because someone said so. 

The idea of simple life, according to Epicurus, comes hand in hand with meaningful friendships. In a quote, he wrote, “of all the things which contribute to a blessed life, none is more important than friendship”. Connecting with people is an indispensable part of life. And by friendship, we mean people who want to share their happiness and not extract it from the other person. This sounds like an important requirement to call someone a friend, a real friend. 

Sensations and the fear of death

Epicurus also strongly advocated against fearing death. He claimed that “death is nothing to us” because death means the end of sensations. It is interesting to read the so-called Epicurean Epitaph, a quote many have selected to put upon their graves. It goes like this: “I was not, I was, I am not; I do not care”. 

Epicurus believed that one could trust their sensations to come closer to truth. To understand what a sensation is, it is useful to compare it with perception. The sensation is simply the input we get from our five senses, whereas perception is the process that gives meaning to this input. For example, the sound we hear is a sensation, but the music we understand out of it is a perception.

Whereas the difference between a sensation and a perception sounds like an interesting idea, I would not consider sensation as the main criterion of truth. Sometimes you receive no input from your senses, but you are still blissful and happy. You just walk or lie around, and a wave of bliss comes into you for no particular reason. Although fleeting, this is an example that there is something beyond the five senses.

Take away:

  • A simple and modest life can mean a happy and successful life 
  • It is best we find friends that want to share their happiness with us and not extract it from each other
  • There seems to be a way to experience and know things beyond the five senses

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