In this week’s Friday Philosophy post we’ll be looking at a big idea from the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus. You may have come across the Epicurean paradox before, which is a truly fascinating set of propositions concerning the problem of evil. I won’t be focusing on the paradox in this article, as I covered it in a previous post.
Who Was He?
Born in Samos in 341 BC, Epicurus came from a poor family that was far from aristocratic. He suffered from poor health for much of his life, but despite these troubles he founded several philosophical schools, including ‘The Garden’ in Athens which was partly a school and partly a philosophical community.
Epicurus’s work represents a blend of the metaphysical ponderings of the presocratics with the ethical philosophy of Socrates. In terms of metaphysics, Epicurus followed Democritus in espousing an ‘atomist’ view of reality, but in terms of his ethics, Epicurus was interested in the pursuit of a hedonistic lifestyle – aiming to enjoy life as much as possible without fear of divine judgment for doing so.
What’s the Big Idea?
Epicurus believed that happiness could be found in the elimination of mental and physical pain. He believed mental pain was the worser of the two, because physical pain is usually fleeting, or relieved somehow, or ends in death. So he focused on philosophising concerning how we could relieve the mental anguish we experience in life, such as fear, anxiety, and depression. Through wisdom, Epicurus believed, we can learn which pleasures to seek, and which to avoid.
I have a lot of sympathy with Epicurus’s concern for how to live a happy life. Those of you who have signed up to my mailing list recently will know that I have written an eBook about the different ingredients that we must balance in order to live a happy life. Some of the ingredients I discuss in the book are mental health, physical health, a rewarding work life, and various others.
As a spiritually inclined person, who believes in a monotheistic God, one of the key ingredients I mention in the eBook is nurturing a relationship with God, something that was not important to Epicurus. Epicurus believed that gods existed, but he thought they had no interest in human affairs and were not particularly relevant to the subject of happiness. I, on the other hand, would argue that relationship with God is the single most vital ingredient for living a happy and fulfilling life, as when we seek God’s truth we come to understand the bigger picture of life, without which, earthly pleasures are relatively meaningless.
In next Friday’s post we’re going to be looking at a philosopher named Diogenes, who rejected civic life in favour of a more vagrant lifestyle (he is known as a ‘Cynic’). To receive an email every time I publish a new post, please consider subscribing. Thank you for reading!