An Epicurean Philosophy – Aidan

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I would do an epic pun, but that would be too easy.

Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who saw the rise and division of the Macedonian Empire, would probably have better fit in today than he did in his time.  He lived in the Aegean archipelago in Samos, Greece from 341 – 270 BC, dying at the age of 72.  He studied and was influenced by other philosophers such as Plato and Democritus.  Some of his work is comparable to a peer philosopher, Zeno, in this comedic short:

His legacy includes many teachings such as that pleasure is the measure of good and pain/suffering is the measure of evil.  It’s worth noting that he never married or had children, suffered from kidney stones and dysentery, and was probably a vegetarian.

Epicurus believed in the existence of atoms.  Imagine in 300 BC the idea of atoms being considered.  The definition was that the universe was made of tiny indivisible particles bouncing around in empty space and therefore every occurrence is a result of these indivisibles interacting with one another.  In addition, Epicurus believed the atoms have an underlying element of chaos which make their paths unpredictable and therefore affirming the idea of free will and opposing determinism.  Compared with modern theories of quantum physics, Epicurus was more clairvoyant than Nostradamus could have ever predicted!

“It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (i.e. agreeing neither to harm nor be harmed), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.”  -Epicurus

Other legacies of Epicurus include but are not limited to:  pleasure and suffering being the embodiment of good and evil (including gluttonous pleasure as a form of suffering and experiencing some suffering as a means to greater pleasure), a formulation of the Ethic of Reciprocity (a.k.a. Golden Rule: see above), and The Epicurean Paradox (see below) since he believes that the gods are not concerned with humans.

 

The Epicurean 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’ ideas can be seen in many aspects of society.  For example, his statement on the Ethic of Reciprocity inspired the ideas of John Locke which called for the right to “life, liberty and property” whereas property is also defined as one’s own person.  Those ideas were in turn borrowed by Thomas Jefferson, a self-described Epicurean, for the foundation of The United States of America which advocated “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I was surprised to see that a man who lived in 300 BC would be so involved in the ideas that the world consisted of atoms and that he would challenge the idea of gods so radically.  I was really inspired by his ideas of pleasure vs. pain and suffering and how he wrote in a letter to a friend as he was dying of the kidney stone pain that it was a happy day for him.  Epicurus did not believe in fearing death as being dead was of no concern to a person after having died.

Although there are other aspects of his life I have not touched upon due to the nature of this being a post on metaphysics, I highly recommend to anyone interested in a very Stoic-style of thinking to look up Epicurus and his teachings.  One of my favourite things I read while studying him was the inscription on the gate of his garden that he used to host philosophical teachings and discussions to which women were to be admitted as a rule rather than an exception.  The inscription reads as such:

“Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.”

*Tarry: v. Stay longer than intended; delay leaving a place.