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Metaphysics

An Epicurean Philosophy – Aidan

File:Epikur.jpg

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.

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Discussion

9 thoughts on “An Epicurean Philosophy – Aidan

  1. Great work Aidan! I loved how clear and well thought out your explanations of Epicurus’ thoughts were. I think it’s funny too, after reading this on him now, how different Schopenhauer and Epicurus’ thoughts were on the root causes of suffering, even though Schopenhauer was directly influenced by Epicurus. To continue the discussion that we were having in class, how do you view Epicurus’ view on the root causes of good and evil and how they’re brought up? Do you think that they are both unavoidable in our lives or do you think that we have a certain amount of choice to be able to change both? Awesome job!

    Posted by dylanaraki | October 11, 2013, 6:29 am
    • Epicurus believed that we have free will in part due to atoms but also because the gods did not concern themselves with humans. Essentially, our lives are not at all controlled or influences by outer or other-worldly forces. Because of this, Epicurus claims we must avoid pain in order to achieve aponia and attain a life free from fear which he calls ataraxia. It is on our own person to control how much we are exposed to the good and bad experiences in life.

      I share similar views on theism and the universe which would naturally lead to similar views on the independence and free will from outside influences. I think around 90% of pain and suffering (in a developed country) is avoidable and a remaining 5% isn’t so insufferable that we can’t live through it. It may be uncomfortable but your state of mind will be the determining factor in how unhappy you will be during the suffering. My views are not as strong as Epicurus because I think that some suffering is inevitable but being able to handle it is one of life’s greatest assets. Although in a way, Epicurus would believe much of the same thing in a different way in that he would embrace the remaining 5% of suffering because that remainder is usually what would lead to death and Epicurus doesn’t believe in fearing such things – or fearing anything, for that matter.

      Posted by Aidan C | October 11, 2013, 5:30 pm
  2. Hey Aidan,

    I think the thing I’m most inclined to comment on right now is the The Epicurean Paradox. For “Phil’s Day Off” I went to a Church and read some passages of the bible. The Epicurean Paradox directly reminds me of the First Sin, and The Great Flood (paraphrasing names here, I’m sure you all know what I mean). Basically, the passages spoke of how the Lord did not view humanity in high regards so he sought to wipe them out and punish them.

    From the jist of that, you can gather that God did do something about the “evil”. However in the Creation, God separated light and dark (good and evil), so from going on that, maybe God doesn’t do anything in Epicurus’s world because He created it in the first place. If God is the Almighty Creator, does he not stop the “evil” because he can’t? What if stopping it meant stopping humans and Himself in general? Maybe “evil” was always meant to be there and because of that, we must suffer through it and it is out of our hands and God’s hands to do anything about it.

    Anyways, this was a very informative post. I like how you told us a bit of information about everything because Epicurus was an influence for many philosophers so understanding his ideas lead us to have a basis for others. As well, your end quote could technically correlate with this post as well which is quite entertaining. Overall, I really enjoyed reading your post.

    Awesome job,

    Aman

    Posted by amanmonkey | October 13, 2013, 12:32 am
    • Thanks Aman,

      I can’t say I’m overly familiar with the specifics of The Bible or Christian passages. In way of the flood, The Epicurean Paradox seems to relate to it directly. In what way was the flood God’s attempt to eradicate evil? It did not seem to work but it was surely an attempt. Is he then willing but not able, and thus not omnipotent? Or is he still able and just not willing? Perhaps God has his fun with the humans by seeing how they react to evil, or perhaps he willingly restricts himself to lesser powers when fighting evil because God only knows getting everything you want whenever you want it makes it less fun. If God is able to have fun, is he then also subject to other emotions? In my experience, it’s better to discuss these things as an object of “what if” as opposed to “what is”. Perhaps the gods really don’t concern themselves with humans.

      Thanks for the reply Aman,

      Aidan

      Posted by Aidan C | October 13, 2013, 3:52 am
      • Hey,

        No problem Aidan.

        I’m not overly familiar with biblical passages, however from what I’ve read it seems to me the Flood was a way to eradicate human kind, except for Noah and his descendants, God wanted to get rid of human kind because “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” So that was His reasoning for attempting to get rid of human kind, however Noah and his family found favour in God’s heart. Taking this, we can possibly assume that He is able, only not always willing. As well, it mentions that Noah finds a special place in God’s heart, so if God can feel something for the creatures he creates, he can possible feel fun and other emotions. I think the ideas you bring up of letting humans deal with evil, and using lesser powers are very interesting ones.

        If humans are left to deal with evil then are we meant to suffer? And if He is using lesser powers, does that mean He wants us to suffer? Maybe the Gods do or don’t concern themselves with humans, but if they do and humans go through what they do, then maybe it’s all supposed to be a lesson. Only what is the lesson? Or are we just paying for sins from previous people (e.g. Adam and Eve)?

        Aman

        Posted by amanmonkey | October 14, 2013, 6:12 am

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