Epicureanism: a Secular Doctrine for Happiness



Epicureanism is a humanist philosophical doctrine for human happiness. It requires us to make a firm resolution to live a happy life and to apply philosophical and empirical methods to the pursuit of happiness.

Its first tenets are contained in the Four Remedies:

Do not fear death
Do not fear the gods
What is good, is easy to attain
What is evil is easy to avoid

For non-believers, the first two negative statements may be translated as "Do not fear chance or blind luck, for it is pointless to battle that which we have no control over. It generates unnecessary suffering."

The latter two positive statements lead to Epicurean teachings on how we should evaluate our desires and discern which ones are unnecessary versus which ones are necessary, which ones carry pain when satisfied or ignored versus which ones don't. By this process of an analysed life, one learns to be content with the simple pleasures in life, those easiest to attain. The best things in life are free.

"The wealth required by nature is limited and easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity ... Do not spoil that which you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for." - Epicurus

The three goods are friendships, an analysed life, and autarchy which translates as autonomy or self-sufficiency. Epicurus taught that friends are the most important ingredient for happiness. Difficulties are much more easy to bear, and pleasures much more easily enjoyed, in wholesome association with our trusted friends. We should seek them often and blend our minds with them.

The process of living an analysed life leads to the cultivation of what philosophers called ataraxia: a state of satisfied serenity, content, and self-control. It translates as imperturbability. Its attainment signals philosophical maturity.

The serene grounds of the Epicurean Academy were known as the Garden. There, an egalitarian community evolved where men, women, and slaves discussed philosophical matters among equals. This was very progressive, and even scandalous, in those days. Epicurean Gardens flourished for over 700 years until the Christians destroyed all the philosophical schools and philosophy was banned.

We must not underestimate the influence of Epicureanism in contemporary political philosophy and in modern life. We ultimately owe the inclusion of the 'pursuit of happiness' in the Declaration of Independence to Thomas Jefferson, who was a disciple of Epicurus. In his letter to William Short, he said:

"As you said yourself, I too am an Epicurean ... I consider the genuine doctrines of Epicurus as containing every thing rational in moral philosophy"

For a vast resource of writings by Epicurean thinkers throughout history, visit:
http://www.epicurus.info/

The following is a series of videos detailing Epicurean philosophy by youtuber Lootra:
http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEA3D3F7070776AD5

Credits:
Music is by Constance Demby, "I Set Myself Free".

Tags: epicureanism, epicurus, happiness, philosophy

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Hiram, Thank you so much for this enriching piece and quotes. This is a keeper and I am reposting. 

I'm a big fan of Epicureanism

Are there any attempts at creating Epicurean community anywhere?  It seems like community should be a big part of the good life for an Epicurean.

I will join your group Hiram.

It's not my group, I also just joined it.  It was started by a German lady.  I hope that new members bring new life to the group, and that the discussions we have are productive.

epicurus.net also has a list:

http://www.epicurus.net/en/epl.html

Thanks - I like that. Sounds rational.

There are currently two Gardens of Epicurus: one in Chicago and one in New Jersey.  Please visit if you're in the vecinity!

It's interesting that Thomas Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean and said so in a letter to his former secretary William Short in 1819. He wrote:

As you say of yourself, I TOO AM AN EPICUREAN. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing every thing rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us. Epictetus, indeed, has given us what was good of the Stoics; all beyond, of their [doctrines] dogmas, being hypocrisy and grimace. Their great crime was in their calumnies of Epicurus and misrepresentations of his doctrines; in which we lament to see the candid character of Cicero engaging as an accomplice.

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