Monday, May 01, 2006

Epicurus - Wikipedia

I have always been most impressed by the ideas of Epicurus. His own conception of a "good life" is one of avoiding suffering and seeking hapiness. His ideas will eventually influence John Locke, the American constitution, J.S. Mill and Nietzche.


Epicurus' teachings represented a departure from the other major Greek thinkers of his period, and before, but was nevertheless founded on many of the same principles as Democritus. Like Democritus, he was an atomist, believing that the fundamental constituents of the world were uncuttable little bits of matter (atoms) flying through empty space (void). Everything that occurs is the result of the atoms colliding, rebounding, and becoming entangled with one another, with no purpose or plan behind their motions.
He admitted women and slaves into his school, emphasized the senses in his epistemology, and was one of the first Greeks to break from the god-fearing and god-worshipping tradition common at the time, even while affirming that religious activities are useful as a way to contemplate the gods and to use them as an example of the pleasant life.
Epicurus' philosophy is based on the theory that all good and bad derive from sensation: Pleasureable sensations are good, painful sensations bad. Although Epicurus was commonly misunderstood to advocate the rampant pursuit of pleasure, what he was really after was the absence of pain (both physical and mental, i.e., anxiety).
Although Epicurus believed in pursuing pleasure, he was by no means a hedonist in our modern sense of the word. He explicitly warned against overindulgence because it often leads to pain. For instance, in what might be described as a "hangover" theory, Epicurus warned against pursuing love too ardently, as it often leads to pain. However, having a circle of friends you can trust is one of the most important means for securing a tranquil life.
Epicurus also believed (in contradiction to Aristotle) that death was not to be feared. According to Epicurus, unpleasant sensations cannot exist without pain. When man is alive, he does not feel the pain of death because he is not experiencing death. When a man dies, he does not feel the pain of death because he is dead and, since death is annihilation, he feels nothing. Therefore, as Epicurus famously said, "death is nothing to us."
In contrast to the Stoics, Epicureans showed little interest in participating in the politics of the day, since doing so leads to trouble. He instead advocated seclusion. His garden can be compared to present-day communes.
The most well-known Epicurean verse, which epitomizes his philosophy, is lathe biōsas λάθε βιώσας (Plutarchus De latenter vivendo 1128c; Flavius Philostratus Vita Apollonii 8.28.12), meaning "live secretly", "get through life without drawing attention to yourself", i. e. live without pursuing glory or wealth or power, but anonymously, enjoying little things like food, the company of friends, etc.


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