10.02.17 | Chasing Epicurus

His fragmented letters seem to reach across twenty-three centuries to grant a kind of forward-looking absolution i.e. granting the opportunity for individual happiness without its achievement being considered as some guilty indulgence. Our Member Monday (10/2) discussion centers around Epicurus, that most approachable yet mischaracterized Greek philosopher. 

The eponymous term epicurean delight might suggest a world of gluttony and fleshly titillation. A  five-minute peek at the man and his teachings will convince you to take a second look (link: PHILOSOPHY - Epicurus - YouTube). We will discuss and may even discover among those fragmented letters the essence of our very own Securus Locus.

The real-life use of words favored by Epicurus — like hedonism and pleasure — requires context and, so viewed, offers a pretty sober account of the good life (link: Epicurus and Happiness - Pursuit-of-Happiness.org). Pleasure is one of internal mindset, most notably that of inner tranquility, and is thus independent of the external. (QuotingDo not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.

One can hardly imagine a more eloquent response to the whole phenomenon of rapacious greed that threatens to overtake and chew up the world than the injunction to make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires. That’s it, you can give yourself a raise anytime you'd like by simply removing some of your imagined wants as nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.

His dismissiveness of the anxiety tied to gods and the fear of death would certainly make for an interesting theological discussion. The gods exist on their own plane, he maintained, and are hardly concerned with human affairs. Further, death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist. Or, in the signature line of that old country western songwriter Jerry Reed, “When you’re hot you’re hot, when you’re not you’re not.” One can only imagine how Epicurus would have reacted to the later terrible swift sword and puritanical hellfire accompanying later monotheistic religion.

Yet it’s on the terrestrial front where Epicurus seems most instructive i.e. of all the things which wisdom provides to make us entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship. Friendship, not the pursuit of love too ardently or the crass overindulgence in other such worldly excesses, is the ticket.

Just remember that Epicurus is presented here as the subject of discussion and not as orthodoxy. Were pleasure simply an inner tranquility marked by the absence of pain, we might argue, the Epicurus vision of the perfect world would be a hit of Xanax and life in a sensory deprivation tank. What about the role of a single-minded goal, passionately pursued (link: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/22/well/mind/maybe-we-all-need-a-little-less-balance.html?mwrsm=Email)?

However, the mere contemplation of his ideal world is itself soothing. Epicurus envisioned his “Pleasure Garden” as a place where he and his students would congregate in the pursuit of the most pleasant life possible i.e. the contentment with simple things like a philosophical discussion with friends.

Squint and maybe you can catch a fleeting glimpse of the Northwest corner at 9th&Arapahoe.

Steve SmithComment