Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Epicurean ideal

In his letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus says that no one is to old to think philosophically. The old man thinks philosophically if he is content to look back fondly on his memories of life. Similarly, he says that the young think philosophically when they have no fear of what is to come. He compares the mindsets of the young and old philosopher; the elderly man waits for death acceptingly, knowing that he is nearing the end of his life; the younger man so enthralled with the current situations in his life, he has no fear of dying.
This is a great seg-way into one of Epicurus' main ideals, that if we are to live a meaningful life we must abandon our fear of mortality. Once we face our mortality and scrutinize what exactly it is we are afraid, we see that the pain we may enduring, or the inconvenient timing of our death is not the cause of our fear. What we really fear is the unknown, because we don't know what to expect after death.
"Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation."
It is our fear of dying that frightens us and not death itself, for in death we have no fear at all. There is no longer an expectancy of death after we are gone, and so no fear.
Epicurus says that throughout our lives we are always seeking to diminish pain and fear so we may have rest. When our minds are at rest we find pleasure and ease.
Pleasure, he says, is our first and kindred good and by seeking pleasure and learning how to achieve it, we gain wisdom. When we have wisdom of these things, we will have the ability to make good choices which will lead us toward pleasure and good life and away from pain and discontent.
It is possible, through sober reasoning, to choose wisely and to make wise decisions that make and keep our lives pleasant; allowing us to pursue happiness and pleasure. This is ultimately, the good life to Epicurus, and the correct way of viewing life. It's not about overindulgence, or having it all, when you have only what you need, you appreciate the extras and luxuries a lot more. The greatest fortune in life is one that we all have, it is our ability to choose situations which bring us happiness and avoid those that will bring us down. Just as important, is the ability to distinguish which pains we should endure to bring a greater pleasure, and which simple pleasures we should abstain from to avoid a greater pain later on.
Epicurus says that we will reap what we sow. If we seek happiness and fulfillment, then we will find ourselves in situations where we see happiness and fulfillment; just as if we are convinced our lives will be full of pain and suffering, then we will find ourselves in situations where we hurt and suffer.
God is immortal and blessed, and pleasure is our first and kindred good. The feeling of pleasure is sustainable and being our first and kindred good, it is blessed. When we can live in the present, unafraid of the future and fully appreciate the good that is all around us, we feel pleasure, we feel an inner peace. Epicurus is saying that, that feeling of tranquility is God.
Nothing can be outside of God, he is immortal and blessed. Not even death--which is seen as the most fierce evil because it is an ending to life/pleasure as we know it. But it is only a ceasing of our senses and so not to be feared. If we may release our fear of death and impiety (displeasing the gods) we are free to seek a state of tranquility in the mind and body. In that state we find happiness, in happiness we find peace and in peace we find Oneness.
"For man loses all semblance of mortality by living in the midst of immortal blessings."

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