Excerpts from the book

CHAPTER 1

OVERVIEW

“The secret of happiness is in the

diathesis (disposition) of which we are sole arbiters.”

Epicurean follower, Diogenes of Oenoanda

 

Of all the philosophers to ever walk the golden grounds of ancient Greece, there was one man particularly worthy of notice. So notable was his work that even now, two thou­sand three hundred years later, his philosophy is one that lingers in the social fabric of man. It is safe to say that it will continue to do so. His name was Epicurus, son of Neo­cles and Chaerestrate. His philosophy was that of a happy life based on the search for simple natural pleasures. One devoid of the help of religions, god, politics, consumerism, wealth, power, or fame. Epicurus argued that any man can acquire and maintain bodily health and peace of mind by using only his own natural powers.

In as much as this is true, the pursuit of happiness has no chance of success if it is lonely. It is vital that we have an environment of security that friends and like-minded people create. To live the most pleasant life, one must pos­sess the ability to obtain security, in relationships of mu­tual benefit with people of like minds, for they are all the solid support needed for life to be pleasant. Friendship es­tablishes an environment of trust and security, overflowing with all valuable practical and emotional support to build our character. Our views of life and of society are shaped by the tenets of friendship. If we are to evaluate the quality of our life, participate in joint activities, and achieve com­mon goals, then friendship, true friendship is a must.

The friendship Epicurus referred to is that between peo­ple who share explicit trust, those who seek to forward the affairs of those they call friends. Those for whom friendship is not an unhealthy competition. A Principal Doctrine says that friendship is by far the most important means of wis­dom to ensure happiness throughout our lives. Epicurus’ most important innovation to friendship was his urging that it should be cultivated systematically. Friendship, he supported, has such an importance to safety and happi­ness that it should not be left to chance, but cultivated in a planned manner.

The purity of the Epicurean social model of life is high­lighted by these words: “If you want to save your peace of mind and your humanity ... carry out your own state of affairs, which will give you what the official cannot.” This model is nothing more than a small society of friends united by ties of trust, honesty, kindness and mutual aid, in combination with the values and the perceptions of the Epicurean Philosophy.

The Epicurean Philosophy expresses the Natural Philoso­phy of life, because it follows the route of the natural func­tions of the mind. These functions start from the automatic subconscious mind and end up in the volitional conscious. The philosophy assumes that the norm of truth in life is disclosed by nature and not by thoughts. This becomes obvious by observing the behavior of animals and babies who react in response to their instincts and emotions. It is glaring from their reactions that all animals, lower and higher alike, seek pleasure and avoid pain. This means that the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain are in­nate attributes which human beings have. They are neither secondary nor incidental and cannot be added or deducted at will.

Pleasure and pain were born together, long before log­ic was developed. Therefore Epicurus wrote: “We recog­nize pleasure as the first good innate thing.” As life passes and the baby becomes a child, an adolescent, a young and mature man, he always remains attached to the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

At no stage of life or human culture is this relationship questioned. Epicurus explained this wonderfully when he de­scribed pleasure as being the beginning and the end to a hap­py life. He said humans resort to this as a rule in order to judge anything good by the way we feel. To avoid misunderstand­ings, he also added that pleasure does not mean prodigal and sensual pleasure only, as some might think. By pleasure, Epi­curus referred to the natural pleasure ‒bodily, psychological, and spiritual‒ that are necessary to bring about a state devoid of any physical pain and the absence of a troubled soul.

The guide to life in the Epicurean Philosophy is the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain that brings about atarax­ia–the pleasant state in which we enjoy bodily health and peace of mind. Joy and pain are the start and stop signals of everyday life. Both are green and red lights respectively. That is why our talks in the Epicurean Philosophy start with the word “feel” rather than “think.”

Pleasures are prioritized in the Epicurean Philosophy ac­cording to their significance in the pursuit of happiness be­cause “other desires are natural and necessary; others are natural but not necessary. And yet others are neither nat­ural nor necessary, but are born from empty ideas.’’ This suggests that we do not satisfy all our wishes. All we sat­isfy are natural desires that are absolutely necessary and the unnecessary natural desires that do not harm us. The harmful ones are strictly restrained.

Natural human desires are expressed by the physical characteristics of the mind that are in direct contact with the inner and the outer world, that is, the senses, the emo­tions, and the anticipations (instincts, innate inclinations, and experiences). Choice and decision are the most frequent activities of dai­ly life. The potential pleasures are numerous; the cost of many of these is prohibitive, and the problems that some of them induce are often superior to the benefits. There­fore, we must evaluate them by comparing one to the oth­er, and by carefully examining what is worth pursuing and what is not. The doctrine below summarizes this in the most apt manner possible: “We do not indiscriminately choose any form of enjoyment, but sometimes we happen to turn our back to different forms of pleasure, when the problems that they might cause outweigh the benefits.” It is conspicuous that the avoidance of pain is not always the best choice, for there are, on the other hand, differ­ent forms of pain that we may prefer to pleasure. For such pain, the enjoyment that follows after enduring it, at least for some time, will be greater.

The mind’s capacity to judge and decide is based on log­ic. When logic is coupled with valuable experience, it at­tains an elevation into something greater; it gets upgraded to “phronesis,” a virtue equivalent to wisdom. This virtue was picked by Epicurus as the most effective criterion for decision making. Why? You might wonder. It is because by its very nature, phronesis produces a realistic thought. It investigates, to the basis, the reasons for every choice and avoidance. It also eliminates wrong opinions, which are the main source of chaos and disorder in people’s souls.....

 

 

CHAPTER 2

MYSELF OR WHO AM I?

 

“That nature of mind and soul corporeal is: for when it is seen to drive the members on, to snatch from sleep the body, and to change the countenance, and the whole state of man.”

Lucretius, Epicurean poet

 

“Know Thy Self.” This saying was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi as a means of urging the believers calling the oracle to discover their advantag­es and disadvantages. It suggested that by knowing their Selves, they could correctly explain to the oracle so they could benefit from it. In a similar manner, we can assert that through self-knowledge we can find out the meaning of life that is suitable for us.

In life, we do not come prefabricated. We are always formed by our genes and experiences. Whenever a new experience is added, a new Self is created. The most interesting thing is not that we are a combination of genes and experiences, but that both genes and experiences speak the same lan­guage. Also, they both reshape our Self by affecting the or­ganization of the synapses of the brain. These connections of the neurons of the brain largely define who we are.

Our genes shape the outline of our spiritual and behav­ioral functions. Their involvement in the final image of our­self amounts to 50%. While our genes push us in a certain direction, our upbringing plays its own important role by contributing to the development of the other half of the mind. All studies find that both nature and nurture func­tion in a parallel manner in the formation of Self through their effects on the synapses of the neurons of the brain. Whether or not the influence is direct, as in the case of genes, or indirect, as with experiences, is less important since both eventually have the same effect.

Learning and growth are two sides of the same coin, but the latter precedes the former. We cannot learn before the neurons have been created. However, just as we grow according to our inherent internal directives, we are also influenced by our experiences. Our genes, environment, choices, learning, and experiences wholly contribute to the wiring of the brain and to the shaping of the Self. This then begs the question, “Who am I?”

Myself

In order to explore our Self, it is necessary to define some introductory concepts like: Being, Self, Consciousness, Ego, and Attention.

Our Being is the synthesis of our nature and nurture. Our nature consists of our body and mind. Out of the multi­ple functions of the mind, three of them play an important role in the pursuit of happiness: the emotional, which pro­cesses the internal or external stimuli with regard to safety or risk to create emotions, the volitional, which elaborates on the stimuli with regard to willingness and expresses will. And then there is the logical, which works out the stimuli with regard to achieving results, and generating thoughts. Our nurture on the other hand, consists of knowledge, events, perceptions, habits, and our emotions. All the neu­ronal structures of the mind, genetic and acquired alike, form our character, the anticipations, or prolepses in the Epicurean jargon.

The concept of Being takes different meanings in the vari­ous schools of thought. As long as idealism denies the re­ality of matter in favor of the hypothesis of the immaterial mind, Being remains abstract. In contrast, Being has phys­ical existence in materialism. Materialism holds that the only things that exist are matter and energy, that all things are composed of material, that all actions require energy, and that all phenomena (including the conscientious) are the result of material interactions.

In Being and Time, the contemporary philosopher Heide­gger expressed Being as an existentialist phenomenon. The Epicurean position is materialistic, and the meaning at­tached to Being is closer to that expressed by Heidegger. In this approach, Being is meaningful only when it is engaged in the world. That is, when it is in a never-ending process of involvement with its environment. This Being is called “Being in the world” (Dasein).

Our Self or self-perception refers to our Being in re­lation to other people; it is defined by our self-concept, self-knowledge, self-esteem, and the social Self. In oth­er words, the Self is considered as that Being which is the source of consciousness, and is responsible for our thoughts and actions. The Self seen subjectively (by the person himself) is referred to as I, and when seen objec­tively (as an object) is referred to as Me.

Our mind is in control of our Self, and most of its functions are automatic–leaving a very small part of its functions as voluntary. By controlling and managing these voluntary functions, we walk on the road of life, trying on the one hand to satisfy our desires, and on the other to abide by the requirements of the environment.

It has been discovered by research that there is a strip of gray matter in the pre-frontal part of our mind. It has the ability to perceive and process information from our body, our brain, and the external environment. This volitional part of the brain is called consciousness. Consciousness is thus the capacity and the means to communicate with our inner Self and the external environment in order to satisfy our goals.

Among other things, the contents of consciousness in­clude thoughts, feelings, plans, projects and sounds. They also include our feeling of our own importance and ability, as well what we want the successful image of ourself to look like. This image and the neurons it occupies in the consciousness are called the ego. It is impossible for con­sciousness to contain only the ego, for humans will then be completely cut off from the environment. Containing only the whole picture of ourselves is also impossible because most of it is unconscious, hence we are not aware that it exists, and even if we were, it would not fit into the con­tained size of our consciousness.

The capacity of the consciousness to receive and pro­cess information is very limited. It can realize and pro­cess only a small part of what is happening to us and the environment. In addition to this, it can work on only one function at a time. The contents of consciousness and the activation of its spiritual functions are determined by the ability of attention. That is why attention is often referred to as psychic energy.

The nature of truth in life

The identification of the desires that communicate peo­ple’s real needs is a critical issue that had been addressed by philosophers in the quest for human happiness. This is necessary in order to harmonize our perceptions and goals with those desires. Two approaches were followed in iden­tifying the nature of truth in life. The first one accepts Na­ture as the norm of truth while the other accepts Logic.

Epicurus argued in favor of Nature as the norm of truth. He argued that the realities of human nature are identified by the primary functions of the human mind, which come into direct contact with the external environment and our inner world; these include the senses, emotions and antici­pations (instincts, innate inclinations, experiences).

For a detailed presentation of the Canon of Truth, see “The Pleasure of Knowledge,” chapter 15.

Epicurus excluded reason from the Canon on the ground that it is a secondary capacity of the mind; it does not come into direct contact with reality, and as a matter of neces­sity, it draws information either from the senses, feelings and anticipations, or from other thoughts, opinions and ideas.

On the contrary, Plato advocated a view opposite to the foregoing. He supported that logic is the only reliable source of truth, while emotions are uncontrollable and fraudulent senses. He argued that the senses neither tell the truth to human needs nor to the nature of the world.

Consciousness and attention

There is a region of the brain referred to as the pre-frontal cortical area. This region is a large one indeed, being the site of the performance of a series of spiritual functions, such as calculations, thoughts, plans, reflections, and de­cisions. Consciousness is but a part of this larger region, which is the workplace of our mind. It is also known as working memory. The information of the working memory that we perceive is the content of the consciousness while...

 

CHAPTER 4

FREE WILL

 

“Fate, which some introduce as sovereign over all things, he scorns, affirming rather that some things happen of necessity, others by chance, others through our own agency. For he sees that necessity destroys responsibility and that chance is inconstant; whereas our own actions are autonomous, and it is to them that praise and blame naturally attach.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus

 

Will has an important function. This function also happens to be one of the two major functions of the conscious mind, along with logic. Will is that which distinguishes humans from the other living beings. It is a capacity that was added in the last stage of the evolutionary process. Therefore, will is connected to the superior and more advanced of human mental functions.

 In simple terms, free will is the ability to do whatever we want. That is, to plan ahead, to make choices and to realize them. Although these traits seem obvious at first glance, in practice it turns out not to be so.

There are challenges to the exercise of one’s free will. The extent to which will is exercised is limited by obstacles posed by heredity, the environment, and personal weak­nesses.

On top of this, other theories argue that people have no free will at all. One of them is the fatalistic theory that is rooted in superstitions, and the other is a corollary of the atomic theory of Democritus that introduces the idea of absolute determinism. In other words, this theory main­tains that the physical laws governing the operation of the universe and human beings define a prescribed future for both Nature and people.

Fatalism and scientific determinism did not leave peo­ple much leeway. Epicurus strongly opposed these views by arguing that for unknown reasons, the usual course of things change. He went on to argue that this allows for un­expected new formations and routes in life.

As far as the atoms are concerned, Epicurus assumed that in unknown places and times, atoms deviate from their straight paths so as to cause collisions and unexpect­ed atomic formations. These formations change the nat­ural flow of things in the universe and allow people the freedom of choice.

Modern scientific research has confirmed Epicurus’ views. It was discovered that in the universe, the laws of gravity divert micro particles from their straight motion and cause collisions among them. In the same vein, the in­nate power of will in humans can empower people to de­viate from the course that has been programmed by their character and the environment.

Absolute determinism: the future is fixed

This theory argues that each development in the cosmos is determined by previous events; that is, there is a certain specified future for the universe and humans. Leucippus and Democritus argued that all things, including humans, are made up of atoms which move by clearly defined, nat­ural laws. However, despite their initial intention to relieve people of fatalism in this way, they only reinforce the old beliefs, instead of refuting them. The theory of the con­stant motion of atoms inevitably leads to the logical neces­sity of determinism. This maintains that there is a certain future for the world that is fully determined by past data. In Leucippus’ words: “Nothing happens without a purpose, but always for a reason and necessity.”

In the 16th century AD, twenty centuries later, the con­cept of the prescribed course of things was strengthened by Newton’s mathematical theory of classical mechanics. The theory declared that body motion is determined by the starting point, speed and acting forces. In other words, the path of the motion is strictly prescribed.

In the mid-17th century, philosophers like the English­man Thomas Hobbes argued that the mind works according to established mechanisms, and therefore it cannot show free will.

Immediately after him, other scientists, like the French mathematician and astronomer Laplace, supported the theory of determinism based on mathematical laws. They maintained that the future of the universe is completely specified.

With the advancement of science in the 18th century, the assumption of determinism was entrenched, establish­ing the view that all human actions are guided by specific laws, and thus, there is no free will.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer had similar views. According to him, humans initially consider them­selves absolutely free, even in individual actions. We be­lieve we can start another lifestyle at any time. However through experience, we ultimately discover with surprise that we are not free. Instead, we realize we are subject to necessity, that despite all decisions and thoughts, we are incapable of changing behavior. Schopenhauer concluded that from the beginning of human life until the end, we have the same character, which we condemn.

Relative determinism: there is also free will

While accepting determinism, this theory also accepts that some unforeseen, random events change the set course of things and cause a new chain of events. Therefore the fu­ture of the universe and people is not prescribed.

Plato was the first philosopher who advocated the theory of relative determinism. He said that the body may be subject to the laws of determinism, but the soul has its own degrees of freedom. In the Republic, he writes that virtue is not a necessity or a compulsion. It is a free choice that belongs to the person who carries it. Plato argued that anyone who chooses to do evil is solely responsible for his actions.

Aristotle suggested that there are multiple causative reasons behind every event. One of these reasons are the accidents caused by luck. For Aristotle, the specified flow of phenomena is sometimes disturbed by random events, which allows for unexpected developments.

According to the Christian religion, god created Nature, and behind every event, there is the almighty god. At the same time, people have some degree of free choice, es­pecially regarding good or evil. The co-acceptance of the above claims leads to a reasonable deadlock.

How could people have freedom of choice once god is omniscient? Does the omnipotent not control and direct everything?

Faced with this impasse, Christian intellectuals, like St. Augustine in the 5th century AD and Thomas Aquinas in the 13th, compromised by arguing that although people are free, there is also the necessity of divine omniscience. Lat­er, Calvin invented the intelligent approach of separating the divine will into the irresistible and resistible. According to this hypothesis, the resistible will of god allows for hu­man derogations and options in order for higher goals to be achieved. Questions regarding free will continue to be a source of conflict, with outbreaks among Christian denom­inations even today.

Emmanuel Kant, a philosopher of the late 18th century, ar­gued in agreement with previous works of the mathemati­cian and philosopher Leibniz that at least some parts of the brain are free. Kant said that people have the freedom of will, but they only use it a few times.

In the late 19th century, the American psychologist and philosopher, William James described a model of free will that operates in two stages. Initially, the mind develops ran­dom options for actions and in the second, a determined free will chooses one of them. Later on, other scholars, including Poincare, Popper, Denet, Caine and Heisenberg, perfected James’ idea.

The evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin that intro­duced randomness as a factor that causes the evolution of species, reinforced the theory that randomness can change the course of things.

Quantum mechanics, invented in the mid-20th century by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, is considered to have put a definitive end to the theory of absolute de­terminism. According to quantum mechanics, the laws of Newton’s classical mechanics that support the concept of absolute determinism apply only in the motion of large ob­jects and not to the individual microcosm. In the collision of atomic particles, only the likelihood of atomic routes can be predicted and not their exact location, a claim which....

 

CHAPTER 8

THE EPICUREAN PHILOSOPHY

 

“At one and the same time we must philosophize, laugh, and manage our household and other business, while never ceasing to proclaim the words of true philosophy.”

Epicurus, Vatican Saying XLI

 

Epicurus, younger than Plato and Aristotle, was able to study their philosophies, but was attracted to neither. The differences he felt with the aims of their philosophy started right away. While they generally admitted that philosophy is designed to meet the needs of people, neither of them transferred it into their life in practical terms. Epicurus, on the contrary, was a pragmatist, indifferent to knowledge that does not lead to action. His priority was knowledge that contributed to people’s happiness. That is why he fol­lowed the Natural Philosophers of the Ionian school, and especially Democritus who had died thirty years before he was born.

Throughout the seven centuries of its life until the 4th century AD, no other philosophy suffered such harsh crit­icism as the Epicurean. Epicurus himself was chased by the crowd in his first public appearance in Mitylene, while in Athens, he never dared to teach in an open space. His character and principles were the center of attacks and slander from all philosophical schools: the Platonic, the Aristotelian, the Stoics and lastly, the Christians. The lat­ter, although it accepted his moral teaching, accused him of denying immortality of the soul and the divine nature of god. His discouragement of following a political career provoked the contempt of the ambitious that manned the administration. Finally, his “hedonic” theory caused aver­sion to those who did not know its true nature. Epicurus’ virtues of honesty, kindness, friendliness and charity were only attractive to the anonymous masses.

The pursuit of happiness in the Epicurean Philosophy

Epicurus defined happiness as “feeling good” and “living a pleasant life.” He called his philosophy “true philosophy” because it follows the functions and trends of the human mind and Nature. He suggested a simple joyful lifestyle in the company of friends. He attributed the sufferings of people to false perceptions that lead to excessive de­mands, needless worries and unsupported fears. He called for people to take responsibility for their life by exercising free will and not to be carried away by either their inter­nal impulses, or external influences. To this end, he recom­mended people take control of their psychic energy so as to channel it to what they aspire.

Some Epicurean fragments seem to have far reaching ef­fects. The secret of happiness is in the diathesis, of which we are sole arbiters, says one of them. Another declares that the cry of the flesh is not to be hungry, thirsty, or cold; for he who is free of these needs and is confident of remaining so, might vie even with Zeus for happiness. Likewise, the wise man who has become accustomed to the bare necessities better knows how to share with oth­ers than how to take from them; he has found the great treasure of self-sufficiency, and even when he is suffering, he is eudaemon (happy). Furthermore, he considers pains superior to pleasures when submission to the pains for a short time brings a greater pleasure as a consequence. Again, the wise man is aware that despite being a mortal with a limited time to live, through discussions on Nature, he has seen things that are now and are to become and have been. He should exercise himself in relation to the precepts of Nature day and night, both by himself and with one who is like-minded. In so doing, man will never, either in waking or in his dreams, be disturbed, but will live as a god among men. For man loses all semblance of mortality by living in the midst of immortal blessings.

What should we make of these?      

  

CHAPTER 21

WORRIES AND FEARS: AN OVERVIEW

 

“Neither great riches, nor exuberant activity, nor powers, nor strength bring happiness and bliss, but non-sadness, the gentleness of feelings and moods, which recognize the limits that Nature has set.”

Epicurus

 

The psychological approach to worries and fears

The psychodynamic analysis of Freud suggests that the origin of worries and fears develops in childhood, when the child’s instincts are repressed, either due to conflicts between love and death, or due to the restrictions of the environment. However, the repressed instinctual drives are not and cannot be destroyed when they are repressed. They continue to exist intact in the unconscious, and can give rise to the dysfunctional behavior characteristic of neuroses.

Cognitive psychology suggests that psychological distress is caused by distorted thoughts about stimuli that trigger emotional suffering: Stimulus → Thought → Emotion. Sys­tematic errors in reasoning lead to faulty assumptions and misconceptions that are called cognitive distortions.

Existential psychology attributes worries and fears to wrong perceptions regarding the existential issues of death, freedom, isolation and meaning. Despite the uni­versality of existential fears, human beings perceive ex­periences and face them in their own way. Some choose to ignore them altogether by developing defensive mech­anisms, thus further aggravating the consequences. Most commonly, people choose to ignore reality and to live in illusions. For example, to face the fear of death some form the illusion that it is of no concern to them because a Sav­ior will always be there to save them. Others, in order to withstand the responsibility that the exercise of free will entails, refrain from desiring and instead prefer to follow the desires of others, by living through them. Sometimes people adopt fatalism, accepting the view that everything is supposedly prescribed by fate and the stars and that there is no reason to want, nor try. The only way out of the vicious circle of these unsubstantiated fears is to combine scientific knowledge with a sound philosophy of life.

The physical reactive mechanism to worries and fears is the same, irrespective of the source: Worry → Risk perception → Stress → Defensive mechanism. In other words, when a stimulus is perceived by the brain, it is as­sessed with regard to its impact on our life. If a risk is de­tected, then anxiety is caused and the defense mechanism of the brain is triggered in order to protect life.

Worries and fears in the Epicurean Philosophy

Epicurus dealt extensively with both the worries that orig­inate from going after extravagance and luxury, as well as with the existential fears that arise from the prospect of death and the punishment of the gods. He argued in his Letter to Menoeceus that the main source of misery in hu­mans are the worries that stem from wrong perceptions. He claimed that we should use sober reasoning, search out the grounds for every choice and avoidance, and banish those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul. The worst among the faulty perceptions is the one that supports that there are higher goods than pleasure, such as wealth, honor, admiration. According to a Vatican Saying: “The soul neither rids itself of disturbance nor gains a worthwhile joy through the possession of greatest wealth, nor by the honor and admiration bestowed by the crowd.”

A happy life requires knowing the wealth of Nature. This is our teacher who affirms that to live happily we need few and easily acquired natural pleasures. Once the necessary desires are satisfied, we experience a complete absence of worries and fears.  

Simple natural desires bring peace of mind, thanks to their low cost and the ease of securing them. On the con­trary, excessive desires for the acquisition of wealth and other non-natural and non-necessary means are constant sources of concerns and anxiety. Another Principal Doc­trine reiterates that the wealth required by nature is lim­ited and is simple to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideas extends to infinity. An obvious way to reduce worries is to remove the excessive desires.

In the modern world, the main sources of worries are re­flected through consumerism (wealth) and politics (fame, power) to which we will turn to in the following chapters. Existential fears are diachronic. Epicurus addressed the fears of punishment by the gods and death extensively in order to ease the pains of the people. We will come to these in the following chapters.

Rounding the chapter off, modern psychology approaches worries and fears from different perspectives, attributing to them, among others, the suppression of the instincts, distortion of reasoning, existential uncertainties, and wrong perceptions. In the Epicurean Philosophy, the origin of worries is attributed to wrong perceptions and, in par­ticular, to false opinion that there are higher goods than pleasure. The main sources of worries today are reflected through consumerism (wealth) and politics (fame, power). The existential fears remain more or less the same: death, god, and the meaning of life.

 

CHAPTER 30

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS IN MODERN LIFE

 

“The wise man who has become accustomed to necessities knows better how to share with others than how to take from them, so great a treasure of self-sufficiency has he found.”

Epicurus, Vatican Saying XLIV

 

The philosophy of Epicurus is psychological. It is the coun­terpart to medicine. As medicine is worthwhile so long as it expels the diseases of the body, so is philosophy worth­while as long as it expels the maladies of the soul. Albeit though the symptoms of the diseases are visible, it is often hard to detect whether their source is of a biological or psychological nature. Human existence is uniformly corpo­real, and any stimulus affects both the soul and the body regardless of which part of it is affected first. So to treat any disease we need to examine for both physical and emotional causes.

By nature, our mind follows the pleasant emotions and avoids the painful. This is our genetically-given perception to live happily. In order to cope with the pressures and the complexities of everyday life the mind needs additional guidance. This is the role that our upbringing undertakes through learning and experience, which in the course of time, shapes our perceptions on the general issues of life, the diatheses, in ancient terms. Epicurus took the safe side in developing the perceptions of his philosophy. He kept the emotions as the criterion for choice and avoidance, and supported the mind with perceptions harmonized to and supportive of its physical traits. The respect and the compliance of Epicurus to the functions and the traits of human nature have established his philosophy as the Nat­ural Philosophy.

What, then, are the natural needs of human beings? What are the fundamental Epicurean perceptions for a happy life? What are their implications?

Reality, Truth, Happiness

Is there reality?

For Epicurus there is a reality, consisting of both the ex­ternal world and us. The reality of the outer world is de­tected through the senses and scientific instruments, and abides by the natural laws governing the universe. The physical existence of our body and mind makes up the re­ality of ourselves, and also complies with the same laws.

The reality of our mind is substantiated through the guidance of nature and nurture in the neurons and synaps­es of the brain. Both are known to constitute our personal­ity, or anticipations and prolepses in the Epicurean jargon. In them our genetic dispositions and experiences, as well as their interpretation, are encoded. By the latter function, the mind instantaneously applies meaning to them to facil­itate and accelerate evaluation and decision-making.

The functions of the senses and emotions, alongside with anticipations and perceptions, disclose the outer and inner reality of our daily experiences, comprising conjoint­ly the Epicurean Canon of Truth. As soon as realities be­come conscious, logic steps in to check out their reliability. It is through this function of reason that the realities of our life are classified as true or false, reliable or fraudulent. In plain English, finding truth involves reasoning. Only then is reality enriched to knowledge.

How does reality and truth relate to the quest for happi­ness?

Body language and facial expressions are the genuine indicators of happiness. Bodily postures combined with the gaze of our eyes, a pale or bright face, laughter or sadness, a diathesis to enjoy life or to be apathetic, grumble and worry, are bodily manifestations of emotions that we are used to calling mood and temper. They are unconscious, emotional reactions to experiences and the meanings we attach to them. The latter is an inherent aspect of the mind through which it is able to instantaneously distinguish good from bad and danger from opportunity, in order to either protect the Self or unleash its energy in pursuing creativity and joy. Perceptions exert a compelling leverage on mood; according to Epicurus, they are “the chief cause of the turmoil that takes possession of the souls of men.” He argued that by changing our perceptions on the funda­mental issues of life, we can affect changes in our mood and improve the quality of our life.

In idealism, logic is king. Emotions, senses, instincts and experiences are envisaged as either misleading or inferi­or in comprehending reality as compared to reason. This claim, though unsupported by convincing evidence, has drawn overwhelming approval through its propagation by religion and public education. We are shaped by the imper­atives of reason to neglect and repress our natural desires. For Epicurus, anxiety and unhappiness are the punishment of Nature for showing contempt to its calls.

The natural needs of human beings

According to Epicurus, only two things are needed for com­plete happiness: bodily health and peace of mind. Nothing else is necessary to produce the greatest joy of life. The de­sire for bodily health and peace of mind is natural and nec­essary, as are the activities and things that support the body and soul (health, food and drink, shelter, clothing, safety,...