The Epicureans believed that the key to happiness was the enjoyment of pleasure, although they did not advise the life of wine, women, and song that is today associated with the term “Epicurean”.
An epicurean typically partakes in simple pleasures, yet they also abstain from bodily desires such as sex and appetites verging on denial. Epicurus argued that when eating one should not eat too heavily, for it could lead to disappointment later, such as the grim realization that one could not afford such delicacies in the future. Likewise, sex could lead to increased lust and dissatisfaction with the sexual partner.
Epicurus established his philosophy based on the foundation of his ethical system in the material world, which he said was made up of tiny atoms moving through space in accordance with natural law. Epicurus, as well as all of the epicureans, believed in the existence of the gods. However, he did declare that Gods have no place in worldly affairs. It was thought that the gods were too far away from the earth to have any interest in what man was doing; so it did not do any good to pray or to sacrifice to them. The gods, they believed, did not create the universe, nor did they inflict punishment or bestow blessings on anyone, but they were supremely happy; this was the goal to strive for during one’s own human life.
Epicurus taught that oracles, omens, and dreams have no significance and he rejected all ideals of immortality and mysticism. He believed in the soul and even suggested that the soul is as mortal as the body. Epicurus rejected any possibility of an afterlife, while still contending that one need not fear death:
“Death is nothing to us; for that which is dissolved, is without sensation, and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us.”
Bertrand Russell describes the reception of Epicureanism’s conception of death:
Epicurus had no regard for politial and social life. The state to him was more of a convenience and the wise man should not participate in public life. Additionally, for Epicurus and his epicureans, happiness consisted primarily of freedom from physical pain and worldly cares and fears. One can not rid themselves of the evil in this world and thus should withdraw from philosophy, enjoy the fellowship of a few friends, and savor the serenity of your mind.
Although the ideals of Epicurus and the Epicureans stressed that overindulgence in all aspects of the world was frowned upon, it was not easily avoided for some. Even today, we experience the need to partake in petty privileges to feel satisfied. Not much as changed.
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