Epicurean Philosophy and its Effects on the World
Epicurean Philosophy and its Effects On the World
During Hellenistic times, Ancient Greece was a baffled region. This was a time of great warfare, militarism, and violence. This was also a time when human kind was searching for a guide to life; a way to live. Philosophies and religions were being tossed around and there was such a variety that it seemed difficult to choose a path. The founder of Epicureanism, Epicurus, had great contributions to peoples finding of a way to live.
Epicurus was born in 341 B.C. on the island of Samos. His parents, Neocles and Chaerestrate were among the Athenians who moved to settle in Samos. Epicurus father was a schoolmaster, which gave the child his earliest education. It is told that at an early age Epicurus was remarkably curious and independent in his views. At age fourteen he began studying philosophy on his own in hopes of understanding his world. His contrasting views on life, death, pleasure, and religion began to erupt in his mind as he was growing into a man. He later attended a Platonic school for four years where he was taught by Platonist Pamphilus.
Epicurus ability to inspire disciples and friends helped him to become respected on a small scale during his early teachings and philosophy.Epicurus began his teaching career in 311 B.C. in the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. He ended up being forced to leave within a year because of disagreements and hostility towards his views. After discouragement, he moved to Asia Minor and he created a following of people who believed his teachings to be the ideal way of life. On his return to Athens, (the first time being military service) Epicurus purchased a house with a garden. This is where he established a private school of philosophy. This was the first such school to allow women.
Setting up his school gave Epicurus a chance to let people hear and understand his views, which was later called Epicureanism.
Epicureanism is a philosophy that teaches happiness, removal, reason, inner-life concentration, piety, and prudence. He and his followers of his private Athenian school desired removal from the outside world. Simply sitting and analyzing inner life was a part of Epicureanism. Epicurus believed that contemplative life could be achieved in this world, and not in some heavenly city. He taught a definite set of morals. In Epicurean philosophy the supreme sin is inhumanity. Epicurus taught that humans should pursue pleasure.
Removal from everyday common life and the burdens of it was a vital part of Epicureanism. According to the teachings, humans should have all disturbances absent as well as the everyday turbulence, passions, and desires of ordinary human existence.
( Penichas p. 87). Fear was not acceptable. Epicurus taught not to fear death, but to embrace it as a part of life. He did not believe in a search for afterlife. Epicurus also believed that humans in general are in constant fear of misery or pain. He taught not to fear anything that isnt necessary to living. The teachings also state that the idea of fearing gods is unacceptable. However, Epicurus did not defy the gods. He taught them as being divine, incorruptible creatures that were more of a set of morals for humans to lead their lives by. His attitude was that man should worship the gods, not fear them. Epicurus vehemently defied beliefs in astral religions. He believed the stars to be as they are; stars.
Epicureanism holds great value in reason. Simple, but effective thought was seen as ideal. Fellowship was also extremely important. Women, men, and slaves were all welcome to his school. Friendship, loyalty, and happiness amongst friends was all a part of an ideal life to Epicurus. With contemplative life seen as possible in this world, mans contributions to each other were evident and extremely valuable. The meaning of life to Epicurus was pleasure, and to find it amongst others.
His emphasis on the mental aspects of life, rather than the physical aspects puts Epicurus in a classification all his own. In Epicurean philosophy, life wasnt measured by what was done with ones life, but what was derived in the mind. This created opposition from most other religions. The thought of life without fear of gods or death seemed ridiculous to some, but to Epicurus followers it seemed ideal. Fate was not a part of Epicurean lifestyle. Man was given the gift of reason for the purpose of living his own life in Epicurean teachings.
Epicurus believed the mind to be a physical body because of its interaction with the outside body. The mind cannot function with the body, and the body cannot function without the mind. Epicurus believed the mind to be corporeal. In his thought, a body cannot interact with anything but another body, so the mind must be bodily. Incorporated with his beliefs on the body was a spirit. Epicurus believed that there is a spirit flowing through every mans body and the mind can communicate with it. This was a supporting detail for the possibility and effectiveness of inner life concentration.
Epicureanisms ways of seclusion, inner thought, and concentration gave the philosophy a bad rap. Many associated laziness or carelessness to Epicureanism. The philosophy teaches that removal from every day life is important. During Hellenistic times, men were expected to play a role in contributing to society. For instance, men were supposed to be politics or soldiers. Many criticized Epicureanism to be passive or lazy. It was said to be glorifying a lifetime of safety and quiet to many who opposed the philosophy. These criticisms seemed to be based on misconceptions of Epicurus. His views actually seemed to have a sense of adventure with the element of not fearing death. Also, without fearing misery man could accomplish his goals more adequately and was made into a better person.
It is my belief that Epicureanism is a sensible and beneficial philosophy. I believe mankind has problems succeeding sometimes due to fear. If the element of fear is taken out of ones life, what is there to hold him back? Also, I believe it is very important to know yourself. Epicurus believed that there was no true knowledge in knowing nothing. If man knows nothing, how can he understand life?
The search for pleasure in Epicureanism is often belittled by many. It was viewed as selfish to some. The quote Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die is often associated with Epicureanism. In my opinion; if pleasure causes happiness and happiness is a good thing, then why not search for it? This idea was in extreme opposition to moral standards of religions of Greece. One may think that searching for pleasure is selfish, but I believe it to be vital in living a good life. The importance of fellowship and friendship in Epicureanism seems to be rightfully emphasized in my opinion. The search for pleasure is not selfish if others benefit from it. This was the purpose of fellowship. A life amongst friends outside the common world seems to be a good one.
Escape from everyday life in order to pray seems to be an idea in most religions. Christianity uses prayer as a removal from the earth into a heavenly state of mind. This was in a sense the same idea behind prayer in Epicurean philosophy.
In a time of great violence, Epicurus ideal lifestyle was that of a non violent, peaceful way of carrying oneself. He believed that peace of mind and moral perfection to be the constant goal in life.
After starting his school in Athens, Epicurus would live there for the rest of his life. In his life he wrote three hundred books, but only his letters to Herodotus, Pythocles, and Menoeceus survived over time. In 271 B.C., Epicurus died of a supposed painful illness that lasted a short time. Epicurus successors carried on his teachings and this led to the philosophy spreading throughout Greece and other regions as well. For seven centuries following his death, Epicureanism flourished as a well organized movement.
Epicureans refusal to search for and obey opposing religions led to their being cutoff from the rest of the world by the end of the fourth century A.D. Many armies crushed the group and they were punished for their dissenting faith and serene vision (Panichas Pre.). Most Epicureans disappeared and were not heard of anymore.
Epicurus by: George A. Panichas. Twayne Publishers, Inc. 1967
Ancient Greece From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times , Thomas R. Martin. 1996 by Yale University Press.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/e/epicur.html
Encarta Encyclopedia 1996 Microsoft inc.
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