“Epicurus developed his ethics directly from his physics. . . . Epicurus reasons that since there can be neither reward nor punishment after death, man’s highest good must be sought in this life.”
– Russel M. Geer
I happened across Epicurus: Letters, Principal Doctrines, and Vatican Sayings at the library. I know the title makes it sound a bit dry, but it turns out to be a fascinating collection of work. Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher who lived from 341 to 270 BCE (aka BC).
Some of the letters deal with science.
The eclipses of the sun and of the moon may be due to their extinction, as we see lights on earth put out. They may also result from the interposition of other bodies, either the earth or some other body that is similar to it but invisible.
Lightning may be caused when the proper atoms are forced from clouds, when fire from the stars falls from clouds where it has gathered, when fiery atoms set clouds on fire, when winds or clouds under strain burst into flame, or in other ways.
“The necessary desires are for health of body and peace of mind; if these are satisfied, that is enough for the happy life.”
If you’re wondering what this has to do with simple living – well, nothing. It’s just interesting, and I kept reading sections aloud to my poor husband.
But the letter to Menoeceus, which addresses Epicurus’s “moral theory,” is relevant.
Because, Epicurus believes, death is the end, we should strive to have happy lives. This doesn’t mean we follow all of our desires, as some desires are “vain.”
For the very reason that pleasure is the chief and the natural good, we do not choose every pleasure, but there are times when we pass by pleasures if they are outweighed by the hardships that follow; and many pains we think better than pleasures when a greater pleasure will come to us once we have undergone the long-continued pains.
Health of body and peace of mind are, to Epicurus, the ingredients of a blessed life.
“To be accustomed to simple and plain living is conducive to health and makes a man ready for the necessary tasks of life.”
As you can see, Epicurus didn’t think we should overindulge. Rather, he says, “When we say that pleasure is the end, we do not mean the pleasure of the profligate or that which depends on physical enjoyment.”
He goes on to explain that by pleasure he means the body is free from pain and the mind is free from anxiety. It is not possible, he says, “to live pleasantly without at the same time living prudently, nobly and justly.”
The letter to Menoeceus ends by saying if you meditate on these precepts, “you will live like a god among men.”
“Natural wealth is limited and easily obtained; the wealth defined by vain fancies is always beyond reach.”
In his “Vatican Sayings,” Epicurus gives more advice on simple living and happiness.
Poverty, if in proper proportion to the natural purposes of life, is great wealth; but the wealth that is unlimited is great poverty.
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things only hoped for.
To love money unjustly gained is evil, and to love money justly gained is shameful.
The wise man who has become accustomed to limited means knows better how to share with others than how to take from them, so great a treasure of self-sufficiency has he found.
What cannot be satisfied is not a man’s belly, as men think, but rather his false idea about the unending filling of his belly.
Since the attainment of riches can scarcely be accomplished without servitude to crowds or kings, a free life cannot obtain much wealth, but such a life has all possessions in unfailing supply.
Nothing satisfies him to whom what is enough is little.
What do you think about Epicurus’s opinions about happiness?