CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – WESTERN ANTIQUITY – PART V (continued)

We began last time looking at the blueprint for contentment developed by Epicurus. Like Aristotle, Epicurus also emphasizes friendship as essential to a happy life.

“He who desires to live in tranquility with nothing to fear from other men ought to make friends. Those of whom he cannot make friends, he should, as much as possible, avoid rendering enemies; and if that is not in his power, he should, as much as possible, avoid all dealings with them.”4

So we see on the one  hand friendship aids contentment by increasing one’s social support network in a world of unpredictability. On the other hand, virtuous and prudent conduct to others diminishes the likelihood of them to harbor ill will or consider harm to oneself. Again simple common-sense logic guides behavior conducive to contentment.

Epicurus offers a basic formula, the tetrapharmakos or four-fold cure for anxiety: (1) Do not fear the gods, (2) Do not fear death, (3) Goods are easy to obtain, and (4) Evils are easy to endure. Just as one does not choose food based on the largest portion, a wise person seeks to enjoy the time which is most pleasant not simply the longest. He urges us to remember that the future is not “wholly ours nor wholly not ours.” Ataraxia is the goal – absence of physical pain and trouble in the soul. His words again:

“Exercise yourself in these and related precepts day and night by yourself and with a like-minded friend, then neither in waking or in dream will you 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.”5

And one more unforgettable quote – Will Durant paraphrasing the teaching of Epicurus:

“Because he controls his appetites, lives without pretense, and puts aside all fears, the natural ‘sweetness of life (hedone) rewards him with the greatest of all goods, which is peace.”6

It is unlikely that any thinker in history has more logically or more elegantly formulated an avenue to contentment open to all than Epicurus.

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4Durant, Will, The Life of Greece.  Simon and Schuster, New York, 1966. ISBN 0-671-41800-9, page 649.

5Letter to Menoceous (close) – available on line classics.mit.edu. I would argue this is the greatest letter ever written by a philosopher… or perhaps anyone. The reader will benefit greatly from taking time to read this four page epistle.

6 Durant, Will, The Life of Greece.  Simon and Schuster, New York, 1966. ISBN 0-671-41800-9, page 648.

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