I’ve read a book yesterday, by Epikur, who is an old Greek philosopher. I got this book years ago, in school, when our philosophy teacher was clearing out the library and brought free books for us to have. He laughed out loud when I took this book, “Philosophy of Joy” – probably because it was so obvious that if anybody from the class would take it, it would be me. 😉
We also briefly talked about Epikur in religious education as well, and – surprise, surprise – he got completely dismissed as a hedonist, who seeks happiness through the fulfillment of lust. Epikur got misunderstood all the time, even when he was still alive, and adressed this misconception all the time. It’s kind of frustrating that even these days my class didn’t get it. Personally I think it’s rather obvious that there’s a difference between lust and joy. But yeah. Note: If you get very aggressive and insulted by somebody’s philosophy, A) you should question if you really understood it right and B) you should ask yourself what that tells you about yourself.
So, what does Epikur say? Let me quote some of his aphorisms and propositions.
“One cannot live in Joy without living reasonably, nobly, and justly, but conversely cannot lead a reasonable, noble, and just life without living in Joy, either. One cannot when these premises are missing.”
This sentence alone should explain very well how he cannot be a hedonist at all. It reminds me of Schiller (okay okay, every philosophy makes me think of Schiller), because he is indicating a certain balance of lust and reason. Why reason?
“Some of the desires are natural and necessary, some are natural, but not necessary, and some are neither natural nor necessary, but spring from empty delusion.” “All desires that do not evoke pain when they are unsatisfied, don’t belong to the absolute necessary ones. The craving that acts within them will evaporate quickly; as soon as it’s obvious that they are unrealisable or even cause harm.”
Therefore you can’t just go after whatever comes to your mind, you have to be considerate and use your reason. You might imagine now, how Epikur was really a rather humble human.
“No Joy in itself is an evil, but that, which produces this or that joy, can trouble them in various ways.”
This last sentence is something I shall quote next time I’m confronted with somebody who tells me that a certain joy is sinful. Like, sex is shameful and sex before marriage is evil and sex between same-sex partners is a sin, just as an example. No, it’s not. It just is. The circumstances, however, can make sex shameful and hurtful (like, when one of the partners isn’t ready), whether it’s within a relationship or marriage or without one, or between two men or two women or twenty people all at once.
Sex, by the way, might not be the best example, since Epikur himself didn’t regard sex as a necessary joy. “For the enjoyment of love brings no benefits; one can even be glad if it harms not.” But he also states: “Follow it as you like, but take care that you don’t perpetrate, hurt no decency, affront no dear one, don’t shatter your health and don’t waste your wealth.” So basically the good old And it harm none, do as ye will.
Not only is he humble, but even considerate and open-minded. Personally I imagine him as a kind of Greek Buddha, surrounded by his students who were also his friends. For friendship “dances around the globe, proclaming to us all that we shall arise to happiness.” “Nature has created us to live in community,” and friendship is utterly important to him.
Some more quotes that I like:
“The most beautiful fruit of self-sufficiency is freedom.”
“The most beautiful fruit of justice is peace of mind.”
“Death, to us, is nothing, for that which is dissoluted, has no more perception. And that which has no perception doesn’t worry us.”
“Whoever spreads fear is themselves not without fear.”
“It is senseless to ask of the Gods what you can accomplish yourself.”