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Monday, March 06, 2006 CE

Epicureanism

Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based on the teachings of Epicurus, who lived between the fourth and third centuries before the Common Era. After reading about it, I could consider myself an Epicurean since many of the teachings with the way I see things.

In order to understand this system of philosophy we have to be familiar with 2 concepts. The concept of ataraxia and the concept of aponia. Ataraxia is Greek for a state tranquility, freedom from disturbance of judgement and freedom from fear. This state is achieved through knowledge. Aponia is another Greek term that means absence of pain. So, for Epicurus, the combination of these 2 states constitutes the key to achieve happiness in its highest form.

For Epicurus all good and bad derive from sensation. The sensations that lead to pleasure are good and the sensations that lead to pain are bad. This has been misinterpreted as a rampant pursuit for pleasure, however, Epicurus was an advocate for moderation because he stated that excessive plasure leads to pain. Examples of this are gluttony, which leads to gastrointestinal discomfort and lust, which leads to eventual sexual dissatisfaction with the partner. In Epicureanism the value of friendship is so important that having a circle of friends you can trust is one of the most important means for securing a tranquil life.

With respect to religion Epicurus was a visionary. 2300 years ago he embraced the atomic theory of Democritus and had a materialistic view of the world. He preached freedom from superstition in all its forms and stated that the gods, if they existed, they must be neutral entities. The famous Epicurean paradox states the following "Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. ... If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. ... If, as they say, God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?" After the official acknowledgement of Christianity by Constantine, Epicureanism was repressed. Epicurus' theory that the gods did not affect human affairs had always been at odds with the fear-inspiring Christian God. Christianity got much of its philosophical foundation from the Stoics.

19 Comments:

Blogger Bacon Eating Atheist Jew said...

I'm still trying to find out what Greek "Atheists" and even 16th and 17th century Atheists thought about how life began. Starting out as humans would go hand in hand with creation and a creator. Without an ancient earth and evolution, what did these individuals think about this?

12:24 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Sr. Dr. Marco: Thank you for this post. I had often thought that stoicism and true epicureanism really aren't that far apart. And the bit about the "true circle of friends" is wonderful. I need to read more of this guy .

12:13 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

BEAJ: It is true, they did not have the concept of evolution or they had no idea of how old Eart could be. However, if you dig into Democritus' atomic theory, you will see that just with plain observation some Greeks had already concluded that matter was composed of indivisible different types of "atoms". What they challenged is the concept of superstition, because there is an answer for everything.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Foilwoman: You can call me Marco. Epicurus must have been a genius. About stocism... I have my doubts

7:31 PM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Marco, amigo mio, thank you for the friendliness. I was trying to give you the respect that is your due. I like the stoics. I think it is the Viking in me; the basic philosophy is the same: Life is an endless struggle, which we must bear with good humor and dignity, fighting the good fight. Every gain comes at some price. At the same time, we might as well enjoy the good and enjoyable things that come our way. That's my philosophy, anyway.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Sherril said...

Marco,
I read your blog as requested and here are my thoughts. Being a Speech Pathologist who works with children, sometimes with Physical Disabilities, my first association with ataraxia was with the word "ataxia" (see how close they appear?), which as I'm sure you, as a Dr. know is a lack of balance and excess movements as with ataxic cerebral palsy. Having done a small search, I see there is absolutley no connection. As for Epicurean, my reference is "Epicurian Delight" which is generally the chef's favorite on the menu. Your blog is always thought provoking. I will have to follow your advice with the blog explosion...cause I get little traffic on my blog...so anyone reading this...come visit me at http://sherrilsmyriadofmusings.blogspot.com/

11:27 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Sherril:

As you probably found ataraxia and ataxia are not related. Ataraxia is a wonderful concept, specially the part that mentions freedom from fear

7:23 PM  
Blogger R2K said...

I thought epicurianism was cooking.

8:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marco,

"Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. ... If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. ... If, as they say, God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?"

It seems now that this quote was the basis for an entire semester of philosophy my senior year at university. If not to boring follow this trail of events...

We started the semester by definging God (the Christian version). In this class everything had to be defined (this is key and I will reference it later). At first we provided examples. The professor rejected them all. He insisted on a definition, no examples allowed. Eventually our definition, with his guidance, was that God is all powerful and all good. Sound familiar?

For the next few months, with Dr. Fulmer's guidance (had to dust that memory cell off) we went thru a series of logic arguments to prove that God exists.

With 2 weeks to go in the semester our professor told us that he was an atheist. Mind you, this is in the Texas Bible belt circa 1975. We almost had a collective heart attack.

He said we can't prove that God (all powerful, all good) exists so let's see if we can prove that God doesn't exist.

He asked can you have "up" without "down"? We said "yes, you just can't comprehend it." Ditto front without a back and other similar binary arguments.

Then he shifted to evil. Again, sound familiar? He asked "if God is good then why does he allow evil"? Is he not all powerful?

We were stumped. Dazed.

Finally, with one class left before finals, I asked "what is the definition of evil?" He said "war and disease are evil". I said "no examples, what is the definition?"

If looks could kill, I would have died that moment. Unfortuantely, we didn't get to define evil before the class ended.

Then came the final exam. There was one question on the final exam. Who is evil a problem for and why?

The answer was supposed to be: Christians because an all powerful all good God would not allow evil to exist. Of course, we were supposed to make this answer be 5 or 6 pages long - typical college crap.

My answer was this:
Evil is a problem for students that have Gilbert Fulmer for a professor because he wants us to denounce our Christianity. Socreates said "I know I do not know, I just pray there is a God" or soemthing like that. If Socrates, the greatest thinker of all time does not know, Gilbert Fulmer does not know.

My grade went from A to C. I guess I was lucky he didn't flunk me...

Q

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marco,

I should have said "good post". I'm about a third of the way thru a book on the Greek ideals from the Homeric and Hellenistic periods which very much parallels this post. Good stuff. Meaty.

Q

4:10 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

The discussion about evil is an entire post on its own. What that professor tried to do was not right. Although I personally hold religion accountable for much of the suffering of the last 2 millenia, I do think that what we call "evil" lies deeply in our own nature.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Interesting… quite often when posed with the problem of – explain to me how your “God” can be omnipotent, omniscient, and all-good… they just can’t answer. Or they start trying to toss out some half-baked theory on the root of free will… Or they use their traditional fall-back answer which is – “just because.”

10:12 AM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

There is no logic in gods. It is superstition, concrete thinking. I think we have to accept religious beliefs as that and not look for logic inside them.

4:44 PM  
Blogger The Intolerant One said...

Marco:

you stated something I agree fully with:

" I do think that what we call "evil" lies deeply in our own nature."

To the Christian it is recognised as sinful nature. Anything that is of God we as humans instinctivley want to rebel against.(Due to the fall of man found in Genesis). I could answer more fully but do not want to stray off topic with "doctrinal" beliefs.

Amy:

" explain to me how your “God” can be omnipotent, omniscient, and all-good"

No one should ever try to "explain" God in the first place quite simply because (even for those of us who do believe) we can't. He is to big and works too far out of our realm of thinking. IF the God of the Bible is to be the real deal then the scriptures already "explain" that His "omnipotent, omniscient, and all-good" ways are incomprehendable to the finite, small minds of the human race. He intentionally does not allow us to fully understand everything. This is where faith comes into play.


You stated:

"start trying to toss out some half-baked theory on the root of free will"

That is what it is. Would you follow a God who "forced" you into believeing in Him? If God revealed Himself that way there would be no atheists because you would all know about Him and would be bowing a knee to him whether you liked it or not. And nobody would actually worship Him with a sincere heart.

So in that respect, everyone really does have freewill. God want's people to choose Him. That is what makes their faith genuine towards Him. You have exercised that same freewill by choosing to reject His excistence.

I hope you understand that I am just trying to offer an insight into the Christian perspective(since you have obviously questioned it in the past) and I am not trying to convert your way of thinking regarding this.

One more thing for you Marco:

"There is no logic in gods. It is superstition, concrete thinking."

Well, I agree with you about every other god outside of Christianity. (You knew I was going to be biased! :)

I could definetly rebut on this but it does take away from your original article regarding Epicureanism.

I enjoyed this posting. Why? Because I just learned something new. This is what I enjoy about your blog. Where do you find this stuff?

Maybe I should rephrase, considering your career in medicine, where do you find the time to find this stuff? LOL

1:31 AM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

I believe I have been fortunate to have the parents I have. they encouraged me the habit of reading since I was very young. When that happens there is some knowledge buried in the brain, which is uncovered every now and then. Wikipedia helps a lot

11:18 PM  
Blogger George Larson said...

YAY Wikipedia!

I get lost there for hours sometimes.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Puma said...

I say God must be "wicked" then. But what I really think is that God made us capable of both good and evil, in order that we should learn from ourselves. In other words, God wants us to think. God wants us to examine ourselves. God wants us to learn from experience. It's up to us to decide what to make of the world and how to relate to it.

Marco is right: there is no logic in Gods. One of my problems with people who follow organized religions and their books is their perpetual insistence on explaining God - and always in terms that suit them personally. I find that most "religious" people demand nothing less than total adherence to (their) dogma, and in the process demonstrate their complete lack of faith.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Alanita said...

ANOTHER God debate. Suprise, suprise! Ok, I read your blog and have been enlightened by Epicurianism. Now the world is a better place because of it.

11:34 AM  
Blogger akanksha said...

hello every 1....i believe in god jus because i want 2...it helps me keep goin on in life...bt m nt afraid of god.....Do not be afraid of the gods: they do not concern themselves with human problems; nor do they reward or punish you in this world or when you die. There is neither a Heaven nor a Hell....

5:08 AM  

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