How to Be an Epicurean | Catherine Wilson

Summary of: How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well
By: Catherine Wilson


Delve beyond the surface notions of pleasure and luxury associated with Epicureanism and discover the profound depth and relevance it holds even in today’s world. In ‘How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well’ by Catherine Wilson, you’ll explore how the age-old teachings of Epicurus and his followers center around the interplay of pleasure, pain, and prudence. With topics ranging from atoms to the natural world, and consciousness to the distinctions between nature and convention, this summary will help you unlock the full potential of the Epicurean way of life.

Beyond Pleasure: The Philosophy of Epicureanism

When people hear the term Epicureanism, they often think of indulgent living, but this ancient Greek philosophy offers more than just pleasure-seeking. Epicureanism is a theory of everything that discusses nature, physics, history, love, death, and even religion. Epicurus, the founder of the philosophy, emphasized the importance of pleasure but recognized that it could lead to pain later on and that others were seeking pleasure too. Lucretius, his follower, further developed the philosophy in his poem On the Nature of Things, which influenced many philosophers throughout history. Epicureanism also has a place in the history of science with Epicurus developing one of the earliest theories of the atom. Despite some inaccuracies, Epicurean theories remain relevant today and provide an alternative perspective on the world.

The Modernity of Epicureanism

Epicureanism, as a philosophy, has managed to remain relevant even in contemporary discussions about consciousness and evolution. By positing that the natural world has no divine force and is only material, Epicurean thought lays the groundwork for a consideration of consciousness as a mere configuration of atoms. The study of the mouse brain highlights the unmechanical nature of the human brain, which enables it to survive and evolve. The idea that consciousness has an evolutionary advantage is a concept that is in line with Epicurean thought. Ultimately, this all leads to the belief that we must live our best lives while we can, as, according to Epicureanism, when we die, our soul atoms simply dissipate and become something else.

Epicurean Ethics and Prudence

Epicurus teaches us to seek pleasure and avoid pain, but to do so with prudence and morality. It requires the careful weighing of pros and cons to make the best decision. Prudence is primarily about the individual, but morality also plays a part. Moral conventions change over time, and systems are often flawed, but we need artificial laws to prevent chaos and continue living pleasurable lives.

Love, Death, and the Philosophy of Epicureanism

According to Epicureanism, death and the pains associated with love are inevitable, but they should be embraced as natural parts of life.

In contrast to the Stoics who considered love as a disease, proponents of Epicureanism supported embracing passion, regardless of its consequences. Although love often leads to pain, like that of uncertainty and jealousy, it should still be acknowledged as a natural part of life. Similarly, death is inescapable, but should not be feared. It is considered the worst thing that can happen to us, but it is something that we must accept when the natural limit of our life is reached. Moreover, nothing happens after we die, and we should strive to live a good and pleasurable life in the present.

Epicureanism also has a progressive interpretation of gender and sexual orientation. Women were allowed to join the school and were treated as equals, a remarkable view unheard of in ancient philosophy. Sexual relationships, regardless of gender, are also acceptable as long as they are conducted prudently and morally, without harming others.

Overall, Epicureanism teaches us to accept the inevitability of some pains in life and offers a unique perspective on the nature of death. It encourages us to live a good life while we are here and to appreciate the pleasures that life has to offer.

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