This is the sixth installment in the series that tries to present the 40 Epicurean Principal Doctrines to a modern reader that presents the doctrines 26. to 30.
Now it is easy to forget that Epicureanism did develop into a very religion-like movement especially in the Roman Empire. However, it has one crucial difference from religions. Its teachings are just result of rational thinking and they are never presented as any kind of divine revelation. Anybody who follows the same trains of thoughts can end up in the same conclusions that Epicurus did end up.
A modern person can pick and choose those parts from the Epicurean teachings that they see as relevant to themselves. This is naturally a thing that all of the followers of all religions do, but normally without admitting it.
Epicureanism is not a closed and final set of instructions on how to live one's life. It is a set of philosophic, moral and practical suggestions and guidelines on how to attain a greater peace of mind in a society that pushes people to fight for objectives that are created in peoples own minds. These objectives do no necessarily contribute much to the level of true happiness of a person.
Without further ado, here are the 26th to 30th Epicurean Principal Doctrines in our series presenting all the 40 of them in series of blog-postings.
26. All desires that do not lead to pain when they remain unsatisfied are unnecessary, but the desire is easily got rid of, when the thing desired is difficult to obtain or the desires seem likely to produce harm.
Epicurus did ponder much about human desires. He went rationally through the whole machinery that does control the needs and desires of all human beings. He did draw many conclusions that seem rather obvious when they are uttered aloud. However, also these thing need to be thought out to be really understood.
In this doctrine, he is saying that desires that are borne out of one's mind. Those that are not caused by the direct needs of the body are, in fact, easily discarded. One just need to put his rational mind to work at them.
It is simply about founding out what things really are important in life. These things of course change with time, but still one can strive for a simpler life, even if the idea of what is wan be considered a simple life has changed tremendously from the days of Epicurus.
One can have indoor plumbing and laptops and still lead a very simple life, as they are now considered to be similar basics of life as a house with a fireplace in his time.
Epicurean philosophy is not about giving up things. It is about concentrating on the things that really are important. When it is taken seriously enough this process can slowly remove many non-important things out of ones sphere of interest.
All things can be taken to extremes. It is quite possible to overdo Epicureanism also. However, if you simplify your life, it does not in anyway mean that you should drop out of the society, but you simply concentrate on the things that are the most valuable to you.
You decide what are the most important things for you and what is can be seen as needless surplus for you. You can very well do it without anybody even ever noticing it, as it is not about spreading the message and converting people to think and live as you do, but making ones own life more worth living and most of all achieving more wisdom and a greater peace of mind through that process.
Epicureanism is after all about moderation and this applies also to Epicureanism itself; a true Epicurean does not overdo it!
Epicureanism is not at all about having another drink, but it is about thinking rationally through the reasons why one would like to have different things in life. Epicureanism is about thinking if you really need the things you seem to want at first glance. It is about rationally analyzing also your needs but also analyzing what are also the bad consequences of doing things one does desire.
Epicureanism is not about hedonism, but controlling the inevitable hedonistic urges that we all have in as rational way as possible. It is not done by giving commands and placing restrictions, but by analyzing the consequences of ones own actions and by acting upon these conclusions.
27. Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship.
Bertrand Russell did once say that a philosopher must start from the obvious. The role of friendship in happiness is so very obvious that it must be stated aloud to be really appreciated. Epicureanism is a path to personal happiness, but one cannot be happy if people around you are not happy. To ensure one's own happiness one must fight for the happiness of the others also.
Epicureanism may seem self-centered at first glance, but it really is a realistic and rational system of thought that seeks a path for a better life. In real life one needs a motivation to act unselfishly.
This road starts always from ones own mind, but the real happiness is always dependent just as much on other people. Ensuring the happiness of others is as or even more important. It is very understandable that Epicurus and Abraham Maslow should come to extremely similar conclusions as they were interpreting the very same reality and the same kind of human beings.
We still have the very same evolutionary inheritance in spite of the cultural ballast that we have collected through the centuries.
28. The same conviction which inspires confidence that nothing we have to fear is eternal or even of long duration, also enables us to see that in the limited evils of this life nothing enhances our security so much as friendship.
It is one of the big ironies of history that Epicureanism was erased completely by Christianity on the first centuries of the first millennium, but Buddhism was able to continue and flourish in such a part of the world that had no such an overpowering and power hungry belief system at the time.
Christianity destroyed all other belief systems on the areas it did get hold of end Epicureanism was one of its victims.
Epicureanism is a rationally constructed method of reaching for mental stability and a heightened state of inner peace. It does this not by giving false and baseless promises of eternal forgiveness and salvation beyond the grave, but by trying to give ground for forming such mental attitudes that can aid in putting things on their rightful perspectives.
Early Christian writers purposefully distorted and mangled the Epicurean message beyond recognition. They saw it as their important competitor in the open market of ideas that the Roman empire was at their time. Epiciureanism has never recovered from that beating.
29. Of our desires some are natural and necessary, others are natural but not necessary; and others are neither natural nor necessary, but are due to groundless opinion.
Epicureanism deals at a very basic level on the very basic human needs and desires and on how they affect our lives.
The basic thing is always a rational analysis of the human needs and desires. This rational analysis tells that there are such needs as thirst and hunger that are unavoidable. However, a lot of things that people think they need are just human constructions that are brought about by the needs of society that are subject to great and constant change.
These artificial desires that are created with the aid of human culture may seem as real as those which have been brought about by the real human evolution. However, when one realizes their nature as artificial constructions, one is inevitably in a better position to control them.
30. Those natural desires which entail no pain when unsatisfied, though pursued with an intense effort, are also due to groundless opinion; and it is not because of their own nature they are not got rid of but because of man's groundless opinions.
It is extremely difficult to build a totalitarian system based on Epicurean thinking. It is an an intensely private affair that is extremely difficult use as a tool of social control. This is one of the main reasons why it did lose out to Christianity in the first centuries of the first millennium in the Roman Empire.
Christianity was developed into a perfect tool of social control. It was also a tool for bolstering existing social structure under the direct guidance of the Roman emperors after its humble beginnings as a cult of personal salvation. Of course, any idea can be developed into a tool of control or power, but Epicureanism did never go through that kind of phase.
(This piece was completely rewritten on 7th of July, 2012)