Tag Archives: ancient

Epicurean Prudence for the Pleasant and Happy Life

9 Jan

When viewing philosophy of Epicurus happiness will usually come to mind as his overall belief. Before actually reading philosophy of Epicurus I assumed that advocating happiness would mean advocating doing whatever one wants at any time. Epicurean philosophy of happiness is necessary complication of a seemingly simple thing. Certain beliefs must be held, happiness must be held as a high priority, and a specific process must be followed to truly be happy. Epicurus in Letter to Menoeceus discusses the place of happiness in the status of a person’s life, what one must believe in achieving a happy pleasant life, and the process in which one must go through in keeping a life happy and pleasant.

The Epicurean idea of happiness is all based on Epicurus’ belief that the soul should be healthy, and that anything done to make the soul healthy should be continued. The study of philosophy is one of those things. Based on this soul health, it is inferred as a characteristic view of the Epicureans that happiness is everything to want and achieve. Happiness is the goal. In the Letter to Menoeceus Epicurus argues overall a theory of happiness arrived at by prudence. Prudence is the system of judgment and grounds that things to avoid and things to choose are evaluated and assessed. This prudence argued by Epicurus is the way to view life so that you may have the most happiness. Prudence having several aspects and granted ideas, Epicurus goes over a few beliefs one should hold going into aspects of prudence.

Epicurus states that one should believe god to be a ‘blessed undeniable force’. Gods harm bad people and do well to people who do good things. A god or gods is stated by Epicurus to just be something to take into account when looking at actions one executes. Another larger fact Epicurus wrote that should be granted is that people should not fear death. He believed that one someone dies the soul no longer exists. If someone does not exist there can be no feelings of pain or pleasure or other sensory experiences. Death, therefore, is painless and should not be feared. Using this stance to advocate most happiness, Epicurus states that instead of wanting to live as long as possible because of the possibilities of death we should cherish the time there is in life. Having pleasure in the right way and cherishing life reduces any fear of death down to nothing. Epicurus includes the discussion about the gods before going into prudence because it was probably a misconception in Hellenistic Greece that gods are not friends to anyone. The discussion about death was probably because of the fear people had of death. Epicurus’ stance on the gods is correct in concept because good people are rewarded while those who sin the most are not rewarded at all. Epicurus probably felt that discussing these issues was best to clear any fog they would pose for the theory of happiness by prudence. Because of these arguments the reader would then agree that the gods would agree with using prudence and that death was no threat to happiness by prudence. Philosophy of happiness in Epicurus is founded by some basic beliefs about pleasure and other desires. Next, Epicurus began discussing basic beliefs one keeping a prudence theory for happiness should hold (Epicurus did not call his happiness philosophy the prudence theory, I am using those terms because the way the Letter to Menoeceus reads is all propositions building together towards this theory of prudence).

To begin to form a theory of how to achieve and maintain happiness Epicurus discusses desires and their nature. There are natural desires and groundless ones. Natural desires are either necessary or merely natural. A natural belief is necessary if it happens to be a necessary pleasure or if it is a desire that frees the body or soul from trouble. Necessary desires are necessary because of their necessity to be fulfilled to maintain the health of the soul or body. These necessary desires a lot of the time are pleasures. Pleasures are necessary beliefs when there is pain. Distinguishing desires based on whether they are natural or necessary or not already introduces the idea that not all pleasure desires should be fulfilled. Two main pieces of advice are given that are put together to make prudence and how it pushes towards happiness and pleasance.

The first piece of advice Epicurus gives that funnels into the concept of prudence is living blessedly. To live blessedly means to seek out pleasure. Pleasure is “the first innate good” and is the starting point as well as the goal in living blessedly. The overall good in pleasure is to be seen when one lives blessedly. Saying that pleasure is the goal, innate good, and starting point in living blessedly does not mean Epicurus believes every pleasurable desire presented should be fulfilled. Living blessedly is one aspect of prudence being a sorting system of desires and how they are responded to (with pleasure or pain or both). In living blessedly one is to use “comparative measurement and examination of the advantages and disadvantages” in deciding choices and avoidances (in which situation will one choose pleasure and avoid pain, or vice versa). One must not always choose pleasure, only necessary desires of pleasure. In choosing any random pleasure, a small pleasure benefiting you could be responded with unbearable pain. It is because of this pleasures must be chosen carefully. Not all pains should be passed up because it could be in any given situation that for a small or large pain being endured an even larger pleasure will result. In using this ‘sorting system’ of living blessedly the goal is still pleasure of the greatest variety even if some pain is experienced as a result. If one lives blessedly as shown by Epicurus having a happy pleasant life is feasible in most cases however an extra specification is needed in prudence.

The second aspect of prudence making it have this ‘sorting system’ feel to it as well as living blessedly is maintaining self sufficiency. Self sufficiency is Epicurus’ way of further controlling partake of desire in achieving a happy pleasant life. Self sufficiency being maintained ensures that one trying to move towards a happy pleasant life is not cheated out of it because of his or her dependence luxurious pleasures. Epicurus states that the point of self sufficiency is not to say that luxuries must be left out of a happy pleasant life. In any prudence theory pleasure is what is ultimately striven for as it is the point and the goal of living blessedly. One must be self sufficient to be happy and pleasant in life because luxuries will assuredly not always be present. If one is not self sufficient and those luxuries are removed any happiness that was there before is now gone. The main point of requiring a self sufficiency in prudence is that people must be able to live without lavish luxuries to have the happy pleasant life.

I like to think of prudence as a cohesive sorting system because of what putting living blessedly with self sufficiency together makes. Both things together as prudence mostly makes sure that the person seeking a happy pleasant life gets just that by making sure that no unnecessary pleasure or harmful pleasure is allowed to be chosen. This prudence also makes sure that the person is only put through pain for good reasons and not too much pain. To finally define prudence, prudence is the use of discretion. Specifically applied to achieving and maintaining happiness and pleasance, prudence is the use of discretion so that one does not choose excessive pleasure or choose too much pain (especially since the choice of unnecessary or unnatural pleasure can hide negative consequences of excessive pain). Keeping living blessedly and self sufficiency in mind as the contents of prudence, prudence still involves more than the aforesaid statements about the achievement of happy pleasant life.

Epicurus claims another trait to prudence in governing happy pleasant life. Prudence allowing for one to live pleasantly, Epicurus states prudence to generate all other forms of virtue (besides prudence since prudence is already present) including honor, justice, compassion, empathy, and courage. What prudence does in governing and allowing the existence of the happy pleasant life allows it to generate all virtues besides itself. To better understand how this can work I think comparing this to the epistemological analogue in the foundationalist theory of epistemic justification. In this foundationalism a basic foundational belief is held without the need for justifying (e.g. sense data or the analytic) and other propositions needing justifying are built upon the basic foundational belief as this belief helps justify the ones that build upon it. This is similar to prudence and how it allows for a happy pleasant life because prudence having this ability to govern and justify a pleasant life other virtues besides prudence can build upon it because of prudence’s special power so to speak. Thinking about prudence as a whole and what it does, it has the ability to conform to various ideas of what happiness is.

It is debated what happiness is based on two central biases. Some people are convinced that happiness is indulgence in whatever any desire happens to be at any point in time. Objections to this view are stated by Epicurus in his explanation of living blessedly and self sufficiency. This view of happiness cannot be because one holding this view would not be self sufficient. Furthermore, partaking of every pleasure seen at any place and point in time leads to the possibility that great harm will come to the one holding this view. On the other side of this debate some believe and have believed that happiness is serving of those less fortunate and a general assistance of others. This view is based on the many virtues certain people practice (including prudence). Shown in the entire Letter to Menoeceus Epicurus states that the innate good and goal of prudence and its aspects is garnering pleasure. Serving others has its own kind of pleasure but that is a virtuous pleasure not the kind of pleasure Epicurus claims to be the foundation of a happy pleasant life. Considering these two sides of what happiness really is prudence and its aspects (living blessedly and self sufficiency) provide the best definition of happiness.

Prudence is proven to yield happy pleasant life not just because of how it judges and sorts choices and avoidances but because of its definition of happiness. The way prudence defines happiness is by the combination of both sides of the debate of what happiness is. Prudence is able to do this because the happy pleasant life it yields is really a happy one because it is based on a search for pleasure (not at the extremes people who are for pleasure happiness are at) yet at the same time it generates all other virtues. The moderation of the frequency and type of pleasure one can partake in at any time I think is what allows for the pleasant as well as happy life. This specific definition of a happy life that Epicurus discussed in Hellenistic Greece is one that worked then and still works in real life scenarios. When one is in a state of unhappiness it is a good idea to take a look at the schematics of choices and avoidances and make some changes based on prudence.

One really common example of an unhappy person is the person surrounded by extravagantly opulent luxuries yet suffers a state of dissatisfaction. Having the wealth to surround oneself with luxuries, that person will continue to do so because there will never be a state where the person feels there is enough and is satisfied. This occurs because the person partakes of unnecessary sometimes unnatural pleasures all not having a strictly dire consequence itself but all create a problem for this person. The consequence to these unnecessary and unnatural pleasures is a continuous overall dissatisfaction and therefore unhappiness. Not known to the person is the problem of his or her dependence on the luxuries. Gaining more and more luxuries created this dependency because if someone were to take all of these luxuries away the person would not have the ability do without them. The changes that should be made are the gradual removal of these lavish luxuries allowing for a self sufficiency to return. This is one real life scenario that can be solved using prudence to achieve a happily pleasant life.

Another would be the situation of the person keeping an unhealthy relationship with a person that treats him or her badly. The person keeps this unhealthy relationship because he or she does not want to feel the pain of the lost relationship (that has been established over a long period of time) or (possibly and) the person does not believe he or she can be loved by anyone other than the person currently in the unhealthy relationship with. The keeping of this relationship is preventing a completely pleasant happiness in this person because of how its unhealthy characteristics make the person extremely unhappy. What can be done to counteract this unhappiness is the dissolving of that unhealthy relationship. This is a painful event in any scenario even remotely like this one. This painful event of the end of that relationship is justified in that a larger pleasurable event is to follow possibly with a new relationship with someone that treats the person nicely. This is one of those cases in prudence where there must be a painful event for the large pleasurable one.

I have discussed Epicurus’ view of the happy life with prudence simply because it answers any question about a person’s unhappiness and provides a solution as to how to become happy and pleasant again. Furthermore this view allows for there to be virtue in happiness while still keeping pleasure at the top of one’s priorities. Thinking about both opposing views of what happiness is (serving others as happiness versus all pleasure as happiness); both views are incorporated at varied levels in Epicurus’ prudence. Reading Epicurus’ view of happiness influenced me enough that I no longer question the foundation and content of happiness (as I have given some thought on this before ever reading Epicurus). Unless a strongly justified objection is given, this is the belief about happiness and pleasance I shall hold.


Aristotle’s Good in the Nicomachean Ethics

30 Nov

What do you think the good is? There have been infinite conceptions about what this is, but Aristotle’s definition fits them all and does well to replace them.

The good to ancient Greek philosophers is something argued over countless times. Plato did it as did Aristotle. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, specifically in Book 1 of it, he sets aside other common and popular definitions of the good and comes up with what I think is a better answer than the rest. Aristotle discusses action, and comes to a conclusion as to what the good is through it. Action being existent because a need is there ends when a purpose is achieved, and the end of this action is what Aristotle claims to be the good. This argument is interesting and groundbreaking because setting and achieving a goal in life is an exact example of Aristotle’s good.

Before going into Aristotle’s actual opinion of what the good is, he turns to common misconceptions and sets those aside as he does in most of his work. First, he states that people who live lives of gratification view the good as ‘happiness as pleasure.’ He takes a dim view of this stance by calling this definition of the good ‘slavish’ in the sense that those who take that view are slaves to the goal ‘happiness in pleasure.’ He also explains the view of the politician (the cultivated people) who strives to be the best politicians. Aristotle states that good to politicians is honor. This is wrong also, but this takes him to his view of the good because of how honor is the end politicians try to achieve. Taking into consideration these other views of the good, he starts again in understanding what the good is.

As Aristotle has stated that things have telos in much of his philosophy, it plays into what the good is for him. The word telos is not specifically used but his examples saying the end to medicine is health, the skill of house building a house being produced, and general-ship one or more victories show his referral to telos when understanding the good.  “And so, if there is some end of everything that is pursued in action, this will be the good pursued in action…” Aristotle’s definition of good is the end of action. If an action is undertaken, that action tries to achieve the action’s purpose. The good, then, is the achievement of the purpose of the action. Medicine is given to a sick person (being an action), and the good would be the medicine fulfilling its purpose (the person going from sickness to health). The good being defined as the end to any

purposeful action is a definition that can easily be seen in any action.

I find Aristotle’s understanding of the good to be better (in my opinion) than any definition Plato gave. This is important to know because this definition is evident in any action. For example, people eat to not be hungry, people go to school to become smarter, or any other example would fit Aristotle’s definition. Because of the versatility of Aristotle’s understanding of the good, his argument is valid and strong. When reading Plato, one might encounter disputes about the good because it may differ between people, along with other disputes, but Aristotle’s understanding of it makes all of those disputes no longer disputes at all because it solves the whole argument.

Reading most Plato, I think one gets more confused as to what the good is, but in Aristotle those difficulties are cleared with one simple statement. My understanding of the good is all based on Aristotle’s argument in the Nicomachean Ethics. This is mostly because each possible part of the good (including virtue, justice, honor and other qualities) all fit the pattern where an end to a purposeful action is the real definition of the good.

Can you now see how this can be applied to any understanding of the good whether it be pleasure, personal happiness, morality, or anything else?

The end to sex is pleasure, the end to theatre plays is happiness of a sort, the end of construction is a house………………………….. I could go on exemplifying conceptions of the good and make them conform to Aristotle’s definition.

Thanks again for the support.