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Epicurean Hedonism - Essay Example

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Epicurus' work in the field of Ethics is a form of hedonism, which has proved to be one of the most influential works in the history of philosophy. However since it has been studied mainly via secondary sources, there has been heated debate regarding the interpretation of his work, with the result that Epicurean hedonism has been subject to misconceptions and misunderstanding and has been desecrated in certain quarters…
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Epicurean Hedonism
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Download file to see previous pages It is this emphasis on unadulterated pleasure that has created a ruckus, but which is unfounded as will be shown.
According to Epicurus, "Pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the starting -point of every choice and of every aversion, and to it we come back, inasmuch as we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing" (Qtd. from Cook). 1 He believes that the essential truth of this statement is so obvious, that it renders debate and reasoning unnecessary. It is his belief that we are born with an intimate knowledge of the fact that pleasure is good and pain evil; it is the skepticism which is an inevitable accompaniment of the ageing process that makes the truth so elusive for adults. However the pursuit of pleasure must be governed by temperance. A glutting of the senses with sensual delights can cause pain in the long run; therefore careful judgment must be exercised in order to derive the maximum pleasure that life has to offer.
The fulfillment of desire is closely linked to gaining pleasure and Epicurus has a word of caution on the subject. There is pleasure in the satisfaction of desire, but more often than not this is short-lived as more desires take the place of the one that has been fulfilled and soon endless desire takes the form of an insatiable monster, which is hardly conducive to pleasure. Thus an effort must be made to curb desire; this is done by settling for the bare necessities and resisting the temptation to over-indulge oneself. Epicurus distinguishes between desires where "some are natural, others are groundless; and that of the natural some are necessary as well as natural, and some natural only" (Qtd. from Cook).2
Epicurus sets much store by wisdom, as it is ignorance which is responsible for a lack of understanding between good and evil that is the cause of so much misery and turmoil. Wisdom is the wellspring from which the virtues of prudence, courage and justice spring forth. The inherent values of these virtues are largely irrelelevant as the only purpose they serve is towards achieving happiness. Cicero puts this most succinctly, "we aim at these virtues in order to live without anxiety and fear and so far as possible to be free from pain of mind and body"(Qtd.from Cook).3
Epicurean philosophy is immensely valuable to the present day insofar as his arguments go towards overcoming the unreasonable yet prevalent fear of death. With death there is a cessation of sensation, therefore since it involves neither pain nor pleasure, it never has and never will pose a threat to the living. An understanding of this premise goes a long way in removing anxiety which throws an unpleasant pall over the future. Death according to Epicurus "is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not" (Qtd. from Cook). 4
Distinguishing Epicurean Hedonism from Cyrenaicism
Much of the notoriousness surrounding Epicurean hedonism and the stigma of moral licentiousness, attached to it, when it fact it is rather a model of asceticism, stems from its doctrines often being confused with Cyrenaicism. Aristippus was the founder ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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