PHILOSOPHIES OF LIFE AND WISDOM
Wrong choices and unwise options can damage our lives. Life is an art, and the anticipation of future evils, foolish thoughts, and the chasing after material wealth are causes of unhappiness. Only through wisdom – given by philosophy - can we enrich the meaning of our lives, and get happiness. In short, that’s the position of an important group of ancient philosophers, the most outstanding of which is, perhaps, Epicurus (341-270 a.C.).
Epicurus was a believer in a secluded life, a life in small communities whose members should cultivate friendship, wisdom, and, ultimately, pleasure. «Pleasure is the beginning and the end of living happily», Epicurus argued. «It’s the first and innate good, and it is based upon this that we should make our choices and establish our aversions».
But Epicurus was not exactly a hedonist. Epicurus emphasized pleasure, but not indiscriminate pleasures. Epicurus was also an adept of moderation:
«It is not an unbroken succession of parties and revelry, not women and child, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul», he said.
We don’t really know what life was like for the many Epicurist communities (very popular and numerous in the ancient Greek and Roman empires). But the first Christians, namely Saint Augustine, fought them violently, charging them with hedonism, and even of orgies and debauchery.
This could have happened in some of the thousands of Epicurist communities, but probably it’s exaggerated, something spotted by the fundamentalism of the first Christians. Epicurus’ writings show a moderate and sensible man, advocating contention, a position common to philosophers such as Socrates or the stoics, who overemphasised it.
There is, anyway, a profound difference between Epicurus’ philosophy of life and the ones born from Christianity. To Saint Augustine, the father of the medieval-Christian philosophy of life, happiness was in the faith in God, in the certainty brought by that faith, in the joy which it allows. «I will look for You in order that my soul lives, because my body lives from my soul, and my soul lives from You» (Saint Augustine).
Happiness is, therefore, something that should be searched for outside the secular world. It doesn’t pass by physical or even intellectual pleasures. «Far from me, far from the heart of your serf, my God, confessing to You, the idea of finding happiness in whatever the joy!»
Happiness, to Saint Augustine, was also not in the oblivion of our future evils, or in emotional unattachment (as claimed by Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist schools); and it was even less in eating our «bread with joy, and drinking your wine with a merry heart, for God has already accepted your works», as advocated in the Ecclesiastes.
«Happiness is a joy that is not granted to the impious, but only to those who serve you through pure love: because you are that joy! To rejoice from you, in you and by you, that is happiness. And there is no other», argued Saint Augustine.
Happiness passed to depend wholly in the creed and in attachment to God. With Christianity, the philosophies of life spreading upon the western world changed dramatically.
Only with secularization introduced by the Renaissance and deepened in the following centuries, did the major principles of classic Greek philosophy, as pleaded by Epicurus, – valuing pleasure, friendship and profane love – regain importance.
See also: Philosophies of Life Quotations