There have been conflicting explanations about the real meaning of a happy life and enjoyment. Many scholars and philosophers have come up with various opinions about happiness one of them being a famous philosopher known as Epicurus. Different philosophers have come with conflicting opinions which have made it difficult to have a common definition of happiness (Kelly 131).
To make the matter worse, there is an argument that happiness is not the same as enjoyment. It has been a great challenge to harmonize both religious and philosophical definitions of a happy life and it is therefore the decision of each person to choose which definition to follow (Kelly 131). This paper will examine Epicurus’ prescription for a happy life and at the same time compare Epicureanism and Stoicism.
According to Laertius’ recordings, Epicurus regards pleasure as the main goal for a happy life. According to Epicurus, pleasure is the end of life and all the actions of human beings are normally geared towards attaining the chief good. Pleasure is meant to free human beings from trouble and pain. Epicurus has received a lot of criticism by declaring that pleasure is the ultimate end but this according to him is just a misinterpretation of his opinions (Pellegrin 234).
According to Epicurus, a happy life should be characterized by having a healthy body and a peace of mind. Pleasure is actually the end of life that bring brings good health and peace of mind. Epicurus goes ahead to affirm the fact that he is an advocate of a sober life and clarifies the type of pleasure he meant. According to Epicurus, a debauched kind of pleasure is not the type of pleasure he was talking about since this type of pleasure only ends in the moment of enjoyment (Pellegrin 234).
Epicurus reiterates that real pleasure is the absence of pain in the body and having a peaceful soul and not sensual pleasures such as eating and drinking. Other forms of pleasure that Epicurus is not in support of include exotic delicacies, the pleasure of love together with other sensual pleasures (Pellegrin 236).
According to Epicurus, it important to have sound judgment and tranquility in order to live a happy life. In order to have a peaceful soul, human beings are supposed to avoid all false notions and mistaken opinions. Comfort and peace are the only components of pleasure emphasized by Epicurus which he sees as the only sources of stability.
When pain is completely removed, it marks the beginning of pleasure since a person is relived from uneasiness (Enfield 78). According to Epicurus, there is no way a person can claim that they are in pain and at the same time claim to be having pleasure. Epicurus refutes claims of neutral feelings and calls for a clear distinction between pain and pleasure. The complete absence of pain is perceived by Epicurus as the point of pleasure and there is no way this can be measured.
Epicurus speaks from a humane point of view and particularly focuses on dealing with pain. He does not in any way agree with stoics whom he thinks that their philosophies about a happy life are based on vain fiction (Enfield 78). Epicurus is very realistic in his claims and does not in any way promise what is not possible. Epicurus also argues that all the activities of men are motivated by pleasure that brings comfort and a peace of mind.
This type of pleasure that eliminates pain is very definite and stable compared to other forms of sensual pleasure. Having a healthy body and a peaceful mind is the ultimate end of all goods (Enfield 112). This type of virtue together with other supporting virtues is what makes a man to be referred to as wise or a woman to be termed virtuous. Self-constraint and clear headedness are the qualities needed to prevent the body from lust and greed.
According to Epicurus, motion and action are not part of true pleasure. Epicurus was always against debauched pleasure but the stoics always misunderstood him. Epicurus and the stoics have never agreed especially on the definition of pleasure. Stoics insist that Epicurus’ definition of pleasure included excessiveness (Enfield 89). The stoics are strong advocates of morality and their misunderstanding of Epicurus’ opinions caused a lot of strife.
Sordid and sensual pleasures that resulted into lust and other vices were preached against by the stoics and any person perceived to support such forms of pleasure was highly condemned. It was very unfortunate for Epicurus to receive unfair condemnation because the stoics had completely misunderstood his opinions despite his attempts to clarify his claims. The stoics used this as a perfect opportunity to enlighten the people since it was not an easy thing during those days (Enfield 89).
Epicurus defines a Wiseman as one who is contended with what they have without having a disturbed mind. A peaceful mind free of anxiety makes one to be merry. According to Epicurus, happiness is achieved when there is a peace of mind that is consistent regardless of the overwhelming expectations and desires in life. Contentment is the key to living a happy life and not the worldly pleasures and riches.
It is the desire of all beings to have pleasure and contentment but many of them do not know how to achieve them. Seeking pleasure from feastings and other sensual means is waste of time since riches and luxury offers temporary pleasure (Bellioti 45). Pastimes can not in any way bring consistent pleasure and the only way of living a happy life is being temperate and just. A feeling of happiness, satisfaction and tranquility comes from one’s own conscience and not from having fancy things (Bellioti 45).
The mind controls a person’s happiness since it is able to feel the past, the present and the future compared to the body that only feels the present. The pleasure and pain of the body has a very minimal contribution to a person’s happiness. Although the pain of the body can also affect the feeling of the mind, but it only occurs in the present.
Happiness is supposed to be consistent and therefore present feelings that are temporary can not be used to define true happiness (Bellioti 45). This argument and other arguments made Epicurus to differ greatly with other philosophers and in most cases the stoics.
Epicurus was of the opinion that pleasure could only be attained by those people who sought virtue. This was misunderstood by stoics who accused him of advocating for debauchery and sordid pleasure. Stoics argue that it is necessary for human beings to seek virtue for itself and not for the sake of pleasure.
According to stoics, virtue should be sought for itself and not for anything else. Stoics argue that by Epicurus declaring pleasure as the ultimate goal of seeking virtue, he was expressing his support for debauchery and sordid pleasure (Kelly 236).
The stoics insist that Epicurus had sensual pleasure in mind when he was expressing his opinion on happy life and they perceive that as being immoral. On the contrary, Epicurus had pure thoughts that advocate for people having a peace of mind together with bodily comfort without pain. According to Epicurus, seeking this kind of pleasure promotes virtue and leads to a happy life (Kelly 236).
Stoics do not dispute the fact that virtue includes living happily and therefore there is nothing wrong by Epicurus stating that happy life should be desired for itself just like the stoics claim that virtue must be sought for itself. The stoics claim that a good and happy life can only be attained by virtue alone. This type of argument is not in any way different from Epicurus’ and therefore their criticism of his philosophy on pleasure and happy life are uncalled for (Kelly 247).
Comparing the philosophy of the stoics together with that Epicurus, there is a common understanding that virtue is not entirely sought for itself but for other things such as a happy life. There is no way people can talk about a happy life without mentioning pleasure (Pellegrin 62).
Despite Epicurus clarifying the type of pleasure he meant, the stoics still criticize him. Stoics agree that happiness can not be attained in a divine way but must be sought after. Despite them disputing Epicurus’ ideologies on happiness, the stoics agree that virtue and happiness can not be separated.
Bellioti, Raymond. Roman Philosophy and the Good Life. New York: Lexington Books, 2009. Print.
Enfield, William. The History of Philosophy: From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Present Century. New York: Abe Books, 1837. Print.
Kelly, Joseph. The Life of Early Christians. New York: Liturgical Press, 1997. Print.
Pellegrin, Pierre. A comparison to Ancient Philosophy. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.