Is pleasure good? Epicurus and Epictetus answer this question differently. Explain both views, making clear who you agree with and why.
Some people will explain pleasure and desire as the source of all evil and the pathway to endless disaster while some will consider it as healthy consider and others will consider it unhealthy. This paper will try to explain pleasure based on two philosophers.
Epicurus was a Greek philosopher born on the Isle of the Samos and lived many years of his life in Athens where he eventually established his school of philosophy which was famously known as the Garden. Epicurus was mostly influenced by another philosopher called Democritus who was known for his stand that the world is basically made up of atoms (Bailey, 1926). In his research work, Epicurus recognized good with pleasure and evil with pain a doctrine which was later supported by another philosopher Jeremy Bentham which he called hedonism. Epicurus was for the opinion that, true life of pleasure only lied in an attitude of composed emotional coolness which required only basic pleasures, healthy food, a wise moral life that is founded on contractual consensus and good friends (Bailey, 1926). He went further and suggested that prudence in itself must compel pleasure. Epicurus says that only good or bad feelings, that is, pleasure or pain ought to worry us, and death which is not a feeling should not worry us, that is, nobody should fear death.
In his letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus says that, we should become used to to the idea that death in itself is nothing to us. According to Epicurus, good and evil only comprises in or consists of feelings but death is only a deficiency of a feeling (Bailey, 1926). He further suggests that, the right acceptance that death is nothing to us makes the humanity of life even pleasurable not because it increases to it an endless duration of time but because it carries with it the desire for immortality. According to his opinion, there is basically nothing unpleasant in life particularly for a man who has actually understood that there is nothing unpleasant in not living. Epicurus further says that, death the most awful of ills is basically nothing to humans because as long humans exist, death is not with them but when it comes then they do not exist (Bailey, 1926).
In the same letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus further says that, as humans we are in need of pleasure, especially when we have a sensation of pain due to the absence of pleasure. However, when we do not have a sensation of pain, then we no longer require pleasure (Bailey, 1926). For us humans we identify pleasure as the first decent thing that is innate in us and from pleasure we start every act of choice and averting and to pleasure we go back again this time using the sensation as the standard by which we as humans judge every good. Epicurus concluded that pleasure is the start and conclusion of a sacred life (Bailey, 1926).
Epictetus one of the renowned philosophers in the ancient Roman Stoic was born a slave but impressed by his high level of intellectual skills, his master sent him to be educated in Rome. Epictetus was later exiled to the Northwestern region of Greece where he founded a school of philosophy (White, 1983). Known mostly for his intellectual wisdom, Epictetus was also known for been a simple and kind person. In his manual famously known as the Enchiridion, Epictetus reviews most of his ethical wisdoms. His manual which was mostly used by the Roman soldiers is today used as a guide to life due to its remarkable inner self-control (White, 1983). Epictetus says that, in spite of the circumstances, as human beings we have the capacity to extend dignity and composure. He further says that, if as human beings we cannot alter the external circumstances, then we can strive to work on changing ourselves.
A vital aspect to Epictetus’s ethical teachings are the methods that enable human beings to: discern between what is in our right to control and what is not in our own power to control and secondly, to use the knowledge from his teachings to attain a more calm, noble existence (White, 1983). Epictetus further says that, there are those things that are up to us and there are those that are not. Basically, our own ideas are up to us together with impulses, cravings, and dislikes. In summary, that which is our own undertaking or doing (White, 1983). So, according to Epictetus, our own bodies are not up to us nor are our belongings, our standings, public offices or that which is not our own doing. Epictetus says that, the things which are up to us as humans are entirely free naturally, unrestricted and unhampered. This things that are not up to us are generally weak, confined, stalled and simply not our own.
Epictetus further forwards that, as humans we should remember at all times that if we think that the things that are certainly confined are free or the things that are not our own are our own, then we will be frustrated, sad and distressed and we will end up blaming both men and gods (White, 1983). However, as humans, if we simply think that only what is ours is ours or what is yours is yours and what is not our own is just as it is not our own or what is your own is your own and what is not your own is just as it is not your own, then nobody will ever force another, nobody will hamper another person and as a person you will have no one to blame, no one to accuse, you will not do anything against your will, have no enemies, nobody will harm you and consequently you will not be harmed (White, 1983).
According to both philosophers, one gets a different meaning of pleasure and therefore, there remains the question, is pleasure good? According to Epictetus, pleasure is good if you can control it. My view is that Epictetus explains clearly about pleasure. I believe this because, Epictetus has tried to explain the term pleasure in a more innate manner compared to Epicurus who only terms pleasure as the start and conclusion of a sacred life which is vague because, pleasure is basically a summation of different aspects of life. Therefore, I disagree with Epicurus. A critical analysis of Epictetus’s teachings reveals that what actually upsets individuals is not the things themselves but their own judgments about the things themselves. For instance, in his teachings, Epictetus says that “death is not dreadful, however, the judgment about death that is horrifying is what is actually horrible”. So, what Epictetus is trying to mean here is that, when we are not experiencing any pleasure, we should not blame others but ourselves, that is, we should blame our personal judgments.
According to Epictetus, if you encounter a harsh situation, you can just say to your subconscious, that this is just one situation. Therefore, examine the situation and evaluate it to determine whether it relates to the things that are up to you or the things that are not up to you. If the thing is not up to you move on. In conclusion, as a human being, you should not struggle to have events just occur as you want, but let them occur as they come and your life will be awesome. Therefore, I agree with Epictetus.
Bailey, C. (1926), Epicurus. Oxford University Press. New York
White, N. (1983), the Handbook of Epictetus. Hackett Publishing Company. Indianapolis