Three elements of my philosophy

Category: [Philosophy]


3min read

This is my own custom; from the many things which I have read, I claim some one part for myself. - Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, Letter II

I have been reading philosophy for a while now - mostly Hellenistic philosophy. So far, there are three principles from the Hellenistic philosophies of Stoicism and Epicureanism that made the biggest impression on me. In formulating elements of my own philosophy, I have placed these three elements front and centre.

1. Dichotomy of control (Stoicism)

By far the most influential element of Stoicism to me, is the dichotomy of control.

We are responsible for some things, while there are others for which we cannot be held responsible. The former include our judgement, our impulse, our desire, aversion, and our mental faculties in general; the latter include the body, material possessions, our reputations, status - in a word, anything not in our power to control. The former are naturally free, unconstrainted and unimpeded, while the latter are frail, inferior, subject to restraint - and none of our affair. - Epictetus, Enchiridion, Chapter I

Once we realize the inevitability of the dichotomy of control, the desire for many things can be eliminated. Immense wealth, fame, power, recognition, opinions of others, promotions at work, reciprocal love - all of these lie strictly outside of our control. So placing them as goals or objectives or purposes in our lives will not lead to a good life. Instead, we should pursue needs that will directly fulfil us.

2. Natural and necessary needs (Epicureanism)

Epicurus taught us to focus our efforts on fulfilling our natural and necessary needs. These includes food, clothes, shelter as basic needs, as well as friends, freedom, and philosophy (as in wisdom or knowledge).

The cry of the flesh: not to be hungry, not to be thirsty, not to be cold. For if someone has these things and is confident of having them in the future, he might contend even with Zeus for happiness. - Epicurus, Vatican Collection of Epicurus Sayings

Of the things which wisdom provides for the blessedness of one’s whole life, by far the greatest is the possession of friendship. - Epicurus, Vatican Collection of Epicurus Sayings

The basic needs of food, clothes and shelter should be secured not just for the present but also the future - hence the importance of financial freedom and independence. Likewise, meaningful and deep friendships, freedom to do and experience the things in life, and gaining knowledge and learning philosophy - these give meaning to our lives.

3. Lathe biosas (Epicureanism)

We must free ourselves from the prison of everyday affairs and politics. - Epicurus, Vatican Collection of Epicurus Sayings

Finally, Epicurus taught us to practise lathe biosas - to live in obscurity. In his time during the Hellenistic era, this meant to withdraw from politics, withdraw from the military, and withdraw from high posts and ranks. When we live in obscurity, not only will we rid ourselves of matters that are outside of our control (dichotomy of control), we also can spend our time and focus on constantly fulfilling our natural and necessary needs, and engage in the relevant kinetic and katastematic pleasures. We also avoid being too caught up in anything related to visibility, promotions, rank, control over others, or gaining others’ validation.