- Ataraxia; a good life
- A good life is one in a state of “untroubledness”, a state of tranquility. That’s ataraxia.
- Philosophy as therapy: “Empty are the words of the philosopher who offers therapy for no human suffering.” - Epicurus
- Pleasure is the key to a good life; pleasure is good and pain is bad, so pursue pleasure and avoid pain
Pleasure and pain
- Two types of pleasure: active and static pleasures. E.g. the active pleasure of eating versus the subsequent static pleasure of being full and no longer hungry
- The goal is therefore pleasure - but not more and more active pleasure; it’s reaching a state of static pleasure, of contentment
- There is no neutral state between pleasure and pain; the absence of pain is itself a pleasurable state to be in, while a life devoid of all pleasure would be painful to endure
- There is a clear limit to the pursuit of pleasure. This limit is reached when one reaches the state of static pleasure.
- Another distinction of pleasures is between physical (kinetic) and mental (katastematic) pleasures - and mental pleasure and pain would be more important to study.
- Many of us spend significant mental energy worrying about not having enough money in the future, while in fact having everything we need right now.
- We are quite good at coping with physical pain, yet we still manage to generate huge amounts of mental pain worrying about the physical suffering that may not happen in the future.
- Physical pleasures are fast and fleeting; it’s the mental pleasures that matter most of the quality of our lives.
- Ataraxia = state of tranquility = static mental katastematic pleasures. This is what we want to achieve.
- Hedonistic calculus: weighing up different pleasures or pains to see the overall picture. E.g. studying for exam (painful) → getting good grades (pleasurable) or playing computer games (pleasurable) → failing an exam (painful)
- Regardless, always prioritise ataraxia / state of tranquility / state of static, mental pleasure in all that we do.
- “Think about these and related matters day and night, by yourself and in company with someone like yourself. If you do, you will never experience anxiety, waking or sleeping, but you will live like a good among men.” - Epicurus
What do we need?
- Types of needs
- Natural and necessary (NN) needs: food, water, shelter, warmth
- Natural and unnecessary (NU) needs: good food, condo, good clothes, …
- Unnatural and unnecessary (UU) needs: advanced technology, luxury goods, jewellery, …
- Focus mostly on NN needs; “Nature’s wealth is restricted and easily won, while that of empty convention runs on to infinity.” - Epicurus
- Don’t be absorbed in trying to secure the NU or UU needs; “One who understands the limits of the good life knows that what eliminates the pains brought on by need and what makes the whole of life perfect is easily obtained, so that there is no need for enterprises that entail the struggle for success.” - Epicurus
- Our physical (NN) needs are fairly easily met - and knowing this fact already helps in reducing our anxiety; “Nothing is sufficient for the person who finds sufficiency too little.” - Epicurus
- As for the NU needs, it’s OK to enjoy them, but be suitably grateful whenever we are fortunate enough to enjoy them. And don’t overindulge, a bit of “mild asceticism” and moderation will be good. The problem is not enjoying these NU needs, it’s taking them for granted.
- Possessions create anxiety about their loss; excessive wealth create anxiety about its loss. All these things amassed supposedly to help us avoid physical pain simply end up generating mental pain instead.
- Types of needs
- Friendship is a natural and necessary need.
- A true friend is one who you can rely on in times of need, and one with whom there is reciprocal flow of support - not one-sided.
- It’s not so much that the friend has to help us, but that knowing we will have their help - that knowledge and confidence is what that will reduce our anxiety.
- We tolerate our friends’ foibles and mistakes, and they do the same for us.
- Last but not least, it’s the simple pleasure of spending time with people whose company we enjoy. This is valuable and pleasurable for its own sake.
- “Friendship dances around the world, summoning every one of us to awaken to blessedness.” - Epicurus
- Live unnoticed, adopt a low profile.
- Tetrapharmakos - the fourfold remedy: “Don’t fear God, don’t worry about death. What’s good is easy to get, what’s terrible is easy to endure.”
- Don’t fear death. Death is simply the absence of sensation, which is neither good nor bad.
- “One who no longer is cannot suffer, or differ in any way from one who has never been born.” - Lucretius
- Focus on quality, not quantity of life - quality especially with reference to ataraxia and tranquility.
- How long the ataraxia lasts doesn’t add anything to the experience, in the sense that it doesn’t make our experience of ataraxia in the present moment any better that it already is.
- The belief that longer life is automatically better than a shorter life is too simplistic. (Skepticism: long life is not necessarily better too.)
- We should focus on enjoying the life we have, which we can only live in the present moment.
- “We are born once. We cannot be born a second time, and throughout eternity we shall of necessity no longer exist. You have no power over tomorrow, and yet you put off your pleasure. Life is ruined by procrastination, and every one of us dies deep in his affairs.” - Epicurus