Epicurus, Epictetus, and Me
Epicurus and Epictetus both offer philosophies which seek to help individuals find autonomy in their lives. Yet, they offer two vastly different approaches. Epicurus comes across as a Hedonist, while Epictetus can be compared to a sage sharing wisdom he has collected over the years. Nonetheless, Epicurus could also be interpreted as sage-like in his devotion to moderation. Both of these men inspire contemplations about life and how best to live it. Their concepts have much to offer. However, I am inclined to categorize them with Aesop’s fables. Aesop’s fables are cute stories that offer a lesson just as these men’s philosophies do. They offer rational, down-to-earth guidance, but they are unable to approach a person’s spirit. At least they have not touched mine.
Epictetus labels people as actors in a play as if their lives are predetermined. He argues that people should accept their fate. I must agree that acceptance is a far easier path to take in life. Epicurus also argues for acceptance of certain situations. Yet, Epictetus leaves me feeling as though I should be an obedient sheep unable to act of its own volition always following its master’s bidding. He distinguishes that some things in life are within our control and some things are not. He advises against expending energy on things that are external from our control. I would argue that while things may be outside of our own control there are always actions that we can take to make these things better, perhaps not for ourselves but for others. Epictetus leaves little room for free will and next to none for compassion and empathy. I feel as though his philosophy denies altruism.
Epicurus seems to concentrate only on material things. He even labels our thoughts and intellect as such, while denying an immortal soul. In today’s modern world neuroscience would be a good defense for Epicurus philosophy. Contrariwise, ayurveda and reiki are forms of medicine that have been tested and shown to have beneficial results while not treating the body so much as the spirit. Epicurus claims that pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain are the contingency of life. Buddhism follows the line of avoiding suffering, but it does not deny the mental conditionality. Epicurus can be said to run along a few of the same lines as Christianity in that it speaks of living a life of simple moderation, and not seeking embellishment or extreme luxury in life. I would argue that Epicurus is trying to teach people the safe, easy way to achieve happiness in this world. If he is accurate that there is no spirit and everything in life is material then this is a good philosophy. However, if Epicurus is incorrect in some of his concepts people should merely follow the advice that speaks to them and that they are comfortable with.
Epictetus and Epicurus provide many ideas for how to live a happy or contented life. However, in my mind they are comparable to the books lining the shelves of a self-help section at a bookstore. They bring certain things to the table, but they do not have all the answers. I do not think that if everyone followed their guidelines they would achieve joy or happiness in their lives. In the end people must be true to themselves and follow their own hearts.