- Religion and Philosophy»
- Atheism & Agnosticism
Epicurus' Tetrapharmakos and its Relevence in Today's World
The Greek philosopher, Epicurus, believed that there were four rules to live by in order to create the happiest life possible. Epicurus defined happiness as, not only the presence of pleasurable feelings and experiences, but the absence of pain and other negative consequences. These rules were called the Tetrapharmakos, meaning "four-part cure." The rules were:
1. Don't fear god
2. Don't be afraid of death
3. What is good is easy to get
4. What is terrible is easy to endure
What is Good is Easy to Get
Despite Epicurus' teachings about pursuing pleasure being of the utmost importance to happiness, he did not mean for people to engage in these activities to excess. He valued the "simple things" in life, especially that of friendship. That which is good, simple things such as food, water, shelter, friendship, Epicurus believed, are attainable with minimal effort.
Today, this may seem like an antiquated view, especially when there are so many people suffering all over the world from hunger and other disasters, however, for the majority of people, finding a shelter and food is not unfathomable, we are just used to it being available to us at all times. Shelter can be something as simple as a tent and food might be easily found on the branches of a tree, or by hunting. Enjoying these things to excess, however, would only impede a person's overall happiness. Anything to excess has its consequences.
Don't Fear God
To Epicurus and his followers, gods were nothing to be feared because the gods were not involved with the human world or its problems. Gods were, Epicurus suggested, beings that knew only happiness and should be emulated by humans. They did not judge every person's actions or motivations, nor did they demand or deserve any kind of worship or sacrifice.
Today, many people decline to believe in God, or any deity, while still more hold the stance that, as humans, our ability to understand any supreme being is limited at best. On the other hand, there are countless people that struggle to try to understand God and to live as they believe He wants them to. Other people struggle to define their belief, researching and talking to people of all faiths, trying to understand the universe and their place in it.
To live by rule one of the tetrapharmakos, one does not necessarily have to be an atheist. One simply has to live their life without the constant worry of whether or not they are being judged right at this moment, or spending years trying to figure out how to live his or her life. By worrying about god all the time, one is inviting pain or other negative feelings into their life, the presence of which, blocks the ability to be happy.
Don't Worry About Death
Epicurus did not believe in an afterlife. He did not believe in Heaven or Hell. He did not believe in reincarnation. He believed that, when a person died, they could no longer exist, and therefore, they would feel no worry or pain. Because of this, Epicurus said that to worry about death was useless. As long as you are alive, then you are not dead, and therefore should not worry.
Today, many people spend their entire lives worrying about death, whether they believe in an afterlife or not. Many are afraid of their own death, or perhaps their families' and friends' deaths. Some people are so afraid that they might restrict themselves from seeking many pleasurable experiences. The constant fear and worry about death can be constricting, and therefore, according to Epicurus, needs to be cast away before someone can truly be happy.
What is Terrible is Easy to Endure
Some suffering in life is almost unavoidable. Sometimes, injuries and sickness just happen, but Epicurus advised that, to worry about these only adds more pain. Injuries heal, and sicknesses pass for the most part, and are usually followed up by a return to a state of happiness.
By taking care of the mind and body, many situations of pain, the potential consequences of over indulgence, can be evaded. In the case that pain does occur however, it is usually short-lived if properly taken care of. This includes both physical and emotional pain. Knowing that the pain will subside can, in itself, help the sufferer to endure it.
In the case of chronic pain, especially very high levels of pain, the person may not feel as if they will ever return to happiness, but by going back and following the first three rules, it is possible that the pain will subside. Many doctors advise patients of chronic pain to fix certain areas of their lives, such as the way they eat, or how much exercise they get, in order to alleviate the pain naturally.
It is possible to incorporate the Tetrapharmakos to life today in order to lead a happier, simpler life. Coming to peace with your god, beliefs, or lack thereof can take a worry that has plagued many people out of the equation. The same could be said about death. While we are alive, there is no reason to worry about death, since we are not dead! The death of a loved one is painful, of course, but to worry constantly about death and dying will not do anything to change the fact that the human death rate is 100%.
The last two rules are probably the hardest to apply to every day life. "What is good is easy to get" is certainly applicable on the personal level, for me at least. I would assume that almost everyone that has a computer and has access to this website would also have access to the simple needs that a human has- Food, water, air, friends, family, conversation, and other basic things that bring us happiness. As a philosopher who valued quiet, calm life, I would assume that this was his way of applying this prinicple.
To impose this rule on a global scale, it is far more difficult. Due to our ever-increasing awareness of what is going on in the world around us, we understand more and more that there are people in the world who do not have easy access to even very basic needs. It would be naïve to think that someone who was starving could just walk outside and pick an apple off the tree in their front yard. While constantly worrying about the state of the world would be a negative force, doing a little bit to help people in need can make a huge impact. Volunteering, donating needed supplies, or even just spreading the word to a few people can make a difference without causing stress.
The last rule, "What is terrible is easy to endure" is likely the hardest rule of the four to apply to everyday life. While it is true that there are horribly painful things out there, the knowledge that the pain will not last forever can be very helpful in getting through hard times. I would venture to say that it is almost stronger than hope, because hope is the possibility, whereas knowledge is definite.
The four rules can help to bring appreciation to the simple things in life, while teaching how to handle the negative in a way that will not cause unneeded stress and anxiety. While not perfect, Epicurus' Tetrapharmakos are still a very good framework to living a quiet and calm life.