Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Epicureanism

I am an Epicurean all the way. At first I thought it was just because I like wine and live for pleasure. Though now I understand the crossover of how this philosophy unites with other things I believe.

Crediting Wikipedia here:

Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of Epicurus (c. 340–c. 270 BC), founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, following in the steps of Democritus. His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention..[]..Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear (ataraxia) as well as absence of bodily pain (aponia) through knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of our desires. The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form.


Democritus was the one who figured out that the world's seemingly random weather and events could very well be based on laws and predictable effects and consequences and not the will of "Gods" at all.

Epicurus was called an atomic materialist because this was the time when free thinkers in these city-states, not limited in their scientific explorations by powerful religions or kings, determined that all matter could be divided into indivisible building blocks called atoms. Ok so there is more to the story of atoms and elementary particles, but the kernal of the idea was a revolution. It meant that we might be physical beings only. The meaning of our lives and the consequences of our actions might be played out in patterns established by rules of nature...that we might call "Laws of Physics".

They discovered that the world may not be governed by magical omen or mysterious hands, but by predictable effects. Rather than diminishing the meaning of life, this seems to dramatically raise the stature of each moment to the "real deal" the experience we are having. We need not wait to have some other experience later...we don't need to be foolish, but don't need to be irrationally subservient to ultimate consequences that cannot be proved. This means every idea should be evaluated for its merits.

I heard about Kate Hudson carrying around Holy Water and thought that...if doing so makes her feel better and gives her personal peace and power and she is willing to accept that it makes her look a certain way to those who do not share her magical thinking, then I suppose no one should try to suggest she stop the practice. Though, I would not want the practice taught as curriculum without much more scrutiny, more evidence and reason. When I look at Kate Hudson, my evolved biology tells me to let her do whatever she pleases. I wish hotness weren't its own license, but I can't fight it.



In these days of hints of a universe that might be described as a grand illusion of energy states, it is never certain that we know everything. There is so much left to learn and explain. This is why critical thinking skills may be the best thing Honors English taught me.

I think that as a religious youth, I was taught or, at least believed, that without ultimate consequences nothing meant anything and that we would all spiral into immoral and destructive living.

Epicurus teaches me that the moments of our lives where our real choices, our tangible experiences, conversations, expressions and touches happen all have "Epic" meaning in the universe, in the story of man-kind. Even without a God, indeed especially without a God, everything has deeply intense meaning. We are stewards to existence and each other. This IS the big show. Rather than everything becoming meaningless without the eternal reward or punishment, How we treat life and each other is even more important if it is all there is.

I cannot prove or disprove God, and I know that I rehash this over and over. I feel the way Edgar Allen Poe described as published in the Broadway Journal, Oct. 4, 1845.

I will paraphrase. Poe, who had no trouble putting thoughts into words on paper, admitted to feeling or sensing ideas that were "a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language. I use the word fancies at random, and merely because I must use some word..." Poe goes on to describe:

...this ecstasy, in itself, is of a character supernal to the Human Nature–is a glimpse of the spirit's outer world; and I arrive at this conclusion–if this term is at all applicable to instantaneous intuition–by a perception that the delight experienced has, as its element, but the absoluteness of novelty. I say the absoluteness- for in the fancies–let me now term them psychal impressions–there is really nothing even approximate in character to impressions ordinarily received. It is as if the five senses were supplanted by five myriad others alien to mortality.


So, while I am an Epicurean that believes in a rational world, I have also felt these impressions of some "greater nature". Perhaps this is the experience religious people call "spirituality". Maybe between these feelings and other coping mechanisms, sentient life is made tolerable or perhaps these impressions hint at things we have yet to learn about our existence.

Certainly feeling a sense of ecstatic idealism seems to be compatible with a pleasure-seeking existence. Though, Epicureans are not hedonists, as you will read in the Wikipedia definition. Hedonism has pleasure as its highest ideal. Epicureans believe in the harmony of satisfaction through understanding the needs and limits of the natural world and living well in the "sweet spot" of harmony with them. At the core, it must be understood that rules govern the predictability of life. The way we can establish security and bliss is through knowledge of an indifferent, ultimately reliable universe.

If only "Secular Humanist Epicurean" didn't actually sound as comfortingly dull and easy going as it is meant to be.

4 comments:

Pete Dunn said...

As I always preach, we are responsible to the reality with which we are presented. Nothing more and never anything less.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

I have no problem with you being a SHE (Secular Humanist Epicurean)...anybody who writes about boning the T as well as you did could never be termed "comfortingly dull."

:)

Just one of many said...

I always thought an Epicurean was a chef...my bad!!
I think being a SHE is a worth while pursuit...hell, if I was to believe in a god again it would be a FEMALE!
BTW, Why the hell does Kate feel she needs a good luck charm?!?

Sumwun said...

Yah I clearly need a new label...I don't want to be a "She-ite". Great, now I have to blog about why God is not a woman. Read first. hate later ;)