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Stoics and Epicureans’ Philosophies of Life Essay

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Updated: Jul 20th, 2021

Introduction

Stoics and Epicureans postulated their philosophies regarding life to enhance people’s understanding of various strategies that they can deploy to boost their happiness or manage diverse challenging circumstances. Ancient scholars such as Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Epicurus authored various texts addressing different dimensions of life. Hence, it is crucial to not only examine Stoic and Epicurean philosophies of life in detail but also debate the role of pleasure, emotions, and desire in shaping a person’s overall well-being.

The Stoic Philosophy of Life

The Stoic philosophy of life is concerned with the attainment of inner peace by overpowering adverse situations, exercising self-control, gaining consciousness of an individual’s impulses, and realizing various goals within the allocated short time. Stoicism emphasizes the idea of leading a fulfilling life and the determination to become a better human being. In their respective teachings, namely, Enchiridion and Meditations, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius provide insightful thoughts regarding the philosophy of life as depicted in the course of people’s search for happiness and improved livelihood.

In the text Enchiridion, Epictetus teaches about the importance of mastering the art of self-control, especially when one experiences adverse circumstances. For instance, Epictetus asserts, “Work, therefore to be able to say to every harsh appearance, ‘You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be” (29). Embracing Epictetus’ response during devastating situations caused by others or adverse circumstances is appropriate because it ensures that an individual does not take unnecessary actions out of anger. Hence, in line with this philosopher’s perspectives, it is vital for people to appreciate the need for overlooking some circumstances, especially when one does not have a suitable way of directly controlling them.

Developing the perception that some appearances do not reflect the reality of life helps to reinforce one’s ability to cope with adverse situations. However, the question of facing realism in particular circumstances also arises, regardless of whether individuals are in control or not.

For instance, in the case of the appearance of an earthquake, salvaging oneself from the unpleasant manifestation is instinctual. This situation presents Epictetus’ idea of responding to adverse circumstances as considerably questionable. Nonetheless, since it is impossible to completely avoid unpleasant situations in life, bearing such experiences without demonstrating a significant degree of disturbance is necessary.

Meditations, which forms part of Marcus Aurelius’ work, provides further exemplifications of the Stoic philosophy of life. This philosopher was a student of the Great Epictetus. Specifically, Aurelius emphasizes the need for understanding that some bad appearances do not last forever. Thus, according to Aurelius, there is life after failure. As revealed in his text, Meditations, Aurelius poses the question, “For with what art thou discontented? With the badness of men? Recall to thy mind this conclusion, that rational animals exist for one another, and that to endure is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily” (Aurelius 33). Drawing from this quote, the realization of success or prosperity usually comes at a cost in the form of failure.

Consequently, according to Aurelius, adopting positive thoughts once an individual faces failure is a crucial step towards fostering their endurance to failure and resilience to succeed (Aurelius 33). For example, failing to launch a business successfully does not imply that one’s ability to fulfill their dreams of achieving profitability has been shattered. Therefore, as emphasized in Aurelius’ Meditations, one needs to avoid blaming others, unjustly terminate their employment contracts, or take any action that can result in harm since nature has its way of presenting pleasant appearances.

The Epicurean Philosophy of Life

The Epicurean philosophy of life emerged from the postulations of Epicurus in his work, Letter to Menoeceus. Specifically, the Epicurean conception of life holds that the greatest good is the pursuit of modest pleasures, which facilitate the attainment of calmness, freedom from fear, as well as relief from bodily pain. Epicurus believes that the ultimate goal of life is to attain happiness through the establishment of friendship, embracing humility, and refraining from pain, as well as anxiety (Epicurus 28). He presents death as “nothing” (Epicurus 29) to people and hence the reason they should not allow it to deprive them of the happiness they deserve. The Epicurean philosophy holds that living peacefully is analogous to living a virtuous life.

Epicureans and Stoics disagree on various issues regarding their philosophies of life. For example, the issue of avoiding painful experiences in life is very contentious between Epicureans and Stoics. In particular, according to Epicureans evading pain requires an individual to live an uncomplicated life that is characterized by meaningful friendships. Epicurus addresses the topic of the fear of death to underline the importance of getting rid of anxiety and apprehensiveness associated with agonizing situations.

In his Letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus asserts, “The most frightening of bad things, death, is nothing for us, since when we exist, death does not exist, and when death exists, we do not exist” (Epicurus 29). Many people fear death due to the pain they may endure before dying, as well as the agony inflicted to the bereaved. Therefore, to experience the best life, Epicureans discourage the idea of avoiding the pain of death before it materializes. However, when they stop existing, death takes over their existence.

Conversely, Stoics argue that pain is part of nature. Hence, according to them, accommodating its appearance is logical. For instance, Epictetus argues that harsh situations are just natural appearances, which do not reflect the reality. Epicureans regard pain as a natural thing that requires people to live with it positively. As illustrated in the text Enchiridion, Epictetus argues, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them” (Epictetus 30).

This particular quote emphasizes Stoics’ belief that individuals need to adopt a mindset, which allows them to think about pain as a natural occurrence. Therefore, while Stoicism supports the realization of happiness amid an individual’s subjection to tragedies or obstacles in life, Epicureans refute this position by viewing pain as an avoidable instance for people who wish to promote contentment, despite the challenges they encounter in their day-to-day operations.

The Role of Pleasure, Emotion, and Desire in Human Well-being

We should view pleasure, emotion, and desire as aspects that negatively affect individuals’ ability to reason, hence compromising their happiness in life. Led by Epictetus and Aurelius, Stoics usually disregard the emotions of pleasure and desire due to their negative effect on people’s well-being. For example, when someone faces unpleasant emotions or experiences undesirable circumstances, Epictetus advises them to “Be prepared to say that it is nothing to you” (Epictetus 29).

Hence, in line with Stoics’ perspectives, living beyond one’s emotions or feelings is necessary to achieve true happiness. Epicureans view pleasure, emotion, and desire as necessary for the realization of happiness. Regarding pleasure, Epicurus’ Letter to Menoeceus reveals, “For we are in need of pleasure only when we are in pain because of the absence of pleasure” (Epicurus 30). Hence, according to Epicureans, issues concerning the pursuit of pleasure and the desire for happiness determine the ultimate goodness in a person’s life.

Assessing Stoics and Epicureans’ Positions

Amid the inevitability of unpleasant occurrences, people should strive to improve their well-being by avoiding pain and welcoming gratifying circumstances. Hence, I agree with the position held by Epicureans regarding the role of pleasure, emotion, and desire in influencing an individual’s health. Although some people may object to my position claiming that people have minimal control of what happens around them, I am convinced that that seeking pleasure in a virtuous manner is appropriate because it allows a person to develop positive emotions and desirable experiences. I am not persuaded to change my position that human beings have control over their emotions.

Thus, in agreement with Stoics’ viewpoints, using this ability to attain pleasure and desire is recommended instead of expecting one’s well-being to improve without making any efforts to avoid painful experiences and emotions.

Conclusion

Stoics and Epicureans agree and disagree on various issues regarding life. As revealed in this paper, both of them concur that leading a virtuous life results in finding happiness. Nonetheless, they disagree on the idea of avoiding pain. While Stoics view pain as a natural circumstance that does not need to be evaded, their counterparts advocate the strategy of avoiding it. Overall, I agree with Epicureans on their views regarding the role of pleasure, emotion, and desire in shaping people’s well-being because one needs to nurture positive emotions to attain pleasure and desirable outcomes.

Works Cited

Aurelius, Marcus. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Translated by George Long, Blackie & Son, 1910.

Epictetus. Enchiridion. Translated by George Long, Dover Publications, 2004.

Epicurus. “Letter to Menoeceus.” The Epicurus Reader: Selected Writings and Testimonia, edited by Brad Inwood and Lloyd P. Gerson, Hackett Publishing Company, 1994, pp. 28-31.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Stoics and Epicureans’ Philosophies of Life." July 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/stoics-and-epicureans-philosophies-of-life/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Stoics and Epicureans’ Philosophies of Life'. 20 July.

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