What is the Epicurean Paradox

: Live like a god on earth


Read on one side

An Epicurean is by no means enough of himself to gain pleasure and happiness. In addition to nourishment and attention to the world of fellow human beings, he needs friendship. Self-assurance and security require an environment that is conducive to one's own happiness. This may initially exist in a small group of gardeners. But the Epicureans see the world as a common dwelling.

For the Epicureans, and later for John Stuart Mill, the goal is the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number. Then, so the hope is, one is on the way to an ideal society: social life without laws, even without a state, on the basis of well-understood self-interest, will allow not only Epicurus but all people to live like a god on earth. Epicurus' much-quoted call for political abstinence - "Live in secret" -, the cultivation of the self propagated by him, the utilitarian basis of his philosophy should not obscure the philanthropic character of the teaching. It seems paradoxical: Epicurus' utilitarian teaching calls for attention to fellow human beings and promotes social development.

The Kepos is not a cozy corner for world refugees. The offer to make a pact with the world, to see oneself as part of it and thereby give meaning to life, makes the teaching of Epicurus attractive. Certainly, central areas of Epicurean philosophy seem obsolete today. The practical aspect of his teaching, however, the techniques of self-care he developed, was already accepted, practiced, and even literary as a propaedeutic, as a propaedeutic, as a disposition for the "true teachings" in antiquity and also in the times of Platonic and Christian longing for the hereafter . Even then, they evidently met the search for new forms of lifestyle. Despite vehement rejection of his basic theses, Dante still knew something friendly to say about Epicurus as a teacher of an art of living, and Raphael did not shy away from immortalizing Epicurus on the walls of the Vatican together with the other important philosophical schools of antiquity under this aspect.

The realization that the range of our possibilities is limited, that we have to learn to adjust ourselves to the world, the observation that, as a result of computerization, a factual worldview is more and more changing to a subject-related worldview and people are becoming the main purpose of what they do, require that questions of the practical art of living gain in importance. What scares others: the randomness and uniqueness of one's own life, the complexity of the world, new technologies and strange situations - these are challenges for Epicurus that one has to face and can also face with his help. The result is an attitude towards life that expresses itself in that serene serenity towards things that Lorenzo Valla noted as a characteristic of Epicureans in the Renaissance. You have to laugh and philosophize, that's what Epicurus demands. Both are part of his therapeutic concept. Because laughter is healthy.

Michael Erler teaches Greek studies in W├╝rzburg. He will shortly publish the congress volume "Epicurus and Epicureanism in the late Republic and the Imperial Era" (Franz Steiner Verlag)