Before talking about epicureanism we will have to discuss about its more hardcore cousin, hedonism. Derived from the Greek word “hedone” (pleasure), hedonism is the big philosophy of pleasure, of how to achieve spiritual and physical pleasure. And although it might seem as a pretty ancient philosophy (and you are right, it’s from Ancient Greece after all), it’s well seen in history how it comes and go, under different names. Humans have the sense of pleasure imprinted into their existence. So, allow me to introduce you to a softer side of hedonism: epicureanism. You might find some interesting things!
Epicurus, the father of epicureanism, was a rather reserved guy
You’d think that the founder of a pleasure-oriented philosophy was a pretty wild dude. Welp, he wasn’t really a guy of excessive pleasure. He was in fact a pretty restrained. In his philosophy, any type of pleasure comes with a limit. Whether we talk about drinking, eating or “mattress dancing” in excess, Epicurus saw it as a big no-no. But many people didn’t quite get it. Imagine being Epicurus, trying to teach people about having some limits and seeing the opposite happening: “the Gods are testing me and I didn’t study”.
This misconception about Epicurus is pretty much an exaggeration of the Stoics. Since Stoics were all about self-control and logic, they thought that their rivals were just pleasure-driven individuals with no power to restrain. One rumor got to another rumor, one gossip led to a huge misconception and suddenly everyone had this idea about Epicurus’s followers.
It pops up every now and then
In literature, religion, visual art and social constructions, the cult of pleasure rises like a phoenix from its own ashes. Humans always sought pleasure and although there were many, maaaaany attempts on suppressing that urge, they didn’t quite work. Especially ever since the Renaissance in the 14th century, when humans started being aware of their rationality, the philosophy of pleasure was embraced a little bit more in the public. Through paintings, written arts or songs, the pleasure is illustrated in so many ways and so many eras.
Just think about it. We have the old, old songs of the knights being in love with noble maidens and although they feel pleasure from this burning emotion, there are always limits. Even nowadays, in our modern, technology-predominated era, we find songs, poems, books and illustrations about the pleasure within limits. There are so many pop songs about pleasure, but they are always kind of limited and playful with their way of expressing these feelings. Just a tease for the eyes and ears, limited by the impossibility of feeling everything in a wave of pleasure
Epicureanism vs Platonism, a true rap battle of philosophies
Just as the pretty much rest of the literary, socially, artistic and political movements, philosophies, doctrines or teachings, epicureanism was the contra-movement of Platonism. Think about it like a rap battle, where the scholars are putting their contradicting ideas on a beat and rap them with all their might. It’s always been like that. A philosophy is pretty much born out of the contrary of a previous one. Yet, epicureanism, after having an exchange of intellectual fists with the followers of Plato, turned to Stoicism’s number one enemy.
Being a follower of Epicurus in the late Hellenistic period was pretty much a trend. Everyone was exploring pleasure within some kind of limits. After all, Epicurus thought that having too much out of everything can lead to dissatisfaction and this statement is still valid. Having everything on the table is boring and you don’t really feel satisfied. Ironic, am I right? If, for example, you love sweets and you get to eat excessively every single kind of sweet dish, you will get sick of them in no time.
To sum it up
Epicureanism seems like a complicated or even tricky philosophy, with the whole limited pleasure principle. Yet, it’s a lot more straightforward. Pursue the simple pleasures and find pleasure in simple things, for example, stargazing. Or just eating a good sandwich, feeling a nice breeze or being grateful for your loved ones. Pleasure is way more simple and accessible; stop for a minute to perceive it!