Epicureanism is Alive and Well in the 21st Century
Nov. 6, 2003
by Susan Gawlowicz
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Step out of the rat race for a moment and consider the Epicurean life of simplicity and friendship, where gods and the supernatural hold no consequence and worrying about the afterlife is wasted time because when you’re dead, you’re simply dead.
Welcome to the real Epicurean philosophy.
Somewhere along the way history molded the meaning of Epicurean to connote indulgent tastes and extravagant living—not what Epicurus had in mind in 3rd century B.C.E.
“The problem these days is that Epicureanism got a bad name,” says David Suits, co-editor with Dane Gordon of the new collection of essays, Epicurus: His Continuing Influence and Contemporary Relevance. “Epicurus said we need a life of pleasure. What he meant was contentment. People understood pleasure as living it up. That is an unfortunate misrepresentation of his philosophy.”
So what did Epicurus really mean?
Epicurus taught a peace-of-mind philosophy.
“He emphasized drawing upon the strengths that a human being had—this you might say is timeless advice—and not worrying about gods or the afterlife,” says Gordon, professor emeritus in philosophy at RIT. “He believed there was hardly anything better in the world than friendship.”
Suits, professor of philosophy at RIT, agrees. “Epicurus’ advice to people in his day would apply exactly to us today. The goal is to live a simple life of stable happiness with friends.”
Epicurus was not an atheist. Gods, he thought, were inspirational, but irrelevant entities that neither rewarded nor punished humans. This eliminated the anxiety and worry of angering the gods and falling victim to supernatural wrath.
“Epicurus wanted to convince us that death didn’t matter,” Suits says. “That we could still have a long, happy life whose main ingredients were satisfaction and friends.”
“Epicureanism could be a philosophy for today,” Gordon adds. “It is an honorable alternative to Christian teaching.”
Epicurus: His Continuing Influence and Contemporary Relevance, printed by the RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, explores the philosophy of Epicurus through 2,000 years. The collection of essays resulted from a conference of the same name held at RIT last year. Authors include scholars from Canada, Russia and the United States. In addition to Gordon and Suits, RIT contributors include James Campbell, professor emeritus of philosophy, and Andrew Moore, dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
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