Epicurean philosophy, founded by the late ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus in the 4h Century BCE, is centered on the idea of pleasure being the highest good, and in order to attain this highest good one must put into practice a certain degree of moderation in order to avert any physical and mental discomfort that accompanies overindulgence in any way, shape or form. Epicurus himself preached that people may find such pleasure in mutually-beneficial relationships and community ties versus than material wealth and satisfying physical compulsions. In his time, excessive competition was minimized by the unequal distribution of goods, which led sharing as necessary for the survival of everyone involved, later evolving into acquaintanceship and friendship over the course of time. Because of this, people didn’t really develop any high expectations for more than was available to them, and this set a precedent for living off the land and making do with whatever resources they had at their disposal. It is from this, does the idea of authentic” happiness come into play, wherein people can only truly be happy after they’ve shed their possessive nature and come to terms with a more Spartan lifestyle. A far cry from the idea that material wealth has a direct connection to an individual’s happiness, Epicurus made waves in his society promoting such views. It is only by adhering to our natural limits and curbing our passions can we as people enter this never-ending state of bliss.
The philosophy of Epicurus and his students maintains that we can’t just buy happiness and hope it lasts, but instead we must work towards severing ties to the material world and only through self-reflection and can we find our inner tranquility and peace of mind. Epicurus had the foresight to suggest that by establishing set limits on ‘unnatural” human desires, whether it’s for extraordinary wealth, fame, power, food or sex, then we as a species can prevent escalating competition and warring over those same resources by a future, more affluent society. Limited resources mean greater interdependence among people to get by on the bare minimum, but a cornucopia would mean a bigger slice of the pie for everyone. Eventually, this is what occurs when those resources are divvied up among the people, which is where greed kick in and the few demand and acquire more resources than the many. Epicurus rejects this scenario and encourages his followers to build their communities on the values of minimalism and self-sufficiency.
Compensating for our limitations with passionate ambition would be counterproductive to achieving authentic happiness because it would promote the individual self-interest over the collective interests and betterment of the community, and lead into the tar pit of excessive competition and the social order to collapse. Epicurean society, in theory, would mean a significantly lower rate of poverty, crime, and higher rates of happiness. Although, in practice, accomplishing this would be far more difficult as people are naturally inclined to benefit themselves in any way they can, so to instruct them to do what runs counter to their instincts is a feat in and of itself. Passionate ambition is the proverbial good intentions that pave the road to hell, as it deluded the individual into believing that he or she can overcome their programming, that they can just keep feeding into their urges and later on they’ll eventually be satisfied with all they have. Obeying one’s passionate ambition will only result in a downward spiral, entrapping those who are passionately ambitious and pursue worldly gains instead of contentment with what they have.
Proving this, Epicurus also warns of the dangers of romantic love, caused by such passionate ambition, and disparages such love as a cult or religion, wherein romantically involved partners would experience a roller-coaster ride of emotions and have their fair share of troubles in paradise, which would then disrupt both partners’ inner tranquility and peace of mind. In his day and age, romantic love was unheard of as the purpose of marriage was childbearing and rearing, and so to marry for love was abnormal, and so authentic happiness came from avoiding such situations and instead opting for recreational sex as the chief altenative to releasing one desires, rather than through the sociopolitical institution of marriage. Regarding its status as a cult or religion, romantic love is irrational and muddled with complication emotions, and oftentimes takes a toll on one’s physical and mental health if one’s love life is in shambles. Albeit, Epicurus did suggest that friendships and community- building are the two pillars.
According to Epicurean principle, acceptance of one’s natural limits is the only road going forward that disavows overindulgence in life’s greatest pleasures, but at the same time repudiates voluntary impoverishment as another extreme measure that does just as little good in attaining authentic happiness as the former. Epicurus’ reasoning behind natural limits is that exercising a level of self-control in maximizing one’s own pleasure, without succumbing to the allure of overindulgence, is the key to living a fulfilling life whereas just existing for the sole purpose of acting on every primal urge and accumulating more wealth than you can spend is digging a deeper hole one can never climb out of. Epicurus favored moderation, education and simple living as directives in achieving the ataraxia and aponia, freedom from physical and mental discomfort respectively, and the subsequent authentic happiness that springs forth after attaining these states of absolute pleasure.
To conclude, Epicurus argues his case well for abiding by one’s natural limits instead of crossing these lines and challenging the limits in the pursuit of passionate ambition. Natural limits are what restrain us from going off the deep end, passionate ambition as it would only generate further greed which would hinder their ability to achieve inner tranquility and peace of mind, and be stuck in this never-ending regression, where one overindulgence leads to another and in the process, you become farther removed. All in all, natural limits should be respected, passionate ambition tucked away, and you’re already a step closer to authentic happiness.