Reminders from the ‘Letter to Menoeceus’ By Epicurus

Epicurus was a hedonist who argued for the value of prudence and moderation in all human endeavors.  He maintained that our greatest happiness (the most indulgent pleasure) can be attained in the form of spiritual harmony, having peace of mind.  We can attain this by eliminating the chimerical aspects of our false beliefs.  For example, a false belief is that death must be feared.  Epicurus maintains that we should not fear death because it is not something we will directly experience.  It is not an event in life and as such it is something that cannot pose any trouble.  Since “death is nothing to us” then immortality and seeking life everlasting is not enviable.  Here are his words:

Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young alike ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come. So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed towards attaining it….

Accustom yourself to believing that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply the capacity for sensation, and death is the privation of all sentience; therefore a correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life a limitless time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly understood that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will be painful when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.

 

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