Epicureanism: The Basic Idea

Is it so hard to satisfy our senses?

Daily Philosophy


Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BC) believes that the way to ensure happiness throughout life is to reduce one’s desires so that they can be easily fulfilled.

Image by Emma Smith on Unsplash.

What is happiness?

We begin our exploration of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BC) with a very high-level look at what he wants to do with his theory — and we will see why this is still incredibly important for our lives two thousand years later. In fact, Epicureanism may be more necessary today than it ever was before in human history: Our modern version of capitalism has brought about exactly those conditions that Epicurus himself saw as the greatest obstacle to a truly happy life — and in this, Epicurus would readily agree with Fromm and also with Bertrand Russell, although their reasons to criticise modern life would be different.

When we ask what makes us happy, we can give many different answers.

Throughout history, philosophers have tried to argue that perhaps it is fulfilling our duty to others that makes us truly happy; or developing our own potential to its highest degree, and achieving a kind of flourishing as a human being; or perhaps happiness is nothing more than having pleasurable experiences, of enjoying the world and all it has to offer, which is a position known as “hedonism.”

But trying to enjoy the world is not without its problems.

Obviously, the world is not always a source of contentment and delight to us. There are people who have terrible accidents; others who live in poverty; others again who suffer from a chronic illness. These things are mostly out of our control. Taking care of one’s body can, to some extent, make it more likely that we will not develop severe illnesses too early in life, but nobody is truly safe from cancer, a car accident, the loss of one’s job, or a painful divorce.

Hedonism, Pleasure and Happiness

So in a world that is unpredictable and that throws at us all kinds of things that might be painful and that might destroy our happiness at any moment — what can we do in such a world to maximise our chances of achieving some degree of happiness? When we don’t know what will…