Epicurus

After the Big Three (Socrates, Plato and Aristotle), philosophy fell to pieces for 2000 years or so. It took Descartes to pep it up again. Epicurus was the just about the last of the Athenian philosophers, and I think you’ll be able to discern the decline.

While most philosophers try to come up with a few guiding rules to govern our actions, Epicurus came up with 40. More is not better. More is worse. Epicurus’ doctrines are a mad jumble of clearly contradictory ideas.

Still, I like him. I like Epicurus because I can quote him to my wife when we go shopping. I ask her whenever she wants to buy something crappy: “Is this natural and necessary, natural and unnecessary, or neither natural nor necessary?” Of course, it gets me nowhere, but as she never studied philosophy, she does not know that marriage is merely a contract for mutual benefit (Epicurus again) and, when she gives me the silent treatment, I get to the absence of pain for a while. That’s good!

Epicurus studied Plato as a young man, experimented as a Lesbosian in his early 30s, and finally moved to Athens, where he lived until his death.

He started a commune there. People made fun of him, but they still came by quite a bit—no surprise, since ‘The Garden’ was the only school to admit women and had a saying on the front door: “Stranger, stay as long as you like. Pleasure is our highest good.”

Epicurus was an atomist. He believed that the universe is composed of only two things: atoms and void. That is a pretty radical idea, and Epicurus had the intellectual fortitude to see it through to its conclusion: there is no soul, so death is the end.

Epicurus died because he couldn’t pee. He was quite cheerful about it.