What is the greatest good in life? A school of thought called Epicureanism, founded by Epicurus of ancient Greece, believed that the greatest good is pleasure. Epicurus and his followers believed that life is about achieving the greatest amount of pleasure possible. However, this has been mistranslated throughout time and people misused its name to promote the seeking of physical pleasures such as sex, decadence and partying (which is essentially hedonism). What Epicurus meant by “pleasure” was the combination of two states: a state of tranquillity and a state of no fear or bodily pain. A combination of the two states (ataraxia and aponia) constitute happiness in its highest form. Contrary to what the layperson thinks of Epicureanism, he taught people to live modestly and moderately, avoiding the suffering caused by overindulging. Ergo, an Epicurean life is not that filled with pleasures of the body, but with pleasures of the mind. To quote Epicurus: “with whom a person eats is of greater importance than what is eaten”.
To attain this simple life, Epicurus came up with the tetrapharmakos, or “four-part cure” – a guide to how to live the happiest life possible. It states:
Don’t fear god,
Don’t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure.
Epicureanism also promotes gaining knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one’s desires. For example, knowing more about the world will reduce your fear of gods and your worries about dying. Perhaps the act of discovering new things and quenching your curiosity brings about simple pleasures of the mind for you. Essentially, every action and way of life in Epicureanism is driven by the principle of minimising pain and maximising happiness.
However, the flip side to this is that if something does not result in happiness, it is deemed counter-productive For example, it advises against culture and politics as it can potentially create pain and unhappiness (although it is more complicated than such a sweeping statement). Even the morality and ethics of the thought is questionable, as it says that altruism and good morality is essentially driven by how it can benefit you. Epicurus believed that people should abide by the law and act morally as it will lead to less guilt and shame, and being nice to another person will make them trust you more and minimise pain. Ultimately, it is based on a social contract driven by mutual agreement rather than trust and goodwill. Although this may be effective and results in a “model citizen”, the motives may be deemed impure.
Even though it is a rather extreme example of how to live life, the thought of living for the sake of happiness is a nice one to go by.
If it does not harm you or others, then do whatever the hell makes you happy.