Are some desires better than others? #120
Epicurus on what is natural and what is vain
Welcome back to another exciting week in our quest to try out six philosophies of life within the space of one year. This week, we’ll talk about two main points of Epicurus’ philosophy of happiness: how to distinguish which desires are better than others — and what pleasures really are. Epicurus believes that if we only understood our own desires and the nature of pleasure correctly, it would be easy for us to lead happy and meaningful lives without wasting enormous effort on pursuing the wrong goals.
If there was a prize for being misunderstood as a philosopher, Epicurus and his view of desires would make a great candidate.
Dictionary.com defines: “Epicurean: Fond of or adapted to luxury or indulgence in sensual pleasures; having luxurious tastes or habits, especially in eating and drinking."
Merriam-Webster: “Epicurean: Involving an appreciation of fine food and drink."
The Cambridge English Dictionary: “Epicurean: Getting pleasure from food and drink of high quality."
Poor Epicurus. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Epicurus advocated that we should reduce our desires to what is natural and necessary so that they are easier to fulfil. For him, happiness consists in fulfilling one’s desires, and since natural desires are easier to satisfy, concentrating on those will make sure that we live happy lives.
Of course, we all desire things. We want an iPhone. Or a better house. A faster car. A family, perhaps. A good meal. On a more basic level, we want to be fed. To avoid being hungry. To avoid thirst, and cold, and too much heat. To not stand in the rain. To not be threatened by wild animals.