Philosophy of life constitutes a set of rules or principles that govern people’s decisions on matters involving their daily livelihoods. Philosophies of life guide people on what to do, how to do it, how they should be along with guiding them on many other things. People have lived according to such philosophies from time immemorial. This was due to the belief that abiding by such philosophies would result in happy lives. Moreover, the goal of life philosophies has been for people to live a good life while those against this were perceived as useless. Different life philosophies contradicted each other on similar issues. For example, on the issue of desire, the goal is the same to ensure that everyone is happy. Desiring something that one does not possess can result in unhappiness and negative emotions which are discouraged by philosophies such as those of stoic and epicurean. One preferred stoic exercise includes one thinking of themselves as part of a bigger picture. This is because we are section of another bigger group such as society, family, congregation and many others.
The stoic tells us to view ourselves as a part of the world. In fact, one is taught to do everything with his mind and might knowing that they are a representation of the entire world. In this context, the current paper discusses the stoic philosophy of life, how the teachings of Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, exemplify it; Epicurean philosophy of life; the main disagreements and points of contention between the Epicureans and stoics about how best to live. The paper also deliberates on the role of pleasure, emotion and desire in human beings and the perspectives of stoics and epicureans philosophies. In addition, the article also assesses their positions and explains whether they are agreeable to or not.
Stoic Philosophy of Life
Stoic philosophy of life originates from as the name suggests the stoics who existed more than 6 centuries ago. Zeno was the first stoic. It is believed that some of the principles of the stoic philosophy have undergone change over time. Yet the tenets remarkably survived up to the time of closure of the “pagan schools by the Roman emperor which marked the end of stoicism. However, the stoic had divided their philosophy into three categories which included, Ethics, Physics, and Logic. The stoics further differentiated what is internal from the external where an individual’s social status and outward actions were categorized as external. On the other hand, the choices made by an individual were said to be internal as it was both part and up to them. In addition, stoics further differentiated an individual’s body from the inner self due to the perception that the body will one day decompose. The decomposition of the body is not up to them but as a result of external factors. Stoic philosophy was always against bodily pleasures such as sexual activities as seen from the stoics perceiving them as distractions. According to the philosophy, the only good thing in life was exercising wisdom and being wise in whatever decisions one was to make. The Stoics also argued that doing away with desire was the best thing for one to do as it leads to unhappiness.
The teachings of Epictetus advice that a person’s life is not determined by what happens to them is because he believed people could turn everything to their advantage. In his teachings, Epictetus argued that an individual’s happiness does not depend on what happens to them, but by their reaction after what happens to them. In this manner, his teachings demonstrate stoicism in that happiness does not emanate from health and wealth which in stoicism are part of desire but from the correct use of such materials. Marcus Aurelius’ on the other hand, was once an emperor of Rome and he postulated that his mother taught him to live in simplicity. He lived a humble life and disregarded wealth and fame, stoicism being the primary influence in his life. Marcus Aurelius always believed in focusing on his inwards, rather than his physical body. He always did everything to the good of humanity and not for himself.
Epicurean Philosophy of Life
The epicurean philosophy of life depicts pleasure as the only good thing in life. As a result, the philosophy has been termed as hedonists which means pleasure in Greek. Evidently, in this aspect, the Epicurean philosophy is the direct opposite of stoicism. Epicurus was the leader of the Epicurean people, and so they followed his philosophy and lived in a place he had set up outside Athens. Epicurus in his is for the idea that people should desire only what they can control. He disregarded the desires for wealth and fame that affected his people. He also encouraged people to avoid bodily desires as far as they can. Epicurus went ahead and acknowledged that human beings are animals and that there are some desires which are natural and they cannot be ignored such as the need to eat and drink. He concluded that instead of ignoring such yearnings that are important in one’s life, people should weigh and simplify their needs and desire that which is of importance, bearing in mind that all that is natural will always be easy to obtain unlike that which is groundless. He further claimed that one’s happiness should not be based on worldly wealth and that to be happy, one should avoid psychological pains which are brought by disturbing thoughts and emotions.
Points of Contention between the Epicureans and Stoics
The Stoics and Epicurus disagree in various ways. First, the issue of happiness and well-being whereby, although Epicurus and stoics agree that happiness is the chief good thing in life, they seem to differ on the meaning of happiness. In the case of stoics, he regards happiness with virtue whereas Epicurus reputes it as virtual with external goods he identifies happiness with pleasure, unlike stoics. Another example of disagreement is in the case of desire, whereby both stoics and Epicurus agree that desire for things considered external leads to unhappiness. Epicurus later suggests that human beings are animals and so they naturally have some desires such as water and food for survival. Another issue that brings misunderstanding between stoics and Epicurus constitutes pleasure. Epicurus states that the goal of living well is pleasure, whereas stoics stands firm against pleasure. In this context, according to Epicurus, pleasure is defined as lack of disturbance of mind and also lack of physical pain in the body.
The Role of Pleasure, Emotion, and Desire in Human Well-Being
In my opinion, it is essential for everyone to understand that there are things one can control while others are beyond anyone’s control. One should make good decisions on matters that they can capably control. Concerning pleasure, one should be happy and satisfied by those things that are right. Emotion-wise, one should try to contain bad emotions such as feeling sad and try to have positive feelings. In desiring things, people should always want for those things that are more important to them such as the need to eat for survival. Desires that are not good should be shunned away, such may include doing things that are against the wellbeing of other people. One should also avoid desiring some of the worldly things such as wealth and instead should work hard because wanting these things without working hard for them may lead to unhappiness. Wishing to be like other people is not right too because one end up hurting themselves and being unhappy as it is impossible for one to be like another.
I agree with the stoic philosophy when it postulates that desires will lead us to damaging emotions that will make us unhappy. However, my agreement with the philosophy is limited to the feelings that lead to adverse outcomes in our daily lives such as sadness, depression, and anger. Doing away with harmful desires is the best thing. Furthermore, agree with the Epicurean philosophy where it postulates that we should have a desire for only that we can have control. In this philosophy, Epicurus says that the best way to be happy is by shunning away those emotions that cause pain and also that people should train themselves to avoid pain.
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