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A Comparison of Epicurus and Aristotle's Happiness

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A Comparison of Epicurus and Aristotle's Happiness
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  Beste DAYLIK ENG102-32 14.11.2013 Instructor: Robin Harry Mark TURNER Essay1-Final ARISTOTLE AND EPICURUS: THEORIES OF HAPPINESS “We should not view the young man as happy, but rather the old man whose life has  been fortunate.” This quotation is from Epicurus. Epicurus tried to find the key of happiness as did Aristotle. Although they have different theories of happiness, they both agreed on the idea that all human actions aim to reach complete happiness. Happiness is something that can  be defined differently by each individual. Every person would have a different idea on how we reach happiness. For Aristotle, complete happiness comes through fulfilling human function well and this can be provided by practicing virtuous acts. On the other hand, Epicurus supports the idea that presence of pleasure and lack of pain can conduct us to complete happiness. I shall argue that Epicurus and Aristotle have different ideas but they  both aim towards a final good, which is happiness. As two different ethical theories, they both have weakness’  and strengths that this paper aims to show. First of all, for Aristotle “happiness is something you seek for its own sake, whereas you seek all other goods ultimately for the sake of happiness ”  (Adler, 2002, p. 5). This shows us that happiness is a final good that every individual aims to reach. Aristotle supports the idea that everybody must fulfill their function well enough to reach complete happiness and a fulfilled life is found in those who practice virtuous acts (Bloyce, 2012). To understand exactly what Aristotle’s philosophy aims to show, we must first understand how he defines virtue. According to Aristotle, virtue is a moral state that makes a person perform his proper function well; for example, the function of the eye is to see well and the function of human is reason. Reason keeps our actions in moderation. It is always possible to go in excess or deficiency in regard of anger, pleasure etc. practicing everything in moderation (the mean) is virtue, while excess and deficiency are vices. To better explain this point we may give an example in regard of men’s pursuit of pleasure. Temperance is the mean while licentiousness  DAYLIK2 is the excess and insensibility is the deficiency (Stone, 2007). Therefore, if people keep everything in moderation such as friendship, courage, pleasure etc. for a lifelong, they can reach happiness. Epicurus, on the other hand, supports the idea that pleasure is good and pain is bad. Happiness is possible in a state in which there is absence of pain in the body and absence of trouble in the soul (Bloyce, 2012) . Although Epicurus’ theory of happiness is based on  pleasure, instead of advocating the pursuit of pleasure he argues that people should eliminate  pain. “Life is pleasurable when the mind is free from fears and the body is content with satisfactions. People can achieve this state of happiness if they accept the four-part cure of Epicureanism: 1.   Do not fear gods 2.   Do not worry about death 3.   What is good is easy to get 4.   What is terrible is eas y to endure”  (Ad Bergsma, 2007, p. 4) First, people should not fear gods, because gods are perfect. Therefore, gods are happy and they would not hurt people. Second, people should not fear death, because while people exist death is not present and when death exists, they are not present. Third, what is good is easy to get. I n Epicurus’ theory natural desires keeps us away from pain and lack of pain is pleasure (good), so that it is enough to pursue our natural desires to get the good and this would not be difficult. Finally, he states that what is terrible is easy to endure. In his theory what is terrible causes pain and we can push that pain away by focusing on the opposite feeling, which is  pleasure (Ad Bergsma, 2007) . Therefore, if people apply Epicurus’ four  -part cure to their life they can reach happiness. On the other side, if they do not pursue this theory they cannot attain happiness.  DAYLIK3 Furthermore, it is important to consider these philosophies with their suitability to the human life, because if an ethical theory does not suit well to human life it would not be successful. It cannot be denied that Aristotl e’s philosophy has wisdom, but it is dealing with too many abstracts. He attached happiness to virtue and he said that virtuous acts are done in moderation. The problem here is how we can know what is moderate, how much courage is too much and how little is too little? It seems that people in different cultures would have different ideas about what is the mean. For example, what would be the mean of labor? In ancient Greek slavery was an institution it was usual, so this was seen as the mean. On the other hand, now it is seen as cruelty and it is against the human rights. Thus, Aristotle’s theory of happiness is relative. Although the mean may change from culture to culture and time to time, the concept of excess and deficiency are themselves universal. As regards the labor example, the thing that does not changed until today is treating people who work for you (slaves in those times and servants nowadays) without excessive cruelty and excessive indulgence. On the other hand, Epicurus’ system seems more concrete. He believed that  pleasure is the way we can reach happiness. This seems more suitable to human logic because it is important to consider these philosophies by their suitability to the human life because most people would define happiness as absence of pain. Once people eliminate pain they would feel happy and when they are suffering they would not be happy. A virtuous people who suffer from diseases cannot feel happy because of his/her virtue, but a person can be happy because he/she lacks mental and bodily pains. Thus, Epicurus’ theory of happiness seems more concrete and applicable in this sense. In addition, Aristotle describes us an active life, because in his theory he promotes a life full of friendship, thinking, health etc. to reach happiness. This is a good point because longevity, health and many other things would be  provided by an active life. The theory that an active life leads us a happy and better life is mentioned centuries ago by Aristotle and it is today proved by science, so this point is very  DAYLIK4 strong. In this sense, Epicurus’ theory is more likely to be a constant life that tries to satisfy natural desires and avoiding pain. Another strong point of Aristotle’s theory is that he does not promote instant pleasures. For example, if you want to eat more, but you are fat you should not eat it because it will satisfy your instant desires, because after some time you will get fatter and unhappy. This is also a strong point that everybody can see it in their lives. On the other hand, Aristotle states that a virtuous person will be happy but it is irrational. A  person suffering from diseases cannot be happy because he or she is virtuous; if a person had an anguished life, he or she would not feel happy when dying. All in all, both Epicurus and Aristotle believed that human actions aim at a final good that is happiness, but they came to this end through different methods. Aristotle believed that happiness is attained through virtuous acts and virtuous acts are the ones that are moderate and Epicurus believed that happiness is reached through lack of pain and presence of pleasure. Both philosophies had great strengths and weakness’  but is important to see which one of these two ethical theories can be successfully applied to human life, because an ethical theory can only be successful by the widespread acceptance of its ideas. In this regard, Aristotle’s idea of excess and deficiency was strong in itself but it is not possible to accept a widespread and specific mean for actions. It would change from time to time and place to place. Aristotle has also great strengths like avoiding the instant pleasure and having an active life that involves many things like health and friendship. On the other hand, Epicurus’ theory seems more rational, concrete and applicable to human life in some ideas like pleasure is the absence of pain and if we satisfy our natural and necessary desires, we can reach happiness. Aristotle teaches us how to live and what we need and these are, so abstract and relative. On the other hand, Epicurus focuses on fixing harmful patterns and having pleasure that seems more applicable to fast going human life. Both theories have great wisdom but still they have weak  points that should be revised and reformed in modern world.  DAYLIK5 WORK-CITED Ad Bergsma, G. P. (2007).  Happiness in the Garden of Epicurus.  Retrieved November 2013, from Springer Link: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10902-006-9036-z#page-1 Adler, M. (2002). Aristotle's Ethics: The Theory of Happiness. Bloyce, A. (2012, April 17). Retrieved November 2013, from Bloycey's Blog: http://bloycey.blogspot.com/2012/04/aristotle-and-epicurus.html Stone, K. (2007, September 22). Classical Philisophical Questions .  Retrieved November 2013, from http://www.kemstone.com/Nonfiction/Philosophy/Reflections/aristotleethics.htm
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