page contents

The Art of Living

   Raphael,  School Of Athens , 1511, Public Domain                                                                                                                                                S  chool of Philosophers

 Raphael, School Of Athens, 1511, Public Domain                                                                                                                                                School of Philosophers

The world never looked so broken as it did now. “Two thousand years of this nonsense and they still can’t get their act together,” Judge muttered under his breath. The future of humankind hung in the balance as a post-apocalyptic world loomed for Humans had lost their way over centuries of warring over ideologies. As a last resort in a bid to save humanity once and for all, the command for Operation Judgement was made…

“You, founding fathers’ of Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism, have each impacted civilizations and modern thinking in different ways. Yet, those differences have led to war,” Judge had no qualms about getting straight to the point, for far too much time had been wasted. In front of him sat, in various states of decay, the great Hellenistic philosophers; Epicurus, Zeno and Pyrrho. “You have been summoned here, from your graves no less, to give an account of your philosophy and prove that your school of thought had the greatest impact on the contemporary ways of living.”

The defense for Epicureanism

  Corey Mohler,  Existential Comics , n.d., Public Domain   Imagine if Epicurus was at a party

Corey Mohler, Existential Comics, n.d., Public Domain
Imagine if Epicurus was at a party

  Corey Mohler,  Existential Comics , n.d., Public Domain   Imagine if Epicurus was at a party

Corey Mohler, Existential Comics, n.d., Public Domain
Imagine if Epicurus was at a party

Epicurus strode to the centre of the room. So much for resting in peace, at least they sent a limo to pick me up.
“Your honour, it is a priv-”
“Do away with the formalities and get to the point. You have two minutes.”

Epicurus: Founded in 307 BCE, Epicureanism is the oldest school of thought! Stoicism and Skepticism has no match for me. We all know the Greek states divided and political instability arose after Alexander the Great’s death. Naturally, the people were lost. They yearned for a peaceful life and seeked happiness. Of course, Epicureanism was an answer to these lost people.

Judge: Oh come on, Epicurus. Don’t be so assertive that your philosophy is the most influential way of living.

Epicurus: Humans have unlimited wants as they wanted to possess everything they can when they’re alive. They’re afraid of death and suffering and heavenly deities punishing them for their sins. Naturally, they wanted to chase after these earthly desires to prevent them from any distress they could possibly suffer. But hey, they don’t care about the mortals! They’ve got better things to do. Death and suffering? That’s a natural process.  

Epicurus: I’m a firm believer of science and evidence, not ancient tales where the ignorant innocently believes and acts. Have you heard of the atom materialist theory? Atoms are the building blocks of life in general. One’s soul isn’t able to outlast the body as they’ll both disintegrate upon death. There’s no such thing as an afterlife.
And, why fear death where it’s a natural process? We all can be optimistic beings and treat dying as a temporary experience. When pain arises, just recall all the happy moments you once experienced and the pain will be much lessened.
Also, gods do not control happiness and suffering in the mortal world. People should not attribute their misfortunes to the gods as they’re probably powerless and indifferent to the actions of mortals.

Judge: What if someone’s life is pure tragedy? How can anyone then remain optimistic?

“One needs to succumb their material desires and appreciate inevitable contentment to lead a humble and thoughtful life.”

Epicurus: Happiness is the removal of all suffering and one should be easily satisfied with simple pleasures of life. Material wealth should be avoided to prevent the evil cycle of greed. I don’t encourage people to interfere with the affairs of the government nor in the business arena. Basically, these occupations incline people to chase power and status due to the presence of wealth, honor and admiration. Just live a modest and contemplative life and you’ll be happy.  

Epicurus: We got to be rational and judgmental to prevent the temptations from lurking in. Happiness can be distinguished between temporary and absolute. The former is short-lived and causes future suffering. Imagine if you chance upon a $20 voucher for a buffet but already had your lunch. Tempted by the low cost and variety of food, you eat and suffer from a tummy ache. Is it worth it? Many ignorant folks will succumb to this temptation. That’s why one should determine the significance of the pleasure and pain before making a decision.

“What is terrible is easy to endure.”

Epicurus: Suffering temporarily and holding an optimistic outlook strengthens our persistence. There’s good in every bad situation. Being independent and having the privilege to make decisions also would heighten our state of happiness.

Epicurus: Concluding, the modern people tend to avoid suffering and pursue extravagant lifestyles in search of happiness right. In that case, we should all learn to be satisfied with simple pleasures of life. Do you know that measured pleasure is also used in the scope of mental health therapy like addiction? My atomist materialist theory was also the foundation to modern science where prove was highly sought after rather than mere assumptions.  

The defense for Stoicism

  Corey Mohler,  Existential Comics , n.d., Public Domain    A lesson in Stoicism from Marcus Aurelius

Corey Mohler, Existential Comics, n.d., Public Domain
 A lesson in Stoicism from Marcus Aurelius

Zeno stood up from his seat, leaving behind a pile of decomposed dirt, and strode calmly to the centre of the room.

Judge: State your name and proceed.

Zeno: Zeno of Citium, Your honour. While i do not fancy being called up from the dead just as how i did not fancy my shipwreck experience back in the 300 BCE Athens, i believe we will produce productive results from our discussion. Though the shipwreck experience was devastating initially, it was the catalyst for my discovery of Stoicism.

Judge: Oh come on, everyone knows that old story. You, a once wealthy merchant, lost everything in that shipwreck. Just when everything seemed bleak, you discovered Socrates’s work, got intrigued by it and founded Stoicism. Now tell us what’s so impactful about your philosophy.

Zeno: Indeed. Stoicism is essentially a philosophy which emphasises on the acceptance of things which we cannot control. I believe contentment can be achieved when people can be rational and indifferent to both pleasure and pain.
Stoicism has a lasting impact till this day and plays a vital role in modern society. The Buddhist concept of Nirvana is very similar to the Stoic Ataraxia (tranquility of mind). Both are describing a peaceful state of mind, free from unhealthy passions such as fear and craving. Stoicism also has a considerable influence on modern psychology and the self-help movement. For instances, rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT) focuses on changing the negative attitudes people form about events in their life. This drastically improves the quality of life for these people and enables them to live a more fulfilling life.

Judge: While Stoicism did have a significant impact on the world, your focuses on being rational and indifferent to both pleasure and pain seems inhumane. Is a Stoic not allowed to grieve for the loss of their loved ones?

Zeno: Grief will only prevent one from living in the present. To live fully in the present, one must first free themselves from the anxiety of Death. Understands that we will soon follow our loved ones as death comes for everyone. Worthy ones die young as a way of shielding them from the pain and sufferings of life. We have to live according to reasons and understands that a balance exists in the universe which we call the Logos. The Logos simply means the idea that events we encounter in life are given to us by God and everything that happens has a ripple effect on one another. Only by accepting the events we cannot control are we able to achieve happiness.

Judge: Is everything about achieving happiness and personal improvement? Don’t you think that makes Stoicism a really self-centered philosophy?

Zeno: No, Your Honor. Stoicism can influence people and bring about changes in a society but this changes has to start from an individual. Stoicism has the greatest impact on the world because we focuses on personal improvement. I believe only people who have cultivated virtue and self-control in themselves can bring positive change in others and the society as a whole.

The defence for Scepticism

  Corey Mohler,  Existential Comics , n.d., Public Domain   Pyrrho questions everything

Corey Mohler, Existential Comics, n.d., Public Domain
Pyrrho questions everything

  Corey Mohler,  Existential Comics , n.d., Public Domain   Pyrrho questions everything

Corey Mohler, Existential Comics, n.d., Public Domain
Pyrrho questions everything

Pyrrho knew his philosophy had the ability to turn the tide in his favor. “Many good points have been raised, but we all need to question the fundamentals of each dogma, namely, how do we know our senses are right with regards to pleasure and happiness?” The courtroom groaned. Evidently I don’t have many fans here. Pyrrho continued, “Scepticism, founded in 300 BCE, focused on examining the fundamentals of knowledge while withholding judgement. To clear up a common misinterpretation of Scepticism, it is not an end in itself to suspend judgement towards everything but rather, Scepticism is a means, a tool in the search for the end goal. We don’t have any beliefs actually! We live purely by reason and reason alone.”

“We Sceptics then questioned the existence of everything in the world, both physical and metaphysical. Could things such as thoughts, morals, living creatures, and even our senses be valid and real? If so what was the evidence that supported it? Failure to validate such items result in our lack of belief towards the item and thus ‘produce a state of indifference towards ideas about non-evident matters.’ What the hell people, even I went to the extent that I couldn’t trust my senses leading to my friends needing to pull me off roads to avoid being killed by wagons,” Pyrrho chuckled in a way a 2,300-year-old Greek would. “Ladies and gentlemen, even if you disagree with all that I’ve said, one thing is irrefutably true, and that is logical reasoning. Scepticism allows for this reasoning as a mean to investigate all other beliefs. We came to know that Knowledge, it seemed, was based on each individual’s experiences and was thus subjective. This made knowledge itself unreliable in general and many things previously thought to be objective came under further scrutiny. This perhaps gave rise to Relativism…”

“Pyrrho, that is enough description given. Now tell us why your philosophy is the best,” Judge impatiently shifted in his seat.

“Yes, your honour. Being a rather controversial philosophy, it was not easy for many people to subscribe to it. How could someone live without knowing the objective truth of his environment, if there was even one in the first place? I will instead contrast it to other renown schools of thought at that time such as Epicureanism and Stoicism. Scepticism sought to question the underlying assumptions in the different dogmas these schools put forward. As such, one must compare the effects of Scepticism against those philosophies. For example, Epicureanism was about finding the goal of happiness in which pleasure was the absence of pain. The sceptic would go one step further and question if this pleasure was the same for everyone since the senses differed from person to person. And what was this pleasure in the first place?” No one will dare challenge Scepticism, such is its nature. Pyrrho was confident he had it in the bag.

An air of uneasiness rested in the courtroom. Was the debate settled?

Judge objected, “Scepticism it raises more questions than answers due to its inability to know anything concrete! Your philosophy does not even have a dogma. All it does is question. It is not feasible for Mankind to live a continuous sceptic life.

Conclusion

What then is the greatest philosophy that mankind should adhere by to live a most fulfilling life? Judge rose from his seat, "Judging from your arguments, I conclude that Scepticism should be ruled out as it’s highly controversial and it’s rather tiring and meaningless for people to constantly question and not derive any answers. I don’t rule out the possibility of questioning so as to find one’s true meaning in life as these humans now possess problems like an identity crisis, mid-life crisis. Yet, thinking about it, don’t all these problems stem to their foundation in life of whether they’re genuinely satisfied and happy?

Epicureanism and Stoicism emphasizes on the importance of  being easily contented and improving one own’s virtue. Modern humans lack these in life. They tend to blame others for our suffering and chase unnecessary desires that result in our unhappiness. Since these two philosophies compliment each other, merging them together would be highly relatable and beneficial!

References:

Altaweel, M. Why was Epicurus and his philosophy so important?  (n.d.) Assessed 18 March 2018.

Bergsma, Ad., Poot, G. & Liefbroer, A.C. “Happiness in the Garden Of Epicurus.” (2008) Journal Of Happiness Studies, 9(3): 397-423.

Gloyn, L. “At Home with the Stoics: Do Stoic philosophy and the family mix? The writings of Seneca show how the model Stoic, relying on nothing but his own mind, can still be a loving family man.” (2017) History Today, 67(9): 48-57.

Konstan, D. Epicurus. The Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. (2016). Accessed 18 March 2018.

Kotva, S. “The God of Effort: Henri Bergson and the Stoicism of Modernity.” (2016) Modern Theology, 32(3): 397-420.

Robertson, D. “Stoicism -- a lurking presence.” (2005) CPJ: Counselling & Psychotherapy Journal, 16(6): 35-40.

Scherz, P. “Grief, Death, and Longing in Stoic and Christian Ethics.” (2017) Journal Of Religious Ethics, 45(1): 7-28.

Scott, D. “Epicurean Illusions.” (1989) The Classical Quarterly, 39(2): 360-374.

Sextus Empiricus, translated by Benson Mates. “Outlines of Pyrronism.” (1996).

Sosa, E. “Pyrrhonian Skepticism and Human Agency.” (2013). Philosophical Issues, 23(1), 1-17.

Vogt, Katja. Ancient Skepticism.  From The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2016) Accessed 22 March 2017.

Warren, J.I. “Democritus, the Epicureans, Death and Dying.” (2002). The Classic Quarterly, 52(1): 193-206.

Media References:

Pic 1 (School Of Philosophers): Raphael. (1511). School Of Athens

Pic 2 (Imagine if Epicurus was at a party): Corey Mohler. (n.d.)  Existential Comics

Pic 3 (A lesson in Stoicism from Marcus Aurelius): Corey Mohler. (n.d.) Existential Comics

Pic 4 (Pyrrho questions everything): Corey Mohler. (n.d.) Existential Comics

Video 1 TED-Ed. The philosophy of Stoicism - Massimo Pigliucci. (19 Jun 2017) YouTube.