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The Art of Living (Final)

   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. 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 civilisations 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. I want you to discuss about the impact which your school of thought has on the contemporary ways of living. Through it, I hope we can gain insightful solutions for the wars fought over ideologies.”

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.”

Judge sure meant business, Epicurus thought as he began to speak.

Epicurus: A blessing in disguise. Alexander the Great’s death resulted in the division of Greek states and political instability. The people dwelled in suffering as they were afraid of death and wanted to attain absolute happiness. Epicureanism sowed the seed for the problems that individuals faced.

Since Individuals seek unlimited wants, are afraid of death and suffering due to deities punishing them, Epicureanism provides some solutions on clearing the uncertainties that people possess.  

Epicureanism can largely influence people through bringing them back to their fundamentals of life. Being easily contented and not attributing their sufferings to the lack of material wealth and goods. Not attributing your misfortunes to the external environment and people.  Not fearing concepts like death and punishment by immortal beings, that they are out of their control and thus embracing them.

This is especially relevant in modern society where the judgement of society is based on superficial attributions, like one’s dressing and the amount of material goods they possess. Thus, it is essential that people disregard the judgements that is the main reason for chasing high-ranking positions which promote power and status, resulting in illegal activities like corruption to satisfy their unlimited greed.

When one successfully resists their urge for material desires, a modest and introspective life can be created.  

Judge: Fair enough. The world needs to stop chasing after endless material desires which leads to a world of chaos and unrest. They ought to be contented with what they have!

Epicurus: People often worry about things that aren’t in their realm of control like death and the afterlife and punishment by deities. Have you heard of the atom materialist theory? Atoms are the building blocks of life. 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.

These ideas, again are influential to the past and present. People spend too much of their time worrying about mindless concepts. Instead, shouldn’t they focus their energy on things which add value to their life? Like, volunteering to help the less fortunate, changing their bad habits to become a better individual?

Judge: Despite not worrying about these uncontrollable circumstances, there are tons of things to worry about! How can one be happy in this case?

Epicurus: We tend to blame the circumstances, people, our life experiences for everything and anything. That’s normal as we’re mortals. Yet, we should understand that 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 would also heighten our state of happiness.

Epicureanism teaches that change should start from an individual itself. Being willing to accept things that happen in your life, and being entirely responsible for your sufferings should motivate you to change your life. Only one who can be introspective about their misfortunes and make changes within themselves would be genuinely happy.

The defense for Stoicism

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, stop repeating common knowledge and tell us what’s so impactful about your philosophy.

Zeno: Indeed. Stoicism is essentially a philosophy that 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. From what I know from my best friend in the Afterlife, the Buddha, 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 instance, rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT) focuses on changing the negative attitudes people form about events in their life. It adopts the three elements of Stoicism: logic, ethics and physics. Through logic, one should separate their emotions from facts and remain objective. Through physics, one should contemplate the core of things and understands the meaning of their existence. Through ethics, one should take full responsibility for their own acts and decisions. One should also discard untrue or harmful ideas, and substitute them with more beneficial and accurate ones. The concept of Nirvana and REBT help to improve the quality of life for people and enable 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. Through the Logos, 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 Honour. 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 focus 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 defense for Scepticism

  Thomas Stanley,  Pyrrho , 1655, Public Domain.    Portrait of Pyrrho in tunic and sandals.

Thomas Stanley, Pyrrho, 1655, Public Domain.
Portrait of Pyrrho in tunic and sandals.

Pyrrho knew his philosophy had the ability to turn the tide in his favour. But first, he had a more pressing issue to settle.

Pyrrho: Before I begin, does anyone have any wine here? I greatly miss the taste of wine since I drank it at every meal and I’ve had none for the last two thousand years!

The court attendants scuttered out of the room in search of the alcohol.

Pyrrho: 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 thought.

Pyrrho: Scepticism, founded in 300 BCE, focused on examining the fundamentals of knowledge while withholding judgment. 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.

Judge: How does that work?

Pyrrho: We Sceptics question 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 a wagon. Was there or wasn’t there a wagon that day? No one can say for sure. I’m not going to change my action based on something that might or might not happen.

Pyrrho chuckled in a way a 2,300-year-old Greek would.

Pyrrho: 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…”

Judge: Pyrrho, that is enough description given. Now tell us why your philosophy is the best.

Pyrrho: 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 raises more questions than answers due to its inability to know anything concrete! Your philosophy does not even have a fixed set of beliefs for people to follow. All it does is question. It is not feasible for humankind to live a continuous sceptic life.

Conclusion

Judge: Which is the greatest philosophy that humankind should adhere by in order to achieve peace and for humankind to live a most fulfilling life? 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 deriving 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?

Epicurus and Zeno emphasises 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 their sufferings and chase unnecessary desires that results in their unhappiness. It seems like these two philosophies actually complement each other. One could focus on living in the present and improving one’s self while being aware of the responsibility in one’s own suffering and focusing on happy moments. Merging the two philosophies together would be highly relatable and beneficial for humankind. Through the teachings of these philosophies, may humankind improve their virtue, learn to develop self-awareness and responsibility for their own happiness, and learn to count their blessings and be contented with what they have.

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.

Ching, K. Revealing the dark world behind Ancient Greek gastronomy. Hello World Civ. (2018) Accessed 24 April 2018.

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. (from UB library)

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.

Robertson, D. "The philosophy of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT): Stoic philosophy as rational and cognitive psychotherapy.” (2010) London: Karnac Books.

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 (Portrait of pyrrho): Thomas Stanley. (1655) Pyrrho

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