I am nearing the end of reading R.D. Hicks’ Stoics And Epicureans, and I am at the same time beginning to go from start to finish through the ten books of Diogenes Laertius.
It is more clear to me than ever that one can easily spend one’s entire life following the byzantine logical arguments of Platonists, Stoics, Aristotelians, Skeptics, and others, and never arrive at any satisfactory conclusions about the nature of the universe and how one should live. In all likelihood, one arrives at the end of the journey more confused than at the beginning. (Which is the theme of my favorite text by Lucian, Hermotimus.)
But in the meantime one must live. Nothing I am reading changes my conviction that Epicurus was right about how to live now. He committed no error in pointingt to the faculty that Nature gave to us – that of sensing Pleasure and Pain – as the guide to life. And he was right to denounce “abstract reason,” “logic,” religion” – all fantasies of otherworldy “Virtue” in whatever dialect – as distractions from our proper focus, that of developing our ability to listen to and interpret the core guidance given us by Nature.
In the end, the words left to us by Brutus and Cassius are hard to improve upon as statements of the fruits of the opposing philosophies.
At the feet of Plato, Aristotle, Chryssipus, and many others we can lay Brutus’ final sad lament:
“O wretched Virtue, thou wert but a name, and yet I worshiped thee as real indeed; but now, it seems, thou were but fortune’s slave.”
And to the everlasting credit of Epicurus, we can live by what Cassius wrote to Cicero:
“For I hope that men generally will come to understand how much all the world hates cruelty, and how much it loves integrity and clemency, and that the blessings most eagerly sought and coveted by the bad ultimately find their way to the good. For it is hard to convince men that “the good is to be chosen for its own sake”; but that pleasure and tranquility of mind is acquired by virtue, justice, and the good is both true and demonstrable.… Consequently Pansa, who follows pleasure, keeps his hold on virtue, and those also whom you call pleasure-lovers are lovers of what is good and lovers of justice, and cultivate and keep all the virtues.”