If those things which debauched men consider pleasurable in fact put an end to the fears of the mind, and of the heavens, and of death, and of pain; and if those same pleasures taught us the natural limits of our desires, we would have no reason to blame those devote themselves to such pursuits.***
This is one of those doctrines that shocks the mind of many people at first, but like all the other doctrines it is profoundly true, and it helps us to focus on laying out our goals and priorities in correct order. For there is NO higher goal than living a happy life, and that means that ALL actions we take, all thoughts we think, and all decisions we make must be geared toward achieving that goal. And it means that since living the happy life is in fact the true standard that Nature has set for us, we must not measure our actions, thoughts, and decisions against any other standard. Every day the world throws at us false measures for our actions from every side: “virtue,” “duty,” “obeying God,” “love of fellow man,” “love of society,” “the welfare of the poor,” “tolerance,” “open-mindedness,” and on and on. Some of these may in fact be helpful to happy living, but they must be judged by the same test as drunkenness, debauchery, murder, and mayhem. If the measures set out for us by society were IN FACT the basis of happy living, then we would gladly follow society’s path — but we know the proper path only by holding each alternative to the test – “Does it lead to a happy life?”
Nature has prescribed that the goal of all living beings, including men, is to live happily. We also know that Nature has prescribed that in order to live happily we must live wisely, honestly, and justly. But we do not live happily in order to live wisely, honestly, and justly. We live wisely, honestly, and justly only because the goal is happiness.
Thinking about the matter in this way is an excellent way to shock ourselves out of complacency. It is a constant temptation fall in line with the establishment, and substitute the world’s flavor-of-the-day standard in the place of Nature’s standard. And so we must constantly remind ourselves that just as view of the gods is impious, the view of the world the masses would have us follow is equally impious. There is in fact no reality to the Platonic forms, the commandments issued by the gods, the holy duties to society or to our fellow men that the masses hold up to us as sacred — all these are fictional standards that have no reality of their own, have never had any reality, and never will have a reality. Nature has provided the reality, and Nature’s real standard is happy living for all living beings. Unlike any other man in history, it is Epicurus who has shown the way to choose Nature’s path.
For insights such as this, on this and all other twentieths, we honor and remember in gratitude the debt we owe to Epicurus!
As Seneca recorded: Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus! So do all things as though watching were Epicurus!
And as Philodemus wrote: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.“
***Alternate Translations: Bailey: If the things that produce the pleasures of profligates could dispel the fears of the mind about the phenomena of the sky and death and its pains, and also teach the limits of desires (and of pains), we should never have cause to blame them: for they would be filling themselves full with pleasures from every source and never have pain of body or of mind, which is the evil of life. Yonge: If the things that produce the pleasures of profligates could dispel the fears of the mind about the phenomena of the sky and death and its pains, and also teach the limits of desires (and of pains), we should never have cause to blame them: for they would be filling themselves full with pleasures from every source and never have pain of body or of mind, which is the evil of life.