Peace and Safety to the Epicureans among us, no matter where you might be!
As we remember Epicurus and the original pathfinders of Epicureanism, we can reflect on a modern economist who gives credit where it is so richly deserved. Both of the following are from Ludwig von Mises, in his book Human Action; bold fonts are added:
(1) The historical role of the theory of the division of labor as elaborated by British political economy from Hume to Ricardo consisted in the complete demolition of all metaphysical doctrines concerning the origin and the operation of social cooperation. It consummated the spiritual, moral and intellectual emancipation of mankind inaugurated by the philosophy of Epicureanism. It substituted an autonomous rational morality for the heteronomous and intuitionist ethics of older days. Law and legality, the moral code and social institutions are no longer revered as unfathomable decrees of Heaven. They are of human origin, and the only yardstick that must be applied to them is that of expediency with regard to human welfare. The utilitarian economist does not say: Fiat justitia, pereat mundus. He says: Fiat justitia, ne pereat mundus. He does not ask a man to renounce his well-being for the benefit of society. He advises him to recognize what his rightly understood interests are. In his eyes God’s magnificence does not manifest itself in busy interference with sundry affairs of princes and politicians, but in endowing his creatures with reason and the urge toward the pursuit of happiness
(2) The idea that the incentive of human activity is always some uneasiness and its aim always to remove such uneasiness as far as possible, that is, to make the acting men feel happier, is the essence of the teachings of Eudaemonism and Hedonism. Epicurean àτapaξίa is that state of perfect happiness and contentment at which all human activity aims without ever wholly attaining it. In the face of the grandeur of this cognition it is of little avail only that many representatives of this philosophy failed to recognize the purely formal character of the notions pain and pleasure and gave them a material and carnal meaning. The theological, mystical, and other schools of a heteronomous ethic did not shake the core of Epicureanism because they could not raise any other objection than its neglect of the “higher” and “nobler” pleasures. It is true that the writings of many earlier champions of Eudaemonism, Hedonism, and Utilitarianism are in some points open to misinterpretation. But the language of modern philosophers and still more that of the modern economists is so precise and straightforward that no misinterpretation can possibly occur.
The second quote is a little harder to follow than the first, so if the reader would like to pursue the context, the full edition of Human Action is available for free download here. Despite the “economist verbage” that makes the point a little obscure, Ludwig von Mises — a giant of modern economists — is quite clearly crediting Epicurus as a the “inaugurator” of the spiritual, moral, and intellectual emancipation of mankind — meaning, in large part, the right of the individual to the pursue his own happiness without sanction of priest or philosopher. This pursuit of happiness assuredly has “Natural” limits and boundaries, but those limits and boundaries are those which are open to understanding through the study of Nature; the individual is NOT a slave to the false religions and philosophies which claim some special revelation of a “noble and higher” calling.
Thanks to Andreas for these cites!
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.“