The philosophy of Epicurus is hedonist, but it is not founded on the doctrine that man by his constitution seeks pleasure and avoids pain (psychological hedonism), nor on the doctrine that men ought in reason seek pleasure as their sovereign good (ethical hedonism). It is the doctrine that being, human being, is pleasure: pleasure is not pursued; it is human existence, and it is possessed with human life and not pursued by human life.
Pleasure is our inborn well-being. We cannot pursue it because it is with us, but we can flee from it, and we can bury it.
There are philosophies which have no faith in life, which teach us how to endure it. So prevalent and influential is this teaching that it has assumed the name philosophy tout court. Yet such philosophy, the sign for resignation, blindly leads us into the pit, teaches us only to renounce the only good there is.
How do we learn to possess the pleasure that is in us, in our human existence? Simply by removing and avoiding what clouds and smothers it, chiefly, physical and moral suffering and fears. Once pain and fear are avoided, all is gained that can be gained, ‘since the living creature has not to wander as though in search of something that is missing, and to look for some other thing by which he can fulfill the good of the soul and the good of the body.’
There is a natural autarky, a spontaneous well-being and inner contentment, which has only to be preserved and reinforced by knowledge and discipline, wise choice and avoidance. Knowledge is the sovereign remedy for suffering and fear.
In our simple primary needs, in our dependence upon the body and in our dependence upon each other, is the source of our life and the source and the rule of our pleasure: all simple things in our own immediate keeping. We can easily get what we absolutely need, we can avoid or endure the pains that flesh is heir to.
There is nothing to hope for nor to fear from the gods, there is nothing to fear in death, there is no fate that besets us and lies in wait: our life is in us and its management is in our hands, to be perfected by wise choice and avoidance. The dependence on the body is pleasure in the exercise of the senses, and is cultivated in the arts.
This dependence on each other is regulated and cultivated in friendship, which is both spontaneous community in the pleasure of the senses and a fundamental mutual need of help, comfort, and security. Sensation is the root of both life and thought, and trust in sensation is the foundation of certainty and serenity.
Pleasure is not increased by multiplying nor by sophisticating desire. It is that way ruined, for that is to chase pleasure and to run away from the only place where it is hid. In faithful attention to the pleasure which our human existence simply is we find our freedom and our rule, our necessity and our happiness, at the same time.
Such teaching is both simple and subtle, easy to practice and an exacting discipline. A teaching of this temper can work on the tough material of experience, and in this case it can produce character, quality of life, and the serenity it promises. That, after all, is the vulgar test of a philosophy.
Blackham, H. J. The Human Tradition. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953. 88–89. Print.