Philosophy of consolation : the Epicurean tetrapharmakos

Bjarnason, Paul E. (Paul Elwin) (2004-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2004.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Epicureanism, one of several major Hellenistic philosophical schools, complemented its materialist, non-teleological ontology with a set of spiritual exercises (askesis) intended to prepare its disciples to live a happy life within a clearly defmed moral context. The emblem of Epicurean ethics was the tetrapharmakos, or fourfold remedy, consisting in the dictum: Nothing to fear in god; Nothing to feel in death; Good is easy to attain; Evil is easy to endure. A question that arises concerns how the tetrapharmakos, in conjunction with the wide variety of spiritual exercises which flowed from it, was capable of offering to Epicurean disciples consolatio in the face of life's uncertainties and guiding them to the supreme pleasure of the gods, tranquillity (ataraxia), which, together with absence of bodily pain (aponia), brings to man the flourishing life (eudaimonia). Yet, afortiori, how is it possible, in the absence of belief in divine providence, to retain a sense of equanimity throughout a finite life in an often harsh world? How can one avoid capitulating to despair and anxiety? Such questions are relevant to the ancient Epicureans, and are central to this thesis. Epicurean materialism is presupposed throughout the thesis, and the arguments and exercises which emerged from the Epicurean materialist ontology are examined critically in order to assess the coherence and effectiveness of the Epicurean mode of living. An examination of the role of Epicurean spiritual exercises is therefore undertaken, in order to reveal the Epicureans' relationship with the natural and social worlds, as well as with each other and with the gods, and thus to explain how these exercises were capable of providing consolation, and further, to consider whether such exercises, in some form or other, are still able to do soin the twenty-fust century. The ancient conception of philosophy as a way of life is discussed fully, most particularly the specific nature of Epicurean philosophy in this respect. The four strands or remedies of the tetrapharmakos are then examined, in order, at length. The nature of Epicurean gods and their relation to man are given detailed consideration, as are the arguments and exercises used by Epicureans to dispel fear of the gods. A similar treatment is accorded the Epicurean view of death as a natural dissolution of man qua material being, and to the arguments and exercises aimed at overcoming fear of death, the second of the two great causes of human anxiety. Epicurean hedonism, within which pleasure assumes the role of man's goal,· or telos, is examined thoroughly, as are major issues of contention -- in particular, the Epicurean bifurcation of the telos into katastematie pleasure and kinetic pleasure, and the relation between these two kinds of pleasure. A concluding chapter summarises the fmdings of the thesis and suggests the relevance of Epicureanism and its associated spiritual exercises for citizens of the twenty-fust century.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die Epikurisme, een van verskeie belangrike Hellenistiese filosofiese skole, het sy materialistiese, nie-teologiese ontologie aangevul deur 'n versameling geestelike oefeninge (askesis) wat ten doel gehad het om dissipels voor te berei om 'n gelukkige lewe binne 'n duidelik gedefinieerde morele konteks te lei. Die embleem van die Epikuriese etiek was die tetrafarmakos , of viervoudige geneesmiddel, wat bestaan het uit die dictum: Om niks te vrees oor god nie; Om niks te voel oor die dood nie; Die goeie is maklik om te verkry; Die kwaad is maklik om te verduur. Die vraag ontstaan hoe die tetrafarmakos, tesame met die wye verskeidenheid geestelike oefeninge wat daaruit voortspruit, in staat was om aan die Epikuriese dissipels consolatio ten aanskoue van die onsekerhede van die lewe te bied en om hulle tot die hoogste genot van die gode, gemoedsrus (ataraxia), te voer, wat, gepaardgaande met die afwesigheid van fisiese pyn (aponia), die mens by 'n gelukkige lewe (eudaimonia) uitbring. Hoe is dit egter 'n fortiori moontlik om in die afwesigheid van 'n geloof in 'n goddelike voorsienigheid 'n gevoel van gelykmatigheid reg deur 'n eindige lewe in 'n dikwels harde wêreld te behou? Die Epikuriese materialisme word deurlopend in die tesis voorveronderstel, en die argumente en oefeninge wat uit die Epikuriese materialistiese ontologie na vore kom, word krities ondersoek ten einde die samehang en doeltreffendheid van die Epikuriese leefwyse te evalueer. Die rol van die Epikuriese geestelike oefeninge word dus ondersoek om die Epikureërs se verhouding met die natuurlike en die sosiale wêreld, sowel as met mekaar en met die gode, na vore te bring, om sodoende te verduidelik hoe hierdie oefeninge in staat was om vertroosting te bied, en om voorts te kyk of sulke oefeninge in die een of ander formaat nog steeds in staat is om dit in die een-en-twintigste eeu te doen. Die antieke siening van die filosofie as 'n leefwyse word ten volle bespreek, veral die eie-aard van die Epikuriese filosofie in hierdie opsig. Die vier aspekte of geneesmiddels van die tetrafarmakos word agtereenvolgens uitvoerig bespreek. Die aard van die Epikuriese gode en hulle verhouding tot die mens word in besonderhede ondersoek, asook die argumente en oefeninge wat die Epikureërs gebruik het om vrees vir die gode die nek in te slaan. Die Epikuriese siening van die dood as 'n natuurlike ontbinding van die mens qua materiële wese word op soortgelyke wyse behandel, soos ook die argumente en oefeninge wat daarop gerig is om die vrees vir die dood, die tweede van die twee groot oorsake van die mens se angs, te oorkom. Epirurese hedonisme, waarin genot die mens se lewensdoel of telos word, word grondig ondersoek, sowel as belangrike verskilpunte - in besonder die Epikuriese tweedeling van die telos in katastematiese en kinetiese genot, en die verband tussen hierdie twee vorme van genot. Die slothoofstuk vat die bevindinge van die tesis saam en suggereer dat die Epikurisme en die geestelike oefeninge wat daarmee gepaard gaan, nog steeds relevant is vir mense van die een-en-twintigste eeu.

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