Both the Stoics and the Epicureans understood that some good things are better than others. Thus you necessarily run into choices, and the need to forgo one good to protect or gain another. When you make those choices wisely, you’ll be happier. But the Stoics think you’ll be acting in line with a grand plan by a just grand designer, and the Epicureans don’t.
It must be Epicurus Day or something. Not fifteen minutes after reading this, I discovered a new book due in September that I’ll have to read:
Epicureanism has a reputation problem, bringing to mind gluttons with gout or an admonition to eat, drink, and be merry. In How to Be an Epicurean, philosopher Catherine Wilson shows that Epicureanism isn’t an excuse for having a good time: it’s a means to live a good life. Although modern conveniences and scientific progress have significantly improved our quality of life, many of the problems faced by ancient Greeks — love, money, family, politics — remain with us in new forms.
I often wish that new books about philosophical topics written for a popular audience didn’t have to present themselves as how-to manuals with “lessons” for us to apply to our daily lives, but I realize that’s just the nature of bringing products to market. Authors want to create artistic meditations; publishers want to move units. So it goes. I enjoy reading books like these not because I want to learn “how to be” an Epicurean — I was already well aware of my philosophical temperament while reading about How to Be a Stoic, ironically enough — but because, as Patrick Kurp says, a lot of people in everyday life inhabit small worlds filled with cinematic blockbusters and other forgettable touchstones. Sometimes, the only kind of conversation about Epicurean philosophy that one can have is through the silent medium of the printed page. Many of my favorite conversations have been with people who don’t know I exist, whose voices I’ll never hear. But we’ve “thought together” for a while about perennial questions and themes, and that’s good enough.