While working on the second draft of my dialogue Letters on Epicurus, I've been thinking about the Epicurean analysis of where human beings go astray in the pursuit of happiness. According to Epicurus, a "vice" or "sin" is a pattern of thought and behavior that is driven by a specific fear and that leads to an unnatural or unnecessary desire, thus taking you off the path to happiness.
Consider the following examples:
- The fear of oblivion leads to the desire for immortality. Yet the ideal (what is natural and necessary) is not to live forever, but to face death without fear and to enjoy the span of your life on earth.
- The fear of weakness leads to the desire for power. Yet the ideal is not to hold power over other people, but to be strong and efficacious enough to meet your own needs.
- The fear of poverty leads to the desire for great wealth. Yet the ideal is not to be rich, but to have enough material goods to meet your true and natural needs for food, shelter, clothing, companionship, etc.
- The fear of obscurity leads to the desire for fame. Yet the ideal is not being renowned to all the world, but being connected to the people who truly matter to you.
- The fear of being disliked leads to the desire for honor. Yet the ideal is not to be the recipient of great public esteem, but to have self-respect and to be respected by those you know and admire.
- The fear of being bored or ordinary leads to a desire for luxury (fancy things, exciting experiences, and such). Yet the ideal is not continuous stimulation but active engagement with the world around you.
- The fear of being considered inferior leads to envy -- the desire that others lose what they have. Yet the ideal is not tearing others down, but accepting and improving yourself.
- The fear of being disappointed leads to anger -- the desire that other people act as you want them to. Yet the ideal is not feeling that others must conform to your expectations, but accepting others as they are and maintaining your inner serenity.
- The fear of failure leads to laziness -- the desire to get something for nothing. Yet the ideal is not passivity but active confidence in your abilities and the pursuit of self-improvement.
I'm sure that entire books have been written about envy, anger, and the desire for power, fame, honor, and luxury, but Epicurus was probably the first person to have analyzed these vices in a unified way. I need to ponder this analysis more deeply and then see if I can weave it into the dialogue I'm rewriting.
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