Letters on Happiness

by Peter Saint-Andre

Letter Four: Praise Be to Nature

Previous: Letter Three: The Greatest Confidence

Dear Schuyler,

Yes, Epicurus does seem to think that life is simple and happiness is easy:

Praise be to blessed Nature: she has made what is necessary easy to get, and what is not easy to get unnecessary. (Fragment 469)

As far as I can see this all hinges on his view of what is truly necessary in life, which is "not much":

The body cries out to not be hungry, not be thirsty, not be cold. Anyone who has these things, and who is confident of continuing to have them, can rival the gods for happiness. (Vatican Saying 33)

Essentially, he holds that if it's painful to go without something, then it is a necessary part of life, but if not then it is superfluous, idle, trifling, and unnecessary. There are many passages on this topic, as you've probably noticed. Here are a few...

The desires that do not bring pain when they go unfulfilled are not necessary; indeed they are easy to reject when they are hard to achieve or when they seem to produce harm. (Principal Doctrine 26)

Among desires, some are natural and necessary, some are natural and unnecessary, and some are unnatural and unnecessary (arising instead from groundless opinion). (Principal Doctrine 29)

Among natural desires, those that do not bring pain when unfulfilled and that require intense exertion arise from groundless opinion; and such desires fail to be stamped out not by nature but because of the groundless opinions of humankind. (Principal Doctrine 30)

To those who are able to reason it out, the highest and surest joy is found in the stable health of the body and a firm confidence in keeping it. (Fragment 68)

I'm not convinced of this position yet, but I'll give it some more thought before I post again.

Your friend,


Next: Letter Five: Altogether Spare

Peter Saint-Andre > Writings > Epicurus