Tuesday, July 24, 2018

David Hume’s Essay: The Epicurean

Painting of David Hume
David Hume’s book Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary includes four essays on philosophical schools that have originated in ancient Greece: ”The Epicurean,” “The Stoic,” “The Platonist,” and “The Sceptic.” The aim of the four essays is not to analyze human nature but to inspire the reader to bring improvement into his life by following the traditional methods of achieving happiness.

The essays are not expressive of Hume’s own positions—In his Advertisement for the essays he has put a distance between himself and the four characters: "'Tis proper to infirm the READER, that, in those ESSAYS, intitled, the Epicurean, Stoic, &c., a certain Character is personated; and therefore, no Offence ought to be taken at any Sentiments contain’d in them."

In this post, I will talk about the first essay, “The Epicurean.” The focus of this essay is on emphasizing that a natural lifestyle is best suited for the achievement of pleasure and happiness.
The most perfect happiness, surely, must arise from the contemplation of the most perfect object. But what more perfect than beauty and virtue? And where is beauty to be found equal to that of the universe? Or virtue, which can be compared to the benevolence and justice of the Deity? If aught can diminish the pleasure of this contemplation, it must be either the narrowness of our faculties, which conceals from us the greatest part of these beauties and perfections; or the shortness of our lives, which allows not time sufficient to instruct us in them.
The Epicurean rejects the idea that human beings have the power to create artificial lifestyles that are as conducive for happiness as a natural lifestyle is:
You pretend to make me happy by reason, and by rules of art. You must, then, create me anew by rules of art. For on my original frame and structure does my happiness depend. But you want power to effect this; and skill too, I am afraid: Nor can I entertain a less opinion of nature’s wisdom than of yours. And let her conduct the machine, which she has so wisely framed. I find, that I should only spoil it by my tampering.
The Epicurean insists that “happiness implies ease, contentment, repose, and pleasure; not watchfulness, care, and fatigue.” We may develop all kinds of notions during the course of our philosophical studies but human nature will always assert itself. His advise is that if you are looking for pleasure do not look further than your corporeal concerns like food, drink, friendship, and love. However, Hume’s Epicurean is not preaching a life of debauchery or hedonism. Pleasure, the epicurean insists, must be pursued in moderation and within the principles of morality. He also emphasizes that only the virtuous are capable of pursuing pleasure. 

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