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A Review of Consolations for Not Having Enough Money

293 views. 2018-4-6 20:09 |Individual Classification:Weekly Writing| philosophy, consolations, Epicurus, money, good-life, philosophy, consolations

An Overview

·An introduction of “Epicureanism”: Happiness is Cheap

·From Ancient Greece to the Modern Age: Are We Doing Better?

·What do we want for a good life?

·Zhuangzi(庄子)’s mystic view on a good life

     Being in the state of “The Absolute Freedom(绝对的逍遥)”


In the Chapter 2 of the book, The Consolations of Philosophy, the author presents us the longstanding debate on a good life. Taking an original Epicurean perspective, the author considers happiness as a key ingredient, discusses what the sources of happiness are and the psychological dimension of happiness, and concludes that happiness and a good life may be difficult to attain and the obstacles do not seem to be primarily financial.

  I begin with a brief introduction of the original Epicureanism, for the school of this thought is less well-known than his contemporaries and its claim is misinterpreted in daily English. Then I am to talk about what a good life needs. This is an open question without a clear answer. There is indeed a good life, but a certain conception of it, like money, success, or sensual pleasure, often fails us. The article will conclude with Zhuangzi’s mystic view on a good life, an intriguing and fascinating thought which describes a state of life a normal person like me can not fathom.

An introduction of “Epicureanism”: Happiness is Cheap

If you look up the word “Epicurean”, into the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition will be: “devoted to pleasure and enjoying yourself”. The dictionary does not do Epicurus, the founder of the school of Epicureanism, any justice. On the contrary, Epicurus argued that not all pleasures are good; he encouraged simple pleasures, peace and quiet, pleasures of thought, and fellowship with friends.

Unlike his pleasure-hating contemporaries, Epicurus contended that pleasure is of great importance: if the pleasures of taste, sex, hearing, sweet emotions etc. are taken away, one won’t know how to conceive of the good. Epicurus started to contemplate on pleasure and happiness then asked people a very simple question: “what would you do to make yourself happy?” He found that most people did terribly in answering this question: things they pursued, such as fish and meat, feasts, servants, big houses, fine clothes, were natural to basic needs but unnecessary. Basic needs can be satisfied in a simple manner which also provides us with happiness.

  Epicurus’ list of happiness was pretty simple. It contains only 4 items shown below:

(1)   Friendship. What you eat or drink don’t always give you happiness; it is the people that you dine and drink with really matter;

(2)   Freedom. Freedom here means the peace and quiet you will gain when staying outside of the social evaluation system: you are totally free, for you have nothing to prove, no motivation to impress others;  

(3)   Thought. Thought mentioned by Epicurus is an analytic one and serves as a means to get rid of the “mental haze”;

(4)   Money. Epicurus wrote this, personally I think, mainly for the affluent people at his time. He asserted that money does not guarantee happiness and that without item 1 to item 3, money is meaningless.

From Ancient Greece to the Modern Age: Are We Doing Better?

Our hierarchical needs have been skewed since the dawn of the global industrialization. For the first time in our evolutionary history, of commodities whether meeting our basic needs or not, the supply exceeded demand. There has been no other way to digest the huge amount of surplus except enticing us to buy, buy more, and buy things you will never need. (I don’t mean what industrialization has done is wrong; I just want to mention its potential drawbacks).

Living in the modern age when luxuries are everywhere, however, makes us further and further away from Epicurus’ teachings. We do even worse in answering the question proposed by Epicurus: the ancient Greeks at least knew exactly what material things they needed to be happy, while all we need is money, because material things and services are presented in prices in our advanced monetary systems. We strive to earn money in order to buy luxurious goods and big houses which seem to bring us happiness. However, happiness has its psychological dimension that has long been overlooked. It will be indeed simple to be happy and to live a good life, only if we think deeply about what we need to attain a good life.

What do we want for a good life?

As I mentioned at the beginning, this is an open question and anything can be reasonably viewed as a good life. In our society, the good life is always equated with money, social status, and respectability. We can combine these three and wholly call them “success”. Seeking for success as a good life, however, has its problems. People at first start working for success in order to achieve other goalsa sense of security, lavish pleasures, etc., but they end up with working solely for the success itself and become success addicts. Success always, once earned, is proved not to be what people expected at the first place. It doesn’t mean success is not worth having or it is wrong; it only means that success does not seem to give us the good life.

Zhuangzi’s mystic view on a good life

Both a good life and happiness, they all depend on something external: happiness requires the 4 items on the list; we need to form a conception then practically do something to achieve a good life. Zhuangzi noticed that point, and in “Wandering in Absolute Freedom (逍遥游)” he wrote:


  It is murderously difficult for me to translate that, so I put the original text above. While Zhuangzi did not stop at this point, further he argued there would be a state of lifethe state of “The Absolute Freedomindependent of anything in which a man without a self integrated harmoniously with the universe; Being in the state of “The Absolute Freedom” is a mystic view of a good life. This argument is also found in Wandering in Absolute Freedom:







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