The good life. People who live without philosophy

The ancients thought that philosophical knowledge essential
for the good life and some believed that the purpose of philosophy was to teach
people how to live a good life. A good life is a life which is lived in
happiness. One of these thinkers was Epicurus and in this essay, I will be
arguing that Epicurus was right to associate the good life with philosophical
knowledge. In this essay, I will be using the term philosophical knowledge to
denote both knowledge of philosophers and their theories, but also the
knowledge of self-reflection.

            Epicurus
believed that philosophy should tell us all, including women and ‘foreigners’
how to live a happy life. He took an egalitarian, anti-elitist approach and
disliked the elitism of other thinker’s views. Epicurus believed that happiness
was pleasure, and thus an absence of pain and the soul being free from
confusion. To achieve this, Epicurus gave three necessities; friendship, freedom,
meaning self-subsistence and clear reflection (taking time to think through things).
Epicurus also claims that most people are not happy because we simply do not know
what really makes us happy, and often, we hold onto ‘fake desires’ and create
fake happiness within ourselves. Epicurus thought this is where philosophical
knowledge comes in; to have philosophical knowledge means that we have access
to what Epicurus called a ‘therapy’. Such as, a means to help us learn how to
make ourselves happy and any philosophy which does not make us happy is simply
like trying a medicine that does not cure us. Thus, what Epicurus is explaining
is that philosophical knowledge is necessary for a good life.

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            It was right
for thinkers, like Epicurus, to associate philosophical knowledge with the good
life because having such knowledge is essential to having true happiness and
this in turn is essential to live the good life. People who live without
philosophy are simply superficially happy; for instance, they are happy because
of the material things such as a new car. These material objects cannot make a
person truly happy and are therefore not necessary to lead a good life. When
one has knowledge of philosophy, they can start to understand what is it is to
have a good life. As Epicurus himself states, we need friendship to live a good
life, which translates to having meaningful connections and relationships with
people, not just objects.

            One may say
that people without knowledge of philosophy are able to develop deep
relationships with people, but having the knowledge allows for relationships
where no one is simply being used. This is similar to the Kantian ideal of not
using people as means to an end, but as ends in themselves, meaning treating
people not as if they are only valuable when they can help you with something
but that they are valuable within themselves. For people in the modern day,
having this knowledge of Kantian philosophy, will mean that they will develop
more meaningful relationships and friendships with people, thus helping them to
achieve living a good life.

            Another
reason why Epicurus was right to associate philosophical knowledge with the
good life is because having this knowledge is necessary for understanding what
it is to avoid pain and mental confusion. He asserts, “a sober reason … which
banishes those doctrines through which mental trouble … arises” which means
that we must take time to reflect on the mental trouble, such as our fear of
death. Epicurus claims that once we ponder the problem of death, we will be
able to move on from it as we will understand that death is not to be feared
because each individual will not be around to see our death. A further example
of this is, one thinking and worrying about money is seemingly useless because
it is not an aspect that can bring us happiness, it is a false happiness as it
often only leads to material happiness. Epicurus claims that as long as you
have all three goods; friendship, freedom and self-reflection, then even if you
are poor then you will be happy.  Philosophical
knowledge is used here to help people with self-reflection on what gives human
beings pain and makes it so they are not living a good life, full of pleasure.  

            A further
reason why my argument claims that it is right to associate philosophical
knowledge with the good life is because it helps people to become more rational
and autonomous beings. This is a further argument presented by Kant, which
argues that having knowledge can lead to developing a morality based on one’s
own decisions and moral reflections. This is important to living the good life,
as it can encourage people to make their own decisions on morality and not to
simply follow the group decision, no matter what the situation. For instance,
one can make their own decision as to whether they are in support or against
issues such as euthanasia, because of their philosophical knowledge. Through
the development of philosophy, one can learn to be more aware, and perhaps even
fine-tune their rationality and autonomy. This can help with what Epicurus
believed was necessary for good life, as previously mentioned, clear thought
and reflection. Thus, philosophical knowledge is necessary for a good life.

            One key
aspect which Epicurus believed was necessary for a good life was freedom or
self-subsistence, meaning to exist whilst supporting and relying on oneself. A
very basic form of self-subsistence is growing your own food in order to eat.
For Epicurus, self-subsistence is more equal to self-reliance. Epicurus
explained that for him, a natural life is a self-sufficient life, and that is
nothing that a human being needs that is not part of the natural world but also
that the natural world is able to provide everything to suit a human’s needs.
As previously alluded to, philosophical knowledge is necessary for this as people
can learn that one can be self-reliant with only natural things, not striving
for the unnecessary material things. In the modern world, however, we live in a
much less pastorally based society and perhaps Epicurus’ teachings could lead
to not striving for the most expensive things in life, but to live within your
means and being happy. Therefore, as Epicurus believes that self-subsistence is
necessary for a good life, then one will need to have philosophical knowledge
to aid you in knowing how to live in freedom, then it is right to associate
philosophical knowledge with the good life.

            One further
philosopher who would claim that philosophical knowledge is necessary for a
good life is Aristotle. He had a similar claim to Epicurus, in that the good
life is the final end for human beings, such that it is the reason for out
existence. Aristotle believed that knowledge of the good life but also the development
of moral character and good habits to help one live a good life. This is rather
similar to Epicurus, in the way that he claimed that philosophical knowledge is
necessary to help is create meaningful friendships and have freedom in our
lives. It may be said that one will need to develop good habits, such as the
avoidance of the worshiping of material objects, in order to become
self-reliant. It therefore, seems to be common knowledge amongst intelligent
philosophers that philosophical is necessary for people to live a good life.

            In
conclusion, it seems clear from my argument that philosophical knowledge is
necessary for a good life and thus philosophers like Epicurus was right to
associate having philosophical knowledge and leading a good life, full of
happiness. I have explained Epicurus’ stance on how one is able to live the
good life and also why he was correct in associating the good life with having
knowledge of philosophy, but also shown other philosophers who give a similar
argument on the good life. Overall, it is clear that the good life and having
philosophical knowledge are intrinsically linked. 

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