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Beyond Pleasure and Virtue: Cicero Navigates the Epicurean-Stoic Debate on Happiness

The Epicureans and Stoics were both active in Cicero’s time and must have been quarreling so much that Cicero felt it necessary to comment on the views of both groups.
The debate between the two schools focused on the issues of what is happiness and what is good. The Epicureans advocated that happiness is happiness and the ultimate good, the Stoics advocated that virtue is happiness and the only good, and Cicero very The one-sidedness of the two factions is persuasively analyzed. He advocates a kind of good that is consistent with human nature, and his position is very close to Aristotle. In his writings, he first stated the views of both schools and then criticized them. Because the original works of Epicurus and Zeno, the founders of the two schools, were still there at that time, his statement was a valuable piece of information, so let’s talk about his statement and criticism next.

1. Statements and Criticisms of the Epicureans

Cicero’s statements and criticisms of the Epicurean views include the following points.
First, about happiness being the ultimate good. Epicurean view: Happiness is the ultimate good, it is the end of everything else, everything else is its means, and it is not the means of everything else. Nature itself stipulates that happiness and pain are basic human feelings, so these two feelings are the basis for all behavioral choices. Cicero’s criticism: This is a theory that is not compatible with human dignity at all. Nature created us and gave us our natural abilities for a higher purpose. “Spiritually embrace the whole sky, earth and sea—— said The purpose of such a person is happiness, just like saying that all his extraordinary efforts are just for a smalldrop of honey.”

2. About how to view pain.

Epicurean view:The happiness we pursue is not necessarily physical pleasure, direct sensory pleasure, but the feeling experienced after being completely free from pain. The greatest happiness is the complete absence of pain in body and soul. Cicero’s criticism: Feeling happy and not suffering are not just different words. They are completely different things. They are two completely different feelings and cannot be confused.
Epicurean view: Big pain is short-lived, long pain is mild, and therefore can be tolerated. Cicero’s criticism: I really don’t understand what this statement means, because I have seen that many pains are both deep and long-lasting, and enduring pain does not rely on self-deception such as lightness or shortness of time, but perseverance and courage. Morality, self-esteem and other qualities are the placebo to reduce pain, but those of you who do not love moral values ​​for their own sake cannot use this method.

3. On the value of virtue and wisdom.

Epicurean view: If virtue does not bring happiness, who would pursue it? The same is true of wisdom, it is the art of living, and if it had no use in living, no one would want it. Wisdom can help us control our desires, overcome fears, eliminate prejudices, and avoid mental illness. It is a tool for us to obtain happiness. Cicero’s criticism: Moral value is praiseworthy for its own sake, not for the pleasure and benefit it brings. Even in the animal kingdom, we can see that some animals even overcome many difficulties to show benevolence, such as giving birth to and raising their own cubs. This behavior itself is by no means aimed at happiness. Therefore, as long as you praise virtue, you must keep a certain distance from happiness. Please imagine a in which happiness is adorned like a queen, richly dressed, sitting on a throne, and virtue is her maid, waiting by her side as her only purpose and mission. Don’t you blush when you see this ?
In fact, Epicurus himself and many members of his school were virtuous people, aboveboard, dedicated to their duties, and loyal to their friends. Could it be that they did this just for pleasure? Cicero said, most people talk better than they do, but you
It’s better done than said, and your integrity proves your theory wrong.
In short, the proposition that happiness is regarded as the ultimate good and the ultimate goal of all human actions cannot be established. Epicurus actually regarded virtue as more important than physical and material happiness, but when he tried to incorporate this understanding into the framework of hedonism
When , it is very far-fetched logically. His problem is that he confuses the two concepts of happiness and happiness. Happiness is a much broader concept that can accommodate different goods. There is no need to make an either-or choice between happiness and virtue .

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