Every fourth of July we go down to the mall to hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence. John has been studying that Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, often referred to himself as a follower of the ancient philosopher Epicurus.
Here is John on what that exactly means:
President Jefferson who was known to have eaten little in order to truly enjoy what he had, lived by a mantra of moderation and ate mostly vegetables with meat only as a side dish. Jefferson’s home, Monticello , to this day is a fabulous garden flush with juicy peaches and a variety of eggplants. All three of these qualities point to a true Epicurean and not the Epicurean-ism of the food channel. Epicurus was known to eat mostly barley cakes and water–a little cheese was a huge indulgence. Like Jefferson, the philosopher known to have advanced a notion of ‘what is needed is simple to procure’ was an avid gardener and Epicurus even held school in the “Garden.”
Epicurean-ism practices a hedonism that can be summarized by the idea that ‘the greatest pleasure is to eat when hungry’. Epicureans vowed to limit their pleasures and by doing so opening themselves up to the greatest amount of pleasure. Pleasure for this ancient philosophy was what should lead one AND pleasure must be something determined by the individual in an active practice of discerning what would cause the least amount of anxiety. To eat when hungry seems simple enough but not so commonly understood in contemporary America. For Epicurus pleasure should be an active practice thereby the limiting of pain. The thing to keep in mind is that Epicurus is encouraging us not to let hunger or pain lead us for this would position desire as a lack and pleasure as a stop gap measure. From this limited perspective, pleasure is always in the immediate and never involved in a larger practice. The object of any practice should be pleasure.
The term Epicurean is probably the most misused tag in the history of western thought and has been abused by many competing schools, in a rush to disavow a school, for declaring any form of religious mythology the greatest evil (Jefferson as an act of Epicurean-ism also wrote a secular bible and viewed Jesus as a thinker not a prophet).
Epicurus stands within the series of thinkers that posits desire as productive, a positive notion that produces life–a precursor to Darwin. For anything necessary is easy to get and anything that is not easy to get causes anxiety. Anxiety is to be avoided at all cost and a practice that eliminates anxiety is the highest form of hedonism.
Above everything Epicurus held “Friendship” and believed that public life was a waste of time that would only lead to anxiety management–interesting to think that Jefferson declared his love for Epicurus after he left office… Something to think about as we celebrate our individual forms of patriotism.