KEN’S CORNER: Thomas Jefferson’s Favorite Greek Philosopher – Epicurus
Commentary by TLB Contributing Writer: Ken LaRive
Several days ago I was surfing Face Book for something of pertinent interest, and found a simple question poised on a very popular site. I found a hundred comments from about twelve people who considered it with much passion. ‘Should Cursive be taught in school?”
I read each comment carefully, and all of them were emphatic, that yes, Cursive should be taught. But I noticed an underlining presumption there, and so, proposed something none seemed to have considered.
“Who, cares.” I said. “Why do we need a government curriculum to mandate the need to learn cursive? If you want to learn cursive, it is quite simple. Learn it. Open a book, take the time to practice it, and that skill now belongs to you. You don’t have to ask anyone for that.”
Jefferson’s founding principles…
One has to wonder how our founding fathers could come up with such a profound idea of Liberty, a country controlled by a “we the people,” a republic based on law, with a Constitution and Bill of Rights set in place to protect us from tyranny. Surely, they argued… and yet they came together for something they considered far bigger than their individual faiths, their suppositions and speculations based on their own specific world views, but all of it, in a nutshell, I propose here, came from a specific form of education. An education whose motivation comes from the joy of learning, and not by some powerful mandate of collectivism, a propagandized mindset, and a designed test to justify it.
A book was expensive in 1776, and rare for the common man, and if you wanted to read one most likely it was borrowed from a friend, or found in a rudimentary library. They would sit outside where there was light, in the cool shade of a tree perhaps, and read. It was long before government mandates on education, before cybercafe lies, and if you wanted to study after dark, one lit a candle. What was proposed in those early writings, was the formulation of a mindset, a specific and all-encompassing mindset based on philosophy… and so, when Jefferson wrote that his favorite Greek Philosopher was Epicurus, I wanted to know more. I didn’t need to ask Big Brother permission to study this. It was my idea, and my volition.
Epicurus, the Sage…
Just as our founders were men of their times, fleeing the oppression of Church-State European governments, and banker consortiums vying to be the last central bank standing, so too was Epicurus a man of his times…
The Trojan and Persian Wars still clanged in the minds of men, and fickle and sometimes horny Gods of War permeated the Athens mindset, the capital head of what was called the Delian League. This unity was born of conquest and war, trade and inspiration, and was an association of what was considered equal city-states that had joined together for mutual protection. Its treasury was kept on the rocky isle of Delos, protected behind walls and in deep vaults, guarded my military men. Sound a bit familiar?
But it was dangerous times, and out of fear, the treasury was moved to the Athenian Acropolis for safekeeping, and as these so called city states now contributed directly to Athens, an empire was born.
It grew, and with it schools of science, engineering, math and many educational institutions of art. And in the middle of what was called “Athens, the queen of Greece” the light of philosophy grew. And what was studied and learned there, has made its way into every hollowed hall of learning around the world.
There, in the cool of evening, as the shadows of gardens fell on marble columns and dazzling pools of Maxfield Parish blue, men in togas taught methods of thinking, methods that are so profound, its fundamental premise is now our standard.
Oh, to have a time machine. The grandfatherly Socrates who spoke to a paying audience of students about the justifications of philosopher Kings, where fascist dictators were chiseled from the flesh of tyranny by a surprised teacher who wanted to find truth.
Aristotle was there, speaking under a multicolored awning about a concept he had learned called common sense. In his attempt to but order in what he saw to be a chaotic world, he classified, categorized, grouped and sorted, and though some current teachers poke fun at the fact that he put alligators and trees in the same class because they were green, surely his way of thinking was far more complex, and misunderstood.
Ah, Plato. He talked about what some have come to think a metaphor, that everything that is real is found in a cave, and yet, his questions into what we now consider to be reality lingers in the offshoots of religious dogma, the psychology and psych of the human mind from conscience thought to the assimilation of learning. From his musings, the idea of a motivational attitude that can be both a curse and a blessing bent the minds of his listeners…. And this was a cornerstone of our founding father’s education… and though they read the Bible, most knew that to come together for a common cause, those differences must be put aside. And so, they called themselves Deists.
They also studied a mostly obscure philosopher, a humble man with a social philosophy so tolerant, his primary students were women… I give you Epicurus:
“I have always wanted to be a philosopher, from my earliest days. I love the quiet contemplation of my own mind. Does that sound vain? Dear me, I hope not immoderately so. For I also love moderation above all else. One could say that virtue of faith or love is supreme in the universe, but each of these, when taken to the extremes, become perverse, and stability is lost, and that leads to madness.”
Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who lived from 341 BC to 270 BC. He is primarily known for the creation of a philosophical commune called the Garden in Athens. It was there, after years of trying, that he and his followers contemplated and lived their philosophy, and to this very day there is a sign on the gate that reads:
‘Stranger, here you will do well to tarry. Here our highest good is pleasure’.
Yes, the Epicureans were hedonists. Found between the folds of Amen Ra, Zoroastrianism, and the veritable flood of philosophical ideas in a world thought to be in control of a selfish, vengeful, all powerful hen-pecked Zeus.
They believed we shouldn’t try and follow the ‘will of God,’ as the Stoics professed, because, among other things, that divine will is not understood. Men put words in the mouths of Gods for their own power and control…. And it is our goal, each of us, in what might otherwise be considered a cold and cruel world where Gods seem indifferent to our welfare… That we are responsible to find a bit of happiness and joy, with a true reason for being to focus on the many pleasure we may find here on Earth, before we die. That is where truth lies, and the ultimate nature of men who seek it.
In his teachings, Epicurus believed that gods existed, but that they show little or no interest in the affairs of men, accept, perhaps, when men are used to fulfill their own godly happiness, mostly selfish in nature. Divine providence, as newly created philosophies taught, became institutionalized into a multitude of religions, but Epicurean taught what is called the atomistic view of the cosmos… He saw the universe to be a mass of swirling atoms, drifting chaotically, ‘riddled with nothingness.’ And it was up to each of us to assign not only meaning, but aspire to the acquisition of the ultimate fulfillment, pleasure in its many aspects. Pleasure, and the lack of pain…
Lucretius, a Epicurean poet, eloquently suggested that we are lucky to have a few atoms who swerve by our control, as with them we are able to acquire free will and consciousness. We can craft the lives we want, for the good and bad and right and wrong, and create happy lives, by our attitudes. And when we die, our consciousness stops, and these so called atoms will dissipate into the great celestial stew. Many future followers of Epicurus were atheists, because in the atomic universe of Epicurus the supreme power and influence of Gods over men were downplayed, with the remainder of the philosophy still intact.
Without a universal law, divine providence, or absolute cosmic jurisprudence, it is all up to us, as responsible individuals, to choose the kind of life we want to have and live, and seek the values that will empower it. He talked about human nature, and how some choices are not reasoned, but that we should attempt to pursue a life of pleasure over pain as much as possible, with our choices reflecting intelligence and rationality.
The veritable core of Epicurean Philosophy, as I see it, is like other Socratic traditions, where it is found that the cause of much of our human sufferings to be the acceptance of false, or flawed beliefs. Primarily, we accept as fact that what we have been taught to think, will ultimately and necessarily produce happiness. Found inside of our minds and hearts, by improper teachers and flawed principles, false notions have propagated, like status, power, lust, gluttony, sloth, luxury and such. We have been instilled with the thought that the acquiescence of these ideas and tangible assets are somehow tied to happiness… but it is evident by looking around that this can not possibly be true…. Epicurus teachings indicated that these external goods and the pursuit of them can bring us much misery, a life of dullness and pain, and ultimate insanity.
Before choosing a direction, said Epicurus, weigh and consider what pleasure you may acquire with the possibility of pain. It was a rudimentary form of individual responsibility he was referring to, as indicated in an illustrated explanation of the pleasures of drinking wine. One has to consider the pain of a hangover, sick bodies and damaged relationships… he taught… and so, we must try to restrict some desires, immediate gratification, for what might be more easily attained. This singular element of Epicurean Philosophy gave his followers austere lives, following a simple way of living, fundamental, moral and ethical, with a simple diet and few possessions, but in control of their own destiny, and considered free men, free thinkers…
If your choices reflect a simple, uncomplicated life, you will be free of many of the aggravations that plague us all. Working to support a lifestyle, for instance, enslaves one to support it. When we sacrifice our lives with a boring, stressful, uninspired job to support some future possibility of happiness, the here and now is forfeit without any form of guarantee.
Contemporary teachers of this philosophy, as taught in my philosophy department, at times proposed that Epicureans were libertines, and I have challenged this idea…It seems that if left to pursue their lives, under a banner of liberty, like our American Constitution for instance, they would choose to live each precious moment given, without much thought for tomorrow, a tomorrow of uncertainty. And yet, what perfect patriot is the man who finds himself enslaved? The pain of slavery, to the Epicurean, would not be tolerated, and so yes, they might make a perfect Libertarian.
Surly, Mr. Jefferson must have been drawn to Epicurus for an emphatic reason, and what I would give for an afternoon of questions on his porch in Monticello. I speculate that he was not drawn to it for its “slacker” nature, as some have suggested the Epicurean nature to be, but one who assigns value to ideals like love, passion, friendship, honor, and a way to free yourself from the bonds of negative emotions, by prioritizing your life.
Note: Special thanks to William Messner-Loebs and Sam Keith who explained it to me so eloquently. And please stay tuned for another noteworthy Philosopher, Marcus Aurelius…
Read more great articles from KEN’S CORNER
From the Author, Ken La Rive – We in the Liberty movement have been fighting to take back this country for less than a decade, peacefully and with the love of God and country in our hearts. Our banner has been trampled on and displaced by a multitude of distractions, further eroding our nation and the cause for Liberty. And so, as we are pulled by forces we cannot fathom, powerful entities with unlimited resources stolen from our future, unaccountable trillions printed out of thin air and put on our backs as debt, we must formulate the most pitiful of all questions any patriot might ask in the final hour: Are we going to fight for our master’s tyranny, or are we going to demand the return of our civil liberties and Constitution? Are we going to choose The Banner of Liberty, or the shackles of voluntary servitude? Will it be a war for corporate profit, or a war to regain our ability to self govern, as the blood and toil of our forefathers presented to us, their children, as a gift? I fear that decision is emanate. I fear that any decision will be a hard one, but my greatest fear of all is that the decision has already been made for us.
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