Epicurus, known as the founder of Hedonism, says a lot about how the meaning of life is to aim for pleasure. But this isn’t crude pleasure, these are the finest pleasures: music, intellectual creativity, food, friends and family. When I teach Epicurus, I basically teach this aspect of him but this year, I’m going to give a brief moment about his politics because I find it interesting.
Epicurus says to not get involved in politics or participating in it. The reason is because it’ll get you into trouble. Instead, just live a life of secret seclusion. So what’s his argument for this?
Let’s use the 2008 election as an example: Suppose that McCain won the election. What would happen to you personally? Well, you’d still have your job. You’d still have your friends and family. The state of your health would be the same. Your economic situation would relatively be the same. Everything that surrounds your life would practically be the same. In short, your life doesn’t change. Well, suppose that Obama won the election. What would happen? You’d still have your job. Your friends and family are still there. You’re health is about the same. Your economic situation would be the same, and your life about you would be the same. In short, either way, LIFE IS THE SAME. Nothing changes! Sure, things on a global scale might change, but nothing effects you as an individual. You’re life is the same no matter which candidate is in charge. Well if nothing changes, why get involved into politics? That’s the question that Epicurus asks.
Now you might reply: “Ok, well there’s got to be some sort of change. After all, I have an idea what should be the case politically so there’s must be something going on there.” Epicurus would just reply back: “but your life individually didn’t change, just your attitude about the who’s in charge. You either like the person in charge, or you don’t. THAT’S IT! It’s your attitude that changed.” Well, if you have the potential of having a bad attitude toward a movement or a person, that surely isn’t going to make you happy, which is against the hedonistic code. Thus, the best life is to not get involved in politics at all, don’t even try to gain knowledge about politics. Instead, focus your life on the finest pleasures in life.
Now on the one hand, I find this argument important. It’s a nice constribution to philosophy and it presents a picture that’s really against the tradition of how important it is to get involved in politics. But Epicurus is basically saying “so what?” Getting involved doesn’t do anything, so why get invovled?
But on the other hand, I feel that getting involved is important, even if it does seem trivial. It seems that contributing does something that really speaks out your voice. But Epicurus could easily reply back: “not really. Your life will still be the same. So why get involved in the first place?”
So is there any way to reply to Epicurus’ “so what?” answer?
By the way, whenever people reply back in philosophy, the reply is usually “oh, yeah” (with a sarcastic tone), or a “so what?” answer. It’s the “so what?” answers that I find really hard to reply back with.