A reader writes:
You and Joseph Epstein both get Epicurus entirely wrong. The point is not to remain detached from life. The point is that, by not fearing death and punishment in an afterlife, you can in fact concentrate on this life and figure out how to make it worth living. Richness and complexity is precisely the goal.
You wrote: "Today, Epicurus would advise us all to get an Internet addiction. Push everything else out of your mind until you are dead and miserable."
Since Epicurus is a hedonist, for him, anything that makes you miserable is irrational. So if internet addiction makes you miserable, by dint of consistency, to it Epicurus must be opposed. Even if you think Epicurus is wrong (as I do), woefully misinterpreting him for malign purposes is not the proper tact. I try to be nice to dead philosopers; they weren't mean to me and can't fight back.
The Epstein article you quote gives a strangely lop-sided view of Epicurean philosophy. Yes, Epicurus urges us to "forget about God, death, pain and acquisition." However, summing up his philosophy as "utter detachment from life" ignores his beliefs about friendship, which he saw as absolutely vital to happiness:
Of all things that wisdom provides for the happiness of life as a whole, by far the greatest is the possession of friendship. We ought to look around for people to eat and drink with, before we look for something to eat and drink; to feed without a friend is the life of a lion and a wolf. (source)
When it came to friendship, Epicurus was not at all for letting go, but rather holding fast. He made his friendships the central focus of his existence. And that strikes me as a good model for how to live today, just as it was in 300 B.C.
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