Epicurus on the Good of Philosophy

From Letters and Sayings of Epicurus, translated by Odysseus Makridis

A philosophy which cannot heal any one of the maladies afflicting human beings is empty. This is not unlike the case of medicine: It is of no benefit whatsoever unless it can effectively expel illness from the human body. So it is with philosophy too: It is of no worth whatever unless it can expel the ailments of the soul. (64)

I know little of Epicurus, but I suspect that he and I would have disagreement on what such “maladies” and “ailments of the soul” are; he, as my very limited gloss of him would lead me to believe, is likely to think of “pain” as one of the chief of such ailments. I, on the other hand, see perhaps the principle ailment of the soul to be based in man’s inability to accept his own finitude and limitedness. But regardless of these differences, Epicurus is correct about the purpose of philosophy; his analogy to medicine can be taken further–should a philosophy not point a man towards a means for dealing with the “ailments of the soul,” it is at best a drug that creates a dependency that obscures life, and at worst a poison that destroys life altogether.

Comments are closed.