Living in Controlled Desires

Living in Controlled Desires

He who lives without goal is living in desire. Epicurus distinguishes three kinds of desires: the natural and necessary, the natural but not necessary, and those that are neither natural nor necessary.

“It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.” Epicurus

Natural and necessary: These desires are limited desires that are innately present in all humans; it is part of human nature to have them. They are necessary for one of three reasons: necessary for happiness, necessary for freedom from bodily discomfort, and necessary for life.  Clothing, cosmetics, ornamentals, luxurious houses and cars, would belong to the first two categories, while something like food would belong to the third.

Natural but not necessary: These desires are innate to humans, but they do not need to be fulfilled for their happiness or their survival. Wanting to eat delicious food when one is hungry is an example of a natural but not necessary desire.

The main problem with these desires is that they fail to substantially increase a person’s happiness, and at the same time require effort to obtain and are desired by people due to false beliefs that they are actually necessary. It is for this reason that they should be avoided.

Not natural nor necessary: These desires are neither innate to humans nor required for happiness or health; indeed, they are also limitless and can never be fulfilled. Desires of wealth or fame would fall under this category, and such desires are to be avoided because they will ultimately only bring about discomfort.

If one follows only natural and necessary desires, then, according to Epicurus, one would be able to reach aponia (Aponia which means the absence of pain and was regarded by the Epicureans to be the height of bodily pleasure. As with the other Hellenistic schools of philosophy, the Epicureans believed that the goal of human life is happiness), and ataraxia (Ataraxia is a Greek philosophical term for a lucid state of robust equanimity that was characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry) and thereby the highest form of happiness.

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