The Summary of the Diseases of the Soul

In his new book Letters on Happiness: An Epicurean Dialogue, Peter Saint-Andre wrote an introductory survey and commentary of Epicurean doctrines, fragments, and even a letter by Thomas Jefferson, in the form of an exchange of letters between friends.

This type of contemporary philosophical literature is exactly the type of content that the Society of Friends of Epicurus would like to see more of, as it resonates with our teaching mission and vision.  His commentary is didactically useful for several reasons.  It’s sorted by subject, which would make it useful within the context of a study group, and utilizes the strategy of approaching a teaching from various angles and paraphrasing in order to help the pupil easily apprehend therapeutic concepts.  For instance:

Perhaps we can try to express the Epicurean remedies as actionable guidelines, as he does in Vatican Saying 71: Ask this question of every desire: what will happen to me if the object of desire is achieved, and what if not?

The author is particularly equipped to write his Letters on Happiness because he is the translator of Epicurean writings for Monadnock Valley Press and for the public domain, so that he was able to gain thorough familiarity with the writings while he was conducting his translation work.

Saint-Andre also incorporated his Summary of the Diseases of the Soul, again applying the technique of paraphrasing and giving readers a different approach to the teachings in order to help them assimilate the didactic content.  The condensed Summary of the Diseases of the Soul should perhaps be treated as a modern ‘Epicurean Scroll’ of a sort, for its usefulness in the task of learning Epicurus’ doctrine, in doing introspective philosophical work, and in the cultivation of good character and of the analysed life.

Let’s see if I can summarize the diseases of soul that Epicurus describes:

The fear of oblivion leads to the desire for immortality. Yet the ideal (what is natural and necessary) is not to live forever, but to face death without fear and to enjoy the span of your life on earth.

The fear of weakness leads to the desire for power. Yet the ideal is not to hold power over other people, but to be strong and effective enough to meet your own needs.

The fear of poverty leads to greed and the desire for great wealth. Yet the ideal is not to be super-rich, but to have enough material goods to meet your true and natural needs for food, shelter, clothing, companionship, etc.

The fear of obscurity leads to the desire for fame. Yet the ideal is not being renowned to all the world, but being connected to the people who truly matter to you.

The fear of being disliked leads to the desire for honor. Yet the ideal is not to be the recipient of great public esteem, but to have self-respect and to be respected by those you know and admire.

The fear of being bored or being perceived as ordinary leads to a desire for luxury (fancy things, exciting experiences, and such). Yet the ideal is not continuous stimulation but active engagement with the world around you.

The fear of being considered inferior leads to envy — the desire that others lose what they have. Yet the ideal is not tearing others down, but accepting and improving yourself.

The fear of being disappointed leads to anger — the desire that other people act as you want them to. Yet the ideal is not feeling that others must conform to your expectations, but accepting others as they are and maintaining your inner serenity.

The fear of failure leads to laziness — the desire to get something for nothing. Yet the ideal is not passivity but active confidence in your abilities and the pursuit of self-improvement.

INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY OF FRIENDS OF EPICURUS

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About Hiram

Hiram is an author from the north side of Chicago who has written for The Humanist, Greenewave, Om Times, and other publications. His book Tending the Epicurean Garden (Humanist Press, 2014) is a contemporary and interdisciplinary introduction to Epicureanism. He earned a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from NEIU.