PracticalWisdom
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The Four Part Cure

Some refer to it as the Four Part Remedy or the Tetrapharmakos. The original tetrapharmakos was a compound of four drugs (wax, tallow, pitch and resin); this was borrowed by Roman era Epicureans to refer to the four remedies for creating mental aponia (absence of pain). The Four Part Cure comes down to us from Philodemus, a Roman Epicurean who lived about 100 years before Jesus: Don’t fear God, Don’t worry about death; What is good is easy to get, What is terrible is easy to endure. This is a summation of the first four of Epicurus’ Principal Doctrines, the longer version reads: 1. That which is blissful and immortal has no troubles itself, nor does it cause trouble for others, so that it is not affected by anger or gratitude (for all such things come about through weakness). 2. Death is nothing to us; for what has disintegrated lacks awareness, and what lacks awareness is nothing to us. 3. The limit of enjoyment is the removal of all pains. Wherever and for however long pleasure is present, there is neither bodily pain nor mental distress. 4. Pain does not last continuously in the flesh; instead, the sharpest pain lasts the shortest time, a pain that exceeds bodily pleasure lasts only a few days, and diseases that last a long time involve delights that exceed their pains. Taken together, these four simple maxims can ease the mind of a modern person as easily as they did in the days of Epicurus.

Don’t Fear God

Epicurus never denied the existence of the gods, instead he insisted that the gods were happy and powerful and had no reason to interfere in the lives of mortals, neither for good nor ill. We will never know if this was his true belief or if it was simply the façade that he presented, as he lived when the memory of Socrates being put to death for teaching atheism was still fresh. What we can be sure of is that Epicurus was a materialist; everything consists of atoms and the void. Stuff is made of atoms and the void is nothing. Everything--including the gods and the soul--is made of atoms, or it doesn’t exist. Epicurus promoted the study of nature and natural phenomena in order to show that there is no need for supernatural stories to explain them. There is no need to believe in a spiteful god that will arbitrarily punish you. This is illustrated in Principal Doctrine 12: It is impossible for someone who is completely ignorant about nature to wash away his fears about the most important matters if he retains some suspicions about the myths. So it is impossible to experience undiluted enjoyment without studying what is natural. From our vantage, 2300 years after Epicurus, this is even more true. The Big Bang, evolution, and physics in general has explained many of the things that seemed un-natural and had myths surrounding them. If we study nature and science, a petty god or gods interested in the lives of humans, becomes laughable. What is laughable, should not be feared.

Don’t Fear Death

Once the gods have been cast aside, once the soul is seen as material, then death becomes nothing to us. If our soul dissolves upon our death, then what is death to us? Epicurus’ main argument against the fear of death is that when we are here, death is not present; when we die, we are not present. Therefore it should not be feared as it is something that we will never know. In his letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus writes: [G]ood and evil consist in sensation, and death is the removal of sensation. A correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable — not because it gives you an unbounded span of time, but because it removes the desire for immortality. There is nothing terrifying in life to someone who truly understands that there is nothing terrifying in the absence of life. In the same letter, Epicurus tells us that when we are choosing food to eat, we do not choose the most food but instead choose good food. He asks if life is not the same, should we not prefer a good life over the longest life? Once we come to understand that death is not to be feared, we can let go of the quest for immortality. Once we accept the inevitability of death, life becomes more meaningful and the reasons to cherish it increase. Billions of years went by before our birth, they are nothing to us. Billions of years will pass after our death, like the years before our birth, they are nothing to us. Understanding and accepting that our lives are but an interlude in a long expanse of non-being is the impetus for enjoying as much of it as possible. We should neither run away from death nor run toward it for life is meant to be enjoyed. Epicurus informs us that the art of living well and the art of dying well are one and the same.

What is Good is Easy to Get

For Epicurus, pleasure is the greatest good. What must be remembered is that Epicurus does not view unbridled hedonistism as providing lasting pleasure, but instead promoted ataraxia (profound contentment) and aponia (painlessness) as providing the only means of lasting pleasure. Epicurus anticipated the psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by over two millennia. Our needs are simple and are dictated by nature; we need food, shelter, companionship, and very little else. So what is good? Pleasure is good and those things that help us achieve pleasure are good. These goods are easily obtainable, even by wild animals; so surely obtainable by most everyone. We increase pleasure not be increasing our possessions, but by decreasing our desires. Once we accept that many desires are unnecessary (or even harmful), we can begin to refocus on those desires which provide for happiness. Again from his letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus writes: [W]e hold that self-reliance is a great good — not so that we will always have only a few things but so that if we do not have much we will rejoice in the few things we have, firmly persuaded that those who need luxury the least enjoy it the most, and that everything natural is easily obtained whereas everything groundless is hard to get. This highlights a non-intuitive truth. When we analyze our desires and “needs”, the ease or difficulty of satisfying them can generally tell us if they are natural and necessary. Again, what is good, is easy to get.

What is Terrible is Easy to Endure

This, the final part of the Four Part Cure, is the hardest for most folks to wrap their mind around. When pain is physical, it is either chronic or acute. When acute, it ends with death, which is nothing to us. If the pain is chronic, it will always be with us. Even when we have chronic pain, if we are living in accord with the teachings of Epicurus, we will have times when our pleasures outweigh our discomfort. Memories of friends, a sweet food, stimulating conversation, as well as many other things can transport us above our pains. Our minds can transcend the pain, and find the pleasures of a life well lived. This is not to argue that we will not feel the pain, it is only that it can be endured. Mental pain is much the same. As nature dictates, pain and discomfort is either brief or chronic, mild or intense. The important thing to remember is not to be pained by its anticipation, for once it arrives, it can be endured.

Conclusion

The Four Part Cure teaches us that life is fleeting and brief, each moment is to be cherished. Anticipations about the future cannot be allowed to interfere with our present joy. Most importantly it gives us the tools to actualize it in our lives. It is best to dwell upon the Cure before the illness finds us, so that when we are beset, we have the tools readily at hand to fix the problem. A philosopher's words are empty if they do not heal the suffering of mankind. For just as medicine is useless if it does not remove sickness from the body, so philosophy is useless if it does not remove suffering from the soul. --Epicurus
PracticalWisdom
© 2018 This site uses cookies for navigation and analytics only, no personal information is collected.

The Four Part Cure

Some refer to it as the Four Part Remedy or the Tetrapharmakos. The original tetrapharmakos was a compound of four drugs (wax, tallow, pitch and resin); this was borrowed by Roman era Epicureans to refer to the four remedies for creating mental aponia (absence of pain). The Four Part Cure comes down to us from Philodemus, a Roman Epicurean who lived about 100 years before Jesus: Don’t fear God, Don’t worry about death; What is good is easy to get, What is terrible is easy to endure. This is a summation of the first four of Epicurus’ Principal Doctrines, the longer version reads: 1. That which is blissful and immortal has no troubles itself, nor does it cause trouble for others, so that it is not affected by anger or gratitude (for all such things come about through weakness). 2. Death is nothing to us; for what has disintegrated lacks awareness, and what lacks awareness is nothing to us. 3. The limit of enjoyment is the removal of all pains. Wherever and for however long pleasure is present, there is neither bodily pain nor mental distress. 4. Pain does not last continuously in the flesh; instead, the sharpest pain lasts the shortest time, a pain that exceeds bodily pleasure lasts only a few days, and diseases that last a long time involve delights that exceed their pains. Taken together, these four simple maxims can ease the mind of a modern person as easily as they did in the days of Epicurus.

Don’t Fear God

Epicurus never denied the existence of the gods, instead he insisted that the gods were happy and powerful and had no reason to interfere in the lives of mortals, neither for good nor ill. We will never know if this was his true belief or if it was simply the façade that he presented, as he lived when the memory of Socrates being put to death for teaching atheism was still fresh. What we can be sure of is that Epicurus was a materialist; everything consists of atoms and the void. Stuff is made of atoms and the void is nothing. Everything--including the gods and the soul--is made of atoms, or it doesn’t exist. Epicurus promoted the study of nature and natural phenomena in order to show that there is no need for supernatural stories to explain them. There is no need to believe in a spiteful god that will arbitrarily punish you. This is illustrated in Principal Doctrine 12: It is impossible for someone who is completely ignorant about nature to wash away his fears about the most important matters if he retains some suspicions about the myths. So it is impossible to experience undiluted enjoyment without studying what is natural. From our vantage, 2300 years after Epicurus, this is even more true. The Big Bang, evolution, and physics in general has explained many of the things that seemed un-natural and had myths surrounding them. If we study nature and science, a petty god or gods interested in the lives of humans, becomes laughable. What is laughable, should not be feared.

Don’t Fear Death

Once the gods have been cast aside, once the soul is seen as material, then death becomes nothing to us. If our soul dissolves upon our death, then what is death to us? Epicurus’ main argument against the fear of death is that when we are here, death is not present; when we die, we are not present. Therefore it should not be feared as it is something that we will never know. In his letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus writes: [G]ood and evil consist in sensation, and death is the removal of sensation. A correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable — not because it gives you an unbounded span of time, but because it removes the desire for immortality. There is nothing terrifying in life to someone who truly understands that there is nothing terrifying in the absence of life. In the same letter, Epicurus tells us that when we are choosing food to eat, we do not choose the most food but instead choose good food. He asks if life is not the same, should we not prefer a good life over the longest life? Once we come to understand that death is not to be feared, we can let go of the quest for immortality. Once we accept the inevitability of death, life becomes more meaningful and the reasons to cherish it increase. Billions of years went by before our birth, they are nothing to us. Billions of years will pass after our death, like the years before our birth, they are nothing to us. Understanding and accepting that our lives are but an interlude in a long expanse of non-being is the impetus for enjoying as much of it as possible. We should neither run away from death nor run toward it for life is meant to be enjoyed. Epicurus informs us that the art of living well and the art of dying well are one and the same.

What is Good is Easy to Get

For Epicurus, pleasure is the greatest good. What must be remembered is that Epicurus does not view unbridled hedonistism as providing lasting pleasure, but instead promoted ataraxia (profound contentment) and aponia (painlessness) as providing the only means of lasting pleasure. Epicurus anticipated the psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by over two millennia. Our needs are simple and are dictated by nature; we need food, shelter, companionship, and very little else. So what is good? Pleasure is good and those things that help us achieve pleasure are good. These goods are easily obtainable, even by wild animals; so surely obtainable by most everyone. We increase pleasure not be increasing our possessions, but by decreasing our desires. Once we accept that many desires are unnecessary (or even harmful), we can begin to refocus on those desires which provide for happiness. Again from his letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus writes: [W]e hold that self-reliance is a great good — not so that we will always have only a few things but so that if we do not have much we will rejoice in the few things we have, firmly persuaded that those who need luxury the least enjoy it the most, and that everything natural is easily obtained whereas everything groundless is hard to get. This highlights a non-intuitive truth. When we analyze our desires and “needs”, the ease or difficulty of satisfying them can generally tell us if they are natural and necessary. Again, what is good, is easy to get.

What is Terrible is Easy to Endure

This, the final part of the Four Part Cure, is the hardest for most folks to wrap their mind around. When pain is physical, it is either chronic or acute. When acute, it ends with death, which is nothing to us. If the pain is chronic, it will always be with us. Even when we have chronic pain, if we are living in accord with the teachings of Epicurus, we will have times when our pleasures outweigh our discomfort. Memories of friends, a sweet food, stimulating conversation, as well as many other things can transport us above our pains. Our minds can transcend the pain, and find the pleasures of a life well lived. This is not to argue that we will not feel the pain, it is only that it can be endured. Mental pain is much the same. As nature dictates, pain and discomfort is either brief or chronic, mild or intense. The important thing to remember is not to be pained by its anticipation, for once it arrives, it can be endured.

Conclusion

The Four Part Cure teaches us that life is fleeting and brief, each moment is to be cherished. Anticipations about the future cannot be allowed to interfere with our present joy. Most importantly it gives us the tools to actualize it in our lives. It is best to dwell upon the Cure before the illness finds us, so that when we are beset, we have the tools readily at hand to fix the problem. A philosopher's words are empty if they do not heal the suffering of mankind. For just as medicine is useless if it does not remove sickness from the body, so philosophy is useless if it does not remove suffering from the soul. --Epicurus