|Died||circa 270 BCE
|Main interests||Atomism, Hedonism|
Epicurus (Greek: Ἐπίκουρος, Epikouros, "ally, comrade"; Samos, 341 BCE – Athens, 270 BCE; 72 years) was an ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works. Much of what is known about Epicurean philosophy derives from later followers and commentators.
For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia, peace and freedom from fear, and "aponia", the absence of pain, and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. He taught that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and evil, that death is the end of the body and the soul and should therefore not be feared, that the gods do not reward or punish humans, that the universe is infinite and eternal, and that events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space.
His parents, Neocles and Chaerestrate, both Athenian citizens, had emigrated to the Athenian settlement on the Aegean island of Samos about ten years before Epicurus's birth in February 341 BCE. As a boy he studied philosophy for four years under the Platonist teacher Pamphilus. At the age of 18 he went to Athens for his two-year term of military service. The playwright Menander served in the same age-class of the ephebes as Epicurus.
After the death of Alexander the Great, Perdiccas expelled the Athenian settlers on Samos to Colophon. After the completion of his military service, Epicurus joined his family there. He studied under Nausiphanes, who followed the teachings of Democritus. In 311/310 BCE Epicurus taught in Mytilene but caused strife and was forced to leave. He then founded a school in Lampsacus before returning to Athens in 306 BCE. There he founded The Garden, a school named for the garden he owned about halfway between the Stoa and the Academy that served as the school's meeting place.
Even though many of his teachings were heavily influenced by earlier thinkers, especially by Democritus, he differed in a significant way with Democritus on determinism. Epicurus would often deny this influence, denounce other philosophers as confused, and claim to be "self-taught".
Epicurus never married and had no known children. He suffered from kidney stones, to which he finally succumbed in 270 BCE at the age of 72, and despite the prolonged pain involved, he wrote to Idomeneus:
I have written this letter to you on a happy day to me, which is also the last day of my life. For I have been attacked by a painful inability to urinate, and also dysentery, so violent that nothing can be added to the violence of my sufferings. But the cheerfulness of my mind, which comes from the recollection of all my philosophical contemplation, counterbalances all these afflictions. And I beg you to take care of the children of Metrodorus, in a manner worthy of the devotion shown by the young man to me, and to philosophy.
Epicurus's school had a small but devoted following in his lifetime. The primary members were Hermarchus, the financier Idomeneus, Leonteus and his wife Themista, the satirist Colotes, the mathematician Polyaenus of Lampsacus, and Metrodorus of Lampsacus, the most famous popularizer of Epicureanism. His school was the first of the ancient Greek philosophical schools to admit women as a rule rather than an exception. The original school was based in Epicurus's home and garden. An inscription on the gate to the garden is recorded by Seneca in epistle XXI of Epistulae morales ad Lucilium:
Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.
Epicurus emphasized friendship as an important ingredient of happiness, and the school resembled in many ways a community of friends living together. However, he also instituted a hierarchical system of levels among his followers, and had them swear an oath on his core tenets.
Epicurus is a key figure in the development of science and the scientific method because of his insistence that nothing should be believed except that which was tested through direct observation and logical deduction. Many of his ideas about nature and physics presaged important scientific concepts of our time. He was a key figure in the Axial Age, the period from 800 BCE to 200 BCE, during which similarly revolutionary thinking appeared in China, India, Iran, the Near East, and Ancient Greece. His statement of the Ethic of Reciprocity as the foundation of ethics is the earliest in Ancient Greece, and he differs from the formulation of utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill by emphasizing the minimization of harm to oneself and others as the way to maximize happiness.
Epicurus's teachings represented a departure from the other major Greek thinkers of his period, and before, but was nevertheless founded on many of the same principles as Democritus. Like Democritus, he was an atomist, believing that the fundamental constituents of the world were indivisible little bits of matter (atoms, Greek atomos, indivisible) flying through empty space (khaos). Everything that occurs is the result of the atoms colliding, rebounding, and becoming entangled with one another, with no purpose or plan behind their motions. (Compare this with the modern study of particle physics.) His theory differs from the earlier atomism of Democritus because he admits that atoms do not always follow straight lines but their direction of motion may occasionally exhibit a 'swerve' (clinamen). This allowed him to avoid the determinism implicit in the earlier atomism and to affirm free will. (Compare this with the modern theory of quantum physics, which postulates a non-deterministic random motion of fundamental particles.)
He regularly admitted women and slaves into his school, introducing the new concept of fundamental human egalitarianism into Greek thought, and was one of the first Greeks to break from the god-fearing and god-worshiping tradition common at the time, even while affirming that religious activities are useful as a way to contemplate the gods and to use them as an example of the pleasant life. Epicurus participated in the activities of traditional Greek religion, but taught that one should avoid holding false opinions about the gods. The gods are immortal and blessed and men who ascribe any additional qualities that are alien to immortality and blessedness are, according to Epicurus, impious. The gods do not punish the bad and reward the good as the common man believes. The opinion of the crowd is, Epicurus claims, that the gods "send great evils to the wicked and great blessings to the righteous who model themselves after the gods," when in reality Epicurus believes the gods do not concern themselves at all with human beings.
It is not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, who is impious, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them.
Epicurus' philosophy is based on the theory that all good and bad derive from the sensations of pleasure and pain. What is good is what is pleasurable, and what is bad is what is painful. Pleasure and pain were ultimately, for Epicurus, the basis for the moral distinction between good and bad. If pain is chosen over pleasure in some cases it is only because it leads to a greater pleasure. Although Epicurus has been commonly misunderstood to advocate the rampant pursuit of pleasure, what he was really after was the absence of pain (both physical and mental, i.e., suffering) - a state of satiation and tranquility that was free of the fear of death and the retribution of the gods. When we do not suffer pain, we are no longer in need of pleasure, and we enter a state of 'perfect mental peace' (ataraxia).
Epicurus' teachings were introduced into medical philosophy and practice by the Epicurean doctor Asclepiades of Bithynia, who was the first physician who introduced Greek medicine in Rome. Asclepiades introduced the friendly, sympathetic, pleasing and painless treatment of patients. He advocated humane treatment of mental disorders, had insane persons freed from confinement and treated them with natural therapy, such as diet and massages. His teachings are surprisingly modern, therefore Asclepiades is considered to be a pioneer physician in psychotherapy, physical therapy and molecular medicine.
Epicurus explicitly warned against overindulgence because it often leads to pain. For instance, in what might be described as a "hangover" theory, Epicurus warned against pursuing love too ardently. However, having a circle of friends you can trust is one of the most important means for securing a tranquil life.
Epicurus also believed (contra Aristotle) that death was not to be feared. When a man dies, he does not feel the pain of death because he no longer is and he therefore feels nothing. Therefore, as Epicurus famously said, "death is nothing to us." When we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fear of death arises from the false belief that in death there is awareness.
The "Epicurean paradox" is a version of the problem of evil. It is a trilemma argument (God is omnipotent, God is good, but Evil exists), a type of argument which was favoured by the ancient Greek skeptics, and this argument may have been wrongly attributed to Epicurus by Lactantius, who, from his Christian perspective, regarded Epicurus as an atheist. According to Reinhold F. Glei, it is settled that the argument of theodicy is from an academic source which is not only not epicurean, but even anti-epicurean. The earliest extant version of this trilemma appears in the writings of the skeptic Sextus Empiricus.
Epicurus didn’t deny the existence of gods. Instead, he stated that what gods there may be do not concern themselves with us, and thus would not seek to punish us either in this or any other life.
Epicurus emphasized the senses in his epistemology, and his Principle of Multiple Explanations ("if several theories are consistent with the observed data, retain them all") is an early contribution to the philosophy of science.
There are also some things for which it is not enough to state a single cause, but several, of which one, however, is the case. Just as if you were to see the lifeless corpse of a man lying far away, it would be fitting to list all the causes of death in order to make sure that the single cause of this death may be stated. For you would not be able to establish conclusively that he died by the sword or of cold or of illness or perhaps by poison, but we know that there is something of this kind that happened to him.
In contrast to the Stoics, Epicureans showed little interest in participating in the politics of the day, since doing so leads to trouble. He instead advocated seclusion. His garden can be compared to present-day communes. This principle is epitomized by the phrase lathe biōsas λάθε βιώσας (Plutarchus De latenter vivendo 1128c; Flavius Philostratus Vita Apollonii 8.28.12), meaning "live secretly", "get through life without drawing attention to yourself", i. e. live without pursuing glory or wealth or power, but anonymously, enjoying little things like food, the company of friends, etc.
As an ethical guideline, Epicurus emphasized minimizing harm and maximizing happiness of oneself and others:
It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing "neither to harm nor be harmed"),
and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.
Elements of Epicurean philosophy have resonated and resurfaced in various diverse thinkers and movements throughout Western intellectual history.
The atomic poems (such as 'All Things are Governed by Atoms') and natural philosophy of Margaret Cavendish were influenced by Epicurus.
His emphasis minimizing harm and maximizing happiness in his formulation of the Ethic of Reciprocity was later picked up by the democratic thinkers of the French Revolution, and others, like John Locke, who wrote that people had a right to "life, liberty, and property." To Locke, one's own body was part of their property, and thus one's right to property would theoretically guarantee safety for their persons, as well as their possessions.
This triad, as well as the egalitarianism of Epicurus, was carried forward into the American freedom movement and Declaration of Independence, by the American founding father, Thomas Jefferson, as "all men are created equal" and endowed with certain "inalienable rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean. 
In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume uses Epicurus as a character for explaining the impossibility of our knowing God to be any greater or better than his creation proves him to be.
Epicurus was first to assert human freedom as coming from a fundamental indeterminism in the motion of atoms. This has led some philosophers to think that for Epicurus free will was caused directly by chance. In his "On the Nature of Things," Lucretius appears to suggest this in the best-known passage on Epicurus's position . But in his Letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus follows Aristotle and clearly identifies three possible causes - "some things happen of necessity, others by chance, others through our own agency." Aristotle said some things "depend on us" (eph hemin). Epicurus agreed, and said it is to these last things that praise and blame naturally attach. For Epicurus, the chance "swerve" of the atoms simply defeated determinism to leave room for autonomous agency.
Epicurus was also a significant source of inspiration and interest for both Arthur Schopenhauer, having particular influence on the famous pessimist's views on suffering and death, as well as one of Schopenhauer's successors: Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche cites his affinities to Epicurus in a number of his works, including The Gay Science, Beyond Good and Evil, and his private letters to Peter Gast. Nietzsche was attracted to, among other things, Epicurus's ability to maintain a cheerful philosophical outlook in the face of painful physical ailments. Nietzsche also suffered from a number of sicknesses during his lifetime. However, he thought that Epicurus's conception of happiness as freedom from anxiety was too passive and negative.
The only surviving complete works by Epicurus are three letters, which are to be found in book X of Diogenes Laertius's Lives of Eminent Philosophers, and two groups of quotes: the Principal Doctrines, reported as well in Diogenes's book X, and the Vatican Sayings, preserved in a manuscript from the Vatican Library.
Numerous fragments of his thirty-seven volume treatise On Nature have been found among the charred papyrus fragments at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. In addition, other Epicurean writings found at Herculaneum contain important quotations from his other works. Moreover, numerous fragments and testimonies are found throughout ancient Greek and Roman literature, a collection of which can be found in Usener's Epicurea.
As Diskin Clay conclusively shows: Epicurus himself established a custom of celebrating his birthday annually with common meals and befitting his stature as hero ctistes (or founding hero) of the Garden. He ordained in his will annual memorial feasts for himself on the same date (10th of Gamelion month) . Epicurean communities continued this tradition, they referred to Epicurus as their "savior" (soter) , celebrated him as a hero ; Lucretius apotheosized Epicurus as the main character of his epic poem De rerum natura. The hero cult of Epicurus is the Garden's analogue for a civic religion. Howerever the clear evidence of an Epicurean hero cult seems to have been buried by the heavy covering of their posthumous philosophical beliefs.
Epicurus the Sage was a 2 part comic book by William Messner-Loebs and Sam Kieth, portraying Epicurus as "the only sane philosopher." by anachronistically bringing together Epicurus with many other well known Greek philosophers, republished as graphic novel by the Wildstorm branch of DC Comics.
|Part of the Politics series on|
EPICURUS (342-270 B.C.), Greek philosopher, was born in Samos in the end of 342 or the beginning of 341 B.C., seven years after the death of Plato. His father Neocles, a native of Gargettos, a small village of Attica, had settled in Samos, not later than 352, as one of the cleruchs sent out after the victory of Timotheusin 366-365. At the age of eighteen he went to Athens, where the Platonic school was flourishing under the lead of Xenocrates. A year later, however, Antipater banished some 12,000 of the poorer citizens, and Epicurus joined his father, who was now living at Colophon. It seems possible that he had listened to the lectures of Nausiphanes,a Democritean philosopher, and Pamphilus the Platonist, but he was probably, like his father, merely an ordinary teacher. Stimulated, however, by the perusal of some writings of Democritus, he began to formulate a doctrine of his own; and at Mitylene, Colophon and Lampsacus, he gradually gathered round him several enthusiastic disciples. In 307 he returned to Athens, which had just been restored to a nominal independence by Demetrius Poliorcetes, and there he lived for the rest of his life. The scene of his teaching was a garden which he bought for about X300 (80 minae). There he passed his days as the loved and venerated head of a remarkable, and up to that time unique, society of men and women. Amongst the number were Metrodorus (d. 277), his brother Timocrates, and his wife Leontion (formerly a hetaera), Polyaenus, Hermarchus, who succeeded Epicurus as chief of the school, Leonteus and his wife Themista, and Idomeneus, whose wife was a sister of Metrodorus. It is possible that the relations between the sexes - in this prototype of Rabelais's Abbey of Theleme - were not entirely what is termed Platonic. But there is on the other hand scarcely a doubt that the tales of licentiousness circulated by opponents are groundless. The stories of the Stoics, who sought to refute the views of Epicurus by an appeal to his alleged antecedents and habits, were no doubt in the main, as Diogenes Laertius says, the stories of maniacs. The general charges, which they endeavoured to substantiate by forged letters, need not count for much, and in many cases they only exaggerated what, if true, was not so heinous as they suggested. Against them trustworthy authorities testified to his general and remarkable considerateness, pointing to the statues which the city had raised in his honour, and to the numbers of his friends, who were many enough to fill whole cities.
The mode of life in his community was plain. The general drink was water and the food barley bread; half a pint of wine was held an ample allowance. " Send me," says Epicurus to a correspondent, " send me some Cythnian cheese, so that, should I choose, I may fare sumptuously." There was no community of property, which, as Epicurus said, would imply distrust of their own and others' good resolutions. The company was held in unity by the charms of his personality, and by the free intercourse which he inculcated and exemplified. Though he seems to have had a warm affection for his countrymen, it was as human beings brought into contact with him, and not as members of a political body, that he preferred to regard them. He never entered public life. His kindliness extended even to his slaves, one of whom, named Mouse, was a brother in philosophy.
Epicurus died of stone in 270 B.C. He left his property, consisting of the garden (Ki iroc 'E7rLKoupov), a house in Melite (the south-west quarter of Athens), and apparently some funds besides, to two trustees on behalf of his society, and for the special interest of some youthful members. The garden was set apart for the use of the school; the house became the house of Hermarchus and his fellow-philosophers during his lifetime. The surplus proceeds of the property were further to be applied to maintain a yearly offering in commemoration of his departed father, mother and brothers, to pay the expenses incurred in celebrating his own birthday every year on the 7th of the month Gamelion, and for a social gathering of the sect on the 10th of every month in honour of himself and Metrodorus. Besides similar tributes in honour of his brothers and Polyaenus, he directed the trustees to be guardians of the son of Polyaenus and the son of Metrodorus; whilst the daughter of the last mentioned was to be married by the guardians to some member of the society who should be approved of by Hermarchus. His four slaves, three men and one woman, were left their freedom. His books passed to Hermarchus.
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The Epicurean philosophy is traditionally divided into the three branches of logic, physics and ethics. It is, however, only as a basis of facts and principles for his theory of life that logical and physical inquiries find a place at all. Epicurus himself had not apparently shared in any large or liberal culture, and his influence was certainly thrown on the side of those who depreciated purely scientific pursuits as onesided and misleading. "Steer clear of all culture" was his advice to a young disciple. In this aversion to a purely or mainly intellectual training may be traced a recoil from the systematic metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle, whose tendency was to subordinate the practical man to the philosopher. Ethics had been based upon logic and metaphysics. But experience showed that systematic knowledge of truth is not synonymous with right action. Hence, in the second place, Plato and Aristotle had assumed a perfect state with laws to guide the individual aright. It was thus comparatively easy to show how the individual could learn to apprehend and embody the moral law in his own conduct. But experience had in the time of Epicurus shown the temporary and artificial character of the civic form of social life. It was necessary, therefore, for Epicurus to go back to nature to find a more enduring and a wider foundation for ethical doctrine, to go back from words to realities, to give up reasonings and get at feelings, to test conceptions and arguments by a final reference to the only touchstone of truth - to sensation. There, and there only, one seems to find a common and a satisfactory ground, supposing always that all men's feelings give the same answer. Logic must go, but so also must the state, as a specially-privileged and eternal order of things, as anything more than a contrivance serving certain purposes of general utility.
To the Epicureans the elaborate logic of the Stoics was a superfluity. In place of logic we find canonic, the theory of the three tests of truth and reality. (r) The only ultimate canon of reality is sensation; whatever we feel, whatever we perceive by any sense, that we know on the most certain evidence we can have to be real, and in proportion as our feeling is clear, distinct and vivid, in that proportion are we sure of the reality of its object. But in what that vividness (ivap-yaaa) consists is a question which Epicurus does not raise, and which he would no doubt have deemed superfluous quibbling over a matter sufficiently settled by common sense. (2) Besides our sensations, we learn truth and reality by our preconceptions or ideas (irpoMpPaS). These are the fainter images produced by repeated sensations, the " ideas " resulting from previous " impressions "- sensations at second-hand as it were, which are stored up in memory, and which a general name serves to recall. These bear witness to reality, not because we feel anything now, but because we felt it once; they are sensations registered in language, and again, if need be, translatable into immediate sensations or groups of sensation. (3) Lastly, reality is vouched for by the imaginative apprehensions of the mind (4avraartKai i rcj30Xai), immediate feelings of which the mind is conscious as produced by some action of its own. This last canon, however, was of dubious validity. Epicureanism generally was content to affirm that whatever we effectively feel in consciousness is real; in which sense they allow reality to the fancies of the insane, the dreams of a sleeper, and those feelings by which we imagine the existence of beings of perfect blessedness and endless life. Similarly, just because fear, hope and remembrance add to the intensity of consciousness, the Epicurean can hold that bodily pain and pleasure is a less durable and important thing than pain and pleasure of mind. Whatever we feel to affect us does affect us, and is therefore real. Error can arise only because we mix up our opinions and suppositions with what we actually feel. The Epicurean canon is a rejection of logic; it sticks fast to the one point that " sensation is sensation, ? ' and there is no more to be made of it. Sensation, it says, is unreasoning (&Xoyos); it must be accepted, and not criticized. Reasoning can come in only to put sensations together, and to point out how they severally contribute to human welfare; it does not make them, and cannot alter them.
In the Epicurean physics there are two parts - a general metaphysic and psychology, and a special explanation of particular phenomena of nature. The method of Epicurus is the argument of analogy. It is an attempt to make the phenomena of nature intelligible to us by regarding them as instances on a grand scale of that with which we are already familiar on a small scale. This is what Epicurus calls explaining what we do not see by what we do see.
In physics Epicurus founded upon Democritus, and his chief object was to abolish the dualism between mind and matter which is so essential a point in the systems of Plato and Aristotle. All that exists, says Epicurus, is corporeal (TO irav iaTC v wµa); the intangible is non-existent, or empty space. If a thing exists it must be felt, and to be felt it must exert resistance. But not all things are intangible which our senses are not subtle enough to detect. We must indeed accept our feelings; but we must also believe much which is not directly testified by sensation, if only it serves to explain phenomena and does not contravene our sensations. The fundamental postulates of Epicureanism are atoms and the void (iiroya Kai Kevov). Space is infinite, and there is an illimitable multitude of indestructible, indivisible and absolutely compact atoms in perpetual motion in this illimitable space. These atoms, differing only in size, figure and weight, are perpetually moving with equal velocities, but at a rate far surpassing our conceptions; as they move, they are for ever giving rise to new worlds; and these worlds are perpetually tending towards dissolution, and towards a fresh series of creations. This universe of ours is only one section out of the innumerable worlds in infinite space; other worlds may present systems very different from that of our own. The soul of man is only a finer species of body, spread throughout the whole aggregation which we term his bodily frame. Like a warm breath, it pervades the human structure and works with it; nor could it act as it does in perception unless it were corporeal. The various processes of sense, notably vision, are explained on the principles of materialism. From the surfaces of all objects there are continually flowing thin filmy images exactly copying the solid body whence they originate; and these images by direct impact on the organism produce (we need not care to ask how) the phenomena of vision. Epicurus in this way explains vision by substituting for the apparent action of a body at a distance a direct contact of image and organ. But without following the explanation into the details in which it revels, it may be enough to say that the whole hypothesis is but an attempt to exclude the occult conception of action at a distance, and substitute a familiar phenomenon.
This aspect of the Epicurean physics becomes clearer when we look at his mode of rendering particular phenomena intelligible. His purpose is to eliminate the common idea of divine interference. That there are gods Epicurus never dreams of denying. But these gods have not on their shoulders the burden of upholding and governing the world, They are themselves the products of the order of nature - a higher species than humanity, but not the rulers of man, neither the makers nor the upholders of the world. Man should worship them, but his worship is the reverence due to the ideals of perfect blessedness; it ought not to be inspired either by hope or by fear. To prevent all reference of the more potent phenomena of nature to divine action Epicurus rationalizes the processes of the cosmos. He imagines all possible plans or hypotheses, not actually contradicted by our experience of familiar events, which will represent in an intelligible way the processes of astronomy and meteorology. When two or more modes of accounting for a phenomena are equally admissible as not directly contradicted by known phenomena, it seems to Epicurus almost a return to the old mythological habit of mind when a savant asserts that the real cause is one and only one. " Thunder," he says, " may be explained in many other ways; only let us have no myths of divine action. To assign only a single cause for these phenomena, when the facts familiar to us suggest several, is insane, and is just the absurd conduct to be expected from people who dabble in the vanities of astronomy." We need not be too curious to inquire how these celestial phenomena actually do come about; we can learn how they might have been produced, and to go further is to trench on ground beyond the limits of human knowledge.
Thus, if Epicurus objects to the doctrine of mythology, he objects no less to the doctrine of an inevitable fate, a necessary order of things unchangeable and supreme over the human will. The Stoic doctrine of Fatalism seemed to Epicurus no less deadly a foe of man's true welfare than popular superstition. Even in the movement of the atoms he introduces a sudden change of direction, which is supposed to render their aggregation easier, and to break the even law of destiny. So, in the sphere of human action, Epicurus would allow of no absolutely controlling necessity. In fact, it is only when we assume for man this independence of the gods and of fatality that the Epicurean theory of life becomes possible. It assumes that man can, like the gods, withdraw himself out of reach of all external influences, and thus, as a sage, " live like a god among men, seeing that the man is in no wise like a mortal creature who lives in undying blessedness." And this present life is the only one. With one consent Epicureanism preaches that the death of the body is the end of everything for man, and hence the other world has lost all its terrors as well as all its hopes.
The attitude of Epicurus in this whole matter is antagonistic to science. The idea of a systematic enchainment of phenomena, in which each is conditioned by every other, and none can be taken in isolation and explained apart from the rest, was foreign to his mind. So little was the scientific conception of the solar system familiar to Epicurus that he could reproach the astronomers, because their account of an eclipse represented things otherwise than as they appear to the senses, and could declare that the sun and stars were just as large as they seemed to us.
The moral philosophy of Epicurus is a qualified hedonism, the heir of the Cyrenaic doctrine that pleasure is the good thing in life. Neither sect, it may be added, advocated sensuality pure and unfeigned - the Epicurean least of all. By pleasure Epicurus meant both more and less than the Cyrenaics. To the Cyrenaics pleasure was of moments; to Epicurus it extended as a habit of mind through life. To the Cyrenaics pleasure was something active and positive; to Epicurus it was rather negative - tranquillity more than vigorous enjoyment. The test of true pleasure, according to Epicurus, is the removal and absorption of all that gives pain; it implies freedom from pain of body and from trouble of mind. The happiness of the Epicurean was, it might almost seem, a grave and solemn pleasure - a quiet unobtrusive ease of heart, but not exuberance and excitement. The sage of Epicureanism is a rational and reflective seeker for happiness, who balances the claims of each pleasure against the evils that may possibly ensue, and treads the path of enjoyment cautiously. Prudence is, therefore, the only real guide to happiness; it is thus the chief excellence, and the foundation of all the virtues. It is, in fact, says Epicurus - in language which contrasts strongly with that of Aristotle on the same topic - " a more precious power than philosophy." The reason or intellect is introduced to balance possible pleasures and pains, and to construct a scheme in which pleasures are the materials of a happy life. Feeling, which Epicurus declared to be the means of determining what is good, is subordinated to a reason which adjudicates between competing pleasures with the view of securing tranquillity of mind and body. " We cannot live pleasantly without living wisely and nobly and righteously." Virtue is at least a means of happiness, though apart from that it is no good in itself, any more than mere sensual enjoyments, which are good only because they may sometimes serve to secure health of body and tranquillity of mind. (See further Ethics.) The Epicurean School. - Even in the lifetime of Epicurus we hear of the vast numbers of his friends, not merely in Greece, but in Asia and Egypt. The crowds of Epicureans were a standing enigma to the adherents of less popular sects. Cicero pondered over the fact; Arcesilaus explained the secession to the Epicurean camp, compared with the fact that no Epicurean was ever known to have abandoned his school, by saying that, though it was possible for a man to be turned into a eunuch, no eunuch could ever become a man. But the phenomenon was not obscure. The doctrine has many truths, and is attractive to many in virtue of its simplicity and its immediate relation to life. The dogmas of Epicurus became to his followers a creed embodying the truths on which salvation depended; and they passed on from one generation to another with scarcely a change or addition. The immediate disciples of Epicurus have been already mentioned, with the exception of Colotes of Lampsacus, a great favourite of Epicurus, who wrote a work arguing " that it was impossible even to live according to the doctrines of the other philosophers." In the and and 1st centuries B.C. Apollodorus, nicknamed laprorupavvos (" Lord of the Garden "), and Zeno of Sidon (who describes Socrates as " the Attic buffoon ": Cic. De nat. deor. i. 21, 33, 34) taught at Athens. About 150 B.C. Epicureanism established itself at Rome. Beginning with C. Amafinius or Amafanius (Cic. Acad. i. 2, Tusc. iv. 3), we find the names of Phaedrus (who became scholarch at Athens c. 70 B.C.) and Philodemus (originally of Gadara in Palestine) as distinguished Epicureans in the time of Cicero. But the greatest of its Roman names was Lucretius, whose De rerum natura embodies the main teaching of Epicurus with great exactness, and with a beauty which the subject seemed scarcely to allow. Lucretius is a proof, if any were needed, that Epicureanism is compatible with nobility of soul. In the 1st century of the Christian era, the nature of the time, with its active political struggles, naturally called Stoicism more into the foreground, yet Seneca, though nominally a Stoic, draws nearly all his suavity and much of his paternal wisdom from the writings of Epicurus. The position of Epicureanism as a recognized school in the and century is best seen in the fact that it was one of the four schools (the others were the Stoic, Platonist, and Peripatetic) which were placed on a footing of equal endowment when Marcus Aurelius founded chairs of philosophy at Athens. The evidence of Diogenes proves that it still subsisted as a school a century later, but its spirit lasted longer than its formal organization as a school. A great deal of the best of the Renaissance was founded on Epicureanism, and in more recent times a great number of prominent thinkers have been Epicureans in a greater or less degree. Among these may be mentioned Pierre Gassendi, who revived and codified the doctrine in the 17th century; Moliere, the comte de Gramont, Rousseau, Fontenelle and Voltaire. All those whose ethical theory is in any degree hedonistic are to some extent the intellectual descendants of Epicurus (see Hedonism).
Epicurus was a voluminous writer (iroXveypacixbraros, Diog. Laert. x. 26) - the author, it is said, of about 300 works. He had a style and vocabulary of his own. His chief aim in writing was plainness and intelligibility, but his want of order and logical precision thwarted his purpose. He pretended to have read little, and to be the original architect of his own system, and the claim was no doubt on the whole true. But he had read Democritus, and, it is said, Anaxagoras and Archelaus. His works, we learn, were full of repetition, and critics speak of vulgarities of language and faults of style. None the less his writings were committed to memory and remained the textbooks of Epicureanism to the last. His chief work was a treatise on nature (Hew: 4 iio wr), in thirty-seven books, of which fragments from about nine books have been found in the rolls discovered at Herculaneum, along with considerable treatises by several of his followers, and most notably Philodemus. An epitome of his doctrine is contained in three letters preserved by Diogenes.
Authorities. - The chief ancient accounts of Epicurus are in the tenth book of Diogenes Laertius, in Lucretius, and in several treatises of Cicero and Plutarch. Gassendi, in his De vita, moribus, et doctrina Epicuri (Lyons, 1647), and his Syntagma philosophiae Epicuri, systematized the doctrine. The Volumina Herculanensia (1st and 2nd series) contain fragments of treatises by Epicurus and members of his school. See also H. Usener, Epicurea (Leipzig, 1887) and Epicuri recogniti specimen (Bonn, 1880); Epicuri physica et meteorologica (ed. J. G. Schneider, Leipzig, 1813); Th. Gomperz in his Herkulanische Studien, and in contributions to the Vienna Academy (Monatsberichte), has tried to evolve from the fragments more approximation to modern empiricism than they seem to contain. For criticism see W. Wallace, Epicureanism (London, 1880), and Epicurus; A Lecture (London, 1896); G. Trezza, Epicuro e l'Epicureismo (Florence, 1877; ed. Milan, 1885); E. Zeller, Philosophy of the Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics (Eng. trans. O. J. Reichel, 1870; ed. 1880); Sir James Mackintosh, On the Progress of Ethical Philosophy (4th ed.); J. Watson, Hedonistic Theories (Glasgow, 1895); J. Kreibig, Epicurus (Vienna, 1886); A. Goedeckemeyer, Epikurs Verhaltnis zu Demokrit in der Naturphil. (Strassburg, 1897); Paul von Gizycki, Uber das Leben and die Moralphilos. des Epikur (Halle, 1879), and Einleitende Bemerkungen vu einer Untersuchung -fiber den Werth der Naturphilos. des Epikur (Berlin, 1884); P. Cassel, Epikur der Philosoph (Berlin, 1892); M. Guyau, La Morale d'Epicure et ses rapports avec les doctrines contemporaines (Paris, 1878; revised and enlarged, 1881); F. Picavet, De Epicuro novae religionis sectatore (Paris, 1889); H. Sidgwick, History of Ethics (5th ed., 5902). (W. W.; X.)
|Full name||Έπίκουρος Epikouros|
|Main interests||Atomism, Hedonism|
As a boy he studied philosophy under the Platonist teacher Pamphilus for about four years. At the age of 18 he went to Athens for his two-year term of military service. Epicurus never married and had no known children.
Epicurus helped in the development of science and the scientific method because of his insistence that nothing should be believed except that which was tested through direct observation and logical deduction. Many of his ideas about nature and physics presaged important scientific concepts of our time.
Epicurus' only surviving complete works are three letters, which are to be found in book X of Diogenes Laertius' Lives of Eminent Philosophers, and two groups of quotes: the Principal Doctrines, reported as well in Diogenes' book X, and the Vatican Sayings, preserved in a manuscript from the Vatican Library.
Many pieces of his thirty-seven volume treatise On Nature have been found in the burnt papyrus fragments at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum.