Modern life
Pleasure and Pain


I know Epicurus says that death should not be feared and he gives arguments for it, but how does one manage the death of a loved one, not one's own death?

The arguments given to not fear one's own death also apply to the death of loved ones. They do not suffer in a afterlife, and no deity is punishing them for anything.

To alleviate our sorrow for the loss, he would advice us to remember all the good things that the deceased brought into our lives, all the funny stories they were involved in, and of course the camaraderie integral in an Epicurean friendship.


Can one practice Epicurean teachings and idealism regardless of theism or atheism?

Theism/Atheism make no difference as far as being an Epicurean is concerned. Some who believe in gods may have trouble with the Epicurean theology, whereas the atheist can bypass such things, but the rest of the system is the same for both.

Does epicurean philosophy have anything to say about any sort of afterlife?

In Epicurean metaphysics all souls are made of atoms which are dispersed at death (like the ones that the body is made of). There is no life after death.

Does epicurean philosophy have anything to say about a higher power?

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Is Epicurean Philosophy secular and humanist like other philosophies of its time?

There are few philosophies from Epicurus' time that we would call secular today. Most of them include some kind of supernatural element. Epicurean Philosophy, too, contains talk and doctrines about the existence of deities, so it's not entirely secular either. The Philosophy is, however, humanist through-and-through. It's the philosophy for humans, so that they can live a good and happy life. Even the Epicurean theology is intended to remove the fear of the deities so that the humans can live better.

In what regards would've the Buddha and Epicurus have philosophical differences if they chatted with each other?

Epicurus didn't think that we should remove all desires and/or attachments. Also his focus was in this life, not in the next or any other supernatural existence.

Is the famous quote of the problem of evil really by Epicurus?

By an Epicurean certainly, but only 'perhaps' by Epicurus. (Monotheism wasn't all that common in his time.)

Can Epicurus cure us of superstitious beliefs?

Perhaps. Epicurus doesn't offer a panacea for this, but if someone accepts the Epicurean view, they'd come to the conclusion that superstitious beliefs are either misunderstandings or misinformation. He'd also reinforce this with furthering our understanding of nature through the sciences.

In his writings, he mentions God quite a bit. Not Gods but God. As in singular. What's up with that?

He uses the plural, too (ref. first part of the Letter to Menoeceus). "Do not fear the gods" is also one of the Four Cures (Tetrapharmakos).

One possible source of this confusion is that he speaks of singular gods as examples of the general features of all the gods. But he's not talking about the God (as a name) of christianity, judaism, or islam, because monotheism was a minority in the Hellenic age (and Athens was polytheistic).


Did Epicurus commit suicide?

There is no evidence to answer this question one way or another.

Epicurus wasn't against suicide, but only as the absolute last resort when the alternative is a life of nothing but pain. "Small indeed is the man who finds many reasons to kill himself." (Sayings 38)

In Diogenes Laertius you'll find his last letter written on his death bed. (Laertius 22, Letter to Idomeneus)

Is Epicurean philosophy uniform, or are there variations among practitioners?

There is of course variation between Epicureans. We are all on a continuum from the person that just heard about Epicurus to those who write books and set up organizations for the promotion of the Philosophy. There are also many reasons for this variation.

The philosophy itself, as a system of ideas and concepts, is highly uniform in that there has been little to no addition after the time of Epicurus. This is quite unique in a philosophical system. As time passes there is naturally drift with the accumulation of scientific knowledge, but there has never been factionalization of the system (like in religious systems).

If you had to boil it down to basic principles what would they be?

The tetrapharmakon: Don't fear the gods. Don't fear death. The pleasures are easy to get. The pains are easy to remove or endure.

A word of warning, though. The Epicurean System isn't suitable to be condensed into an elevator pitch. These four touch on many of the most important aspects, but there are numerous nuances, buts-and-ifs, and issues not addressed. Only a thorough and careful study can give a true understanding of the Philosophy.

How does happiness and money link in to a bigger picture?

Happiness is the biggest picture. Money is just a tool.

How can one get through a stressful work day with epicurean philosophy?

There are too many ways a day can be a stressful one to give any quick answers... The main thing is to understand what causes the stress and how you can deal with it.

Do you have an article that shows how it's affected future philosophical progression?

On this issue Stephen Greenblatt's book "The Swerve" is excellent.

What Epicurus's philosophy is about?

How to live happily.

Why have Epicurean Values been forgotten?

Not forgotten so much as suppressed and vilified. Mostly by the stoics and christians (and they overlap). Epicurean Philosophy was strongly anti-supernaturalist, so it's no wonder that they would have done so when they gained the power.

Epicurean ideas have also lived on without the label. For instance, Thomas Jefferson was a self-identified Epicurean... And Stephen Greenblatt makes the case that the rediscovery of Lucretius' On the Nature of Things kickstarted the scientific revolution.

What do you think the meaning of life is?

The only the meaning that can be given is that a life should be happy (filled with pleasure and without pain or fear). As long as you follow proper morality, the question then becomes "what makes you happy?"

Is he nationalist?

No. Epicurean Philosophy is by nature a universal one, independent from any nationality or group. In essence, it's a philosophy for all humans everywhere.

The Vatican Sayings? This must be a mistake.

They were found in the archives of the Vatican, amongst other papers. That's why they are commonly known by that name. The proper name is of course "The Sayings of Epicurus".

Epicurus preceded Zeno. Is there any evidence besides Seneca's reverence for Epicurus that Epicureanism influenced The Stoics?

Seneca is such an elephant in the room that no other source is necessary. And like other (later) stoics, ultimately he is opposed to Epicurean Philosophy.

Was Epicurus influenced by the philosophies from India

It's possible that Epicurean Philosophy was influenced by contact with Indian thinkers, since it arises right after Alexander the Great's conquests. It could also be an independent strain arriving at similar conclusions. We do not know which is true.

Is it true that DaVinci took his philosophy from Epicurus?

Probably not. While the philosophy of DaVinci is a field of study onto itself, it seems that he was mostly influence by the christian philosophy of his time.

Modern life

Can we reinvent epicurean philosophy in a post-modern world?

If by reinvent you mean adapt, then the answer is yes. Humans are pretty much the same that they were in Epicurus' time (perhaps a little better informed, need the same basic things, are confused what are the best things to desire...), so his ethical advice is very current.

In this day and age, would it be difficult to apply Epicurean philosophy? (Considering that the concept of money has been well established and mass consumerism is at its peak.) How could the simple Epicurean life counters the face of modernism?

It isn't any harder than in any other age... The Epicurean school has always advocated an alternative life-style that has never been in line with "the mainstream". Mostly this is because we have always shunned both politics and consumerism.

The task of living the Happy life is unfortunately the burden of every individual. Others can help (or hinder) but they can't give detailed advice. One general advice would be to start letting go of all things that bring with them either pain or anxiety.

How will a care free society exist in a universe built by laws?

Equating a society and the universe in this way is a mistake (sadly all too common one). Since all societies have to exist in the universe, these two should not be considered as equals or excluding one another.

A human society can and must have additional laws in addition to the laws of Nature. There is no natural law that would invalidate the law against murder that we'd have in a care free society. Such a society would exist by choice.

As for things in the universe that happen by necessity or by chance... We should prepare against them as best we can (and endure them if this fails). One important preparation is to know the Nature as best we can (one good example would be to vaccinate all people against all diseases possible).

If Epicurus was still alive, how would he rationalize death?

Epicurus most likely would not try to rationalize it in any way. For him death was a self-evident thing that need no reasoning, simply a notice and an explanation why it's not an obstacle to Happiness. What he would be engaged in would be alleviating the fear of death.

Pleasure and Pain

If pain can be pleasurable, is pleasure also suffering?

A pain can lead to a greater pleasure, for instance when you undergo surgery to cure an injury, etc.. And similarly a pleasure can lead to a pain, usually through overindulgence. Gluttony is the classical example: Food is a necessary part of life, but too much eating becomes dangerous.

The source of Epicurus' teaching on this analysis can be found in The Letter to Menoeceus (Laertius 122).

Does Epicurus speak about the pain, too?

One purpose of Epicurean Philosophy is the removal of all pain. The definition of the ultimate state of Happiness is the absence of all pain from the body and mind. So Epicurus talks about pain all the time, even if it's not mentioned by name the avoidance of pain is always in the background.

How can so little be sometimes enough?

Because it's always the little things that are the most important. Proper pleasures (the one's without bad consequences) are relatively simple, and if you've correctly fulfilled them you'll recognize the destructive desires.


What is the fundamental nature of reality?

Epicurus' answer would have been: Elemental particles and the void. We'd today call it mass-energy and space-time.

But the honest answer is: Really smart people are working on that with the Large Hadron Collider. Maybe they'll tell us in a few years.

Does epicurean philosophy have anything to say about creation of life?

Of the creation of life and its development Lucretius' On the Nature of Things says many things. In a nutshell: life arose by accident and the life we see around us is the most suited for the conditions. Today we know that the exact origins of life are unknown, and that it developed through evolution by natural selection (both are absolutely compatible with Epicurean Philosophy).

Can you explain The Canonics please?

Canonics (that is, the theory of knowledge in Epicurus' philosophy) is available to us through secondary sources. The originals have unfortunately been lost. Lucretius and Laertius had Epicurus' originals in hand when they were writing their works so they are taken as reliable sources.

The Canon tells us how we can know about good and evil, the world, and ourselves. It's not possible to give an exhaustive account here, but the bare bones are these:

Pleasure tells us that a thing is good, pain that another is an evil.
Observation through the senses tells us what the world is like (this is science).
And the anticipations are our in-born abilities and tendencies that nature has equipped us with (for example, our intuitive grasp of justice or fairness).

We should just stop over analyzing every thing in the universe and just live a happy life, right?

These aren't mutually exclusive things... (if they are, something is wrong in one's analysing).

Happiness, as the goal of life, is a complex thing. Certainly not the simple three step program they sell on TV. Knowledge of the universe (as in the sciences) is an important part of this, since you can't live without anxiety if you fear Nature.


What was Epicurus' sex life like? Was he married?

We know that he wasn't married, but beyond that we can't say for sure.

How are sexual relationships viewed through Epicurean Philosophy?

(Facets such as hetero/non heterosexual, monogamy/polygamy, social care to parents/family, expectations of sexual partners)

There are very few points where Epicurus writes about sex. He affirms that sex is a pleasure, but also cautions us that there are dangers of overindulgence (this applies to most other pleasures also). One infamous example is Sayings 51.

On the whole he seems to have been sex positive, though we have to remember that the sexual mores of his time were very different from ours. For instance, he was definitely against the practice that a youngster should have an older man as both a teacher and lover, and this was the norm in his time.

Epicurean philosophy is for all humans, so he makes no distinctions between sexual orientations. The advice would be the same for all.

There is no talk about the number of people in a marriage. He does advice us to follow the local laws, so in the context of a western European or American societies this would mean monogamy. Also the practice of polygamy has historically been one man and several not necessary willing women... Epicurus would be against such a marriage.

In general, Epicurus would be for social security (because the promotion of happiness is good), so he would be for taking care of one's parents and family, both social and private. There is a fragment of a letter to his mother where he wishes that she would stop sending him money, not because he couldn't use it, but so that she would have more.

With "expectations" you mean 'desires'? These should be analyzed like all other desires. And of course the expectations have to be compatible...

Most philosophers avoid the theme of sex. How to deal with this complex subject that causes us a lot of problems but is unavoidable?

Epicurus affirmed that sex is a pleasure, but like all pleasures it can have bad consequences. Like in all such cases, an individual should apply wisdom in deciding who to have sex with and when.


Is a virtuous life a satisfying life?


Laertius 132:
"Of all this the beginning and the greatest good is prudence. Wherefore prudence is a more precious thing even than philosophy; from it spring all the other virtues, for it teaches that we cannot lead a life of pleasure which is not also a life of prudence, honor, and justice; nor lead a life of prudence, honor, and justice, which is not also a life of pleasure. For the virtues have grown into one with a pleasant life, and a pleasant life is inseparable from them."

In Epicurean Philosophy virtues are patterns of behavior that are productive of pleasure. And a pleasurable life is a satisfying life.

Isn't it virtuous or satisfying to die so that others could have eudaimonia?

If it were virtuous to die for other people's eudaimonia (aristotelian term that is never properly defined), wouldn't that mean they would have to die for yours, too? In which case both would be dead...

Dying while protecting others would not be a case of dying to protect their eudaimonia... It would be case of dying to protect their lives, for example, a father protecting his children from attackers. An Epicurean would definitely do this.

Eudaimonia, as it's currently used, is an aristotelian term without any real meaning. Trying to pin down the meaning is like punching water... But one thing it does not take into account is life, since your eudaimonia can be destroyed after you have died. For an Epicurean such terms are a headache and we'd rather avoid them.

What is not virtue?

In Epicurean Philosophy virtues are patterns of behavior that produce long-term stable pleasures (in addition of being immediately pleasurable). For instance, honesty and justice are virtues because they bring with them life-enhancing results, whereas lying or criminality will lead to pain.

If a pattern of behavior doesn't produce such results, it can't be a virtue, and if it brings with it dangerous levels of pain it is a vice.

What is important if not virtue?

Virtues are important in choosing actions, since to know them means that one has studied and experienced what are, in general, the better ways to act. The application of prudent choices is easier when we know the virtues.

In the philosophical system, however, virtues aren't primary concepts. They are virtues because they produce pleasure, not the other way around. For example, Friendship is a virtue because friends are the greatest source of pleasure (and security). Pleasure is therefore the primary aspect and virtues 'merely' consequences of pleasure.

Unless I'm mistaken, Epicurean philosophy regards virtue as a merely an instrumental means to one's personal good, instead of as a constitutive means as found in the ethics of Aristotle, for instance. Do you see this as an advantage over such systems, or as a problem, or both?

Since the aristotelian etc. systems are wrong about the role of virtue and about the goal of life, the answer is "advantage".

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