Modern life
Other philosophies
Pleasure and Pain

What to read to know his philosophy?

What book would have the closest/most primary sources material, if I was to invest in a comprehensive book on Epicurus Philosophy?

Lucretius is a good source. Several translations are even in the public domain.

Epicurus' own writings are in Diogenes Laertius book Lives of the Philosophers, part 10.

For a comprehensive and systematic presentation DeWitt's Epicurus and his Philosophy is a good source as well.

Diogenes Laertius' Lives of the Philosophers book 10, Lucretius' On the Nature of Things, and Dewitt's Epicurus and his Philosophy.

Any book to compare epicurean philosophy with modern philosophy?

Not as a formal and comprehensive work as far as we've been able to find. Many books take potshots at Epicurean Philosophy, but don't delve deeply.

Can you recommend any books or articles that give a good introduction?

"Essential Epicurus", "Epicurus Reader" are both good. Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things" is excellent, though not a short intro by any measure. A modern take is DeWitt's "Epicurus and his philosophy" (it's also on the comprehensive side).

Laertius' book on Epicurus is freely available online, and since it contains all of the original material it's a good place to start.


Also: "Tending the Epicurean Garden", by Hiram Crespo

What are his best books?

Of the complete works, the best are his letters (especially the Letter to Menoeceus).


Why should we not fear death again? Damn that's the end of everything and I'm living the good life!

Being dead is nothing, like being not-born-yet... There are no pains or punishments after death. (or any rewards.)

Living a good life is the best preparation for dying without regrets. Though you shouldn't be reckless and endanger yourself, but if life becomes impossible, death is nothing to be feared.

If I remember correctly he wrote: we should not fear death since the fear is a sensation while the death is absence of sensation?

We fear things because they are painful. Death isn't. We shouldn't fear death while we are alive, because we are not dead yet. And we can't fear it after, because the dead don't exist.

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 to an Epicurean friendship.

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.


What is moral?

That which promotes or protects life. This can mean that it promotes a happy life, a comfortable life, or even biological life.

What is his views on women?

All humans are equal.

In ancient Greece, the Epicurean school was the first that accepted women as students and teachers.

What would Epicurus advise a person who is afraid/hesitate to go against the social norms and against what the society expects from him/her?

This would depend on the social norm. Some social norms are good, but some are bad. If a person wants to go against a good social norm -- break justice etc. -- the answer is "Don't".

If the social norm is a bad one, the consequences of breaking them have to be taken into account. Some you can break with minimal consequences, but if there is a danger to health or to life, Epicurus would advise to not break them and/or to hide it from public. While there is value in getting rid of bad social norms, Epicurean Philosophy isn't for martyrs.


What's the difference between Epicurus' religious beliefs and those of the Unitarian Universalists?

There seems not to be a definite set of beliefs in UU... Therefore this question is very difficult to answer.

Unitarian Universalism's Seven Principles

The third and seventh have a whiff of supernaturalism, so perhaps that is the main difference. For Epicurus, even the gods were natural. They were made from elementary particles, just like humans. And there was no mystical web of everything. Humans aren't somehow connected to all things (apart from the natural processes).

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?

Read this

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).

What is "God" for the Epicureans?

Epicurus himself seems to have believed that a multitude of gods existed in the space beyond and between the worlds.

Epicurus' philosophy is compatible with many kinds of conceptions about deities. It's more a matter of personal preference than of the philosophical system. The important thing for an Epicurean to remember is: God doesn't hate you.

"A blessed and eternal being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; hence he is exempt from movements of anger and partiality, for every such movement implies weakness."
The First Principal Doctrine

Where is God?

The gods of Epicurus exist in the metakosmia or intermundia: the space beyond the world.

Did Epicurus believe in the existence of god(s)?

Yes, he thought that there were gods out there beyond the world. They were the examples of perfect happiness. And no, they don't interfere in human affairs either because of whim or to respond to prayers.

Did Epicurus said something about reincarnation and avatar?

Humans are -- like everything else -- made of the elementary particles. This includes the soul. When a human dies all of him ends. The soul and body are a whole, and cannot be separated. We can talk about them in conceptual separation because sometimes it's convenient to do so. There is no reincarnation or avatars.

There have been stories of spirits and the like, but there has never been a case of verified possession. Human souls / spirits / minds are made of atoms. There is no special class of "mind atoms" that survive beyond death, and certainly no mystical non-material soul.


Is he nationalist?

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

What was his opinion about State and Nation.

It would seem that he thought they should exist and be democratic. He mentions people appointed to finding and punishing criminals. Beyond this it's either unclear or unknown.

Does Epicureanism have anything to say about what justice is or how the polis ought to be governed?

Justice forms a major part of the philosophical system. So he has quite a lot to say about it. Of the 40 Principal Doctrines, ten are about justice and it's application... In essence, justice is based on the idea that humans should not harm each others.

Principal Doctrine 31:
"Natural justice is a symbol or expression of expediency, to prevent one man from harming or being harmed by another."

Epicurus was much more interested in how an individual is to govern herself, than in the ruling of a city state (by his time the polis was obsolete as a major political entity). He talks about people appointed to uphold justice (seek out and punish criminals), so we can assume that democracy would apply.

With the hindsight of history, we today can say that a liberal democracy is the preferred method of government for an Epicurean.

What does Epicurus think about the separation of powers? (state management)

We don't know. Such things aren't mentioned in our surviving sources.

Principal Doctrine 34
"Injustice is not in itself an evil, but only in its consequence, viz. the terror which is excited by apprehension that those appointed to punish such offenses will discover the injustice."

Principal Doctrine 35
"It is impossible for the man -- who secretly violates any article of the social compact -- to feel confident that he will remain undiscovered, even if he has already escaped ten thousand times; for right on to the end of his life he is never sure he will not be detected."

If we speculate from these two (which seem to be the closest that he gets to this issue), there would probably be at least two portions: those who investigate crimes and punish the guilty, and those who make the laws (the social compact). Because the societal rules are agreed upon by people, this would imply a democracy, perhaps a more direct democracy than we think.

Unlike Plato and others, Epicurus wasn't interested in state management. The "wise man" doesn't require laws because she understands what are the things that make a happy life. And it's not crime, big or small... The "wise man" is sociable, honest, honorable, and just, because it's what a good human does.


Was his philosophy focused more on truth or happiness?

These are not mutually exclusive things.

Happiness (freedom from pain and anxiety) is the Goal of Life. Truth is one of the ingredients needed for actual Happiness.

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

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

How can ataraxia (painlessness of the mind/ body) be the criterion for happiness?

"The absence of pain and suffering is a relief no less a pleasure, but in order to have true happiness the addition of positive experiences of pleasure (quantitative plus qualitative) are required. Plus service, the pleasure of offering your skills, resources to those in need is a different kind of pleasure as well? In Epicureanism, is happiness a state of being or an attitude?"

This is a quite common question, and causes much confusion.

Ataraxia is the definition of happiness in Epicurean Philosophy. It is a state of total lack of pain, whether in the body or in the mind. While this is a comprehensive answer in itself, we have to know the context of the wider philosophical system that it fits into.

Firstly, if a human is not in pain, she is in pleasure. Epicurus rejects the idea of a neutral state (proposed by Plato and Aristotle). So a state of "not-hungry" is a pleasure, as well as the act of eating nutritious food.

Secondly, Epicurus apparently used this definition-through-negative in order to avoid the mistake of the wanton hedonists (like the cyrenaics) who defined happiness through the accumulation of pleasures without regard to avoidance of pain. He understood the dangers inherent in such a method (mostly over-indulgence etc.).

Thirdly, from the Epicurean analysis of the desires we see, that there are desires that we have to fulfill in order to be in a state of painlessness. And each desire has a corresponding pleasure or pain that its fulfillment brings about.

Therefore, in order to achieve Ataraxia, we have to pursue the necessary desires to gain their attendant pleasures, while also avoiding the desires that will bring about pain. In this way we can stay in a continuing state of painlessness by the pursuit of pleasures.

So the Epicurean definition of Happiness contains the pursuit of pleasure, even though it's not mentioned.

The simple fact is that we are living biological beings, and we have to act to fulfill some necessary desires (food, drink, shelter, safety) in order to stay alive. This is something that has to be accepted if we are to have a system of philosophy for humans. Anyone who promises something else, is either lying or promoting mysticism.

It has to be noted that the necessary desires can be fulfilled before any pain is present. An Epicurean would plan for and act to avoid pains in the future too. She wouldn't fear such such pains because she'd know she can avoid them, and could remain in a state of painlessness the whole time.

An Epicurean in a state of Ataraxia isn't some passive saint or mystic in seclusion, he is an active human, doing things that a human should and can. He knows that he's a human, and would act accordingly. The desire to have a supernatural state of eudaimonia is a platonic one...

What's the purpose of Epicurean philosophy?

The purpose is to help humans live happier lives in the real world.

Isn't the goal of Epicurean Philosophy also the good life/ eudaimonia? And to achieve it there are more things needed than sensual pleasure only, which are just the bottom of Pleasure. Pleasure comes most of philosophy and also obtaining virtues -- and there I see an overlap with Stoics.

Since eudaimonia is generally understood in an aristotelian context, an Epicurean would most likely use the more appropriate term of Ataraxia to refer to happiness. It means a state of painlessness in the mind (no anxiety), and by extension painlessness of the body too.

In Epicurean Philosophy virtues are good because they produce pleasure, since pleasure is the criterion of a good thing. So your idea is an Epicurean one, not stoic.

What are the major keys to happiness?

Wisdom in your choices, Virtuous pursuit of pleasure, Justice in your actions, and Friendship. Lots and lots of friends.

How does Epicurus' philosophy define happiness?

Epicureans use the words ataraxia and aponia to describe the state of Happiness. They mean "freedom from anxiety" and "freedom from bodily pain".

Is there any difference in satisfaction and happiness or the states of being happy or satisfied?

Satisfaction is what humans get when they fulfill a desire (like eating nutritious food). Such satisfaction is an important condition for happiness.

Happiness is a state of total satisfaction combined with the total absence of pains.

Can religion be a source of happiness?

This is a difficult question to answer. Epicurus held that there were gods, but he also thought that people have a distorted idea of what the nature of god(s) is. He thought that god(s) were Perfect beings that neither offered rewards nor threatened punishments. If one finds a religion that has these features, it's possible that a religion could be a source of happiness.

It must be remembered that there is no the source of happiness. Ataraxia is a state of being that requires the fulfillment of many conditions (from the most basic like food, to the most complex like justice). Therefore religion can be a source of happiness, but not alone. Other conditions are equally important, if not more so.

Do you consider Epicurean way of life as ideal for every human being and everyone should be using it?

Even though the details are different for each individual, the broader principles are the same for all humans. An Epicurean would avoid words like 'ideal' or 'best', because this is life after all, but in the broader sense the Epicurean life can be the good life.


Which one of his opinions did make a breakthrough or what was his most effective philosophy in his time? And where can we infer it from? (source?)

It's difficult to know which of his ideas were most influential in his time. Most Epicureans in history have flown under the radar.

There are several options that may have been the most influential. His ideas about justice were certainly novel, as was the analysis of desires.

The idea that caused the most splash was of course his contention that pleasure is a good thing. He's the one that provides the robust grounding and analysis of why pleasure is the criterion of all good things. So that might be the breakthrough.

Was the Garden hierarchical?

The Garden's hierarchy was based on knowledge about the philosophy. Epicurus at the top, naturally. Below him Metrodorus, Hermarchus, and Polyaenus as the three most learned other teachers. Then there was the rest of the original circle or faculty of the Garden (which was a school and a publishing house). Most notable of these was Leontion.

How tall are you?

We don't know how tall Epicurus was.

What does this mean: "...It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life."

The pleasant life is the goal that Epicurean Philosophy is intended to help us achieve. Wisdom in the desires we fulfill, honor of our convictions, and the justice in our actions are prerequisites for us to reach that goal.

"The just man is most free from disturbance, while the unjust is full of the utmost disturbance." What truth is connected to this?

That you should not treat others unjustly, because you'll never know a moments peace if you do.

It's my understanding that Epicurus recommended retreating from the political world into self-sustaining communities. Is that practical advice today?

Epicurus cautions us against a career in politics, because it's not a good way to gain happiness.

There is no evidence that Epicureans ever lived in separation from the wider communities. People sometimes mistake the Garden for a commune, but it was a school, not a place that people lived in. His house was separate from it, and within the city of Athens.

So it's not his advice, and the practicality you'll have to evaluate for yourself. Perhaps for some it is, while others will hate it...

Can you explain Epicurean philosophy in only three keywords?

Unfortunately not. The Philosophy is too complex a system to do so. Any abbreviation would require additional explanation and commentary.

Epicurus left us with 40 Principal Doctrines, and even they are too short... :)

Can Epicurean Philosophy provide all the answers?

Anyone who promises "all the answers" is either deceiving or deceived...

At what point did the word epicurean become a synonym for hedonism? Was this just a part of the slander aimed at Epicurus because of his atheism/materialism?

Yes, and also because Epicurean Philosophy is hedonistic. That is, it says that pleasure is the criterion of what is good. It's a slander to many people because they don't understand what Epicurus is saying.

The greatest reason why it's such an effective slander is because of religious objections, specifically christian ones.

A comment by the same person:
"Bertrand Russell quotes him as saying, "I spit on luxurious pleasures, not for their own sake, but because of the inconveniences that follow them." This sentiment seems to be very nearly antithetical of what the word "epicurean" expresses today."

Yes, the slander has been very effective.

The quote from Russell is an accurate one.

A comment by a different participant:
"There is as much difference between the current understanding of epicureanism and the real thing as there is between - say - the current understanding of christianism and the original teachings of Christ. As for gluttony, Epicurus said it best when he described the ideal diet as "bread, olives and an occasional treat of cheese" Not to be taken literally, but it correctly indicates the true nature of epicureanism IMHO"

Was he a contemporary of Socrates and Alexander the Great

Socrates was long dead by the time Epicurus was born (in 341 bce). He was 18 at the time of Alexander's death.

Being called "master"...

In the Epicurean tradition, there are no masters or even teachers. The originator of the system was called a hegemon, the immediate pupils kathegemones, and those tasked with educational duties were called kathegetes. All of these can be translated as variations of "leader" or "guide".

We shall let let other schools have their masters and subjects if their vanity so demands. We prefer no title at all.

They say that Epicureanism is a kind of escapism. Can you comment on it?

They say many things about Epicurus that aren't true...

Epicurus was a critic of the philosophical and political structures of his days, because he saw that they weren't good for people. Many take this to mean a withdrawal and separation from society altogether, but this is a simplistic view of the philosophy. Epicurus advocated keeping things private, not separating totally.

How do you have more money if you work less?

You spend less.

"More money" is a difficult issue, because money in itself isn't a good goal. The real issue is what the money is for. Some is necessary for survival, some more for comfort, and perhaps a bit more just in case. After that we enter a grayer area where "more money" for the sake of "more money" begins to be a detriment to a happy life. Happiness is more than just to work for money. The fixation on money is in many cases a vice that leads to pain and unhappiness.

It's always necessary to understand the reason -- the "Why?" -- behind an action.

Are Epicureanism and Capitalism in conflict with one another since in capitalism there is the potential for some Individuals to have more than others?

A conflict is possible but not because of this potentiality. There is nothing inherently wrong with owning things, nor owning more than someone else.

The important issues are: how the property was acquired, and what are you doing with it.

Epicurean Philosophy is ultimately interested in the morality of actions (because only moral actions bring about long-term happiness). So if someone has done shady or questionable things to have something, Epicureans would call that bad. And if the property is used self-destructively or to harm others, it's clearly immoral.

As long as property is gained and used in a moral way, it's a good thing.

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 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?"

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".

What makes you think that anyone who calls themselves Epicurean is 100% Epicurean?

Nothing. The only 100% Epicurean was Epicurus.

Modern life

What do you think Epicurus would have to say about gay marriage as it is understood in the modern western world?

Since Epicurean Philosophy is for any and all humans, he most likely wouldn't have any problem with it.

He might note that it's contradictory to deny another human a right that you have yourself, and -- since all the opposition is religious at heart -- he might point out that the gods don't interfere in human lives in any way, this one included.

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 counter 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).

Besides having friends what else does Epicurus suggest to stave off melancholy?

Epicurus would say that if you have friends you won't need anything else... :)

The key thing might be finding out the causes of melancholy and trying to remedy them. There are too many possible reasons to feel it, so it's impossible to give simple answers. It will require effort and time to seek out self-knowledge. And he wouldn't avoid seeking help from others.

Other philosophies

Why do Stoics and Epicureans not get along? Can't we all just chill?

As systems of philosophy they are too different to be mixed together. Though many people take the eclectic approach (pick and choose from many philosophical schools), some are exclusively one or the other. This obviously leads to division.

As people, stoics and Epicureans do and would get along just fine. Some are drawn more to one or the other, but in Real Life such distinctions rarely come in the way of personal relationships. It's only among those of us who engage in more in-depth discussions or even debates about the systems, that things get heated.

So most people are chill, but some discuss philosophy. :)

Who taught Epicurus (which other philosophical schools of thought were his major influences)?

Epicurus claimed to be entirely self-taught... ;)

In his youth he went to both platonic and aristotelian schools, because those were the major schools in his time. Later, when he had more say on his studies, he also went to a democritean school. And because he was an Athenian citizen he attended a mandatory military training period.

While he was formulating his system he also undertook an intense period of reading the various sources available. We don't know exactly what this entailed, but considering the period it could have included things from Europe, North Africa, India, and Asia.

The Epicurean system isn't an offshoot of any of these in the sense that one is the main source. In many ways there are bits from each, but also major differences. For example, Epicurean philosophy is mostly democritean in (meta)physics, but denies determinism in ethics.

Did Epicurus have a specific system -- similar to Pythagorean Acousmatikoi & Mathmatikoi?

We don't know. If he did, it hasn't survived.

Are stoicism and atheism compatible?

You ought to ask this from a stoic... :D

Epicurean Philosophy and atheism are compatible. In fact, the main slander aimed at Epicurus and Epicureans has been that of atheism.

From my initial research, it mentions how Epicureanism was in opposition to stoicism. Can you expand upon that a bit? I am unclear about some of the manifestations and implications of that. (Or perhaps direct me to a work that does explain it in more detail.)

Actually, it's stoicism that is in opposition to Epicurean Philosophy... since Epicurus pre-dates Zeno.

If you want to see this issue dealt more, you may want to see www.newepicurean.com it has many posts on the differences between the two.

Socrates or Protagor? Who won?

An Epicurean could say that "We all lost." ;) Because Socrates gave rise to Plato, and Protagoras was a relativist.

Why are Epicurean and Stoic philosophy considered as being so opposed to each other? And which of the two would you say got it right in their teachings and why?

There are many reasons... Stoics generally tend to believe that there is a divine force in the world, while Epicureans don't. Epicurus was also an atomist and hedonist, both of which stoics opposed. Epicurean Philosophy also says that pleasure is the primary criterion of good, while stoics usually say that virtue is. The disagreements are many and varied...

Since this is a page about Epicurus, the answer is that Epicurean Philosophy is the right one, because it has a better understanding of what the requirements for a human life are.

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.

How are Epicurus and Aristotle the same? How are they different?

It's almost certain that if Epicurus says one thing, you'll find the opposite in Aristotle. They are opposites in epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. Perhaps the only thing in common is that they were both natural philosophers, but then again they drew differing conclusions from their work.

How and/or at what point in history did the modern definition of epicurean, as in the adjective: epicurean delights, become perverted to mean a luxurious glutton? Whereas Epicurus himself was intentionally modest with his meals.

With the rise of stoicism (especially in the Roman empire), and its child, christianity.

What would you say (if any) are the overlaps between Epicurus' philosophy and Ayn Rand's philosophy?

The objectivists will deny that any influences exist, but then again...

Would Epicureans tend to agree with Rand concerning her definition of morality as an objective set of virtues that should be selfishly used to achieve individual happiness? Or would they tend to agree with Nietzsche and assert that objective morality is non-existent and that one should create their own set of subjective ethics based on their personal inclinations?

Epicurus would most likely say that both Rand and Nietzsche were right about some things but not everything. He wouldn't side with one as opposed to the other.

Firstly, he would avoid words like objective and subjective. Objective, because it's always possible that humans as non-perfect beings could be wrong about something. And subjective, because in this case he can say that some things are universally human, so they are not reliant on personal inclinations.

Secondly, in Epicurean Philosophy morality is a deeper concept than just virtues, which are patterns of behavior that are productive of pleasure. They are not themselves the definition of morality, but a tool to help us to act morally. Ethics itself is defined through the pursuit of proper pleasures (keeping in mind friendship and justice).

Thirdly, Epicurus recognizes that individual humans aren't very different from one another. There are many cases where we can say that "this thing is good for all humans." Radical subjectivity is not conducive to formulating a realistic ethical system.

And lastly, in Epicurean Philosophy the ethical system is both individualistic and self-constructed. No one can give another Happiness -- they can help or hinder -- but the ultimate responsibility of choosing to pursue Ataraxia is always up to the individual human. Similarly, our ethical systems are also self-constructed -- to a degree -- because there is variation among humans (not in the big stuff, but the details), so what makes A happy might not interest B at all.

The Epicurean system of philosophy is too complex to easily fit into any particular black or white divide.

What is your opinion on the extreme anti-ecumenical position of early Epicureans?

Do you, like for example Colotes, believe that applying the teachings of any other school is ipso facto going to lead to unhappiness?

If a teaching -- whatever it's source -- leads to pleasure and happiness, it's a good teaching.

From the Epicurean point of view, however, many teachings from the other schools are mistaken, and will lead to pain and destruction. This is why they were opposed.

Could you comment on "Eudaimonia"?

It's the ancient Greek word for "happiness" or "well-being" or "flourishing". It's most important for aristotelians, which is why many Epicureans don't use it as a term of philosophy. "Ataraxia" is used instead, because it means "painlessness". It's more accurate term for the goal of the philosophical system.

Pleasure and Pain

Given the doctrine of rational hedonism espoused by Epicurus, how can a statement of value; (i.e. one ought strive to almost always be in a state of static pleasure etc.) be derived from a purely logical perspective given only facts about existence, granted that the lifestyle of Epicurus is greatly fulfilling and pleasant?

"Does Epicurus claim to arrive at a value judgement about how people ought to live, or does he merely state that according to his observations and reasoning people are generally more content and serene when the follow his principles? Additionally, what was the Epicurean stance on epistemology? Did his scientific inquiries require observation and predictions, or did he espouse understanding the universe through pure reason?"

Epicurean Philosophy is not similar to platonism where things are drawn from an Ideal World. The purpose of the Philosophy is to aid living humans live the most painless life possible. And the emphasis is on the words "life" and "human". Ultimately all values derive their justification from the fact that they promote or protect life (as opposed to destroying it). Since we are humans, we should follow those values that provide for the best possible life for us.

Epicurus was a moral reformer, so he arrived at his value judgements based on his observations and reasonings, yes. Nothing "merely" about it...

"Pure reason" is platonic nonsense, and has no place in Epicurean Philosophy. An Epicurean wants evidence.

How do epicureans investigate their fears and desires?

For any such thing, ask "What will happen to me if I do this? And what if I don't?" If the results are harmful, the desire is a bad one. For a fear, you have to first know whether the fear is a reasonable one, like fearing dangerous animals, or not reasonable, like fearing the gods.

We have to also remember that this investigation will take time, energy, and effort. But it can be done. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

How can I know the truth about the pleasures?

In general, things that cause pain are destructive, and those that cause pleasure are constructive. Sometimes though pleasures can harm, usually through over-indulgence, and some pains are useful because they produce greater pleasures (like surgery or exercise).

Knowing the truth about the pleasures is a matter of thinking and experience. You should consider with each pleasure (and pain) "what are the consequences if I do this?" Will they benefit you in the short, as well as the long term...

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 pleasures will a wise man seek?

Humans should pursue all pleasures that they can have without destructive side-effects. For example, food is a requirement to live, and good food beyond survival is also a good thing. But eating without regard to health or to excess, is an evil thing.


I'm not sure if Lucretius touched upon this subject but how do Epicureans think life comes into existence? Epicurus was an atomic materialist, and I wonder how contemporary Epicureans respond to Einstein's "energy cannot be created or destroyed" which provides the possibility of a soul remaining intact through death.

See Lucretius' On the Nature of Things, Fifth book, lines 772 -- 1457.

It could be called a proto-evolutionary hypothesis, because Nature gives rise to various forms of life, but only some of them produce offspring. Of course, this is 2000 year old science, so our modern understanding is better... though we still don't know how the first living things arose.

In Epicurean Philosophy the soul and body are separated only conceptually. They are an inseparable whole physically. When a human dies, both body and soul die. We can use bleeding as a metaphor: If you damage a human severely enough, he will bleed out and die. Similarly, the soul 'energy' would disperse into the world.

Why is there anything?

Existence needs no reason. It simply is. Though perhaps physicists will some day answer how it came to be...

How did the universe begin?

The Big Bang seems to be the answer in the light of the evidence.

Can you elaborate more on atomism? Can that relate to our today's science?

Here is a more comprehensive elaboration than is possible here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomism

Atomism is an ancestor of modern science. Our understanding is naturally more advanced than was possible for the ancients. Epicurean Philosophy doesn't have any problem with incorporating such progress. Truth is more important than theory.

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 is his opinion about beginning of the world?

The world -- that is, planet Earth -- came to be because elementary particles collided and stuck together in space.

Why is Epicurus considered a materialistic philosopher?

Because he thought that the only things that ultimately exist are the elementary particles and the Void. Today we would say matter and space.

What does he think about time and its connection with space?

From his Letter to Herodotus: he said that time is RELATIVE and a relational / incidental quality of nature. Although those qualities which are incidental are not eternal, or even essential, we must not banish incidental matters from our minds. Incidental qualities do not have a material existence, nor do they exist independently in some reality that is beyond our comprehension. We must, instead, consider the incidental qualities of bodies as having exactly the character that our sensations reveal them to possess.

For example, it is important to grasp firmly that "time" neither has a material existence, nor does it exist independently, apart from bodies. Nor must we think of "time" as a general conception, such as those conceptions which are formed by reasoning in our minds. Instead, we must think of time by referring to our intuitions, our mental apprehensions formed by anticipations, and it is in this context that we speak of a "long time," or a "short time," applying our intuitions to time as we do to other incidental qualities.

In evaluating time as an incidental quality, we must not search for expressions that we may think are better than those which are in common use, and we must not believe that time has any properties other than being an incident to bodies. We must evaluate time only in accord with our intuitions or anticipations.

For indeed, we need no demonstration, but only to reflect, to see that we associate time with days and nights, and with our internal feelings, and with our state of rest. These perceptions of incidental qualities are the root of what we call "time."


Do you agree with Epicurus about sex and families?

Our evidence for Epicurus' views on these issues is either missing or contradictory. So we can't have a definite answer to this. You can be of either opinion and still within the Epicurean roof.

We should remember, though, that there were both married couples and children within the original Garden group. (In his will Epicurus makes arrangements for the care of Metrodorus' children, who must have been born in the Garden, because they were under-age at the time of his death. His will is in Laertius 16 - 21.)

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 necessarily 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".

How do you explain friendship via hedonistic egoism?

Hey, Epicurus, people often mistook you for a consequential hedonist, much like Bentham and Mill, but you also wrote about pleasures based on improving one's health and co-existing with whatever society one finds himself inside, as opposed to Mill's "experts" on pleasure. How do you explain friendship via hedonistic egoism, without having friends turn into pleasure cattle, waiting to be farmed; can friends be something you're compassionate about from an empathy standpoint? Ayn Rand thinks that friends are "evil" if they harm your health, yet most people stay in relationships for the sake of the other; not primarily for their well-being.

Friendship is a mutually beneficial relationship. It's true that it's roots lie in the benefits, but this doesn't mean that you love your friends less. An Epicurean friend is one that would die rather than let a friend suffer. You don't "farm" friends, you help each other.

"The wise man feels no more pain when being tortured himself than when his friend tortured, and will die for him; for if he betrays his friend, his whole life will be confounded by distrust and completely upset."
Sayings, 56 - 57

Difficult relationships are a thorny issue. By staying in such a relationship (often they are sexual relationships) are you actually helping the other person, or are you fostering dependence? You should help your friend, not play along. Sometimes this means support, and sometimes an intervention. In any case, gentleness is required.

It must be noted that both hedonistic egoism and utilitarianism are stunted offshoots of Epicurus' philosophy. They are incomplete, and that is why they get such strange results. Randianism is a form of hyper-egoism, and in it 'friends' are indeed nothing more than cattle.

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