Epicureanism

Epicureanism

Overview

Epicureanism is a system of philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 based upon the teachings of Epicurus
Epicurus
Epicurus 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...

, founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic
Atomism
Atomism is a natural philosophy that developed in several ancient traditions. The atomists theorized that the natural world consists of two fundamental parts: indivisible atoms and empty void.According to Aristotle, atoms are indestructible and immutable and there are an infinite variety of shapes...

 materialist
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

, following in the steps of Democritus
Democritus
Democritus was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece. He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos....

. His materialism
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

 led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. Following Aristippus
Aristippus
Aristippus of Cyrene, , was the founder of the Cyrenaic school of Philosophy. He was a pupil of Socrates, but adopted a very different philosophical outlook, teaching that the goal of life was to seek pleasure by adapting circumstances to oneself and by maintaining proper control over both...

—about whom very little is known—Epicurus believed that pleasure is the greatest good. But the way to attain pleasure was to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one's desires.
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Epicureanism is a system of philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 based upon the teachings of Epicurus
Epicurus
Epicurus 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...

, founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic
Atomism
Atomism is a natural philosophy that developed in several ancient traditions. The atomists theorized that the natural world consists of two fundamental parts: indivisible atoms and empty void.According to Aristotle, atoms are indestructible and immutable and there are an infinite variety of shapes...

 materialist
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

, following in the steps of Democritus
Democritus
Democritus was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece. He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos....

. His materialism
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

 led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. Following Aristippus
Aristippus
Aristippus of Cyrene, , was the founder of the Cyrenaic school of Philosophy. He was a pupil of Socrates, but adopted a very different philosophical outlook, teaching that the goal of life was to seek pleasure by adapting circumstances to oneself and by maintaining proper control over both...

—about whom very little is known—Epicurus believed that pleasure is the greatest good. But the way to attain pleasure was to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one's desires. This led one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia
Ataraxia
Ataraxia is a Greek term used by Pyrrho and Epicurus for a lucid state, characterized by freedom from worry or any other preoccupation.For the Epicureans, ataraxia was synonymous with the only true happiness possible for a person...

) and freedom from fear, as well as absence of bodily pain (aponia
Aponia
Aponia means the absence of pain, and was regarded by the Epicureans to be the height of bodily pleasure.As with the other Hellenistic schools of philosophy, the Epicureans believed that the goal of human life is happiness...

). The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism
Hedonism
Hedonism is a school of thought which argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good. In very simple terms, a hedonist strives to maximize net pleasure .-Etymology:The name derives from the Greek word for "delight" ....

, insofar as it declares pleasure as the sole intrinsic good, its conception of absence of pain as the greatest pleasure and its advocacy of a simple life make it different from "hedonism" as it is commonly understood.

Epicureanism was originally a challenge to Platonism
Platonism
Platonism is the philosophy of Plato or the name of other philosophical systems considered closely derived from it. In a narrower sense the term might indicate the doctrine of Platonic realism...

, though later it became the main opponent of Stoicism
Stoicism
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early . The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not suffer such emotions.Stoics were concerned...

. Epicurus and his followers shunned politics. After the death of Epicurus, his school was headed by Hermarchus
Hermarchus
Hermarchus or Hermarch , sometimes incorrectly written Hermachus , was an Epicurean philosopher. He was the disciple and successor of Epicurus as head of the school. None of his writings survive. He wrote works directed against Plato, Aristotle, and Empedocles. A fragment from his Against...

; later many Epicurean societies flourished in the Late Hellenistic era and during the Roman era (such as those in Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

ia, Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

, Rhodes
Rhodes
Rhodes is an island in Greece, located in the eastern Aegean Sea. It is the largest of the Dodecanese islands in terms of both land area and population, with a population of 117,007, and also the island group's historical capital. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within...

, and Ercolano
Ercolano
Ercolano is a town and comune in the province of Naples, Campania . It lies at the western foot of Mount Vesuvius, on the Bay of Naples, just southeast of the city of Naples. The medieval town of Resina was built on the volcanic material left by the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed the ancient...

). The poet Lucretius
Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

 is its most well-known Roman proponent. By the end of the Roman Empire, having undergone Christian attack and repression, Epicureanism had all but died out, and would be resurrected in the 17th century by the atomist Pierre Gassendi
Pierre Gassendi
Pierre Gassendi was a French philosopher, priest, scientist, astronomer, and mathematician. With a church position in south-east France, he also spent much time in Paris, where he was a leader of a group of free-thinking intellectuals. He was also an active observational scientist, publishing the...

, who adapted it to the Christian doctrine.

Some writings by Epicurus have survived. Some scholars consider the epic poem On the Nature of Things
On the Nature of Things
De rerum natura is a 1st century BC didactic poem by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius with the goal of explaining Epicurean philosophy to a Roman audience. The poem, written in some 7,400 dactylic hexameters, is divided into six untitled books, and explores Epicurean physics through richly...

by Lucretius
Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

 to present in one unified work the core arguments and theories of Epicureanism. Many of the papyrus scrolls unearthed at the Villa of the Papyri
Villa of the Papyri
The Villa of the Papyri is a private house in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum . Situated north-west of the township, the residence sits halfway up the slope of the volcano Vesuvius without other buildings to obstruct the view. The villa suburbana was owned by Julius Caesar's father-in-law,...

 at Herculaneum
Herculaneum
Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town destroyed by volcanic pyroclastic flows in AD 79, located in the territory of the current commune of Ercolano, in the Italian region of Campania in the shadow of Mt...

 are Epicurean texts. At least some are thought to have belonged to the Epicurean Philodemus
Philodemus
Philodemus of Gadara was an Epicurean philosopher and poet. He studied under Zeno of Sidon in Athens, before moving to Rome, and then to Herculaneum. He was once known chiefly for his poetry preserved in the Greek anthology, but since the 18th century, many writings of his have been discovered...

.

History


The school of Epicurus
Epicurus
Epicurus 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...

, called "The Garden," was based in Epicurus' home and garden. It had a small but devoted following in his lifetime. Its members included Hermarchus
Hermarchus
Hermarchus or Hermarch , sometimes incorrectly written Hermachus , was an Epicurean philosopher. He was the disciple and successor of Epicurus as head of the school. None of his writings survive. He wrote works directed against Plato, Aristotle, and Empedocles. A fragment from his Against...

, Idomeneus
Idomeneus of Lampsacus
Idomeneus of Lampsacus was a friend and disciple of Epicurus. We have no details of his life, except that he married Batis of Lampsacus, the sister of Metrodorus, and he was a court dignitary at Lampsacus around 306-301 BC...

, Colotes
Colotes
Colotes of Lampsacus was a pupil of Epicurus, and one of the most famous of his disciples. He wrote a work to prove That it is impossible even to live according to the doctrines of the other philosophers . It was dedicated to king Ptolemy Philopator...

, Polyaenus
Polyaenus of Lampsacus
Polyaenus of Lampsacus , also spelled Polyenus, son of Athenodorus, was an ancient Greek mathematician and a friend of Epicurus. His friendship with Epicurus started after the latter's escape from Mytilene in 307 or 306 BC when he opened a philosophical school at Lampsacus associating himself with...

, and Metrodorus. Epicurus emphasized friendship as an important ingredient of happiness, and the school seems to have been a moderately ascetic community which rejected the political limelight of Athenian philosophy. They were fairly cosmopolitan by Athenian standards, including women and slaves, and were probably vegetarians
Vegetarianism
Vegetarianism encompasses the practice of following plant-based diets , with or without the inclusion of dairy products or eggs, and with the exclusion of meat...

 (Stevenson 2005).

The school's popularity grew and it became, along with Stoicism
Stoicism
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early . The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not suffer such emotions.Stoics were concerned...

 and Skepticism
Skepticism
Skepticism has many definitions, but generally refers to any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere...

, one of the three dominant schools of Hellenistic Philosophy, lasting strongly through the later Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

. Another major source of information is the Roman politician and philosopher Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

, although he was highly critical, denouncing the Epicureans as unbridled hedonists
Hedonism
Hedonism is a school of thought which argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good. In very simple terms, a hedonist strives to maximize net pleasure .-Etymology:The name derives from the Greek word for "delight" ....

, devoid of a sense of virtue and duty, and guilty of withdrawing from public life. Another ancient source is Diogenes of Oenoanda
Diogenes of Oenoanda
Diogenes of Oenoanda was an Epicurean Greek from the 2nd century AD who carved a summary of the philosophy of Epicurus onto a portico wall in the ancient city of Oenoanda in Lycia . The surviving fragments of the wall, which originally extended about 80 meters, form an important source of...

, who composed a large inscription at Oenoanda
Oenoanda
Oenoanda , in the upper valley of the River Xanthus, was the most southerly of the tetrapolis led by Cibyra in the Hellenistic Period, which was dissolved by L. Licinius Murena in 84 BCE, whereupon Oenoanda became part of the koinon of Lycia, as its inscriptions abundantly demonstrate...

 in Lycia
Lycia
Lycia Lycian: Trm̃mis; ) was a region in Anatolia in what are now the provinces of Antalya and Muğla on the southern coast of Turkey. It was a federation of ancient cities in the region and later a province of the Roman Empire...

.

A library, dubbed the Villa of the Papyri
Villa of the Papyri
The Villa of the Papyri is a private house in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum . Situated north-west of the township, the residence sits halfway up the slope of the volcano Vesuvius without other buildings to obstruct the view. The villa suburbana was owned by Julius Caesar's father-in-law,...

, in Herculaneum
Herculaneum
Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town destroyed by volcanic pyroclastic flows in AD 79, located in the territory of the current commune of Ercolano, in the Italian region of Campania in the shadow of Mt...

, owned by Julius Caesar's
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, was preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, and was found to contain a large number of works by Philodemus
Philodemus
Philodemus of Gadara was an Epicurean philosopher and poet. He studied under Zeno of Sidon in Athens, before moving to Rome, and then to Herculaneum. He was once known chiefly for his poetry preserved in the Greek anthology, but since the 18th century, many writings of his have been discovered...

, a late Hellenistic Epicurean, and Epicurus himself, attesting to the school's enduring popularity. The task of unrolling and deciphering the charred papyrus
Papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....

 scrolls continues today.

After the official approval of Christianity by Constantine the Great, Epicureanism was repressed. Epicurus' materialist
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

 theories that the gods were physical beings composed of atoms who were unconcerned with human affairs and had not created the universe, and his general teaching that one's own pleasure, rather than service to God, was the greatest good were essentially irreconcilable with Christian teachings. The school endured a long period of obscurity and decline.

The early Christian writer Lactantius
Lactantius
Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius was an early Christian author who became an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I, guiding his religious policy as it developed, and tutor to his son.-Biography:...

 criticizes Epicurus at several points throughout his Divine Institutes. In Dante
DANTE
Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe is a not-for-profit organisation that plans, builds and operates the international networks that interconnect the various national research and education networks in Europe and surrounding regions...

's Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321. It is widely considered the preeminent work of Italian literature, and is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature...

, the Epicureans are depicted as heretics
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

 suffering in the sixth circle of hell
Hell
In many religious traditions, a hell is a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife. Religions with a linear divine history often depict hells as endless. Religions with a cyclic history often depict a hell as an intermediary period between incarnations...

. In fact, Epicurus is the first heretic seen, and he appears to represent the ultimate heresy. The word for a heretic
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

 in the Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

ic literature is "Apiqoros" (אפיקורוס), and Epicurus is titled in Modern Greek idiom as the "Dark Philosopher".

By the 16th century, the works of Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is one of the principal surviving sources for the history of Greek philosophy.-Life:Nothing is definitively known about his life...

 were being printed in Europe. In the 17th century the French Franciscan priest, scientist and philosopher Pierre Gassendi
Pierre Gassendi
Pierre Gassendi was a French philosopher, priest, scientist, astronomer, and mathematician. With a church position in south-east France, he also spent much time in Paris, where he was a leader of a group of free-thinking intellectuals. He was also an active observational scientist, publishing the...

 wrote two books forcefully reviving Epicureanism. Shortly thereafter, and clearly influenced by Gassendi, Walter Charleton
Walter Charleton
Walter Charleton was an English writer. According to Jon Parkin, he was "the main conduit for the transmission of Epicurean ideas to England".-Life:...

 published several works on Epicureanism in English. Attacks by Christians continued, most forcefully by the Cambridge Platonists
Cambridge Platonists
The Cambridge Platonists were a group of philosophers at Cambridge University in the middle of the 17th century .- Programme :...

.

In the Modern Age, scientists adopted atomist
Atomism
Atomism is a natural philosophy that developed in several ancient traditions. The atomists theorized that the natural world consists of two fundamental parts: indivisible atoms and empty void.According to Aristotle, atoms are indestructible and immutable and there are an infinite variety of shapes...

 theories, while materialist
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

 philosophers embraced Epicurus' hedonist ethics and restated his objections to natural teleology
Teleology
A teleology is any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature. The word comes from the Greek τέλος, telos; root: τελε-, "end, purpose...

.

Religion


Epicureanism emphasizes the neutrality of the gods, that they do not interfere with human lives. It states that gods, matter, and souls are all made up of atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

s. Souls are made from atoms, and gods possess souls, but their souls adhere to their bodies without escaping. Humans have the same kind of souls, but the forces binding human atoms together do not hold the soul forever. The Epicureans also used the atomist theories of Democritus
Democritus
Democritus was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece. He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos....

 and Leucippus
Leucippus
Leucippus or Leukippos was one of the earliest Greeks to develop the theory of atomism — the idea that everything is composed entirely of various imperishable, indivisible elements called atoms — which was elaborated in greater detail by his pupil and successor, Democritus...

 to assert that man has free will. They held that all thoughts are merely atoms swerving randomly. This explanation served to satisfy people who wondered anxiously about their role in the universe.

The Riddle of Epicurus, or Problem of evil
Problem of evil
In the philosophy of religion, the problem of evil is the question of how to explain evil if there exists a deity that is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient . Some philosophers have claimed that the existences of such a god and of evil are logically incompatible or unlikely...

, is a famous argument against the existence of an all-powerful and providential God or gods. As recorded by Lactantius
Lactantius
Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius was an early Christian author who became an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I, guiding his religious policy as it developed, and tutor to his son.-Biography:...

:
This type of trilemma
Trilemma
A trilemma is a difficult choice from three options, each of which is unacceptable or unfavourable.There are two logically equivalent ways in which to express a trilemma: it can be expressed as a choice among three unfavourable options, one of which must be chosen, or as a choice among three...

argument (God is omnipotent, God is good, but Evil exists) was one favoured by the ancient Greek skeptics
Philosophical skepticism
Philosophical skepticism is both a philosophical school of thought and a method that crosses disciplines and cultures. Many skeptics critically examine the meaning systems of their times, and this examination often results in a position of ambiguity or doubt...

, and this argument may have been wrongly attributed to Epicurus by Lactantius, who, from his Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 perspective, regarded Epicurus as an atheist. According to Reinhold F. Glei, it is settled that the argument of theodicy is from an academical 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
Sextus Empiricus
Sextus Empiricus , was a physician and philosopher, and has been variously reported to have lived in Alexandria, Rome, or Athens. His philosophical work is the most complete surviving account of ancient Greek and Roman skepticism....

.

Epicurus' view was that there were gods, but that they were neither willing nor able to prevent evil. This was not because they were malevolent, but because they lived in a perfect state of ataraxia
Ataraxia
Ataraxia is a Greek term used by Pyrrho and Epicurus for a lucid state, characterized by freedom from worry or any other preoccupation.For the Epicureans, ataraxia was synonymous with the only true happiness possible for a person...

, a state everyone should strive to emulate; it is not the gods who are upset by evils, but people. Epicurus conceived the gods as blissful and immortal yet material beings made of atoms inhabiting the metakosmia
Metakosmia
The metakosmia , according to Epicurean philosophy were the relatively empty spaces in the infinite void where worlds had not been formed by the joining together of the atoms through their endless motion. Epicurus held that the metakosmia were the abode of the gods, whom he considered to be...

: empty spaces between worlds in the vastness of infinite space. In spite of his recognition of the gods, the practical effect of this materialistic explanation of the gods' existence and their complete non-intervention in human affairs renders his philosophy akin in divine effects to the attitude of Deism
Deism
Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the...

.

In Dante's Divine Comedy, the flaming tombs of the Epicureans are located within the sixth circle of hell (Inferno, Canto X). They are the first heretics seen and appear to represent the ultimate, if not quintessential, heresy. Similarly, according to Jewish Mishnah
Mishnah
The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

, Epicureans (apiqorsim, people who share the beliefs of the movement) are among the people who do not have a share of the "World-to-Come" (afterlife or the world of the Messianic era).

Parallels may be drawn to Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

, which similarly emphasizes a lack of divine interference and aspects of its atomism
Atomism
Atomism is a natural philosophy that developed in several ancient traditions. The atomists theorized that the natural world consists of two fundamental parts: indivisible atoms and empty void.According to Aristotle, atoms are indestructible and immutable and there are an infinite variety of shapes...

. Buddhism also resembles Epicureanism in its temperateness, including the belief that great excesses leads to great dissatisfaction.

Philosophy


The philosophy originated by Epicurus flourished for seven centuries. It propounded an ethic of individual pleasure
Pleasure
Pleasure describes the broad class of mental states that humans and other animals experience as positive, enjoyable, or worth seeking. It includes more specific mental states such as happiness, entertainment, enjoyment, ecstasy, and euphoria...

 as the sole or chief good in life. Hence, Epicurus advocated living in such a way as to derive the greatest amount of pleasure possible during one’s lifetime, yet doing so moderately in order to avoid the suffering incurred by overindulgence in such pleasure. The emphasis was placed on pleasures of the mind rather than on physical pleasures. Therefore, according to Epicurus, with whom a person eats is of greater importance than what is eaten. Unnecessary and, especially, artificially produced desires were to be suppressed. Since learning, culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

, and civilization as well as social and political involvements could give rise to desires that are difficult to satisfy and thus result in disturbing one’s peace of mind, they were discouraged. Knowledge was sought only to rid oneself of religious fears and superstitions, the two primary fears to be eliminated being fear of the gods and of death. Viewing marriage and what attends it as a threat to one’s peace of mind, Epicurus lived a celibate life but did not impose this restriction on his followers.

The philosophy was characterized by an absence of divine principle. Lawbreaking was counseled against because of both the shame associated with detection and the punishment it might bring. Living in fear of being found out or punished would take away from pleasure, and this made even secret wrongdoing inadvisable. To the Epicureans, virtue in itself had no value and was beneficial only when it served as a means to gain happiness. Reciprocity was recommended, not because it was divinely ordered or innately noble, but because it was personally beneficial. Friendships rested on the same mutual basis, that is, the pleasure resulting to the possessors. Epicurus laid great emphasis on developing friendships as the basis of a satisfying life.
While the pursuit of pleasure formed the focal point of the philosophy, this was largely directed to the "static pleasures" of minimizing pain, anxiety and suffering. In fact Epicurus referred to life as a “bitter gift”.
The Epicureans believed in the existence of the gods, but believed that the gods were made of atoms just like everything else. It was thought that the gods were too far away from the earth to have any interest in what man was doing; so it did not do any good to pray or to sacrifice to them. The gods, they believed, did not create the universe, nor did they inflict punishment or bestow blessings on anyone, but they were supremely happy; this was the goal to strive for during one’s own human life.

"Live unknown was one of [key] maxims. This was completely at odds with all previous ideas of seeking fame and glory, or even wanting something so apparently decent as honor."

Epicureanism rejects immortality and mysticism; it believes in the soul, but suggests that the soul is as mortal as the body. Epicurus rejected any possibility of an afterlife, while still contending that one need not fear death: "Death is nothing to us; for that which is dissolved, is without sensation, and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us."

Ethics


Epicurus was an early thinker to develop the notion of justice as a social contract. He defined justice as an agreement "neither to harm nor be harmed." The point of living in a society with laws and punishments is to be protected from harm so that one is free to pursue happiness. Because of this, laws that do not contribute to promoting human happiness are not just. He gave his own unique version of the Ethic of Reciprocity
Ethic of reciprocity
The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a maxim, ethical code, or moralitythat essentially states either of the following:* : One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself....

, which differs from other formulations by emphasizing minimizing harm and maximizing happiness for 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.


Epicureanism incorporated a relatively full account of the social contract
Social contract
The social contract is an intellectual device intended to explain the appropriate relationship between individuals and their governments. Social contract arguments assert that individuals unite into political societies by a process of mutual consent, agreeing to abide by common rules and accept...

 theory, following after a vague description of such a society in Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

's Republic. The social contract theory established by Epicureanism is based on mutual agreement, not divine decree.

Epicurean physics


Epicurus' philosophy of the physical world is found in his Letter to Herodotus: Diogenes Laertius 10.34-83.

If a limited form
Substantial form
A theory of substantial forms asserts that forms organize matter and make it intelligible. Substantial forms are the source of properties, order, unity, identity, and information about objects....

 lives within an unlimited void, the form could only wander aimlessly about, because what is unlimited is ungraspable; meaning, the limited form would travel forever, for it does not have any obstacles. The void would have to be limited in quality and the form of an unlimited quality, for an unlimited form can oscillate and seemingly grasp—practically, but not literally—an unlimited number of spots within the limited void. So therefore all living things on Earth are unlimited, and the Earth on which they live and the universe around it, is limited.

Forms can change, but not their inherent qualities, for change can only affect their shape. Some things can be changed and some things cannot be changed because forms that are unchangeable cannot be destroyed if certain attributes can be removed; for attributes not only have the intention of altering an unchangeable form, but also the inevitable possibility of becoming—in relation to the form’s disposition to its present environment—both an armor and a vulnerability to its stability.

Further proof that there are unchangeable forms and their inability to be destroyed, is the concept of the “non-evident.” A form cannot come into being from the void—which is nothing; it would be as if all forms come into being spontaneously, needless of reproduction. The implied meaning of “destroying” something is to undo its existence, to make it not there anymore, and this cannot be so: if the void is that which does not exist, and if this void is the implied destination of the destroyed, then the thing in reality cannot be destroyed, for the thing (and all things) could not have existed in the first place (as Lucretius said, ex nihilo nihil fit: nothing comes from nothing). This totality of forms is eternal and unchangeable.

Atoms move, in the appropriate way, constantly and for all time. Forms first come to us in images or “projections”--outlines of their true selves. For an image to be perceived by the human eye, the “atoms” of the image must cross a great distance at enormous speed and must not encounter any conflicting atoms along the way. The presence of atomic resistance equal atomic slowness; whereas, if the path is deficient of atomic resistance, the traversal rate is much faster (and clearer). Because of resistance, forms must be unlimited (unchangeable and able to grasp any point within the void) because, if they weren't, a form's image would not come from a single place, but fragmented and from several places. This confirms that a single form cannot be at multiple places at the same time.

And the senses warrant us other means of perception: hearing and smelling. As in the same way an image traverses through the air, the atoms of sound and smell traverse the same way. This perceptive experience is itself the flow of the moving atoms; and like the changeable and unchangeable forms, the form from which the flow traverses is shed and shattered into even smaller atoms, atoms of which still represent the original form, but they are slightly disconnected and of diverse magnitudes. This flow, like that of an echo, reverberates (off one's senses) and goes back to its start; meaning, one’s sensory perception happens in the coming, going, or arch, of the flow; and when the flow retreats back to its starting position, the atomic image is back together again: thus when one smells something one has the ability to see it too [because atoms reach the one who smells or sees from the object.]

And this leads to the question of how atomic speed and motion works. Epicurus says that there are two kinds of motion: the straight motion and the curved motion, and its motion traverse as fast as the speed of thought.

Epicurus proposed the idea of 'the space between worlds' (metakosmia
Metakosmia
The metakosmia , according to Epicurean philosophy were the relatively empty spaces in the infinite void where worlds had not been formed by the joining together of the atoms through their endless motion. Epicurus held that the metakosmia were the abode of the gods, whom he considered to be...

) the relatively empty spaces in the infinite void where worlds had not been formed by the joining together of the atoms through their endless motion.

Epistemology


Epicurean epistemology has three criteria of truth
Truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

: sensations (aisthêsis), preconceptions (prolepsis), and feelings (pathê). Prolepsis is sometimes translated as "basic grasp" but could also be described as "universal ideas": concepts that are understood by all. An example of prolepsis is the word "man" because every person has a preconceived notion of what a man is. Sensations or sense perception is knowledge that is received from the senses alone. Much like modern science, epicurean philosophy posits that empiricism
Empiricism
Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily via sensory experience. One of several views of epistemology, the study of human knowledge, along with rationalism, idealism and historicism, empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence,...

 can be used to sort truth from falsehood. Feelings are more related to ethics than Epicurean physical theory. Feelings merely tell the individual what brings about pleasure and what brings about pain. This is important for the Epicurean because these are the basis for the entire Epicurean ethical doctrine.

According to Epicurus, the basic means for our understanding of things are the ‘sensations’ (aestheses), 'concepts' (prolepsis
Prolepsis
Prolepsis may refer to:* Flashforward, in storytelling, an interjected scene that takes the narrative forward* Prolepsis , 1975 work by Arrogance...

), ‘emotions’ (pathe) and the ‘focusing of thought into an impression’ (phantastikes epiboles tes dianoias).

Epicureans reject dialectic
Dialectic
Dialectic is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. The word dialectic originated in Ancient Greece, and was made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues...

 as confusing (parelkousa) because for the physical philosophers it is sufficient to use the correct words which refer to the concepts of the world. Epicurus then, in his work On the Canon, says that the criteria of truth are the senses, the preconceptions and the feelings. Epicureans add to these the focusing of thought into an impression. He himself is referring to those in his Epitome to Herodotus and in Principal Doctrines.

The senses are the first criterion of truth, since they create the first impressions and testify the existence of the external world. Sensory input is neither subjective nor deceitful, but the misunderstanding comes when the mind adds to or subtracts something from these impressions through our preconceived notions. Therefore, our sensory input alone cannot lead us to inaccuracy, only the concepts and opinions that come from our interpretations of our sensory input can. Therefore our sensory data is the only truly accurate thing which we have to rely for our understanding of the world around us.

The concepts are the categories which have formed mentally according to our sensory input, for example the concepts "man", "warm", and "sweet", etc. These concepts are directly related to memory and can be recalled at any time, only by the use of the respective word. (Compare the anthropological
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 Sapir–Whorf hypothesis
Linguistic relativity
The principle of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its speakers are able to conceptualize their world, i.e. their world view...

). Epicurus also calls them "the meanings that underlie the words" (hypotetagmena tois phthongois: semantic substance of the words) in his letter to Herodotus.
The feelings or emotions (pathe) are related to the senses and the concepts. They are the inner impulses that make us feel like or dislike about certain external objects, which we perceive through the senses, and are associated with the preconceptions that are recalled.

Apart from these there is the assumption (hypolepsis), which is either the hypothesis or the opinion about something (matter or action), and which can be correct or incorrect. The assumptions are created by our sensations, concepts and emotions. Since they are produced automatically without any rational analysis and verification (see the modern idea of the subconscious
Subconscious
The term subconscious is used in many different contexts and has no single or precise definition. This greatly limits its significance as a definition-bearing concept, and in consequence the word tends to be avoided in academic and scientific settings....

) of whether they are correct or not, they need to be confirmed (epimarteresis: confirmation), a process which must follow each assumption.
Referring to the "focusing of thought into an impression" or else "intuitive understandings of the mind", they are the impressions made on the mind that come from our sensations, concepts and emotions and form the basis of our assumptions and beliefs. All this unity (sensation – concept or category – emotion – focusing of thought into an impression) leads to the formation of a certain assumption or belief (hypolepsis). (Compare the modern anthropological
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 concept of a "world view
World view
A comprehensive world view is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point-of-view, including natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and...

".)
Following the lead of Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, Epicurus also refers to impressions in the form of mental images which are projected on the mind. The "correct use of impressions" was something adopted later by the Stoics.

Our assumptions and beliefs have to be ’confirmed', which actually proves if our opinions are either accurate or inaccurate. This verification and confirmation (epimarteresis) can only be done by means of the "evident reason" (henargeia), which means what is self-evident and obvious through our sensory input.

An example is when we see somebody approaching us, first through the sense of eyesight, we perceive that an object is coming closer to us, then through our preconceptions we understand that it is a human being, afterwards through that assumption we can recognize that he is someone we know, for example Theaetetus. This assumption is associated with pleasant or unpleasant emotions accompanied by the respective mental images and impressions (the focusing of our thoughts into an impression), which are related to our feelings toward each other. When he gets close to us, we can confirm (verify) that he is Socrates and not Theaetetus through the proof of our eyesight. Therefore, we have to use the same method to understand everything, even things which are not observable and obvious (adela, imperceptible), that is to say the confirmation through the evident reason (henargeia). In the same way we have to reduce (reductionism
Reductionism
Reductionism can mean either an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things or a philosophical position that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can...

) each assumption and belief to something that can be proved through the self-evident reason (empirically verified). Verification theory
Verification theory
The verification theory is a philosophical theory proposed by the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle. A simplified form of the theory states that a proposition's meaning is determined by the method through which it is empirically verified. In other words, if something cannot be empirically...

 and reductionism
Reductionism
Reductionism can mean either an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things or a philosophical position that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can...

 have been adopted, as we know, by the modern philosophy of science
Philosophy of science
The philosophy of science is concerned with the assumptions, foundations, methods and implications of science. It is also concerned with the use and merit of science and sometimes overlaps metaphysics and epistemology by exploring whether scientific results are actually a study of truth...

. In this way, one can get rid of the incorrect assumptions and beliefs (bias
Bias
Bias is an inclination to present or hold a partial perspective at the expense of alternatives. Bias can come in many forms.-In judgement and decision making:...

es) and finally settle on the real (confirmed) facts.
All the above mentioned criteria of knowledge form the basic principles of the [scientific] method, that Epicurus followed in order to find the truth. He described this method in his work On the Canon or On the Criteria.
(Based on excerpt from Epicurus' Gnoseology 'Handbook of Greek Philosophy: From Thales to the Stoics Analysis and Fragments', Nikolaos Bakalis, Trafford Publishing 2005, ISBN 1-4120-4843-5)

Tetrapharmakos


Tetrapharmakos, or "The four-part cure", is Epicurus' basic guideline as to how to live the happiest possible life. This poetic doctrine was handed down by an anonymous Epicurean who summed up Epicurus' philosophy on happiness in four simple lines:

Notable Epicureans


One of the earliest Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 writers espousing Epicureanism was Amafinius. Other adherents to the teachings of Epicurus included the poet Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

, whose famous statement Carpe Diem ("Seize the Day") illustrates the philosophy, as well as Lucretius
Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

, as he showed in his De Rerum Natura. The poet Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

 was another prominent Epicurean (see Lucretius
Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

 for further details).

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 leaned considerably toward Epicureanism and rejected the idea of an afterlife, which e.g. led to his plea against the death sentence during the trial against Catiline
Catiline
Lucius Sergius Catilina , known in English as Catiline, was a Roman politician of the 1st century BC who is best known for the Catiline conspiracy, an attempt to overthrow the Roman Republic, and in particular the power of the aristocratic Senate.-Family background:Catiline was born in 108 BC to...

, where he spoke out against the Stoic
STOIC
STOIC was a variant of Forth.It started out at the MIT and Harvard Biomedical Engineering Centre in Boston, and was written in the mid 1970s by Jonathan Sachs...

 Cato
Cato the Younger
Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis , commonly known as Cato the Younger to distinguish him from his great-grandfather , was a politician and statesman in the late Roman Republic, and a follower of the Stoic philosophy...

.

In modern times Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 referred to himself as an Epicurean. Other modern-day Epicureans were Gassendi
Pierre Gassendi
Pierre Gassendi was a French philosopher, priest, scientist, astronomer, and mathematician. With a church position in south-east France, he also spent much time in Paris, where he was a leader of a group of free-thinking intellectuals. He was also an active observational scientist, publishing the...

, Walter Charleton
Walter Charleton
Walter Charleton was an English writer. According to Jon Parkin, he was "the main conduit for the transmission of Epicurean ideas to England".-Life:...

, François Bernier
François Bernier
François Bernier was a French physician and traveller. He was born at Joué-Etiau in Anjou. He was the personal physician of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb for around 12 years during his stay in India....

, Saint-Evremond, Ninon de l'Enclos
Ninon de l'Enclos
Anne "Ninon" de l'Enclos also spelled Ninon de Lenclos and Ninon de Lanclos was a French author, courtesan and patron of the arts.-Early life:...

, Diderot
Denis Diderot
Denis Diderot was a French philosopher, art critic, and writer. He was a prominent person during the Enlightenment and is best known for serving as co-founder and chief editor of and contributor to the Encyclopédie....

, and Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham was an English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism...

. Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Eric Hitchens is an Anglo-American author and journalist whose books, essays, and journalistic career span more than four decades. He has been a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the...

 has referred to himself as an Epicurean. In France, Michel Onfray
Michel Onfray
Michel Onfray is a contemporary French philosopher who adheres to hedonism, atheism and anarchism...

 has been developing a post-modern approach to Epicureanism.

Modern usage and misconceptions


In modern popular usage, an epicure is a connoisseur of the arts of life and the refinements of sensual pleasures; epicureanism implies a love or knowledgeable enjoyment especially of good food and drink—see the definition of gourmet at Wiktionary.

This can be attributed to a misunderstanding of the Epicurean doctrine, as promulgated by Christian polemicists. Because Epicureanism posits that pleasure is the ultimate good (telos), it is commonly misunderstood as a doctrine that advocates the partaking in fleeting pleasures such as constant partying, sexual excess and decadent food. This is not the case. Epicurus regarded ataraxia
Ataraxia
Ataraxia is a Greek term used by Pyrrho and Epicurus for a lucid state, characterized by freedom from worry or any other preoccupation.For the Epicureans, ataraxia was synonymous with the only true happiness possible for a person...

 (tranquility, freedom from fear) and aponia
Aponia
Aponia means the absence of pain, and was regarded by the Epicureans to be the height of bodily pleasure.As with the other Hellenistic schools of philosophy, the Epicureans believed that the goal of human life is happiness...

 (absence of pain) as the height of happiness. He also considered prudence an important virtue and perceived excess and overindulgence to be contrary to the attainment of ataraxia and aponia.

See also


  • Epikoros (Judaism)
    Epikoros (Judaism)
    Epikoros is a Jewish term cited in the Mishnah, referring to one who does not have a share in the world to come:...

  • Philosophy of happiness
    Philosophy of happiness
    The philosophy of happiness is a direction by which philosophical inquiry approaches the nature of happiness and the ways by which to attain it...


External links