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Epicureanism

EPICUREANISM.

Epicureanism gets its name from Epicurus (341270 b.c.e.), who founded his philosophical school (The Garden) in 306 b.c.e. at Athens. Epicureanism emerged at roughly the same time as Stoicism, which was founded by Zeno of Citium (c. 335c. 263 b.c.e.) and developed by Chrysippus of Soli (c. 280206 b.c.e.). Epicureanism was introduced into Rome in the early second century b.c.e. where it caught the attention of Cicero (10643 b.c.e.) and also the poet Lucretius (c. 96c. 55 b.c.e.), who wrote De rerum natura in an effort to explain Epicureanism. Horace (658 b.c.e.) and Virgil (7019b.c.e.) were also notably associated with Epicureanism.

Epicureanism, as an acceptable metaphysical viewpoint, was suppressed once Christianity began to experience some success by the second century c.e. Christians were critical of the apparently selfish nature of Epicurean teachings on pleasure. Epicureanism essentially disappeared for about one thousand years until it was revived by Lorenzo Valla (14051457), who criticized Scholasticism in Disputazioni dialettiche and supported Epicureanism in De Voluptate. Pierre Gassendi (15921655), the critic of Scholasticism and of Descartes, often gets the credit for rediscovering Epicureanism, however, with his De vita et Moribus Epicuri. The influence of Gassendi's work on John Locke (16321704) has been credited with providing the impetus for Locke's social contract theory and, by extension, for the American Revolution. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson (17431826) himself claimed, in a letter to William Short (dated 31 October 1819), to be an Epicurean. Finally, Epicureanism must be distinguished from utilitarianism, which arose during the nineteenth century. Utilitarianism retains the Epicurean view that humans naturally seek pleasure and avoid pain, but while Epicureans laud pleasure seeking and pain avoidance for their effects on the psychological state of the actor, utilitarians use it to express the consequentialist view that a good action maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain.

Epicurus on Pleasure

While Epicureanism is not strictly an ethical theory, it has been most influential in the field of ethics. Epicurus emphasized empiricism, and his theories were foundationalist in the sense that he believed all sense perceptions were true (Inwood and Gerson, A53.63). In keeping with this, he denied that a theory of meaning was possible. Rather, we come to a "basic grasp" (prolepsis) of what people say based on our memories of "what has often appeared in the external world" (Inwood and Gerson, A7.33). As such, the Epicurean notion of areté (human excellence) involves pleasure, and we do have some sensible experience with pleasure. It should be very easy to attain human excellence in this sense, but Epicurus believed that many people were not excellent. To address this problem, Epicurus developed a psychological theory, which argued that most people suffer from neurotic beliefs that inhibit the pursuit of the pleasant life. He identified the neurotic beliefs as a fear of death and a misunderstanding of the gods. He claimed that neither death nor the gods concerned humans and thus they should not fear them. We must overcome these fears in order to live a pleasant life.

Epicurus conceived of pleasure in two ways. "Kinetic" pleasure is that pleasure felt while performing an activity, such as eating or drinking. "Katastematic" pleasure is that pleasure felt while being in a state. This is the pleasure of not being disturbed, of being free from pain. Both types of pleasure occur in the body and the soul. The absence of pain (katastematic pleasure) in the soul (ataraxia ), though, is the highest good for Epicurus.

Epicurus has often been misunderstood as a "sensualist." Cicero, an avowed Stoic, seemed to think that kinetic pleasure was also an end for Epicurus (De Finibus II.3132). But this does not seem to be correct. While kinetic pleasures are desirable for Epicurus, they are not always to be pursued. In fact, it seems that they should be pursued only when they contribute to ataraxia (untroubledness). In some cases it might even be necessary to endure pain in order to preserve or contribute to ataraxia.

Epicurus on Human Excellence

According to Stephen Rosenbaum, most scholars now recognize that Epicureanism did not advocate a life of sensual delights. Rather, the Epicurean pursues "sober reasoning" to achieve the "pleasures" of aponia (absence of pain in the body) and ataraxia (p. 21). Nonetheless, this does not entail the elimination of desires. When one is in the state of ataraxia, one does not avoid opportunities to enjoy kinetic pleasures, but at the same time one is not bothered by the absence of these opportunities. If one has developed a taste for caviar, for example, one enjoys it when it is available and is not disturbed by its absence.

Epicurus has also been criticized for his notion of excellence. Excellence and pleasure are inseparable for Epicurus. But we do everything for the sake of pleasure (ataraxia in particular) not excellence. Ataraxia, then, is the highest human good. Cicero argues that occasions might arise where pleasure-seeking conflicts with acting virtuously (i.e., for the right reason) (De Finibus II.6873, 111ff.). He claims that it is not possible to do something for the right reason and at the same time to get pleasure from the act in the way Epicurus claims. Rather, because the Epicurean always seeks what is pleasurable, what is right can always be redefined. In other words, excellence is never stable in the Epicurean scheme because whatever leads to pleasure in a specific instance is always right. So in one instance one may benefit (in terms of pleasure) from acting unjustly while in some other instance one may benefit from acting justly. On Cicero's account, then, both actions would be right actions for the Epicurean because both lead to pleasure. But this understanding rests on a faulty assumption. It assumes that the Epicurean feels no remorse. Thus, he need not act justly if acting unjustly leads to pleasure. However, for the Epicurean the "greatest fruit of justice is freedom from disturbance," or ataraxia (Inwood and Gerson, A120). As such, it seems that, for the Epicureans, the fruits of injustice would be disturbance and not ataraxia. Pleasure, then, can align with justice, and thus with excellent activity.

Epicureans and Stoics Compared

While both the Epicureans and the Stoics emphasize ataraxia, the Epicurean view of the highest human good, or eudaimonia (happiness), differs from the Stoic view. Epicurus believed that excellence is natural in the sense that we naturally seek pleasure and avoid pain. This contrasts with the Stoic view of nature and thus of excellence. The process leading to eudaimonia, then, is fundamentally different for the Stoics.

Stoic ethics differ from Epicurean ethics in at least three ways. First, their views of nature differ. For the Stoics, self-preservation is the first natural instinct while pleasure plays this role for the Epicureans. This difference affects their views of human excellence (areté ). Epicurus saw pleasure and excellence as inseparable while for the Stoics, self-preservation leads to valuing reason for itself, which leads to the accordance of a special value to excellence.

The second difference between Stoics and Epicureans involves their views of the emotions. For the Epicureans, it was not necessary to eliminate pathos. As Gisela Striker notes, the Epicurean realizes that only a few desires are needed for a pleasant life and they can be easily satisfied (p. 100). In the Epicurean state of ataraxia one does not avoid desires, but one is not bothered by the inability to satisfy one's desires either. As such, the Epicurean is "unperturbed" (p. 100.). The Stoic, on the other hand, is "unperturbable" because he or she has completely eliminated pathos (p. 100).

Finally, the Epicureans and Stoics differ on the role of excellence. For the Stoics, excellence alone is sufficient for eudaimonia, and it results directly from reason. The Epicureans attach pleasure to excellence, but this does not lead to eudaimonia. Rather, the rational person recognizes that the highest form of pleasure (areté ) is ataraxia. And actions performed from the state of ataraxia are the actions of the eudaimon (happy) individual. This individual is tranquil, and she or he has good reasons for feeling tranquil.

Other Aspects of Epicureanism

The Epicureans were noted for their emphasis on physics. They were materialists and, in particular, followers of Democritean atomism. Sextus reports that "Epicurus said that all sensibles are true and that every presentation comes from something existing and is of the same sort as that which stimulates sense-perception" (Inwood and Gerson, A53.63). This belief drove his empiricism, which depended upon the existence of void (or space) and bodies. The bodies, in turn, were compounds of atoms, which were not "subject to dissolution in any way or fashion. Consequently, the principles of bodies must be atomic natures" (Inwood and Gerson, A2.4041).

Epicureanism is not known for its politics. Epicurus showed very little interest in politics and, as a result, had very little to say about it. In fact, Plutarch reports that Epicurus urged his "adherents to avoid public life and express disgust for those who participate in it providing there is no fear of beatings and punishments" (Inwood and Gerson, A35). Epicurus does, however, appear to have hewed to the idea of a harm principle. The thirty-first of his "principal doctrines," as reported by Diogenes Laertius, claims that the "justice of nature is a pledge of reciprocal usefulness, [i.e.,] neither to harm one another nor be harmed" (Inwood and Gerson, A5.XXXI). This view lends itself well to a liberal social contract theory, though no such theory seems to have ever been proposed by Epicurus or his immediate followers.

See also Emotions ; Foundationalism ; Happiness and Pleasure in European Thought ; Social Contract ; Stoicism ; Utilitarianism .

bibliography

Cicero, Marcus Tullius. De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum. Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Inwood, Brad. Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Inwood, Brad, and L. P. Gerson, trans. Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1988.

Irwin, Terence. "Virtue, Praise and Success: Stoic Responses to Aristotle." The Monist 73 (1990): 5979.

Jones, Howard. The Epicurean Tradition. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.

Mitsis, Phillip. Epicurus' Ethical Theory: The Pleasures of Invulnerability. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988.

Osler, Margaret J., ed. Atoms, Pneuma, and Tranquillity: Epicurean and Stoic Themes in European Thought. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Osler, Margaret J., and Letizia A. Panizza. "Introduction." In Atoms, Pneuma, and Tranquillity: Epicurean and Stoic Themes in European Thought. Edited by Margaret J. Osler. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Reesor, Margaret E. The Nature of Man in Early Stoic Philosophy. London: Duckworth, 1989.

Rosenbaum, Stephen E. "Epicurus on Pleasure and the Complete Life." The Monist 73 (1990): 2141.

Striker, Gisela. "Ataraxia: Happiness as Tranquillity." The Monist 73 (1990): 97110.

Tim Duvall

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Epicureanism

222. Epicureanism (See also Feast.)

  1. Belshazzar gave banquet unrivalled for sumptuousness. [O.T.: Daniel 5:14]
  2. Finches of the Grove eating club established for expensive dining. [Br. Lit.: Great Expectations ]
  3. Gatsby, Jay modern Trimalchio, wines and dines the upper echelon. [Am. Lit.: The Great Gatsby ]
  4. Lucullus, Lucius Licinius (11057 B.C.) gave luxurious banquets. [Rom. Hist.: New Century, 650]
  5. Marius young pagan who follows the original philosophical tenets of Epicurus in his search for an answer to life. [Br. Lit.: Pater Marius the Epicurean in Magill II, 630]
  6. Trimalchio vulgar freedman gives lavish feast for noble guests. [Rom. Lit.: Satyricon ]

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Epicureanism

Epicureanism an ancient school of philosophy, founded in Athens by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 bc). His physics is based on Democritus' theory of a materialist universe composed of indestructible atoms moving in a void, unregulated by divine providence.

The school rejected determinism and advocated hedonism (pleasure as the highest good), but of a restrained kind: mental pleasure was regarded more highly than physical, and the ultimate pleasure was held to be freedom from anxiety and mental pain, especially that arising from needless fear of death and of the gods.

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epicureanism

epicureanism (ĕp´Ĭkyŏŏrē´ənĬz´əm), philosophy that follows the teachings of Epicurus, who held that pleasure is the end of all morality and that real pleasure is attained through a life of prudence, honor, and justice. The philosophy was popular throughout the ancient world; it was spread by the successors of Epicurus, who included Polystratus, Zeno of Sidon, and Philodemus of Gadara. Only in later times did epicureanism come to mean devotion to extravagant pleasure.

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Epicureanism

Epicureanism School of Greek philosophy founded by Epicurus. He proposed that the sensations of pleasure and pain were the ultimate measures of good and evil, and that pleasure should be actively pursued. He also embraced a theory of physics derived from the atomism of Democritus, and a theology denying the existence of an afterlife.

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