The Agora: Dedicated to Ancient Ideals
The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.--Epicurus
Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based chiefly on the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. The essential doctrine of Epicureanism is that pleasure is the supreme good and main goal of life. Intellectual pleasures are preferred to sensual ones, which tend to disturb peace of mind.
Epicurus laid down the doctrine that pleasure was the chief good.--Diogenes Laërtius
True happiness, Epicurus taught, is the serenity resulting from the conquest of fear of the gods, of death, and of the afterlife. The ultimate aim of all Epicurean speculation about nature is to rid people of such fears. Epicurean physics is atomistic, Epicurus regarded the universe as infinite and eternal and as consisting only of bodies and space. Of the bodies, some are compound and some are atoms, or indivisible, stable elements of which the compounds are formed. The world, as seen through the human eye, is produced by the whirlings, collisions, and aggregations of these atoms, which individually possess only shape, size, and weight.
Epicurus anticipated the modern doctrine of natural selection. He postulated that natural forces give rise to organisms of different types and that only the types able to support and propagate themselves have survived. Epicurean psychology is thoroughly materialistic. It holds that sensations are caused by a continuous stream of films or "idols" cast off by bodies and impinging on the senses. All sensations are believed to be absolutely reliable; error arises only when sensation is improperly interpreted. The soul is regarded as being composed of fine particles distributed throughout the body. The dissolution of the body in death, Epicurus taught, leads to the dissolution of the soul, which cannot exist apart from the body; and thus no afterlife is possible. Since death means total extinction, it has no meaning either to the living or to the dead, for "when we are, death is not; and when death is, we are not." The cardinal virtues in the Epicurean system of ethics are justice, honesty, and prudence, or the balancing of pleasure and pain.
Continual dropping wears away a stone.--Lucretius
Epicurus preferred friendship to love, as being less disquieting. His personal hedonism taught that only through self-restraint, moderation, and detachment can one achieve the kind of tranquility that is true happiness. Despite his materialism, Epicurus believed in the freedom of the will. Epicurus did not deny the existence of gods, but he emphatically maintained that as "happy and imperishable beings" of supernatural power they could have nothing to do with human affairs, although they might take pleasure in contemplating the lives of good mortals. True religion lies in a similar contemplation by humans of the ideal lives of the high, invisible gods. So firmly fixed and venerated were Epicurus's teachings that the doctrines of Epicureanism, unlike those of its great philosophical rival Stoicism, remained remarkably intact throughout its history as a living tradition.
You may see me, fat and shining, with well-cared-for hide,... a hog from Epicurus's herd.--Horace
Epicureanism faded from existence in the 4th Century, only to be revived by the 17th Century French philosopher Pierre Gassendi. Continue reading the primary sources below, or jump to the Catholic Encyclopedia 1914 Epicureanism entry.
|The Life of Epicurus|
|Upon the Gardens of Epicurus: or, Of Gardening, in the Year 1685|
|Letter to William Short|
Epicurus (341 - 270 BC): Born in Samos but later living in Athens, Epicurus was the founder of Epicureanism. Talking philosophy, taking little part in public affairs, he encompassed his "ideal" into his life.
Metrodorus (331 - 278 BC) One of the four proponents of Epicureanism, only fragments of his works remain. Epicurus claimed him not to be an original thinker.
Polyaenus (? - 278 BC) Rhetorician who served as military commander and later went into the political life.
Diogenes Laertius (3rd cen. BC): Born in Celicia, Diogenes went on to become the most famous philosophical historian of his era. His biography of Epicurus sets itself above his other works in its complexity and detail.
Lucretius (98 - 55 BC): Roman poet and philosopher, his contribution was to free men's minds of superstition and fear of death. His focus was more on the law than earlier Epicureans, but he was erudite in transmitting their physics and psychology. He was the first Epicurean to write in Latin.
Lucian (120 - 180 CE): Born in what is now Turkey, Lucian went on to become a preeminent Greek writer and rhetorician. As inventor of satiric dialogue, Lucian was a precursor of such note satirists as Swift and Orwell.
Cornelius Nepos (100 -25 BC): Moving to Rome from Northern Italy in his younger years, Nepos went on to become a writer, historian, and poet. His biographies of famous men still ring as excellent sources of Epicureanism in the Hellenistic era.
Pierre Gassendi (1592 - 1655 CE): French philosopher and scholar who led many attacks on the theories of Aristotle and may be responsible for reviving Epicureanism during his day.
Most of the texts contained on this site are public domain. Site layout, all original content, created by John Trapp ©2001