People - Ancient Greece: Epicurus
Ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the
school of philosophy called Epicureanism.
Epicūrus in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
（Ἐπίκουρος). A celebrated philosopher, born in the year B.C. 341, in the island of Samos, whither his father had gone from Athens, in the year B.C. 352, among 2000 colonists then sent out by the Athenians. Yet he was an Athenian by right, belonging to the deme Gargettus and to the tribe Aegeïs. His father Neocles is said to have been a school-master, and his mother Chaeristrata to have practised arts of magic, in which it was afterwards made a charge against Epicurus that, when he was young, he assisted her (Diog. Laert. x. 4). Having passed his early years in Samos and Teos, he went to Athens at the age of eighteen. He had begun to study philosophy when only fourteen, from a desire, which the teachers to whom he had applied had failed to satisfy, of understanding Hesiod's description of chaos. In Samos he is said to have received lessons from Pamphilus, a follower of Plato (Cic. N. D. i. 26). On the occasion of this his first visit to Athens, Epicurus stayed there for a very short time. He left it in consequence of the measures taken by Perdiccas after the death of Alexander the Great, and went to Colophon to join his father. In B.C. 310, he went to Mitylené, where he set up a school. Staying only one year at this latter place, he next proceeded to Lampsacus, where he taught for four years. He returned to Athens in the year B.C. 306, and now founded the school which ever after was named from him the Epicurean. He purchased a garden (Κῆποι Ἐπικούρου) for eighty minae (about $1450), wherein he might live with his disciples and deliver his lectures, and henceforth remained in Athens, with the exception only of two or three visits to his friends in Asia Minor, until his death, from stone in the bladder, B.C. 270. He was in his seventy-second year when he died, and he had then been settled in Athens as a teacher for thirty-six years.
Epicurus is said by Diogenes Laertius (x. 9) to have had so many pupils that even whole cities could not contain them. Hearers came to him from distant places; and while men often deserted other schools to join that of Epicurus, there were only two instances, at most, of Epicurus being deserted for any other teacher. Epicurus and his pupils lived together in the garden of which we have spoken, in a state of friendship, which, as it is usually represented, could not be surpassed—abstaining from putting their property together and enjoying it in common for the quaint yet significant reason that such a plan implied mutual distrust. The friendship subsisting between Epicurus and his pupils is commemorated by Cicero (De Fin. i. 20). In this garden, too, they lived in the most frugal and decorous manner, though it was the delight of the enemies of Epicurus to represent it differently, and though Timocrates, who had once been his pupil and had abandoned him, spread such gossip as that Epicurus used to vomit twice a day after a surfeit and that harlots were inmates of the garden. (See Leontium.) An inscription over the gate of the garden told him who might be disposed to enter that barleycakes and water would be the fare provided for him (Plin. Ep. 31); and such was the chastity of Epicurus that one of his principal opponents, Chrysippus, endeavoured to account for it, so as to deny him any merit, by saying that he was without passions (Serm. 117). Epicurus remained unmarried, in order that he might be able to prosecute philosophy without interruption. His most attached friends and pupils were Hermachus of Mitylené, whom he appointed by will to succeed him as master of the school; Metrodorus, who wrote several books in defence of his system; and Polyaenus. Epicurus's three brothers, Neocles, Chaeredemus, and Aristobulus, also followed his philosophy, as also one of his servants, Mys, whom at his death he made free. Besides the garden in Athens, from which the followers of Epicurus, in succeeding time, came to be named “the philosophers of the garden” (Hor. Sat. xiii. 122; xiv. 319), Epicurus possessed a house in Melité, a village near Athens, to which he used often to retire with his friends. On his death he left this house, together with the garden, to Hermachus, as head of the school, to be left by him again to whosoever might be his successor. See Education.
In physics Epicurus trod pretty closely in the footsteps of Democritus; so much so, indeed, that he was accused of taking his atomic cosmology from that philosopher without acknowledgment. He made very few, and these unimportant, alterations. According to Epicurus, as also to Democritus and Leucippus before him, the universe consists of two parts, matter (σῶμα) and space, or vacuum (τὸ κενόν), in which matter exists and moves; and all matter, of every kind and form, is reducible to certain indivisible particles or atoms (ἄτομοι), which are eternal. These atoms, moving, according to a natural tendency, straight downward, and also obliquely, have thereby come to form the different bodies which are found in the world, and which differ in kind and shape, according as the atoms are differently placed in respect to one another. It is clear that, in this system, a creator is dispensed with; and indeed Epicurus, here again following Democritus, set about to prove, in an a priori way, that this creator could not exist, inasmuch as nothing could arise out of nothing, any more than it could utterly perish and becoming nothing. The atoms have existed always, and always will exist; and all the various physical phenomena are brought about, from time to time, by their various motions. The soul itself is made of a finer and more subtle kind of atoms, which, when the body dies and decays, separate and are dissipated. The various processes of sense are explained on the principles of materialism. From the surfaces of all objects continually flow thin, filmy images of things (εἴδωλα), which, by impact on the organism, cause the phenomena of vision, hearing, etc.
It remains to speak of the Epicurean system of ethics. Setting out with the two facts that man is susceptible of pleasure and pain and that he seeks the one and avoids the other, Epicurus declared that it is a man's duty to endeavour to increase to the utmost his pleasures and diminish to the utmost his pains—choosing that which tends to pleasure rather than that which tends to pain, and that which tends to a greater pleasure or to a lesser pain rather than that which tends respectively to a lesser pleasure or a greater pain. He used the terms pleasure and pain in the most comprehensive way, as including pleasure and pain of both mind and body; and esteemed the pleasures and pains of the mind as incomparably greater than those of the body. The highest pleasure, then, is peace of mind (ἀταραξία, ἀπονία), and this comes from φρόνησις or the ability to decide what line of conduct will best secure true happiness. Death, he says, is not to be feared, for “where we are, death is not; and where death is, we are not.”
The period at which Epicurus opened his school was peculiarly favourable. In place of the simplicity of the Socratic doctrine, nothing now remained but the subtlety and affectation of Stoicism, the unnatural severity of the Cynics, or the debasing doctrine of indulgence taught and practised by the followers of Aristippus. The luxurious refinement which now prevailed in Athens, while it rendered every rigid scheme of philosophy, as well as all grossness of manners, unpopular, inclined the younger citizens to listen to a preceptor who smoothed the stern and wrinkled brow of philosophy, and, under the notion of conducting his followers to enjoyment in the bower of tranquillity, led them unawares into the path of moderation and virtue. Hence the popularity of his school. It cannot be denied, however, that from the time when this philosopher appeared to the present day, an uninterrupted course of censure has fallen upon his memory; so that the name of his sect has almost become a proverbial expression for everything corrupt in principle and infamous in character. The charges brought against Epicurus are that he superseded all religious principles by dismissing the gods from the care of the world; that if he acknowledged their existence, it was only in conformity to popular prejudice, since, according to his system, nothing exists in nature but material atoms; that he showed great insolence and vanity in the disrespect with which he treated the memory of former philosophers and the characters and persons of his contemporaries; and that both he and his disciples were addicted to the grossest sensuality.
With respect to the first charge, it certainly admits of no refutation. The doctrine of Epicurus concerning nature militated directly against the agency of a Supreme Being in the formation and government of the world, and his misconceptions with respect to mechanical motion and the nature of divine happiness led him to divest the Deity of some of his primary attributes. It is not true, however, that he entirely denied the existence of superior powers. Cicero charges him with inconsistency in having written books concerning piety and the reverence due to the gods, and in maintaining that the gods ought to be worshipped, while he asserted that they had no concern in human affairs. That there was an inconsistency in this is obvious. But Epicurus professed that the universal prevalence of the ideas of gods was sufficient to prove that they existed; and, thinking it necessary to derive these ideas, like all other ideas, from sensations, he imagined that the gods were beings of human form and made known to men by the customary emanations. He believed that these gods were eternal and supremely happy, living in the intermundane spaces (μετακόσμια) in a state of quiet, and meddling not with the affairs of the world. He contended that they were to be worshipped on account of the excellence of their nature, and not because they could do men either good or harm (Cic. N. D. i. 41; Sen. Ben. iv. 19).
The Epicurean school was carried on, after Hermachus, by Polystratus and many others, concerning whom nothing is known; and the doctrines which Epicurus had taught underwent few modifications. When introduced among the Romans, these doctrines, though very much opposed at first, were yet adopted by many distinguished men, as Lucretius, Atticus, and Horace. Under the emperors, Pliny the Younger and Lucian of Samosata were noted Epicureans. See Lucretius.
Our chief sources of information respecting the doctrines of Epicurus are the tenth book of Diogenes Laertius and the poem of Lucretius, De Rerum Natura. Information is also furnished by the writings of Cicero, especially the De Finibus and the De Natura Deorum; by those of Seneca, and by the treatise of Plutarch, “Against Colotes.” Epicurus, according to Diogenes Laertius, was a more voluminous writer than any other philosopher, having written as many as 300 volumes, in all of which he is said to have studiously avoided making quotations. All that now remains of his works are the letters contained in the tenth book of Diogenes Laertius and parts of two books of his treatise on Nature (Περὶ Φύσεως), which were discovered at Herculaneum. The last were published at Leipzig in 1818, being edited by Orelli; further fragments will be found in the sixth volume of the Hercul. Voll. Collectio Altera, of which the first part appeared at Naples in 1866. A critical edition of the first two letters was given by Schneider (Leipzig, 1813). See Lange's Geschichte des Materialismus (Iserlohn, 1866); Trezza, Epicuro e l'Epicureismo (Florence, 1877); Zeller, Philosophy of the Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics (Eng. trans. 1880); Wallace, Epicureanism (1880); monographs >by Gizycki (Halle, 1879) and Kreibig (Vienna, 1885); Susemihl, i. 87 foll., and the article Philosophia.
Epicurus in Wikipedia
Epicurus (Greek: Ἐπίκουρος, Epikouros, "ally, comrade"; Samos, 341 BCE – Athens, 270 BCE) 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. Much of what is known about Epicurean philosophy derives from later followers and commentators.
For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia, peace and freedom from fear, and aponia, the absence of pain, and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. He taught that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and evil, that death is the end of the body and the soul and should therefore not be feared, that the gods do not reward or punish humans, that the universe is infinite and eternal, and that events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space.
His parents, Neocles and Chaerestrate, both Athenian-born, and his father a citizen, had emigrated to the Athenian settlement on the Aegean island of Samos about ten years before Epicurus's birth in February 341 BCE. As a boy he studied philosophy for four years under the Platonist teacher Pamphilus. At the age of 18 he went to Athens for his two-year term of military service. The playwright Menander served in the same age-class of the ephebes as Epicurus.
After the death of Alexander the Great, Perdiccas expelled the Athenian settlers on Samos to Colophon. After the completion of his military service, Epicurus joined his family there. He studied under Nausiphanes, who followed the teachings of Democritus. In 311/310 BCE Epicurus taught in Mytilene but caused strife and was forced to leave. He then founded a school in Lampsacus before returning to Athens in 306 BCE. There he founded The Garden, a school named for the garden he owned about halfway between the Stoa and the Academy that served as the school's meeting place.
Even though many of his teachings were heavily influenced by earlier thinkers, especially by Democritus, he differed in a significant way with Democritus on determinism. Epicurus would often deny this influence, denounce other philosophers as confused, and claim to be "self-taught".
Epicurus never married and had no known children. He suffered from kidney stones, to which he finally succumbed in 270 BCE at the age of 72, and despite the prolonged pain involved, he wrote to Idomeneus:
I have written this letter to you on a happy day to me, which is also the last day of my life. For I have been attacked by a painful inability to urinate, and also dysentery, so violent that nothing can be added to the violence of my sufferings. But the cheerfulness of my mind, which comes from the recollection of all my philosophical contemplation, counterbalances all these afflictions. And I beg you to take care of the children of Metrodorus, in a manner worthy of the devotion shown by the young man to me, and to philosophy.
Epicurus's school had a small but devoted following in his lifetime. The primary members were Hermarchus, the financier Idomeneus, Leonteus and his wife Themista, the satirist Colotes, the mathematician Polyaenus of Lampsacus, and Metrodorus of Lampsacus, the most famous popularizer of Epicureanism. His school was the first of the ancient Greek philosophical schools to admit women as a rule rather than an exception. The original school was based in Epicurus's home and garden. An inscription on the gate to the garden is recorded by Seneca in epistle XXI of Epistulae morales ad Lucilium:
Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.
Epicurus emphasized friendship as an important ingredient of happiness, and the school resembled in many ways a community of friends living together. However, he also instituted a hierarchical system of levels among his followers, and had them swear an oath on his core tenets.
Prefiguring science and ethics
Epicurus is a key figure in the development of science and the scientific method because of his insistence that nothing should be believed, except that which was tested through direct observation and logical deduction. Many of his ideas about nature and physics presaged important scientific concepts of our time. He was a key figure in the Axial Age, the period from 800 BCE to 200 BCE, during which similarly revolutionary thinking appeared in China, India, Iran, the Near East, and Ancient Greece. His statement of the Ethic of Reciprocity as the foundation of ethics is the earliest in Ancient Greece, and he differs from the formulation of utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill by emphasizing the minimization of harm to oneself and others as the way to maximize happiness.
Epicurus's teachings represented a departure from the other major Greek thinkers of his period, and before, but was nevertheless founded on many of the same principles as Democritus. Like Democritus, he was an atomist, believing that the fundamental constituents of the world were indivisible little bits of matter (atoms, Greek atomos, indivisible) flying through empty space (khaos). Everything that occurs is the result of the atoms colliding, rebounding, and becoming entangled with one another, with no purpose or plan behind their motions. (Compare this with the modern study of particle physics.) His theory differs from the earlier atomism of Democritus because he admits that atoms do not always follow straight lines but their direction of motion may occasionally exhibit a 'swerve' (clinamen). This allowed him to avoid the determinism implicit in the earlier atomism and to affirm free will. (Compare this with the modern theory of quantum physics, which postulates a non-deterministic random motion of fundamental particles.)
He regularly admitted women and slaves into his school, introducing the new concept of fundamental human egalitarianism into Greek thought, and was one of the first Greeks to break from the god-fearing and god-worshiping tradition common at the time, even while affirming that religious activities are useful as a way to contemplate the gods and to use them as an example of the pleasant life. Epicurus participated in the activities of traditional Greek religion, but taught that one should avoid holding false opinions about the gods. The gods are immortal and blessed and men who ascribe any additional qualities that are alien to immortality and blessedness are, according to Epicurus, impious. The gods do not punish the bad and reward the good as the common man believes. The opinion of the crowd is, Epicurus claims, that the gods "send great evils to the wicked and great blessings to the righteous who model themselves after the gods," when in reality Epicurus believes the gods do not concern themselves at all with human beings.
It is not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, who is impious, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them.
Pleasure as absence of suffering
Epicurus' philosophy is based on the theory that all good and bad derive from the sensations of pleasure and pain. What is good is what is pleasurable, and what is bad is what is painful. Pleasure and pain were ultimately, for Epicurus, the basis for the moral distinction between good and bad. If pain is chosen over pleasure in some cases it is only because it leads to a greater pleasure. Although Epicurus has been commonly misunderstood to advocate the rampant pursuit of pleasure, what he was really after was the absence of pain (both physical and mental, i.e., suffering) - a state of satiation and tranquility that was free of the fear of death and the retribution of the gods. When we do not suffer pain, we are no longer in need of pleasure, and we enter a state of 'perfect mental peace' (ataraxia).
Epicurus' teachings were introduced into medical philosophy and practice by the Epicurean doctor Asclepiades of Bithynia, who was the first physician who introduced Greek medicine in Rome. Asclepiades introduced the friendly, sympathetic, pleasing and painless treatment of patients. He advocated humane treatment of mental disorders, had insane persons freed from confinement and treated them with natural therapy, such as diet and massages. His teachings are surprisingly modern, therefore Asclepiades is considered to be a pioneer physician in psychotherapy, physical therapy and molecular medicine.
Epicurus explicitly warned against overindulgence because it often leads to pain. For instance, in what might be described as a "hangover" theory, Epicurus warned against pursuing love too ardently. However, having a circle of friends you can trust is one of the most important means for securing a tranquil life.
Epicurus also believed (contra Aristotle) that death was not to be feared. When a man dies, he does not feel the pain of death because he no longer is and he therefore feels nothing. Therefore, as Epicurus famously said, "death is nothing to us." When we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fear of death arises from the false belief that in death there is awareness.
In this context Epicurus said: Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo (I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not care) – which is inscribed on the gravestones of his followers and seen on many ancient gravestones of the Roman Empire. This quote is often used today at humanist funerals.
The "Epicurean paradox" is a version of the problem of evil. It is a trilemma argument (God is omnipotent, God is good, but Evil exists); or more commonly seen as this quote:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
This argument was a type favoured by the ancient Greek skeptics, and may have been wrongly attributed to Epicurus by Lactantius, who, from his Christian perspective, regarded Epicurus as an atheist. According to Reinhold F. Glei, it is settled that the argument of theodicy is from an academic 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.
Epicurus didn’t deny the existence of gods. Instead, he stated that what gods there may be do not concern themselves with us, and thus would not seek to punish us either in this or any other life.
Epicurus emphasized the senses in his epistemology, and his Principle of Multiple Explanations ("if several theories are consistent with the observed data, retain them all") is an early contribution to the philosophy of science.
There are also some things for which it is not enough to state a single cause, but several, of which one, however, is the case. Just as if you were to see the lifeless corpse of a man lying far away, it would be fitting to list all the causes of death in order to make sure that the single cause of this death may be stated. For you would not be able to establish conclusively that he died by the sword or of cold or of illness or perhaps by poison, but we know that there is something of this kind that happened to him.
In contrast to the Stoics, Epicureans showed little interest in participating in the politics of the day, since doing so leads to trouble. He instead advocated seclusion. His garden can be compared to present-day communes. This principle is epitomized by the phrase lathe biōsas λάθε βιώσας (Plutarchus De latenter vivendo 1128c; Flavius Philostratus Vita Apollonii 8.28.12), meaning "live secretly", "get through life without drawing attention to yourself", i. e. live without pursuing glory or wealth or power, but anonymously, enjoying little things like food, the company of friends, etc.
As an ethical guideline, Epicurus emphasized minimizing harm and maximizing happiness of 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.
Elements of Epicurean philosophy have resonated and resurfaced in various diverse thinkers and movements throughout Western intellectual history.
The atomic poems (such as 'All Things are Governed by Atoms') and natural philosophy of Margaret Cavendish were influenced by Epicurus.
His emphasis minimizing harm and maximizing happiness in his formulation of the Ethic of Reciprocity was later picked up by the democratic thinkers of the French Revolution, and others, like John Locke, who wrote that people had a right to "life, liberty, and property." To Locke, one's own body was part of their property, and thus one's right to property would theoretically guarantee safety for their persons, as well as their possessions.
This triad, as well as the egalitarianism of Epicurus, was carried forward into the American freedom movement and Declaration of Independence, by the American founding father, Thomas Jefferson, as "all men are created equal" and endowed with certain "inalienable rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean. 
In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume uses Epicurus as a character for explaining the impossibility of our knowing God to be any greater or better than his creation proves him to be.
Karl Marx's doctoral thesis was on "The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature." 
Epicurus was first to assert human freedom as coming from a fundamental indeterminism in the motion of atoms. This has led some philosophers to think that for Epicurus free will was caused directly by chance. In his "On the Nature of Things," Lucretius appears to suggest this in the best-known passage on Epicurus's position. But in his Letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus follows Aristotle and clearly identifies three possible causes - "some things happen of necessity, others by chance, others through our own agency." Aristotle said some things "depend on us" (eph hemin). Epicurus agreed, and said it is to these last things that praise and blame naturally attach. For Epicurus, the chance "swerve" of the atoms simply defeated determinism to leave room for autonomous agency.
Epicurus was also a significant source of inspiration and interest for both Arthur Schopenhauer, having particular influence on the famous pessimist's views on suffering and death, as well as one of Schopenhauer's successors: Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche cites his affinities to Epicurus in a number of his works, including The Gay Science, Beyond Good and Evil, and his private letters to Peter Gast. Nietzsche was attracted to, among other things, Epicurus's ability to maintain a cheerful philosophical outlook in the face of painful physical ailments. Nietzsche also suffered from a number of sicknesses during his lifetime. However, he thought that Epicurus's conception of happiness as freedom from anxiety was too passive and negative.
The only surviving complete works by Epicurus are three letters, which are to be found in book X of Diogenes Laertius's Lives of Eminent Philosophers, and two groups of quotes: the Principal Doctrines, reported as well in Diogenes's book X, and the Vatican Sayings, preserved in a manuscript from the Vatican Library.
Numerous fragments of his thirty-seven volume treatise On Nature have been found among the charred papyrus fragments at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. In addition, other Epicurean writings found at Herculaneum contain important quotations from his other works. Moreover, numerous fragments and testimonies are found throughout ancient Greek and Roman literature, a collection of which can be found in Usener's Epicurea.
According to Diskin Clay, Epicurus himself established a custom of celebrating his birthday annually with common meals, befitting his stature as hero ctistes (or founding hero) of the Garden. He ordained in his will annual memorial feasts for himself on the same date (10th of Gamelion month). Epicurean communities continued this tradition, referring to Epicurus as their "savior" (soter) and celebrating him as hero. Lucretius apotheosized Epicurus as the main character of his epic poem De rerum natura. The hero cult of Epicurus may have operated as a Garden variety civic religion. However, clear evidence of an Epicurean hero cult, as well as the cult itself, seems buried by the weight of posthumous philosophical interpretation. Epicurus' cheerful demeanor, as he continued to work despite dying from a painful stone blockage of his urinary tract lasting a fortnight, according to his successor Hermarchus and reported by his biographer Diogenes Laertius, further enhanced his status among his followers.
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