Dafato Team | May 17, 2022

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Epicurus (Greek, Ἐπίκουρος Epikouros, "ally" or "comrade"), also known as Epicurus of Samos, (341 B.C., born at Samos, died at Athens in 271

Like Aristotle, Epicurus was an empiricist, which means that he believed that the senses are the only reliable source of knowledge about the world. Repeated sensory experiences can be used to form concepts (prolepsis) about the world that can provide the basis for philosophy. He derived much of his physics and cosmology from the atomistic philosopher Democritus. He taught that the universe is infinite and eternal, where all matter is made up of tiny invisible particles called atoms. He spoke out against fate, necessity and the recurring Greek sense of fatalism. Nature, according to Epicurus, is governed by necessity and chance, understanding the latter as the absence of causality due to the deviation (parenklisis) produced by the fall of atoms in the void, thus allowing humans to possess free will as the foundation of ethics in a deterministic universe.

For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was the pursuit of happiness (eudaimonia), characterized by the absence of disturbance in the soul (ataraxia) and pain in the body (aponia). His hedonistic ethics considers the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain as the purpose of human life; always in a rational way to avoid excesses, since these cause later suffering. The pleasures of the spirit are superior to those of the body, and both must be satisfied with intelligence, seeking to reach a state of bodily and spiritual well-being. He criticized both debauchery and renunciation of the pleasures of the flesh, and argued that a middle ground should be sought and that carnal pleasures should be satisfied, as long as they did not lead to pain in the future. He stated that religious myths embitter people's lives, and they should not be feared because they did not care about our vicissitudes. He advocated that people could follow philosophy better if they lived a simple, self-sufficient life surrounded by friends.

Another important contribution of Epicurus was his philosophy regarding death, and complementing his thoughts on happiness, Epicurus sought to reduce the fear of death, and help us to find our happiness. His thought was that death is not to be feared, since it consists in the lack of sensation, so it makes no sense to be frightened by something we will never feel. At the same time, he explained that while we exist, death will not be present, and when it is present, we will not exist, which means that we will never be in a direct relationship with our death, thus concluding with the idea that we should not fear something that will not be present while we exist in this world.

Although most of his work has been lost, we know his teachings well through the work De rerum natura, by the Latin poet Lucretius (a tribute to Epicurus and a comprehensive exposition of his ideas), as well as through his letters collected by Diogenes Laertius and fragments rescued by other philosophers such as Philodemus of Gadara, Diogenes of Enoanda, Sextus Empiricus, Seneca and Cicero. Epicureanism reached the peak of its popularity during the last years of the Roman Republic. It died out in late antiquity, subject to the hostility of early Christianity. Throughout the Middle Ages, Epicurus was popularly, if inaccurately, remembered as a patron of drunkards, prostitutes, and gluttons. His teachings gradually became better known in the 15th century, but did not become acceptable until the 17th century with figures such as Walter Charleton and Robert Boyle. Its influence grew considerably during and after the Enlightenment, profoundly impacting the ideas of modern thinkers such as Pierre Gassendi, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Jeremy Bentham, Karl Marx and Michel Onfray.


Epicurus, the second of four children of a poor family, was born in 341 B.C. on one of the Greek Sporades islands, Samos, a place where the Athenians had established a clerarchy and where his father, Neocles, a schoolteacher whom Epicurus probably helped, had settled as a colonist thanks to state aid. He inherited his father's Athenian citizenship, although he was born on Samos. was a fortune teller. He also had three brothers: Neocles, Chaeredemus and Aristobulus.


Epicurus already had from a young age a great critical spirit and a great desire for knowledge, and it is likely that, not wanting to accept exclusively the traditional teachings of the schools, he devoted himself to reading different philosophers. Thus, he began to study philosophy at an early age and already at fourteen he was a student of a man named Pamphilus (a disciple of Plato), who lived on the island and from whom Epicurus learned the basics of Platonic idealism, which he would later consider a fraud and reject in his philosophy.

In 323 B.C., when he was eighteen years old, he went to Athens to do his military service. When this was over, he returned with his family in 321 B.C., but this time to the city of Colophon, where they had moved after a decree of political amnesty came into force the previous year, thanks to which the exiles could recover their lands in Samos; therefore, the colonists, like Epicurus' family, had to leave them.

In that city he remained for a decade, until 311 B.C. There he studied with Nausiphanes, an atomist philosopher and disciple of Democritus and Pyrrhus, with whom he had a decisive relationship in his training, although Epicurus later directed against him harsh criticism and insults.


After these formative years, he began a period as a teacher, establishing his first school of philosophy in 311 B.C. in the city of Mytilene on Lesbos. Epicurus' opposition to Platonism, the dominant philosophy in higher education, formed a large part of his thinking, but this school was short-lived, as he had to abandon it due to rivalries with the Aristotelians. However, that school was short-lived, for he had to abandon it due to rivalries with the Aristotelians of the city. Although the exact reasons for these rivalries are unknown, that confrontation may well have been one of the first anti-Epicurean reactions, although it should be borne in mind that Epicurus' youthful character may also be at variance with his later meekness.

He then settled in Lampsacus, where he remained for four years, during which time he was very active, and where he again established a school thanks to influential friends and gained a circle of disciples and followers, among whom were Idomeneo, Metrodoro, Leonteo and his wife Temista, Colotes, Pythocles and Timocrates; possibly also in Lampsacus he met Hermarco, who would eventually succeed him as head of the direction of the Garden.

In 306 B.C., at the age of 35, he returned to Athens, where he would remain until his death, to found his school of philosophy. He bought a house and a small plot of land nearby, on the outskirts of Athens, on the way to Piraeus; there he founded the Garden, his school. The Garden offered a quiet place, away from the bustle of the city, where they took place from talks and conviviality to meals and celebrations. It was, therefore, a place more intended for the intellectual retreat of a group of friends than a place for scientific research and higher paideia, unlike Plato's Academy or Aristotle's Lyceum.Seneca records an inscription on the door of the Garden in epistle XXI of the Letters to Lucilius: "Stranger, your time will be pleasant here. In this place the greatest good is pleasure."

People of all conditions and classes were admitted to the Garden, which became a cause of scandal. It included respectable people, but also people of dissolute life. Also women like Temista, heterosexual prostitutes like Leontion and slaves like Mus and Phaedrion, which at that time was unusual for a philosophical school.


He was its teacher until his death in 270 B.C., at the age of 71. Epicurus never married and had no known children. He left the direction of his school to Hermarchus of Mytilene, who claimed that his teacher, after being tormented by cruel pains for fourteen days, succumbed victim of a retention of urine caused by the evil of the stone. Despite suffering immense pain, it is said that Epicurus remained cheerful and continued teaching until the end. In his will, preserved by Diogenes Laertius, he granted freedom to four of his slaves.In a deathbed letter, Epicurus entrusted the children of his late student Metrodorus to the care of Idomeneus, who had married Metrodorus' sister Batis.

According to Diskin Clay, Epicurus himself established the custom of celebrating his birthday annually with common meals as heros ktistes ("founding hero") of the Garden. He ordained in his will annual memorial feasts for himself on the same date (10th of the month of Gamelion). Epicurean communities continued this tradition, referring to Epicurus as their "savior" (soter) and celebrating him as a hero. Epicurus' hero worship may have operated as a civil religion of the Garden. However, the clear evidence of an Epicurean hero cult, as well as the cult itself, seems buried by the weight of posthumous philosophical interpretation. On the 20th of each month was for the Epicureans Eikas, a holiday in honor of their teacher and Metrodorus.

According to the Lives, Opinions and Sentences of the Most Illustrious Philosophers by the ancient Greek doxographer, Diogenes Laertius, Epicurus left his death more than 300 manuscripts, including 37 treatises on physics and numerous works on love, justice, the gods and other subjects. According to Diogenes Laertius, Epicurus' major works include.

Of all of them, only forty maxims of fundamentally ethical and gnoseological content have been preserved, the so-called Capital Maxims (Kyriai Doxai); and three letters transcribed by Diogenes Laertius: the Letter to Herodotus (the Letter to Pistocles, referring to cosmology, astronomy and meteorology; and the Letter to Meneceus, which deals with ethics. In addition, the text of the Vatican Sentences (Gnomologio Vaticano), discovered and published in 1888 by Karl Wotke, is preserved, containing selected quotations from Epicurus, including some that already appeared in the Capital Maxims.

Some brief fragments have been recovered by quotations from other authors, among them the treatise On Nature (Περὶ Φύσεως) of the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus of Gadara from the library calcined at Herculaneum. Fragments of this work have also been preserved in the library of the Epicurean Pisonus (perhaps of Lucius Calpurnius Pisonius Caesoninus). Thanks to another Epicurean, Diogenes of Enoanda (mid 2nd century AD), who had a monumental inscription engraved in the Lycian city of Enoanda other fragments were preserved including a letter of Epicurus to his mother. The doctrines of Epicurean philosophy were also preserved by Roman philosophers, such as the Epicurean poet Lucretius in De rerum natura and by Cicero in De natura deorum and De finibus.

In 1887, the German philologist Hermann Usener compiled in his work Epicurea the fragments and testimonies preserved by the authors of Antiquity with a critical section.

While for Plato and Aristotle philosophy is a continuous search for truth and knowledge of it brings righteousness in human conduct, for Epicurus philosophy is the practical art of life that aims at the healing of the human soul.

"Let no one, however young, delay in philosophizing, nor, however old, grow weary of philosophizing. For it is neither too early nor too late for anyone as far as the health of the soul is concerned. He who says that the hour for philosophizing has not yet come or that it is past is like one who says that the hour of happiness is not coming or that it is no longer present."

While Stoicism had a long development, the Epicurean doctrines were fixed by its founder. Epicurus' philosophy consists of three parts: gnoseology or canonical (criteriology), which deals with the criteria by which we come to distinguish the true from the false; physics, which studies nature; and ethics, which is the culmination of the system and to which the first two parts are subordinated.


Epicurus wrote a treatise entitled Κανών, or Canon, in which he explained his methods of investigation and theory of knowledge. This work has been lost, so Epicurean epistemology had to be reconstructed from fragments and quotations from other authors. The canon is not the study of logic or dialectics, but the criteriology that helps us to distinguish what is true and what is false. The purpose of all knowledge for Epicurus is to help humans reach ataraxia.

"ffrom the moment one reaches any point of contradiction with the evidence of the senses, it will be impossible to possess perfect tranquility and happiness."

Epicurus was a sensualist materialist. Knowledge is based on sensations, which are always true, because they have as their source the objective reality outside of man's consciousness and independently of it. He criticized the skepticism of Democritus. For Epicurus, it is impossible to live as a skeptic, since by doubting everything, one would have no reason to engage in any action at all. Moreover, claiming not to know something is a kind of knowledge, which implies a contradiction. Because of this, Epicurus believed that experience is the only reliable source of information about the external world and the skeptic would have no right to use concepts such as "knowledge" and "truth" since such concepts are derived from the senses, which a skeptic doubts.

As in Aristotle, Epicurus' epistemology is empiricist. Sensation is the basis of all knowledge and is produced when the perfections given off by bodies reach our senses. The senses are, instead of the Platonic idea of "reason", the only reliable source of information and knowledge about the world, since from what they derive are in correspondence with those same things, being necessary that what produces pleasure be pleasurable and vice versa.

The senses pick up the images (and Latin: simulacra) given off by bodies. These eidola are made up of very subtle atoms and are transmitted as effluvia that penetrate the sensory organ and produce the impression. All sensations, such as sight, smell or hearing, were based on these particles. Although the atoms that were emitted did not have the qualities that the senses perceived, the manner in which they were emitted caused the observer to experience those sensations; for example, red particles were not themselves red but were emitted in a way that caused the viewer to experience the color red. Thus, Epicurus states that sensible perceptions are true and do not deceive us, since they correspond to the immediate atomic reality.

Epicurus holds that error arises when judgments about things (hypolepsis) are formed before they can be verified and corrected through further additional sensory information. For example, if someone sees a tower from afar that appears to be round, and as they approach the tower they see that it is actually square, they would realize that their initial judgment was wrong, and they can correct their error. The observer makes the mistake by assuming that the image he receives correctly represents the oar and has not been distorted in some way. In order not to make erroneous judgments about perceptible things and, instead, to verify one's own judgment, the Epicureans believed that it was necessary to obtain a "clear view" (enargeia) of the perceptible by closer examination.

Epicurus proposed three criteria of truth.

These criteria formed the method by which the Epicureans thought we obtain knowledge. Diogenes Laertius, mentions a fourth criterion called "fantastic accessions of the mind" (phantastikai epibolai tês dianoias) as imaginative projections of the understanding by which we can conceive or infer the existence of elements about things that we cannot perceive directly although these are not captured by the senses, such as atoms and gods.

All these aspects, however, are only the principles that govern our way of knowing reality. The result of their application leads us to conclude the conception of nature detailed in physics, the second part of Epicurean philosophy. Sensations govern the truth of propositions (and not the other way around). The wise man "resolves the most important and difficult things with his own judgment and reflection". Thus, logic (formerly called dialectic) is pushed aside as "superfluous".

For Epicurus there is a relationship between knowledge and language. He follows an evolutionary and gradual naturalistic theory of language. Language is not a human invention, but a product of man's environment and physical constitution. The meaning of a word is, therefore, a "natural" meaning, but this meaning is covered by the uses men make of it. To return to the first meaning is to return to preconceived ideas, and thus to resort to the source of human knowledge (as opposed to dialectics).

"From which at the beginning the names were not generated by convention, but the natures of men, suffering particular passions and apprehending particular images according to each people, emitted in a particular way the air disposed by each of the passions and images, in order that the difference might come to exist according to the places of the peoples. And then the particularities were established in common according to each people so that the indications would result less ambiguous for each other and would be indicated in a more concise way."


Like Democritus, Epicurus was an atomist. According to his physics, all reality is made up of two fundamental elements: atoms, indivisible matter with form, extension and weight; and the void, which is nothing but the space in which these atoms move. Epicurus' physical doctrines can be summarized in the following list.

Matter is unbelievable.  Matter is indestructible.  The universe is made up of solid bodies and vacuum.  Solid bodies are compound or simple.  The multitude of atoms is infinite.    The vacuum is infinite in extent.    Atoms are always in motion.    The velocity of atomic motion is uniform.  The motion is linear in space, vibratory in compounds.  Atoms are able to deviate slightly at any point in space or time.  Atoms are characterized by three qualities, weight, shape and size.  The number of different shapes is not infinite, simply innumerable.

He wrote in his Letter to Herodotus that "that nothing devolves from nonentity, for everything would devolve from everything"; indicating that all events have causes, regardless of whether those causes are known or not, since otherwise, there would be no need for specific seeds for plants and anything could be generated from any form of material, besides that such things have never been observed. Similarly, he also writes that nothing ever passes into nothingness, because that into which things would dissipate would be non-existent (see: Principle of sufficient reason). He therefore states that: "The totality of things was always as it is at present and will remain the same because there is nothing in which it can change, inasmuch as there is nothing outside the totality that can interfere and effect a change". Like Democritus before him, Epicurus taught that all matter is composed of extremely tiny particles called "atoms" (meaning "indivisible"). The vacuum is the place where there are no atoms that allows their motion. If there were no vacuum, "bodies would have nowhere to be and nothing to move through." Postulating a principle of inertia, atoms always move through the vacuum without resistance with equal rapidity, regardless of their weight or shape. To answer Aristotle's objections against Democritus, Epicurus believes that the form of the atom is made up of physically and theoretically indivisible "minimal parts. In response to another objection of Aristotle, Epicurus gives atoms an innate tendency to move "downward" under their own weight in an infinite universe without global orientation.

Epicurus and his followers believed that atoms and the void are infinite and that, therefore, the universe is unlimited. The different things in the world are the result of different combinations of atoms. The human being, in the same way, is nothing but a compound of atoms. Even the soul is made up of a special kind of atoms, more subtle than those that make up the body. Epicurus' understanding of the mind-body relationship was entirely physicalistic. Because of this, when the body dies, the soul dies with it. Epicurus can be considered one of the first philosophers to propose a theory of identity in philosophy of mind.

The atomistic conception of Democritus was later criticized by Aristotle when he pointed out that atoms could never come together if they moved only vertically. Epicurus modified the atomist philosophy in important respects, for he does not accept the determinism that atomism entailed in its original form. Therefore, he introduces an element of chance in the motion of atoms, a deviation that occurs in their fall into the void (in Latin: clinamen). This reformulation is one of the most important innovations, because the "turning" of atoms for Epicurus allows a deviation from the chain of causes and effects against the determinism of Democritus, to leave room for autonomous agency, so that freedom is assured.

Epicurus was the first to affirm free will as a result of the 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 De rerum natura, the Epicurean poet Lucretius seems to suggest this in the best known passage on Epicurus' position. Epicurus probably did not assume that we could hold our actions morally responsible if they are purely random.

It seems that Epicurus rather needed the turning only to break the causal chains at some point before our voluntary actions, so that our will can proceed wherever pleasure takes us and just where our mind takes us. Aristotle said that some things "depend on us" (eph'hemin). Epicurus agreed and said that it is to these latter things that praise and guilt naturally attach.

"For whom do you esteem superior? Who mocks at that which some introduce as the despot of everything, fate, saying that some things arise from necessity, others from chance, and others from ourselves, for he sees that necessity is irresponsible, that chance is unstable, while what depends on us has no other master, and that naturally it is accompanied by censure or its opposite."

Both thinkers have been derided for the idea of a "free will" in random atomic motions, but a number of interpretations have been proposed in this regard. Susanne Bobzien argues that for Epicurus, actions are entirely determined by the mental disposition of the agent and moral responsibility arises if the person is not coerced and is causally responsible for the action. On the other hand, Tim O'Keefe has argued that Epicurus was not a libertarian, but a compatibilist. Alternatively, it has been proposed that Epicureans were concerned not with freedom but with control over our character development.

With respect to the totality of reality, Epicurus affirms that it, like the atoms that form it, is eternal. There is no origin from chaos or an initial moment. The world is, therefore, the effect of mechanical causes, and there is no reason to postulate any teleology. As we read in the Letter to Herodotus: "the universe was always such as it is now and will always be such, for there is nothing toward which to change. Epicurus held that time is discontinuous like motion. Unlike his contemporaries, he believed that the universe was unlimited with an unlimited number of atoms and an infinite amount of vacuum. As a result of this belief, Epicurus and his followers believed that the Earth was not the center of the cosmos and also that there must be infinite worlds within the universe. Epicureans believed that events in the natural world can have multiple explanations (pleonachos tropes) that are equally possible and probable. It is believed that he held the flat shape of the Earth, as did Democritus, and that celestial bodies were as small as observed, unlike Democritus.


Ethics, as already mentioned, is the culmination of Epicurus' philosophical system: to lead those who study and practice it to happiness. Since happiness is the goal of every human being, philosophy is of interest to anyone, regardless of their characteristics (age, social status, etc.). Like Aristippus, Epicurus' ethics is a hedonistic ethics, where the pleasurable is morally good and the painful is morally bad. While Aristippus made bodily pleasure the purpose of life, Epicurus focused on calm and tranquility based on autonomy or autarchy; tranquility of the soul's mood or ataraxia; and absence of pain in the body or aponia.

Epicurus considered that happiness is the ultimate goal of life and that it consists in living in continuous pleasure (hedoné), which he defined as the absence of pain. This point of his doctrine has often been the object of misunderstandings, such a theory of life being qualified as a "doctrine worthy of swine", because Epicurus does not refer to the pleasures of the immoderate, but in being free of suffering of the body and of the disturbance of the soul.

"And since it is the first and connatural good, therefore we do not choose every pleasure, but sometimes omit many pleasures, when from these there follows for us a greater discomfort; and we consider many pains preferable to pleasures, when there follows for us a greater pleasure after having been long subjected to such pains. Every pleasure, then, having a proper nature , is a good; though not every pleasure is to be chosen; so also every pain is an evil, but not everything is by nature always to be avoided."

Epicurus made a careful categorization of pleasures and pains by virtue of the benefits they produce. First, he pointed out the existence of three types of desires.

"Of the appetites some are natural and necessary; others are natural and not necessary, and others are neither natural nor necessary, but are moved. Epicurus considers as natural and necessary those that dissolve afflictions, as that of drink in thirst; as natural and not necessary those that only vary the delight, but do not remove the affliction, as are splendid and sumptuous meals; and as neither natural nor necessary he considers, e.g., crowns and the erection of statues."

Diogenes Laertius points out that, unlike the Cyrenaics, Epicurus discerned between the pleasures of the soul or at rest (katastematikén) and the pleasures of the body or in motion (joy and rejoicing are seen in action according to the movement. The pleasures of the body, although he considers them to be the most important, in essence his proposal is the renunciation of these pleasures. The pleasures of the soul are superior to the pleasures of the body, because the bodily pleasures are valid in the present moment but are ephemeral and temporary, while the pleasures of the soul are more lasting and can attenuate the pains of the body.

Epicurus says that "every pleasure is a good insofar as it has nature as its companion". Vain pleasures are not good, because in the long run they will bring pain and are not only more difficult to obtain, but also easier to lose. He concludes as fundamental pleasures the absence of disturbance in the soul (on the other hand, "joy (khára) and fruition (euphrosíne) are seen according to the movement in its activity (katà kínesin energeía)".

He also speaks of the importance of possessing a virtue of choice and esteem in terms of the pleasures it can produce, for it is preferable "to be unfortunate by reasoning well than fortunate by reasoning badly". Virtues are such as simplicity, moderation, temperance, joy, etc. For Epicurus, "the virtues are connatural to pleasurable living and pleasurable living is inseparable from them". The most important virtue is prudence (phronesis) because it allows us to discern pleasures that allow us to approach a happy life.

Epicurus also thanked nature "for having made the necessary things easy to acquire, and those that are difficult to acquire, unnecessary." Epicurus lived austerely, eating a simple diet of bread, cheese, olives and drinking an occasional glass of wine. A full private life, surrounded by friendships and moderate pleasures with as little pain as possible and tranquility of soul, brings happiness.

Philodemus of Gadara distilled the first four doctrines of the Epicurean Capital Maxims collected in a papyrus in Herculaneum called as the "Four Remedies" or the Tetrapharmacus, which are.

"Fear not the gods, fear not death, pleasure is easy to obtain and pain is easy to avoid."

The struggle against the fears that grip human beings is a fundamental part of Epicurean philosophy. He argued that most of the suffering experienced by human beings is caused by irrational fears of death, divine retribution and punishment in the afterlife. In his Letter to Meneceus, Epicurus explains that people seek wealth and power because of these fears, believing that having prestige or political influence will save them from death. However, he argues that death is the end of existence, that terrifying stories of punishment in the afterlife are ridiculous superstitions.While Epicurus was not an atheist, he understood that the gods were beings too far removed from us humans and did not care about our vicissitudes, so there was no point in fearing them. On the contrary, the gods should be a model of virtue and excellence to imitate, for according to the philosopher they live in mutual harmony.

As for the fear of death, he considered it meaningless, since at death, the atoms of the soul are separated and since "all good and all evil is in sensation" and "death is deprivation of sensation", then "death is nothing in relation to us", because while we live it has not arrived and when it arrived we are no longer there. The Roman poet Lucretius offered another argument against the fear of death, called the "argument of symmetry", in which he states that it is not fearful to suffer an infinite non-existence in the future after death, since it was not fearful to suffer a non-existence due to an infinite past before birth.

Finally, it is also pointless to fear a painful future, since: "<it is neither completely ours> nor completely not ours, lest we should expect it with complete certainty as if it had to be, nor despair of it as if it had not to be at all".Against ethical pessimism, Epicurus' theory holds that natural pleasures, which keep us from pain, are easy to obtain and, consequently, what causes pain can be driven away by focusing on pleasure.

"Pain is not continually lingering in the flesh, but the most acute lingers the least time, and that which only just barely advantages the pleasantness of the flesh does not persist many days. And very lasting diseases offer to the flesh a greater amount of pleasure than of pain."

Diogenes of Enoanda, for his part, ignores the Four Remedies and in an inscription he commissioned in Enoanda Square to promote philosophy, argues that the three roots of all evils are fear of the gods, fear of death, and endless desires or the inability to understand the natural limits of desires.

Epicurus had a dubious opinion on the pleasure of sex and marriage, it is disputed whether he rejected or accepted it in certain cases.Philodemus claimed that Epicureans did not respect marital fidelity.Instead, he held that friendships are essential to a happy life rather than vague political utopias.One of the Capital Maxims states.

"Injustice is not in itself an evil, but out of fear in the suspicion that it will not pass unnoticed by those established as punishers of such acts."

Epicurean friendship is a natural relationship based on mutual love and indispensable for personal identity, which reveals the Epicurean friend as another self. The theme of friendship is a paradoxical theme in Epicurus. Like Aristotle, Epicurus considers the wise man to be self-sufficient, that self-sufficiency and autarky are a great good. The wise man must maintain his independence and yet Epicurus considers that friendship is not for the wise a simple means but a good in itself. On the other hand according to Bernard Frischer, the notion of the Epicurean school as an association of friends is consistent with Epicurean theory.

Epicureans have a certain tendency to establish continuities between animals and human beings. Epicurus criticized Aristotelian anthropocentrism, although he does not reject human primacy over animals, and affirms that all living beings are endowed with sensibility and seek pleasure like men who try to avoid pain. Unlike the Platonists, his respect for animal life is based on sensory and not purely religious or philosophical motives. Most likely he was a vegetarian. At least according to the testimony of the Platonist Porphyry, he urged his disciples to respect animals and to a meatless diet.


In contrast to the Stoics, the Epicureans showed little interest in participating in the politics of the time, since doing so creates problems. Epicurus argued that politics and philosophy are thus irreconcilable, and that the philosopher should reject the political in favor of the contemplative life. Instead, he advocated the abandonment of the polis for a community of friends. This principle is summed up in the phrase láthê biōsas (λάθε βιώσας), which means "live in obscurity," "live life unobtrusively," that is, live without pursuing glory or wealth or power, but anonymously, enjoy small things like the company of friends.

"We must free ourselves from the prison of habitual and political affairs."

Plutarch elaborated on this theme in his essay An rectum dictum sit latenter esse vivendum in his work Moralia.

Reflection on the rational foundation of justice is a constant in ancient Greek philosophy. Plato, Aristotle and Zeno of Citium believed in the existence of a universal idea of justice (wisdom, prudence, natural law), principles that Epicurus denied. Epicurus had a theory of justice based on convention to a social contract:

"Justice was not from the beginning something for its own sake, but a certain covenant about neither doing nor suffering harm arising in the relations of one another in particular places and on particular occasions."

"Injustice is not in itself an evil, but out of fear in the suspicion that it will not pass unnoticed by those established as punishers of such acts."

Laws that are useful for promoting happiness are just, but those that are not useful are not.


His Letter to Meneceus, is a summary of his own moral and theological teachings. Epicurus conceived of the gods anthropomorphically composed of more enduring atoms and argued that the gods are cognizable by the mind. Some subsist in material individuality, others in likeness of form, produced by the continuous flow of similar simulacra constituting the same object; they are anthropomorphic.

"For, certainly, the gods exist: indeed, knowledge about them is evident. But they are not such as <the> vulgar esteem them; for the vulgar do not preserve as they do what they know of them. And he is not impious who rejects the gods of the vulgar, but he who imputes to the gods the opinions of the vulgar. For the assertions of the vulgar concerning the gods are not prenotions, but false suppositions."

The gods are not to be feared, because they are perfect and therefore, they are happy and would not hurt people. According to George K. Strodach, Epicurus could have easily dispensed with the gods altogether without greatly altering his materialistic worldview, but the gods still play an important role in Epicurus' theology as the paragon of moral virtue. Epicurus understood that supreme happiness, which resides in God, admits of no increase; whereas human happiness receives increase and decrease of pleasures. His Letter to Meneceus ends by affirming that with his teachings one will live "as a god among men".

"For of what use is it to God," says Epicurus, "being happy and needing nothing, that man should worship him? Or, if he so honored man that he made the world for him, that he endowed him with wisdom, that he made him the lord of living things, and that he loved him as his son, why did he make him mortal and frail? Why did he leave in the midst of all evils him whom he loved, when it would have been expedient to make man happy, as near and near not to God that he was, and eternal, as God himself is, for whose worship and contemplation he has been fashioned?"

In the philosophy of religion, the "problem of evil" is called the attempt to reconcile the existence of suffering with an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity. Lactantius attributes Epicurus the following trilemma.

"God," he says, "desires to remove evils and is unable; either He is able, and is unwilling; either He is unwilling and unable, or He is willing and able. If He is willing and unable, He is weak, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious , which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and weak, and therefore is not God; If He is willing and able, which alone is appropriate to God, from what source are the evils? Or why does He not remove them?

In Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), the Scottish philosopher David Hume puts it this way.

"Epicurus' old questions have not yet been answered: is he (God) willing to prevent evil, but unable? then he is impotent. is he able, but unwilling? then he is malevolent. is he able and willing? Then whence comes evil?"

No extant writings of Epicurus contain this argument. However, the vast majority of Epicurus' writings have been lost and some form of this argument may have been found in his lost treatise On the Gods, which Diogenes Laertius describes as one of his greatest works. If Epicurus really made any form of this argument, it would not have been an argument against the existence of the deities, but an argument against divine providence. According to the Greek philosopher, the gods resided in interworlds (metakosmia) or spaces between the stars, and were not at all concerned with the fate of men nor did they meddle in the government of the universe; the wise man, therefore, should honor them.


Epicureanism was very popular from the beginning. Diogenes Laertius records that the number of Epicureans outnumbered the populations of entire cities. He remained the most admired and despised philosopher in the Mediterranean for the next five centuries. However, Epicurus was not universally admired and, during his lifetime, he was vilified as an ignorant buffoon and selfish sybarite. He called Plato's disciples "sycophants of Dionysius", Aristotle he called "a wastrel, because having squandered all his possessions, he had to give himself to the militia, and even to selling medicines". He went so far as to describe the Cyrenaics as "enemies of Greece" and the skeptics as "ignorant" and "illiterate".

The successor of Epicurus in the direction of the Garden was Hermarchus of Mytilene, and Polistratus. Other Epicureans contemporary to both were Metrodorus and Colotes. Among the Epicureans of the second century B.C., mention should be made of Demetrius of Lacon, of whose works some fragments remain, and Apollodorus, who wrote more than 400 books. His disciple Zeno of Sidon also wrote many works, and his successor was Phaedrus. Philodemus of Gadara in the Herculanean papyri, which comprise numerous Epicurean works. Patro was the leader of the school until 51 BC.

Epicurus' teachings were introduced into medical philosophy and practice by the Epicurean physician Asclepiades of Bithynia, who was the first physician to introduce Greek medicine to Rome. Asclepiades introduced sympathetic, pleasant and painless treatment of patients. He advocated humane treatment of people with mental disorders and the treatment of natural therapies, such as diet and massage. Epicureanism had already been introduced in Rome, in the 2nd century B.C. The first person to spread its doctrines in Latin prose was a certain Amafinius. Among the followers of Epicurus' teachings in Ancient Rome were the poets Horace, whose famous statement Carpe Diem ("seize the day") illustrates his philosophy, and in his Letter to Tibullus (Ep. I 4, 16) he confesses himself proud to be Epicuri de grege porcum ("a pig of Epicurus' herd").

Epicurus' devout follower, the Roman poet Lucretius, in his poem De rerum natura declared that popular religious practices not only fail to inculcate virtue, but result in "crimes both wicked and impious," citing the mythical sacrifice of Iphigenia as an example. This myth as an example of the evils of popular religion, in contrast to the more wholesome theology advocated by Epicurus. He also argues that divine creation and providence are illogical, not because the gods do not exist, but because these notions are incompatible with the Epicurean principles of the indestructibility and bliss of the gods.

Many Romans had a negative view of Epicureanism, as they considered its advocacy of the pursuit of voluptas ("pleasure") to be contrary to the Roman ideal of virtus ("masculine virtue"). Therefore, their followers were often stereotyped as weak and effeminate. Prominent critics of his philosophy include authors such as Cicero and the Greek Neoplatonist Plutarch. In De finibus, Cicero reproduces a conversation in which he debates the ultimate good with his friends Lucius Manlius Torcuatus and Gaius Valerius Triarius, who defend the ethical teachings of Epicurus, which Cicero criticizes. The later skeptical philosopher Sextus Empiricus rejected the teachings of the Epicureans specifically because he regarded them as theological "dogmatists". Diogenes Laertius praised Epicurus: "he was an excellent man in every respect". The skeptical writer Lucian of Samosata once relied on Epicureanism to ridicule superstition, religious practices and belief in the paranormal. He wrote this encomium to Epicurus:

What blessings that book creates for its readers and what peace, tranquility and freedom it engenders in them, freeing them as it does from terrors, apparitions and portents, from vain hopes and extravagant anxieties, developing in them intelligence and truth, and truly purifying their understanding, not with torches, albarran onions and other nonsense, but with direct thought, truthfulness and frankness.

In the first and second centuries AD. Epicureanism went into decline, as it could not compete with Stoicism, which had an ethical system more in line with traditional Roman values. Epicureanism was most at odds with Christianity, as they believed that the soul was mortal, denied the existence of an afterlife, and denied that the divine had any active role in human life. Despite this, DeWitt argues that Epicureanism, in many ways, helped pave the way for the spread of Christianity because of its strong emphasis on the importance of love, forgiveness, and early Christian depictions of Jesus are often similar to Epicurean depictions.

Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, Epicurus was known through Cicero and the polemics of the Church Fathers. Epicurean followers such as Diogenes of Oenoanda carved works of Epicurus in a portico and Diogenianus, whose polemic fragments against Chrysippus are found in the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea. Between the 4th and 5th centuries, Epicurus was mentioned by Palladas. At the beginning of the 5th century, Epicureanism was virtually extinct. The father of the Christian church, Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) declared: "its ashes are so cold that not a single spark can come from them". While the ideas of Plato and Aristotle could be easily adapted to a Christian worldview, the ideas of Epicurus were not so easy to understand and he was not held in such high esteem.

During the Middle Ages, Epicurus was remembered by scholars as a philosopher, but he often appeared in popular culture as the doorkeeper of the Garden of Delights, the "proprietor of the kitchen, the tavern and the brothel." He appears in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and in Dante's Inferno in the Sixth Circle of Hell, imprisoned in coffins of fire for believing that the soul dies with the body.


In 1417, Poggio Bracciolini discovered a copy of Lucretius' On the Nature of Things in a monastery near Lake Constance. The discovery of this manuscript was met with immense excitement, because scholars were eager to analyze and study the teachings of the classical philosophers and this previously forgotten text contained the most complete account of Epicurus' teachings known in Latin. The first scholarly dissertation on Epicurus' ethics, De voluptate (On Pleasure) by the Italian humanist and Catholic priest Lorenzo Valla was published in 1431. Valla gave credence to Epicureanism as a philosophy that deserved to be taken seriously by maintaining that the true good is pleasure and not virtue.

The Quattrocento Humanists did not clearly endorse Epicureanism but scholars such as Francesco Zabarella (1360-1417), Francesco Filelfo (1398-1481), Cristoforo Landino (1424-1498) and Leonardo Bruni ( c. 1370-1444) gave Epicureanism a fairer analysis than it had traditionally received and provided a less overtly hostile assessment of Epicurus himself. Nevertheless, "Epicureanism" remained a pejorative.

Modern Age

In the sixteenth century, in terms of attitude and direction of thought, the first two great Epicureans were Michel de Montaigne in France and Francesco Guicciardini in Italy.

In the 17th century, the French Catholic priest and scholar Pierre Gassendi (1592 - 1655) tried to dislodge Aristotelianism from its position of the highest dogma by presenting Epicureanism as a better and more rational alternative. In 1647, Gassendi published his book De vita et moribus Epicuri (The Life and Morals of Epicurus), an impassioned defense of Epicureanism. Gassendi modified Epicurus' teachings to make them acceptable to a Christian audience. For example, he argued that atoms were not eternal, uncreated, and infinite, but held that an extremely large but finite number of atoms were created by God at creation. Thomas Hobbes, a friend of Gassendi, took up the pleasure theory and interpreted it in a sense closer to the Cyrenaic doctrine.

Epicurus' teachings were given respectability in England by the natural philosopher Walter Charleton (1619 - 1707), whose first Epicurean work, The Darkness of Atheism Dispelled by the Light of Nature (1652), modified Epicureanism as a "new" atomism. The Royal Society, founded in 1662, advanced Epicurean atomism. One of the most prolific defenders of atomism was Robert Boyle. Francisco de Quevedo also defended the Greek philosopher by rehabilitating him as a Christian philosopher.


Meanwhile, John Locke (1632 - 1704) adapted Gassendi's modified version of Epicurus' epistemology, which became very influential in English empiricism. Many thinkers with Enlightenment sympathies endorsed Epicureanism as an admirable moral philosophy.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the European nation in which Epicureanism was most active was France. Among them were François de La Rochefoucauld, Charles de Saint-Évremonde, Julien de La Mettrie, Claude-Adrien Helvétius and Baron de Holbach.

The Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804) called Epicurus "the most outstanding philosopher of sensibility". Moreover, for Kant, Epicurus proceeded in his philosophy in a much more consistent manner than other sensualist philosophers such as Locke or Aristotle.

U.S. President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, declared in 1819: "I, too, am an Epicurean. I regard the genuine (unimputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in the moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us." Jefferson was the personal mentor of abolitionist and feminist Frances Wright, the author of the novel Several Days in Athens, which has been called the great Epicurean masterpiece in the English language, where Epicurus takes up a fictional dialogue with the Stoic Zeno of Citium.

Contemporary Age

Epicurus' hedonism was the key basis of the ethical doctrines of utilitarianism defended by Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873). As in Epicurus, Mill defended in Utilitarianism that ethics is the art of living based on the calculation of pleasures, where virtue and happiness are mutually conjugated.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) understood the absence of the pain of epicurean aponia and ataraxia as a form of liberation from the "will to power." He also shared the epicurean view of death, since an evil presupposes existence to be experienced but death is complete non-existence and absence of consciousness.

The German philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883), whose ideas are the basis of Marxism, was deeply influenced as a young man by the teachings of Epicurus and his doctoral thesis was a Hegelian dialectical analysis of the differences between the natural philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus (Difference between the philosophy of nature of Democritus and that of Epicurus). Marx proposed that Epicurean ethics is related to physics and epistemology. Marx saw Epicurus as a dogmatic empiricist, whose worldview is internally consistent and practically applicable. Marx considered Epicurus "the greatest Greek educator," most formidable freethinker and fighter against religion.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900) was antagonistic to the fathers of Greek philosophy (Plato and Socrates), but considered Epicurus as "one of the greatest men, the inventor of a heroic-idyllic way of philosophizing" and pointed out that.

What is Europe, then? Greek culture grown from Thracian and Phoenician elements, Hellenism, the philhellenism of the Romans, their World Empire, Christianity, Christianity, bearer of ancient elements, from these elements the scientific germs eventually arise, from philhellenism becomes a philosophical body: as far as science is believed, Europe now reaches. Romanity was eliminated, Christianity deflated. We have not gone beyond Epicurus; but his authority is infinitely more widespread - philhellenism four times more gro-serious and superficial.

He further said of him.

Epicurus has lived in all periods, and lives still, without the knowledge of those who called and still call themselves Epicureans, and without reputation among philosophers. He himself has forgotten his own name, that was the heaviest baggage he ever threw away.

In the 19th century, the interpretation of pleasure as a psychic principle of action was initiated by Gustav Theodor, the founder of psychophysics, and developed at the end of the century by Sigmund Freud at the psychoanalytic level of the unconscious. The Nobel Prize winner in chemistry Ilya Prigogine appreciated the defense of indeterminism in the epicurean clinamen, being a precursor of Werner Heisenberg's indeterminacy principle.

Scholarly interest in Epicurus and other Hellenistic philosophers increased throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with an unprecedented number of monographs, articles, abstracts, and conference papers being published on the subject. Texts from the library of Philodemus of Gadara in the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, first discovered between 1750 and 1765, are being deciphered, translated and published by scholars who are part of the Philodemus Translation Project, funded by the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, and part of the Centro per lo Studio dei Papiri Ercolanesi in Naples. Modern philosophers such as Jun Tsuji and Michel Onfray were greatly influenced by Epicurus. Onfray expressed that: "Without Epicurus there would not have been the Renaissance, nor Montaigne, nor the libertine thought of the 17th century, nor the philosophy of the Enlightenment, nor the French Revolution, nor atheism, nor the philosophies of social liberation. Epicurus may constitute a powerful remedy against the contemporary decadentist fever."

The popular appeal of Epicurus among non-academics is difficult to measure, but seems to be relatively comparable to the appeal of the more traditionally popular ancient Greek philosophical subjects such as Stoicism, Aristotle, and Plato. Anatole France wrote in 1895 a book entitled The Garden of Epicurus, in which the author shows his philosophical positions. The cartoonist Sam Kieth illustrated two volumes of the graphic novel "Epicurus the Sage" with Epicurus as the main character. Today there are Epicurean societies and groups in countries such as Greece, Italy and Australia.


  1. Epicurus
  2. Epicuro

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