Epicureanism, an ancient Greek philosophy founded by Epicurus, centers around the pursuit of happiness and tranquility through the avoidance of pain and the cultivation of lasting pleasures.
This article explores the beliefs, principles, and leading figures of Epicureanism, delves into its relationship with Stoicism and hedonism, and examines its strengths, weaknesses, and philosophy of education.
Beliefs & Principles of Epicureanism
Epicureanism is a philosophical school that originated in ancient Greece and was founded by Epicurus in the 4th century BCE.
At its core, Epicureanism advocates for a life of tranquility, free from unnecessary desires and fears.
The central belief of Epicureanism is that the ultimate goal of human life is to attain happiness and pleasure while avoiding pain and suffering.
However, it is important to note that Epicurus defined pleasure not as indulgence in physical or sensual pleasures, but rather as the absence of pain and the tranquility of the soul.
8 Life Lessons From Epicurus (Epicureanism)
Epicurus, the prominent figure behind Epicureanism, left behind several notable quotes that capture the essence of his philosophy.
One such quote is, “We must, therefore, pursue the things that make for happiness, seeing that when happiness is present, we have everything; but when it is absent, we do everything to possess it.”
This emphasizes the pursuit of happiness as the ultimate aim of life, highlighting the importance of prioritizing those things that bring genuine joy and contentment.
Leading Figures of Epicureanism
The central figure in Epicureanism is Epicurus himself.
Born in 341 BCE on the island of Samos, Epicurus established a philosophical community in Athens known as “The Garden.”
He gathered disciples who embraced his teachings and sought to live a life in accordance with Epicurean principles.
Some notable followers of Epicureanism include Metrodorus, Hermarchus, and Lucretius, whose writings and ideas contributed to the development and spread of the philosophy.
Summary of Literature of Epicureanism
Epicurus and his followers wrote extensively on various aspects of Epicureanism.
Epicurus himself composed over 300 works, but unfortunately, only a fraction of them have survived to the present day.
One of the most influential surviving works is “Letter to Menoeceus,” which provides a concise summary of Epicurean ethics and offers practical advice on living a happy life.
Another significant work is Lucretius’ poem “De Rerum Natura” (On the Nature of Things), which explains Epicurean ideas on the nature of the universe, the role of pleasure, and the attainment of tranquility.
Epicureanism vs Stoicism
Epicureanism and Stoicism are often contrasted as two competing philosophies of the Hellenistic period.
While both schools aimed to provide guidance for achieving a good life, they differed in their approaches.
Epicureanism emphasized the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, advocating for a more individualistic and hedonistic path to happiness.
In contrast, Stoicism emphasized virtue, resilience, and acceptance of one’s fate, focusing on personal inner strength and moral integrity rather than seeking pleasure.
What is Epicureanism and is it compatible with Stoicism?
Epicureanism vs Hedonism
Although Epicureanism shares similarities with hedonism, there are distinct differences between the two philosophies.
While hedonism promotes the pursuit of immediate and sensual pleasures, often at the expense of long-term well-being, Epicureanism seeks to maximize long-term pleasure by minimizing pain and disturbances.
Epicurus believed in the importance of moderation and prudence, encouraging individuals to choose pleasures that are lasting and do not lead to greater suffering in the future.
To better understand how Epicureanism can be applied in practice, let’s consider an example.
Suppose someone faces a career dilemma: they have the opportunity to take on a high-paying job that requires long hours and considerable stress or choose a modest-paying job that provides a better work-life balance.
An Epicurean would advocate for selecting the job that brings long-term tranquility and contentment, even if it means sacrificing immediate financial gain.
By prioritizing mental well-being and minimizing unnecessary stress, they would align their choices with the principles of Epicureanism.
Epicureanism Philosophy of Education
Epicureanism also encompasses a philosophy of education.
According to Epicurus, the purpose of education is to cultivate a rational understanding of nature and the world, allowing individuals to free themselves from baseless fears and superstitions.
Education should enable people to develop critical thinking skills, foster empathy and cooperation, and promote a deep appreciation for the natural world.
Through education, individuals can attain self-awareness and make informed decisions that lead to a more fulfilling and contented life.
Epicureanism Strengths and Weaknesses
Epicureanism has its strengths and weaknesses as a philosophical system.
One of its strengths lies in its emphasis on personal happiness and the pursuit of tranquility, which can be appealing to individuals seeking a philosophy focused on their well-being.
However, critics argue that Epicureanism may be overly self-centered, potentially neglecting the importance of social and moral responsibilities.
Furthermore, the subjective nature of pleasure and happiness can make it challenging to establish universally applicable ethical principles.
Epicurus’ Definition of Happiness and Morality
Epicurus held that the source of happiness is pleasure, but he nuanced this view to argue that true happiness lies in the absence of pain and the tranquility of the soul.
While pleasure is the ultimate goal, Epicurus recognized that certain pleasures can lead to greater pain in the long run.
Therefore, he advocated for the pursuit of moderate and lasting pleasures to achieve a more sustained state of well-being.
Regarding morality, Epicurus argued that morality is not an inherent concept but rather a human construct that arises from the social agreement to live by certain principles that maximize well-being and minimize harm.
Thus, the basis of morality, according to Epicureanism, is rooted in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.
FAQs – Epicureanism
1. What is Epicureanism?
Epicureanism is an ancient school of philosophical thought, founded by Epicurus in the 4th century BC.
It advocates for the pursuit of pleasure and tranquility, and the avoidance of unnecessary pain and fear, as the highest good.
2. Who was Epicurus?
Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who lived between 341 BC and 270 BC.
He founded the philosophical system known as Epicureanism.
Epicurus taught that the goal of life should be to minimize pain and maximize pleasure, a philosophy he encapsulated in his school, the Garden.
3. What are the main principles of Epicureanism?
The main principles of Epicureanism revolve around the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.
Pleasure, according to Epicurus, should be pursued to the point of achieving a state of tranquility and freedom from fear (ataraxia) and the absence of bodily pain (aponia).
Epicureanism also promotes friendship, avoidance of politics, and limiting desires to those that are necessary and natural.
4. Is Epicureanism about indulging in physical pleasures?
Contrary to popular belief, Epicureanism does not advocate for indulging in excessive physical pleasures.
Epicurus argued for a more nuanced understanding of pleasure.
For him, the ultimate pleasure is the absence of pain, both mental and physical, which can often be achieved through simple living, knowledge, friendship, and the contemplation of the natural world.
5. What is the Epicurean view of the gods?
Epicurus believed in the existence of gods, but he saw them as blissfully detached entities who had no concern for human affairs.
He asserted that fear of divine punishment was unfounded and that such fear only served to disturb human tranquility, going against the principles of Epicureanism.
6. How does Epicureanism view death?
In line with its doctrine of pleasure and pain, Epicureanism views death as a neutral state, neither good nor bad.
Epicurus is famous for saying, “Death is nothing to us.” He reasoned that as death is the absence of sensation and consciousness, it should not be feared.
7. How does Epicureanism differ from Stoicism?
While both Epicureanism and Stoicism teach about maintaining peace of mind, they approach it differently.
Stoicism encourages the acceptance of all external events, asserting they are beyond our control, and teaches that one should strive to maintain tranquility by controlling one’s responses.
On the other hand, Epicureanism suggests the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, achieving tranquility through knowledge, friendship, and living a modest life.
8. How has Epicureanism influenced modern thought?
Epicureanism has significantly influenced modern thought, particularly in the realms of ethics, philosophy, and psychology.
Its principles can be seen in Utilitarianism, which also seeks the greatest good (often defined as pleasure or happiness) for the greatest number.
Additionally, the Epicurean focus on individual well-being and pursuit of personal happiness has also shaped Western individualistic perspectives.
9. Are there any Epicurean texts I can read?
Most of Epicurus’ works have been lost over time, but his philosophy is preserved in three letters found in the works of the later Roman philosopher Diogenes Laertius.
They are “Letter to Menoeceus,” “Letter to Herodotus,” and “Letter to Pythocles.”
Additionally, “The Principle Doctrines,” a collection of 40 sayings attributed to Epicurus, also encapsulate his philosophy.
10. What is the pronunciation of Epicureanism?
The pronunciation of “Epicureanism” is epi-kyuh-ree-uh-niz-uhm.
11. Is Epicureanism still practiced today?
While there aren’t formal schools or institutions promoting Epicureanism, the principles and ideas of Epicureanism still resonate with individuals today.
Epicureanism, a philosophy founded by Epicurus in ancient Greece, emphasizes the pursuit of pleasure, the importance of friendship, and the avoidance of unnecessary desires and fears.
Though Epicureanism doesn’t have a widespread organized following, many people find value in its teachings and incorporate them into their lives.
The focus on seeking pleasure through simple and modest means, cultivating meaningful relationships, and minimizing unnecessary worries continues to be relevant in contemporary society.
Numerous aspects of modern lifestyles reflect Epicurean principles.
The emphasis on living a balanced and fulfilling life, prioritizing personal well-being and mental health, and seeking joy in everyday experiences can all be seen as echoes of Epicurean philosophy.
Individuals who value mindfulness, minimalism, self-care, and the pursuit of happiness often draw inspiration from Epicurean ideas.
Moreover, the concept of “epicurean” has become a part of popular culture, referring to someone who appreciates the finer pleasures in life, such as good food, wine, and company.
This usage, although not strictly aligned with the original philosophy, reflects the enduring influence of Epicureanism in modern society.