Epicurus


Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
Related to Epicurus: Zeno of Citium

Epicurus

(ĕpĭkyo͝or`əs), 341–270 B.C., Greek philosopher, b. Samos; son of an Athenian colonist. He claimed to be self-taught, although tradition states that he was schooled in the systems of Plato and Democritus by his father and various philosophers. He taught in several towns in Asia Minor before going to Athens c.306 B.C. There Epicurus purchased the famous garden that has become linked in the annals of philosophy with the Academy of Plato and the Lyceum of Aristotle. He was a generous and genial man who lived on the warmest terms with his followers. Although his writings were voluminous, only fragments remain. Epicurus defined philosophy as the art of making life happy and strictly subordinated metaphysics to ethics, naming pleasure as the highest and only good. However, for Epicurus pleasure was not heedless indulgence but the opposite, ataraxia [serenity], manifesting itself in the avoidance of pain. His hedonism differed from the cruder variety of Aristippus and the Cyrenaics in the emphasis that it placed on ataraxia and on the superiority of intellectual pleasures over bodily pleasures. He also prescribed a code of social conduct, which advocated honesty, prudence, and justice in dealing with others, not because these virtues were good in themselves, but because they saved the individual from society's retribution. While Epicurus appropriated much of the mechanics of Democritus' metaphysics, he deviated from its deterministic implications by the introduction of an element of spontaneity, which allowed atoms to form the objects of the world by chance. The element of freedom in his metaphysics supported and paralleled his notion of the freedom of the will. He held blind destiny to be more dangerous to one's ataraxia than belief in fables about the gods; people could hope to propitiate the gods, but mechanical determinism was inexorable. He denied that the gods had supernatural powers that allowed them to interfere with humanity or nature. The system of Epicurus deemphasized the traditional power of religious and physical forces on human life and emphasized our freedom of action. The work of the Roman poet Lucretius, De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things), contains the finest exposition of Epicurus' ideas.

Bibliography

See studies by E. Asmis (1984), R. M. Strozier (1985), and H. Jones (1989).

Epicurus

 

Born 342 or 341 B.C. on the island of Samos; died 271 or 270 B.C. in Athens. Greek materialist philosopher.

From 306 B.C., Epicurus lived in Athens, where he founded the school of philosophy known as the Garden of Epicurus. Out of his extensive writings (approximately 300 works), only his aphorisms, several letters, and his last will were preserved.

The philosophy of Epicurus is divided into ethics, physics, and “canonics” (that is, theory of knowledge). His ethics evolved from the ideas of Democritus and the Cyrenaic school. Epicurus declared that the true nature of human beings was their sensory ability (rather than their ability to reason, as the Stoics maintained); therefore, he claimed, the meaning and ultimate goal of human life is the attainment of pleasure. According to Epicurus, pleasure is the absence of suffering. The cause of suffering is found within man himself, and philosophy is called upon to rid people of the fears and passions that cause their suffering. Pleasure cannot be attained without ascetic self-restraint. Right living results in unruffled spiritual serenity (ataraxia), happiness (synonymous with virtue), freedom, and delights—the greatest of which are wisdom, justice, and especially friendship.

In his physics, Epicurus followed the atomistic teaching of Democritus, albeit with substantial changes. Specifically, Epicurus replaced the swirling motion of the atoms with their downward fall, introducing the concept of atomic “weight.” Of particular note is Epicurus’ doctrine about the atoms’ arbitrary divergence (or “swerve”) from their straight-line fall, resulting in an infinite number of universes as well as freedom for the individual (that is, individual atoms and human beings). In his struggle against the classical concept of fate of traditional natural philosophy, Epicurus came to an unprecedented conclusion—namely, the denial of the lawlike regularity of heavenly phenomena.

Epicurus regarded the source of knowledge to be the sensations and concepts arising from repeated sense experiences (prolepses) or from their anticipation. The criterion of truth is correspondence to these sensations, whose origins are explained by Democritus’ theory of effluences.

Rejecting the popular mythological notion of the gods as impious, Epicurus held that the gods lead a blissful and serene existence in the spaces between the universes (that is, in the “metacosmoses,” or intermundia) and do not interfere with the life of the universes, thereby setting an example for the wise man to emulate.

The philosophy of Epicurus represented a new stage in classical atomism, and it was an important influence in late classical and modern European philosophy.

WORKS

Epicurea. Edited by H. Usener. Leipzig, 1887.
Opere. Turin, 1973.

REFERENCES

Marx, K., and F. Engels. Iz rannikh proizvedenii. Moscow, 1956. Pages 17–98, 99–215.
Guyau, M. Moral’ Epikura i ee sviaz’s sovremennymi ucheniiami. In Sobr. soch., vol. 2. St. Petersburg, 1899.
Shakir-Zade, A. S. Epikur. Moscow, 1963.
Bailey, C. The Greek Atomists and Epicurus. Oxford, 1928.
Hadzsits, G. D. Lucretius and His Influence. London, 1935.
Epikurus (Epikur): Von der Überwindung der Furcht. Compiled and translated by O. Gigon. Zurich, 1949.
DeWitt, N. W. Epicurus and His Philosophy. Minneapolis, 1954.
Hicks, R. D. Stoic and Epicurean. New York, 1962.

A. L. DOBROKHOTOV

Epicurus

341--270 bc, Greek philosopher, who held that the highest good is pleasure and that the world is a series of fortuitous combinations of atoms
References in periodicals archive ?
Yet contemporary ideas about chance have three ancient roots: the games of chance played by soldiers and other commoners, Epicurus's clinamen or spontaneus deviation from the straight path, and Spinoza's distinction between natura naturans and natura naturata.
By the time Epicurus was 70 years old his teachings had spread across the Greek world as they offered comfort to those who wanted to endure life without the freedoms of the past, the rights of a citizen to vote, getting elected or holding those in power accountable.
The oldest recorded description of the philosophy of life we call "humanism" was first articulated by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who lived from 341 until 270 BCE.
[...] Thus the Epicurean way of life, a distinctive and even socially prominent way of living for several centuries after Epicurus's death, depended crucially upon his own philosophical arguments and conclusions [...].
Thus, in his book Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Dread of Death, Yalom makes frequent references to the relevance of Epicurus to the therapeutic aim of tackling the fear of death.
And when you finally crack it you understand why Greek philosopher Epicurus said: "The absence of pain is the greatest pleasure."
They got their Plato and Aristotle largely through Cicero, for example, and their Epicurus through Lucretius--as we still do today.
Throughout history, there have been a number of courageous individuals -- Epicurus, Cicero, Spinoza, Hume, to name a few -- who expanded the "intellectual horizons and freedoms of humanity." In this graphically illustrated, sensational project, based on a long-running web column involving a time-traveling character named Dave, Dale DeBakcsy profiles more than thirty extraordinary thinkers, and humanism takes a bow in them all.
In the penultimate essay, Nicole Gengoux suggests that the resemblances between the Theophrastus and Spinoza--in their naturalism, their approach to Epicurus, and their presentation of dynamism in nature--are indicative of a shared thought process even though the evidence clearly suggests that Spinoza did not know of the Theophrastus.
With answers for teens questioning religious and spiritual beliefs, citing sources from Epicurus (c.