Sunday, 13 March 2011

Epicurianism, a very short introduction

Epicureanism ancient Greek Philosophical system which goal in life is to be happy and content. It rejects superstitious fear of Gods and the notions of life after death. It has also been associated with the idea of eat, drink and be merry but Epicurean principle do not pursuit of the bodily pleasure and deeply differs from Hedonism.
It was found on circa (around) 300 Before Common Era (BCE), in Athenas (Greece), its founder was Epicurus. Here he gathered a group of disciples and taught became known as the "philosophy of the Garden."Epicurus and his disciples formed a close-knit community, living a life of austere contentment in seclusion on his property. He admitted both women and slaves to his community, which, along with his seclusion and "atheism," probably led to the rumors and criticisms that circulated about his school. Epicurus was a father-figure to his students and wrote letters of instruction to the Epicurean communities he had formed.

Epicureanism was highly influential in the Hellenistic Age. The Epicureans and the Stoics were the chief rivals for the allegiance of educated people of this period. Both had a continuing influence, but Stoicism, with its active involvement in public life (the philosophy of the Porch instead of the Garden), ultimately appealed to more individuals and had more influence.

Epicurus taught a materialistic view of the universe: the whole of nature consists of matter and space. All matter is divisible down to the level of atoms (Greek for "indivisible"). They are eternal; neither created nor destroyed. They cannot be seen or felt with the senses but they do have size, shape, weight and motion. The atoms operate according to natural law. Thus there is no creation and no purpose in nature. Epicurus also rejected believe in an afterlife. The soul is also made of atoms, though of a subtler sort than the body.  Body and soul must be joined to give life; when the body dies, the soul also disintegrates. Therefore, there is no need to fear either death or future punishment.

Epicurus did believe in the gods. The visions of gods in dreams and the universal opinion of humanity proved their existence. But he regarded them as made of atoms like everything else (immortal because their bodies do not dissolve) and living in a happy, detached society out of contact with humans. Thus there is no place for providence, prayer or fear of the gods. Epicurus saw religion as a source of fear; banishing religion made peace of mind possible. He could be said to have had "a theology without a religion." The Epicurean purpose of life is peace of mind, happiness and pleasure. But the Epicurean pursuit of pleasure was neither hedonism nor self-indulgence. Epicurus primarily promoted the pleasures of the mind, friendship and contentment. Epicurus noted that it is human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and made this the basis of his guidelines for living.

He encouraged seeking after the the highest quality of pleasure, which is rarely the immediate gratifications of hedonism. Epicurus evaluated pleasure and pain by three main criteria:
  • intensity - strength of the feeling
  • duration - length of the feeling
  • purity - i.e., pleasure unaccompanied by pain
Therefore for Epicurus, "there was no reason to eat, drink and be merry today if you are going to have a headache from it tomorrow." Overindulging in food or drink would not score highly on either duration or purity of pleasure. Pleasures that begin with pain are also inferior: eating is a pleasure but it starts with the pain of hunger; sex is a pleasure but it starts with the pain of desire. These pleasures are not as "pure" as those characterized entirely by the absence of pain, such as rest, good health, and the companionship of friends. Just as pleasure was not to be blindly sought after, so not all pain should be avoided. Sometimes endurance of pain brings greater pleasure so that it is worth it. Moreover, since pleasure and pain are measured quantitatively, pain can be endured in the knowledge that more pleasure has been experienced.

The highest good in Epicureanism is ataraxia, a tranquility derived by the absence of agitation. And the highest positive pleasure of was a society of good friends. It shelters the fearful and gives the pleasure of companionship. He thus replaced the loss of the gods and civic life with the bond that exists among friends.


  1. Hi. I came across your blog via your page, on which a friend of mine recently commented. I have been perusing and find your posts interesting. I was just reading this one and found part of the philosophy contradictory and was hoping for some explanation. The two statements that I found contradicting each other are these:

    1. "Pleasures that begin with pain are also inferior: eating is a pleasure but it starts with the pain of hunger; sex is a pleasure but it starts with the pain of desire."


    2. "Just as pleasure was not to be blindly sought after, so not all pain should be avoided."

    I know this was posted some time ago, but I am interested in the idea of Epicureanism and hope that you might be able to address my question.

    Thank you!


  2. Hi Laura, thank you for your comment.
    I am not an expert in Epicurean Philosophy but in my view the Epicurean Philosophy of life is based on the equilibrium between the enjoyment of life but with moderation. The passage shows pain is unavoidable because it is part of human existence and when you seek for pleasure you should address these needs based on pain (which may be inferior but you can not avoid).