Philosophy Index

Epicurus

Epicurus (341–270 BCE) was a philosopher of ancient Greece.

Epicurus is the founder of a tradition known as Epicureanism, a hedonistic philosophy which seeks a life of happiness and avoidance of pleasure, which Epicurus saw as the goal of philosophy. However, Epicurus did not believe that one should seek a life of pure pleasure, but a balanced and tranquil life absent of fear and uneccessary pains. For Epicurus, it is through study of philosophy that one can reach these goals.

Epicurus also promoted science and careful study as roads to happiness. He thought that one ought to believe only what he has evidence for, through his experiences and through logic.

Epicurus was influenced by the philosophy of Democritus.

Atomism

Like Democritus, Epicurus was an atomist — that is, he believed that material objects were composed of small, indivisible pieces of matter. However, unlike Democritus, who believed that atoms followed straight lines and strict rules of interaction with other atoms, Epicurus believed that there was some indeterminate motion to the atoms. This allowed Epicurus to deny that the world was determined.

As such, the views of Democritus and Epicurus are, perhaps surprisingly, similar to modern views of physics, in which a Newtonian view of particle physics, where particles follow the laws of physics, is being challenged by quantum mechanics, which suggests a fundamentally random nature to the universe.

Epicurus and Religion

Although Epicurus was an advocate of science and careful rational thought, he was not certainly atheist. Epicurus took part in the religious lifestyle of the ancient Greeks, but did not believe in all of Greek mythology. Instead, Epicurus thought that since the gods were immortal, it didn’t make sense for people to attribute human-like personalities to them. As such, Epicurus’ problems with religion were not with the idea of gods, but with what the Greeks believed about them.

Epicureanism

Epicurus founded a school in the ancient Greek city of Lampsacus, dedicated to teaching his philosophy. There, he assembled a small but devoted following which grew after his death.

Epicurus’ school was notable for being the first of the Greek schools of philosophy to allow admittance to women on a regular basis.

Surviving Works

The only complete surviving works from Epicurus are Principal Doctrines and Vatican Sayings, as well as three letters that he wrote. Epicurus also wrote a thirty-seven–volume treatise entitled On Nature, of which only fragments have been found.

Vitals

Name: Επíκουρος (Epicurus)
Born: 341 BCE
Died: 270 BCE