Philosophy 302: Ethics
Abstract: The ethics of Epicurus is briefly
- Epicurus of Samos (341-270 B. C.) founded his school, the Garden,
in Athens--instructed his followers in the art of rational living.
- Main belief: pleasure is the end (telos) of life: by
pleasure he meant the lack of pain.
- Pleasure is the freedom of the body from pain and the soul
from confusion--not a positive condition.
- Taught a moderate asceticism, self-control, and independence.
One should not undertake heavy responsibilities and serious
- Pleasures which endure throughout a life-time are sought, not
momentary pleasures. Epicurus praised a life that escapes other
- Pleasure is the absence of pain or the avoidance of pain, rather than
a positive satisfaction. More important, pleasure is the lack of a
- Examples: intellectual pleasure, serenity of soul, health of
- Even though every pain is evil and pleasure good, Epicurean
hedonism is meant to result in a calm and tranquil life, not libertinism
- Avoid pleasures which are extreme: they have painful concomitants.
- Lasting pleasure is not a bodily sensation.
- "Though he is being tortured on the rack, the wise [person] is still
- Epicurus distinguished between higher and lower pleasures (an influence
on J.S. Mill).
higher pleasures: pleasures of the mind--intellectual and aesthetic.
lower pleasures: pleasures of the body--food, drink, and sex.
- Epicurus sought virtue--a condition of tranquility of soul. Although it is based
on the individualís pleasure (rather than duty).
- Epicurus put great stress on friendship because oneís own pleasure is
dependent on others also.
- Peace of mind and mental well-being is achieved through philosophy--death
is recognized to be merely the limit of experience and therefore having nothing
to do with the quality of experience. It is not to be feared since
it is nothingness.
- Reason: the art of calculating our conduct of life.
- Reason is the ability to balance one thing with another in order to calculate
- Great stress on practical reason (phronesis): something more to
be prized than philosophy itself.
- Prudence: a person who knows how to conduct himself in the search for
- Natural Science: All things in the world are atoms linked
temporarily in constant motion. Understanding science (i.e.,
how nature "works") can overcome
superstition and irrational fear.
- The resulting outlook is something like the opportunity cost in economics:
recognition of the
necessary losses in life. The choices we make are important since each
choice obviates all other choices at that moment.
- Historically, Stoicism was absorbed into Epicureanism. Epicureanism is not a
philosophy of heroes like Stoicism is.
- Objections to Epicureanism:
- Epicurus seems to recommend "the absence of pain" as a pleasure more sought than pleasure
itself. The state of no pain is not a pleasure--cf., the fallacy of false dichotomy.
- Where many persons regard the most significant pleasures in life as achieving a difficult
goal and overcoming adversity, Epicurus counsels for us to seek
tranquility. He seems to advise, in this instance, a philosophy of life-avoidance.
- Epicureanism is an incomplete ethics and requires supplementation. How should we regard community virtues such as justice, societal
good, and pleasure for others?
and Epicurean Philosophy: Links, texts, discussion lists, and
other information is given relating to Epicurean philosophy.