On the Riddle of Epicurus

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able, but not willing?
Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is He neither able nor willing?
Then why call Him God?

The Problem of evil

This is the famous 'riddle' attributed to Epicurus. It's a version of the Problem of Evil that is used to question the existence or qualities of a certain kind of supernatural deity. Its particular targets are the monotheistic religions.

It's doubtful that Epicurus himself is the originator of the 'riddle'. He lived at a time when monotheism was a marginal trend in his society. It could have been coined by a later Epicurean, who was confronting the early christian missionaries (perhaps Paul himself).

The 'riddle' targets a conception of a deity that has the following qualities:

  • There is only one god.
  • He is the creator of the universe.
  • He is all-powerful (omnipotent).
  • He is all-good (omnibenevolent).

This conception is contrasted with the self-evident fact that there are many things that a human would say are evil. There are both natural disasters (storms, disease, etc.) and man-made disasters (war, ethnic cleansing, murder, etc.). The 'riddle' asserts that some or all of this evil contradicts the existence of an all-good, all-powerful god...

This post looks at the answers christian writers have offered to the riddle. While there is little hope that any of these will convince a believer, perhaps someone will find them useful in their thinking.

Christian answers

Free Will and natural evil

The most common argument offered is that evil exists because humans have free will. In essence, the world contains evil because humans choose to do evil or to disobey god's commands. While this might hold water with human-caused evil, there is also natural evil that humans couldn't possibly be the cause of.

Many humans die every year from disasters or diseases that could have easily been left out of the world. Such omission wouldn't have had any effect on human free will. Humans can't choose to cause such events so they aren't a matter of human will.

Yet there are children dying from malaria or drought right this second. They are far too young to have made any use of their free will... but are still the victims of evil.

The only way that these natural events could be the fault of humans, is if you say — as some actually do — that god causes these disasters because some humans don't obey him in all things. Phrases like "victim blaming" and "collective punishment" come to mind.

Created humans and Free Will

The assertion is that evil has to exist because humans were created with free will, and what would the use of it be if no evil existed...

The problem with this argument from a christian is that it's not true!

Humans were specifically created without the capability to choose between good and evil. Without free will by extension. Don't believe me? Go take a look at Genesis 2:16 — 17. We'll wait right here for you...

For the record, it says:

2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

If he already knew good from evil -- and therefore had free will -- why would "man" eat from the tree?

The story isn't true — obviously — but it illustrates the contradiction in the christian claim that humans were created with free will and chose evil, instead of good and god.

All humans are sinful.

Since we are humans and descended from Eve (who — btw — didn't have free will either), we are automatically sinners and therefore evil. Then we also commit the acts that are defined as sinful, and are doubly damned.

If we look at the list of sins that the Bible contains, it becomes obvious that the game is rigged in another way as well. Many sins aren't actions. They are thoughts! If you want something that someone else has, there has been no harm to anyone... but you're guilty of "coveting". Sin is a thought-crime.

An Epicurean system of justice would consider such non-actions that result in no harm to others as irrelevant, and certainly not deserving of punishment. It might be that "coveting" isn't good for the coveter himself, but that is a matter of education, not eternal damnation.

You can learn from evil.

The claim is that you can't know good, except in contrast with evil. On the surface, this looks sort of reasonable, especially when the point is made that light reveals the existence of dark (or some other such dichotomy).

An Epicurean says that this is nonsense.

Humans have an inborn detection mechanism to tell the good from the evil. It's automatic, and the only learning involved is how to listen constantly. Epicurus called it the Criterion of all choice and avoidance: Pleasure and Pain.

In a nutshell, all good things are pleasurable in the long-term, and all the evil things will ultimately lead to pain.

A human is born knowing the difference between good and evil. The real evils aren't all that hard to recognize — most babies can do that, and toddlers know fairness from injustice. What many religious people mean when they say "we need to learn from evil", is in reference to the things that are supposedly crimes against a god. As if such a thing was possible...

Epicurean points

Epicurus' definition of evil

The Epicurean definition of evil is relatively easy to remember: Pain is evil.

"While therefore all pleasure because it is naturally akin to us is good, not all pleasure is choiceworthy, just as all pain is an evil and yet not all pain is to be shunned."
Letter to Menoeceus, 129 [emphasis by me]

Though you can tell that the situation isn't all that easy. It may be necessary to accept some pain in order to avoid a greater pain. Much of Epicurus's ethics is about teaching us how to distinguish the pain to avoid from the pain to endure.

The non-interventionist gods

Epicurus says many difficult things about the gods, but for this discussion the most relevant is that the gods do not interfere in the world for or against humans. They didn't create us. They don't reward the holy, nor punish the wicked. They didn't give us ethics, nor do they judge us.

And they certainly didn't spoil the world because a woman liked some fruit!

The capability to know good from evil is such a central ability in Epicurean Philosophy that the belief in a god who would punish for it would be laughable... if it wasn't so tragic at the same time.


On Epicurean Extremes


Epicurean Philosophy is a subtle one. Its meant to be a guide to life, and since human existence is a really complex issue, the philosophy has to be as well. There are very few black-and-white issues in the system. It's not even a question of grays. Epicurean Philosophy is a rainbow.

On the surface, things seem rather easy. Pleasure, good; Pain, bad. But... and there is always a but... but almost immediately, questions arise. What kinds of pleasures are good. Whose pleasure? Pleasure at what cost? A proper hedonistic philosophy would answer such questions. And Epicurus does.

It's just that it takes time and effort to grasp all the subtleties. It's perhaps this difficulty — more than any other — that provokes the extreme positions that circulate among the Epicureans today.

Here we'll tackle three of them. Perhaps by the end you'll see the common thread.


"We must also reflect that of desires some are natural, others are groundless; and that of the natural some are necessary as well as natural, and some natural only. And of the necessary desires some are necessary if we are to be happy, some if the body is to be rid of uneasiness, some if we are even to live. 128. He who has a clear and certain understanding of these things will direct every preference and aversion toward securing health of body and tranquillity of mind, seeing that this is the sum and end of a blessed life."
Laertius 127 — 128, Letter to Menoeceus.

There are some Epicureans that promote asceticism. Considering that they are talking about a hedonistic system, this might seem odd, but there is a reason for this opinion. It's not one that can be swept away simply as obviously wrong, because there is a reason why someone might reach this conclusion.

Epicurus doesn't advocate that you should fulfill any and all of your desires. There are limits to what pleasures you should pursue. The pleasures of lying, cheating, and stealing are self-evident... but what about the natural-but-not-necessary ones? The vast majority of pleasures?

You can live a happy life without ever fulfilling any of them. That's why they are not-necessary. Some argue that you ought not to fulfill them, that you should abstain from them. Like you must abstain from the vain ones. This view is reinforced by the fact that many not-necessary desires and pleasures can become dangerous. You can over-indulge and come to harm. So wouldn't it be better to only fulfill the necessary ones, just to be on the safe side?

Hopefully all of you have the vague sense that this is somehow wrong. Can you articulate why? Take a few minutes to try before reading on.

Because all pleasures are good.

"No pleasure is in itself evil, but the things which produce certain pleasures entail annoyances many times greater than the pleasures themselves."
Principal Doctrine 8

If you say that "These pleasures are categorically bad", you are mistaking Epicurus. For him all pleasures are good... It's just that some bring long-term consequences that are bad. The classification of pleasures in the Menoeceus is conceptual. In the real world there is only pleasure, not clearly definable types of pleasures.

Condemnation of some pleasures without analyzing consequences is very common today, but it's a mistake nonetheless.

(Note for those of us who have been in the trenches a long time: Yes, it's the influence of that philosophical school.)

Katastematic is better than kinetic.

This extreme takes two forms. Firstly, it's the disvaluing of the active (kinetic) pleasures, in favor of the stable (katastematic) ones. Secondly, it's the disvaluing of bodily pleasures, in favor of the pleasures of mind. They are slightly different from each other, but basically caused by the same mistake.

The aim of Epicurean Philosophy is Happiness. This is the state of perfect painlessness, either in the body or the mind. The ancient greek word for this is eudaimonia. Because this term was most prominently used by Aristotle, Epicurus and the Epicureans used the more precise terms of aponia and ataraxia. The painlessness of the body, and the painlessness of the mind. Freedom from pain and anxiety.

This is where the trouble starts. It's common to conflate active and bodily on one hand, and stable and mental on the other. Equally common is to think that mental is superior to the body. There is some justification for this mistake in our sources, but remember that the philosophy is a subtle one.

"He further disagrees with the Cyrenaics in that they hold that pains of body are worse than mental pains; at all events evil-doers are made to suffer bodily punishment; whereas Epicurus holds the pains of the mind to be the worse; at any rate the flesh endures the storms of the present alone, the mind those of the past and future as well as the present. In this way also he holds mental pleasures to be greater than those of the body."
Laertius 137.

It's understandable to read this passage in Laertius, and come away with the ideas of "katastematic is better than kinetic" and "mental is better than bodily". The mistake is a matter of quoting out of context... This passage is both the source and the answer to this extreme position.

Read the paragraph carefully. Do you see it? Again, take your time...

The difference between mental and bodily, or katastematic and kinetic, isn't a matter of quality, but of quantity. Mental pains are worse because there are more of them, and katastematic pleasures are better than kinetic because there are more of them. Bodily and kinetic are for the here and now, while mental and katastematic extend in time and quantity.

You can have all the mental pleasures you can, but if you neglect the body you'll never be happy. You can also bask in the light of all the katastematic pleasures that you want, but if you don't indulge in the kinetic pleasure of eating... you'll die.

(Note from the trenches on the other front: Mind-Body Dualism is religious hogwash. A human is a whole, not a collection of parts.)

Epicurus was an atheist.

"First believe that God is a living being immortal and blessed, [...] For verily there are gods, and the knowledge of them is manifest;[...]"
Letter to Menoeceus, 123

You understand that calling Epicurus an atheist was an insult, don't you? And a lethal one, at that. They murdered Socrates on trumped up charges of atheism...

Reading the Letter to Menoeceus should cure people of this notion, but apparently Epicurus' own words aren't enough.

Epicurus wasn't some silly person who understood nothing about human societies of his time. Religion is still a major issue in our societies today. He saw the importance of proper understanding of the divine, and taught accordingly.

The purpose of Epicurean Philosophy isn't to promote atheism or any other theological position. The goal (telos) is to teach humans how to live happily. Could you live peacefully if you thought that there was torture in the afterlife waiting for you? Or that the roar in the Heavens was Thor coming to kill you?

"If you do not on every separate occasion refer each of your actions to the end prescribed by nature, but instead of this in the act of choice or avoidance swerve aside to some other end, your acts will not be consistent with your theories."
Principal Doctrine 25.

This Principal Doctrine applies to the end goal of the whole system as well as to the goal of a single life. The goal is only and always the happy life of a human.

God does not hate you.

This is the beginning of the theological positions in Epicurean Philosophy. And make no mistake, the philosophy is a religious worldview.

For those of you who are having a fit over this... You should go read this.

Epicurean Philosophy isn't atheism in principle, but it is in practice. The gods (who don't exist) are utterly and totally uninvolved in human life. So un-rip your shirts and un-bunch your underwear, and take a deep breath.

Epicurean Philosophy has religious implications and positions, but it isn't a religion. In fact... You can have your atheistic cake, and eat it too.

The common thread?

Did you catch it?

Admittedly that was a rhetorical question, and a bit unfair. The answer was in the first sentence: subtlety. The mistake so saddeningly common is that people reach for the seemingly easy answer... and it betrays them. The ascetic denies himself perfectly good pleasures, the Katastematic ignores her body, and the atheist charges head on against religion when a flanking maneuver is far superior.

Having the occasional feast with friends is a marvelous thing. Using your body in many different ways is the road to health. And watching the confusion in the face of a religious leader when you start to talk about souls, is pure schadenfreude... but still a pleasure.


Epicurus and the Furries


Note: I know next to nothing about the Furry community, so if you take offense from something in this post, remember that it's from ignorance — not malice.

Epicurus appeals to a great variety of people, and one indication is this article by a furry. There are several interesting themes to it, and this is an Epicurean response to them.

"On the surface there does not seem to be anything intrinsically wrong with these things; fursuits, pictures, sex, and porn, all provide a great sense of joy, ideally without harming anyone."

The key words here are "On the surface"... One of the main points of Epicurus is that the immediate perception can be wrong. In most cases the truth is in the details and careful analysis, rather than a cursory glance.

It's true that none of the things are bad in and of themselves, but all of them can have negative outcomes and side effects. Epicurus would urge us to always take a closer look, and evaluate things clearly.

"Well, if we could sit him down, he would probably laugh, and call the entire community a contradiction to happiness."

He probably would not. Unlike most other philosophies, Epicurean Philosophy doesn't make sweeping condemnations on entire fields of human experience. The Furry community would be strange to him, yes — but in his time there was much strangeness, too. It wouldn't be that different from the Elysian mysteries or some theatrical plays.

In most cases, the important thing is why are people doing something, rather than the precise details of what they are doing. Epicurus would probably be more interested in the reasons why people feel the need to be a furry. With every desire, we should always understand the reasons and outcomes. Otherwise, it will be impossible to evaluate whether the desire is a good one or not.

"One can live a good life by learning to be happy with the bare minimum."

This isn't actually what Epicurus teaches. He says that the things we need to be happy are minimal (sustenance, comfort, friends, etc.), but this doesn't mean that we should live only with the minimum. Humans can be happy with the bare minimum, but they can also be happy with the extra bits that don't bring bad consequences.

"Of the two ["static pleasures" and "moving pleasures"], Epicurus argues that the former it superior, whilst the latter will inevitably lead to pain."

The Epicurean view is rather more complex than this. Both types of pleasure are vital to a happy life, and neither will active (moving) pleasures inevitably lead to pain.

In Epicurean Philosophy every pleasure is good... when taken in isolation. It's their connection to the whole of a human's life that makes some pleasures dangerous, while others remain good. Some pleasures are good in some amounts, but dangerous in excess. When we are trying to find out which pleasures will lead to pain, the conceptual division to active and stable (kinetic and katastematic, moving and static) isn't all that useful. More important is that some pleasures are necessary, some good, and others detrimental, to the happiness of a human.

"[...] I'm not an Epicurean, and I won't argue that anybody should live in the way that Epicurus advised."

I, however, am... and will argue that we all should. It's the only ancient (or modern) system of philosophy that is both compatible with the sciences and doesn't require anything supernatural (or superhuman).

"Let's imagine that Epicurus came to the twenty-first century and wanted to be a furry."

This is a really interesting thought-experiment, so let's.

"For a start, would he want a fursuit? Probably not, they cost a lot of money, drink could be spilled on him, and he would inevitably have to remove it."

Is being a furry tied to having a fursuit? It probably isn't, but for argument's sake let's assume so... In this case he might question the focus on the outward manifestations by the community. In many cases whenever the emphasis is on things rather than personal qualities, there is a greater chance of stepping over the line of "good pleasure" and into the "detrimental pleasures". Epicurus might not get a fursuit because of what it represents, rather than because of any properties the suit itself has (cost, cleaning, etc.).

"Would he commission art? I imagine he wouldn't want that either, he'd say that any pleasure he could get from it would only be fleeting."

He might say the opposite... Epicurus was of the opinion that the senses (in this case sight, or perhaps touch) were important sources of pleasure.

Here the division to active and stable pleasures is helpful... All active pleasures are fleeting, but this doesn't mean that they are without value. All stable pleasures are founded on the active pleasures. To give the classic example, "eating" is an active pleasure... and "not being hungry" is a stable pleasure.

In the surviving texts of Epicurus there is very little about his aesthetics, but he does say that beautiful things do give us pleasure and are therefore valuable. The definition of 'beauty' and the pleasures remain undefined (if they ever were). We wouldn't be wrong to say that he might appreciate furry art.

"Would he indulge any fetishes he had, or lust after sex? No, he would see the pleasure as temporary, and would think that later it would cause him pain."

This is probably true. Our sources on what Epicurus says about sex are in conflict (at one point he says that sexual pleasure is a great value, and at another that sex will indeed lead to pain). It's probable that he would advice against over-indulging in sex, particularly fetishes.

"For a start, he would say that friendship must come first. The Epicureans prized friendship above all else, and this would be what they most respected in the community."

Exactly! Friendship is the only value or virtue that is described as eternal. In Epicurean cosmology it's possible that the world will end at some point... but friendship is forever. :)

"[...] Epicurus would refuse to take part in any of this "they said X" business [...]"

Gossiping or spreading rumors is neither friendly nor honest.

"The hedonistic paradox (also known as the "paradox of hedonism" or "the pleasure paradox"), is a general observation which says that happiness is not something that somebody can obtain directly."

Epicurean Philosophy is an answer to this paradox (perhaps the answer). An ancient Epicurean in the city of Oenoanda noticed that most people around him were not happy. So he commissioned a wall in the center of town with Epicurean Philosophy carved on it! (Perhaps Epicurean furries would commission art after all...)

The goal of Epicurus was to teach humans how they can pursue Happiness without running off the cliff and destroying their lives. By pursuing proper pleasures and avoiding unnecessary pains, it's possible to live as a happy human. The reason why many people fail at happiness is that they don't understand (or have been misled about) what good pleasures are, and so they self-destructively pursue the wrong things.

"A lot of "furriness" is outwardly focussed: [...]"

This is always a sign of danger. No thing and no one can give happiness to another. Ultimately we are responsible for our own happiness (as long as we pursue it ethically). Certain amount of things and certain people -- i.e. friends -- are required for happiness, but these aren't impossible to achieve (nor include either a fursuit or commissioned art). The most important thing that we can do for our pursuit of happiness, is to understand which of our desires are harmful, because they are at the heart of the paradox.

"The nine-to-five job probably seems even more soul-crushing after a weekend of partying and suiting."

This is true for almost all 'hobby' pursuits. Epicurus might give two pieces of advice to counter this feeling. Firstly, by being aware that we might feel this way is in itself a remedy. The things that hit us the hardest are the ones we've not prepared for. If we know that a Monday will be miserable, we can do something about it... And secondly, we might take an example from Epicurus, and cultivate friends with similar interests and not merely take part in conferences. Epicurus himself chose to invite his friends to live with him, and the Garden of Athens was born. Perhaps this is bit too extreme for most people, but a more spread out contact with other furries (preferably in person) might prove to be the most effective cure for post-con depression...

"I feel that many in the community could avoid the hedonistic paradox by adopting a more modern Epicurean approach to things."

This is possible, even probable. Epicurean Philosophy is a universal philosophy: for all humans everywhere... fursuit optional.

Epikuros ja turrit

Huom: En tiedä paljoakaan turriyhteisöstä, joten jos jokin tässä kirjoituksessa loukkaa sinua, niin se johtuu tietämättömyydestäni — ei pahantahtoisuudesta.

Epikuros vetoaa monenlaisiin ihmisiin, ja yhtenä osoituksena on tämä turrin kirjoittama artikkeli. Siinä on useita mielenkiintoisia aiheita, ja tässä on erään epikurolaisen vastaus niihin.

"On the surface there does not seem to be anything intrinsically wrong with these things; fursuits, pictures, sex, and porn, all provide a great sense of joy, ideally without harming anyone."

Tärkeimpiä ovat sanat "On the surface"... Epikuroksen tärkeimpiä näkökohtia on se, että välittömin havaintosi voi olla väärä. Monissa tapauksissa totuus löytyy yksityiskohdista ja tarkasta tutkimisesta, ei nopeasta vilkaisusta.

Mikään näistä aiheista ei ole sinänsä pahasta, mutta kaikilla niistä voi olla huonoja seurauksia ja sivuvaikutuksia. Epikuros kehottaisi meitä aina katsomaan tarkemmin ja arvioimaan asioita selkeästi.

"Well, if we could sit him down, he would probably laugh, and call the entire community a contradiction to happiness."

Todennäköisesti hän ei nauraisi. Toisin kuin muut, epikurolainen filosofia ei suoralta kädeltä tuomitse kokonaisia ihmiskokemuksen osa-alueita. Turriyhteisö olisi hänelle kyllä outo — mutta myös hänen aikanaan oli paljon outoja asioita. Se ei eroaisi paljoakaan Elysian mysteereistä tai joistakin näytelmistä.

Useimmissa tapauksissa toiminnan tarkkoja yksityiskohtia tärkeämpää on miksi ihmiset tekevät jotain. Epikuros olisi ehkä kiinnostuneempi siitä, miksi ihmiset tuntevat tarvetta olla turri. Meidän pitäisi aina ymmärtää jokaisen halun syyt ja seuraukset. Muuten on mahdotonta arvioida, onko halu hyvä vai ei.

"One can live a good life by learning to be happy with the bare minimum."

Epikuros ei itse asiassa opeta näin. Hän sanoo, että asiat joita tarvitsemme onnellisuuteen, ovat vähäisiä (ravinto, mukavuus, ystävät, jne.), mutta tämä ei tarkoita, että meidän pitäisi elää vain minimaalisesti. Ihmiset voivat olla onnellisia vähäisestä, mutta onnellisuus ei vähene ylimääräisestä, joka ei tuo huonoja seurauksia.

"Of the two ["static pleasures" and "moving pleasures"], Epicurus argues that the former it superior, whilst the latter will inevitably lead to pain."

Epikurolaisuuden näkemys on huomattavasti monimutkaisempi. Molemman tyyppiset nautinnot ovat tärkeitä onnelliselle elämälle, eivätkä aktiiviset (moving) nautinnot väistämättä johda tuskaan.

Epikurolaisessa filosofiassa jokainen nautinto on hyvä... kun se on yksinään. Yhteys ihmisen koko elämään tekee joistakin nautinnoista vaarallisia, kun toiset pysyvät hyvinä. Jotkin nautinnot ovat hyviä tiettyinä annoksina, mutta pahoja jos annos on liiallinen. Kun yritämme selvittää mitkä nautinnot johtavat tuskaan, ei käsitteellinen jako aktiivisiin ja vakaisiin (kinetik ja katastematik, liikkuva ja staattinen) ole kovinkaan hyödyllinen. Tärkeämpää on, että jotkin nautinnot ovat välttämättömiä, toiset hyviä, ja jotkut haitallisia, ihmisten onnellisuudelle.

"[...] I'm not an Epicurean, and I won't argue that anybody should live in the way that Epicurus advised."

Minä sensijaan olen... ja väitän, että meidän kaikkien pitäisi. Se on ainoa muinainen (tai nykyinen) filosofinen järjestelmä joka yhteensopii tieteisiin eikä vaadi mitään yliluonnollista (tai yli-inhimillistä).

"Let's imagine that Epicurus came to the twenty-first century and wanted to be a furry."

Tämä on hyvin mielenkiintoinen ajatuskoe, joten kuvitellaan pois.

"For a start, would he want a fursuit? Probably not, they cost a lot of money, drink could be spilled on him, and he would inevitably have to remove it."

Onko turrius sidoksissa puvun omistamiseen? Todennäköisesti ei, mutta oletetaan niin keskustelun vuoksi... Tässä tapauksessa hän saattaisi kyseenalaistaa yhteisön keskittymisen ulkoisiin tekijöihin. Monesti kun keskitytään asioihin henkilökohtaisten ominaisuuksien sijaan, on hyvin suuri riski, että mennään "hyvistä nautinnoista" "haitallisien nautintojen" puolelle. Epikuros saattaisi olla hankkimatta turripukua, koska se edustaa tiettyjä asioita, ei puvun ominaisuuksien vuoksi (hinta, puhdistaminen, jne.).

"Would he commission art? I imagine he wouldn't want that either, he'd say that any pleasure he could get from it would only be fleeting."

Hän saattaisi sanoa päinvastaista... Epikuroksen mielestä aistit (tässä tapauksessa näkö, tai ehkä kosketus) ovat tärkeitä nautinnon lähteitä.

Nyt jako aktiivisiin ja vakaisiin nautintoihin on avuksi... Kaikki aktiiviset nautinnot ovat ohimeneviä, mutta tämä ei tarkoita arvottomuutta. Kaikki vakaat nautinnot perustuvat aktiiveille nautinnoille. Klassinen esimerkki on, että "syöminen" on aktiivinen nautinto... ja "ei-nälkäisyys" on vakaa nautinto.

Epikuroksen säilyneissä kirjoituksissa on hyvin vähän hänen estetiikastaan, mutta hän sanoo kauniiden asioiden tuovan meille nautintoa, joten ne ovat arvokkaita. 'Kauneuden' ja sen nautintojen määritelmää emme tiedä (ehkä niitä ei määriteltykään). Voisimme hyvin sanoa, että hän saattaisi arvostaa turritaidetta.

"Would he indulge any fetishes he had, or lust after sex? No, he would see the pleasure as temporary, and would think that later it would cause him pain."

Tämä on todennäköisesti totta. Epikuroksen kirjoitukset seksistä ovat ristiriitaisia (toisaalta hän sanoo, että seksuaalinen nautinto on arvokasta, mutta toisaalta myös sen johtavan tuskaan). Luultavasti hän neuvoisi välttämään liiallista seksuaalisuutta, erityisesti fetissejä.

"For a start, he would say that friendship must come first. The Epicureans prized friendship above all else, and this would be what they most respected in the community."

Täsmälleen! Ystävyys on ainoa arvo tai hyve, jota kuvataan ikuiseksi. Epikurolaisessa kosmologiassa on mahdollista, että maailma tuhoutuu... mutta ystävyys on ikuista. :)

"[...] Epicurus would refuse to take part in any of this "they said X" business [...]"

Juoruilu tai huhujen levittäminen ei ole ystävällistä eikä rehellistä.

"The hedonistic paradox (also known as the "paradox of hedonism" or "the pleasure paradox"), is a general observation which says that happiness is not something that somebody can obtain directly."

Epikurolainen filosofia on vastaus tähän paradoksiin (ehkä oikea vastaus). Oenoandan kaupungissa asunut epikurolainen havaitsi, etteivät ihmiset olleet onnellisia. Niinpä hän rakennutti muurin kaupungin keskustaan, ja kaiverrutti siihen epikurolaista filosofiaa! (Epikurolainen turri saattaisi siis tilatakin taidetta...)

Epikuros halusi opettaa ihmisille miten he voisivat tavoitella Onnellisuutta kapsahtamatta katajaan ja tuhoamatta elämäänsä. Tavoittelemalla sopivia nautintoja ja välttämällä tarpeetonta tuskaa voi elää onnellisena. Monet ihmiset epäonnistuvat onnellisuudessa, koska eivät ymmärrä (tai heitä on johdettu harhaan siitä) mitä hyvät nautinnot ovat, ja siksi he itsetuhoisesti tavoittelevat vääriä asioita.

"A lot of "furriness" is outwardly focussed: [...]"

Tämä on aina merkki vaarasta. Mikään tai kukaan ei voi antaa onnellisuutta toiselle. Lopulta olemme itse vastuussa onnellisuudestamme (kunhan tavoittelemme sitä eettisesti. Tietty määrä asioita ja tietyt ihmiset — ystävät — ovat välttämättömiä onnellisuudelle, mutta nämä eivät ole mahdottomuuksia (eivätkä sisällä turripukua tai tilattua taidetta). Tavoiteltaessa onnellisuutta tärkeintä on ymmärtää mitkä haluistamme ovat haitallisia, koska ne ovat paradoksin ydin.

"The nine-to-five job probably seems even more soul-crushing after a weekend of partying and suiting."

Tämä on totta lähes kaikista 'harrastuksista'. Epikuros saattaisi antaa kaksi neuvoa tämän tunteen välttämiseen. Ensinnäkin olemalla tietoisia, että saatamme kokea tämän tunteen, voi olla apu itsessään. Meitä vaivaavat eniten asiat, joihin emme ole valmistautuneet. Jos tiedämme maanantain olevan tuskaa, voimme tehdä asialle jotain. Toisaalta voisimme ottaa oppia Epikuroksesta, ja vaalia samoista asioista kiinnostuneita ystäviä, eikä pelkästään osallistua konferensseihin. Epikuros päätti kutsua ystävänsä asumaan luokseen, ja niin syntyi Ateenan Puutarha. Tämä on ehkä liiallista suurimmalle osalle meistä, mutta laajemmalle levinnyt yhteys muihin turreihin (mieluiten kasvokkain) saattaisi olla tehokkain apu konferenssinjälkeiseen masennukseen.

"I feel that many in the community could avoid the hedonistic paradox by adopting a more modern Epicurean approach to things."

Tämä on mahdollista, jopa todennäköistä. Epikurolainen filosofia on yleismaailmallinen filosofia: kaikille ihmisille kaikkialla... turripuku omavalintainen.



Modern life
Other philosophies
Pleasure and Pain

What to read to know his philosophy?

What book would have the closest/most primary sources material, if I was to invest in a comprehensive book on Epicurus Philosophy?

Lucretius is a good source. Several translations are even in the public domain.

Epicurus' own writings are in Diogenes Laertius book Lives of the Philosophers, part 10.

For a comprehensive and systematic presentation DeWitt's Epicurus and his Philosophy is a good source as well.

Diogenes Laertius' Lives of the Philosophers book 10, Lucretius' On the Nature of Things, and Dewitt's Epicurus and his Philosophy.

Any book to compare epicurean philosophy with modern philosophy?

Not as a formal and comprehensive work as far as we've been able to find. Many books take potshots at Epicurean Philosophy, but don't delve deeply.

Can you recommend any books or articles that give a good introduction?

"Essential Epicurus", "Epicurus Reader" are both good. Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things" is excellent, though not a short intro by any measure. A modern take is DeWitt's "Epicurus and his philosophy" (it's also on the comprehensive side).

Laertius' book on Epicurus is freely available online, and since it contains all of the original material it's a good place to start.


Also: "Tending the Epicurean Garden", by Hiram Crespo

What are his best books?

Of the complete works, the best are his letters (especially the Letter to Menoeceus).


Why should we not fear death again? Damn that's the end of everything and I'm living the good life!

Being dead is nothing, like being not-born-yet... There are no pains or punishments after death. (or any rewards.)

Living a good life is the best preparation for dying without regrets. Though you shouldn't be reckless and endanger yourself, but if life becomes impossible, death is nothing to be feared.

If I remember correctly he wrote: we should not fear death since the fear is a sensation while the death is absence of sensation?

We fear things because they are painful. Death isn't. We shouldn't fear death while we are alive, because we are not dead yet. And we can't fear it after, because the dead don't exist.

I know Epicurus says that death should not be feared and he gives arguments for it, but how does one manage the death of a loved one, not one's own death?

The arguments given to not fear one's own death also apply to the death of loved ones. They do not suffer in a afterlife, and no deity is punishing them for anything.

To alleviate our sorrow for the loss, he would advice us to remember all the good things that the deceased brought into our lives, all the funny stories they were involved in, and of course the camaraderie integral to an Epicurean friendship.

If Epicurus was still alive, how would he rationalize death?

Epicurus most likely would not try to rationalize it in any way. For him death was a self-evident thing that need no reasoning, simply a notice and an explanation why it's not an obstacle to Happiness. What he would be engaged in would be alleviating the fear of death.


What is moral?

That which promotes or protects life. This can mean that it promotes a happy life, a comfortable life, or even biological life.

What is his views on women?

All humans are equal.

In ancient Greece, the Epicurean school was the first that accepted women as students and teachers.

What would Epicurus advise a person who is afraid/hesitate to go against the social norms and against what the society expects from him/her?

This would depend on the social norm. Some social norms are good, but some are bad. If a person wants to go against a good social norm -- break justice etc. -- the answer is "Don't".

If the social norm is a bad one, the consequences of breaking them have to be taken into account. Some you can break with minimal consequences, but if there is a danger to health or to life, Epicurus would advise to not break them and/or to hide it from public. While there is value in getting rid of bad social norms, Epicurean Philosophy isn't for martyrs.


What's the difference between Epicurus' religious beliefs and those of the Unitarian Universalists?

There seems not to be a definite set of beliefs in UU... Therefore this question is very difficult to answer.

Unitarian Universalism's Seven Principles

The third and seventh have a whiff of supernaturalism, so perhaps that is the main difference. For Epicurus, even the gods were natural. They were made from elementary particles, just like humans. And there was no mystical web of everything. Humans aren't somehow connected to all things (apart from the natural processes).

Can one practice Epicurean teachings and idealism regardless of theism or atheism?

Theism / Atheism make no difference as far as being an Epicurean is concerned. Some who believe in gods may have trouble with the Epicurean theology, whereas the atheist can bypass such things, but the rest of the system is the same for both.

Does epicurean philosophy have anything to say about any sort of afterlife?

In Epicurean metaphysics all souls are made of atoms which are dispersed at death (like the ones that the body is made of). There is no life after death.

Does epicurean philosophy have anything to say about a higher power?

Read this

Is Epicurean Philosophy secular and humanist like other philosophies of its time?

There are few philosophies from Epicurus' time that we would call secular today. Most of them include some kind of supernatural element. Epicurean Philosophy, too, contains talk and doctrines about the existence of deities, so it's not entirely secular either. The Philosophy is, however, humanist through-and-through. It's the philosophy for humans, so that they can live a good and happy life. Even the Epicurean theology is intended to remove the fear of the deities so that the humans can live better.

In what regards would've the Buddha and Epicurus have philosophical differences if they chatted with each other?

Epicurus didn't think that we should remove all desires and/or attachments. Also his focus was in this life, not in the next or any other supernatural existence.

Is the famous quote of the problem of evil really by Epicurus?

By an Epicurean certainly, but only 'perhaps' by Epicurus. (Monotheism wasn't all that common in his time.)

Can Epicurus cure us of superstitious beliefs?

Perhaps. Epicurus doesn't offer a panacea for this, but if someone accepts the Epicurean view, they'd come to the conclusion that superstitious beliefs are either misunderstandings or misinformation. He'd also reinforce this with furthering our understanding of nature through the sciences.

In his writings, he mentions God quite a bit. Not Gods but God. As in singular. What's up with that?

He uses the plural, too (ref. first part of the Letter to Menoeceus). "Do not fear the gods" is also one of the Four Cures (Tetrapharmakos).

One possible source of this confusion is that he speaks of singular gods as examples of the general features of all the gods. But he's not talking about the God (as a name) of christianity, judaism, or islam, because monotheism was a minority in the Hellenic age (and Athens was polytheistic).

What is "God" for the Epicureans?

Epicurus himself seems to have believed that a multitude of gods existed in the space beyond and between the worlds.

Epicurus' philosophy is compatible with many kinds of conceptions about deities. It's more a matter of personal preference than of the philosophical system. The important thing for an Epicurean to remember is: God doesn't hate you.

"A blessed and eternal being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; hence he is exempt from movements of anger and partiality, for every such movement implies weakness."
The First Principal Doctrine

Where is God?

The gods of Epicurus exist in the metakosmia or intermundia: the space beyond the world.

Did Epicurus believe in the existence of god(s)?

Yes, he thought that there were gods out there beyond the world. They were the examples of perfect happiness. And no, they don't interfere in human affairs either because of whim or to respond to prayers.

Did Epicurus said something about reincarnation and avatar?

Humans are -- like everything else -- made of the elementary particles. This includes the soul. When a human dies all of him ends. The soul and body are a whole, and cannot be separated. We can talk about them in conceptual separation because sometimes it's convenient to do so. There is no reincarnation or avatars.

There have been stories of spirits and the like, but there has never been a case of verified possession. Human souls / spirits / minds are made of atoms. There is no special class of "mind atoms" that survive beyond death, and certainly no mystical non-material soul.


Is he nationalist?

No. Epicurean Philosophy is by nature an universal one, independent from any nationality or group. In essence, it's a philosophy for all humans everywhere.

What was his opinion about State and Nation.

It would seem that he thought they should exist and be democratic. He mentions people appointed to finding and punishing criminals. Beyond this it's either unclear or unknown.

Does Epicureanism have anything to say about what justice is or how the polis ought to be governed?

Justice forms a major part of the philosophical system. So he has quite a lot to say about it. Of the 40 Principal Doctrines, ten are about justice and it's application... In essence, justice is based on the idea that humans should not harm each others.

Principal Doctrine 31:
"Natural justice is a symbol or expression of expediency, to prevent one man from harming or being harmed by another."

Epicurus was much more interested in how an individual is to govern herself, than in the ruling of a city state (by his time the polis was obsolete as a major political entity). He talks about people appointed to uphold justice (seek out and punish criminals), so we can assume that democracy would apply.

With the hindsight of history, we today can say that a liberal democracy is the preferred method of government for an Epicurean.

What does Epicurus think about the separation of powers? (state management)

We don't know. Such things aren't mentioned in our surviving sources.

Principal Doctrine 34
"Injustice is not in itself an evil, but only in its consequence, viz. the terror which is excited by apprehension that those appointed to punish such offenses will discover the injustice."

Principal Doctrine 35
"It is impossible for the man -- who secretly violates any article of the social compact -- to feel confident that he will remain undiscovered, even if he has already escaped ten thousand times; for right on to the end of his life he is never sure he will not be detected."

If we speculate from these two (which seem to be the closest that he gets to this issue), there would probably be at least two portions: those who investigate crimes and punish the guilty, and those who make the laws (the social compact). Because the societal rules are agreed upon by people, this would imply a democracy, perhaps a more direct democracy than we think.

Unlike Plato and others, Epicurus wasn't interested in state management. The "wise man" doesn't require laws because she understands what are the things that make a happy life. And it's not crime, big or small... The "wise man" is sociable, honest, honorable, and just, because it's what a good human does.


Was his philosophy focused more on truth or happiness?

These are not mutually exclusive things.

Happiness (freedom from pain and anxiety) is the Goal of Life. Truth is one of the ingredients needed for actual Happiness.

How does happiness and money link in to a bigger picture?

Happiness is the biggest picture. Money is just a tool.

How can ataraxia (painlessness of the mind/ body) be the criterion for happiness?

"The absence of pain and suffering is a relief no less a pleasure, but in order to have true happiness the addition of positive experiences of pleasure (quantitative plus qualitative) are required. Plus service, the pleasure of offering your skills, resources to those in need is a different kind of pleasure as well? In Epicureanism, is happiness a state of being or an attitude?"

This is a quite common question, and causes much confusion.

Ataraxia is the definition of happiness in Epicurean Philosophy. It is a state of total lack of pain, whether in the body or in the mind. While this is a comprehensive answer in itself, we have to know the context of the wider philosophical system that it fits into.

Firstly, if a human is not in pain, she is in pleasure. Epicurus rejects the idea of a neutral state (proposed by Plato and Aristotle). So a state of "not-hungry" is a pleasure, as well as the act of eating nutritious food.

Secondly, Epicurus apparently used this definition-through-negative in order to avoid the mistake of the wanton hedonists (like the cyrenaics) who defined happiness through the accumulation of pleasures without regard to avoidance of pain. He understood the dangers inherent in such a method (mostly over-indulgence etc.).

Thirdly, from the Epicurean analysis of the desires we see, that there are desires that we have to fulfill in order to be in a state of painlessness. And each desire has a corresponding pleasure or pain that its fulfillment brings about.

Therefore, in order to achieve Ataraxia, we have to pursue the necessary desires to gain their attendant pleasures, while also avoiding the desires that will bring about pain. In this way we can stay in a continuing state of painlessness by the pursuit of pleasures.

So the Epicurean definition of Happiness contains the pursuit of pleasure, even though it's not mentioned.

The simple fact is that we are living biological beings, and we have to act to fulfill some necessary desires (food, drink, shelter, safety) in order to stay alive. This is something that has to be accepted if we are to have a system of philosophy for humans. Anyone who promises something else, is either lying or promoting mysticism.

It has to be noted that the necessary desires can be fulfilled before any pain is present. An Epicurean would plan for and act to avoid pains in the future too. She wouldn't fear such such pains because she'd know she can avoid them, and could remain in a state of painlessness the whole time.

An Epicurean in a state of Ataraxia isn't some passive saint or mystic in seclusion, he is an active human, doing things that a human should and can. He knows that he's a human, and would act accordingly. The desire to have a supernatural state of eudaimonia is a platonic one...

What's the purpose of Epicurean philosophy?

The purpose is to help humans live happier lives in the real world.

Isn't the goal of Epicurean Philosophy also the good life/ eudaimonia? And to achieve it there are more things needed than sensual pleasure only, which are just the bottom of Pleasure. Pleasure comes most of philosophy and also obtaining virtues -- and there I see an overlap with Stoics.

Since eudaimonia is generally understood in an aristotelian context, an Epicurean would most likely use the more appropriate term of Ataraxia to refer to happiness. It means a state of painlessness in the mind (no anxiety), and by extension painlessness of the body too.

In Epicurean Philosophy virtues are good because they produce pleasure, since pleasure is the criterion of a good thing. So your idea is an Epicurean one, not stoic.

What are the major keys to happiness?

Wisdom in your choices, Virtuous pursuit of pleasure, Justice in your actions, and Friendship. Lots and lots of friends.

How does Epicurus' philosophy define happiness?

Epicureans use the words ataraxia and aponia to describe the state of Happiness. They mean "freedom from anxiety" and "freedom from bodily pain".

Is there any difference in satisfaction and happiness or the states of being happy or satisfied?

Satisfaction is what humans get when they fulfill a desire (like eating nutritious food). Such satisfaction is an important condition for happiness.

Happiness is a state of total satisfaction combined with the total absence of pains.

Can religion be a source of happiness?

This is a difficult question to answer. Epicurus held that there were gods, but he also thought that people have a distorted idea of what the nature of god(s) is. He thought that god(s) were Perfect beings that neither offered rewards nor threatened punishments. If one finds a religion that has these features, it's possible that a religion could be a source of happiness.

It must be remembered that there is no the source of happiness. Ataraxia is a state of being that requires the fulfillment of many conditions (from the most basic like food, to the most complex like justice). Therefore religion can be a source of happiness, but not alone. Other conditions are equally important, if not more so.

Do you consider Epicurean way of life as ideal for every human being and everyone should be using it?

Even though the details are different for each individual, the broader principles are the same for all humans. An Epicurean would avoid words like 'ideal' or 'best', because this is life after all, but in the broader sense the Epicurean life can be the good life.


Which one of his opinions did make a breakthrough or what was his most effective philosophy in his time? And where can we infer it from? (source?)

It's difficult to know which of his ideas were most influential in his time. Most Epicureans in history have flown under the radar.

There are several options that may have been the most influential. His ideas about justice were certainly novel, as was the analysis of desires.

The idea that caused the most splash was of course his contention that pleasure is a good thing. He's the one that provides the robust grounding and analysis of why pleasure is the criterion of all good things. So that might be the breakthrough.

Was the Garden hierarchical?

The Garden's hierarchy was based on knowledge about the philosophy. Epicurus at the top, naturally. Below him Metrodorus, Hermarchus, and Polyaenus as the three most learned other teachers. Then there was the rest of the original circle or faculty of the Garden (which was a school and a publishing house). Most notable of these was Leontion.

How tall are you?

We don't know how tall Epicurus was.

What does this mean: "...It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life."

The pleasant life is the goal that Epicurean Philosophy is intended to help us achieve. Wisdom in the desires we fulfill, honor of our convictions, and the justice in our actions are prerequisites for us to reach that goal.

"The just man is most free from disturbance, while the unjust is full of the utmost disturbance." What truth is connected to this?

That you should not treat others unjustly, because you'll never know a moments peace if you do.

It's my understanding that Epicurus recommended retreating from the political world into self-sustaining communities. Is that practical advice today?

Epicurus cautions us against a career in politics, because it's not a good way to gain happiness.

There is no evidence that Epicureans ever lived in separation from the wider communities. People sometimes mistake the Garden for a commune, but it was a school, not a place that people lived in. His house was separate from it, and within the city of Athens.

So it's not his advice, and the practicality you'll have to evaluate for yourself. Perhaps for some it is, while others will hate it...

Can you explain Epicurean philosophy in only three keywords?

Unfortunately not. The Philosophy is too complex a system to do so. Any abbreviation would require additional explanation and commentary.

Epicurus left us with 40 Principal Doctrines, and even they are too short... :)

Can Epicurean Philosophy provide all the answers?

Anyone who promises "all the answers" is either deceiving or deceived...

At what point did the word epicurean become a synonym for hedonism? Was this just a part of the slander aimed at Epicurus because of his atheism/materialism?

Yes, and also because Epicurean Philosophy is hedonistic. That is, it says that pleasure is the criterion of what is good. It's a slander to many people because they don't understand what Epicurus is saying.

The greatest reason why it's such an effective slander is because of religious objections, specifically christian ones.

A comment by the same person:
"Bertrand Russell quotes him as saying, "I spit on luxurious pleasures, not for their own sake, but because of the inconveniences that follow them." This sentiment seems to be very nearly antithetical of what the word "epicurean" expresses today."

Yes, the slander has been very effective.

The quote from Russell is an accurate one.

A comment by a different participant:
"There is as much difference between the current understanding of epicureanism and the real thing as there is between - say - the current understanding of christianism and the original teachings of Christ. As for gluttony, Epicurus said it best when he described the ideal diet as "bread, olives and an occasional treat of cheese" Not to be taken literally, but it correctly indicates the true nature of epicureanism IMHO"

Was he a contemporary of Socrates and Alexander the Great

Socrates was long dead by the time Epicurus was born (in 341 bce). He was 18 at the time of Alexander's death.

Being called "master"...

In the Epicurean tradition, there are no masters or even teachers. The originator of the system was called a hegemon, the immediate pupils kathegemones, and those tasked with educational duties were called kathegetes. All of these can be translated as variations of "leader" or "guide".

We shall let let other schools have their masters and subjects if their vanity so demands. We prefer no title at all.

They say that Epicureanism is a kind of escapism. Can you comment on it?

They say many things about Epicurus that aren't true...

Epicurus was a critic of the philosophical and political structures of his days, because he saw that they weren't good for people. Many take this to mean a withdrawal and separation from society altogether, but this is a simplistic view of the philosophy. Epicurus advocated keeping things private, not separating totally.

How do you have more money if you work less?

You spend less.

"More money" is a difficult issue, because money in itself isn't a good goal. The real issue is what the money is for. Some is necessary for survival, some more for comfort, and perhaps a bit more just in case. After that we enter a grayer area where "more money" for the sake of "more money" begins to be a detriment to a happy life. Happiness is more than just to work for money. The fixation on money is in many cases a vice that leads to pain and unhappiness.

It's always necessary to understand the reason -- the "Why?" -- behind an action.

Are Epicureanism and Capitalism in conflict with one another since in capitalism there is the potential for some Individuals to have more than others?

A conflict is possible but not because of this potentiality. There is nothing inherently wrong with owning things, nor owning more than someone else.

The important issues are: how the property was acquired, and what are you doing with it.

Epicurean Philosophy is ultimately interested in the morality of actions (because only moral actions bring about long-term happiness). So if someone has done shady or questionable things to have something, Epicureans would call that bad. And if the property is used self-destructively or to harm others, it's clearly immoral.

As long as property is gained and used in a moral way, it's a good thing.

Did Epicurus commit suicide?

There is no evidence to answer this question one way or another.

Epicurus wasn't against suicide, but only as the absolute last resort when the alternative is a life of nothing but pain. "Small indeed is the man who finds many reasons to kill himself." (Sayings 38)

In Diogenes Laertius you'll find his last letter written on his death bed. (Laertius 22, Letter to Idomeneus)

Is Epicurean philosophy uniform, or are there variations among practitioners?

There is of course variation between Epicureans. We are all on a continuum from the person that just heard about Epicurus to those who write books and set up organizations for the promotion of the Philosophy. There are also many reasons for this variation.

The philosophy itself, as a system of ideas and concepts, is highly uniform in that there has been little to no addition after the time of Epicurus. This is quite unique in a philosophical system. As time passes there is naturally drift with the accumulation of scientific knowledge, but there has never been factionalization of the system (like in religious systems).

If you had to boil it down to basic principles what would they be?

The tetrapharmakon: Don't fear the gods. Don't fear death. The pleasures are easy to get. The pains are easy to remove or endure.

A word of warning, though. The Epicurean System isn't suitable to be condensed into an elevator pitch. These four touch on many of the most important aspects, but there are numerous nuances, buts-and-ifs, and issues not addressed. Only a thorough and careful study can give a true understanding of the Philosophy.

How can one get through a stressful work day with epicurean philosophy?

There are too many ways a day can be a stressful one to give any quick answers... The main thing is to understand what causes the stress and how you can deal with it.

Do you have an article that shows how it's affected future philosophical progression?

On this issue Stephen Greenblatt's book "The Swerve" is excellent.

What Epicurus's philosophy is about?

How to live happily.

Why have Epicurean Values been forgotten?

Not forgotten so much as suppressed and vilified. Mostly by the stoics and christians (and they overlap). Epicurean Philosophy was strongly anti-supernaturalist, so it's no wonder that they would have done so when they gained the power.

Epicurean ideas have also lived on without the label. For instance, Thomas Jefferson was a self-identified Epicurean... And Stephen Greenblatt makes the case that the rediscovery of Lucretius' On the Nature of Things kickstarted the scientific revolution.

What do you think the meaning of life is?

The only the meaning that can be given is that a life should be happy (filled with pleasure and without pain or fear). As long as you follow proper morality, the question then becomes "what makes you happy?"

The Vatican Sayings? This must be a mistake.

They were found in the archives of the Vatican, amongst other papers. That's why they are commonly known by that name. The proper name is of course "The Sayings of Epicurus".

What makes you think that anyone who calls themselves Epicurean is 100% Epicurean?

Nothing. The only 100% Epicurean was Epicurus.

Modern life

What do you think Epicurus would have to say about gay marriage as it is understood in the modern western world?

Since Epicurean Philosophy is for any and all humans, he most likely wouldn't have any problem with it.

He might note that it's contradictory to deny another human a right that you have yourself, and -- since all the opposition is religious at heart -- he might point out that the gods don't interfere in human lives in any way, this one included.

Can we reinvent epicurean philosophy in a post-modern world?

If by reinvent you mean adapt, then the answer is yes. Humans are pretty much the same that they were in Epicurus' time (perhaps a little better informed, need the same basic things, are confused what are the best things to desire...), so his ethical advice is very current.

In this day and age, would it be difficult to apply Epicurean philosophy? (Considering that the concept of money has been well established and mass consumerism is at its peak.) How could the simple Epicurean life counter the face of modernism?

It isn't any harder than in any other age... The Epicurean school has always advocated an alternative life-style that has never been in line with "the mainstream". Mostly this is because we have always shunned both politics and consumerism.

The task of living the Happy life is unfortunately the burden of every individual. Others can help (or hinder) but they can't give detailed advice. One general advice would be to start letting go of all things that bring with them either pain or anxiety.

How will a care free society exist in a universe built by laws?

Equating a society and the universe in this way is a mistake (sadly all too common one). Since all societies have to exist in the universe, these two should not be considered as equals or excluding one another.

A human society can and must have additional laws in addition to the laws of Nature. There is no natural law that would invalidate the law against murder that we'd have in a care free society. Such a society would exist by choice.

As for things in the universe that happen by necessity or by chance... We should prepare against them as best we can (and endure them if this fails). One important preparation is to know the Nature as best we can (one good example would be to vaccinate all people against all diseases possible).

Besides having friends what else does Epicurus suggest to stave off melancholy?

Epicurus would say that if you have friends you won't need anything else... :)

The key thing might be finding out the causes of melancholy and trying to remedy them. There are too many possible reasons to feel it, so it's impossible to give simple answers. It will require effort and time to seek out self-knowledge. And he wouldn't avoid seeking help from others.

Other philosophies

Why do Stoics and Epicureans not get along? Can't we all just chill?

As systems of philosophy they are too different to be mixed together. Though many people take the eclectic approach (pick and choose from many philosophical schools), some are exclusively one or the other. This obviously leads to division.

As people, stoics and Epicureans do and would get along just fine. Some are drawn more to one or the other, but in Real Life such distinctions rarely come in the way of personal relationships. It's only among those of us who engage in more in-depth discussions or even debates about the systems, that things get heated.

So most people are chill, but some discuss philosophy. :)

Who taught Epicurus (which other philosophical schools of thought were his major influences)?

Epicurus claimed to be entirely self-taught... ;)

In his youth he went to both platonic and aristotelian schools, because those were the major schools in his time. Later, when he had more say on his studies, he also went to a democritean school. And because he was an Athenian citizen he attended a mandatory military training period.

While he was formulating his system he also undertook an intense period of reading the various sources available. We don't know exactly what this entailed, but considering the period it could have included things from Europe, North Africa, India, and Asia.

The Epicurean system isn't an offshoot of any of these in the sense that one is the main source. In many ways there are bits from each, but also major differences. For example, Epicurean philosophy is mostly democritean in (meta)physics, but denies determinism in ethics.

Did Epicurus have a specific system -- similar to Pythagorean Acousmatikoi & Mathmatikoi?

We don't know. If he did, it hasn't survived.

Are stoicism and atheism compatible?

You ought to ask this from a stoic... :D

Epicurean Philosophy and atheism are compatible. In fact, the main slander aimed at Epicurus and Epicureans has been that of atheism.

From my initial research, it mentions how Epicureanism was in opposition to stoicism. Can you expand upon that a bit? I am unclear about some of the manifestations and implications of that. (Or perhaps direct me to a work that does explain it in more detail.)

Actually, it's stoicism that is in opposition to Epicurean Philosophy... since Epicurus pre-dates Zeno.

If you want to see this issue dealt more, you may want to see www.newepicurean.com it has many posts on the differences between the two.

Socrates or Protagor? Who won?

An Epicurean could say that "We all lost." ;) Because Socrates gave rise to Plato, and Protagoras was a relativist.

Why are Epicurean and Stoic philosophy considered as being so opposed to each other? And which of the two would you say got it right in their teachings and why?

There are many reasons... Stoics generally tend to believe that there is a divine force in the world, while Epicureans don't. Epicurus was also an atomist and hedonist, both of which stoics opposed. Epicurean Philosophy also says that pleasure is the primary criterion of good, while stoics usually say that virtue is. The disagreements are many and varied...

Since this is a page about Epicurus, the answer is that Epicurean Philosophy is the right one, because it has a better understanding of what the requirements for a human life are.

Epicurus preceded Zeno. Is there any evidence besides Seneca's reverence for Epicurus that Epicureanism influenced The Stoics?

Seneca is such an elephant in the room that no other source is necessary. And like other (later) stoics, ultimately he is opposed to Epicurean Philosophy.

Was Epicurus influenced by the philosophies from India

It's possible that Epicurean Philosophy was influenced by contact with Indian thinkers, since it arises right after Alexander the Great's conquests. It could also be an independent strain arriving at similar conclusions. We do not know which is true.

Is it true that DaVinci took his philosophy from Epicurus?

Probably not. While the philosophy of DaVinci is a field of study onto itself, it seems that he was mostly influence by the christian philosophy of his time.

How are Epicurus and Aristotle the same? How are they different?

It's almost certain that if Epicurus says one thing, you'll find the opposite in Aristotle. They are opposites in epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. Perhaps the only thing in common is that they were both natural philosophers, but then again they drew differing conclusions from their work.

How and/or at what point in history did the modern definition of epicurean, as in the adjective: epicurean delights, become perverted to mean a luxurious glutton? Whereas Epicurus himself was intentionally modest with his meals.

With the rise of stoicism (especially in the Roman empire), and its child, christianity.

What would you say (if any) are the overlaps between Epicurus' philosophy and Ayn Rand's philosophy?

The objectivists will deny that any influences exist, but then again...

Would Epicureans tend to agree with Rand concerning her definition of morality as an objective set of virtues that should be selfishly used to achieve individual happiness? Or would they tend to agree with Nietzsche and assert that objective morality is non-existent and that one should create their own set of subjective ethics based on their personal inclinations?

Epicurus would most likely say that both Rand and Nietzsche were right about some things but not everything. He wouldn't side with one as opposed to the other.

Firstly, he would avoid words like objective and subjective. Objective, because it's always possible that humans as non-perfect beings could be wrong about something. And subjective, because in this case he can say that some things are universally human, so they are not reliant on personal inclinations.

Secondly, in Epicurean Philosophy morality is a deeper concept than just virtues, which are patterns of behavior that are productive of pleasure. They are not themselves the definition of morality, but a tool to help us to act morally. Ethics itself is defined through the pursuit of proper pleasures (keeping in mind friendship and justice).

Thirdly, Epicurus recognizes that individual humans aren't very different from one another. There are many cases where we can say that "this thing is good for all humans." Radical subjectivity is not conducive to formulating a realistic ethical system.

And lastly, in Epicurean Philosophy the ethical system is both individualistic and self-constructed. No one can give another Happiness -- they can help or hinder -- but the ultimate responsibility of choosing to pursue Ataraxia is always up to the individual human. Similarly, our ethical systems are also self-constructed -- to a degree -- because there is variation among humans (not in the big stuff, but the details), so what makes A happy might not interest B at all.

The Epicurean system of philosophy is too complex to easily fit into any particular black or white divide.

What is your opinion on the extreme anti-ecumenical position of early Epicureans?

Do you, like for example Colotes, believe that applying the teachings of any other school is ipso facto going to lead to unhappiness?

If a teaching -- whatever it's source -- leads to pleasure and happiness, it's a good teaching.

From the Epicurean point of view, however, many teachings from the other schools are mistaken, and will lead to pain and destruction. This is why they were opposed.

Could you comment on "Eudaimonia"?

It's the ancient Greek word for "happiness" or "well-being" or "flourishing". It's most important for aristotelians, which is why many Epicureans don't use it as a term of philosophy. "Ataraxia" is used instead, because it means "painlessness". It's more accurate term for the goal of the philosophical system.

Pleasure and Pain

Given the doctrine of rational hedonism espoused by Epicurus, how can a statement of value; (i.e. one ought strive to almost always be in a state of static pleasure etc.) be derived from a purely logical perspective given only facts about existence, granted that the lifestyle of Epicurus is greatly fulfilling and pleasant?

"Does Epicurus claim to arrive at a value judgement about how people ought to live, or does he merely state that according to his observations and reasoning people are generally more content and serene when the follow his principles? Additionally, what was the Epicurean stance on epistemology? Did his scientific inquiries require observation and predictions, or did he espouse understanding the universe through pure reason?"

Epicurean Philosophy is not similar to platonism where things are drawn from an Ideal World. The purpose of the Philosophy is to aid living humans live the most painless life possible. And the emphasis is on the words "life" and "human". Ultimately all values derive their justification from the fact that they promote or protect life (as opposed to destroying it). Since we are humans, we should follow those values that provide for the best possible life for us.

Epicurus was a moral reformer, so he arrived at his value judgements based on his observations and reasonings, yes. Nothing "merely" about it...

"Pure reason" is platonic nonsense, and has no place in Epicurean Philosophy. An Epicurean wants evidence.

How do epicureans investigate their fears and desires?

For any such thing, ask "What will happen to me if I do this? And what if I don't?" If the results are harmful, the desire is a bad one. For a fear, you have to first know whether the fear is a reasonable one, like fearing dangerous animals, or not reasonable, like fearing the gods.

We have to also remember that this investigation will take time, energy, and effort. But it can be done. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

How can I know the truth about the pleasures?

In general, things that cause pain are destructive, and those that cause pleasure are constructive. Sometimes though pleasures can harm, usually through over-indulgence, and some pains are useful because they produce greater pleasures (like surgery or exercise).

Knowing the truth about the pleasures is a matter of thinking and experience. You should consider with each pleasure (and pain) "what are the consequences if I do this?" Will they benefit you in the short, as well as the long term...

If pain can be pleasurable, is pleasure also suffering?

A pain can lead to a greater pleasure, for instance when you undergo surgery to cure an injury, etc.. And similarly a pleasure can lead to a pain, usually through overindulgence. Gluttony is the classical example: Food is a necessary part of life, but too much eating becomes dangerous.

The source of Epicurus' teaching on this analysis can be found in The Letter to Menoeceus (Laertius 122).

Does Epicurus speak about the pain, too?

One purpose of Epicurean Philosophy is the removal of all pain. The definition of the ultimate state of Happiness is the absence of all pain from the body and mind. So Epicurus talks about pain all the time. Even if it's not mentioned by name, the avoidance of pain is always in the background.

How can so little be sometimes enough?

Because it's always the little things that are the most important. Proper pleasures (the one's without bad consequences) are relatively simple, and if you've correctly fulfilled them you'll recognize the destructive desires.

What pleasures will a wise man seek?

Humans should pursue all pleasures that they can have without destructive side-effects. For example, food is a requirement to live, and good food beyond survival is also a good thing. But eating without regard to health or to excess, is an evil thing.


I'm not sure if Lucretius touched upon this subject but how do Epicureans think life comes into existence? Epicurus was an atomic materialist, and I wonder how contemporary Epicureans respond to Einstein's "energy cannot be created or destroyed" which provides the possibility of a soul remaining intact through death.

See Lucretius' On the Nature of Things, Fifth book, lines 772 -- 1457.

It could be called a proto-evolutionary hypothesis, because Nature gives rise to various forms of life, but only some of them produce offspring. Of course, this is 2000 year old science, so our modern understanding is better... though we still don't know how the first living things arose.

In Epicurean Philosophy the soul and body are separated only conceptually. They are an inseparable whole physically. When a human dies, both body and soul die. We can use bleeding as a metaphor: If you damage a human severely enough, he will bleed out and die. Similarly, the soul 'energy' would disperse into the world.

Why is there anything?

Existence needs no reason. It simply is. Though perhaps physicists will some day answer how it came to be...

How did the universe begin?

The Big Bang seems to be the answer in the light of the evidence.

Can you elaborate more on atomism? Can that relate to our today's science?

Here is a more comprehensive elaboration than is possible here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomism

Atomism is an ancestor of modern science. Our understanding is naturally more advanced than was possible for the ancients. Epicurean Philosophy doesn't have any problem with incorporating such progress. Truth is more important than theory.

What is the fundamental nature of reality?

Epicurus' answer would have been: Elemental particles and the void. We'd today call it mass-energy and space-time.

But the honest answer is: Really smart people are working on that with the Large Hadron Collider. Maybe they'll tell us in a few years.

Does epicurean philosophy have anything to say about creation of life?

Of the creation of life and its development Lucretius' On the Nature of Things says many things. In a nutshell: life arose by accident and the life we see around us is the most suited for the conditions. Today we know that the exact origins of life are unknown, and that it developed through evolution by natural selection (both are absolutely compatible with Epicurean Philosophy).

Can you explain The Canonics please?

Canonics (that is, the theory of knowledge in Epicurus' philosophy) is available to us through secondary sources. The originals have unfortunately been lost. Lucretius and Laertius had Epicurus' originals in hand when they were writing their works so they are taken as reliable sources.

The Canon tells us how we can know about good and evil, the world, and ourselves. It's not possible to give an exhaustive account here, but the bare bones are these:

Pleasure tells us that a thing is good, pain that another is an evil.
Observation through the senses tells us what the world is like (this is science).
And the anticipations are our in-born abilities and tendencies that nature has equipped us with (for example, our intuitive grasp of justice or fairness).

We should just stop over analyzing every thing in the universe and just live a happy life, right?

These aren't mutually exclusive things... (if they are, something is wrong in one's analysing).

Happiness, as the goal of life, is a complex thing. Certainly not the simple three step program they sell on TV. Knowledge of the universe (as in the sciences) is an important part of this, since you can't live without anxiety if you fear Nature.

What is his opinion about beginning of the world?

The world -- that is, planet Earth -- came to be because elementary particles collided and stuck together in space.

Why is Epicurus considered a materialistic philosopher?

Because he thought that the only things that ultimately exist are the elementary particles and the Void. Today we would say matter and space.

What does he think about time and its connection with space?

From his Letter to Herodotus: he said that time is RELATIVE and a relational / incidental quality of nature. Although those qualities which are incidental are not eternal, or even essential, we must not banish incidental matters from our minds. Incidental qualities do not have a material existence, nor do they exist independently in some reality that is beyond our comprehension. We must, instead, consider the incidental qualities of bodies as having exactly the character that our sensations reveal them to possess.

For example, it is important to grasp firmly that "time" neither has a material existence, nor does it exist independently, apart from bodies. Nor must we think of "time" as a general conception, such as those conceptions which are formed by reasoning in our minds. Instead, we must think of time by referring to our intuitions, our mental apprehensions formed by anticipations, and it is in this context that we speak of a "long time," or a "short time," applying our intuitions to time as we do to other incidental qualities.

In evaluating time as an incidental quality, we must not search for expressions that we may think are better than those which are in common use, and we must not believe that time has any properties other than being an incident to bodies. We must evaluate time only in accord with our intuitions or anticipations.

For indeed, we need no demonstration, but only to reflect, to see that we associate time with days and nights, and with our internal feelings, and with our state of rest. These perceptions of incidental qualities are the root of what we call "time."


Do you agree with Epicurus about sex and families?

Our evidence for Epicurus' views on these issues is either missing or contradictory. So we can't have a definite answer to this. You can be of either opinion and still within the Epicurean roof.

We should remember, though, that there were both married couples and children within the original Garden group. (In his will Epicurus makes arrangements for the care of Metrodorus' children, who must have been born in the Garden, because they were under-age at the time of his death. His will is in Laertius 16 - 21.)

What was Epicurus' sex life like? Was he married?

We know that he wasn't married, but beyond that we can't say for sure.

How are sexual relationships viewed through Epicurean Philosophy?

"(Facets such as hetero/non heterosexual, monogamy/polygamy, social care to parents/family, expectations of sexual partners)"

There are very few points where Epicurus writes about sex. He affirms that sex is a pleasure, but also cautions us that there are dangers of overindulgence (this applies to most other pleasures also). One infamous example is Sayings 51.

On the whole he seems to have been sex positive, though we have to remember that the sexual mores of his time were very different from ours. For instance, he was definitely against the practice that a youngster should have an older man as both a teacher and lover, and this was the norm in his time.

Epicurean philosophy is for all humans, so he makes no distinctions between sexual orientations. The advice would be the same for all.

There is no talk about the number of people in a marriage. He does advice us to follow the local laws, so in the context of a western European or American societies this would mean monogamy. Also, the practice of polygamy has historically been one man and several not necessarily willing women... Epicurus would be against such a marriage.

In general, Epicurus would be for social security (because the promotion of happiness is good), so he would be for taking care of one's parents and family, both social and private. There is a fragment of a letter to his mother where he wishes that she would stop sending him money, not because he couldn't use it, but so that she would have more.

With "expectations" you mean 'desires'? These should be analyzed like all other desires. And of course the expectations have to be compatible...

Most philosophers avoid the theme of sex. How to deal with this complex subject that causes us a lot of problems but is unavoidable?

Epicurus affirmed that sex is a pleasure, but like all pleasures it can have bad consequences. Like in all such cases, an individual should apply wisdom in deciding who to have sex with and when.


Is a virtuous life a satisfying life?


Laertius 132:
"Of all this the beginning and the greatest good is prudence. Wherefore prudence is a more precious thing even than philosophy; from it spring all the other virtues, for it teaches that we cannot lead a life of pleasure which is not also a life of prudence, honor, and justice; nor lead a life of prudence, honor, and justice, which is not also a life of pleasure. For the virtues have grown into one with a pleasant life, and a pleasant life is inseparable from them."

In Epicurean Philosophy virtues are patterns of behavior that are productive of pleasure. And a pleasurable life is a satisfying life.

Isn't it virtuous or satisfying to die so that others could have eudaimonia?

If it were virtuous to die for other people's eudaimonia (aristotelian term that is never properly defined), wouldn't that mean they would have to die for yours, too? In which case both would be dead...

Dying while protecting others would not be a case of dying to protect their eudaimonia... It would be case of dying to protect their lives, for example, a father protecting his children from attackers. An Epicurean would definitely do this.

Eudaimonia, as it's currently used, is an aristotelian term without any real meaning. Trying to pin down the meaning is like punching water... But one thing it does not take into account is life, since your eudaimonia can be destroyed after you have died. For an Epicurean such terms are a headache and we'd rather avoid them.

What is not virtue?

In Epicurean Philosophy virtues are patterns of behavior that produce long-term stable pleasures (in addition of being immediately pleasurable). For instance, honesty and justice are virtues because they bring with them life-enhancing results, whereas lying or criminality will lead to pain.

If a pattern of behavior doesn't produce such results, it can't be a virtue, and if it brings with it dangerous levels of pain it is a vice.

What is important if not virtue?

Virtues are important in choosing actions, since to know them means that one has studied and experienced what are, in general, the better ways to act. The application of prudent choices is easier when we know the virtues.

In the philosophical system, however, virtues aren't primary concepts. They are virtues because they produce pleasure, not the other way around. For example, Friendship is a virtue because friends are the greatest source of pleasure (and security). Pleasure is therefore the primary aspect and virtues 'merely' consequences of pleasure.

Unless I'm mistaken, Epicurean philosophy regards virtue as a merely an instrumental means to one's personal good, instead of as a constitutive means as found in the ethics of Aristotle, for instance. Do you see this as an advantage over such systems, or as a problem, or both?

Since the aristotelian etc. systems are wrong about the role of virtue and about the goal of life, the answer is "advantage".

How do you explain friendship via hedonistic egoism?

Hey, Epicurus, people often mistook you for a consequential hedonist, much like Bentham and Mill, but you also wrote about pleasures based on improving one's health and co-existing with whatever society one finds himself inside, as opposed to Mill's "experts" on pleasure. How do you explain friendship via hedonistic egoism, without having friends turn into pleasure cattle, waiting to be farmed; can friends be something you're compassionate about from an empathy standpoint? Ayn Rand thinks that friends are "evil" if they harm your health, yet most people stay in relationships for the sake of the other; not primarily for their well-being.

Friendship is a mutually beneficial relationship. It's true that it's roots lie in the benefits, but this doesn't mean that you love your friends less. An Epicurean friend is one that would die rather than let a friend suffer. You don't "farm" friends, you help each other.

"The wise man feels no more pain when being tortured himself than when his friend tortured, and will die for him; for if he betrays his friend, his whole life will be confounded by distrust and completely upset."
Sayings, 56 - 57

Difficult relationships are a thorny issue. By staying in such a relationship (often they are sexual relationships) are you actually helping the other person, or are you fostering dependence? You should help your friend, not play along. Sometimes this means support, and sometimes an intervention. In any case, gentleness is required.

It must be noted that both hedonistic egoism and utilitarianism are stunted offshoots of Epicurus' philosophy. They are incomplete, and that is why they get such strange results. Randianism is a form of hyper-egoism, and in it 'friends' are indeed nothing more than cattle.