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Epicureans And Stoics Compared

While both the Epicureans and the Stoics emphasize ataraxia, the Epicurean view of the highest human good, or eudaimonia (happiness), differs from the Stoic view. Epicurus believed that excellence is natural in the sense that we naturally seek pleasure and avoid pain. This contrasts with the Stoic view of nature and thus of excellence. The process leading to eudaimonia, then, is fundamentally different for the Stoics.

Stoic ethics differ from Epicurean ethics in at least three ways. First, their views of nature differ. For the Stoics, self-preservation is the first natural instinct while pleasure plays this role for the Epicureans. This difference affects their views of human excellence (areté). Epicurus saw pleasure and excellence as inseparable while for the Stoics, self-preservation leads to valuing reason for itself, which leads to the accordance of a special value to excellence.

The second difference between Stoics and Epicureans involves their views of the emotions. For the Epicureans, it was not necessary to eliminate pathos. As Gisela Striker notes, the Epicurean realizes that only a few desires are needed for a pleasant life and they can be easily satisfied (p. 100). In the Epicurean state of ataraxia one does not avoid desires, but one is not bothered by the inability to satisfy one's desires either. As such, the Epicurean is "unperturbed" (p. 100.). The Stoic, on the other hand, is "unperturbable" because he or she has completely eliminated pathos (p. 100).

Finally, the Epicureans and Stoics differ on the role of excellence. For the Stoics, excellence alone is sufficient for eudaimonia, and it results directly from reason. The Epicureans attach pleasure to excellence, but this does not lead to eudaimonia. Rather, the rational person recognizes that the highest form of pleasure (areté) is ataraxia. And actions performed from the state of ataraxia are the actions of the eudaimon (happy) individual. This individual is tranquil, and she or he has good reasons for feeling tranquil.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ephemeris to Evolution - Historical BackgroundEpicureanism - Epicurus On Pleasure, Epicurus On Human Excellence, Epicureans And Stoics Compared, Other Aspects Of Epicureanism