2 minute read


Other Aspects Of Epicureanism

The Epicureans were noted for their emphasis on physics. They were materialists and, in particular, followers of Democritean atomism. Sextus reports that "Epicurus said that all sensibles are true and that every presentation comes from something existing and is of the same sort as that which stimulates sense-perception" (Inwood and Gerson, A53.63). This belief drove his empiricism, which depended upon the existence of void (or space) and bodies. The bodies, in turn, were compounds of atoms, which were not "subject to dissolution in any way or fashion. Consequently, the principles of bodies must be atomic natures" (Inwood and Gerson, A2.40–41).

Epicureanism is not known for its politics. Epicurus showed very little interest in politics and, as a result, had very little to say about it. In fact, Plutarch reports that Epicurus urged his "adherents to avoid public life and express disgust for those who participate in it … providing there is no fear of beatings and punishments" (Inwood and Gerson, A35). Epicurus does, however, appear to have hewed to the idea of a harm principle. The thirty-first of his "principal doctrines," as reported by Diogenes Laertius, claims that the "justice of nature is a pledge of reciprocal usefulness, [i.e.,] neither to harm one another nor be harmed" (Inwood and Gerson, A5.XXXI). This view lends itself well to a liberal social contract theory, though no such theory seems to have ever been proposed by Epicurus or his immediate followers.


Cicero, Marcus Tullius. De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum. Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Inwood, Brad. Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Inwood, Brad, and L. P. Gerson, trans. Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1988.

Irwin, Terence. "Virtue, Praise and Success: Stoic Responses to Aristotle." The Monist 73 (1990): 59–79.

Jones, Howard. The Epicurean Tradition. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.

Mitsis, Phillip. Epicurus' Ethical Theory: The Pleasures of Invulnerability. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988.

Osler, Margaret J., ed. Atoms, Pneuma, and Tranquillity: Epicurean and Stoic Themes in European Thought. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Osler, Margaret J., and Letizia A. Panizza. "Introduction." In Atoms, Pneuma, and Tranquillity: Epicurean and Stoic Themes in European Thought. Edited by Margaret J. Osler. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Reesor, Margaret E. The Nature of Man in Early Stoic Philosophy. London: Duckworth, 1989.

Rosenbaum, Stephen E. "Epicurus on Pleasure and the Complete Life." The Monist 73 (1990): 21–41.

Striker, Gisela. "Ataraxia: Happiness as Tranquillity." The Monist 73 (1990): 97–110.

Tim Duvall

Additional topics

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