(Greek philosopher, born in Samos in 341 ВС, died in Athens in 270 ВС)
Before reading the text discuss the following questions in class:
1. What do you know about the Epicurean way of life?
2. Do you believe that right living can give you calmness of thought?
3. Is it essential for a philosopher to have a good calm life so that he can contemplate over its problems? If possible, prove your point with some examples from the lives of world-famous philosophers.
Epicures is a Greek materialist atheist philosopher. His philosophy is the highest point in the development of the atomic materialism in ancient Greece. He continued the line of Democritus, developing his teaching further. Proceeding from Democritus’ atomic theory, he introduced an essentially new element into it.
According to Democritus, the movement of atoms in the void is caused by mechanical inward necessity. Epicurus believed this movement to be conditioned by the inner property of an atom, i. e. the weight. The number of atoms is infinite, but the number of shapes is limited, as atoms cannot possess heavy weights. Epicures supposed that the atoms spontaneously deviate from the straight path they travel in the world. This enabled him to furnish a deeper concept of the origin of the universe and all things in it. His assumption introduced an element of spontaneity and this, to a certain extent, eliminated the fatalism of Democritus who denied any chance whatsoever. Epicures’ doctrine of knowledge and ethics are based on the materialist proposition of atomism. The aim of knowledge to Epicures is to set man free of ignorance and superstition, fear of gods and death.
Lucian, renowned writer of antiquity, left interesting testimony concerning the struggle of materialism and idealism of those days. In a satire against Alexander, a reactionary ideologist, he wrote, “Alexander and Epicures fought a war with neither truce nor herald, and this was natural.
Whom else could the fraud, lover of all kinds of fancy tales about miracles, and the laws of nature have more reason to fight against than Epicures, who studied the nature of things and was the only man who knew the truth about it”. According to Lucian, the followers of Plato and Pythagoras were among the opponents of Epicures. Alexander called for the destruction of Epicures and publicly burnt his Basic Principles.
Epicures is known as the founder of the Epicurean school. The main task of philosophy for him is to create ethics, i. e. the doctrine of conduct leading to happiness. He taught that “pleasure” was the natural aim and highest good, but a pleasure which consisted of right living that led to tranquillity of mind and body. The idea that “good living” was the pleasure to be sought was a corruption of his teaching. Epicures’ ethics opposed religious superstitions which discourage the dignity of every person. And the later thinkers of antiquity highly honoured the thoughts and the ascetic way of life of the philosopher.