Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition

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Absolutely amazing course. Very excellent teacher. She is eloquent, knowledgable and effective at teaching.

Mind in an atomistic world | Philosophy of Mind in Antiquity | Taylor & Francis Group

The only sad part is that she only has 2 courses on Coursera. Ancient Philosophy: Aristotle and His Successors. Enroll for Free. From the lesson. Epicureans return to the atomism of Democritus, and find no purpose in nature.

Philosophy is a therapeutic practice that removes fear and anxiety and provides us with the tranquility ataraxia of the gods. Introduction to Epicurus Nature and the Gods Therapeutic Philosophy Death Is Nothing To Us What's Wrong With Death? Taught By. Try the Course for Free. Epicurus developed an unsparingly materialistic metaphysics, empiricist epistemology, and hedonistic ethics. Epicurus taught that the basic constituents of the world are atoms, uncuttable bits of matter, flying through empty space, and he tried to explain all natural phenomena in atomic terms.

Epicurus rejected the existence of Platonic forms and an immaterial soul, and he said that the gods have no influence on our lives. Epicurus also thought skepticism was untenable, and that we could gain knowledge of the world relying upon the senses. He taught that the point of all one's actions was to attain pleasure conceived of as tranquility for oneself, and that this could be done by limiting one's desires and by banishing the fear of the gods and of death.

Epicurus' gospel of freedom from fear proved to be quite popular, and communities of Epicureans flourished for centuries after his death. Epicurus was born around B. He was about 19 when Aristotle died, and he studied philosophy under followers of Democritus and Plato. Epicurus founded his first philosophical schools in Mytilene and Lampsacus, before moving to Athens around B. There Epicurus founded the Garden, a combination of philosophical community and school. The residents of the Garden put Epicurus' teachings into practice.


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Epicurus died from kidney stones around or B. After Epicurus' death, Epicureanism continued to flourish as a philosophical movement.

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Communities of Epicureans sprang up throughout the Hellenistic world; along with Stoicism , it was one of the major philosophical schools competing for people's allegiances. Epicureanism went into decline with the rise of Christianity. Certain aspects of Epicurus' thought were revived during the Renaissance and early modern periods, when reaction against scholastic neo-Aristotelianism led thinkers to turn to mechanistic explanations of natural phenomena. Epicurus was a voluminous writer, but almost none of his own work survives. A likely reason for this is that Christian authorities found his ideas ungodly.

Diogenes Laertius, who probably lived in the third century CE , wrote a book Lives of the Philosophers, which includes three of Epicurus' letters in its recounting of the life and teachings of Epicurus. These three letters are brief summaries of major areas of Epicurus' philosophy: the Letter to Herodotus, which summarizes his metaphysics, the Letter to Pythocles, which gives atomic explanations for meteorological phenomena, and the Letter to Menoeceus, which summarizes his ethics.

It also includes the Principal Doctrines, 40 sayings which deal mainly with ethical matters. Because of the absence of Epicurus' own writings, we have to rely on later writers to reconstruct Epicurus' thought. Two of our most important sources are the Roman poet Lucretius c. Cicero was an adherent of the skeptical academy , who wrote a series of works setting forth the major philosophical systems of his day, including Epicureanism.

Another major source is the essayist Plutarch c. However, both Cicero and Plutarch were very hostile toward Epicureanism, so they must be used with care, since they often are less than charitable toward Epicurus, and may skew his views to serve their own purposes. Although the major outlines of Epicurus' thought are clear enough, the lack of sources means many of the details of his philosophy are still open to dispute.

Epicurus believes that the basic constituents of the world are atoms which are uncuttable, microscopic bits of matter moving in the void which is simply empty space. Ordinary objects are conglomerations of atoms. Furthermore, the properties of macroscopic bodies and all of the events we see occurring can be explained in terms of the collisions, reboundings, and entanglements of atoms.

Epicurus' metaphysics starts from two simple points: 1 we see that there are bodies in motion, and 2 nothing comes into existence from what does not exist.

Epicurus takes the first point to be simply a datum of experience. The second point is a commonplace of ancient Greek philosophy, derived from the Principle of Sufficient Reason the principle that for everything which occurs there is a reason or explanation for why it occurs, and why this way rather than that. First, because bodies move, there must be empty space for them to move in, and Epicurus calls this empty space 'void.

EPICUREANISM: Ancient Answers to Modern Questions" - Marc Nelson - TEDxOgden

However, Epicurus thinks that this process of division cannot go on indefinitely, because otherwise bodies would dissolve away into nothing. Also, there must be basic and unchangeable building blocks of matter in order to explain the regularities in nature. These non-compound bodies are atoms--literally, 'uncuttables. Other things--such as colors, time, and justice--are ultimately explicable as attributes of bodies.

Because Epicurus believes that nothing comes into existence from nothing, he thinks that the universe has no beginning, but has always existed, and will always exist. Atoms, too, as the basic building blocks of all else, cannot come into existence, but have always existed. Our particular cosmos, however, is only a temporary agglomeration of atoms, and it is only one of an infinite number of such cosmoi, which come into existence and then dissolve away. Against Aristotle, Epicurus argues that the universe is unlimited in size.

If the universe were limited in size, says Epicurus, you could go to the end of it, stick your fist out, and where your fist was located would be the new 'limit' of the universe. Of course, this process could be reiterated an endless number of times. Since the universe is unlimited in size, there must also be an unlimited number of atoms and an infinite amount of void. If the number of atoms were limited, then the 'density' of atoms in any region would effectively be zero, and there would be no macroscopic bodies, as there evidently are. And there must be an unlimited amount of void, since without a limitless amount of void, the infinite number of atoms would be unable to move.

Up to this point, Epicurus is largely following the thought of Democritus, a pre-Socratic philosopher and one of the inventors of atomism. However, he modifies Democritus' atomism in at least three important ways. The first is that Epicurus thinks that atoms have weight. Like Democritus, Epicurus believes that atoms have the properties of size, shape, and resistance. Democritus explains all atomic motion as the result of previous atomic collisions, plus the inertia of atoms.

Aristotle, however, criticizes Democritus on this point, saying that Democritus has not explained why it is that atoms move at all, rather than simply standing still. Epicurus seems to be answering this criticism when he says that atoms do have a natural motion of direction--'downward'--even though there is no bottom to the universe.

This natural motion is supposed to give an explanation for why atoms move in the first place. Also, Epicurus thinks that it is evident that bodies do tend to travel down, all else being equal, and he thinks that positing weight as an atomic property accounts for this better than thinking all atomic motion is the result of past collisions and inertia.

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The second modification of Democritus' views is the addition of the 'swerve. One reason for this swerve is that it is needed to explain why there are atomic collisions. The natural tendency of atoms is to fall straight downward, at uniform velocity. If this were the only natural atomic motion, the atoms never would have collided with one another, forming macroscopic bodies. As Lucretius puts it, they would 'fall downward, like drops of rain, through the deep void. If the laws of atomic motion are deterministic, then the past positions of the atoms in the universe, plus these laws, determine everything that will occur, including human action.

Cicero reports that Epicurus worries that, if it has been true from eternity that, e. The third difference between Epicurus and Democritus has to do with their attitudes toward the reality of sensible properties. Democritus thinks that, in reality, only atoms and the void exist, and that sensible qualities such as sweetness, whiteness, and the like exist only 'by convention.

The sensible qualities that we think bodies have, like sweetness, are not really in the object at all, but are simply subjective states of the percipient's awareness produced by the interaction of bodies with our sense-organs. This is shown, thinks Democritus, by the fact that the same body appears differently to different percipients depending on their bodily constitution, e. From this, Democritus derives skeptical conclusions.

He is pessimistic about our ability to gain any knowledge about the world on the basis of our senses, since they systematically deceive us about the way the world is.

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Epicurus wants to resist these pessimistic conclusions. He argues that properties like sweetness, whiteness, and such do not exist at the atomic level--individual atoms are not sweet or white--but that these properties are nonetheless real. These are properties of macroscopic bodies, but the possession of these properties by macroscopic bodies are explicable in terms of the properties of and relations amongst the individual atoms that make up bodies. Epicurus thinks that bodies have the capability to cause us to have certain types of experiences because of their atomic structure, and that such capabilities are real properties of the bodies.

Similar considerations apply for properties like "being healthy," "being deadly," and "being enslaved. And these sorts of properties are also relational properties, not intrinsic ones. For example, cyanide is deadly--not deadly per se, but deadly for human beings and perhaps for other types of organisms. Nonetheless, its deadliness for us is still a real property of the cyanide, albeit a relational one. One important aspect of Epicurus' philosophy is his desire to replace teleological goal-based explanations of natural phenomena with mechanistic ones. His main target is mythological explanations of meteorological occurrences and the like in terms of the will of the gods.

Because Epicurus wishes to banish the fear of the gods, he insists that occurrences like earthquakes and lightning can be explained entirely in atomic terms and are not due to the will of the gods. Epicurus is also against the intrinsic teleology of philosophers like Aristotle. Teeth appear to be well-designed for the purpose of chewing. Aristotle thinks that this apparent purposiveness in nature cannot be eliminated, and that the functioning of the parts of organisms must be explained by appealing to how they contribute to the functioning of the organism as a whole.

Other philosophers, such as the Stoics, took this apparent design as evidence for the intelligence and benevolence of God.