The Pathos of Politics (14-1) Epicurus


There is no such thing as justice in the abstract; it is merely a compact between men. ~ Epicurus

Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BCE) was a matterist, following in the steps of Democritus (460–370 BCE), who claimed that the universe, infinite and eternal, was composed of discrete atoms moving in empty space. (Matterism is the philosophical folly that actuality is reality, that the material world is all that there is.)

Matterism was a stock-in-trade of several Hellenistic philosophers, including the Stoics. Matterism is disdained by those who believe in divinity and transcendental souls.

He who has peace of mind disturbs neither himself nor another. ~ Epicurus

Epicurus taught that the purpose of philosophy was to attain a blissful existence. To Epicurus, pleasure and pain are the measures of good and evil. Epicureanism was the progenitor of 18th-century utilitarianism: that proper policies provide the greatest benefit to the most people.

Not what we have but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance. ~ Epicurus

Epicurus’ hedonism was a natural outgrowth of his matterism. Though Epicureanism is associated with sensuality, Epicurus was a minimalist in this regard: more concerned with not experiencing pain than pursuing pleasure.

If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires. ~ Epicurus

Though the philosophic loci were polar, the restraint of Epicurus aligned with contemporaneous Stoicism.

The wealth required by Nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity. ~ Epicurus

Though Epicureanism had later political implications, Epicurus advised abstinence from politics, which he viewed as a formula for frustration. His was an appropriate response in facing a changing societal order in which citizens of city-states had lost control of their destinies.

Of all the ancient Greek philosophies, Epicureanism was the only one that achieved lasting popularity. Epicurus’ followers formed their own communities in a social movement that lasted for 7 centuries throughout the European world.