Epicureanism in a nutshell

What it’s all about: the chief beliefs of the Epicureans…..

…..Moderation, enjoyment of life, tranquility, friendship, and lack of fear

With comments by the editor…..

1. The greatest objective in life is happiness, peace of mind and tranquility (ataraxia in Greek), freedom from fear and anxiety.

2. Anxiety is worse than bodily pain. Present suffering soon passes; anxiety lasts a long time. (Comment: and pharmaceuticals only mask it).

3. The quality of pleasure is more important than the quantity.

4. Fear causes mental anguish. Epicureanism seeks to reduce, even abolish, fear.

5. Do not be afraid of the gods: they do not concern themselves with human problems; nor do they reward or punish you in this world or when you die. There is neither a Heaven nor a Hell. (Comment: Heaven and hell were invented to offer hope to the hope-less and as a means of frightening the general populace into compliance. No wonder kings through the ages have loved the idea).

6. Do not fear death: life is feeling or sensation; when life ends, there is no feeling. Death does not hurt. (Comment: Epicurus believed that man is a bundle of atoms. You have eternal life only in so far as your atoms are recycled forever in a myriad of forms).

7. Do not fear Nature: Nature is indifferent; the universe is but the motion and the mingling of atoms.

8. Every pleasure in itself is good and every pain is bad, but some pains should be put up with for the sake of future pleasure, and some pleasures should be forgone because they could lead to future pain.

9. Live simply and prudently, with self-control and moderation. Seek simple pleasures, those that satisfy natural and necessary desires, chief of which are food, drink, clothing, shelter,friendship and love. (Comment: the idea that Epicureanism is tantamount to hedonism and self-indulgence is a piece of mischief invented by the early Christians and perpetuated by the Roman Catholic church today).

10. Seeking luxuries (extravagant food, excessive drink or sex) creates anxiety in our minds and disturbance in our bodies.

11. Avoid excess of all kinds; simple pleasures are preferable to painful excesses.

12. Make and cultivate friends: they provide security and pleasant conversation.

13. Avoid upsetting and offending people and take no part in the activities of the polis (body politic). (Comment: Epicurus and his friends stayed in their famous Garden,which survived in Athens for nearly six hundred years, and refused to be come involved in politics. Today we may not agree with this, but we can nevertheless create our own types of “Garden” with our friends, nurturing and protecting our values, being good citizens, putting forward well-researched arguments and avoiding giving offense).

14. Make agreements with others (laws), so that we do not disturb one another. (Comment: Epicurus would have agreed that laws should be made to protect people’s safety and security, but not to forcibly change their natural behaviour. In this he was a fore-runner of libertarianism).

15. There is no absolute right or wrong, justice or injustice. Justice is simply what society agrees to, and can differ from community to community. [cultural relativism].

16. Live justly and obey the laws. Thus you avoid the anxiety of wondering if you will be caught and punished.

17. When you are young, think about the good times that lie ahead. Do not fear the future. Try not to fret about things you cannot control.

18. When you are old, think about the good times you have had. That will make up for the annoying pain involved in getting older.

19. When enough security against other people is achieved, if one has enough power and material wealth as a base, then one can have the safety of a quiet life in tranquility, apart from the crowd.

20. Mental pleasure is better than bodily pleasure. Keep educating yourself, keep your mind alive.

Some well-chosen words:

“Let us live while we are alive.” — Epicurus

Comment: Amen to that!

…and a letter to Menoeceus from Epicurus:

Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young alike ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come. So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed towards attaining it.

Epicurus was not alone. Gautama Buddha thought along similar lines:

“The ending of desire is the end of suffering.” — The Third Noble Truth


Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then how can there be evil? — Attributed to Epicurus


“Epicurus developed a system of philosophy and a way of living that deserve our respect and understanding, perhaps even our allegiance.” — D.S. Hutchinson


“Happiness is not getting what you want; it is wanting what you have.” — Professor Andrew Clark


“The mind of the bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract.” — Oliver Wendell-Holmes, quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune