Epicurus (341-270 BCE)
a Greek philosopher, was born on the island of Samos. In 306 he moved to Athens for his required military training of 2 years. His home garden was turned into a school (known as “The Garden”) where he taught his philosophy. His followers who came from all over Greece and Asia Minor were known as “the philosophers of the garden.” Unlike the Academy of Plato and the Lyceum of Aristotle “The Garden” admitted women.
The Epicurean philosophy was to secure tranquillity. Epicurus maintained that pleasure was “the freedom from pain and fear”. Intellectual pleasures were more important than the sensual ones but essentially pleasure was what humans should strive for. The greatest sources of fear were religion and death. He taught that if we conquered our fear of gods, death and the afterlife we could achieve true happiness.
Epicurus did believe in gods but claimed that they did not interfere with the affairs of the human world. Lucretius who was his most distinguished disciple followed the doctrines of Epicurus and his poem “On the Nature of Things” expounds the Epicurean philosophy.
On the downside, Epicurus was not at all interested in science and his followers added nothing to his basic doctrine. They found no interest in anything but individual happiness.
He did seem a genuinely kind person though. When he was dying of prostatitis (a very painful condition in his case) he wrote affectionate letters to friends, one asking that the children of one of his first followers Metrodorus (having died) be taken care of. Epicurus made provisions in his will for the care of the children. He also left “The Garden” and some funds to trustees of the school. Remaining monies were to be used to honour his family and to celebrate his birthday yearly.
A final noteworthy act was to grant freedom to his slaves.
“It must be admitted that the fundamental disturbance of the human soul springs first of all from men’s considering phenomena as caused by human beings to whom they attribute will, action, and motive power; then by the fact that men, believing in myths, will always fear something terrible, everlasting punishment as certain or probable, and are even frightened of the insensibility of death, as if we should be conscious of it; and finally by the fact that, as a result, men base all these fears not on mature opinions, but on irrational fancies, so that they are more disturbed by fear of the unknown than by facing facts. Peace of mind lies in being delivered from all these fears.”
“Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not. Why should I fear that which can only exist when I do not?”
“It is impossible for someone to dispel his fears about the most important matters if he doesn’t know the nature of the universe but still gives some credence to myths. So without the study of nature there is no enjoyment of pure pleasure.”
A History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russell
The Best of Humanism – R.E Greeley