Comparing and Contrasting the Ethics of Epicureanism and Stoicism as a Way of Life

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1919 Words
Date:  2022-04-04

Pierre Hadot, a classical philosopher, argued that ancient philosophies goal was cultivating a specific attitude about existence by a rational understanding of the human nature and its place in the universe. In his study, Louis Pojman (2011) explores moral principles that are objective and binding universally among all humans. Epicureanism and stoicism are examples of classical philosophies, generally opposed as ethical conceptions. For instance, Kant characterized them as antithetical in the Critique of Reason Practice: Epicurean support that the happy, pleasurable life is the supreme good and that virtue it would only be a means of attaining it (Williamson, 2015). Stoicism, on the other hand, would hold that virtue is the supreme good, and that happiness would be only the awareness of being virtuous. Both ethical theories challenge individuals to withdraw from the public arena and seek personal ideals of a good life (happiness), independent of the social conditions. Both Epicureanism and Stoicism are, in somehow, pessimistic about the ideal of personal fulfillment in the policy area.

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Epicurus tried to show that human action is free by the existence of atoms of the soul that somehow behaved in an unpredictable way. Thus, determinism was avoided, and free action is possible. The individual could voluntarily seek pleasures to achieve a good life. An essential condition for understanding Epicureanism, and to some extent Stoicism itself, is to define precisely "pleasure." Commonly, pleasure is identified as a positive state relationship, fundamentally linked to the satisfaction of a desire or a necessity. Happiness is then effective fruition of something pleasing to the senses. Rarely, however, states of indifference neither positively pleasurable nor painful) and much fewer states of the simple absence of pain or suffering are seen as pleasurable However, in Epicureanism, pleasure is also merely the absence of pain. Epicurus of Samos systematized and defended a current idea in Greek moral thought, namely, that pleasure is the only very intrinsically valuable, and therefore the supreme good.

The Stoic doctrine is divided and three parts: a Physics, a logic and a moral. In the Stoic philosophical perspective are interconnected, and physics cannot be conceived separately from morals (Matthew, 2013). Stoicism comprises a supreme reason, nature, which is the cause and determination of everything that happens. There is an immanent harmony in the universe, an expression of the rationality of which nature is a carrier. Nature is the universal life (God himself). Stoicism is premised on the proposition that the whole world resembles an immense living being, whose organs are the various individuals and whose soul is God. God is the immanent reason of the universe. The universe, whose body is God, is a perfect organism whose evil exists only in function of good. Man being an organ of this immense organism, it is natural for man to submit to his destiny.

Epicurus says that natural phenomena are explained in natural ways and have their cause there. His explanations are not intended to scientific satisfaction but have a single purpose: to bring tranquility to men. Borrowing from the ideas of Democritus (materialistic physics), Epicurus says that nothing comes from nothing, but it is formed from elements that exist in advance: the notion of atoms arises. The atomism of Democritus thus eliminates belief in a creator God, since atoms are eternal. Moreover, it does not fit in Democritus, the idea of a God who intervenes in the world, who punishes and rewards. The gods refrain from penetrating the world because they would be exposed to the constant movements of atoms and would no longer be invulnerable. For Epicurus, the gods have never dealt with the world and with men, we have nothing to fear or supplicate. Stoicism argues that Nature is what determines what we are and how we act. In his study, Ayn Rand explores the principle of objectivism which contends of an existence of a reality not controlled by the mind. Facts or truths precede the conscience. (Rand, 2005).The Stoic nature is theorized as divine in its eternal normativity, in its predicted ordering and constitutive force of beings. Without the presence of the mythical deities, it is abstract in its sacredness and supports the universality of man as to the use of the logos, since it is cosmic and pertinent to all beings, and therefore to human nature itself. Physics maintains the notion of equality, and forms, in principle, the mode of being an action of people. Every man belongs to the cosmos, and every city must be the expression of the universal way of being. The fundamental nucleus in Stoicism may be the conception that divine and natural law, common to all citizens, is the paradigm by which all human beings have their constitutive principle and on which they base their conduct (Pojman, 2011).

Epicureanism has as its primary objective to make the man happy, freeing him of his anguish and restlessness. Ataraxia is the name given to this process of "salvation." According to him, religion is a source of distress and science alone is capable of dissipating anguish and providing tranquility to man. Religion is the source of all anxieties precisely because it encourages superstitious and mythical explanations of natural phenomena. Epicurus distinguishes between types of desires, namely the natural, which are healthy and moderate, of the passions derived from pleasures such as lust. The good life consists of control temperance of appetites, in the cultivation of intellectual, philosophical, conversation with friends. Friendship is fundamental to good living. Such a moral ideal is attained in ataraxia, which consists of pleasures natural and moderate. This is the happy life and not any entity based exclusively on sensitive pleasures.

Stoic logic expresses the idea of a harmonious cosmos in which all events and all beings are connected, united by a rational destiny (Pojman, 2011). The theory of knowledge made a distinction between mental representation, assent, and understanding: apprehension of the idea. Science is a bond of knowledge of human reason of its kinship with the divine reason, the agreement with nature. Stoicism understood happiness as an attitude of will. Man is happy when he wants things to be what they are. The idea expressed in this attitude is that one must live according to nature, being a rational being, consenting to the rationality of destiny. Freedom is understood as assent to this determination, to recognize it as rational and its approval as an expression of its rational nature.

Epicurus argues that no one should hesitate to dedicate themselves to philosophy as a young man, nor tired of doing it after being old because nobody is ever too much young or too old to achieve the health of the spirit. Who states that the time to dedicate oneself to philosophy has not yet arrived, or that it already passed, it is as if it were said that it has not yet arrived or it's time to be happy. In this way, philosophy is useful to both young people and the old: for those who are aging feel rejuvenated through the grateful remembrance of the things that are gone, and the young power grow old without being afraid of things to come; it is necessary, therefore, to take care of the things that bring happiness, since, being this present, we have everything, and without it we do everything to achieve it. He encouraged people to practice and cultivate his teachings, in the certainty that they constitute the fundamental elements of a happy life.

Since everything that exists is formed of immortal atoms, the soul is also immortal. It presents, however, a difference: atoms are eternal, but the soul is a fleeting grouping of atoms. Thus, the inseparable soul of the body dies with it. However, to fear death is foolishness, because death, when it decomposes our soul, deprives us of all sensation. For example: while we live, death is absent, when it is present, we will not be. To avoid determinism, Epicurus created the idea of clinamen. The atoms that move by their weight, parallel at the same speed, are subject to an exception about the great law governing their fall, these capricious deviations are that they form individuals and worlds and are also responsible for the freedom of the human soul.

For Epicurus, all things are made up of atoms. Atoms are not attainable by the senses; they represent bodies and their movement. The existence of atoms is inferred from the observation of the permeability of bodies to cold, heat, humidity and sounds. These atoms have weight, this weight is responsible for their fall straight, however, by acting of their power, they can deviate slightly in space at any time and point, in a casual way, thus giving rise to the formation of bodies. Atoms are eternal, have no origin or beginning, have no weight, shape, and size, are born and move eternally giving birth to infinite worlds. On one process of palingenesia, the atoms return to the vacuum and form new bodies and new worlds.

Stoicism brought the Christianity ideology, which comprises an ordered world with clear or at least intelligible laws that must and can be understood. The relation of these laws to humanity can be understood in the figure of retribution, wise decision: good reward. Wrong decision: punishment.It is precisely in Stoic philosophy in counterpoint to Epicureanism that this view of the universe with laws that must be respected, because they understand the divine design, are justified and related to the idea of retribution. In the thought of Stoicism disrespecting these laws comprises accepting the revolt of nature, understood in catastrophes, infirmities, and deaths (Graver, 2009).

Epicurus, in turn, contrasts the notion as a fruit of mythology, human invention, not to admit responsibility for free choice of his deeds. And it is important to note that Epicurus sets the battle line on which the Stoics will base the legitimacy of their concepts. Epicurus will repudiate this kind of notion as a false assumption, a vulgar belief that the gods actively intervene to do harm or to render benefits to men in return for their behavior (Robertson, 2010). Indeed, Epicurus says: "Those who are accustomed to always exercise their virtues, welcome those who are like them and consider as strange everything that is different."

The philosophy of Epicurus is understood as the pursuit of happiness by removing the obstacles thrown up by politics, religion and social relations, which can be emphasized in the memory of its fourfold remedy: desires should not cause fear; there is no need to fear death; pleasure is accessible to man, and it is possible to endure pain. Stoicism, on the other hand, argues that the just measure contemplated in nature is what one should seek in political and private life. Stoicism, on the other hand, claims that in life, there are things that depend on us as human beings, like our decisions and others that do not, such as health, death, etc. As the human person possesses his judgments and passions, the object of these passions is only valued in function of the judgment that is made of it. In this way, the importance of things comes only from our opinion. If we dominate our opinions, we will be masters of the universe.

Works Cited

Pojman, Louis P. Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, 7th Edition: Wadsworth, 2011, 39.

Boss, Judith Perspectives on Ethics, 2nd Edition: McGraw-Hill, 2003, 29.

Sharpe, Matthew. "Stoic Virtue Ethics." Handbook of Virtue Ethics, 2013, 28-41

Williamson, D. (1 April 2015). Kant's Theory of Emotion: Emotional Universalism. Palgrave Macmillan US. p. 17

Graver, Margaret (2009). Stoicism and Emotion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Warren, James (2002). Epicurus and Democritean Ethi...

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Comparing and Contrasting the Ethics of Epicureanism and Stoicism as a Way of Life. (2022, Apr 04). Retrieved from

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