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All notes on Epicurus (Sept. 30 & Oct 2, 2013)


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A presentation for Philosophy 102 at the University of British Columbia. This is the first part of the Epicurus presentation.

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All notes on Epicurus (Sept. 30 & Oct 2, 2013)

  1. 1. Presentation licensedPresentation licensed CC-BY CanadaCC-BY Canada, except images licensed otherwise, except images licensed otherwise PHIL 102 Christina Hendricks Fall 2013 EPICURUSEPICURUS 341-271 BCE341-271 BCE Socrates: 469-399 BCESocrates: 469-399 BCE Plato: 427-348 BCEPlato: 427-348 BCE
  2. 2. Macedonia & Greece, 336 BCE licensedlicensed CC-BY-SACC-BY-SA Athens conquered by Philip of Macedon, 338 BCE
  3. 3. Macedonian empire under Alexander the Great, 334-323 BCE LicensedLicensed CC-BY-SACC-BY-SA
  4. 4. Epicurus: epistemology • Empiricist • the ultimate source of all knowledge is information from the senses (see, e.g., • sensation occurs through “films” of atoms coming off material bodies and entering our bodies
  5. 5. Epicurus: physics • Reality is made up only of matter and void--nothing immaterial (see • universe is eternal--nothing can emerge from nothing (see • Some material must be eternal, but it’s not large bodies; must be smaller parts • There are “atoms” as smallest parts of matter, indivisible (or else could dissolve into nothing) • Atoms exist eternally
  6. 6. Epicurus on the gods & death • The gods do not control the universe; it works on its own through principles of physics • There is no such thing as an immaterial, immortal soul • We should not fear death (“Letter to Menoeceus” para. 125; Principal Doctrines (2))
  7. 7. All of this info about physics, gods, death is to help people live the best life • Best life has the “greatest good”: pleasure (for oneself) • ultimate end/goal of all action--everything we do is for the sake of reaching this • sought as intrinsic good--good in itself, not just as instrumental good (as means to something else good) • serves as the “standard for judging the goodness of everything” (“Ltr to M,” para 129)
  8. 8. Most pleasurable state: ataraxia • Ataraxia: Lack of physical or mental pain, not having unfulfilled desires, sense of peace and tranquility (see, e.g., “Letter to M,” para. 128, 132) • This is a “static” pleasure, as opposed to a “kinetic” one • “kinetic” pleasures: pleasure gotten while in the act of fulfilling desires • kinetic pleasures require that one also has pain (desire being fulfilled), and it may take significant work & trouble to keep getting them
  9. 9. How to have the best life Natural desires Cultivate and fulfill mainly certain types of desiresCultivate and fulfill mainly certain types of desires Vain desires come from “baseless opinion” (Pr Doct #29) Unnecessary Always unnecessary; insatiable; troublesome to fulfill (LM, para 131, Pr Doc #15) (e.g., power, wealth, fame, immortality) Necessary Need not bring pain if not fulfilled, b/c can get rid of desire fairly easily; can be troublesome to fulfill (Pr Doc #26) (e.g., luxurious food & clothing, (sometimes) sex) Bring pain if not fulfilled; necessary for happiness, health or life itself; naturally limited & easy to fulfill (LM para 128, Pr Doc #15, 21) (e.g., food, shelter, rest, friendship)
  10. 10. How to have the best life • Aim to fulfill (mostly) natural and necessary desires • Enjoy plain meals & simple lifestyle (Letter to M, para. 131) • Fulfill natural and unnecessary desires when it is easy to do so, but don’t cultivate such desires in self (Letter to M, para. 131) • Don’t fulfill vain desires at all
  11. 11. How to have the best life • Be sure to cultivate and preserve friendships (Princ Doctrines #27-28, 39-40) • Why would having friends be so important to happiness? • Note that the value of friendship, like anything else, is for one’s own pleasure • But it’s possible to get pleasure from really caring about others for themselves, not just b/c having friends is good for you (& genuine care for others is probably necessary for preserving friendship)
  12. 12. How to have the best life • Live “prudently, honorably, and justly”; “the virtues are inseparable from a happy life” (Letter to M, para 132; also Princ Doctrines #5) • Justice: living according to agreements in a society (e.g., laws) that actually lead to mutual benefit (Princ Doctr #31-33, 36-38) • Why can’t one be unjust and happy? (Princ Doctr #34-35)
  13. 13. How can philosophy help us live the best life? • Not just providing arguments for how to reduce pain/increase pleasure, but also encouraging people to guide their lives by these • The “principal doctrines” appear to be short sayings that people might be able to remember--keep these things in mind as much as possible so can live by them • Groups of friends could support/encourage each other to put these ideas into action in their lives