The same goal which was aimed at in Stoicism was also approached, from a diametrically opposite position, in the system founded about the same time by Epicurus, of the deme Gargettus in Attica (342-268), who brought it to completion himself.
Epicureanism, like Stoicism, is connected with previous systems.
Like Stoicism, it is also practical in its ends, proposing to find in reason and knowledge the secret of a happy life, and admitting abstruse learning only where it serves the ends of practical wisdom. Hence, logic (called by Epicurus (kanonikon), or the doctrine of canons of truth) is made entirely subservient to physics, physics to ethics.
The standards of knowledge and canons of truth in theoretical matters are the impressions of the senses, which are true and indisputable, together with the presentations formed from such impressions, and opinions extending beyond those impressions, in so far as they are supported or not contradicted by the evidence of the senses.
In practical questions the feelings of pleasure and pain are the tests. Epicurus's physics, in which he follows in essentials the materialistic system of Democritus, are intended to refer all phenomena to a natural cause, in order that a knowledge of nature may set men free from the bondage of disquieting superstitions.
In ethics he followed within certain limits the Cyrenaic doctrine, conceiving the highest good to be happiness, and happiness to be found in pleasure, to which the natural impulses of every being are directed.
But the aim is not with him, as it is with the Cyrenaics, the pleasure of the moment, but the enduring condition of pleasure, which, in its essence, is freedom from the greatest of evils, pain.
Pleasures and pains are, however, distinguished not merely in degree, but in kind.
The renunciation of a pleasure or endurance of a pain is often a means to a greater pleasure; and since pleasures of sense are subordinate to the pleasures of the mind, the undisturbed peace of the mind is a higher good than the freedom of the body from pain.
Virtue is desirable not for itself, but for the sake of pleasure of mind, which it secures by freeing people from trouble and fear and moderating their passions and appetites.
The cardinal virtue is prudence, which is shown by true insight in calculation the consequences of our actions as regards pleasure or pain.
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