Epicurean ethics

Candidates for the first thinkers to form these views, as well as the idea of a non-physical " agent-causal " libertarianism, include DemocritusAristotleEpicurusChrysippusand Carneades After a brief review of the history, we will also look at the arguments of modern classicists and historians of philosophy who have scrutinized the textual evidence for each of these philosophers. SharplesDon FowlerA. All of these modern analyses make implicit or explicit comparisons to sophisticated modern ideas of determinism and libertarianism.

Epicurean ethics

To hide this material, click on the Teacher or Normal link. The complete conception of the will according to Epicurus comprises two elements, a complex atomic movement which has the characteristic of spontaneity, that is, is withdrawn from the necessity of mechanical causation: Cyril Bailey translation Cyril Bailey In Bailey agreed with Giussani that the atoms of the mind-soul provide a break in the continuity of Epicurean ethics motions, otherwise actions would be necessitated.

This conclusion had been accepted in its fulness by Democritus, but Epicurus conspicuously broke away from him: Diogenes of Oenoanda brings out the close connexion with moral teaching: If any ethical system is to be effective it must postulate the freedom of the will.

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It is a more fatal enemy than superstition, for it means complete paralysis: Suppose, for instance, that in this way there comes before my mind the image of myself walking: But before this can happen another process must take place, the process of volitional choice.

We can choose to do otherwise When the image is presented to the mind it does not of itself immediately and inevitably start the chain of motions which results in the physical movement; I can at will either accept or reject the idea which it suggests, I can decide either to walk or not to walk.

This is a matter of universal experience and it must I not be denied or rejected. Epicurean ethics identifies one swerve with volition But how is this process of choice to be explained on purely material lines? It is due, said Epicurus, to the spontaneous swerving of the atoms: The vital connexion, indeed the identity of the two processes is clearly brought out by Lucretius at the close of his exposition of the theory: It is not merely, as has been suggested, that Epicurus decided to get over two difficult problems in his system economically by adopting a single solution, but that he perceived an essential connexion between them: If criticism is to be brought against him, it must not be on the technical ground of inconsistency in this detail, but on the broader ground that in his system as a whole he was attempting the impossible.

To escape from the old notion of the divine guidance of the world, the Atomists had set up a materialist philosophy directed solely by uniform laws of cause and effect. Democritus saw that this, if pursued to its logical conclusion, must lead to an unflinching determinism, which with more scientific insight perhaps, but less care for his ethical precepts, he had wholly accepted.

Epicurus, unwilling in this way to risk his moral system, tried to escape from the impasse without abandoning a materialist position. Bailey says some metaphysical agency is necessary to explain freedom Such a compromise is in reality impossible: Bailey, The Greek Atomists and Epicurus, pp.

In the individual atom it is automatic, spontaneous, and wholly undetermined in occasion or direction.

Is the movement of the mind in will merely the result of such a movement in one of its component atoms, or even the sum of many such movements? If so it too must be automatic and undetermined. When the image of action is presented to the mind, it is impossible to foretell in what way the movement will occur, or even whether it will occur at all.

In other words the mind is not really self-determined, but is at the mercy of wholly undetermined movements inside itself, and freewill after all its careful preservation turns out to be nothing better than chance.

Epicurean ethics

But the solution of this difficulty lies once again to the Epicurean conception of a compound body concilium, conciliatus. In a large number of atoms compounded as a "mind," the swerve of many atoms becomes the free volition of an undetermined consciousness.

The compound is more than a mere aggregate of independent atoms: The soul or mind is a compound body of such peculiar constitution in the nature of its component atoms and their motions among themselves, that it acquires the power of sensation or consciousness.

The automatic swerve of the individual atoms then is translated in the complex of the mind into a consciously spontaneous movement, in other words into a movement of volition.

It may be that this account presses the Epicurean doctrine slightly beyond the point to which the master had thought it out for himself, but it is a direct deduction from undoubted Epicurean conceptions and is a satisfactory explanation of what Epicurus meant: Epicurus did not identify freedom of the will with chance that he should have thought that the freedom of the will was chance, and fought hard to maintain it as chance and no more, is inconceivable.

And if the further question is asked how can a complex of blind spontaneous movements of atoms become the conscious act of volition of the mind, we are only thrown back once more on the ultimate difficulty, which has made itself felt all through this account of the soul.

For indeed, if we look back over it, we find that here and there crudities of thought or incoherences in the connexion of ideas have been noted, yet as a whole the general theory is self-consistent and complete; but at the back of it always lies the difficulty which must beset Epicureanism or any other form of materialism: That all forms of consciousness have their physical counterpart, that sensation, thought, will are accompanied by material movements of parts of the physical organism is credible, and indeed scientific investigation seems to be revealing this parallelism more and more clearly to us.

Epicurus went the step farther and was prepared to say that consciousness, sensation, thought, and will are the movements of the soul-atoms. If we accept a purely materialistic system in any form, its conclusions will have to be mutatis mutandis something like those of Epicurus: Consequitur sensus, inde voluntas fit, his pupil says glibly, but each time rouses in us the same feeling that this is just what can never be understood.

And if it is impossible to accept his account of the nature of the soul and its workings, so the inference from it cannot be admitted. But if that account be unsatisfactory, then the problem of survival remains open: It is impossible in dealing with a material system to refrain from pointing out its fundamental weakness, but in an attempt to estimate Epicurus as a thinker, it is less profitable to quarrel with his base-principles than to think of the superstructure he has built upon them.

And once again in examining the account of the soul, for all its weaknesses, we are conscious of the workings of a great mind, capable of grasping alike broad ideas and minute details of elaboration. We are certainly not left with the picture of a moral teacher, who merely patched together any kind of physics and metaphysics to back up his ethical preaching.

The nature of Epicureanism

Bailey had also denied this "traditional interpretation.The Letter to Herodotus summarizes Epicurus’ physical theory, the Letter to Menoeceus offers a précis of Epicurean ethics, and the Letter to Pythocles treats astronomical and meteorological matters.

(There is some doubt about whether the last is by Epicurus himself or a follower, but there seems to be sufficient reason to attribute it to the.

J. L. Mackie - Ethics~ Inventing Right and Wrong (, ) - Free ebook download as PDF File .pdf), Text File .txt) or read book online for free.


Peter looks at one of Aristotle’s most popular works, the Nicomachean Ethics, and its ideas about happiness and virtue. Epicureanism bases its ethics on a hedonistic set of values. In the most basic sense, Epicureans see pleasure as the purpose of life.

As evidence for this, The ultimate goal then of Epicurean ethics was to reach a state of aponia and ataraxia. How Epicurean Metaphysics leads to Epicurean Ethics 1. The Epicurean position in metaphysics is materialistic.

Their particular form of materialism is known as "materialistic atomism," which is the doctrine that all reality consists of indestructible material elements called "atoms" which move through empty space, "The Void." Atoms interact by collisions according to deterministic mechanical laws.

Epicurus, clearly following Aristotle, finds a tertium quid, beyond necessity (Democritus' physics) and chance (Epicurus' swerve).

Epicurean ethics

The tertium quid is agent autonomy.

Epicurus - Wikipedia