Epicurus and His Philosophy

Epicurus and His Philosophy

Norman Wentworth DeWitt
Copyright Date: 1954
Pages: 400
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttts81p
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    Epicurus and His Philosophy
    Book Description:

    Epicurus and His Philosophywas first published in 1954. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.

    In this volume, the first comprehensive book in English about Epicurus, existing data on the life of the ancient philosopher is related to the development of his doctrine. The result is a fascinating account that challenges traditional theories and interpretations of Epicurean philosophy. Professor DeWitt demonstrates the fallacy of centuries of abuse of Epicurus and the resulting distortion of most discussions of Epicureanism that appear in standard philosophical works. Of major significance to students of philosophy and theology are the findings that show the importance of Epicureanism as a source of numerous Christian beliefs.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6212-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. PREFACE
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
    N. W. D.
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-2)
  4. CHAPTER I A SYNOPTIC VIEW OF EPICUREANISM
    (pp. 3-35)

    THIS book attempts to present for the first time a fairly complete account of the life and teachings of Epicurus. At the very outset the reader should be prepared to think of him at one and the same time as the most revered and the most reviled of all founders of thought in the Graeco-Roman world.

    His was the only creed that attained to the dimensions of a world philosophy. For the space of more than seven centuries, three before Christ and four afterward, it continued to command the devotion of multitudes of men. It flourished among Greeks and barbarians...

  5. CHAPTER II SAMOS AND ATHENS
    (pp. 36-54)

    IT IS quite possible from the surviving data to piece together a consequential account of the life of Epicurus and of his development as a man and a philosopher.

    The relevant dates are known with a precision that is uncommon in the lives of great men of ancient times. He was born of Athenian parents on the island of Samos in early February of the year 341 b.c. At that date Plato had been six years in the grave, and Aristotle was in his second year at the court of Philip of Macedon as tutor to the youthful Alexander.

    In...

  6. CHAPTER III COLOPHON: DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE
    (pp. 55-69)

    DURING the ten years between his cadetship in Athens and his adventure as a public teacher in Mytilene Epicurus was domiciled with his parents and brothers in Colophon. This decade, from 321 to 311 b.c., comprises the interval between his twenty-first and thirty-first years, a crucial time of life for a thinker. It may be called the Colophonian period and its importance is paramount.

    At the beginning of it he seems to have been still deferring to the wishes of his parents and looking to orthodox instruction for guidance toward the truths of philosophy. At the end of it he...

  7. CHAPTER IV MYTILENE AND LAMPSACUS
    (pp. 70-88)

    AFTER the sojourn of ten years at Colophon came an interval of five years spent in Mytilene and Lampsacus, 311 to 306 b.c. The stay in Mytilene for the purpose of teaching in public was brief and tempestuous, terminating in forced flight, probably within the year 311–310 b.c. In a mutilated papyrus which once recorded the life of Epicurus is found mention of “the power of mobs or of a monarch or of a gymnasiarch.”¹ Plutarch quotes a writing of Epicurus himself as containing mention, among other hazards, of “the passions of mobs, the cruelties of pirates,” and the...

  8. CHAPTER V THE NEW SCHOOL IN ATHENS
    (pp. 89-105)

    EPICURUS left Lampsacus to take up his residence in Athens in 306 b.c. It may be assumed that the voyage was undertaken between April and October, which was the open season for navigation in the Aegean.

    So far as his career was concerned, this remove was a matter of judicious timing. He was by this time thirty-five years of age and a mature man. His doctrines had been worked out to finality and the attitudes he was ever afterward to maintain toward the multitude, monarchs, and competitors had been fixed. It was his settled intention to subject himself no more...

  9. CHAPTER VI THE NEW EDUCATION
    (pp. 106-120)

    THE new school in Athens began to offer to the Greek world an integrated program of education consisting of the Canon, Physics, and Ethics. This was supported by specially prepared textbooks and eventually by graded texts. It was designed to rival the Platonic program, which was then suffering a recession from the high peak of popularity to which it had risen spectacularly during the lifetime of its founder.

    This Platonic program consisted of music and gymnastic, inherited from the Athenian past; of rhetoric, which had been introduced by the sophists; and of dialectic and mathematics, especially geometry, which were the...

  10. CHAPTER VII THE CANON, REASON AND NATURE
    (pp. 121-132)

    THE Canon was not an afterthought, as the Stoics asserted,¹ but occupied the first place in the triad of Canon, Physics, and Ethics. This arrangement is unalterable, because the Ethics were deduced from the Physics and the truth of both Physics and Ethics was subject to the test of the Canon, which included Sensations, Anticipations, and Feelings.

    The task of expounding the Canon would be much simpler were it not for ancient and modern confusions and ambiguities that beset the topic. Epicurus disposed of it in a single roll. The wordcanondenotes a rule or straightedge but metaphorically includes...

  11. CHAPTER VIII SENSATIONS, ANTICIPATIONS, AND FEELINGS
    (pp. 133-154)

    THE criteria are three, but the prevailing custom is to reduce them to one by merging the Anticipations and the Feelings with the Sensations. This error arises from classifying Epicurus as an empiricist, ascribing to him belief in the infallibility of sensation, and then employing this false assumption as a major premise.

    The three criteria are neither three aspects of a single capacity nor yet three discrete capacities which function separately from one another. To Epicurus body and soul are alike corporeal; they are also coterminous. Consequently all reactions of the individual to his environment are total or psychosomatic. Thus...

  12. CHAPTER IX THE NEW PHYSICS
    (pp. 155-170)

    IN THE Epicurean scheme of knowledge the Physics takes precedence over the Ethics because it furnishes the major premises from which the nature of the soul is deduced and the proper conduct of life is formulated. The Sensations, Anticipations, and Feelings, that is, the Canon, are not represented as furnishing the content of knowledge but as being instruments of precision by which the certainty of knowledge is tested at all times.

    The topic of physics was given encyclopedic treatment in the famous thirty-seven books entitledOn Nature, which Lucretius renderedDe Rerun Natura, “On the Nature of Things.” By implication...

  13. CHAPTER X THE NEW FREEDOM
    (pp. 171-196)

    IN APPROACHING the topic of freedom it is essential to be on guard against the error of anachronism and to keep the discussion within the historical context. No doctrine of a divine and benevolent creator was current in the time of Epicurus, and for this reason there was no thought of human equality or the rights of man. So far was any belief from prevailing that man was born for freedom that the Greeks thought of the greater part of mankind as born for slavery. Neither was the determining context for Epicurus of a political nature but rather social and...

  14. CHAPTER XI SOUL, SENSATION, AND MIND
    (pp. 197-215)

    HAVING set forth his Twelve Elementary Principles, as shown in Chapter IX, Epicurus proceeds to treat these as major premises and to arrive at all other ideas by a procedure manifestly deductive. In the Little Epitome he expressly denotes these ideas as inferential or accessory,epinoiai.

    The logical framework of the whole system has been faithfully reproduced by Lucretius. All the major premises of thought, that is, the Twelve Elementary Principles, are contained in the first two books. All the ideas expounded in the following books are to be regarded as inferential or accessory: III, the Soul; IV, Sensation; V,...

  15. CHAPTER XII THE NEW HEDONISM
    (pp. 216-248)

    IN HIS structure of doctrine Epicurus took up the various aspects of the problem of pleasure where they had been left by Aristippus, Eudoxus, Plato, and Aristotle and handled them with such superior precision that this line of inquiry, so far as antiquity was concerned, became exhausted. After his time the various schools merely bickered over the tenability of his findings. Thus the justification is excellent for entitling this chapter “The New Hedonism.”

    Epicurus was following the lead of his predecessors when he found in the behavior of animate creatures the evidence for identifying pleasure as the end or telos,...

  16. CHAPTER XIII THE TRUE PIETY
    (pp. 249-288)

    EPICURUS approached the topic of piety as a reformer, a materialist, and a dogmatist.

    As a reformer he believed that the natural piety of mankind had suffered perversion and that his mission was to recall men to true piety.

    As a materialist he rejected belief in all incorporeal existences. This resulted after his death in the discovery of a new category, “spiritual beings.”

    As a materialist he felt bound also to reject all divine causation, including divine movers and divine creators. He was an evolutionist, postulating the continuous birth of the unintended.

    As a dogmatist, declaring the possibility of certitude...

  17. CHAPTER XIV THE NEW VIRTUES
    (pp. 289-327)

    AYNOPTIC glance over the topic of virtue is essential for bringing to light the historical sequence and the shift from one matrix of meanings to another. Plato viewed the topic of ethics within a political context. His four cardinal virtues, Wisdom, Temperance, Courage, and Justice, were denned within the political context and they were meshed alike with the division of citizens into men of gold, silver, and iron and with the tripartite division of the soul as rational, appetitive, and passionate. Aristotle honored the political context when he discussed the Best Life under the head of Politics, but he tacitly...

  18. CHAPTER XV EXTENSION, SUBMERGENCE, AND REVIVAL
    (pp. 328-358)

    THE time has now come for surveying the fortunes of Epicureanism from the beginning down to the present day. If the synoptic view be first presented as a preparation for the details, it may be said that the creed flourished for the space of seven centuries, three before Christ and four afterward. At the outset it followed the then prevailing migrational trend to the eastward and established itself in the Graeco-Oriental world of Alexander and his successors. After the lapse of a century it followed the reverse trend to the westward and made the conquest of Italy, Rome, and Roman...

  19. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 361-362)
  20. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. 363-363)
  21. NOTES
    (pp. 364-377)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 378-388)