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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

3 minute philosophy: #epicurus and #zeno

in summary

- two greek philosophers who lived around 200BC and became leaders of 2 semi-religious lifestyle organisations

- both epicuranism and zeno's movement - called stoicism - were important steps in the philosophy branch of ethics - that is what it means for something to be good or bad - whether these values are objective or subjective or whether they exist at all

- the actual definition of what is good is hard to pin down - we have some instinctual notion of what is good or bad  - but when you try to identify why this is so you're going to run into some disagreements

- epicurus was a hedonist which means he believed that good was defined as pleasure - quite literally good things are good because they are pleasurable and bad things are bad because they are painful - and that held true for all of human experience

- the epicurean lifestyle has been largely skewed in today's understanding because we tend to picture a hedonist as lounging back eating and drinking and whose every whim is waited on

- in actual fact epicurus was a negative hedonist - which means he practised hedonism not through the pursuit of pleasures but through the illumination of desires

- for him desire was a kind of pain and therefore it was bad by definition - in short the more you have the more difficult it is to keep it and when your pleasures leave all you have is a gaping hole

- epicuranism was therefore about being satisfied with the absolute bare minimum you need to be happy - so he and his followers lived away from society in a garden, ate only bread and rice and generally tried to do as little with their lives as possible

- they didn't fear death because part of epicurus's theory was that death was not a bad thing  - because the only basis for judging whether something is good or bad is how much harm it does to someone - and epicurus figured that we are not harmed by death because when you are dead there is nobody there to be harmed

- zeno and his followers  - stoics - saw things differently - they thought good was virtue and bad was vice 

- so they thought pleasure was a kind of vice and therefore pleasure was bad - that is why they were stoic

- zeno taught it wasn't the desire of pleasure that caused grief in our lives - but rather unrealistic expectations

- epicurists and stoics formed the two most influential moral systems of hellenistic greece and elements of one or the other permeate through almost all modern ethical systems of thought in the western world today

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