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Modern epicureanism

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posted on 02.03.2017, 01:00 authored by Lowry, Kate
Epicureanism has long been perceived as a theory of hedonism imbodying many contradictions and unintuitive directives. The fact that much of the surviving work of Epicurus exists only through the works of Roman scholars seeking to discount his ideas is a good reason to believe that Epicureanism has been misperceived and misrepresented. From what we do have of Epicurus’ work we can form a different picture of Epicureanism. This thesis explores the idea that instead of designating Epicureanism as a theory of consequentialism and value monism as some out of misguided belief do, we should regard Epicurus as a proponent of virtue ethics that understands the good life to come about by valuing many things as good in and of themselves. Epicurus was working within a decidedly eudaimonistic framework, and sought to establish a conception of the good life in line with other scholars of his time, like Aristotle and Plato. It is clear from his surviving works that such a conception, although contentious, is not unfounded. I will further argue that we should regard what Epicurus described as the katastematic state, the highest state of pleasure, as a state of living tranquilly. This is the telos, the way of being, that Epicurus believed would create happiness. This thesis also explores the Epicurean directive to avoid pain and anxiety and looks at why this is such an important aspect to Epicurean theory. Pain and anxiety, Epicurus argued, is the biggest obstacle to pleasure, and once this was removed, we could experience the greatest pleasure. It is not only the absence of pain that created happiness, but I will add that we must be positively experiencing life in a way that allows us to celebrate the absence of pain. This thesis explores the notion that our modern society and growing inequality is presenting significant hurdles to achieving happiness in the form of cultivating anxiety. It looks to the nature of failing societies and identifies problems that are of concern for a Modern Epicurean aiming to live tranquilly. Finally in order to counteract this problem it explores the ideas of politics and justice in Epicurean theory and expands on the few surviving fragments of Epicurus' works which discuss how an Epicurean should act in accordance with sociological conventions. For if we are to live like an Epicurean such a desire should not force us to sacrifice the many positive aspects of living within society.


Principal supervisor

Toby Handfield

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies


Master of Arts by Research

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts