(341–270 BC)
Greek philosopher. Epicurus was born on the island of Samos, but moved to Athens in 307/6 BC, where he established a secluded community called the ‘Garden’. His doctrines are known mainly through the account in Diogenes Laertius, and through Lucretius' poem De Rerum Natura, which is believed to be a faithful representation of his thought. Epicurus followed the atomistic metaphysics of Leucippus and Democritus, in particular allowing for empty space, an infinite number of atoms, and the infinite number of worlds their changing combinations produce. Epicurus also had a doctrine of the survival of the fittest in order to account for the evolution of species without appeal to the final causes of Aristotle . However, room is made for gods, although they have no concern at all for this cosmos, and in particular play no role either as first causes or as providing ends for existence. Free will is allowed by the ‘swerve’ or clinamen of atoms in their courses. Another interesting doctrine is that of the prolepsis or way in which experience becomes general, by allowing us to anticipate the kind of object to which terms refer (prolepsis is therefore a solution, or perhaps a labelling, of the difficulty that later bedevilled the British empiricists, of how words become general in their significance).
The aim of all philosophy is, however, to enable us to live well, which is not to live in the hedonistic trough the word Epicureanism now suggests, after centuries of propaganda against the system. Rather, practical wisdom, attained through philosophy, is needed to attain the pleasant life, which consists in a preponderance of katastematic pleasures, capable of indefinite prolongation, over merely kinematic or volatile sensory pleasures. Katastematic pleasures are capable of variation but not of increase, so that one who lives longer does not thereby obtain more of them than one who lives less long, and this is important to the Epicurean attitude towards death. As with other Greek ethical philosophies, ataraxia , is the summit of the katastematic pleasures, and requires understanding the limits of life and removal of the fear of death, cultivation of friendships, and the removal of unnecessary desires and false gratifications.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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  • Epicurus — [ep΄ə kyoor′əs] 341 270 B.C.; Gr. philosopher: founder of the Epicurean school, which held that the goal of man should be a life characterized by serenity of mind and the enjoyment of moderate pleasure …   English World dictionary

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