[2.1.3] Epicurus on Happiness, Sensation and State of Mind

Epicurus (341-271 BC) establishes the goal of living is happiness, defined on two levels, (closely interrelated with his psychology [2.1.1] and physics [2.1.2]):

  • happiness is a static pleasure on the level of sensations (perception)
  • happiness is a lack of perturbation on the level of the state of mind.

The OntoUML diagram below presents the main concepts of Epicurean ethics:

Epicurus on happiness, sensation and state of mind
ClassDescriptionRelations
PersonA human person has a goal of living. has GoalOfLiving; experiences PhysicalSensation; has StetOfMind
GoalOfLivingThe unique goal in life happiness.is Happiness
HapinessEpicurus “the unique goal in life happiness based on freedom from physical pain and mental anxiety” [lack of perturbation] and enjoyment of static pleasure.is StaticPleasure and LackOfPerturbation
PhysicalSensation“Epicurus, it appears, uses the terms pleasure and pain (hêdonê, algêdôn) strictly in reference to physical pathê or sensations, that is, those that are experienced via the non-rational soul that is distributed throughout the body…
soul atoms are particularly fine and are distributed throughout the body, and it is by means of them that we have sensations (aisthêseis) and the experience of pain and pleasure…”
Pleasure“The elementary sensations of pleasure and pain, accordingly, rather than abstract moral principles or abstract concepts of goodness or badness, are the fundamental guides to what is good and bad, since all sentient creatures are naturally attracted to the one and repelled by the other.”is PhysicalSensation
StaticPleasure“happiness (eudaimonia), according to Epicurus, is not simply a neutral or privative condition but rather a form of pleasure in its own right — what Epicurus called catastematic or (following Cicero’s Latin translation) ‘static’ as opposed to ‘kinetic’ pleasure…”
Static “(catastematic) pleasure… is (or is taken in) a state rather than a process: it is the pleasure that accompanies well-being as such. The Cyrenaics and others, such as Cicero, maintained, in turn, that this condition is not pleasurable but rather neutral — neither pleasurable nor painful.”
is Pleasure
KineticPleasurekinetic pleasures seem to be of the non-necessary kind, such as those resulting from agreeable odors or sounds, rather than deriving from replenishment, as in the case of hunger or thirst…
Epicurus objected that such pleasures are necessarily accompanied by distress, for they depend upon a lack that is painful… In addition, augmenting desires tends to intensify rather than reduce the mental agitation (a distressful state of mind) that Epicurean philosophy sought to eliminate.”
is Pleasure
PainPain is an elementary sensation.is PhysicalSensation
StateOfMindstate of mind
LackOfPerturbation The absence of fear is ataraxy, lack of perturbation.is StateOfMind
Perturbation“fear is one source of perturbation (tarakhê), and is a worse curse than physical pain itself”is StateOfMind
Fear“Most prominent among the negative mental states is fear, above all the fear of unreal dangers, such as death. Death, Epicurus insists, is nothing to us, since while we exist, our death is not, and when our death occurs, we do not exist; but if one is frightened by the empty name of death, the fear will persist since we must all eventually die.”is StateOfMind; causes Perturbation
Joy“There are also positive states of mind, which Epicurus identifies by the special term khara (joy), as opposed to hêdonê (pleasure, i.e., physical pleasure).” is StateOfMind

Sources

  • All citations from: Konstan, David, “Epicurus”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 12/12/2019

[2.1.2] Epicurean Cosmology

Epicurus (341-271 BC) held that the universe is compound exclusively of two primary constituents:

  • eternal, ever-moving and colliding atoms, grouped in moving macroscopic objects [bodies]
  • empty space
  • human soul is made of special soul atoms.

The OntoUML diagram below presents the structure of the epicurean universe:

ClassDescriptionRelations
Universe“Epicurus held that the elementary constituents of nature [universe] are undifferentiated matter, in the form of discrete, solid and indivisible particles (“atoms”) below the threshold of perception, plus empty space, that is, the complement of matter or where matter is not…
an infinite number of solid and therefore indivisible atoms of finitely many kinds, such as Epicurus’ theory provides, are enough to avoid the possibility of the universe crumbling into nothing.”
The universe is infinite end eternal; more than that, more universes can co-exist.
MacroscopicObjectMacroscopic objects [or bodies], of course, do not move at a uniform and very great speed… In the case of compound objects that are completely at rest, the resultant of internal atomic motions is zero, relative, at least, to the earth, which may have an average motion of its own.”is exclusive part of the Universe
Atom“Epicurus held that the elementary constituents of nature are undifferentiated matter, in the form of discrete, solid and indivisible particles (“atoms”) below the threshold of perception… All secondary properties, such as color and taste, will be explained as epiphenomena of atomic combinations… atoms can come in different shapes and sizes (though never large enough to be seen) “
Atoms are eternal.
is exclusive member of the MacroscopicObject
EmptySpaceempty space, that is, the complement of matter or where matter is not… Void must exist, in turn, if bodies are to be able to move, as they are seen to do. Thus motion is the counterwitness to the non-existence of void — an indirect argument is required since one cannot perceive empty space.”is contained in the Universe
HumanHuman beingis MacroscopicObject
SoulAtomsThe soul “consists of atoms: first, there is nothing that is not made up of atoms and void.., and second, an incorporeal entity could neither act on nor be moved by bodies, as the soul is seen to do (e.g., it is conscious of what happens to the body, and it initiates physical movement). Epicurus maintains that soul atoms are particularly fine and are distributed throughout the body, and it is by means of them that we have sensations (aisthêseis) and the experience of pain and pleasure, which Epicurus calls pathê (a term used by Aristotle and others to signify emotions instead). Body without soul atoms is unconscious and inert, and when the atoms of the body are disarranged so that it can no longer support conscious life, the soul atoms are scattered and no longer retain the capacity for sensation. There is also a part of the human soul that is concentrated in the chest, and is the seat of the higher intellectual functions. The distinction is important, because it is in the rational part that error of judgment enters in.”  is Atom; is exclusive member of the Human
NotSoulAtomsOther atom than soul atoms in the human body.is Atom; is exclusive member of the Human

Sources

  • All citations from: Konstan, David, “Epicurus”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 21/11/2019