Hellenistic Materialism

  1. The Roots and History of Epicureanism:
    1. Pre-Socratic Materialism - Democritus (via Nausiphanes of Teos)

    2. The Epicurean School (The "Garden")

      1. Epicurus of Samos - (341-270 BCE)

      2. Metrodorus - (c. 331-278 BCE)

      3. Hermarchus - (?, Successor of Epicurus at Athens)

      4. Polyaenus - (c. 278 BCE)

      5. Philodemus - (1st Century BCE)

      6. Lucretius - (c. 100-55 BCE)

    3. Epicurean Texts

      1. Systematic Works -

        1. On Nature [Peri Phuseos] - (Epicurus - lost)

        2. On Criteria: Norm [Peri Kritehriou eh Kanwn] - (Epicurus - lost)

        3. On the Final Good [Peri Telous] - (Epicurus - lost)

        4. On Just Action [Peri Dikaiopragias] - (Epicurus - lost)

        5. On Living [Peri Biou] - (Epicurus - lost)

        6. On Rhetoric [Peri Rehtorikehs] - (Epicurus - lost)

        7. On the Nature of the Universe - (Lucretius)

      2. Epistles (letters) -

        1. Letter to Herodotus - (Epicurus - DL, Physics)

        2. Letter to Pythocles - (Epicurus - DL, Meteorology)

        3. Letter to Menoeceus - (Epicurus - DL, Ethics and Theology)

      3. Aphorisms - Principal Doctrines [Kuriai Doxai] - (Epicurus - DL)

  2. Epistemology: Dogmatic Empiricism
    1. Dogmatic (Skepticism is self-refuting)

    2. Empirical:

      1. Sensations [aisthesis] are the foundation of all knowledge

      2. Representationalism -

        1. Material objects continuously give off copies of themselves in the form of fine clusters of atoms [eidola]

        2. Material representations strike the sensory organs causing sense-impressions [phantasia]. Sensory impressions can be either

            i. Clear - uninterfered with, or

            ii. Unclear - interfered with

        3. Repeated exposure to sensations causes concepts [prolepsei] to form in the mind

        4. Knowledge arises with the interaction of sense-impressions and concepts

        note: Epicurean Epistemology rests on two axioms:

        • Clear sense perceptions provide accurate data about external objects and their properties

        • Judgements about non-sensible objects are true if they are consistent with clear sense perceptions.

      3. Direct Mental Apprehension - some ultra-fine atomic clusters [tenuia simulacra] bypass the senses and directly affect the mind causing concepts

        1. Dreams

        2. Ghosts

        3. Gods

  3. Metaphysics: Atomistic Materialism
    1. Three Basic Suppositions:

      1. Nothing comes from Nothing.

      2. Something cannot be destroyed into Nothing.

      3. The Universe cannot be different than it is.

    2. Basic Substance:

      1. Atoms (minute particles of matter) which make Bodies

        1. indestructible

        2. infinite in number

        3. distinct in shape (though not infinitely so)

        4. divisible into "minima" (ultimately small, indivisible, particles)

      2. Void (emptiness, the lack of matter)

    3. Motion:

      1. Generally Downward (caused by the weight of the atoms)

      2. Occasionally atoms "Swerve" (Indeterminism)

    4. The Universe: is composed of bodies which are random compounds of atoms and void (no teleological organization)

    5. The Gods: sublimely happy, immortal beings

      note: Epicurus directly attacks the traditional notion of the gods as the teleological intelligence behind the universe and the affairs of humans. Thus, he opposes not only popular religion, but also the cosmology of Plato and Aristotle who both held that some divine principle controlled the movements of celestial bodies as well as guided the fate of human beings (either directly or indirectly). His argument against divine control of, or intervention in, the universe rests on the notion of impassibility which is, he thinks, an essential element of being divine.

      1. Epicurus' argument for the existence of gods: Consensus Omnium

      2. Epicurus' argument for non-interaction with the Universe: Happiness = Tranquility

  4. Ethics: Hedonistic Consequentialism
    1. Pleasure is the Highest Good:

      1. Pain - A disturbance of the natural state of one's being

      2. Pleasure - A natural state of order (which gives rise to tranquility)

        1. Kinetic Pleasure - satisfying or overcoming some pain

        2. Static Pleasure - the complete absence of pain

    2. The Goal of Life is Living Undisturbed (Atarachia) - Tranqulity


note: Epicurus does not reject virtue as part of human happiness, but it is only instrumentally valuable. Justice and Friendship are virtues as they aid in attaining a peaceful existence. However, Epicurus rejects the idea that humans are necessarily or essentially politically (contra Plato and Aristotle). In fact, he holds political involvement to be a prime cause of tarache.

| Back to the Notes Index |