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  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: March 2008

20 - Epicurean ethics

Epicurus offers a general methodology and practical advice for dealing with widely varying conditions of life on earth, as well as a foundational ethical theory. Epicurus says that he cannot conceive of the good except in terms of sensory pleasures, that is, precisely the kinds of pleasure recognized as such by Aristippus; the cradle argument is intended to support Epicurus' account of the summum bonum as katastematic pleasure, but the pleasures enjoyed by new-born animals have to be construed as kinetic. Whereas the philosophical tradition restricted natural or necessary desires to the bodily appetites, and regarded the corresponding forms of satisfaction as the lowest kinds of pleasure, Epicurus regards natural desires as the only ones a prudent person will seek habitually to satisfy. Since pleasure is the good, the only legitimate function of virtues is to furnish means to that end; and according to Epicurus we shall attain it if and only if we practise the virtues.
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The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy
  • Online ISBN: 9781139053617
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C. W. Chilton (1960) ‘Did Epicurus approve of marriage? A study of Diogenes Laertius X, 119’, Phronesis 5.

J. Gosling & C. C. W. Taylor (1982) The Greeks on Pleasure (Oxford).

G. B. Kerferd (1971) ‘Epicurus’ doctrine of the soul’, Phronesis 16.

J. S. Purinton (1993) ‘Epicurus on the telos’, Phronesis 38.

J. M. Rist (1974) ‘Pleasure: 360–300 bc’, Phoenix 28.

P. A. Vander Waerdt (1987) ‘The justice of the Epicurean wise man’, CQ 37.