One of the most eminent philosophers of the Hellenistic period and the founder of the school of philosophy entitled Epicureanism, Epicurus was born in February 341 BCE, to parents, Neocles and Chaerestrate. His father had settled in the Athenian society on the Aegean island of Samos a few years before his birth, and Epicurus was brought up in Samos. He earned his basic education in philosophy for four years, under the tutelage of the Platonist teacher Pamphilus. At the age of 18, Epicurus served in the military for two years in Athens. Upon the death of Alexander the Great, the Athenian tribes settled in Samos were driven out to Colophon by Perdiccas. Epicurus joined his family in Colophon after completing his military service, and there, he resumed his studies under the tutelage of Nausiphanes, who enlightened him with the teachings of Democritus.
After completing his education, Epicurus began teaching in Mytilene, however, he had to leave Colophon after getting embroiled in certain disputes. He then settled in Lampsacus, where he founded a school and resumed teaching. The year of 306 BCE saw Epicurus return to Athens, and he remained there until his death in 270 BCE. In Athens, Epicurus purchased some land and founded a school which was given the name of ‘The Garden’, for its construction in the garden of his house. The Garden soon became a notable institute for the progress of philosophical education, and it also held the exclusivity of being the first philosophical Greek institute that allowed women to take part in academic endeavours. Epicurus strongly advocated friendship as an important catalyst for a happy and fulfilling life, and thus, his school provided the community with the opportunity to interact and form constructive relationships.
Epicurus has played an extremely vital role in the progress of science as a discipline, and his accentuation of the employment of direct observations and logical deductions has immensely contributed to the advancement of scientific research methods. His egalitarian ideologies emerged as the prominent philosophies of the Axial age, and he was the first to develop the concept of the ‘Ethic of Reciprocity’. Epicurus’ teachings had their inspiration from many Greek philosophers, mainly Democritus, as both had similar theories about the world’s composition of invisible bits of matter floating through space. However, his teachings conflicted with Democritus on the view that atoms often deviate from the normal course instead of always forming a straight lined path. Furthermore, Epicurus was the first Greek philosopher to attempt to break free society from religious superstitions by preaching that God does not punish or reward humans, and that a man’s sole objective should be to form a self-sufficient and happy life by surrounding oneself with reliable and cherished friends. Epicurus was a strong advocate of free will.
Even though Epicurus actively took part in religious activities, he still discarded the notion of God being an entity that is concerned with punishing evil and rewarding good deeds. The development of a pleasant and comfortable life, in his view, was the core purpose of life, and good and bad consequences could only be evaluated on the principles of pain and pleasure. Epicurus believed that whatever serves to provide pleasure can be termed as good, and whatever leads to discomfort can be termed as bad. His goal was not to encourage his disciples to run after a selfish pursuit of pleasure, but rather to form a thinking that is not plagued with religious superstition and fear. He taught that the absence of pain also leads to the absence of the need to seek pleasure, and only thus, can one attain the state of perfect mental bliss. He advocated against any sort of overabundance as he believed, all excesses eventually lead to pain. He applied the same rule to love and other feelings, including fear of death. Epicurus saw death as the end of all consciousness and stimulation of feelings, hence, he preached that no pain or pleasure shall result from the advent of death.
Epicurus’ teachings have influenced countless of thinkers, movements, and philosophical revolutions throughout history. The minds behind the construction of the French Revolution were influenced by the Epicurus’ concept of ‘Ethic of Reciprocity’ which basically teaches increasing happiness and lessening harm. His Egalitarian ideologies have fueled the inspiration for various revolutionary movements centuries after his death, such as the American freedom movement and the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, Epicurus’ contributions to philosophy are available in own three surviving complete works which can be found in book X Diogenes Laertius’s ‘Lives of Eminent Philosophers’, under two groups of quotes, entitled as ‘The Principle Doctrines’, which were composed by Epicurus. Very little of his work done in his thirty-seven volume treaties ‘On Nature’ was discovered at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum.
Epicurus died in 270 BCE at the age of 72 after a prolonged suffrage with kidney stones.