ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

68. Epicurean Ethics. -- While the Stoics subordinated personal inclination to cosmic law, Epicureanism made individual, egoistic well-being the cardinal point of all morality. The pleasure of the individual is the supreme good, -- but by this we must understand not the mere sum-total of his pleasures, and especially his sensible pleasures, as the Cyrenaic school taught (17), but the harmonious pleasure of his whole existence. This latter consists much more, according to Epicurus, in repose and the absence of pain (a negative enjoyment, if we may so call it), than in any positive satiation of the soul (Cyrenaic school). And as mental trouble is more destructive of quiet than physical pain, Epicurus makes the intellect the supreme judge of pleasure. It is by reason that we drive away the annoying suggestions of all sorts of prejudices. In the Epicurean idea of happiness, sensible pleasure is not ostracized as in the Stoic idea; it is regarded as the primordial pleasure, but reason tempers and moderates it. This weighing and controlling of pleasure by reason is the very essence of virtue.{1}

Epicurean Physics was a renewal of the Physics of Democritus; Epicurean Ethics, an enlargement of the Cyrenaic Ethics. Physics and Ethics together constitute a specific philosophy in which we may easily detect the general orientation of the post-Aristotelian systems.

The Stoics and Epicureans differ in their principles but arrive at the same definition of happiness. Starting with doctrines widely opposed, Epicurus and Zeno manage to depict the ataraxy of the sage in practically the same colours. And, as this final issue alone is of importance, the conclusion soon followed that speculative knowledge is useless for happiness. This was the theory upheld by the Sceptics.

{1} Like Zeno, Epicurus gives friendship a place of honour but sees in domestic and political cares an obstacle to enjoyment.

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