Epicurus' Ethical Theory

Dissertation, Cornell University (1982)

This study examines various inconsistencies in Epicurus' ethical theory and attempts to trace them to a common source, namely, his claim that eudaimonia is entirely up to us and invulnerable to outside intrusions. The first chapter discusses his hedonism and shows the effect of this claim on his conception of pleasure. In attempting to equate ataraxia, a pleasant state entirely up to us, with eudaimonia, Epicurus fails to capture central intuitions which locate happiness in states and activities not always in our own control. The second chapter shows how this claim underlies his theory of responsibility and describes his attempt to accommodate it in the framework of his physical theories. Various indeterminist theories of action and character needlessly have been attributed to Epicurus. We need to ascribe indeterminism to his theory only at the microscopic level of explanation, since he thinks that macroscopic explanations are not strictly reducible to explanations at the micro-level. ;Two subsequent chapters describe Epicurus' attempt to account for other-regarding features of morality. Epicurus endorses a Socratic view of the virtues. He argues that all the virtues are species of knowledge and infallibly secure ataraxia. Surprisingly, he attempts to give a contractual defense of justice. It seems, however, that an agent has reasons for being just which are independent of the contract. Moreover, if eudaimonia is entirely up to us and invulnerable to outside interference, there would be few compelling reasons for contracting with others. Similar difficulties arise in his account of friendship. Epicurus concedes that friendship is choiceworthy for itself regardless of instrumental benefit. He also argues that friendship requires valuing others for their own sakes. This is inconsistent with the claims of his hedonism. If happiness is entirely up to us and friendship is an external good not always in our control, Epicurus should weaken his commitment to friendship. By refusing to do so, he is forced into an inconsistency. ;These inconsistencies in Epicurus' thought are of historical interest, in that we see a hedonist attempting to return to Socratic conceptions of happiness and rational agency. Of philosophical interest is Epicurus' inability to give a plausible account of happiness without valuing states and activities not entirely subject to our own control
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Epicurean Justice.John Armstrong - 1997 - Phronesis 42 (3):324-334.
Managing Mental Pain: Epicurus Vs. Aristippus on the Pre-Rehearsal of Future Ills.Margaret Graver - 2002 - Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium of Ancient Philosophy 17 (1):155-184.

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