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The Development of Ethics: Volume 1From Socrates to the Reformation$
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Terence Irwin

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780198242673

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198242673.001.0001

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(p.257) 11 Epicurus
The Development of Ethics: Volume 1


Oxford University Press

Epicurus' theoretical and practical aims seem impressively unified. He defends the atomism of Democritus and argues that Democritean hedonism fits this general view of the world. On the one hand, the empiricist epistemology that supports atomism also supports hedonism. On the other hand, the atomist view of the world, with its denial of life after death, secures peace of mind and freedom from anxiety, and so ought to be adopted on hedonist grounds. Closer inspection, however, shows that some of Epicurus' leading aims are not derived from Democritus, and that some questions can be raised about whether they fit his defence of atomism. Epicurus believes that reliance on the senses justifies a non-sceptical conclusion about the external world and acceptance of the atomic theory; we do not need to abandon empiricism for rationalism in order to accept atomism. Not everything worth considering in his ethical outlook depends on his theory of the good. His views about pleasure, freedom, virtue, and friendship include reasonable elements that do not depend on his hedonism.

Keywords:   Epicurus, atomism, Democritus, hedonism, empiricism, pleasure, freedom, virtue, friendship

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