Friday, 28 September 2012

Stoicism and Epicureanism


"...that he might make thee know that man doth not 
live by bread only.." [1]
At first glance the two great philosophical schools of Epicurus on the one hand and Zeno and the Stoics on the other seem rather similar. They both protect their acolytes from the pains of adversity, but they do this in different ways.

Can one fairly say that an Epicurean protects himself as a tortoise does, hunched within his protective shell, while a Stoic seeks protection by aligning himself with the Cosmos (φύσις, phusis, Nature); by being (as he would put it) virtuous? Though Bertrand Russell is massively informative in his "A history of western philosophy", I like, for its extra spiritual dimension, the treatment of these two philosophies in Gilbert Murray's  "Five stages of Greek Religion". [2]

Gilbert Murray quipped: "Where the Stoic and Cynic proclaimed that in spite of all the pain and suffering of a wicked world, man can by the force of his own will be virtuous, Epicurus brought the more surprising good news that man can after all be happy."[2] 

The happiness of Epicurus was not based solely on simple bread, cheese and home-grown vegetables for it involved the crucial components of conviviality and human affection; yet it proved not enough. It is Stoicism that captured the moral high ground and won disciples among the highest ranks of Romans, early Christian and renaissance humanists. And even today, while an Epicurean is expected to eat well, a Stoic is expected to be to be deep, solid, noble.

[1]    Deuteronomy, 8:3
[2]   Murray, G. (1935)  "Five stages of Greek Religion", Watts, London. (Or free online at: )

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