Epicurus (341–270 B.C.), a Greek philosopher who was born on the isle of Samos, lived much of his life in Athens, where he founded his very successful school of philosophy, called the “Garden.” He was influenced by the materialist Democritus (c. 460–370 B.C.), who is the first philosopher known to believe that the world is made up of atoms. Epicurus added the concept of the “swerve” to atomic theory. Atoms cannot move in parallel lines, otherwise there would be no combinations or changes in bodies. So there must be infinitesimal swerves in their motion, causing collisions and combinations. Only a few fragments of Epicurus's writings are extant.
Epicurus identified good with pleasure and evil with pain. This doctrine (repeated later by Jeremy Bentham [1748–1832]) is called hedonism (from the Greek word for pleasure). But contrary to popular opinion, Epicurus was not what “Epicureanism” stands for today, a sensuous, profligate life style or gourmet tastes. Quite the opposite. Epicurus believed that the true life of pleasure consisted in an attitude of imperturbable emotional calm which needed only simple pleasures, a healthy diet, a prudent moral life (based on contractual agreement), and good friends. Prudence must constrain pleasure. Since only good or bad sensations (pleasures or pains) should concern us, and death is not a sensation, we should not fear death.
Long, A. A. Hellenistic Philosophy: Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics, 2nd ed. (University of California Press, 1985).
Long, A. A., and D. N. Sedley, eds. The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge University Press, 1987).
Lucretius. On the Nature of the Universe, trans. R. E. Latham (Penguin Books, 1951).
Rist, John M. Epicurus: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 1972).
Saunders, Jason, ed. Greek and Roman Philosophy After Aristotle (Macmillan, 1966).