Epicurus on Happiness
“We must, therefore, pursue the things that make for happiness, seeing that when happiness is present,
we have everything; but when it is absent, we do everything to possess it.”
Epicurus is one of the major philosophers in the Hellenistic period, the three centuries following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E. The philosophy of Epicurus (341–270 B.C.E.) was a complete and interdependent system, involving a view of the goal of human life (happiness, resulting from absence of physical pain and mental disturbance), an empiricist theory of knowledge (sensations, together with the perception of pleasure and pain, are infallible criteria), a description of nature based on atomistic materialism, and a naturalistic account of evolution, from the formation of the world to the emergence of human societies. Little of Epicurus’s original writing survives and he is known mostly from the commentary of Diogenes Laërtius. Philosophy was, for Epicurus, the art of living, and he aimed both to assure happiness and to supply the means to achieve it. Though he is technically a hedonist in that he advocated that happiness is the most important end of human life, his view of Epicurus on happiness is one of quiet contentment and avoidance of suffering. He wrote that “freedom from pain in the body and from trouble in the mind” is the ultimate aim of a happy life.