Epicureans, Stoics & Sceptics


Doctrines & Discoveries

Notes & Quotes

Overview: Overriding Ethical Concerns

Epicureans & Stoics both stress the ethical side of philosophy

How to live the paramount question: seeking a naturalistic answer.

Other Questions in subserve this ethical one {1}

What is there? 

How can we know?

1.        Philosophy is like an orchard in which logic is the walls, physics the trees, and ethics the fruit; or like an egg, in which logic is the shell, physics the white, and ethics the yolk. (Saying attributed to Zeno the Stoic)


 (All the quotes are from Epicurus)


c. 341-271 BCE


Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.
The caretaker of that abode, a kindly host, will be ready for you; He will welcome you with bread, and serve you water also in abundance, with these words: "Have you not been well entertained? This garden does not whet your appetite; but quenches it."


c. 99-55 BCE

Atomistic Metaphysics with Swerve

Most conducive to happiness (i.e., pleasure)

if death is the end, there's nothing to be afraid of (no harm can befall the dead) {2}

get rid of other superstitious fears too: fear of curses, plagues (as gods' punishment), etc. (10)

Undetermined atomic swerves accommodate free will

Empiricist Epistemology {1}


Gods exist: they're also material things

universality of human religious belief cannot be otherwise explained

Gods aren't interested in human or any other worldly affairs 

governing the world would be a bother

with no conceivable payoff

No personal immortality: our soul atoms scatter when we die

Ethical Doctrine 

Egoistic Hedonism {3,4}

Hedonism: the only intrinsic good is pleasure

Egoistic: for each their own pleasure

Kinds of Pleasures

Physical (mixed with pain): violent & disturbing


short-sighted (imprudent & upsetting)

Intellectual (unmixed): tranquilizing

Natural v. Unnatural & Necessary v. Unnecessary

necessary (food) v. unnecessary (sex) {6}

natural (vittles) v. unnatural (cuisine) 

Highest Pleasure -- true happiness -- resides in tranquility

should try to avoid disturbances (like the gods)

live naturally & simply

that's most prudent (what maximizes the long-term balance of pleasure) {6}

Friendship the chief instrumental good {7,8}

1.        Now the universal whole is a body; for our senses bear us witness is every case that bodies have a real existence; and the evidence of the senses . . . ought to be the rule of our reasonings about everything that is not directly perceived.  Otherwise, if that which we call the vacuum, or space, or intangible nature, had not a real existence, there would be nothing in which the bodies could be contained, or across which they could move, as we see that they really do move.

2.        [Death] does not then concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more.

3.        For we recognize pleasure as the first good innate in us, and from pleasure we begin each act of pursuit and avoidance.

4.        Beauty and virtue and the like are to be honoured if they give pleasure; but if they do not give pleasure we must bid them farewell.

5.        The greatest good of all is prudence: it is a more precious thing even than philosophy.

6.        Sexual intercourse has never done a man good and he is lucky if it has not harmed him.

7.        Friendship cannot be divorced from pleasure... because without it neither can we live in safety and without fear, or even pleasantly.

8.        Of all the things which wisdom provides for the happiness of a whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friendship.

9.        [D]eath is nothing to us, for all good and evil consists in sensation, but death is the deprivation of sensation.

10.     Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.



c. 413-323 BCE



Zeno  333-264 BCE


331-232 BCE



280-207 BCE





Marcus Aurelius




The Cynical Background

Socratic Inspiration

independence of character

indifference to circumstance

integrity is everything: the amenities are nothing

Socratic argument:

Nothing bad -- no real harm -- can befall the good.

poverty, pain, suffering, and death befall the good

Hence: poverty pain, suffering & death aren't bad

Cynics rejected conventional virtues in favor of naturalness

kind of a slacker ethos: lived like dogs -- hence the name

Stoic Logic & Epistemology

Explored the logic of complex propositions

disjunctive syllogism

hypothetical syllogism

Nominalistic Empiricism

Nominalism (Conceptualism)

no transcendent forms (contra Plato)

no immanent forms (contra Aristotle)

so-called "forms" are mental images or concepts

Empiricism: all knowledge and every conception is perceptually based

only individuals exist and our knowledge is of these

mind is originally a blank slate

concepts formed by accretion of perceptual images

Problem of the criterion of truth

subjectivity of "forms" squares ill with correspondence truth:  

to say what's red is "red" is true

if red is not really out there this is trouble

subjective criterion of veracity: vividness or clarity of the images or apprehensions

Physics & Metaphysics

Neo-Heraclitean Materialism

Fire is the basic form of matter

fire is god


Universal Conflagration (all things -- including souls -- are destroyed): Limited survival

Cleanthes: individual souls survive until the conflagration

Chrysippus: only the souls of the good survive

Eternal Return: cosmic history exactly repeats 

God or Nature {1}

God is the soul of the world, not separate from it {8}

the world is a rationally ordered -- evidenced by us (the microcosm) {1}

the Law of Nature is Divine Providence {2,7}

All happens as Providence/Nature preordains: fatalism

Heraclitean Theodicy {3,6}

"Bad" things only appear to be so due to the limitations of our human perspective

To God -- sub specie aeternitatus -- all is for the best

evil must exist as the correlate of good


the good = amor fati : the love of fate/God/nature {5}

this alone is in our power -- to mentally assent or dissent from the dictates of God/ nature

all obey God's law

the good do it voluntarily {4}

Motivation (not results) the only morally relevant consideration

Rejection of emotion: practice detachment; keep cool

nature -- the divine order -- is rational

the emotions are irrational

therefore the emotions need to be curbed

1.        God most glorious, called by many a name, 
Nature's great King, through endless years the same
Omnipotence, who by thy just decree
Controllest all, hail, Zeus, for unto thee
Behoves thy creatures of all lands to call,
We are thy children, we alone, of all
On earth's broad ways that wander to and fro,
Bearing thy image wheresoe'er we go. (Cleanthes)

2.        Nay but thou knowest to make the crooked straight:
Chaos to thee is order: in thine eyes
The unloved is lovely, who did'st harmonize Things evil with things good, that there should be
One Word through all things everlastingly.
One Word -- whose voice alas! the wicked spurn;
Insatiate for the good their spirits yearn: 
Yet seeing, see not, neither hearing hear
God's universal law, which those revere,
By reason guided, happiness who win,
The rest, unreasoning, diverse shapes of sin
Self-prompted follow: for an idle name
Vainly they wrestle in the lists of fame. (Cleanthes)

3.        Comedies have within them ludicrous verses which, though bad in themselves, yet lend a certain grace to the whole play. (Cleanthes)

4.        "[I]f to evil prone, my will rebelled, I needs must follow still." (Cleanthes)

5.        "Live according to nature." (Stoic Maxim)

6.        "There is nothing more inept than the people who suppose that good could have existed without the existence of evil.  Good and evil being antithetical, both must needs subsist in opposition." (Chrysippus)

7.        Has [the world] no governor?  And how is it possible that a city or a family cannot continue to exist, not even the shortest time without an administrator and guardian, and that so great and beautiful a system should be administered with such order and yet without a purpose and by chance? (Epictetus)

8.        All things are mutually intertwined . . . and together help to order one ordered Universe.  For there is both one Universe, made up of all things, and one God immanent in all things, and one Substance, and one Law, and one Reason, and one Truth, if indeed there is also one perfecting of living creatures that have the same origin and share the same reason.(Marcus Aurelius)


1.        "Equipollence" we use of equality in respect of probability and improbability, to indicate that no two of the conflicting judgments takes precedence of any other as being more probable. "Suspense" is a state of mental rest owing to which we neither affirm or deny anything.  "Quietude" is an untroubled and tranquil condition of the soul. (Sextus Empiricus)

2.        [I]n order to decide the dispute which has arisen about the criterion (of truth) we must possess an accepted criterion by which we shall be able to judge the dispute; and in order to possess. (Sextus Empiricus)





360-270 BC


Sextus Empiricus

fl. c. 200  


Ethical Aim: Quietude {1}

Intellectual Means {1}

Destructive Dialectic: Method of Antinomy &Doubt

Equipollence: equal probability of contrary judgments

Suspension of Belief

Concerning the Criterion of Truth {2}

can’t be established unless we already have a criterion

so it can't be established

Concerning perception {3}

involuntarily prompted "appearances" not disputed

no judgment concerning the nature or independent existence of things can be rationally drawn from "appearances".

Academic Scepticism: compare Plato's mistrust of perception

Coherence theory of "judgment of truth" {4}

3.        [W]e do not overthrow the affective sense impressions which induce our assent involuntarily; and these impressions are "the appearances."  And when we question whether the underlying object is such as it appears, we grant the fact that it appears, and our doubt does not concern the appearance itself but the account given of that appearance . . . . (Sextus Empiricus).

4.        [T]he Academic forms his judgment of truth by the concurrence of presentations, and when none of the presentations in the concurrence provokes in him a suspicion of its falsity, he asserts that the impression is true." (Carneades)