The Hellenistic Philosophers:

Alexander the Great

Died 323BC, at the peak of his empire. 33 years old.

Diffusion of Greek Culture throughout modern-day Iran and North Africa.

Founding of Greek Cities, e.g. Alexandria, rather than "child colonies".

Emergence of a "common tongue", Koine Greek

The Hellenistic Schools

Epicurus: "The Garden" (κῆπος) 306 BC

Zeno of Citium: "The Porch" (ἡ ποικίλη στοά) 301 BC

Arcesilaus: Academy, 264 BC

Epicurus' Ethics

Summum Bonum

The Chief Good: Pleasure

The Chief Evil: Pain

The Arguments

Even animals seek for pleasure, and recoil from pain.

Hence, the "unperverted" guidance of nature is to do the same.

Hence, Pleasure is intrinsically desirable.

One can "perceive" the intrinsic desirability of pleasure, in the same way that one can perceive other evident facts.

The senses are the ultimate guide to truth.

Therefore, pleasure is intrinsically desirable.


Don't people (and animals) often do painful things?


Yes, but (if they do it rationally) only in service of their own long-term pleasure.

What About Self-Sufficiency?

Well, we're going to need here to think a bit about what pleasure is.

The Nature of Pleasure

Doctrine of the three classes of desires:

  1. Natural and Necessary
  2. Natural without Necessity
  3. Unnatural

The third class are unsatisfiable.

The Absence of Pain

The highest form of pleasure is tranquility, the absence of any form of pain.

The third class of desires always bring pain.

Hence, pursuit of pleasure requires us to minimize them.

Sustainable Hedonism

The life of pleasure is self-sufficient, because it involves eliminating all desires except those that are natural and unaccompanied by pain.

What about Virtue?

The Role of Virtue

Virtue is a Means

  1. Virtue is a means to pleasure (esp. Wisdom, Justice)
  2. Virtue without pleasure is worthless


warrants a neverending supply of the things that uncorrupted nature really needs


Helps us moderate dangerous desires, and leads to tranquility

Wisdom and Courage

Wisdom and Courage free us from fear, and wisdom frees us from desires of the third class.

What about Death?

Isn't death (not dying, but death) something to be feared, even when not accompanied by pain?

A strong and lofty spirit is entirely free from anxiety and sorrow. It makes light of death, for the dead are only as they were before they were born

Death is not a harm