The Stoicism school of thought emerged in the 3rd century, in Greece and Rome. Greeks and Romans at that time were more concerned with living lives free from misfortunes. They strived to live lives that had increased satisfaction for their needs and ordered their characters to achieve excellent souls (Becker, 2001). The recommendations of Stoics became popular because they provided answers to life situations that threatened the excellence of souls, such as anxiety and fear, and satisfaction by offering “what to do” answers in various life situations (Becker, 2001). Precisely, Stoicism maximized people’s positive emotions, suppressed negative ones, and enabled its believers to harness the best of their virtue characters.
Stoicism provided a certain way of life, which majorly involved suppressing negative emotions to enjoy maximum goodness. It supports several principles, such as “people cannot change things outside of their control, but they can change their attitudes towards those things” (Monk, 2017, par.3). This approach finds a place in philosophy and psychology as a concept of mindfulness – becoming aware of our attitudes on various situations, and tuning the mind to conform to such situations (Becker, 2001). The goal for this principle and others is to enable believers of Stoicism to achieve maximum happiness through the development of emotional control, and especially to override negative emotions.
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In the 4th century, a Greek philosopher – Epicurus, came up with a school of thought concerning nature, matter, and the soul. It became a significant reference frame popularly known as Epicureanism, especially when critiquing situations from an ethical perspective. Besides, Epicureanism offers many ideal recommendations for approaching different life situations and challenged some ideas of Stoicism that had emerged in the previous century.
Epicureanism in ethics holds that the greatest good is achieved when people achieve modest pleasure, and they become free from fear, bodily pain, or attain a state of tranquillity (Hadot, Davidson & Chase, 2017). Precisely, Epicurus suggested that the highest level of happiness occurs when people are without bodily pain and are in a tranquil state. Besides, he believed that the state of highest happiness could be achieved by learning how the world operates and effectively hindering desires, citing sex and appetites as examples.
The overall focus for Epicureanism was that people could live simple lives and enjoy them, obtaining maximum happiness. For instance, hindering some desires and comparing the absence of bodily pain to a modest life insinuated that cheerful poverty is a noble state. Epicurus exemplified the ideology of simple, modest life by relating life richly with dissatisfaction. In that approach, people should limit desires such as appetites since they would cause indigestion or melancholy if the appetites are not satisfied in the future. Desire like sex could lead to lust and firmly advocated for celibacy. Overall, anything that threatened someone’s peace of mind, including religious fears, is depicted as bad in Epicureanism.
Similarities and Differences Between Epicureanism and Stoicism
Epicureanism and Stoicism are mainly similar in that they offer suggestions about how people can avoid experiences of misery in life, such as pain. According to Epicureanism, people live a life free of misery by adopting simple lifestyles and having strong social relationships (Hadot, Davidson & Chase, 2017). The philosophy holds that the highest level of happiness occurs when people are without bodily pain and are in a state of tranquility, which is achieved by avoiding limiting desires. In an almost similar perspective, Stoics associate pain and dissatisfaction with individual perceptions. Stoics believe that the greatest goodness can be achieved by changing one’s perception of the world, hone the best characters, and tune their minds to conform through challenging situations (Hadot, Davidson & Chase, 2017). Both philosophies hold that desires should not control people, but instead, people should master and suppress them, especially those that threaten happiness. That way, both theories offer suggestions on how people can enjoy their lives and avoid feeling miserable. They are philosophical tools for which people can use to pursue well-lived lives.
However, both Epicureanism and Stoicism are different in that Stoics focus on virtuous life, while Epicureans avoid pain and pursue natural pleasure. Precisely, Epicureans choose pleasure as the sole standard for a good life while Stoics choose virtues (Hadot, Davidson & Chase, 2017). Epicureans hold that people should not pursue pressures since they eventually bring pain and dissatisfaction (undesired life). Therefore, a healthy soul and happy life are those that have been achieved within one’s comforts. For instance, a poor person has a noble life that a rich person who has worked to gain his precious life. Epicurus had a different view in that there are both positive and negative pleasures (Hadot, Davidson & Chase, 2017). As such, the greatest good is achieved by honing the virtues that suppress the negative emotions. This approach assigns the mind a critical role in perceiving situations, such that a person can perceive negative emotions and suppress them. It ends up that Stoics rely on the quality of an individual’s state of mind, while Epicureans rely on avoidance of desires to achieve the maximum goodness.
What A Truly Philosophical Life Means
Before jumping into finding what a truly philosophical life means, it would be crucial to define life. According to Webster’s dictionary, life is a sequence of experiences that makes up the existence of an individual. Hadot, Davidson & Chase (2017) explain that life generally continues from conception until death, regardless of its form. A truly philosophical life is that whose expertness is based on the various schools of thought available. A better explanation is that “philosophical theories are at the service of a philosophical life” (Hadot, Davidson & Chase, 2017, p.268). Notably, each philosophical theory has more or less different ideologies concerning the experiences and of life – the causes and effects (consequences) of life experiences. For instance, Epicureanism and Stoicism converge and diverge on what a truly philosophical life is regarding pleasure and virtues, death, and social being.
Concerning pleasure and virtues, both philosophies converge to the idea that a truly philosophical life is free from misery. A truly philosophical life gives people maximum pleasure – the enjoyment or contentment of their experiences (Sadler, 2020). However, both philosophical schools of thought diverge on the reasons and course of achieving a misery-free life. For instance, Epicureanism that pursues riches makes life miserable, and pleasure is the standard measure of a good life (Hadot, Davidson & Chase, 2017; Sadler, 2020). Stoicism holds that virtues are the only things that lead to happiness (a truly philosophical life) and that people can choose to enjoy life by suppressing negative emotions.
On the issue of death, both Stoicism and Epicureanism view the end of life as an essential event in the existence of humans. While death ideally marks the end of life’s experiences, Epicureans supports that death deprives people of their sensations, including pain (Sadler, 2020). As such, death is vital for a truly philosophical life. Stoics view death as a mark of sage in a similar approach, which is natural and not to be feared by any virtuous person (Sadler, 2020). However, both philosophies differ in that end-of-life moments reduce the quality of truly philosophical life, in that the death may accompany the pain of dissatisfaction. However, Stoics view death as part of nature, and thus, people should change their mindfulness to accept and conform to nature – suppress the fear of death.
Lastly, both philosophies find value in social life, viewing humans as social beings. Each has some social and non-social elements (Sadler, 2020). For instance, both philosophies believe that human society is natural, and thus, it is part of their daily experience. As such, a truly philosophical life features interaction with other people. However, they diverge in that Stoics believe social interactions do not significantly value life since a Stoic person has the virtues of enjoying life without needing other people (Sadler, 2020). Epicurus differed from this ideology, claiming that friendship is the highest desirable outcome of social interactions since it generates pleasure from mutual benefits (Sadler, 2020). Nevertheless, Epicureanism maintains that a relationship that leads to pain and dissatisfaction should be terminated to uphold maximum pleasure.
To sum up, Epicureanism and Stoicism are mainly similar in that they offer suggestions about how people can avoid experiences of misery in life, such as pain. However, they differ in that Stoics focus on virtuous life, while Epicureans avoid pain and pursue natural pleasure. Their differences transcend in the definition of genuinely philosophical life, in which philosophical theories serve the definitions and perspective of a desirable life. Both philosophies agree that a truly philosophical life is free from misery, appreciates the existence of death, and views humans as social beings. However, they diverge in the reasons and attitudes towards pleasure and virtues, death, and value of social interactions.
Becker, L. (2001). A New Stoicism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Hadot, P., Davidson, A., & Chase, M. (2017). Philosophy as a way of life. Malden (MA): Blackwell Publishing.
Monk, H. (2017). 5 Stoic Principles for Modern Living. Retrieved 9 March 2021, from https://medium.com/pocketstoic/5-stoic-principles-for-modern-living-applying-an-ancient-philosophy-to-the-21st-century-2a8e10f31887
Sadler, V. (2020). Stoicism and Epicurus —Similarities and Differences by Victor Lange. Retrieved 9 March 2021, from https://modernstoicism.com/stoicism-and-epicurus-similarities-and-differences-by-victor-lange/