Do you know how to live a good life? We are not sure we do, but if you have that information – let us know! The question of how to spend your time on Earth in the best way has been in the air for a long time. Many philosophers tried to find the solution to this problem, coming up with two distinct concepts: Stoicism and Epicureanism. These two philosophical schools that have shaped centuries of thought offer distinct paths to happiness and fulfillment. While they may seem like ancient Greek relics, their principles resonate strongly even today. At the heart of their difference, Stoicism teaches control over one’s emotions in the face of life’s challenges, whereas Epicureanism suggests that the pursuit of pleasure, if wisely managed, is the key to happiness. Intrigued?

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The Ethics of the Stoics

Let’s take a trip through the evolution of Stoic philosophy, a journey through time that has touched many different eras, each adding its own flavor to what Stoicism means today. It all started with a guy named Zeno, who laid down the basic ideas, and then great minds like Seneca and Epictetus expanded on them. Stoicism therefore took the form that it has today (more or less) and proclaimed the need for the development of key virtues—courage, wisdom, justice, and temperance—that help us lead a meaningful life.

These virtues are considered practical tools for coping with the ups and downs of daily life. The Stoics teach us to align ourselves with the natural order of things, which they believed was rational and purposeful. By doing this, we can build resilience, not just getting through challenges, but growing from them, and learning to accept the natural changes of life with grace.

Epicurean Ethics

On the other hand, Epicureanism, a philosophy introduced by Epicurus, its founding father, takes a different route to happiness compared to Stoicism. Epicurus taught that happiness comes from enjoying simple pleasures in moderation, not about going all out on indulgences as some people might think. For Epicureans, the ultimate goal is to reach a state of ataraxia, which means having a peaceful and tranquil mind by reducing pain and enjoying life’s modest pleasures.

Such philosophy places a huge emphasis on the value of friendship, steering clear of desires that don’t matter, and leading a life that’s calm and free from worry. By focusing on these elements, Epicureans therefore aim to build a life that’s not just happy in fleeting moments, but deeply content and serene overall.

The Difference Between Stoicism vs Epicureanism
Source: Philosophy Break.

Early Epicurean Period

Epicurean Ethics evolved through distinct periods, each with nuanced interpretations and adaptations of Epicurus’s teachings. The early phase, under Epicurus’s direct influence, emphasized the pursuit of ataraxia (tranquility) and a life devoid of unnecessary desires. Epicurus, in this period, highlighted the importance of simple pleasures, advocating for the moderation of desires to reach a state of contentment. Central to this phase was the concept of pleasure (hedone) as a guiding principle for a virtuous and fulfilling life. The table below outlines the key aspects of this early Epicurean period.

Early Epicurean Period
Emphasis on ataraxia and moderation
Pursuit of simple pleasures
Pleasure as a guiding principle for virtue

Middle Epicurean Period

As Epicureanism progressed, the Middle Epicurean Period saw new interpretations and adaptations of Epicurus’s teachings. During this phase, scholars like Philodemus expanded upon the ethical doctrines, emphasizing the significance of friendship (philia) and social relationships in achieving happiness. The Middle Epicureans further looked into the practical aspects of Epicureanism, voicing the need for a communal approach to life and an emphasis on cultivating meaningful connections with others.

Middle Epicurean Period
Focus on friendship and social relationships
Emphasis on communal living
Practical aspects of Epicureanism

Late Epicurean Period

The Late Epicurean Period witnessed the influence of Epicureanism in the middle of cultural shifts and philosophical transitions. This phase was basically a decline in the distinct ethical doctrines of Epicurus, with Epicureanism becoming less prominent in philosophical discourse. The table below summarizes the characteristics of this later phase.

Late Epicurean Period
Decline in the prominence of Epicureanism
Waning influence in philosophical discourse
Diminished emphasis on distinct ethical doctrines

Throughout these periods, Epicurean Ethics transformed, adapting to societal changes and philosophical discourse. While the early phase emphasized pleasure and tranquility, subsequent periods expanded its scope to include social aspects and practical applications.

Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Skepticism

Epicureans advocated for living a simple life, free from unnecessary desires and fears. And even though they pursued pleasure, they didn’t see it as a merely hedonistic notion but rather focused on the absence of physical pain and mental disturbance. Stoics, on the other side of the spectrum, believed that one should focus on what is within their control and accept what is not, leading to a state of inner peace and tranquility, regardless of external circumstances.

However, these weren’t the only two philosophies that tried to find the answer to the question of happy life. Skepticism, particularly Pyrrhonian Skepticism, was founded as a response to both Epicureanism and Stoicism. Pyrrho of Elis, the “father” of Pyrrhonian Skepticism, argued that certainty is impossible to attain, and therefore, one should suspend judgment on all matters. This suspension of judgment, or epoché, leads to a state of ataraxia (peace of mind) similar to that sought by the Stoics and Epicureans, but through a different path.

Skepticism particularly contrasts with Epicureanism and Stoicism in its approach to knowledge and certainty. While Epicureans seek to minimize pain and maximize pleasure based on certain atomic principles, Stoics strive for virtue and tranquility through the acceptance of fate and reason. In contrast, Skeptics withhold judgment on all matters, including the existence of an objective reality or the possibility of attaining true knowledge.

You might, therefore, think that all three approaches would be placed as parallel lines if we chose to draw them on a piece of paper. Nonetheless, despite their differences, these philosophies intersect in their goal of achieving a state of tranquility or peace of mind. Epicureanism seeks this through the absence of pain and mental disturbance, Stoicism through acceptance and virtue, and Skepticism through suspension of judgment. So clearly, even though all three philosophies tried to use different methods, they all were centered around the same idea that needed to be achieved.


What are the key principles of Stoicism?

The key principles of Stoicism revolve around cultivating virtues like wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. It emphasizes acceptance of what cannot be changed, living in harmony with nature, and maintaining inner tranquility amidst external circumstances.

How does Epicureanism differ from Stoicism?

Epicureanism differs from Stoicism in its pursuit of happiness through moderate pleasures, advocating for a tranquil life free from unnecessary desires. Unlike Stoicism, it prioritizes simple pleasures and the avoidance of pain.

Which philosophy focuses more on happiness?

While both philosophies address happiness, Epicureanism places a primary emphasis on it. Happiness, for Epicureans, arises from attaining tranquility by minimizing pain and maximizing modest pleasures.

Can Stoicism and Epicureanism be combined?

Stoicism and Epicureanism share some compatible aspects, such as valuing virtue and tranquility. They can be combined to an extent, blending Stoic resilience with Epicurean moderation for a balanced approach to life.

What famous philosophers advocated for these ideologies?

Famous philosophers advocating for Stoicism include Zeno of Citium, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. Epicureanism was championed notably by Epicurus, and later by Lucretius, who popularized Epicurean teachings in his work “De Rerum Natura.”

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