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Reference: Epicureans


A celebrated sect of ancient philosophers. They were materialists, and virtually atheists-believing that the atoms of nature existed from eternity, and that from their incidental union all things are formed, both visible and invisible. They denied a divine Providence and man's immortality, and believed there was no after-judgment, and no soul but what was material, like the body and perishable with it at death. Their rule of life was self-gratification-the pursuit of pleasure, properly regulated and governed. Vicious indulgences were condemned only inasmuch as they on the whole lessen one's happiness. The philosopher Epicurus, their founder, was a learned and moral man, who lived in exemplary harmony with his principles, and died at Athens, B. C. 271, at the age of seventy-three. His followers, however, easily disregarded the limitations he imposed, and pursued pleasure without restraint. At Paul's time they had become exceedingly corrupt, and of course their philosophy and their life both led them to oppose with violence his great truths concerning God, the resurrection, and the judgment ever lasting, Ac 17:16-34.

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followers of Epicurus (who died at Athens B.C. 270), or adherents of the Epicurean philosophy (Ac 17:18). This philosophy was a system of atheism, and taught men to seek as their highest aim a pleasant and smooth life. They have been called the "Sadducees" of Greek paganism. They, with the Stoics, ridiculed the teaching of Paul (Ac 17:18). They appear to have been greatly esteemed at Athens.

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Disciples of Epicurus, the Athenian philosopher, whose "garden" was the resort of numbers. There he taught that the aim of philosophy should be happiness and pleasure, not absolute truth; experience (the perceptions, general notions, and passions or affections), not reason, the test. Physics he studied, to explain phenomena and dispel superstitious fears; ethics he regarded as man's proper study, since they conduce to supreme and lasting pleasure. two opposite schools of philosophy prevalent in Athens at Paul's visit (Ac 17:18). Materialism and sensual selfishness was the ultimate tendency of Epicurus' teaching; but his bold criticism of pagan polytheism, the claims of the body, and individual freedom, were the better elements in it.

Stoicism taught an absolute fate and the spiritual nature of the soul, which it made part of the general soul of the world. Paul directs against Epicureanism the declaration of creation (Ac 17:24), providence (Ac 17:26), inspiration (Ac 17:28), the resurrection and judgment (Ac 17:31). Sadduceeism was its Jewish representative. Diogenes Laertius (10) preserves some of Epicurus' letters, and a list of his writings. See also Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, translated by Creech.

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St. Paul's visit to Athens (Ac 17:15-34) led to an encounter with 'certain of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers,' representatives of the two leading schools of philosophy of that time.

Epicureanism took its name from its founder Epicurus, who was born in the island of Samos in the year b.c. 341. In b.c. 307 he settled in Athens, where he died in b.c. 270. A man of blameless life and of a most amiable character, Epicurus gathered around him, in the garden which he had purchased at Athens, a brotherhood of attached followers, who came to be known as Epicureans, or 'the philosophers of the Garden.' His aim was a practical one. He regarded pleasure as the absolute good. Epicurus, however, did not restrict pleasure, as the earlier Cyrenaic school had done, to immediate bodily pleasures. Whatever may have been the practical outcome of the system, Epicurus and his more worthy followers must be acquitted of the charge of sensuality. What Epicurus advocated and aimed at was the happiness of a tranquil life as free from pain as possible, undisturbed by social conventions or political excitement or superstitious fears.

To deliver men from 'the fear of the gods' was the chief endeavour and, according to his famous follower the Roman poet Lucretius, the crowning service of Epicurus. Thus it may be said that, at one point at least, the paths of the Christian Apostle and the Epicurean philosopher touched each other. Epicurus sought to achieve his end by showing that in the physical organization of the world there is no room for the interference of such beings as the gods of the popular theology. There is nothing which is not material, and the primal condition of matter is that of atoms which, falling in empty space with an inherent tendency to swerve slightly from the perpendicular, come into contact with each other, and form the world as it appears to the senses. All is material and mechanical. The gods

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Epicur'eans The.

A school of philosophers that derived their name from the Athenian Epicurus, who had his 'garden' at Athens. His theory was that pleasurable emotions should be the aim of human life, quiet ease of mind being the sum of happiness. Experience and not truth was the test he applied. Paul endeavoured to turn the thoughts of the Athenians from their self-made philosophy, and their many idols, to the one true God. Ac 17:18.

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EPICUREANS, a sect of philosophers in Greece and Rome. Epicurus was their founder, who lived about B.C. 300. The physical doctrine of Epicurus was as follows: Nothing can ever spring from nothing, nor can any thing ever return to nothing. The universe always existed, and will always remain; for there is nothing into which it can be changed. There is nothing in nature, nor can any thing be conceived, beside body and space. Body is that which possesses the properties of bulk, figure, resistance, and gravity; it is this alone which can touch and be touched. Space, or vacuum, destitute of the properties of body, incapable of action or passion, is the region which is or may be occupied by body, and which affords it an opportunity of moving freely. The existence of bodies is attested by the senses. Space must also exist, in order to allow bodies place in which to move and exist; and of their existence and motion we have the certain proof of perception. Beside body and space, no third nature can be conceived. But the existence of qualities is not precluded, because these have no subsistence except in the body to which they belong. The universe, consisting of body and space, is infinite. Bodies are infinite in multitude; space is infinite in magnitude. The universe is immovable, because there is no place beyond it into which it can move. It is also eternal and immutable, since it is liable to neither increase nor decrease, to production nor decay. Nevertheless, the parts of the universe are in motion, and are subject to change. All bodies consist of parts which are either themselves simple principles, or may be resolved into such. These first principles, or simple atoms, are divisible by no force, and therefore must be immutable.

2. The formation of the world he conceived to have happened in the following manner: A finite number of that infinite multitude of atoms, which, with infinite space, constitute the universe, falling fortuitously into the region of the world, were, in consequence of their innate motion, collected into one rude and indigested mass. In this chaos, the heaviest and largest atoms, or collections of atoms, first subsided, while the smaller, and those which from their form would move most freely, were driven upwards. These latter, after several reverberations, rose into the outer region of the world, and formed the heavens. Those atoms which, by their size and figure, were suited to form fiery bodies, collected themselves into stars; those which were not capable of rising so high in the sphere of the world, being disturbed by the fiery particles, formed themselves into air. At length, from those which subsided, was produced the earth. By the action of air, agitated by heat from the heavenly bodies, upon the mixed mass of the earth, its smoother and lighter particles were separated from the rest, and water was produced, which naturally flowed into the lowest places. In the first combination of atoms, which formed the chaos, various seeds arose, which, being preserved and nourished by moisture and heat, afterward sprung forth in organized bodies of different kinds. The soul is a subtle corporeal substance, composed of the finest atoms, which, by the extreme tenuity of its particles, is able to penetrate the whole body, and to adhere to all its parts. It is composed of four distinct parts: fire, which causes animal heat; an ethereal principle which is moist vapour; air; and a fourth principle, which is the cause of sensation. These four parts are so perfectly combined as to form one subtle substance, which, while it remains in the body, is the cause of all its faculties, motions, and passions, and which cannot be separated from it, without producing the entire dissolution of the animal system.

3. In the universe there are, according to Epicurus, without contradiction, divine natures; because nature itself has impressed the idea of divinity upon the minds of men. The notion is universal; nor is it established by custom, law, or any human institution; but it is the effect of an innate principle, producing universal consent, and therefore it must be true. This universal notion has probably arisen from images of the gods, which have casually made their way into the minds of men in sleep, and have afterward been recollected. But it is inconsistent with our natural notions of the gods, as happy and immortal beings, to suppose that they encumber themselves with the management of the world, or are subject to the cares and passions which must attend so great a charge. Hence it is inferred, that the gods have no intercourse with mankind, nor any concern with the affairs of the world. Nevertheless, on account of their excellent nature, they are objects of reverence and worship. In their external shape the gods resemble men; and though the place of their residence is unknown to mortals; it is without doubt the mansion of perfect purity, tranquillity, and happiness. Thus he attempted to account for all the appearances of nature, even those which respect animated and intelligent beings, upon the simple principles of matter and motion, without introducing the agency of a supreme intelligence, or admitting any other idea of fate, than that of blind necessity inherent in every atom, by which it moves in a certain direction.

4. The ethics of Epicurus are much less exceptionable than his physics; of which we may judge from the following summary: The end of living, or the ultimate good, which is to be sought for its own sake, according to the universal opinion of mankind, is happiness; which men generally fail of attaining, because they form wrong notions of the nature of happiness, or do not use proper means for attaining it. The happiness which belongs to man, is that state in which he enjoys as many of the good things, and suffers as few of the evils incident to human nature as possible, passing his days in a smooth course of permanent tranquillity. Perfect happiness cannot possibly be possessed without the pleasure that attends freedom from pain, and the enjoyment of the good things of life. Pleasure is in its nature good, and ought to be pursued; and pain is in its nature evil, and should be avoided. Beside, pleasure or pain is the measure of what is good or evil in every object of desire or aversion. However, pleasure ought not in every instance to be pursued, nor pain to be avoided; but reason is to distinguish and compare the nature and degrees of each, that the result may be a wise choice of that which shall appear to be, upon the whole, good. That pleasure is the first good, appears from the inclination which every animal, from its first birth, discovers to pursue pleasure and avoid pain; and is confirmed by the universal experience of mankind, who are incited to action by no other principle, than the desire of avoiding pain, or obtaining pleasure. Of pleasures there are two kinds; one consisting in a state of rest, in which both body and mind are free from pain; the other arising from an agreeable agitation of the senses, producing a correspondent emotion in the soul. Upon the former of these, the enjoyment of life chiefly depends. Happiness may, therefore, be said to consist in bodily ease and mental tranquillity. It is the office of reason to confine the pursuit of pleasure within the limits of nature, so as to attain this happy state; which neither resembles a rapid torrent, nor a standing pool, but is like a gentle stream, that glides smoothly and silently along. This happy state can only be attained by a prudent care of the body, and a steady government of the mind. The diseases of the body are to be prevented by temperance, or cured by medicine, or endured tolerably by patience. Against the diseases of the mind philosophy provides sufficient antidotes; the virtues are its instruments for this purpose; the radical spring of which is prudence, or wisdom, and this instructs men to free their understanding from the clouds of prejudice; to exercise temperance and fortitude in the government of themselves; and to practise justice toward all others. In a happy life, pleasure can never be separated from virtue. The followers of Epicurus, however, degenerated int

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