Frequently Asked Questions

To be expanded!

Q. What is the difference between Epicurean philosophy and Stoicism?

A1 - Here is a high-level summary:

(1) Epicureans held PLEASURE to be the goal of life, Stoics held VIRTUE.

(2) Epicureans held virtue to have no intrinsic definition other than that which is productive of pleasurable living; Stoics held virtue to be absolute and pleasure to be a distraction if not evil in itself.

(3) Epicureans held the senses, anticipations, and pleasure pain to be the test of "truth," while Stoics held reason and dialectical logic.

(4) Epicureans held that there are no supernatural beings, and that any higher forms of life are completely natural; Stoics held to supernatural gods creating and/or guiding the universe.

(5) Epicureans held that humans and higher life forms have a degree of free well and that there is no supernatural fate; Stoics held strongly to fate / necessity in life.

(6) Epicureans held the soul disperses permanently at death and there is no afterlife; Stoics varied but held to a more religious view of the soul as divine and returning to at least divine fire, if not maintaining individuality.

(7) As with virtue, the Epicureans held there is no such thing as absolute justice, and that "justice" is defined only as agreements among people not to harm each other, and that laws can and should change over time with circumstances. Stoics held justice to be absolute and to apply to everyone at all times and all places and under all circumstances.

A2. - Another way of looking at the key difference is that the Stoics hold VIRTUE to be the highest good / goal of life, while Epicureans hold PLEASURE to fill that role. Moderns try to conflate the two by saying that Epicurus held "absence of pain" to be the goal of life, and they equate that into a Stoic-sounding separation from emotion, but that is not how the ancient Epicureans interpreted Epicurus, as Epicurus was clear that he embraced pleasure as ordinarily understood as the goal of life. Also, Epicurus' definition of "virtue" is essentially the pragmatic "that which produces pleasurable living" while the Stoics hold virtue to be the end in itself - "virtue is its own reward." The chart linked here goes much deeper into the relevant citations, but in sum, the key issue was stated this way by the Epicurean Diogenes of Oinoanda:

"If, gentlemen, the point at issue between these people [the Stoics] and us [the Epicureans] involved inquiry into «what is the means of happiness?» and they wanted to say «the virtues» (which would actually be true), it would be unnecessary to take any other step than to agree with them about this, without more ado. But since, as I say, the issue is not «what is the means of happiness?» but «what is happiness and what is the ultimate goal of our nature?», I say both now and always, shouting out loudly to all Greeks and non-Greeks, that pleasure is the end of the best mode of life, while the virtues, which are inopportunely messed about by these people (being transferred from the place of the means to that of the end), are in no way an end, but the means to the end. Let us therefore now state that this is true, making it our starting-point."

Much more elaborate and additional pointed commentary can be found in Cicero's "On Ends."

A3 - Check this comparison chart.*