Epicureanism is a philosophy first started by the Greek philosopher Epicurus. It believes that ultimately pleasure is the highest good and that all life should be geared to pleasure. It mainly focuses on creating a mindset that gets rid of all pain which will free the mind to experience the ultimate pleasure called Ataraxia, a form of superb tranquility. The Epicureans did believe virtue was important but only as a means to securing one from the pains of guilt.
1. Epicureans usually had a few friends, didn’t intend to have kids because losing a child would be terrible, and lived in small communes. Stoicism believed having kids was fine and that if you ever did lose them, Stoic exercises would prepare you for the day. Stoicism also did not isolate its people into small communes. Stoicism believed that practicing a life geared towards virtue would free one of negative passions and allow them to deal with just about any obstacle and so Stoics weren’t afraid to participate in the greater society.
2. Epicureanism believed that virtue was a means to happiness. Stoicism believed that virtue was the end/goal and if you pursued it like it was the end goal, then you’d find happiness. Seems like splitting hairs doesn’t it? Well, not really. The Epicureans were only using virtue as a vehicle to not feel guilty so that they could be happy. Stoics didn’t care about guilt or feeling good. They cared about practicing virtue for virtue’s sake. And only then can you reap virtue’s rewards.
3. Epicureanism saying to practice virtue just so its practitioners can sleep at night is hardly a good philosophy. What if someone came along and did a few bad things, felt guilty at first, but then didn’t care after a while and got the pleasure they wanted? Stoicism doesn’t use virtue that way. It’s not about feeling guilty or happy or remorseful. In fact, Stoicism would rather you cut out the remorse in your life and do what’s good regardless of how you feel about it. Epicureanism is too bogged down in how you feel about doing virtue and not just getting the virtue done.
4. Epicureanism doesn’t even really prepare you for a life of happiness. Think about it. Epicureanism wants you to hide in a commune somewhere with a few friends and care less about the world around you. Your life is actually very fragile because if you don’t participate in the world, the world can go crazy and destroy your precious commune. Stoics were all the time trying to prevent the world from going crazy.
5. Finally, Stoics already allow for pleasure as a preferred indifferent. That means in Stoicism you’re allowed to pursue pleasure so long as it doesn’t come into conflict with virtue. The Epicureans were smart in that they didn’t just pursue pleasure but avoided pain. But the problem is their philosophy still didn’t prepare them sufficiently for the pain that will always come creeping in no matter how many ways they try to prepare themselves for it. Stoicism knows you’ll feel pain and sometimes it’s best to just let it happen and then let it pass. Virtue is its own reward. Don’t let the pain be the problem. Let it be part of the solution.