My deep confidence in the truthfulness of the Epicurean philosophy and, in particular, in its capacity to help modern people live a happy life, is the driving force that motivates me to do whatever is possible within my powers to make this largely unfamiliar philosophy accessible and meaningful to the general public. I have tried to objectively present the alternative views, both ancient and contemporary, so that the truth reveals itself transparently by the sheer comparison of the evidence.

Five years since the first publication of the book and fifteen years since my first encounter with the Epicurean philosophy, I feel that the circumstances are ripe now to go through the second edition. There are several reasons that nourish my desire to improve the quality of the first edition: my accumulated personal experience from the application of the philosophy in everyday life; my continuous research on the Epicurean philosophy over the years; and the feedback I received from an ample number of reviewers of the first edition.

All these reasons are powerful motives to present a comprehensive version of the Epicurean philosophy, shed light on the remaining dark areas, and lastly, address the reported weaknesses of the first edition.

List of changes:

The major innovations introduced in the second edition include:

  • Rewriting of extensive parts of the book from scratch.
  • Addition of new material.
  • Emphasis on the clear and complete presentation of the Epicurean views.
  • Restructuring of the book into Parts and Chapters.
  • Professional editing related to both structure, flow, syntax and spelling.


Other changes:

  • The hierarchy of Parts and Chapters has been ranked with an eye toward a better understanding of the Epicurean philosophy.
  • Each chapter-subject follows a standard structure, consisting of a quote following the title, introduction, Epicurean views, other ancient views, contemporary views, and conclusion.
  • A detailed list of references accompanies each chapter.
  • The full particulars of every single reference are listed in the bibliography, at the end of the book.
  • A list of Names has been added with a short description of the names mentioned in the text.
  • A list of Terms has been added with a short description of the terms mentioned in the text.
  • The length of the book increased considerably.

On the Content

The second edition has been structured, firstly, by subject, and secondly, by the school of thought or chronology. So, each subject is researched through three chronologically distinctive philosophical perspectives. In the beginning, the Epicurean theses are expressed in the most meticulous way possible.

Then, the core aspects of the preexisting classical philosophical thought are exhibited, with a focus on Aristotle’s views, since in my understanding, through this comparison we can better realize the differences between the classical and Hellenistic philosophical thought.

Reference to the other Hellenistic schools, such as the Stoics and Skeptics, is made only occasionally, with the intention to better understand the Epicurean views. There is also another reason that makes the comparison between Epicurus’s and Aristotle’s views valuable: it helps us in understanding the unclear parts of the Epicurean philosophy since the remaining Aristotelian sources are far greater and more detailed than the Epicurean.

Moving forward in chronology, the third source of philosophical and psychological thought on the subject under consideration concerns the modern era, which leads us to the second round of comparison—this time between the Epicurean and modern views, making apparent the similarities or disagreements of views and ways of life.

Most importantly, on the basis of robust theoretical, experimental, and experiential evidence, this comparison unveils what possibly is going wrong with our lives nowadays and how we could conceivably improve them.

The subjects of the book have been divided into a synopsis and six parts.

Synopsis: Short exposition of the Epicurean philosophy.

Part 1: Pleasure: the guide to life, consists of Chapter 1 with the same title.

Part 2: The natural and necessary pleasure, Chapters 2-8, titled, respectively, health, food, housing, safety, friendship, altruism, and knowledge.

Part 3: The natural and non–necessary pleasure, Chapters 9-16, titled, respectively, the natural and non–necessary pleasure, sex, family, exercise, the senses, nature, humor-arts-aesthetics, and enjoyment-flow.

Part 4: The existential fears, Chapters 17-19, titled, respectively, death, god(s), and the natural phenomena.

Part 5: The human nature, Chapters 20-21, titled, respectively, the human nature, and beyond neurons: who am I?

Part 6: Epicurean philosophical themes, Chapters 22-27, titled, respectively, the meaning in life, free will, money and happiness, politics, decision-making, and the pursuit of happiness in modern life.

Part 7: (a) Annexes, including: The Principal Doctrines, The Vatican Sayings, The Letter to Menoeceus, The Biography of Epicurus, The Historical Background, and Thomas Jefferson: I Am Epicurean, (b) List of Names with a short description of the names mentioned in the text, (c) List of Terms with short description of the terms mentioned in the text, (d) Bibliography, and (e) a short résumé of the author.

In the second edition, the content of the book has been enriched and reorganized to better illuminate some obscure aspects of the Epicurean philosophy and facilitate its juxtaposition with the alternative philosophies. Further, the content has been ranked in such a way so as to make the understanding of the Epicurean philosophy easier and more comprehensive.

In this spirit, the whole of the first part of the book is devoted to exemplifying the meaning, properties, and contribution of pleasure to decision-making and happiness.

The second part explores those specific pleasures that Epicurus recognizes, however implicitly, as natural and necessary for happiness, namely, health, food, housing, safety, friendship, altruism, and knowledge.

The third part is devoted to the natural and unnecessary pleasure, which Epicurus proclaims as the pleasure that provides diversity in happiness without enhancing its value.

The latter is defined solely through the fulfillment of natural and necessary pleasure. The most familiar pleasure of the natural and unnecessary kind are examined, namely, Sex, Family, Exercise, The Senses, Nature, Humor-Arts-Aesthetics, and Enjoyment-Flow.

Having described the positive feeling of pleasure, in the fourth chapter I turn to the negative feeling of pain, and more specifically to the extreme sources of pain, such as the existential fears of Death, God(s), and Natural Phenomena.

The fifth part investigates the structure of our brains and especially the neuroscience of the emotions of pleasure and pain, revealing that long-lasting happiness requires changing one’s character by reshaping the organic structure of one’s brain.

The sixth part of the book examines a set of delicate issues with an indirect, though significant, impact on happiness. The most important of them are: The Meaning of Life, Free Will, Money and Happiness, Politics, Decision-Making, and The Pursuit of Happiness in Modern Life.

Finally, Chapter 7 contains auxiliary knowledge. It consists of annexes with supplementary material, lists of names and terms, and lastly, an extensive bibliography.

A Comparison of Epicurean and Aristotelian Ethics

The root differences between the Epicurean views and those expressed by Aristotle concern the roles that reason and emotion play in decision-making and well-being. Epicurus, on the one hand, claims that the truth about happiness is revealed by nature because nature possesses the accumulated knowledge of existence.

Further, Epicurus asserts, human nature plainly shows that pleasure is the ultimate good in life, and the maximization of it is the purpose of one’s life. Aristotle, on the other hand, declares that the truth about happiness is revealed by one’s character and capacity for rational thinking.

Therefore, to be happy, one has to shape a virtuous character and excel in one’s capacity for reasoning. The virtuous character reveals the purpose and actions that would make one happy, and reason finds the most effective ways to serve the purpose and accomplish the associated actions. Pleasure and happiness, says Aristotle, are simply the natural consequence of succeeding in those actions.

Epicurus rejected this theory on the grounds that virtues are mental concepts that derive meaning through the definitions, interpretations, and practices society attaches to them. Taking into account that the beliefs and habits of society are mostly corrupt, it is evident that people’s desires and thoughts are likewise spoiled, with detrimental consequences to their well-being.

A Comparison of Epicurean and Contemporary Ethics

The comparison of the Epicurean philosophy to the contemporary philosophical and psychological trends drives us into tracking the course of Aristotelian and Epicurean thought through the centuries.

The development of Epicurean ethics: As far as Epicurus’s philosophy is concerned, we know that following the introduction of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, it was abolished by law, along with the other philosophical schools. Epicurus’s philosophy reappeared in the seventeenth century through the philosophical movement of utilitarianism, which reintroduced pleasure as the highest good, and pleasure maximization as the purpose of one’s life.

Further, the Utilitarian philosophers sought to expand the notion of pleasure maximization from the individual level to the general public through the implementation of welfare state policies. In this context, in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson announced that every human being has “certain unalienable rights,” among which are those to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

In another turn of events, in the field of psychology, the psychiatrist Freud argued that human beings are driven by the pleasure principle, suggesting that they instinctively strive to enjoy as much pleasure as possible and suffer as little pain as possible. Much the same as Epicurus, this theory attributes unhappiness to deficiency in pleasure and excess of pain and, further, to the unsatisfied desires that are suppressed in the unconscious.

Later on, modern psychologists broadened this idea by suggesting that unhappiness may be attributed both to an unsatisfied drive for pleasure and to ailing beliefs that give rise to fraudulent desires. According to the father of modern psychology, William James, this landmark Epicurean idea is “the greatest revolution of our generation…the discovery that human beings can change the outer aspects of their lives by changing the internal perceptions.”

Therefore, Epicurus’s teaching is still alive and present in the major branches of modern psychology, from psychoanalysis to cognitive psychology, from existential to positive, and so on.

The development of Aristotelian ethics: Aristotle’s philosophy was reshaped during the Hellenistic period by the Stoics, becoming more religious in the sense of divinity being incorporated in all matter and human action. This transformation provided Christianity all the critical knowledge on which to base the belief in God. Living virtuously by the religious teachings (instead of the Aristotelian virtues) unveils one’s purpose in life. Rational thinking enables one to accomplish the purpose prescribed by God.

The religious version of Aristotle’s ethics culminated in the Renaissance and was applied in public life as the official educational and cultural framework of the Western world. This religious tradition, adapted to the cultural background of each society, still prevails.

The development of consumerist ethics: In the meantime, beginning in the seventeenth century, technological innovations led to a drastic transformation in the structure of the industrialized societies inasmuch as wealth passed over into the hands of the emerging class of manufacturers and merchants and eventually into the hands of the common people.

These widespread social dynamics encountered, at first, the frustration and hostility of the status quo, but eventually, all sides agreed to compromise, cooperate, and redistribute their hold on the societies, according to the socioeconomic conditions of each society.

Conclusion: Our societies are shaped by three movements: one praising the Aristotelian-religious virtue as the ultimate good to well-being, the other the Epicurean-psychological pleasure, and the third wealth, fame, and power. In the meantime, overwhelming scientific evidence approves of pleasure as the supreme good in life and submits that certain virtues and some wealth are necessary components of happiness, and in general, virtue and wealth are worthwhile only to the extent that they produce pure pleasure.

We conclude, therefore, that the psychological-Epicurean perspective to life is the only approach that leads to happiness, and the foundation of these findings lies on Epicurus’s recommendations.

Haris Dimitriadis

November 2022

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