Classical Stoic and Epicurean Philosophies

--A Schematic Comparison

by Dr. Jan Garrett

Warning: There is a good deal of unavoidable simplification here.

Agreements Between the Schools

  1. There is a true philosophy of nature, a single correct view of reality.
  2. A true ethics is based upon it.
  3. A true logic will reveal it.


On the void infinite; surrounds atoms and allows movement surrounds kosmos; not required for movement
On the total quantity of matter infinite finite
On the cosmos ours is one among many the soul and matter of the kosmos is everlasting; the visible order of the kosmos is reborn innumerable times.
On matter atoms: rigid, unyielding, indivisible, "full," internally unchanging, everlasting, able to form composites earth, water, air, aither (fire?); infinitely divisble, able to pervade one another; may be transformed into one another
On active bodies randomly swerving atoms fire (aither?) and air, composing pneuma
On passive bodies all atoms, usually water and earth
Cause of visible wholes interlinkage of atoms pneuma and, ultimately, the activity of Zeus (a.k.a. pronoia and Logos)
On the kinds of mixture juxtaposition (as in gravel or trail mix) only juxtaposition, blending (as in diluted wine), fusion (as in bronze)
Admissible types of explanation mechanical causes (material and moving causes) only final causes also important
On whether there are gods yes, but irrelevant to physical explanation of most things Zeus (=designing fire) is the key to physical explanation understood teleologically; other gods seem to be less important than, say, in Homer
On universal determinism no, there are random events yes, everything follows the perfect plan of Zeus/Logos
On the good pleasure and the avoidance of pain living consistently in accord with nature=living virtuously
On virtue A means (probably the most reliable means) to the good life living virtuously is itself the good life: my station determines my duties, whether emperor or slave
On the ideal condition of human beings ataraxia (freedom from disturbance): avoid politics, retire to the garden for conversation with friends apatheia (freedom from the violent feelings)

This chart has been slightly modified 9/25/01.