Reconciling Stoicism and Epicureanism
While the Stoic and Epicurean schools of philosophy are often seen as drastic opposites- the former believing in a fundamental justice and order in the universe, and the latter believing in no such order but only randomness- they are, as I hope to show, in fact complements of each other.
It must be noted that I am not extremely well-versed in the detailed workings of either philosophy, and only hope to provide a bird’s eye view of the two philosophies and reconcile their differences. My knowledge about the Stoics comes from the writings of Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, and about the Epicureans comes from general reading and knowledge. More detailed and accurate knowledge about both schools of thought can be found here.
The major axiom in Epicureanism is belief in the chaos of the world, that no god nor deity controls the universe, and as such we cannot hope for universal justice, truth, or order. Therefore, say Epicureans, we must try to maximise pleasure in this life while minimising pain. Stoics in fact hold the opposite view. They say there is a fundamental order to nature’s workings, and that the sole duty of a human being is to be good, work tirelessly for justice, and strive to be stable. The Stoics disregard pain and pleasure as mere fleeting sensations, versus the unavoidable call of the Logos to obtain virtue. Stoics maintain that we should sacrifice pleasure and welcome pain if it means standing up for that which is right, and that nobody should cower away from this.
Despite the Stoics’ obvious negligence of pleasure, I propose that they were also trying to maximise happiness, just a different kind. For the sake of this article, I will divide happiness into two types- the short-term pleasure, and the long-term meaning. Meaning brings the more permanent kind of happiness to one’s life, and I argue that by saying we should adhere to our duty, fight for justice, and be responsible, the Stoics are giving more importance to long-term meaning than short-term pleasure, but are still striving to maximise happiness.
Therefore, through the hopefully not too crude logic above, I hope to have shown how the Stoics and Epicureans both fight for maximising happiness- they just take different routes to get there, one prioritising the short term, while the other the long.