Epicurean and Stoic Philosophy

The stoic philosopher Seneca is one of the greatest writers and thinkers of history; he is a delight to read and is as relevant today as ever. This is evidenced by many new additions of his works including three in 2019. He also wrote plays and had an immense influence on the Renaissance model of dramatic arts and style. We will also study the stoic writing of Epictetus, the freed slave, and Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor. Reading Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius together makes the range of stoicism evident: Epictetus has a very different outlook, as a former slave, to the ruler of the Roman Empire. On the Epicureans we will study the collected works, including Lucretius and the criticisms by Cicero.

Epicureanism (or Hedonism) and Stoicism are both ‘philosophies of life’ meaning that they are both philosophies which are not only academic but are to be lived as a way of life. Both, in their different ways are dealing with the challenges of ordinary life: how to manage suffering; what to do with wealth or poverty; power and slavery. Both aim to provide a psychological fortress against bad times. The contemporary form of Hedonism is different to the ancient (Epicurus' idea of a good time mightn’t be yours) but the aim is the same: to maximize pleasure: “Pleasure is the standard by which every good and right action is to be judged”. If the Stoics are the more popular now as a form of philosophy, it might be that we (at least in the 1st world) have many hedonistic pleasures and yet many are still unsatisfied.


  • This class will be delivered online via the online platform Zoom.
  • This course requires students to have an email, a reliable internet connection, a microphone/speakers and access to a tablet, smartphone or computer.


  • Introduction to Epicureanism: Greek beginnings and the “Garden of Pleasure”. The community which Epicurus envisages is one of like minded individuals studying and working together. Extraordinary for the time, Epicurus included women on an equal footing with men. Key to the Hedonist idea of pleasure is achieving enduring pleasure, it is working out by understanding the structure of desire and those things which are worth desiring and those which are not.
  • Freedom from Fear: The Hedonists think that humans inflict many fears on themselves which are not necessary; the fear of death being one of them.
  • Friendship and Justice: Friendship is one of the best pleasures available for the Hedonists. Justice is a “pledge of mutual advantage”. Epicurus is in fact an Anarchist in the philosophical sense.
  • Introduction to Stoicism: We will study the history of Stoicism from its Greek beginnings through Christianity and the Renaissance to our own day.
  • Stoic Concepts: The primary aim of stoicism is to achieve and maintain inner tranquility. The Stoics do not always agree on the best way of achieving this aim, we will study their various approaches.
  • Seneca – Life and Death: Seneca was a high level statesman and advisor to Nero, a position which he held for eight years, until he was accused of conspiracy and ordered to self execute (echoes of Socrates). His ‘stoic’ death becomes legendary. Tacitus wrote a romanticized account of his “fortitude in the face of death”: it is celebrated in many Classical painting and poems.
  • Seneca’s Philosophy: Seneca’s Essays and Letters are a rich and complex source of wise council, he was certainly the master of the maxim: “Hang onto your youthful enthusiasms you will be able to use them better when you're older”.
  • Seneca’s Plays: He wrote eight plays. Thyestes, Phaeda and Medea, are considered to be the master works. A recurring stoic theme in the tragedies is the uncontrolled passions which generate madness, ruination and self destruction. His plays influenced Shakespeare and are still successfully staged today.
  • Epictetus: Originally a slave belonging to the Emperor Nero, Epictetus is famous for say that one is not morally obliged to obey the “stamp on the coin” (emperor’s faces were stamped on coins). We all have a duty to each other because we are equal citizens of the world, and must obey the law, but only when the law is just.
  • Marcus Aurelius: Marcus Aurelius is celebrated for the many reforms he made to the legal system of Rome, clearing away arbitrary harshness and anomalies in the civic law. He ruled in what has been called the Golden Age of Rome. But he also demanded absolute obedience; the interest for us is that he uses stoic philosophy as a justification for his absolute power.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Discuss the main events in the history of Epicureanism and Stoicism
  2. Understand the important concepts in Epicureanism and Stoicism
  3. Relate Epicureanism and Stoicism to personal life choices and actions.
  4. Understand your own desires and motivations better.
  5. Relate Epicureanism and Stoicism to contemporary issues in ethics and politics.
$270 Limited / $243

<p>The stoic philosopher Seneca is one of the greatest writers and thinkers of history; he is a delight to read and is as relevant today as ever. This is evidenced by many new additions of his works

17 Jul

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