Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 August 2012
The Reception of Epicureanism Amongst the Moderns
The Epicurean system of natural philosophy and ethics presented a major attraction for seventeenth century philosophers, for whom it offered a powerful alternative to Christian Aristotelianism and the theory of man's corrupted and sinful nature. On the natural philosophy side, it furnished the underlying system – corpuscularianism – of the moderns, or, in seventeenth century terms, the “innovators.” On the ethical side, the revival of the Epicurean doctrine of pleasure is evident in seventeenth century moral philosophy, in which references to happiness, joy, and pleasure begin to take on a more positive tone, though they are constrained by the doubt that a secular morality is possible and by worries over concupiscence. It would be a worthwhile project to trace the reaction to and reinterpretation of each of the major Epicurean doctrines, including the ideational nature of God and the evolution of the functional animal in early modern philosophy. Meanwhile, the efforts of an idealistic, and somewhat authoritarian philosopher, Leibniz, to come to terms with ambient Epicureanism will serve to illustrate this mixed, but, on the whole, highly positive reception.
Assimilating is always a more dangerous philosophical and intellectual strategy than distinguishing. Qualifications are needed, and the chapter will supply them in due course. But I suspect that the Epicureanism of the moderns has been underestimated for two reasons that do not amount to justifications.
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