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Epicurus and Friendship

  • Suzanne Stern-Gillet (a1)


Ever since classical times, both Greek and Roman, friendship as a philosophical topic has been on the wane. The only notable exception is Montaigne's essay which, however, owes much to classical treatments. This decline of philosophical interest in friendship is not easy to account for. Alasdair McIntyre's overall thesis in After Virtue seemingly affords him with a ready interpretation. The progressive atomization of society, together with the concurrent growth of individualism that characterizes the modern era, claims McIntyre, are responsible for the demotion of friendship from the public to the private sphere.



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1 McIntyre, A., After Virtue (London: Duckworth, 1985), 156, my italics.

2 Sententiae Vaticanas, LVIII, in Epicurus: The Extant Remains, ed. and trans. 1926 Bailey, C. (Hildesheim and New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1970). Unless otherwise indicated all references to Epicurus' text will be to the Bailey edition and translation.

3 Kuriai Doxai, XIV, my translation. The obscurity of this aphorism reflects the poor state of the manuscripts, and any translation is bound to be an interpretation. I favour Von der Muehll's, and Bollack's, reading of euporia (dative) over Bailey's euporia (nominative) since: (1) it allows for a ready translation of the first kai and (2) it makes the point that protection from men will be most complete when it comes about through the agent himself rather than when it is due to (external) circumstances such as exile or prosperity. In that respect, my translation is closer to M. Solovine's: “Bien qu'on puisse jusqu'à un certain point se mettre en sécurité contre les hommes au moyen de la force et de la richesse, on obtient cependant une sécurité plus complète en vivant tranquille et loin de la foule”, in Epicure: Doctrines et Maximes (Paris: Hermann, 1939). Unfortunately Solovine leaves exoristike untranslated.

4 Politics, I, 1.

5 Kuriai Doxai, XXXIII.

6 Politics, 1280b, trans. Jowett, B. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1905).

7 Nicomachean Ethics, 1155a24, trans. Irwin, T.'s (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1985).

8 Kuriai Doxai, XXVII.

9 Forster, E. M., Two Cheers for Democracy (London: Edward Arnold, 1952), 66.

10 McIntyre, , After Virtue, 156.

11 Kuriai Doxai, XXXI–XXXVIII.

12 Sententiae Vaticanae, XXIII. It is interesting to note that Kant, Lectures on Ethics, trans. Enfield, L. (New York and Evanston, IL: Harper Torchbooks, 1963), 203204, was to put forward the same view in similar terms: “The friendship of need … was the original form of friendship amongst men” and “the friendship of need is presupposed in every friendship, not for enjoyment, but for confidence”. The Kantian view that the friendship of need is genetically prior to fully-fledged friendship closely matches the Epicurean use of archē.

13 Ibid., XXVIII.

14 Ibid., XXXIX.

15 Ibid., LVI.

16 Rist, J. M., Epicurus: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 129.

17 Long, A. A., Hellenistic Philosophy (London: Duckworth, 1974), 72.

18 Long, A. A. and Sedley, D. N., The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), vol. 1, 138, and vol. 2, 132. Bollack, Like M., La Pensée du plaisir. Epicure: textes moraux, commentaires (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1975), 451, they reject Usener's emendation of arete (virtue) into hairetē (choiceworthy) in Sententia XXIII. Both interpretations of the Sententia have much to recommend themselves and it is difficult to find conclusive arguments for either reading. I am inclined to think that the problem of interpretation of this aphorism is caused by the undisputed di heauten (in itself). Whether or not we accept Usener's emendation, we still have the problem of explaining how and why Epicurus came to invest something else than pleasure with intrinsic value.

19 Letter to Menoeceus, 128.

20 Sententiae Vaticanae, XXXIII; see also Kuriai Doxai, XXI.

21 Letter to Menoeceus, 130.

23 For a detailed discussion of the concepts of needs, wants and lacks cf., e.g., White, A. R., Modal Thinking (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975), chap. 8, passim.

24 Nicomachean Ethics, 1156a17–21.

25 Sententiae Vaticanae, XXVIII.

26 Ibid., LVI.

27 Sententiae Vaticanae, XXVII, as analyzed infra.

28 Ibid., XXIII.

29 Ibid., LXXVIII.

30 Festugière, A. J., Epicurus and His Gods, trans. Chillon, C. W. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1955), 3233.

31 Ibid., 36–37.

32 Cf. Cooper, J., Reason and Human Good in Aristotle (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975), 19ff.

33 Letter to Menoeceus, 135.

34 Bailey, , Epicurus, 382.

35 DeWitt, N. W., Epicurus and His Philosophy (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1954), 218219.

36 It should here be mentioned that, unlike Bailey, Arrighetti, G., Epicurus Opere (Torino: Giulio Einaudi, 1960), and Bollack, , Pensée, 486488, both reject Usener's emendation. According to Bollack, this Sententia makes the point that the greatest good should be conceived of as outside time, i.e., as immune to generation and corruption. Though this interpretation is ingenious, it is convoluted. Besides, it fails to dispel the obscurity of the text since it raises the further question as to why Epicurus should have recourse to a temporal notion, i.e., that of simultaneity, to make the point that the greatest good is atemporal.

37 Cf. also Fragment 54.

38 Cicero, De Amicitia, trans. Falconer, W. A., Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann, 1923), XII, 40, my italics.

39 de Montaigne, M., Essays, trans. Florio, J., 1603, repr. Everyman Library (London: Dent, London, 1900), 202.

40 De Amicitia, VIII, 28.

41 Sententiae Vaticanae, XV. I have amended Bailey's translation of epieikeis as “well-disposed to us” into “decent” since his rendering prejudges the issue of the egoistic nature of mature inter-personal relationships.

42 Cf. also Letter to Herodotus, in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, X, 82. The significant role of the notion of individual in Epicurus' thought is stressed, though not fully substantiated, in Harrington, B., The Faith of Epicurus (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967), 100104.

43 Sententiae Vaticanae, LXXVII.

44 Lysis, 215a–b.

45 Kuriai Doxai, XXVIII.

46 Ibid., XL. Cf. also Fragment 50.

47 Sententiae Vaticanae, LV.

48 I should like to thank Gordon Neal and Axel Stern, as well as the two anonymous Dialogue referees, for perceptive comments on earlier drafts.

Epicurus and Friendship

  • Suzanne Stern-Gillet (a1)


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