This thread is the place for discussion of the FAQ found here.
Please consult the links and material on this page, keeping in mind the following preliminary recommendation:
The ancient Epicurean texts that remain to us today are available freely on the internet in many different translations. There are many websites and articles available on the internet with many varying opinions as to the true teachings of Epicurus and many varying evaluations of the merit of those teachings. Unless you are already familiar with the major issues of Greek philosophy, it is very helpful to start the study of Epicurus with a sympathetic overview which attempts to present the full picture of Epicurean philosophy as an ancient Roman or Greek would have known it. That overview can be found in Norman DeWitt’s Epicurus And His Philosophy. Only when you have heard the Epicurean side presented fairly are you equipped to deal with the legions of critics of Epicurus, and only then can you develop your own fair verdict on Epicurus’ conclusions. A taste of Professor DeWitt's approach and assessment of Epicurus can be found in his article “Philosophy For The Millions.”
If you do not have immediate access to DeWitt's book, a second source that provides a very accessible picture of the sweep of Epicurean Philosophy is Frances Wright's A Few Days In Athens. The full book is available here
Wright's book is a fictional story about a young student in ancient Athens attempting to pick from several competing schools, and she does a great job of contrasting Epicurus with the alternatives, especially with stoicism. Wright's book is highly recommended, and like DeWitt does not lead the reader off into a rabbit chase after ataraxia / "absence of pain" as the goal of life.
So as an initial list in the order I would suggest a new student of Epicurus start, I would list:
- "Epicurus and His Philosophy" by Norman DeWitt
- "A Few Days In Athens" by Frances Wright
The following is a version of this response that can be pasted into locations which require the hyperlinks to be typed out in full:
- This is a question that comes up frequently. You will do yourself a big favor if you start with "Epicurus and His Philosophy" by Norman DeWitt, but below are several links to lists of books and discussions of reading suggestions that are freely available.
- There are many controversies as to the proper interpretation of Epicurus, and if instead of starting with DeWitt or the primary sources, you choose to read a modern book written in the last 30 years, you will find Epicurus presented to you from a perspective that is not the way Epicurus was understood in the ancient world. This observation is especially true with the most recent books, such as those by Catherine Wilson. That is why many of us generally recommend Norman DeWitt's "Epicurus and His Philosophy" as a starting point. DeWitt's perspective is found in the opening chapter of his book which can be read for free here:
- or in article form here: https://newepicurean.com/philosophy-for-the-millions-an-introduction-to-epicurus-by-norman-dewitt/
- For more background, here a FAQ response on this topic: https://www.epicureanfriends.com/wcf/index.php?faq/#entry-24
- Here is a discussion thread: https://www.epicureanfriends.com/index.php?thread/620-can-you-suggest-a-reading-list-for-new-students-of-epicurus/
- Here is a "library" page with links to many primary sources available for free on the internet: https://newepicurean.com/resources/library/
- Wikipedia and many modern books and websites will tell you that the central focus by Epicurus was "absence of pain." The original sources like Diogenes Laertius, in addition to Norman DeWitt's book, in contrast, will introduce you to the full sweep of the philosophy, after which it is very easy to see that "absence of pain" is absolutely *not* the way to understand Epicurus.