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was_epicurus_an_atheist

Was Epicurus an atheist?

Serious students of Epicurus answer this question in a number of different ways. The following responses are marked by writer:

{ Cassius Amicus } That depends on your definition of the word “atheist.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines “atheism” as “Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods.” Under this definition, which does not specify that gods are “all-powerful” or that gods created the universe, Epicurus was not an atheist. Epicurus held there to be a race of perfect, immortal gods living in distant parts of the universe who neither created the universe, control it, or have any concern for the happenings on Earth. The answer is different if your definition of “atheist” requires that gods be all-powerful or responsible for creation and direction of the universe – in other words that god is a “supreme being.” For example, Dictionary.com defines “atheist” as: “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” By this definition, Epicurus does qualify as an atheist, as all Epicurean texts refer to gods as “a part” of Nature, and not as “supreme above” or “superior to” or “creator of” Nature itself.

References: From the opening of Epicurus' Letter to Menoeceus: “First believe that God is a living being immortal and blessed, according to the notion of a god indicated by the common sense of mankind; and so believing, you shall not affirm of him anything that is foreign to his immortality or that is repugnant to his blessedness. Believe about him whatever may uphold both his blessedness and his immortality. For there are gods, and the knowledge of them is manifest; but they are not such as the multitude believe, seeing that men do not steadfastly maintain the notions they form respecting them. Not the man who denies the gods worshiped by the multitude, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them is truly impious. For the utterances of the multitude about the gods are not true preconceptions but false assumptions; hence it is that the greatest evils happen to the wicked and the greatest blessings happen to the good from the hand of the gods, seeing that they are always favorable to their own good qualities and take pleasure in men like themselves, but reject as alien whatever is not of their kind.”

was_epicurus_an_atheist.txt · Last modified: 2018/04/06 22:13 (external edit)