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By Richard Kreitner


The Montréal Review, January 2012



Ancient philosophy - especially after Aristotle - largely focused on how to achieve self-sufficiency on the one hand, and peace of mind on the other; it thus became fundamentally therapeutic, in nature and goal. Though ancient philosophers are generally known for their praise of friendship, there is an evident tension involved in these positions: the possession of friends seems almost unhelpful, nearly inimical, to self-sufficiency and peace of mind. As fulfilling as friendships generally are, they often lead to mutual dependency and a loss of the tranquility thought to accompany solitude. The problems grow even more acute when one considers other, more intimate forms of human relationships, those celebrated less widely in ancient philosophy, such as sexual intercourse and romantic love, both of which intuitively seem even more threatening to self-sufficiency and mental tranquility than friendship does. Two schools of Hellenistic philosophy in particular, Stoicism and Epicureanism, struggled to find coherent positions on each of these three forms of human relationships, to draw clean lines around what is worth pursuing and what is not, what is acceptable and what is not; ultimately, both schools generally agree that those relationships based on natural feelings are healthy and should be fostered, and those which degenerate into reasonless passion or emotional dependency should be avoided.

The Epicureans divided all desires along two axial lines: some are natural, others unnatural; the fulfillment of some is necessary, of others unnecessary. This creates four distinct categories of desires: the natural and necessary desires, which we should satisfy; the unnatural and necessary desires, which by definition do not exist, since only what is natural is truly necessary; the unnatural and unnecessary desires, which we should avoid; and the natural and unnecessary desires, which we should satisfy warily, carefully ensuring that we do not confuse them with the necessary desires, and thus allow them to disrupt our autarkeia, or inner self-sufficiency.

It is not immediately clear where the idea of friendship fits into the Epicurean system, which, as Andrew Mitchell notes, is wholly directed towards achieving self-sufficiency for the individual. (1) Yet it is evident from the extant writings of Epicurus and from those of his followers that he did in fact hold friendship in high esteem. It is the subject of some of his most eloquent dictums: "Friendship dances around the world bidding us all to awaken to the recognition of happiness." (2) And: "The noble man is chiefly concerned with wisdom and friendship; of these, the former is a mortal good, the latter an immortal one." (3) As Mitchell notes in his essay "Friendship Amongst the Self-Sufficient," there is an implicit tension in Epicurean thought that can only be worked out examining closely where the idea of friendship (and other forms of companionship, like sexual intimacy and romantic love) fits into his overall ethical project.

Friendship, for Epicurus, fits into the category of the natural and necessary desires. Mitchell writes, channeling the Epicureans: "A life without friends is a life diseased, pained, and in need of succor." (4) Solitude is not conducive to happiness. Friendship for the Epicureans is necessary for achieving ataraxia , or a state of lucid tranquility. However, it is not the same as the need for water or shelter or food, other natural and necessary desires. There are dangers involved in the desire for friendship that are reminiscent of the dangers involved in the pursuit of natural and unnecessary desires. There are certain preconditions that require satisfaction before one can pursue friendship. The most important of these pre-conditions is the very self-sufficiency that we seem to view as in tension with the desire for friendship. Mitchell writes: "While friendship may appear contra self-sufficiency, for Epicurus it forms the very height of self-sufficiency - the ultimate moment in the therapeutics of pain." (5) For Epicurus, the person who is able to go into the world and pursue friendship the way it is supposed to be pursued is the same kind of person who is not dependent on those friendships, who can most enjoy them for their own sakes, rather than with a view merely to their own self-interest. Whereas previous defenses of friendship had depended on the utility involved or the recognition of oneself in others (as in Aristotle, where, as Mitchell argues, friendship appears to be simply a glorified form of self-love), Epicurus emphasizes that a friendship cannot depend solely on the benefits accruing to its participants. What is true of the world in general is true of friendship in particular: whoever needs it least is most eager to experience it, for then the benefits reaped are all the more pure.

None of which is to say that Epicurus completely ignores the element of utility involved in any friendship. As he says in Vatican Sayings XXIII: "Every friendship in itself is to be desired; but the initial cause of friendship is from its advantages." (6) Both friends are in it for the advantages, but the important thing is to not permit oneself to be dominated by those advantages. There is an important element of confidence and trust in any friendship; you trust that the usefulness of the friendship will be there again tomorrow. In modern English there is an important distinction between the connotations of reliance upon friends and dependence on them. The former has an element of strength, of leading the good life, of what Epicurus called ataraxia, or fulfillment; the latter implies a certain weakness involved, a lack of self-sufficiency or autarkeia. The danger in Epicurean philosophy is that one might move from reliance on a friend to dependence on them. We must be able to reap the benefits of friendship (pleasure, for Epicurus), while not allowing ourselves to be carried away by them or become dependent on them. As Mitchell writes in his essay: "Through the treatment of desire, by bringing the soul to a state of satisfaction, Epicurus simultaneously frees the world from that soul's utilitarian impositions. The world can now show itself as something other than a workshop of tools for the satisfaction of needs." (7) Indeed, for Epicurus, the goal was not merely the satisfaction of desires. Pleasure consists not merely in drinking water to satisfy thirst, but in drinking water so that one is no longer thirsty. The pleasure is in not being thirsty anymore, in that specific desire no longer arising to disrupt one's ataraxia. Only liberated from this feeling of dependence and necessity can we view both friendship and the world in general as they each should respectively be viewed. Similarly, life with friends is most beneficial because one no longer suffers those pains or disturbances associated with leading a friendless, solitary life. Satisfying a desire is good because it liberates oneself from the tyranny of that desire.

Sexual intercourse, on the other hand, is ranked by Epicureanism among the natural but unnecessary desires. This is the difficult area that Epicurus does not suggest we avoid entirely but rather thinks must be sampled carefully so that we do not begin to confuse them for natural and necessary desires. It is of the utmost importance not to permit oneself to become overwhelmed. Diogenes Laertius quotes Epicurus as saying, "Sexual intercourse.never helped anyone, and one must be satisfied if it has not harmed." (8) Enjoying natural but unnecessary desires requires a careful balancing act and a clear-thinking mind. Mitchell writes: "To enjoy these unnecessary desires and to not make of them necessities, to take free pleasure in the unnecessary, this is the highest achievement." (9) Indeed, one thing separating the Epicureans from the Stoics in this area is that the former believe the more virtuous person will be able to sample natural but unnecessary desires while not allowing themselves to be overwhelmed by them. It is almost easier, they would argue, to deny such physical pleasures entirely than it is to allow oneself to enjoy them but go no further. For the Stoics, on the other hand, and as we shall see, pleasures which threaten tranquility should largely be avoided.

There is an important distinction that must be made in Epicurean thinking between the raw physical act of sexual intercourse (and the corresponding pleasurable release of tension or disturbance) and the psychological or even spiritual pleasure we find in reciprocated sexual passion (which is often confused for the natural pleasure of sex itself). While Epicurus categorizes the former as natural though unnecessary, the latter - which we might loosely call sexual passion - is something different. Sexual passion, like the desire for money, seems to be something that only gets worse and more mentally disturbing the more it is indulged and satisfied. William Stephens writes in his essay, "What's Love Got to Do With It?": "Not only is it not necessary to satisfy sexual passion to live a happy, untroubled life, it is wiser still to eliminate this hazardous disposition. Epicurus concludes that a person never gets any good from sexual passion, and is lucky not to receive harm from it." (10) While we enjoy sexual intercourse mostly if we consider it a pleasant though unnecessary satisfaction, sexual passion has a way of giving itself the appearance of a necessary desire, and in this way, as Mitchell writes, "[tends] to make of the unnecessary objects luxurious necessities.This makes what should be a matter of free enjoyment into a cause for concern, and this thereby hinders enjoyment." (11) On the Epicurean account, if we allow sexual intercourse to become intertwined and confused with sexual passion, we are putting ourselves in greater danger of allowing unnecessary desires to disturb our ataraxia . Whereas intercourse in itself satisfies our sexual desires, "erotic passion only serves to intensify that agitating, passionate love without extinguishing or even diminishing it." (12) Indeed, what we now call "love" occupies its own place in the Epicurean hierarchy of desires, and it is important to examine what the Epicurean tradition would think of what is, put very crudely, essentially the combination of one desire of which it approves, friendship, and another which it feels ambivalent about, namely the desire for sexual intercourse. (13)

As stated above, there is a significant categorical difference between the sexual intercourse that Epicurus ambivalently endorses and the flights of sexual passion he considers a threat to ataraxia . Much of what we mean by sexual passion is comprised in the term we now so loosely apply to both the performance of that passion and the state of mind, for lack of a better term, experienced as both its cause and effect. Love can be considered as the combination of the benefits involved in friendship and the physical pleasure of sexual intercourse. However, for the Epicurean, the two parts individually are worth more than the sum put together. Whereas friendship and sex are both, to varying extents, worth pursuing, love is nothing more than mental disturbance and directly incompatible with both autarkeia and ataraxia . As Stephens writes, "Sex satisfies the body and is a natural pleasure. Love crazes the mind and leads to heartache." (14)

Love, for Epicurus, falls under the category of desires that are both unnatural and unnecessary. It is not anything in nature that makes us desire to have one sex partner to ourselves, but rather dictates of the society around us - what Epicurus calls "empty opinions." (15) Basically, we would not consent to the arrangement known as love if we had never heard of it before. It is essentially to make oneself obsessed with fulfilling a desire that can never be fulfilled, therefore condemning oneself forever to unhappiness. William Stephens, in another essay, focuses on the Roman poet Lucretius, an Epicurean, and how the poet condemns monogamy as unnatural and what we would now consider romantic love as merely mental disturbance. For Lucretius, Stephens writes,

Love is not a benign pleasure unmixed with pain; rather, love lacerates the mind. Though love might seem sweet at first, it is in reality pernicious because even when your loved one is absent, images of her continue to invade your thoughts, and her name rings incessantly in your ears. These relentless stimuli plague the mind with emotional disturbance, robbing it of peace. (16)

Lucretius, as a faithful Epicurean, would rather that men focus their sexual energies on more than one woman, so that sexual desire - which is natural - avoid the emotional traps of love, "a psychological obsession that must not be fueled." (17)

Love comes even closer than friendship to endangering Epicurean self-sufficiency or autarkeia. Whereas Mitchell noted that, in an Epicurean friendship, utility can be a benefit of maintaining the friendship but it cannot be the very reason for the friendship, in love one cannot avoid the fate of being made into merely another object in the world for another person's projects: "Within a philosophy of self-sufficiency such as Epicurus', being made into an object for another's gain is the worst of possible fates and the complete antipode to self-sufficiency; it is life's greatest danger." (18) Yet this is precisely what one subjects oneself to in a love relationship. You consent to being used, so long as the other lets you use them in turn. This leads to disturbance in the soul. If one were to counter that the evidently universal desire for love between two human beings should indicate that there actually is, in fact, something natural about it, and that therefore perhaps all the pains or disturbances are worthwhile, the Epicurean would respond that this does not prove attachments of love are natural, only that everyone has been duped by society's "empty opinions" - which could very well be the case. According to Stephens, Lucretius warned that "images of idyllic, beatified, electrified, passionate love are ephemeral images , mirages, incapable of feeding our real, earthly, embodied human relationships but fully capable of poisoning them." (19) The desire for love - since it is both unnatural and unnecessary - can only do us harm; even in its fulfillment we do not experience the Epicurean pleasure of the absence of the desire. Love is insatiable, and therefore, for the Epicurean, must not be indulged.

The Stoic position on friendship slightly differs from that of the Epicureans, though they hold it in similar esteem. Epictetus argues in the Discourses that friendship is only possible after the removal of any attachments to things in the external world, which tend to cause conflict between potential friends. Epictetus argues that if we see animals playing, we think they are friends. But that is only true in that particular moment, when they are playing; it is not always the case: "To see what friendship is, throw a piece of meat among them and you will learn." (20) The same is true with all apparent attachments between humans. Epictetus frames his argument as a response to a hypothetical case in which a man claims to love his son: "So with you and your dear boy: throw a bit of land between you, and you will learn how your boy wishes to give you a speedy burial, and you pray for the boy to die." (21) Only when we surrender our claims on all external things - such as, though as we will see not limited to, property - can we establish sincere friendships deserving of the name. Anything less is only appearance and not reality. For Epictetus, a person either identifies himself with his external interests or with what Epictetus calls his "will," his inner interests - i.e. being virtuous. Since Moral Worth is the only good in Stoic philosophy, only wise men - those who know what is good and what is not - can truly be friends. Thus not only is friendship possible for the Stoic, but only for the Stoic is friendship possible.

It is important to note, however, that these external interests which the Stoic commands us to turn away from are not merely reducible to what we would call our most obvious "interests," such as economic stability or even naked self-preservation - which the Stoic believes from birth we naturally see seek. Epictetus believes that the interest we foolishly take in external affairs is a bigger problem, and thus friendship is a harder achievement than we might otherwise think. At one point he says that external interests are synonymous with "man's judgment about good and evil." (22) This comes close to a skeptical position, in which we must renounce our judgment about what is good and what is evil in order to achieve a peaceful state of the soul. Only by renouncing these external interests (with their expanded definition) can we achieve a state of being in which true friendship and love is possible.

Thus, Epictetus believes that when we see people who we think are friends the only question to ask is whether they align their interests with external or internal affairs: "If they put it outside, do not call them friends, any more than you can call them faithful, or stable, or confident, or free; nay, do not call them even men, if you are wise." (23) Those who continue to maintain interest in external affairs - which, on the Stoic definition, are necessarily outside of human control - cannot be friends, because they will continue to clash over things like private property and judgments of good and evil. Only between two people who each renounce such things as out of their control and therefore meaningless can friendship take root and grow:

But if you hear that these men in very truth believe the good to lie only in the region of the will and in dealing rightly with impressions, you need trouble yourself no more as to whether a man is son or father, whether they are brothers, or have been familiar companions for years; I say, if you grasp this one fact and no more, you may pronounce with confidence that they are friends, as you may that they are faithful and just. For where else is friendship but where faith and honour are, where men give and take what is good, and nothing else? (24)

Thus, since only the person with correct judgments about what is and is not in his control - he who exercises reason - can be a friend, Mitchell is correct when he says that "friendship for the Stoics is an expression of reason." (25) The relationship of one friend to another then - truly possible only among Stoics - is the relation of reason with itself. Diogenes Laertius summarizes the Stoic position as, "T here is no friendship among base men and.no base man has a friend." (26) Again, only the Stoic can be a true friend, since he has renounced all those external affairs which among non-Stoics bring friendships to ruin. Therefore, Mitchell writes, "The Stoic project of being in accord with nature, then, is furthered by the Stoic's being a friend." (27)

But it is not inappropriate to question the value of a friendship established upon the mutual surrender of any interest in external situations whatsoever. How is one friend supposed to sympathize with another's trials and travails? As Andrew Mitchell writes about the Stoic surrender of interest in external affairs, "The resultant indifference, however, seems an absence of ill will, rather than any positive form of friendship." (28) The Stoic view of friendship seems to rob of the concept any of its value, replacing it only with the vague promise of a lucid state of mind once one has withdrawn interest in external matters.

The Stoics would reply that friendship based on anything except mutual renunciation of all interests not related to Moral Worth is not only not preferable, but is simply impossible. It will either not last, or, if it does, will be merely a flimsy reproduction of that feeling which the idea of friendship is supposed to denote. In the same sense that the modern cliché says you cannot love another until you have learned to love yourself, the Stoics insist that one cannot be a friend to another until one has become a friend to oneself; and being a friend to oneself means - in Marcus Aurelius' phrase - "clearing away the clouds from thy mind," (29) including those imposed from without that lead to murky thoughts and irrational attachments to external matters outside of one's own control. The only solution is renunciation. Epictetus writes in "On Friendship":

So let every one of you, who is anxious himself to be friend to another, or to win another for his friend, uproot these judgments, hate them, drive them out of his mind. If he does that, then first he will never revile himself or be in conflict with himself, he will be free from change of mind, and self-torture; secondly he will be friendly to his neighbour, always and absolutely, if he be like himself, and if he be unlike, he will bear with him, be gentle and tender with him, considerate to him as one who is ignorant and in error about the highest matters; not hard upon any man. (30)

Clarifying one's own situation in the world - one's power and one's impotence - is the necessary step on the road to being capable of true friendship. In this way, the Stoics are actually rather similar to the Epicureans, who argued that one of the preconditions for friendship was the attainment of genuine autarkeia, or self-sufficiency. Without this inner surrender and resultant inner strength, both mental lucidity and mutually beneficial friendship are impossible:

But if you fail to do this [clear away the clouds], you may do everything else that friends do -drink together and live under the same roof and sail in the same ship and be born of the same parents; well, the same may be true of snakes, but neither they nor you will be capable of friendship so long as you retain these brutish and revolting judgments. (31)

Humans - so long as they remain attached to viewing things outside their control as within their control - are no better than the beasts. The human condition is a privileged position because we are able to exercise reason. The Stoics are constantly on guard for anything that might alter this rational equilibrium. Similarly to the Epicureans, the Stoics balk at any attachments to other individuals that move beyond the friendly, since they are either indifferent or inimical to Moral Worth, and therefore not to be pursued.
The Stoics also make a similar move to the Epicureans when human relations go from friendship to sexual intercourse, though whereas the Epicureans maintain an ambivalent position on sex - arguing that, unlike friendship, it is not really necessary, and can only do one harm - the Stoics go further, arguing that, in the words of Diogenes Laertius, "Sexual love is a desire which does not afflict virtuous men." (32) Moreover, whereas the Epicureans believe that sexual intercourse has the potential to lead to mental disturbances, the Stoics hold that sexual intercourse - and its necessarily rapturous climax - is the very antithesis of reason and therefore should be avoided. Diogenes writes:

Pleasure is an irrational elation over what seems to be worth choosing; under it are ranged enchantment, mean-spirited satisfaction, enjoyment, rapture. Enchantment is a pleasure which charms one through the sense of hearing; mean-spirited satisfaction is pleasure at someone else's misfortunes; enjoyment is, as it were, a turning, a kind of incitement of the soul to slackness; rapture is a breakdown of virtue." (33)

Though Diogenes does not make the connection explicitly, all of these things can be found in sexual intercourse (mean-spirited satisfaction especially, according to some, for the male). Sex, for the Stoics, is incompatible with the level-headedness required in order to rationally accord one's thinking and behavior with nature and Moral Worth, and should therefore be avoided.

The Stoics are not unrealistic, however, and recognize that since sex is apparently something humans will do anyway, societies should be arranged in such an order that sexual intercourse produces the least pain possible. Like Lucretius and the Epicureans, the Stoics believe the custom of monogamy is both unnatural and not beneficial to human happiness. According to Diogenes Laertius, the Stoics "think the wise men should have their wives in common, so that anyone might make love to any woman." (34) Only in this way could the Stoics continue to maintain their lack of attachments to external things. In such a system, "the jealousy occasioned by adultery would be removed." (35) As was true of friendship, sex is only possible for the Stoics if all feelings of possessiveness and dangers of conflict are removed.

Surprisingly, then, the Stoics do not exactly frown upon love - or, rather, their own special definition of love. Because Stoicism preaches that tranquility of the soul can only be achieved by discarding any attachments one has to external objects or other people, it might seem that the Stoic should be wholly incapable of the kinds of sacrifice, empathy, and responsibility involved in love. Indeed, for the Stoics love always has the ability to morph into something more closely resembling emotional servitude than any kind of mutually rewarding and beneficial relationship. For instance, if my loved one happens to undergo some kind of distressing episode or is in pain, am I supposed to merely shrug it off, tell her to focus on only that which is in her power? Are her tears not supposed to move me to shed tears of my own?

Epictetus argues in the Encheirderon that if we see a fellow crying and moaning by the side of the road, we should not just ignore him. Though as wise men we recognize his sufferings as due not to the seemingly unfortunate circumstances in which he finds himself but rather to the willful judgments he has made regarding those circumstances, we should still commiserate with him, and even, if necessary, shed tears and moan with him. However, Epictetus warns, "be careful not to moan inwardly." (36) For Epictetus, humans are naturally empathetic and care about the suffering of others, and in order to remain aligned with nature we should not merely shrug off as trifles the tribulations of others and our sympathy for their pain. We should stop short, however, of assuming the other person's troubles as our own, because then we are negatively affecting our own tranquility by caring about something that is wholly out of our control. The limits of Stoic empathy demonstrate the limits of Stoic love. The Stoic position on love is that one must constantly guard against the danger of these natural feelings slipping into flights of reasonless passion. As William Stephens argues, there is an important difference between natural feelings of love and affection and those flights of passion wrongly considered natural, which signal undue attachment to external things and a character ripe for disruption. "We could describe the Stoic as passionless but not unfeeling ," Stephens writes. Thus the Stoic is fully capable - indeed, as with friendship, the Stoic is the only person capable of the Stoic definition of love - of this tailored version of love, where one is able to cherish others, while not permitting the tranquility of one's own inner mind from ever being disturbed.

The Stoics are like the Epicureans in distancing themselves from any encroachment by sexual passion or ardor upon those natural feelings of affection, and it in fact this encroachment that often leads to mental instability. Stephens says: "Epictetus' conception of love excludes erotic passion because of its intrinsic excessiveness and uncontrollableness, which inevitably endanger mental serenity, but includes and emphasizes the soberly rational, purely positive joy of interpersonal affiliation." (37) The Stoics, who were so concerned with the distinction between what is in our control and what is not, and who stressed the importance of recognizing that distinction, were averse to permitting any realm of human experience from unnecessarily being out of our control; there is so much already that we can have no power over, so why assist the enemy? Stephens quotes the Roman Stoic poet Seneca writing: "What concerns you and me.is to ensure that we do not fall into a state of affairs which is disturbed, powerless, subservient to another and worthless to oneself." (38) The very nature of what we now call love is such that it is an abandonment of oneself and a distraction from what Epictetus would have us focus on, "the will." In the Discourses , Epictetus warns against a form of love that can degenerate into emotional slavery, thus binding us to forces out of our control - the worst fate for the Stoic:

But tell me this: did you never love any person, a young girl, or slave, or free? What then is this with respect to being a slave or free? Were you never commanded by the person beloved to do something which you did not wish to do? Have you never flattered your little slave? Have you never kissed her feet? And yet if any man compelled you to kiss Caesar's feet, you would think it an insult and excessive tyranny. What else, then, is slavery? Did you never go out by night to some place whither you did not wish to go, did you not expend what you did not wish to expend, did you not utter words with sighs and groans, did you not submit to abuse and to be excluded? (39)

The important thing for the Stoics is that love not become this kind of "involved arrangement," (40) to use Stephens' term, in which healthy feelings of enjoyment degenerate into unhealthy passions that inevitably cause instability. The Stoic must pull back from his own feelings of love, so as not to risk the mental tranquility he seeks to maintain.

While the Stoics do not advocate discarding all ties between human beings and the adoption of an ascetic style of living, they do advocate something like a pre-emptive mental asceticism. Since everything is fleeting, our love and our loved ones themselves will someday not be around. While the disturbed mind will become agitated over this, the Stoic resigns himself happily to what will necessarily be his fate. Basically, he resigns himself to the loved one's eventual death or disappearance now, so he does not have to undergo the pain later. If he is able to love someone at this distance, then he will protect himself from flights of negative passion and his mental tranquility will be preserved, or even enhanced. In this way, love becomes possible for the Stoic sage once again: " Epictetus believes that if one remembers the fragility of the things one loves, one can then restrain one's natural affection and stop the feeling of love from intensifying into an uncontrollable pathos." (41)

It might be objected that since the Stoic willfully rejects the "involved attachments" inherent in our conception of the term "love," the wise man is actually incapable of such relationships. Perhaps it is better for a human being to enjoy a moment of pleasure fully, to surrender oneself to that moment and not worry about the precariousness of our love or of the world. Maybe this Stoic "pulling back" from the commitments and dependencies of love make the whole endeavour not really worthwhile.

This objection overlooks that it is not only the Stoic who experiences feelings of attachments and loss, but everyone. The Stoic is wise in that he rationally loves, he loves while recognizing the fleeting nature of things, and adjusts his heart accordingly. Perhaps the Stoic, in declining "involved attachments," misses out on certain pleasures of the present moment, but, as Stephens writes, "the Stoic considers this enhanced present pleasure not to be worth the future anguish resulting from the inevitable absence of the external [in this case, the loved one] which will accompany it." (42) It is actually the future pain the non-Stoic commits herself to that jeopardizes whether the relationship was worthwhile in the first place. All pleasures, then, for the Stoic, including friendship, sex, and love, are necessarily and preemptively darkened by the shadow of their own eventual absence. It is better to preemptively accustom oneself to this arrangement now - to moderate our passions, to temper our desires - than to indulge ourselves now and inevitably suffer instability, turbulence, and mental unease in the future.

Though certain aspects of what we in the 21st century mean by the terms "friendship," "sex," and "love" would be foreign to Stoic and Epicurean ears in Hellenic and Roman times, both philosophies still offer now what they promised then: guides for the perplexed. Regarding all three forms of human interaction, Stoicism and Epicureanism both promote attachments they consider healthy - those that contribute to our mental tranquility and are contingent on a state of self-sufficiency - and warn us against those attachments they consider unhealthy - those which delude us as to what we need for tranquility and make us dependent, thereby undermining self-sufficiency. Though the two traditions differ on where precisely to draw the lines, for both it is ultimately up to the individual to preserve himself in the midst of worldly distractions, and through attachments with other human beings to further his own pursuit of the good, rather than hinder it.


Richard Kreitner studies philosophy at McGill University. He is a regular contributor to The Montreal Review and The McGill Tribune.


1. Andrew Mitchell, "Friendship Amongst the Self-Sufficent: Epicurus," in Essays in Philosophy , vol. 2, iss. 2 (Humboldt State University), 1.

2. Change translation and include page number from hellenistics

3. ibid

4. Mitchell, 1-2.

5. Ibid.

6. Change translation and page number

7. Mitchell, 3.

8. (DL 10.118)

9. Mitchell, 7.

10. William Stephens, "What's Love Got to Do with It?  Epicureanism and Friends with Benefits," in College Sex - Philosophy for Everyone: Philosophers with Benefits , ed. M. Bruce & R. M. Stewart (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 82.

11. Mitchell, 3.

12. Stephens, "What's Love," 83.

13. While it seems difficult and perhaps inappropriate to consider which aspects of modern friendship, sexuality, and, especially, love Epicurus would categorize in which ways, the unique nature of Epicurean philosophy is that it was solely meant as a guide for living, not as a dogmatic vision relevant only in the third century B.C.E. Mitchell insists that we must try to understand the relevance of Epicurus' philosophy in the context of our own experiences of friendship, sex, and love. He writes: "Its true validity will lie in how it helps us understand friendship and be better friends here and now. Whatever is said must have relevance for today." 13a Therefore, it is not inappropriate to consider what Epicurus would have thought of our contemporary conceptions of romantic love had he experienced it.

13a Mitchell, 13.

14. Stephens, "What's Love," 84.


16. Stephens, "What's Love," 82.

17. Ibid., 83.

18. Mitchell, 4.

19. Stephens, "What's Love," 86.

20. Epictetus, "On Friendship," in The Discourses, accessed at http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/dep/dep054.htm.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Epictetus, "On Friendship."

24. Ibid.

25. Mitchell, 3.

26. Diogenes Laertius, 201.

27. Mitchell, 3.

28. Stephens, 2.

29. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, in Marcus Aurelius and His Times (New York: Walter J. Black, 1945), 21.

30. Epictetus, "On Friendship."

31. Ibid.

32. Diogenes, 198

33. Diogenes, 198

34. Ibid., 202

35. Ibid.

36. Epictetus, Handbook of Epictetus , trans. Nicholas P. White (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983), 15.

37. Stephens, "Stoic Love."

38. Ibid.

39. Epictetus, "Of Natural Affection," in The Discourses of Epictetus, trans. George Long (London: George Bell and Sons, 1877), 37.

40. Stephens, "Stoic Love."

41. Ibid.

42. Stephens, "Stoic Love."


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