Epicurean Philosophy is a Humanism

I am writing this essay in response to New Epicurean’s Epicurean Philosophy vs. Humanism. There, the author says:


That should be an immediate tipoff that feeling – pleasure and pain – are not at the center of Humanism. What’s at the center is “being good.” And advocacy of being a good person is always a tipoff that the person advocating that position has his or her own definition of “What a Good Person Is.” And therein is the slippery slope of all Idealist philosophies and religions: In the atomistic universe recognized by Epicurus, in which there is no center point of observation, no supernatural creating god, and nothing eternal except elements and void – there IS no single definition of “good.”

I will come back to this as time allows, because I know my criticism of “Humanism” is not unique, nor is it rooted only in Epicurus or even in Nietzsche. I don’t consider this issue to be a word game, and I consider it important not to unnecessarily offend the many good people who embrace the term “humanism” for reasons that are compatible with Epicurus.

But Epicurean philosophy is about being precise with words, and keeping Nature – not idealism – at its center, so this is an issue which needs to be developed and understood.

I agree with most of what’s being said here–and in fact this is in line with our recent video against the use of empty words. Many of our friends (particularly from Greece) are adamant that we should avoid any and all isms, as they lead to idealist ways of thinking and away from the study of nature–but to the whole world it is clear that Epicurean philosophy is a Humanist tradition. The Gospel of Epicurus has always found the most open audiences among the humanists and atheists. I published my book through Humanist Press, and the best review it got was from The Humanist–which has also published some of my essays. And so it is clear that Epicurean philosophy has found a niche in Humanism.

When Sartre disclosed his own philosophy to the world, he titled his essay Existentialism Is a Humanism. I think EP is also a distinct flavor of humanism (one of many human-isms); a Humanist faith or philosophy with its own independent tenets. It’s just not “generic”. A fellow Epicurean said it this way: “Epicurean thought is compatible with Humanistic thought, but not necessarily the other way round.” The Oxford Dictionary defines humanism this way:


  • an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.
  • a Renaissance cultural movement which turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought.

Dictionary.com defines it this way:

  • any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate.
  • devotion to or study of the humanities.
  • (sometimes initial capital letter) the studies, principles, or culture of the humanists.
  • Philosophy. a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God.

Concerning the “study of humanities”, I have frequently observed that Lucretius was, to some extent, an anthropologist in addition to a poet and philosopher. Epicurean philosophy meets or has fulfilled these definitions throughout history, and so it IS a version or a sect of humanism.

Further Reading:

Self-Guided Study Curriculum

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014) and 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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