Epicureanism was an atomistic and naturalistic approach to life that was promoted by its founder Epicurus (341–270 B.C.). Promoting a form of hedonism, Epicureans believed that pleasure is the beginning and end of a happy life. They held that there were two levels of pleasures. First, there were “satisfaction” desires such as food, drink, and sex. Second, there were deeper pleasures such as friendship that occur when the satisfaction desires were met. The Epicureans stressed retreat from a violent and cruel world and the importance of cultivating and maintaining friendships.
Epicureans were not atheists, but they did not usually believe that the gods took an interest in the world and the affairs of people. They did hold that religion was often a barrier to a happy life since it instilled a fear of death with all its emphasis on suffering and punishment. Thus, for Epicureans, happiness involved removing the fear of death and all the unnecessary worrying about the afterlife. For them, the terrors of religion were just fairy tales and hindrances to the good life. The Epicureans were known as “garden philosophers” because instruction often took place in Epicurus’ garden.
The Epicureans are mentioned in the Apostle Paul’s Mars Hill address in Acts 17:18. After the fifth century A.D. Epicureanism largely died out as Christians disapproved of its anti-supernatural beliefs. Epicureanism was rediscovered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as it appeared consistent with modern science and humanism.