Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher, born on the island Samos. He was the founder of the Garden, a school of philosophy in Athens, but his views were far more widely dispersed than that, as the existence of Epicurean communities as far off as Syria demonstrates.

Though he wrote much, little of Epicurus‘ works survives; Diogenes Laertius‘ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers preserves a number of his letters and sayings, and Lucretius‘ De Rerum Natura is believed to accurately represent his views, but there is little else remaining beyond that.

Epicureanism was often regarded badly in antiquity. Its egalitarianism, with all being treated equally irrespective of wealth, sex, or status, was in part responsible for this. It was also, however, sharply inconsistent with the Christianity that came to be dominant in the Roman empire; though Epicureanism afforded a role to gods, they were not thought to be involved in the universe in any way, and it rejected outright the idea of an afterlife.

A very early statement of the problem of evil is also attributed to Epicurus. David Hume cites “Epicurus‘ old riddle”, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

The disdain with which Epicureanism was treated has led to it being misconceived to this day. Epicureanism is still thought of as a commitment to sensual pleasure, to fast living. Though Epicurus did conceive of pleasure as the highest good, his conception of pleasure was far from hedonistic: all that Epicurus sought was a peaceful life free from discomfort and distress.