Is Epicurean Friendship Altruistic?

Apeiron 34 (4):269 - 305 (2001)
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Epicurus is strongly committed to psychological and ethical egoism and hedonism. However, these commitments do not square easily with many of the claims made by Epicureans about friendship: for instance, that the wise man will sometimes die for his friend, that the wise man will love his friend as much as himself, feel exactly the same toward his friend as toward himself, and exert himself as much for his friend's pleasure as for his own, and that every friendship is worth choosing for its own sake. These claims have led some scholars to assert that Epicurus inconsistently affirms that friendship has an altruistic element. I argue that the Epicurean claims about friendship can be reconciled with egoism and hedonism in psychology and ethics. Friendship is valuable because having friends provides one with security more effectively than any other means, and having confidence that one will be secure in the future either is identical to ataraxia, or the grounds on which one has it.

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Tim O'Keefe
Georgia State University


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