The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

Epicurean Illusions

Dominic Scotta1

a1 Clare College, Cambridge

Illusions play a central part in Epicurean philosophy. One of its fundamental assumptions is that men are the victims of a certain grand illusion and, as long as they remain so, can never aspire to a happy life. This is the illusion that pleasures can be increased in intensity without limit. It is as a result of this that men go to enormous lengths to enlarge their capacity to procure more pleasure, struggling in pursuit of goals that can rarely, if ever, be achieved. But here mankind has made a disastrous mistake: the limit of pleasure is reached with the removal of pain, and after that point it cannot be increased, only varied. The illusion has therefore led to a tragic state of affairs, a sad history of fruitless war, struggle and ambition and it is a vital part of Epicurus’ programme to rid men of this evil by teaching them the true limits of pleasure.