Epicurean Philosophy vs. Humanism

I have never considered Epicurean philosophy to be a form of “Humanist” philosophy any more than it is a form of Stoicism or Platonism. I haven’t written extensively on this, in part because many Humanists are allies on certain important points, such as rejection of Supernatural Religion.

But I was reminded of this point today and I think it is time to start a thread on it. My position is that “Humanism” is just another “-ism” that has a goal at its center which is very different from Epicurean philosophy. It will take much citation and explanation to explain this, but let’s start in this post with the frequent Humanist slogan:


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 fully agree with this reference to Nietszche as recorded at Wikipedia: “For Friedrich Nietzsche, humanism was nothing more than an empty figure of speech – a secular version of theism.”

Here is a useful Wilipedia article as a starting point for reference.

Here is an article at Academia.com: Nietsche’s Overcoming of Humanism [“In this section, I will discuss the transition from Platonic-Christian values to the values of secular humanism and attempt to show how these values, from a Nietzschean perspective, constitute another instantiation of the nihilistic paradigm”]

“Nietzsche’s Overcoming of Humanism” REHA KULDAŞLI

Above I said that with the death of God, the function of a central agency that orders beings is assumed by human being. To be more precise, this function is granted to an evaluation of human being understood to a great extent in rationalistic terms. The transmigration of this function from God to human being raises the value of human being to a degree in which it is conceived as above other beings due to this ordering power. That is, an evaluation of human being begins to occupy the seat vacated by God without a fundamental change in the structure. In Nietzsche’s terminology, God is replaced by its shadow, i.e., the rationalistic, more precisely, the subjectivistic (see 2.5, below) conception of human being. With this, human being’s search for security in the world from the perspective of self-preservation undergoes a modification. The previous ideal of spiritual salvation turns into a scientific-rationalistic conception of salvation, although the underlying tendencies and their unconscious desire for the overcoming of suffering remain operative. With respect to these tendencies, Nietzsche says:

What they would like to strive for with all their powers is the universal, green, pasture-happiness of the herd, with security, absence of danger, comfort, an easing of life for everyone. The two songs and doctrines they sing most frequently are called ‘Equality of Rights’ and ‘pity for all things that suffer’ – and they assume that suffering itself is something we must do away with.”

Discussion:  https://www.epicureanfriends.com/index.php?thread/972-epicurean-philosophy-vs-humanism/