Saturday, September 29, 2012

Are you a Stoic or an Epicurean?

In his great work  History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (1869) the Irish historian William Lecky describes 2 character types that seem as relevant today as they were back in 1869. Which are you?

There have ever been stern, upright, self-controlled, and courageous men, actuated by a pure sense of duty, capable of high efforts of self-sacrifice, somewhat intolerant of the frailties of others, somewhat hard and unsympathising in the ordinary intercourse of society, but rising to heroic grandeur as the storm lowered upon their path, and more ready to relinquish life than the cause they believed to be true.

 There have also always been men of easy tempers and of amiable disposition, gentle, benevolent, and pliant, cordial friends and forgiving enemies, selfish at heart, yet ever ready, when it is possible, to unite their gratifications with those of others, averse to all enthusiasm, mysticism, utopias, and superstition, with little depth of character or capacity for self-sacrifice, but admirably fitted to impart and to receive enjoyment, and to render the course of life easy and harmonious.

The first are by nature Stoics, and the second Epicureans, and if they proceed to reason about the summum bonum or the affections, it is more than probable that in each case their characters will determine their theories. The first will estimate self-control above all other qualities,will disparage the affections, and will endeavour to separate widely the ideas of duty and of interest, while the second will systematically prefer the amiable to the heroic, and the utilitarian to the mystical.

Lecky, William Edward Hartpole (2012-03-27). History of European Morals From Augustus to Charlemagne (Vol. 1 of 2) (Kindle Locations 2229-2238).
Kindle Edition. (available free of charge from


  1. A mix of both?? What a useful answer.
    Which one are you?

  2. What a good question!
    I find the extract illuminating maybe partly because I can see a lot of Epicureanism in myself - warts and all!
    Building on the Positive Psychology movement, maybe I (and others) could benefit by using their Epicurean strengths more - rejoicing in these and creating opportunities to use them.
    Aristotle and his theory of the mean though might suggest we move more towards the mean, and, where appropriate, exercise more Stoic (or Epicurean, if we are a Stoic) qualities.
    I think we can also benefit by recognising that others aren't the same - for me, as more Epicurean, I might wind up some Stoics and vice-versa - and this can help tolerance.
    Finally, this is all about our temperament, personality character - which may or may not be the same as what we believe to be the best way to live.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.