Natural passions : desire and emotion in Epicurean ethics



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My dissertation draws heavily on two ethical treatises by Philodemus of Gadara (c. 110 - c. 40/35 BCE), De ira and De morte, in order to reassess and expand our understanding of Epicurean teachings regarding the emotions. I begin with a discussion of Epicurus’s own classification of desires as “natural and necessary,” “natural and unnecessary,” or simply “empty.” This division forms the foundation upon which later Epicureans constructed their theory of the emotions. In the second and third chapters, I present detailed analyses of Philodemus’s De ira and De morte. Similarities in their respective treatments of anger and fear (in particular the fear of death) allow us to reconstruct the more general theory of “natural” and “empty” emotions that underlies both. This theory resonates with continuing concerns regarding what, if any, cognitive component the emotions possess and, more practically, to what extent they are thereby under our control.