I have read somewhere that Epicurus introduced (English author, I can provide the full details), among others:

  1. A moral code of values of integrity, serenity and peaceful acceptance to life
  2. Acceptance of the existence of other forms of life, like extra-terrestrial
  3. Notions of DNA, evolution theory, atom theory
  4. Acceptance of the concept of alternate worlds, relativity of space and time
  5. Acceptance of the heliocentric astronomical system
  6. Respect to all religions but denial of all fanatics and the involvement of deities to human life

and that the Epicurians affected modern thought in a degree up to influencing the constitution of the United States and France.

If those are true, isnt Epicurus the greatest thinker of all time, in moral and scientific fields?

Any feednack will be greatly appreciated.

  • 5
    The characterizations listed here are largely overstated; in any event, attempting to crown "the greatest thinker of all time" is an impossible proposition without a rigid set of criteria. Jul 27, 2012 at 13:14
  • Agreed. Maybe the criteria might be "influence to current and future thinking" and "scientific truths that were subsequently proved true based on objective findings" Would you rather someone else who surpassed him in any way, given that the above six presumptions hold true.
    – p.a.
    Jul 27, 2012 at 13:19
  • 3
    The six presumptions don't hold true, not by any stretch of the imagination. In terms of influence on philosophy, Plato and Aristotle each exceed Epicurus by a long shot; in terms of science, Newton springs immediately to mind. Jul 27, 2012 at 14:50

1 Answer 1


Your source is exaggerating the scientific portion of Epicurus' impact.

  • Point 3 - Read the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Epicurus. They have no references to Epicurus proposing anything along the lines of DNA or evolution. IEP also makes it clear that Atomism had been introduced earlier by Democritus. Furthermore, atomism at that time was philosophical theory, with nothing of substance to back it up. It wasn't a scientific theory, so you can disregard it as contributing to science. (Other civilisations have come up with atomism too, by the way).

  • Point 5 - This Lecture Slide from the University of Texas, Austin treats Epicurus as a sidenote in the helio-centric model. He did not introduce such models at any rate, merely followed in the works of others. Pythagoras, about 200 years earlier, had introduced some models. His main contribution seems to be insisting that the universe is infinite.

  • Point 4 and Point 2 - There is no scientific evidence for the theory of alternate worlds, or for alien life.

That is not to say that he had no influence on the sciences. Wikipedia states

Epicurus is a key figure in the development of science and the scientific method because of his insistence that nothing should be believed, except that which was tested through direct observation and logical deduction.

On the ethics side, he did support the Theory of Reciprocity, but I am not sure whether he introduced it. Wikipedia's page on Epicurus states (without citation)

His statement of the Ethic of Reciprocity as the foundation of ethics is the earliest in Ancient Greece,

while the Wikipedia page on Golden Rule/Theory of Reciprocity lists other people before him who stated much the same principle in different forms.

On the whole, calling Epicurus the greatest thinker of all times seems to ignore the (small) amount of his own contributions, especially compared to those of others like Newton, Einstein etc.

  • Thanks for the reply apoorv. However one must note that Newton and Einstein lived thousands years later, were appreciated by their contemporaries, not burned and chased by the rulling class of the era. None of Epicurus' writtings are saved (if he ever wrote) and his followers were chased everywhere. Dont you agree?
    – p.a.
    Jul 28, 2012 at 3:14
  • @p.a. Apparently that happened because of his statements about God, nothing really to do with his scientific/ethical theories. And it's not as if relatively modern scientists have not faced religious antagonism, galileo being a prime example and Darwin too.
    – apoorv020
    Jul 28, 2012 at 4:34
  • Thanks for the input. A side note: is all contemporary knowledge contained in Wikipedia? If wikipedia does not mention something on epicurus, it never happened? Maybe wikipedia is todays rulling class?
    – p.a.
    Jul 29, 2012 at 7:48
  • @p.a. That can be somewhat true, if something's not present on Wikipedia, people will have a much lower chance of knowing it. However, for most domains there are other alternative sources as well. That is why I first looked up SEP and IEP and then went on to Wikipedia. But still, I used google/bing for all this so maybe they are the "ruling class".
    – apoorv020
    Jul 29, 2012 at 8:37
  • Alas, the new Middle Ages..
    – p.a.
    Aug 1, 2012 at 7:31

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