Jefferson's philosophical and political thinking owes a great debt—one which he often acknowledged—to ancient Greek and Roman thinking. Foremost among ancient thinkers was Epicurus, the Greek whose philosophy Jefferson called “the most rational system remaining of the philosophy of the ancients, as frugal of vicious indulgence, and fruitful of virtue as the hyperbolical extravagances of his rival sects.” He refers to Epicurus in a letter to Short as “our master,” elaborates on a physics and cosmology in that is Epicurean, and states that Epicurus’ ethics contains “everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us.” Moreover, though he committed himself to decades of public service, he always talked about the need to retire to attend to his own affairs and assume a life of tranquil study—the Epicurean good life. Was Jefferson an Epicurean? The aim of this paper is to show in what areas of philosophical thought Jefferson owes Epicurus an especial debt.


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pp. 277-297
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