Paganini, Gianni (2020): Early Modern Epicureanism. Gassendi and Hobbes in Dialogue on Psychology, Ethics, and Politics, in: Oxford Handbook of Epicurus and Epicureanism, ed. by Phillip Mitsis, OUP, DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199744213.013.26
Two fundamental notions of Epicureanism took new life in modern political thought: that of the social contract, the agreed and consensual basis of law and authority, and that of the “state of nature” that precedes it. There is no question that among all ancient traditions the Garden was one of very few to base law and politics on the contract and consent of the contracting parties. Yet, by contrast with the Sophists, who emphasized the conventional aspects so far as to be open to the charge of pure relativism, Epicureans looked for a “weak” but “natural” foundation of the social contract deducing it from an idea or mental anticipation (prolēpsis) of justice based on utility. This approach was revived in the seventeenth-century Neo-Epicureanism of Pierre Gassendi who also reworked Epicurus’s and Lucretius’s outdated psychology, transforming it into a more modern “mechanistic” theory of mind. During the greater part of the 1640s Hobbes and Gassendi both lived in Paris and were in close personal contact. The same period was for both thinkers decisive for the construction of their works: the Syntagma philosophicum for Gassendi, De cive, De motu, loco et tempore, and Leviathan for Hobbes. This chapter explores the complex interplay between them, especially with regards to psychology, the foundations of ethics, legal theory, and political philosophy, stressing the important role that ancient Epicureanism and seventeenth-century Neo-Epicureanism played in the birth of a modern theory of individual rights.