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Thoreau’s Walden: Epicureanism or Stoicism

by Toby J. Svoboda

This paper argues against Pierre Hadot’s view that Thoreau in Walden displays Epicurean and Stoic traits in roughly equal proportion. Of the two schools, he is much closer to the latter. However, the similarities between Thoreau and the Stoic are practical or generic. In terms of ethical practices, Thoreau exhibits many of the qualities found in the Stoic school. However, the theoretical discourse used to justify those practices is different in each case. If one is to say that Thoreau is a Stoic, it is not in a very profound sense. Thoreau shares with both the Stoics and the Epicureans an interest in what Hadot calls “spiritual exercises” or philosophy as a way of life.


October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky; November the later twilight.”


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