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As prudence is the cardinal virtue in Epicurean ethics, so is vanity its cardinal "sin" or vice. It is most frequently associated with the "3rd category" of desires, those that are both unnatural and unnecessary (e.g. trying to impress one's neighbors by one's lavish lifestyle).

In general, at the root of vanity lies the human weakness of harboring "empty beliefs" (Gr. kenodoxia), as mentioned epigrammatically in Principal Doctrine 15; such beliefs foster desires that demand infinite gratification and, since no gratification is obviously ever enough, such desires remain perpetually frustrated, causing the individual great anxiety and unhappiness.

A particular, and arguably the central case of human vanity is the aspiration to immortality; both Epicurus and, more extensively, Lucretius disparage this age-old human hope. In refuting it, Epicureans made routine reference to their atomic theory, which, in turn, demonstrates that everything (and everybody) is inevitably perishable.

By association, Epicurus and his followers considered the vain aspiration(s) to great wealth, fame, power, etc. as "substitutes" or "surrogates" for some sort of immortality (e.g. of estate, lasting renown, or monumental legacy respectively). Thus the Epicurean psychological explanation of virtually all forms of vanity leads back to the pursuit of immortality.

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