From Ancient and Medieval Philosophy: Essential Selections, by James Fieser
Copyright 2016, updated 12/1/2016
Lives of Epicureans
Epicurus: Letter to Herodotus
Epicurus: Letter to Menoeceus
Lucretius: On the Nature of Things
Philodemus: On Rhetoric
LIVES OF EPICUREANS
Epicurus (341–270 BCE) (Diogenes Laertius, Lives, 10)
Epicurus was an Athenian, and the son of Neocles and Chaerestrate, from the Athenian suburb of Gargettus, and of the family of the Philaidse (as Metrodorus tells us in his treatise on Nobility of Birth). Some writers (and among them Heraclides, in his Abridgment of Sotion) say, that as the Athenians settled in the colony of Samos, he was brought up there, and came to Athens at eighteen years of age, when Xenoerates was head of the Academy, and Aristotle was at Chalcis. For, after the death of Alexander, the Macedonian, the Athenians were driven out of Samos by Perdiccas, and Epicurus went to Colophon to his father.
When he had spent some time there, and collected some disciples, he again returned to Athens, in the time of Anaxicrates’ rule, and for some time studied philosophy, mingling with the rest of the philosophers. Subsequently, he somehow or other established the school which was called after his name. He said, that he began to study philosophy when he was fourteen years of age. But Apollodorus, the Epicurean, (in the first book of his account of the life of Epicurus) says, that he came to the study of philosophy, having conceived a great contempt for the grammarians, because they could not explain to him the statements in Hesiod respecting Chaos.
But Hermippus tells us, that he himself was a teacher of grammar, and that later, when he read the books of Democritus, he zealously applied himself to philosophy. For this reason Timon says of him “The last of all the natural philosophers, and the most shameless too, did come from Samos, a grammar teacher, and the most ill-bred, and most unmanageable of mankind.” . . .
Diotimus, the Stoic, was very hostile to him, and defamed him in a most bitter manner, publishing fifty obscene letters, and attributing them to Epicurus. . . . [Other Stoics attacked him alleging that Epicurus] claimed that the books of Democritus on Atoms, and that of Aristippus on Pleasure, were his own . . . Epictetus [the Stoic] also attacks him as a most debauched man. . . . In the thirty-seven books which he wrote about natural philosophy, they say that he says a great many things of the same kind over and over again, and that in them he writes in contradiction of other philosophers. . . . But these men who say this are all wrong, for there are plenty of witnesses of the unsurpassable kindness of the man to everybody; both his own country which honored him with brazen statues, and his friend who were so numerous that they could not be contained in whole cities . . .
His piety towards the Gods and his affection for his country was quite unspeakable. However, from an excess of modesty, he avoided affairs of state. though he lived when very difficult times oppressed Greece, he still remained in his own country, only going two or three times across to Ionia to see his friends, who used to flock to him from all quarters, and live with him in his garden, as we are told by Apollodorus. This garden he bought for eighty minas [i.e., about 20 years of wages]. Diocles, in the third book of his Excursion, says that they all lived in the most simple and economical manner. He says that “They were content with a small cup of light wine, and all the rest of their drink was water." He also tells us that Epicurus would not allow his followers to throw their property into a common stock, as Pythagoras did, who said that the possessions of friends were held in common. For Epicurus said that such a doctrine was suited more for those who distrusted one another, and those who distrusted one another were not friends. He himself states in his letters that he is content with water and plain bread, and adds, "Send me some Cytherean cheese, that if I wish to have a feast, I may have the means.". . .
Of all the ancient philosophers, Epicurus was (as we are told by Diocles), most an associate of Anaxagoras (although in some points he argued against him); and to Archelaus, the master of Socrates. Diocles adds that he would to have his pupils preserve his writings in their memory. Apollodorus, in his Chronicles, asserts that he was a pupil of Xausiphanes, and Praxiphanes, but Epicurus himself does not mention this. Rather, Epicurus says in his letter to Euridicus that he had been his own instructor. He also agreed with Hermarchus in not admitting that Leucippus deserved to be called a philosopher; though some authors, among whom his Apollodorus, speak of him as the master of Democritus. Demetrius, the Magnesian, says that he was a pupil of Xenocrates also. In his works he wrote in plain language with respect to everything he said, for which Aristophanes, the grammarian, blames him, on the ground of that style being vulgar. . . .
He died of kidney stones (as Hermarchus says in his letters), after having been ill for two weeks. At the end of two weeks (as Hermippus says) he went into a bronze bath of lukewarm warm water, and asked for a cup of pure wine and drank it. He asked his friends to remember his doctrines, and he died. . . .
Epicurus was a voluminous author, exceeding all others in the number of his books, for there are more than three hundred volumes of them. In the whole of them there is not one citation from other sources, but they are filled entirely with the views of Epicurus himself. In quantity of writing he was rivalled by Chrysippus (as Carneades asserts), who calls him a parasite of the books of Epicurus. “Whatever Epicurus wrote, Chrysippus immediately set his heart on writing a book of equal size; in this way he often wrote the same thing over again, putting down whatever came into his head, and he published it all without any corrections because of his haste. He quotes such numbers of testimonies from other authors, that his books are entirely filled with them alone, as one may find also in the works of Aristotle and Zeno.
Lucretius (c. 99–55 BCE)
Lucretius's poems, as you wrote, contain many ingenious highlights, but much formal technique. [Cicero to Quintus, Feb. 10, 54 BCE]
Titus Lucretius, poet, is born [in 94 BCE]. Having been driven to madness by a love potion, and having composed several books in the intervals of his insanity, which Cicero afterwards corrected, he died by his own hand in the forty-fourth year of his age. [Eusibius Chronicles]
Livia killed her husband out of excessive hatred, Lucilia out of excessive love. The former intentionally mixed poison, the latter unintentionally administered madness instead of a love potion. [Jerome, Valerius Rufino]
Philodemus of Gadara (c. 100-40 BCE) (Cicero, Against Piso)
A certain Greek [i.e., Philodemus] lives with this horrible man [i.e., Roman Senator Piso]. To speak the truth, he [Philodemus] is an ingenious man, for I know him to be so. But he shows himself such only when with other people than him, or when by himself. When a young man, this person [Philodemus] happening to see Piso with that severity of aspect which he wore even then, did not decline his friendship, especially as Piso courted him. Indeed, he ran into an intimacy with him in such a manner that they lived together, and were almost inseparable. . . . As soon as Piso heard pleasure so highly praised by a philosopher, Piso inquired no farther but gave a freedom to every sensual appetite. For, Piso was so tickled with his manner of speaking, that he thought he had found in him, not a director of his morals, but an encourager of his lusts. Upon this the Greek [Philodemus] began, by means of divisions and distinctions, to show Piso in what sense these maxims were to be taken. But his lame pupil having once caught the ball, as we say, would not give it up; Piso took witnesses, and sealed up their depositions, that Epicurus expressly declared, that there was no real good remaining, if bodily pleasures were taken away. In short, the good-natured, complaisant Greek [Philodemus], would not be too determined against a Roman senator. But the person [Philodemus] I am speaking of is not only an excellent philosopher, but has likewise a great deal of learning, which, in general, the Epicureans are said to neglect. He has wrote a poem, too, which is so pretty, so full of elegance and humor, that nothing can be more witty and ingenious. . . . Being asked, invited, and forced to it, he wrote so much to Piso, and that on the subject of his contemptable self, that he described, in charming verses, all his lusts, all his debaucheries, and in a word, all his different kinds of suppers and entertainments. Those verses if anyone has a mind to read, he may see Piso's life represented in them in a mirror, so to speak.
Summary of Epicurus (Hippolitus, Refutation of All Heresies, 1)
Epicurus advanced a view almost contrary to all [other philosophers]. He held that the originating principles of all things are atoms and vacuum. He considered vacuum as the place that would contain the things that will exist, and atoms the matter out of which all things could be formed. From the assembling of atoms the Deity derived existence, and so too all the elements, all things made of them, as well as animals and other [creatures]. Thus, nothing was generated or existed, unless it was from atoms. He affirmed that these atoms were composed of extremely small particles, in which there could not exist either a point or a sign, or any division. For this reason also he called them atoms. Acknowledging the Deity to be eternal and incorruptible, he says that God has providential care for nothing, and that there is no such thing at all as providence or fate, but that all things are made by chance. For the Deity lies in the intermundane spaces, [as they] are thus called by him. For outside the world Epicurus determined that there is a certain habitation of God, denominated "the intermundane spaces," and that the Deity surrendered Himself to pleasure, and took his ease in the midst of supreme happiness. There, the Deity has no concerns of business, nor does he devote his attention to them. As a consequence of these opinions, Epicurus put forward his theory concerning wise men, asserting that the end of wisdom is pleasure. Different people, however, understood the term "pleasure" in different senses. For some [among the Gentiles understood] the passions, but others the satisfaction resulting from virtue. He concluded that the souls of men are dissolved along with their bodies, just as also they were produced along with them. For they are blood, and when this has left or been altered, the entire man perishes. In keeping with this view, [Epicurus maintained] that there are neither trials in Hades, nor tribunals of justice. Thus, whatever anyone may commit in this life, provided he may escape detection, he is altogether beyond any liability of trial [for it in a future state]. In this way, then, Epicurus also formed his opinions.
Unity among the Followers of Epicurus (Numenius, History, 1)
There was no great necessity that the Epicureans should have preserved the teachings of their master so scrupulously. But they understood them, and it was evident that they taught nothing that diverged from the doctrines of Epicurus in any point. They agreed that he was the true Wise-man, remained unanimously with him, and therefore were fully justified in bearing his name. Even among the later Epicureans it was an understood thing, that they should contradict neither each other nor Epicurus in any material point, and they consider it an infamous piece of outlawry; it is for bidden to promote any innovation. Consequently, none of them dared such a thing, and those teachings have always remained unchanged, because they were always unanimous. The School of Epicurus is like a properly administered state, which is free from party conflict and have the same thoughts and opinions. Hence, they were genuine successors, and apparently, will ever remain such.
EPICURUS: LETTER TO HERODOTUS (complete)
The Value of a Concise Statement on the Principles of Nature
For those, Herodotus, who are not able accurately to understand all the things that I have written about nature, nor to investigate the larger books that I have composed on the subject, I have made an abridgment of the whole discussion on this question. As far as I thought sufficient, it may enable them to recollect accurately the most fundamental points. Thus, on all essential occasions, they might be able to assist themselves on the most important and undeniable principles, in proportion as they devoted themselves to speculations on natural philosophy. Here it is necessary for those who have made sufficient progress in their view of the general question, to recollect the principles laid down as elements of the whole discussion. For we have still greater need of a correct notion of the whole, than we have even of an accurate understanding of the details. We must, therefore, give preference to the former knowledge, and lay up in our memory those principles on which we may rest, in order to arrive at an exact perception of things, and at a certain knowledge of particular objects.
Now one has arrived at that point when one has thoroughly embraced the conceptions, and, if I may so express myself, the most essential forms, and when one has impressed them adequately on one's senses. For this clear and precise knowledge of the whole, taken together, necessarily facilitates one's particular perceptions, when one has brought one's ideas back to the elements and simple terms. In short, a veritable synthesis, comprising the entire circle of the phenomena of the universe, ought to be able to resume in itself, and in a few words, all the particular facts which have been previously studied. This method being useful even to those who are already familiarized with the laws of the universe, I recommend them, while still pursuing without intermission the study of nature, which contributes more than anything else to the tranquility and happiness of life, to make a concise statement or summary of their opinions.
Proper Foundation for Inquiry requires Precise Terms and Sense Impressions
First of all, then, Herodotus, we must determine with exactness the notion understood by each separate word. This will enable us to have a foundation to which we may refer our researches, difficulties, and personal judgments. Otherwise our judgment has no foundation, and goes on from demonstration to demonstration ad infinitum, gaining nothing beyond mere words. In fact, it is absolutely necessary that in every word we should directly perceive the fundamental notion which it expresses, without the assistance of any demonstration. This is so whatever in other respects may be the criterion which we adopt, whether we take as our standard the impressions produced on our senses, or the actual impression in general, or whether we cling to the idea by itself, or to any other criterion.
We must also note carefully the sensations that we receive in the presence of objects, and we must bring ourselves back to them even when the question is about things, the evidence of which is not immediately perceived.
When these foundations are once laid we may pass to the study of those things, the evidence of which is not immediate.
The Eternal Universe consists of Infinite Bodies Moving in an Infinite Vacuum
First of all, we must admit that nothing can come of that which does not exist. It the fact were otherwise, then everything would be produced from everything, and there would be no need of any seed. If that which disappeared were so absolutely destroyed as to become non-existent, then everything would soon perish, as the things with which they would be dissolved would have no existence.
But, in truth, the universal whole always was such as it now is, and always will be such. For there is nothing into which it can change; for there is nothing beyond this universal whole which can penetrate into it, and produce any change in it.
Now the universal whole consists of bodies in space, for our senses bear us witness in every case that bodies have a real existence. The evidence of the senses, as I have said before, ought to be the rule of our reasonings about everything which is not directly perceived. Otherwise, if that which we call the vacuum, or space, or intangible nature, had not a real existence, there would be nothing in which the bodies could be contained, or across which they could move, as we see that they really do move. Let us add to this reflection that one cannot conceive, either in virtue of perception, or of any analogy founded on perception, any general quality unique to all beings which is not either an attribute, or an accident of the body, or of the vacuum.
Now, of bodies, some are combinations, and some the elements out of which these combinations are formed. The elements are indivisible, and protected from every kind of transformation, otherwise everything would be resolved into nonexistence. They exist by their own force, in the midst of the dissolution of the combined bodies, being absolutely full, and as such offering no handle for destruction to take hold of. It follows, therefore, as a matter of absolute necessity, that the principles of things must be indivisible corporeal elements.
The universe is infinite. For that which is finite has an extreme point, and that which has an extreme is looked at in relation to something else. Consequently, that which has not an extreme, has no boundary; and if it has no boundary, it must be infinite, and not terminated by any limit.
The universe then is infinite, both with reference to the quantity of bodies of which it is made up, and to the size of the vacuum. For if the vacuum were infinite and the bodies finite, then, the bodies would not be able to rest in any place. They would be transported around and scattered across the infinite vacuum for lack of any power to steady themselves, or to keep each other in their places by mutual repulsion. If, on the other hand, the vacuum was finite, the bodies being infinite, then the bodies clearly could never be contained in the vacuum.
Moving Atoms of Varying Shapes make Composite Bodies in Infinite Worlds
Further, the indivisible and solid bodies [i.e., atoms] from which composite bodies come into being and dissolved, take on an incalculable variety of shapes. For the wide variety of objects that we see cannot possibly result by combining atoms of the same limited shapes. Each variety of shapes contains an infinity of atoms, but there is not for that reason an infinity of atoms. It is only the number of shapes that is beyond all calculation.
The atoms are in a continual state of motion. Among the atoms, some are separated by great distances, others come very near to each other in the formation of composite bodies, or at times are enveloped by others which are combining. But in this latter case they, nevertheless, preserve their own unique motion, thanks to the nature of the vacuum, which separates the one from the other, and yet offers them no resistance. The solidity which they possess causes them, while knocking against each other, to react the one upon the other, Finally, the repeated impacts bring on the dissolution of the composite body. For all this there is no external cause, the atoms and the vacuum being the only causes.
But, again, the worlds also are infinite, whether they resemble this one of ours or whether they are different from it. For, as the atoms are, as to their number, infinite, as I have proved above, they necessarily move about at immense distances. For besides, this infinite multitude of atoms, of which the world is formed, or by which it is produced, could not be entirely absorbed by one single world, nor even by any worlds, the number of which was limited, whether we suppose them like this world of ours, or different from it. There is, therefore, no fact inconsistent with an infinity of worlds.
Perception Results from Image-Particles Flying Off of Objects and Hitting our Eyes
There are particles (flakes or films) whose shapes resemble the solid bodies which we see, but are much thinner than them. For it is possible that there may be in space some emissions of this kind, which have a capacity to form extremely thin flakes or films without depth, and that from solid objects there may emit some particles that preserve the same position and motion that they had in solid objects. We give the name of “image-particles” [eidolas] to these particles. Indeed, so long as their movement through the vacuum takes place without meeting any obstacle or hindrance, they can reach any imaginable distance in an inconceivably short time. For it is the meeting of obstacles, or the absence of obstacles, which produces the rapidity or the slowness of their motion.
In any event, a body in motion does not find itself, at any moment imaginable, in two places at the same time, which would be quite inconceivable. From whatever point of infinity it arrives at some appreciable moment, and whatever may be the spot in its course in which we perceive its motion, it has evidently left that spot at the moment of our thought. For this motion which, as we have admitted up to this point, encounters no obstacle to its rapidity, is wholly in the same condition as that the rapidity of which is diminished by the impact of some resistance.
It is helpful, also, to remember this basic principle, that the image-particles have an incomparable thinness, and this fact is in no respect contradicted by sensible appearances. From this it follows that their speed also is incomparable. For they find an easy passage everywhere, and besides, their infinite smallness causes them to experience no impact of resistance, or at least only a very slight one. However, an infinite number of atoms very soon encounter some resistance.
One must not forget that the production of image particles is as quick as thoughts. For from the surface of bodies image-particles of this kind are continually flying off in an insensible manner, because they are immediately replaced. They preserve for a long time the same disposition, and the same arrangement that the atoms do in the solid body, although, their form may be sometimes altered. The direct production of image-particles in space is equally instantaneous, because these image particles are very light substances with no real depth.
But there are other manners in which natures of this kind are produced. For there is nothing in all this that at all contradicts the senses, if one only considers in what way the senses are exercised, and if one is inclined to explain the relation which is established between external objects and ourselves. Also, one must admit that something passes from external objects into us in order to produce in us sight and the knowledge of forms. For it is difficult to conceive that external objects can affect us through the medium of the air which is between us and them, or by means of rays, whatever emissions proceed from us to them, so as to give us an impression of their form and color. This phenomenon, on the contrary, is perfectly explained, if we admit that certain images of the same color, of the same shape, and of a proportionate size pass from these objects to us, and so arrive at being seen and understood. These image-particles move exceedingly fast. Further, the solid object that forms a compact mass, is composed of a vast quantity of atoms, and always emits the same quantity of particles. Vision then follows, and only produces in us one single perception which always preserves the same relation to the object. Every conception, every sensible perception which bears upon the form or the other attributes of these images-particles, is only the same form of the solid perceived directly, either in virtue of a sort of actual and continued condensation of the image, or in consequence of the traces which it has left in us.
Error and false judgments always depend upon the supposition that a preconceived idea will be confirmed, or at all events will not be overturned, by evidence. Then, when it is not confirmed, we form our judgment in virtue of a sort of initiation of the thoughts connected, it is true with the perception, and with a direct representation; but still connected also with a conception unique to ourselves, which is the parent of error. In fact the representations which intelligence reflects like a mirror, whether one perceives them in a dream, or by any other conceptions of the intellect, or of any other of the criteria, can never resemble the objects that one calls real and true, unless there were objects of this kind perceived directly. On the other hand, error could not be possible if we did not receive some other motion also, a sort of initiative of intelligence connected. It is true with direct representation, but going beyond that representative. These conceptions being connected with the direct perception which produces the representation, but going beyond it, in consequence of a motion unique to the individual thought, produces error when it is not confirmed by evidence, or when it is contradicted by evidence; but when it is confirmed, or when it is not contradicted by evidence, then it produces truth. We must carefully preserve these principles in order not to reject the authority of the faculties which perceive truth directly; and not, on the other hand, to allow what is false to be established with equal firmness, so as to throw everything into confusion.
Hearing results from Currents Emitted from Objects, Smelling from Emitted Particles
Further, hearing is produced by some sort of current proceeding from something that speaks, or sounds, or roars, or in any manner that causes any sort of audible circumstance. This current is diffused into small bodies resembling each other in their parts. They preserve not only some kind of relation between each other, but even a sort of particular identity with the object from which they are emitted. This very frequently puts us into a communication of sentiments with this object, or at least causes us to become aware of the existence of some external circumstance. If these currents did not carry with them some sort of sympathy, then there would be no such perception. We must not therefore think that it is the air which receives a certain form, under the action of the voice or of some other sound. For it is utterly impossible that the voice should act in this manner on the air. But the percussion produced in us when we, by the utterance of a voice, cause a disengagement of certain particles, constitutes a current resembling a light whisper, and prepares an acoustic feeling for us.
We must admit that the case of smelling is the same as that of hearing. There would be no sense of smell if there were not emitted from most objects certain particles capable of producing an impression on the smell. One class is ill-suited to the sense organ, and consequently produces a disordered state of it, the other is suited to it, and causes it no distress.
Atoms within Bodies remain Permanent while the Bodies Undergo Change
One must also recognize that the atoms do not possess any of the qualities of sensible objects, except for form, weight, size and anything else is unavoidably inherent in form. In fact, every quality is changeable, but the atoms are necessarily unchangeable. For it is impossible that in the dissolution of composite bodies, there must be something which continues solid and indestructible, of such a kind, that it will not change either into what does not exist, or out of what does not exist. Rather, it results either from a simple displacement of parts, which is the most usual case, or from the addition or subtraction of certain particles. Accordingly, that which does not admit of any change in itself is imperishable, and participates in no way in the nature of changeable things. In a word, its dimensions and forms are unalterably determined. This is plainly evident in that, with the transformations which take place under our very eyes from the reduction of certain parts, we can still recognize the form of these constituent parts. On the other hand, those qualities, which are not constituent parts, do not remain like the form, but perish in the dissolution of the combination. The attributes which we have indicated are sufficient to explain all the differences of composite bodies. For we must inevitably leave something indestructible, otherwise everything would resolve itself into non-existence.
Atoms have Limited Sizes and are too Small to See
However, one must not believe that every kind of size exists in atoms, otherwise we find ourselves contradicted by phenomena. But we must admit that there are atoms of different sizes, because, as that is the case, it is then easier to explain the impressions and sensations. In any event, I repeat, it is not necessary for the purpose of explaining the differences of the qualities to attribute to atoms every kind of size.
We must not suppose either, that an atom can become visible to us. For, first of all, one does not see that that is the case, and besides, one cannot even conceive, how an atom is to become visible. Further, we must not believe, that in a finite body there are particles of every sort, infinite in number. Consequently, one must reject the doctrine of infinite divisibility in parcels smaller and smaller, otherwise we would be reducing everything to nothing, and find ourselves forced to admit that in a mass composed of a crowd of elements, existence can reduce itself to non-existence. Further, one cannot even suppose that a finite object can be susceptible of transformations ad infinitum, or even of transformation into smaller objects than itself. For when once one has said that there are in an object particles of every kind, infinite in number, there is absolutely no means whatever of imagining that this object can have only a finite size. In fact, it is evident that these particles, infinite in number, have some kind of dimension or other, and whatever this dimension may be in other respects, the objects which are composed of it will have an infinite size. In presenting forms which are determined, and limits which are perceived by the senses, one conceives, easily, without its being necessary to study this last question directly, that this would be the consequence of the contrary supposition, and that consequently, one must come to look at every object as infinite.
One must also admit, that the most minute particle perceptible to the sense, is neither absolutely like the objects which are susceptible of transformation, nor absolutely different from them. It has some characteristics in common with the object which admit of transformation, but it also differs from them, inasmuch as it does not allow any distinct parts to be discerned in it. When then, in virtue of these common characteristics, and of this resemblance, we wish to form an idea of the smallest particle perceptible by the senses, in taking the objects which change for our terms of comparison, it is necessary that we should seize on some characteristic common to these different objects. In this way, we examine them successively, from the first to the last, not by themselves, nor as composed of parts in juxtaposition, but only in their extent; in other words, we consider the sizes by themselves, and in an abstract manner, inasmuch as they measure, the greater a greater extent, and the smaller a smaller extent. This analogy applies to the atom, as far as we consider it as having the smallest dimensions possible. Evidently by its minuteness, it differs from all sensible objects, still this analogy is applicable to it. In a word, we establish by this comparison, that the atom really has some extent, but we exclude all considerable dimensions, for the sake of only investing it with the smallest proportions.
Size is Relative to the Smallest Atom, Infinte Space has no High or Low point
If we take for our guide the reasoning that tells us about things that are invisible to the senses, we must admit that the most minute sizes (those which are not compound sizes, and which from the limit of sensible extent) are the first measure of the other sizes, which are only called greater or less in their relation to the others. For these relations which they maintain with these particles, which are not subject to transformation, suffice to give them this characteristic of first measure. But they cannot, like atoms, combine themselves, and form compound bodies in virtue of any motion belonging to themselves.
Moreover, we must not say (while speaking of the infinite), that such or such a point is the highest point of it, or the lowest. For height and lowness must not be predicated of the infinite. We know, in reality, that if, wishing to determine the infinite, we conceive a point above our head, this point, whatever it may be, will never appear to us to have the character in question: otherwise, that which would be situated above the point so conceived as the limit of the infinite, would be at the same moment, and by virtue of its relation to the same point, both high and low; and this is impossible to imagine.
It follows that thought can only conceive that one single movement of transference, from low to high, ad infinitum; and one single movement from high to low. From low to high, when even the object in motion, going from us to the places situated above our heads, meets ten thousand times with the feet of those who are above us; and from high to low, when in the same way it advances towards the heads of those who are below us. For these two movements, looked at by themselves and in their whole, are conceived as really opposed the one to the other, in their progress towards the infinite.
All Atoms Move at the Same Speed
Moreover, all the atoms necessarily move at the same speed, when they travel across the vacuum, or when no obstacle impedes them. For why should heavy atoms have a more rapid movement than those which are small and light, since in no quarter do they encounter any obstacle? Why, on the other hand, should the small atoms have a rapidity superior to that of the large ones, since both the one and the other find everywhere an easy passage, from the very moment that no obstacle intervenes to thwart their movements? Movement from low to high, horizontal movement to and fro, in virtue of the reciprocal percussion of the atoms, movement downwards, in virtue of their weight, will be all equal, for in whatever sense the atom moves, it must have a movement an rapid as the thought, till the moment when it is repelled, in virtue of some external cause, or of its own proper weight, by the impact of some object which resists it.
Again, even in the compound bodies, one atom does not move more rapidly than another. In fact, if one only looks at the continued movement of an atom which takes place in an indivisible moment of time, the briefest possible, they all have a movement equally rapid. At the same time, an atom has not, in any moment perceptible to the intelligence, a continued movement in the same direction; but rather a series of oscillating movements from which there results, in the last analysis, a continued movement perceptible to the senses. If then, one were to suppose, in virtue of a reasoning on things invisible, that, in the intervals of time accessible to thought, the atoms have a continued movement one would deceive one's self, for that which is conceived by the thought if true as well as that which is directly perceived.
The Soul made of Physical Particles Spread Throughout a Person’s Body
Let us now return to the study of the affections, and of the sensations. For this will be the best method of proving that the soul is a bodily substance composed of slight particles. It is diffused over all the members of the body, and presents a great analogy to a sort of spirit, having a mixture of heat, resembling at one time one, and at another time the other of those two principles. There exists in it a special part, that has an extreme mobility that results from the extremely small size of the elements which compose it, and also in reference to its more immediate sympathy with the rest of the body. This is sufficiently proven by the faculties of the soul, the passions, the mobility of its nature, thoughts, and, in a word, everything, the absence of which is death.
The Soul Perceives through the Medium of the Body and Dies with the Body
We must admit that it is in the soul most especially that the principle of sensation resides. At the same time, the soul would not possess this power of sensation if it were not enveloped by the rest of the body which communicates it to it, and in its turn receives it from it, but only in a certain degree; for there are certain affections of the soul of which it is not capable. It is on that account that, when the soul departs, the body is no longer possessed of sensation; for it has not this power, (that of sensation namely) in itself; but, on the other hand, this power can only manifest itself in the soul through the medium of the body. The soul, reflecting the manifestations which are accomplished in the substance which environs it, realizes in itself, in a virtue or power which belongs to it, the sensible affections, and immediately communicates them to the body in virtue of the reciprocal bonds of sympathy which unite it to the body. That is the reason why the destruction of a part of the body does not draw after it a cessation of all feeling in the soul while it resides in the body, provided that the senses still preserve some energy. Nevertheless, the dissolution of the corporeal covering, or even of any one of its portions, may sometimes bring on with it the destruction of the soul.
The rest of the body, on the other hand even when it remains, either as a whole, or in any part, loses all feeling by the dispersion of that aggregate of atoms, whatever it may be, that forms the soul. When the entire combination of the body is dissolved, then the soul too is dissolved, and ceases to retain those faculties which were previously inherent in it, and especially the power of motion. So, that sensation perishes equally as far as the soul is concerned. For it is impossible to imagine that it still feels, from the moment when it is no longer in the same conditions of existence, and no longer possesses the same movements of existence in reference to the same organic system; from the moment, in short, when the things which cover and surround it are no longer such, that it retains in them the same movements as before.
It must also be observed, that I use the word incorporeal in the usual understanding of the word, to express that which is in itself conceived as such. Now, nothing can be conceived in itself as incorporeal except the vacuum; but the vacuum cannot be either passive or active; it is only the condition and the place of movement. Accordingly, they who pretend that the soul is incorporeal, utter words destitute of sense. For, if it had this character, it would not be able either to do or to experience anything; but, as it is, we see plainly enough that it is liable to both these circumstances.
Bodies are not Particular Substances but Constituted by a Union of Permanent Attributes
Let us then apply all these reasonings to the affections and sensations, recollecting the ideas which we laid down at the beginning, and then we will see clearly that these general principles contain an exact solution of all the particular cases.
As to shape, color, size, and weight, and the other qualities which one looks upon as attributes of a body (whether it is of every body, or of those bodies only which are visible and perceived by the senses) this is the point of view under which they ought to be considered. They are not particular substances, having a unique existence of their own, for that cannot be conceived. Nor can one say any more that they have no reality at all. They are not incorporeal substances inherent in the body, nor are they the material parts of the body. Instead, they constitute by their union the permanent existence of the entire body. We must not imagine, however, that the body is composed of properties, such as when an aggregate is formed of particles of the smallest dimensions of atoms or sizes, whatever they may be, smaller than the compound body itself. Rather, as I said, they only constitute by their union the permanent existence of the body. Each of these qualities [i.e., shape, color, size] has ideas and particular perceptions which correspond to it, but they cannot be perceived independently of the whole subject taken entirely. Rather, the union of all these perceptions forms the idea of the body.
Bodies often possess other attributes which are not permanently inherent in them, but which, nevertheless, cannot be classed among the incorporeal and invisible things. Accordingly, it is sufficient to express the general idea of the movement of transference to enable us to conceive in a moment certain distinct qualities, and those composite beings, which, being taken in their totality, receive the name of bodies; and the permanent attributes without which the body cannot be conceived.
There are certain conceptions corresponding to these attributes, but they cannot be known abstractedly and independently of some subjects. Further, inasmuch as they are not attributes necessarily inherent in the idea of a body, one can only conceive them in the moment in which they are visible. They are realities nevertheless, and one must not refuse them being an existence merely because they have neither the characteristic of the compound beings to which we give the name of bodies, nor that of the eternal attributes. We would be equally deceived if we were to suppose that they have a separate and independent existence, for that is true neither of them nor of the eternal attributes. They are, as one sees plainly, accidents of the body, accidents which do not of necessity make any part of its nature. These cannot be considered as independent substances, but still to each of which sensation gives the unique character under which it appears to us.
Time Cannot be Demonstrated, but Grasped
Another important question is that of time. Here we cannot apply any more the method of examination to which we submit other objects, which we study with reference to a given subject, and which we refer to the preconceptions that exist in ourselves. Rather, we must seize it. By analogy, and going around the whole circle of things comprised under this general denomination of time we must seize, I say, that essential character which causes us to say that a time is long or short. It is not necessary for that purpose to seek for any new forms of expression as preferable to those which are in common use. We may content ourselves with those by which time is usually indicated. Nor need we, as certain philosophers do, affirm any particular attribute of time, for that would be to suppose that its essence is the same as that of this attribute. It is sufficient to seek for the ingredients of which this particular nature which we call “time” is composed, and for the means by which it is measured. For this we have no need of demonstration, and a simple exposition is sufficient. It is, in fact, evident, that we speak of time as composed of days and nights, and parts of days and nights. Passiveness and impassibility, movement and rest, are equally comprised in time. In short, it is evident that in connection with these different states, we conceive a particular property to which we give the name of time.
Worlds are Created by the Infinite, and will All be Destroyed, Animals created by the Earth
It is from the infinite that the worlds are derived, and all the finite aggregates which present numerous analogies with the things which we observe under our own eyes. Each of these objects, great and small, has been separated from the infinite by a movement unique to itself. On the other hand, all these bodies will be successively destroyed, some more, and others less rapidly. Some will be destroyed under the influence of one cause, and others because of the agency of some other. We must not believe that the worlds have of necessity all one identical form. Nevertheless, there are not worlds of every possible form and shape.
Let us also beware of thinking that animals are derived from the infinite; for there is no one who can prove that the germs from which animals are born, and plants, and all the other objects which we contemplate, have been brought from the exterior in such a world, and that this same world would not have been able to produce them of itself. This remark applies particularly to the earth
Development of Language
Again, we must admit that in many and various respects, nature is both instructed and constrained by circumstances themselves. Reason then makes perfect and enriches with additional discoveries the things which it has borrowed from nature. In some cases it does so rapidly, and in others more slowly. In some cases it does so according to periods and times greater than those which proceed from the infinite, in other cases according to those which are smaller. So, originally it was only in virtue of express agreements that one gave names to things. But men whose ideas and passions varied according to their respective nations, formed these names of their own accord, uttering divers sounds produced by each passion, or by each idea, following the differences of the situations and of the peoples. At a later period one established in each nation, in a uniform manner, particular terms intended to render the relations easier, and language more concise. Educated men introduced the notion of things not discoverable by the senses, and appropriated words to them when they found themselves under the necessity of uttering their thoughts; after this, other men, guided in every point by reason, interpreted these words in the same sense.
Astronomical events are not Omens from Gods, but Result from Nature and Necessity
As to the heavenly phenomena, such as the motion and course of the stars, the eclipses, their rising and setting, and all other appearances of the same kind, we must beware of thinking that they are produced by any particular being which has regulated, or whose business it is to regulate, for the future, the order of the world, that is, by a being immortal and perfectly happy. For the cares and anxieties, the benevolence and the anger, far from being compatible with happiness, are, on the contrary, the consequence of weakness, of fear, and of the need which a thing has of something else. We must not imagine either that these globes of fire, which roll on in space, enjoy a perfect happiness, and give themselves, with reflection and wisdom, the motions which they possess. But we must respect the established notions on this subject, provided, nevertheless, that they do not all contradict the respect due to truth. For nothing is more calculated to trouble the soul than this strife of contradictory notions and principles We must therefore admit that from the first movement impressed on the heavenly bodies since the organization of the world there is derived a sort of necessity which regulates their course to this day.
Let us be well assured that it is to physiology that it belongs to determine the causes of the most elevated phenomena, and that happiness consists, above all things, in the science of the heavenly things and their nature, and in the knowledge of analogous phenomena which may aid us in the comprehension of the ethics. These heavenly phenomena admit of several explanations, but they have no description that is of a necessary character, and one may explain them in different manners. In a word, they have no relation a moment's consideration will prove this by itself with those imperishable and happy natures which admit of no division and of no confusion. As for the theoretical knowledge of the rising and setting of the stars, of the movement of the sun between the tropics, of the eclipses, and all other similar phenomena, that is utterly useless, as far as any influence upon happiness that it can have. Moreover, those who, though possessed of this knowledge, are ignorant of nature, and of the most probable causes of the phenomena, are no more protected from fear than if they were in the most complete ignorance. They even experience the liveliest fears, for the trouble, with which the knowledge of which they are possessed inspires them, can find no issue, and is not dissipated by a clear perception of the reasons of these phenomena.
As to us, we find many explanations of the motions of the sun, of the rising and setting of the stars, of the eclipses and similar phenomena, just as well as of the more particular phenomena. One must not think that this method of explanation is not sufficient to procure happiness and tranquility. Let us content ourselves with examining how it is that similar phenomena are brought about under our own eyes, and let us apply these observations to the heavenly objects and to everything which is not known but indirectly. Let us despise those people who are unable to distinguish facts susceptible of different explanations from others which can only exist and be explained in one single way. Let us disdain those men who do not know, by means of the different images which result from distance, and how to give an account of the different appearances of things; who, in a word, are ignorant what are the objects which can excite any trouble in us. Suppose that know that such a phenomenon can be brought about in the same manner as another given phenomenon of the same character which does not inspire us with any apprehension. Suppose that we also know that it can take place in many different manners. This being so, we will not be more troubled at the sight of it than if we knew the real cause of it.
We must also recollect that that which principally contributes to trouble the spirit of men is the persuasion which they cherish that the stars are beings imperishable and perfectly happy, and that then one's thoughts and actions are in contradiction to the will of these superior beings; they also, being deluded by these fables, apprehend an eternity of evils, they fear the insensibility of death, as that could affect them. What do I say? It is not even belief, but inconsiderateness and blindness which govern them in everything, to such a degree that, not calculating these fears, they are just as much troubled as if they had really faith in these vain phantoms. The real freedom from this kind of trouble consists in being emancipated from all these things, and in preserving the recollection of all the principles which we have established, especially of the most essential of them. Accordingly, it is well to pay a scrupulous attention to existing phenomena and to the sensations, to the general sensations for general things, and to the particular sensations for particular things. In a word, we must take note of this, the immediate evidence with which each of these judicial faculties furnishes us; for, if we attend to these points, namely, whence confusion and fear arise, we will divine the causes correctly, and we will deliver ourselves from those feelings, tracing back the heavenly phenomena to their causes, and also all the others which present themselves at every step, and inspire the common people with extreme terror.
This, Herodotus, is a kind of summary and abridgment of the whole question of natural philosophy. Thus, if this reasoning is thought valid, and is preserved carefully in the memory, the man who allows himself to be influenced by it, even though he may not descend to a profound study of its details, will have a great superiority of character over other men. He will personally discover a great number of truths that I have myself set forth in my entire work. These truths, being stored in his memory, will be a constant, assistance to him. By means of these principles, those who have descended into the details, and have studied the question sufficiently, will be able, in bringing in all their particular knowledge to bear on the general subject, to run over without difficulty almost the entire circle of the natural philosophy; those, on the other hand, who are not yet arrived at perfection, and who have not been able to hear me lecture on these subjects, will be able in their minds to run over the chief of the essential notions, and to derive assistance from them for the tranquility and happiness of life.
EPICURUS: LETTER TO MENOECEUS (complete)
Both the Young and Old should Study Philosophy
Let no one delay studying philosophy while he is young, and when he is old let him not become weary of the study; for no person can ever find the time unsuitable or too late to study the health of his mind. He who asserts either that it is not yet time to philosophize, or that the hour is passed, is like a man who would say that the time is not yet come to be happy, or that it is too late. Both young and old should study philosophy, so that when old one may be young in good things through the pleasing recollection of the past, and when young one maybe both young and old at the same time because of one’s absence of fear for the future. It is right then for a person to consider the things which produce happiness, since, if happiness is present, we have everything, and when it is absent, we do everything with a view to possess it.
Believe only that the Gods are Eternal and Blissful, but Reject Common Views about the Gods
Perform and practice these things that I have constantly recommended to you, and consider them to be the elements of the good life. First of all, believe that god is a being that is eternal and blissful, as the common opinion of the world says about god. But do not attach to your idea of him anything which is inconsistent with eternality or with bliss. Understand that god possesses everything that is able to preserve his own bliss for eternality. We know there are gods, since we have distinct knowledge of them. But they are not of the nature that people in general attribute to them, and people do not believe in them in a way that is consistent with the ideas that they entertain of them. A person is not irreverent for rejecting the gods believed in by the masses, but, rather, is irreverent for applying to the gods the opinions that the masses entertain of them. The views of the masses about the gods are not grounded in sensation, but rather in false opinions, particularly the false view that the gods are responsible for the greatest evils that happen to wicked people, and the benefits which are given to the good. They say that the gods have their own ideas of virtue, and approve of people like themselves, but regard everything that is different as incompatible with the divine nature.
Do not fear Death since it does Not exist for the Living, and the Deceased do not Exist to Experience it
Accustom yourself to think that death is a matter that does not concern us. For all good and all evil depend on sensation, and death is only the removal of sensation. Accordingly, the correct view of the fact that death is no concern of ours makes the mortality of life pleasant to us, not because it gives us limitless time, but because it relieves us of the longing for immortality. Life has no terrors for a person who properly understands that there is nothing terrible in ceasing to live. Only a foolish person says that he fears death, not because it will cause him pain when it occurs, but because it pains him while he anticipates it. It is absurd for something that is not distressful when present, to then distress a person when it is only expected. Therefore, death, the most dreadful of all evils, is nothing to us, since, when we exist, death is not present to us; and when death is present we have no existence. It is no concern then either of the living or of the dead, since, to the living, death has no existence, and the dead have no existence themselves. Sometimes people flee from death as the greatest of evils, yet other times they wish for it as a rest from the evils in life. But the wise person neither desires to end life nor fears the end of life. Just as he chooses food, not preferring the greatest amount, but the most enjoyable, so too he enjoys his time, not measuring it as to whether it is of the greatest length, but as to whether it is most enjoyable.
He is foolish who instructs a young person to live well, and an old person to die well, not only because of the constantly delightful nature of life itself, but also because the care to live well is identical with the care to die well. Still worse is the person who says “It is best not to be born, but if we are born, we should pass quickly through the gates of hades.” For if this really is his opinion why did he not just end his life since it was easily in his power to do so? But if he was joking, then he was making a fool of himself in front of those who disagree.
We must remember that the future is not our own, nor, on the other hand, is it entirely not our own. That is, we can never altogether await the future with a feeling of certainty that it will be, nor altogether despair of it as what will never be.
Pursue Pleasures that fulfill Natural and Necessary Desires
We must recognize that some of our desires are natural, and some empty. Of the natural desires some are necessary, and some merely natural. Of the necessary desires, some are necessary for happiness, others for the removal of bodily troubles, and still others for living itself. A proper view of these things will refer all choice and avoidance to the health of the body and the freedom from uneasiness of the mind. This is the goal of the good life. It is for the sake of this that we do everything, wishing to avoid grief and fear. Once we accomplish this, the storm of the mind is put to an end, and the living creature will not need to keep searching to fill a deficiency or seek something different from that by which will perfect the good of the mind and body. We have need of pleasure when we feel pain through the absence of pleasure. Otherwise, when we do not feel pain, then we have no need of pleasure.
Thus, we affirm that pleasure is the beginning and end of the good life. We recognize pleasure as the first good, being natural to us, and it is from pleasure that we begin every choice and avoidance. It is also to pleasure that we return, using it as the standard by which we judge every good.
Reject Pleasures that cause Disadvantages
Even though pleasure is the primary good and is natural with us, we nevertheless do not choose every pleasure, but at times we pass over many pleasures when any difficulty is likely to result from them. Also we think many pains are better than pleasures, when a greater pleasure will follow pains by enduring them for a time. Though every pleasure is a good on account of its own nature, it does not follow that every pleasure is worthy of being chosen. Similarly, while every pain is an evil, every pain must not be avoided. It is best to measure these things by comparing the advantages with the disadvantages. At times we may feel the good as an evil, and at times, on the contrary, we may feel the evil as good.
We think that self-sufficiency is a good thing. This is not so that we may only have a little, but so that if we do not have much we may make use of a little. We are thus persuaded that the people who enjoy luxury most completely are the ones best able to do without them. Everything natural is easily provided, and what is useless is difficult to obtain. Simple flavors give as much pleasure as costly ones when we remove everything that can give painful feelings of need. Bread and water give the much pleasure when anyone in need eats them. To accustom oneself to a simple and inexpensive diet is sufficient for perfecting health, and allows a person to meet the necessary activities of life without hesitation. On certain occasions when we acquire more luxurious things, it gives us a better outlook towards them, and makes us fearless of fortune.
When we say that pleasure is the chief good, we are not speaking of the pleasures of the degenerate person, or those which involve sensual enjoyment, as some think who are ignorant or oppose our opinions, or intentionally distort them. Rather, we mean the freedom of pain from the body and turmoil from the mind. Life is not made pleasant through continued drinking and partying, or sexual encounters, or feasts of fish and other things that a costly banquet offers. Rather, the pleasant life is one of sober contemplation which examines into the reasons for all choice and avoidance, and which chases away worthless opinions from which the greater part of the confusion arises which troubles the mind.
Wisdom, Honor and Justice required for the Pleasant Life
The beginning and the greatest good of all these things is wisdom, and so wisdom is something more valuable than even philosophy, since all the other virtues spring from wisdom. It teaches us that it is not possible to live pleasantly unless one also lives wisely, honorably, and justly. We cannot live wisely, honorably, and justly, without living pleasantly since the virtues are associated with living agreeably, and living agreeably is inseparable from the virtues. Who do you think is better than the wise person that has proper opinions respecting the gods, and is completely fearless with respect to death, and has properly contemplated the end of nature? The wise person understands that the chief good is easily perfected and easily provided. He knows that the greatest evil lasts only a short period, and causes only brief pain.
The Wise Person Rejects Necessity and Fate
The wise person also has no belief in necessity or fate, which is set up by some as the mistress of all things. Rather, the wise person ascribes some things to necessity, some to chance, and some to ourselves. For, necessity undermines a person’s responsibility and chance is inconsistent, while our own will is free. This freedom constitutes a responsibility to which blame and praise are attached. It would be better to follow the fables about the gods than to be a slave to the necessity of the natural philosopher. Fables, at least, give us a sketch of how we can prevent the wrath of god by paying him honor, but necessity is unalterable. The wise person does not think that chance is a goddess, as most people consider it, for nothing is done at random by a god. Nor does the wise person think that chance is an erratic cause, or that good and evil are given to us to make us live happily, but that chance only supplies the beginnings of great goods or great evils. He holds that it is better to have misfortune when acting reasonably, than to be successful when acting unreasonably. For, those actions that are judged to be the best are properly done through reason.
Study these precepts, and those which are similar to them, and do so day and night. Reflect on them when by yourself, and discussing them with anyone like yourself. You will never be disturbed either when sleeping or awake, but you will live like a god among humans. For a person living with immortal blessings is in no respect like a mortal being.
EPICURUS: PRINCIPLE DOCTRINES (complete)
Removing Pain, Increasing Pleasure
1. That which is happy and imperishable, neither has trouble itself, nor does it cause it to anything. Thus, it is not subject to the feelings of either anger or gratitude, for these feelings only exist in what is weak.
2. Death is nothing to us, for that which is dissolved lacks sensation, and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us.
3. The limit of the greatness of the pleasures is the removal of everything which can give pain. And where pleasure is, as long as it lasts, that which gives pain, or that which feels pain, or both of them, are absent.
4. Pain does not last continuously in the body, but in its extremity it is present only a very short time. That pain which only just exceeds the pleasure in the body does not last many days. But long diseases have in them more that is pleasant than painful to the body.
5. It is not possible to live pleasantly without living wisely, and honorably, and justly; nor to live wisely, and honorably, and justly, without living pleasantly. But he to whom it does not happen to live wisely, honorably, and justly, cannot possibly live pleasantly.
6. In order to obtain security from other men, any means whatsoever of procuring this was a natural good.
7. For the sake of feeling confidence and safety with regard to men, some men have wished to be famous and powerful, failing to remember the limits of kingly power. If they have acquired safety by this means, then they have attained to the nature of good. But if they are not safe, then they have failed to obtain that for the sake of which they originally desired power according to nature.
8. No pleasure is bad in and of itself: but the causes of some pleasures bring with them a great many disruptions of pleasure.
9. If every pleasure were condensed (if each lasted long, and affected the whole body, or the essential parts of it), then there would be no difference between one pleasure and another.
Fear of Heavenly Bodies
10. Suppose that those things which give pleasures to debauched men, put an end to the fears of the mind, and to those which arise about the heavenly bodies, Suppose too that they suppressed fears and death and pain, and taught us what ought to be the limit of our desires. If this were the case, then we would have no justification for blaming those who wholly devote themselves to pleasure, and who never feel any pain or grief (which is the chief evil) from anywhere.
11. If fears relating to the heavenly bodies did not disturb us, and if the terrors of death have no concern with us, and if we had the courage to contemplate the boundaries of pain and of the desires, we would have no need to study nature.
12. It would not be possible for a person to remove all fear about those things which are called most essential, unless he knew what is the nature of the universe, or if he had any idea that the fables told about it could be true. Therefore, it is, that a person cannot enjoy unmixed pleasure without knowledge of nature.
13. It would be no good for a man to secure himself safety as far as men are concerned, while in a state of fear regarding the heavenly bodies, and things beneath the earth, and in short, all those in the infinite.
14. Irresistible power and great wealth may, up to a certain point, give us security as far as men are concerned; but the security of men in general depends upon the tranquility of their souls, and their freedom from ambition.
15. The riches of nature are easily identified and acquired; but vain desires are insatiable.
16. The wise man is but little favored by fortune; but his reason secures him the greatest and most valuable goods, which he enjoys, and will enjoy his whole life.
17. The just man is the freest of all men from turmoil; but the unjust man is perpetual prey to it.
18. Pleasure in the body is not increased when once the pain arising from want is removed; it is only diversified. The most perfect happiness of the soul depends on these reflections, and on opinions of a similar character on all those questions which causa the greatest alarm to the mind.
19. If we measure the limits of pleasure by reason, then infinite and finite time both have equal pleasure.
Fear of Death
20. If the body could experience boundless pleasure, it would want to dispose of eternity. But reason, enabling us to conceive the end and dissolution of the body, and liberating us from the fears relative to eternity, procures for us all the happiness of which life is capable, so completely that we have no further occasion to include eternity in our desires. In this disposition of mind, man is happy even when his troubles engage him to quit life; and to die thus, is for him only to interrupt a life of happiness.
21. He who is acquainted with the limits of life knows, that that which removes the pain which arises from need, and which makes the whole of life perfect, is easily procurable. Thus, we have no need of those things which can only be attained with trouble.
22. But as to the subsisting end, we ought to consider it with all the clearness and evidence which we refer to whatever we think and believe. Otherwise, all things will be full of confusion and uncertainty of judgment.
Improper and Proper ways of Judging Things
23. If you resist all the senses, you will not even have anything left to which you can refer, or by which you may be able to judge of the falsehood of the senses which you condemn.
24. If you simply discard one sensation, and do not distinguish between the different elements of the judgment, whether an actual sensation or immediate mental perception, he affections, and all the conceptions of the mind which lean directly on the sensible representation, then you will be imposing trouble into your sensations, and destroying in that area every type of criterion. If in your ideas based upon opinion you hastily affirm as true all that awaits confirmation as well as that which does not, then you will not escape error. For you will be mixing up doubtful opinions with those which are not doubtful, and true judgments with those of a different character.
25. If, on every occasion, we do not refer each of our actions to the chief end of nature, if we turn aside from that to seek or avoid some other object, there will be a lack of agreement between our words and our actions.
26. All such desires as lead to no pain when they remain ungratified are unnecessary, and the longing is easily got rid of, when the thing desired is difficult to procure or when the desires seem likely to produce harm.
High Value of Friendship
27. Of all the things which wisdom provides for the happiness of the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friendship.
28. The same opinion that encourages us to trust that no evil will last forever, or even for a long period of time, also has us recognize that during the time of life allotted to us, the protection that we have through friendship is assured and trustworthy.
29. Of the desires, some are natural and necessary, some natural, but not necessary, and some are neither natural nor necessary, but owe their existence to imaginary opinions.
30. When there are natural desires that are not painful to leave unfulfilled, even when they are stubbornly pursued, it is a proof that they result from illusory opinion. For when they are hard to resist, it is not because of their own nature, but from imaginary opinion.
31. Natural justice is a covenant of what is suitable to prevent men from injuring each other, and being injured.
32. Those animals which cannot enter into an argument of this nature, or to guard against doing or sustaining mutual injury, have no such thing as justice or injustice. The case is the same with those nations, the members of which are either unwilling or unable to enter into a covenant to respect their mutual interests.
33. Justice has no independent existence. It results from mutual contracts, and establishes itself wherever there is a mutual engagement to guard against doing or experiencing mutual injury.
34. Injustice is not bad in itself. It has this character only because there is joined with it a fear of not escaping those who are appointed to punish actions marked with that character
35. When a man secretly does anything in violation of the agreement which people have made with each other to not mutually injure each other, it is impossible for that man to believe that he will always escape notice. Even if he has escaped notice already ten thousand times, until his death, it is uncertain whether or not he will be detected.
36. In general, justice is the same thing to everyone since there is something advantageous in mutual society. However, the difference of location, and many other circumstances, make justice vary.
37. From the moment that a thing declared just by the law is generally recognized as useful for the mutual relations of men, it becomes really just, whether it is universally regarded as such or not. But if, on the contrary, a thing established by law is not really useful for social relations, then it is not just. Suppose that something which was just (to the extent that it was useful) loses this character after having been for some time considered such. In this situation, it is no less true that, during that time, it was really just, at least for those who do not perplex themselves about empty words, but who prefer, in every case, examining and judging for themselves.
38. When, without any new circumstances arising, a thing which has been declared just in practice does not agree with the impressions of reason, that is a proof that the thing was not really just. In the same way, when in consequence of new circumstances, a thing which has been pronounced just does not any longer appear to agree with mutual advantage, the thing which was just, inasmuch as it was useful to the social relations and intercourse of mankind, ceases to be just the moment when it ceases to be mutually advantageous.
Friendship and Tranquility
39. He who desires to live tranquilly without having anything to fear from other men, ought to make himself friends. Those whom he cannot make friends of, he should, at least, avoid making enemies; and if that is not in his power, he should, as far as possible, avoid all intercourse with them, and keep them aloof, as far as it is for his interest to do so.
40. The happiest men are they who have arrived at the point of having nothing to fear from those who surround them. Such men live with each other most agreeably, having the firmest grounds of confidence in each other, enjoying the advantages of friendship in all their fullness, and not lamenting, as a pitiable circumstance, the premature death of their friends.
LUCRETIUS: ON THE NATURE OF THINGS
Atoms are Eternal and Indivisible First-Bodies in the Infinite Void (Nature, 1.b)
All nature then, as it exists by itself, is founded on two things: there are bodies [i.e., atoms] and there is void in which these bodies are placed and through which they move around. For, the general feeling of mankind declares that body exists by itself. Unless at the very first belief in this is firmly grounded, there will be nothing to which we can appeal on hidden things in order to prove anything by reasoning of mind. Then again, if room and space which we call void did not exist, bodies could not be placed anywhere nor move around at all to any side . . . Therefore beside void and bodies no third nature taken by itself can be left in the number of things, either such as to fall at any time under the awareness of our senses or such as anyone can grasp by the reason of his mind. . . .
First of all, since there has been found to exist a two-fold and widely dissimilar nature of two things, that is to say of body and of place in which things variously go on, each of the two must exist for and by itself and quite un-mixed. For wherever there is empty space which we call void, there body is not; wherever again body maintains itself, there empty void in no way exists. First-bodies [i.e., atoms], therefore, are solid and without void . . . These can neither be broken in pieces by striking or hitting from without, nor have their texture undone by anything at all piercing to their core, nor give way before any other kind of assault, as we have proved to you a little before. For without void nothing seems to admit of being crushed in or broken up or split in two by cutting, or of taking in wet or permeating cold or penetrating fire, by which all things are destroyed. And the more anything contains within it of void, the more thoroughly it gives way to the assault of these things.
Therefore, if first-bodies are, as I have shown, solid and without void, they must be everlasting. Again unless matter had been eternal, all things before this would have utterly returned to nothing and whatever things we see would have been born anew from nothing. But since I have proved above that nothing can be produced from nothing, and that what is created cannot be recalled to nothing, first-beginnings must be of an imperishable body into which all things can be dissolved at their last hour, that there may be a supply of matter for the reproduction of things. Therefore, first-beginnings are of solid singleness, and in no other way can they have been preserved through ages during infinite time past in order to reproduce things.
But since I have taught that most solid bodies of matter fly about forever unvanquished through all time, mark now, let us unfold whether there is or is not any limit to their sum; likewise let us clearly see whether that which has been found to be void, or room and space, in which things severally go on, is all of it altogether finite or stretches without limits and to an unfathomable depth.
So, the existing universe is not bounded in any of its dimensions, otherwise it would have had an outside. Again, it is seen that there can be an outside of nothing, unless there is something beyond to bound it, so that that is seen, farther than which the nature of this our sense does not follow the thing. Now since we must admit that there is nothing outside the total, it has no outside, and therefore is without end and limit. It does not matter in which of its regions you take your stand. So invariably, whatever position anyone has taken up, he leaves the universe just as infinite as before in all directions. Again, if for the moment all existing space is held to be bounded, supposing a man runs forward to its outside borders, and stands on the utmost verge and then throws a winged javelin, do you choose that when hurled with vigorous force it, will advance to the point to which it has been sent and fly to a distance, or do you decide that something can get in its way and stop it? For, you must admit and adopt one of the two suppositions; either of which shuts you out from all escape and compels you to grant that the universe stretches without end.
The “Swerve” of Atoms in Space is the Random Cause of all Things (Nature, 2.a)
We also wish you to understand the following point: when bodies are carried vertically downwards through void by their own weight, at quite uncertain times and uncertain spots they push themselves a little from their course. You can barely call it a change of inclination. If they did not swerve, they would all fall down, like drops of rain, through the deep void, and no collision would have resulted, nor striking produced among the first-beginnings [i.e., atoms]. Thus nature never would have produced anything.
But if anyone believes that heavier bodies, as they are carried more quickly vertically through space, can fall from above upon the lighter and so create a collision able to produce motions, he goes most widely astray from true reason. For whenever bodies fall through water and thin air, they must increase their descents in proportion to their weights. For, the body of water and subtle nature of air cannot slow everything in equal degree, but more readily give way, overpowered by the heavier. On the other hand, empty void cannot offer resistance to anything in any direction at any time, but must, as its nature requires, continually give way. For this reason, all things must be moved and carried along with equal speed though of unequal weight through the unresisting void. Therefore, heavier things will never be able to fall from above upon the lighter nor of themselves to create collisions sufficient to produce the varied motions by which nature carries on things. For this reason, again and again I say bodies must swerve a little, but not more than the least amount possible. Otherwise we will be found to be imagining oblique motions and this the reality should refute. For it is plain and evident, that weights, so far as in them is, cannot travel obliquely when they fall from above, at least so far as you can perceive; but who is there that can perceive that nothing swerves in any case from the straight course?
Slight Swerve in Atoms Responsible for Free Will (Nature, 2.a)
Once again, suppose that every motion is always linked together, and the new always arises from the old in a determined order. Suppose also that the first beginnings do not swerve and make a certain start of movement to break through the decrees of fate, so that cause may not follow cause from infinite time. How, then, could free will for living things arise all over the earth? Where, I ask, is it grabbed from fate, this will whereby we move forward, where pleasure leads each one of us, and likewise change directions in our motions neither at a fixed time nor fixed place, but when and where the mind itself has prompted? It starts from the will and then passes through all the limbs.
For without doubt it is his own will which gives to each one a start for this movement, and from the will the motions pass flooding through the limbs. Do you not see too how, when the barriers are flung open, yet for an instant of time the eager strength of the horses cannot burst out so suddenly as their mind itself desires? For the whole collection of matter throughout the whole body must be stirred to movement, that then aroused through every limb it may strain and follow the eager longing of the mind. So you see a start of movement is occurs from the heart, but comes forth first of all from the will of the mind, and then afterwards is spread through all the body and limbs. It is very different from motion under compulsion. Nor is it the same as when we move forward forced by a knock from the strong might and strong constraint of another. For then we clearly see that all the matter of the body moves and is rushed on against our will, until the will has reined it back throughout the limbs. Do you not then now see that, although a force outside pushes many men and often constrains them to go forward against their will and to be hurried away headfirst, yet there is something in our breast that can fight against it and withstand it? At its command, too, the collection of matter is constrained now and then to turn throughout the limbs and members, and, when pushed forward, is reined back and comes to rest again.
This [act of the will] is due to the second cause of motion, the swerve of the atoms. Accordingly, in the seeds too you similarly must admit that there is another cause of motion, besides that of collision and weight, from which comes this power born in us, since we see that nothing can come to pass from nothing. For weight prevents all things occurring from collision, as by some force without. But the mind does not feel some necessity within in doing all things, and is not constrained like a conquered thing to endure and suffer. This is brought about by the tiny swerve of the first-beginnings in no determined direction of place and at no determined time.
Proofs of the Mortality of the Soul: Made of Atoms, Grows with the Body, Cured by Medicine (Nature, 3b)
Come now, that you may be able to learn that the minds and the light souls of living things have birth and death, I will hurry to present verses long sought out and found with willing effort, worthy to guide your life. It is your choice to link both of these in a single name, and when, to choose a case, I continue to speak of the soul, proving that it is mortal, suppose that I speak of mind as well, inasmuch as they are at one each with the other and compose a single thing.
First of all, I have shown that the soul is finely made of tiny bodies and of first-beginnings, far smaller than the liquid moisture of water, clouds or smoke. For, it far surpasses them in speed of motion, and is more prone to move when struck by some slight cause. For indeed the soul is moved by images of smoke and cloud. Even when dreaming in sleep, we see altars breathing steam on high, and sending up their smoke. Undoubtedly, these are image particles (eidola) that are carried to us. Now, when containers are shattered, you see the water flowing away on every side, and the liquid parting this way and that, and since cloud and smoke disperse into air. Thus, you must believe that the soul too is scattered and passes away far more swiftly, and is dissolved more quickly into its first-bodies, after it has withdrawn from a man’s limbs, and has departed. For indeed, the body, which was the container of the soul, so to speak, cannot hold it together, when by some chance it is shattered and made thinner, since the blood is withdrawn from the veins. How, then, could you believe that the soul could be held together by any air, which is thinner than our body and can contain it less?
Moreover, we feel that the understanding is created along with the body, and grows together with it, and along with it comes to old age. For as children totter with feeble and tender body, so a weak judgement of mind goes with it. Then when their years are ripe and their strength hardened, greater is their sense and increased their force of mind. Afterward, when now the body is shattered by the stern strength of time, and the frame has sunk with its force dulled, then the reason is maimed, the tongue raves, the mind stumbles, everything give way and fail at once. We see, then, that the mind is born with the body, grows with it, and, as I have shown, at the same time becomes weary and worn with age. Thus, it is natural that the entire nature of the mind should also be dissolved, just as smoke is dispersed into the high breezes of the air. . . . .
Since we perceive that the mind is cured, just like the sick body, and we see that it can be changed by medicine, this too forewarns us that the mind has a mortal life. For whoever attempts to alter the mind, or seeks to change any other nature, must indeed add parts to it or transfer them from their order, or take away some small piece at least from the whole. But what is immortal does not permit its parts to be transposed, nor that any part should be added or depart from it. For whenever a thing changes and passes out of its own limits, immediately this is the death of that which was before. So whether the mind is sick, it gives signs of its mortality, as I have proved, or whether it is changed by medicine. So surely is true fact seen to run counter to false reasoning, and to shut off retreat from him who flees, and with double-edged refutation to prove the falsehood.
Some Frightening Image Particles (eidola) trigger a False Belief in Spirits (Nature, 4.a)
I have discussed the nature of the beginnings of all things, how they differ in their various forms, how they move on their own accord propelled by everlasting motion, and in what way each of the various things can be created from them. I have also discussed the nature of the mind, how it was composed and grew in proper order with the body, and how it was torn apart and passed back into its first-beginnings. Now I will tell you what closely relates to this theme, namely, that there are what we call image particles (eidola) of things. They are like flakes or films stripped off the outermost body of things, and fly forward and backward through the air. Further, they frighten our minds when they encounter us during waking hours. They do this during sleep too, when we frequently see wondrous shapes. The image-particles of those who have lost the light of day, often wakened us in a frightening manner have as we lay languid from our sleep. Otherwise we might think that souls escape from Acheron, or that spirits float around among the living, or that something of us can survive after death, when both body and the nature of mind have perished and torn apart into their various first-beginnings. . . .
Death is Nothing to Us since even in a Reconfigured Body we would have no Memories (Nature, 4b)
Death, then, is nothing to us, nor does it concern us one bit, insofar as the nature of the mind is only a mortal possession. Even as in the time gone by we felt no ill, when the Poeni [i.e., Phoenicians] came from every side to the conflict of battle, when all the world, shaken by the hurrying turmoil of war, shuddered and reeled beneath the high coasts of heaven, in doubt to which people’s sway must fall all human power by land and sea. So, when we will be no more, when there will have come the parting of body and soul, by whose union we are made one, you may know that nothing at all will be able to happen to us, who then will be no more, or stir our feeling. No, not if earth will be mingled with sea, and sea with sky. Even if the soul could feel alone, it would not concern us. If time should reunite the same atoms that now form us, still it would not affect us. Even if the nature of mind and the power of soul has feeling after it has been torn apart from our body, yet it is nothing to us, who are made one by the mating and marriage of body and soul. Suppose that time could gather together our substance after our death and bring it back again as it is now placed, and once more the light of life should be given to us. Even if this were done, it would not concern us at all, when once the memory of our former selves were snapped in two. Even now we do not care at all for the selves that we once were, not at all are we touched by any torturing pain for them. For when you look back over all the lapse of immeasurable time that now is gone, and think how many are the motions of matter, you could easily believe this too, that these same seeds, from which we now are made, have often been placed in the same order as they are now. Yet we cannot recall this in our mind’s memory. For in between lies a break in life, and all the motions have wandered everywhere, far astray from sense. Grief and pain necessitate a perceiver, but death prevents our feeling. For, if by chance there is to be grief and pain for a man, he must himself too exist at that time, that harm may occur to him. Since death forestalls this, and prevents the being of him, on whom these misfortunes might gather, we may know that we have nothing to fear in death, and that he who is no more cannot be miserable. This is not one bit different than if he had never at any time been born, when once immortal death has stolen away mortal life.
Epicurus’s Greatness (Nature, 5, introduction)
Epicurus, who discovered our philosophy, is a god. Who can attempt by strength of mind to build a poem worthy to match the majesty of truth and these discoveries? Who has such skill in speech, that he can fashion praises to match what he deserves, who has left us such prizes, conceived and discovered by his own mind? There will be no one, I believe, born of mortal body. For if we must speak as suits the majesty of the truth now known to us, then he was a god, indeed a god, noble Memmius [i.e, Roman senator and patron of Lucretius]. He first found out that principle of life, which now is called wisdom. By his skill he saved our life from high seas and thick darkness, and enclosed it in calm waters and bright light. His services to men are far greater than those of the gods and heroes of old.
World Created by Chance, not Design (Nature, 5.a)
But by what means that gathering together of matter established earth and sky and the depths of ocean, and the courses of sun and moon, I will set out in order. For, in truth, it is not by design that the first-beginnings of things place themselves each in their order with foreseeing mind, nor indeed did they make an agreement about what movements each would start. Rather, many first-beginnings of things in many ways have been driven on by collisions from time everlasting until now. Moved by their own weight, they have been inclined to be carried on, and to unite in every way and compose everything that they might create, meeting one with another. Therefore, it happens that, scattered abroad through a great age as they try meetings and motions of every kind, eventually those come together, which, suddenly thrown together, often become the beginnings of great things, of earth, sea and sky, and the race of living things.
Dreams, Ignorance of Natural Causes and Fear as the Source of Belief in the Gods (Nature, 5.e)
What cause has spread the notion of the existence and power of the gods across the wide nations of the earth? This notion has filled cities with altars and led solemn sacred rites to be instituted (which rites now flourish and are performed on all important occasions and in all distinguished places). This terror pervades mortals, a terror which raises new temples of the deities throughout the whole globe of the earth, and drives men to celebrate their worship on feast days. It is not so difficult, as it may seem, to explain.
In those early times of which we speak, the tribes of mortals saw in their minds, even when awake, glorious images as of gods, and saw them even more distinctly in their sleep, and of an extraordinary size. To these, therefore, they attributed life, because they seemed to move their limbs, and to utter majestic words, suitable to their distinguished appearance and mighty strength. They also assigned to them an immortal existence, because their appearances came in constant succession, and their form remained the same. But they might certainly have believed them immortal for another reason. They might have considered that beliefs, possessing such apparent strength, could not easily be overpowered by any destructive force. They thought of the gods as perfectly happy, because the fear of death could not trouble any of them. Also, in their dreams they saw them do many and extraordinary actions, and it seemed that they experienced no difficulty when performing them.
Further, they observed the revolutions of the heavens, and the various seasons of the year, go around in a certain order. Yet they could not understand by what causes these effects were produced. Thus, they would seek a refuge by handing over all things to the gods and supposing all things to be guided by their will.
They placed the homes and realms of the gods in the sky, because night and moon are seen to roll through heaven. That is, moon, day, night, the grand constellations of night, the nightly luminaries of the heavens, the flying meteors, the clouds, the sun, the rain, the snow, the winds, lightning, hail, and the violent noise and loud threatening murmurs of the thunder.
But observe how the race of men are unhappy when, in addition to attributing such acts to the gods, they also ascribe bitter wrath to them. What sorrow did they then create for themselves, and what sufferings for us! What fears have they passed down to later generations!
Further, there is nothing pious for a man to be seen with his head veiled, turning towards a stone, and drawing near to every altar; or to fall face down on the ground, and to stretch out his hands before the shrines of the gods; or to sprinkle the altars with the profuse blood of four-footed animals, and to add vows upon vows. Rather, it is piety to be able to look at all things with a mind at peace.
We may look up to the celestial regions of the vast world above, and contemplate the night sky studded with glittering stars, and reflect upon the revolutions of the sun and moon. When we do this, an anxiety might awaken within our hearts about the possibility that an almighty power of the gods is above us, which guides the stars in their various motions (an anxiety that might have otherwise remained buried under the weight of other worries).
Lack of reasoning, and ignorance of natural causes, upsets our minds with doubts about whether there was any birth or beginning to the world, or whether there is any limit of time until which the walls of the world, and the silent movements of the heavenly bodies, can endure its continuous activity; or whether the heavens, divinely endowed with an imperishable nature, can, as they roll along time's eternal course, defy the mighty power of endless age.
Besides, whose heart does not shrink at the terrors of the gods? Whose limbs do not shudder with dread, when the scorched earth shakes with the terrible flash of lightning, and when the roars of thunder fill the vast sky? Do not people and nations tremble? Do not proud rulers, filled with fear of the deities, quiver in every nerve, in the event that the dreaded time may come to pay the penalty for some foul action, or arrogant word?
Consider likewise when the mighty force of a furious wind, raging over the sea, sweeps the commander of a fleet over the waters, along with his powerful legions and elephants. Does he not seek with vows the peace of the gods, and fearfully implore them with prayers for a lull in the winds and a favorable breeze? Unfortunately, he implores them to no purpose. Frequently, seized by a violent hurricane, he is nevertheless swept away to the shoals of death. Thus some unseen power, apparently, bears upon human things, and seems to trample down proud symbols of authority, and make them merely a sport for itself.
Further, when the whole earth totters under our feet, and cities, shaken to their foundation, fall or threaten to fall, what wonder is it, that the nations of the world despise and humble themselves, and admit the vast influence of the gods over the world, and their stupendous power to govern all things?
PHILODEMUS: ON RHETORIC (Rhetoric, 5)
Whether Justice is Relative (Rhetoric, 5)
The next statement [by sophistical rhetoricians] is that there is no distinction between justice and injustice, except that which is commonly accepted by the people. They say that those who assume a different standard are like those who seek to substitute a coinage of their own for that established by the state. The new coinage is useless, for it will not pass current and the maker's life would not be safe.
By rhetoric neither [is accomplished] as it seems, but political science is not investigated or taught by the rhetoricians, either exclusively or to a higher degree than by others.
[In response to the sophistical rhetoricians], the philosophers of our [Epicurean] school agree with the many on the question of what is just and good, differing from them only in this that the Epicureans arrive at their conclusions by logic as well as by feeling, and never forget these conclusions, but always compare the chief good with things that are indifferent. The Epicureans do differ from the many about the means to attain happiness, and do not think that offices, power, conquests and the like are proper means to the end. Similarly, the principles derived by them from "notions" we judge to be just and noble. But we differ from the common opinion as to what corresponds to the "notion." (i.e., what produces the end—-pleasure—-which is perceived by all.)
Not only do some philosophers differ from the popular ideas of right and wrong, but all statesmen also do. For during their time of office they are exclusively concerned with changing popular opinion on questions of right and justice and advantage. If this is so, how do we resemble those who scorn current coinage, and seek for substitutes? Apart from the fact that we do not despise theories based on "notions," how could we be said to be acting in this way if we assume the true principles of right and wrong? For some of these are helpful to them as well as to us whether they grant it or not; others are really established customs, and will not allow themselves to be used unless we assume them in keeping with the former principles. For if they do not have the true idea of hot and cold, it is not our authority which they oppose. It is possible for a fate to impact them, like that of those who differ (with their governments) about coinage—and how can their search be called useless if there is really anything better—if the cities will not accept the innovations, and the inventor's life is not safe. For it makes no difference to those truly well if others will not adopt hygienic measures, nor to those who avoid fire or snow, if others refuse to acknowledge the natural qualities residing in them. It is astounding for them to say that the natural means of safety will not protect them.
Some things are just or unjust by nature and never change, others vary according to locality and condition. Laws which are not of this nature, but are established for various reasons ought to be obeyed, or if the philosophers do not think that they can live well under these laws they ought to leave the country. They can be social to a high degree by observing those principles which make for likeness and not for difference; we can do this without being observed as well as with publicity; with pleasure and not under compulsion; steadily and not in an uncertain fashion.
If rhetoric imparts an experience of these things, so that it is the only road to the happy life, yet it does not lead to courts and assemblies, where there are more wrecks than ever at Cape Caphereus.
Against the View that Rhetoric Helps a Person while Virtue does Not (Rhetoric, 5)
[Rhetoricians say that their art makes men good] for one will wish to seem prudent and just in order to obtain favors from the people.
[It is strange that one would not endure to be taught virtue] whereas if he were sick he would endure being forced to undergo treatment. But their interjection of the argument that virtue cannot be taught is untimely. For Socrates showed that political virtue cannot be taught, proving his case by the inability of Themistocles, Aristides and Pericles to train their sons to be their equals. By the same means one could prove that sophistic rhetoric cannot be taught. But "rhetoric would be able to benefit a man who by its help can persuade the people that he is of high character." Quite the contrary; even if a man be virtuous otherwise, he is considered a scoundrel because he is a rhetorician. They say that we ought to believe that there is something better than truth which does not persuade, on the testimony of Euripides who says; "Mortals' coin is not only shining silver but virtue" (i.e., virtue in the commonly accepted sense). At any rate they purchase many things by character, as well as by money. But why should a philosopher pay attention to Euripides, especially since he has no proof? Some say they pursue virtue not expecting to receive anything from it; others desire safety for the sake of happiness.
"Suppose a virtuous man was made the object of a slanderous attack, and was unable to persuade the jury of his innocence; he would be punished, not pitied and honored." Certainly. But worst of all is not to recognize exalted virtue, but to consider it wickedness. According to the argument of the rhetorician, one ought to study the reputable rather than the monstrous—and that when the greatest statesmen bring to the bema things which should be associated only with the vilest of men. The so-called virtuous men when they are called to account before the people refuse to stand trial. They think they are to suffer a treatment much worse than that accorded to the sick, much less acquire virtue, just as if virtue were not a real good, or there were no real cure which the people apply when they judge a man in the wrong.
"Furthermore it has been said that we [i.e., the rhetoricians] do not fight against external enemies at whose hand it is honorable to die, but against internal enemies at whose hands it is disgraceful to die; that we have nothing to do with virtue—for that did not save Socrates;—nor with medicine—that saves men from disease, not from prison; nor with any other profession than rhetoric which helps those who strive not only for their lives but to obtain money, and to prevent disfranchisement and exile."
However, we will repel our enemies with their own weapons. Virtue did not help Socrates because when he was led to court it was lacking in some people. Medicine and other professions help even in prison. If a philosopher falls a victim to such a death, it is not a disgrace to him but to those who kill him. However, he does not live in fear of meeting such a fate. For the superstitions of the common people do not disturb one who is persuaded that he will have no existence after death.
If for these reasons persuasion was reasonably considered to be a good by them, she would have been deified by philosophy. The fact that through it [persuasion] no little harm is done is not true of philosophical persuasion, but of rhetorical persuasion used by Pisistratus [i.e., the Athenian ruler who wounded himself and his mules, making it appear as though his enemies attacked him]. For this reason, it does not belong to the category of the greatest goods as they perversely say, nor to the special categories of power and wealth. If one does not use these well, he would receive much harm. Philosophy shows us how to find and use everything necessary for a happy life.
Questions for Review
1. In Epicurus’s Letter to Herodotus, what are some features of his view of atoms and the infinite vacuum?
2. In Epicurus’s Letter to Herodotus, what are some features of his view of image particles and visual perception?
3. In Epicurus’s Letter to Herodotus, what is his explanation of hearing and smelling?
4. In Epicurus’s Letter to Herodotus, what are some features of his view of souls?
5. In Epicurus’s Letter to Herodotus, what are some features of his view of astronomical events?
6. In Epicurus’s Letter to Menoeceus, why should we not fear the gods?
7. In Epicurus’s Letter to Menoeceus, why should we not fear death?
8. In Epicurus’s Letter to Menoeceus, what are the kinds of pleasures that we should avoid?
9. In Epicurus’s Letter to Menoeceus, why should we habituate ourselves to a simple and plain diet?
10. In Epicurus’s Letter to Menoeceus, what are some features of the wise person?
11. In Epicurus’s Principal Doctrines, what is his view of justice?
12. In Lucretius’ On The Nature of Things, what is his reasoning for why the slight swerve of atoms is the random cause of all things?
13. In Lucretius’ On The Nature of Things, what is his reasoning for why the slight swerve of atoms is responsible for free will?
14. In Lucretius’ On The Nature of Things, what are his arguments for the mortality of the soul?
15. In Lucretius’ On The Nature of Things, what are his arguments for why death is nothing to us?
16. In Lucretius’ On The Nature of Things, what is his argument for why the world was created by chance and not by design?
17. In Lucretius’ On The Nature of Things, what are the sources of belief in the Gods?
18. In Philodemus’s On Rhetoric, what are his views of justice and relativity?
Questions for Analysis
1. Cicero makes the following criticism of Epicurus’s theory of the slight swerve: “The swerving is itself an arbitrary fiction; for Epicurus says the atoms swerve without cause. But this is the capital offense in a natural philosopher, to speak of something taking place uncaused. Then also he gratuitously deprives the atoms of what he himself declared to be the natural motion of all heavy bodies, namely, movement in a straight line downwards . . . This riotous hurly-burly of atoms could not possibly result in the ordered beauty of the world we know” (Cicero, About the Ends of Goods and Evils, 1.6). Discuss Cicero’s point and how Epicurus might respond.
2. Cicero says the following regarding Epicurus’s belief in the gods: “There is also a book by Epicurus upon holiness. He is toying with us, not that he is a humorist so much as a man who abandons himself freely to reckless writing. For what holiness can there be if the gods have no care for human affairs? What animate nature can there be that has no care for anything? Undoubtedly, then, there is more truth in what our common friend Posidonius suggests in his fifth book on the nature of the gods, that Epicurus has no belief in their existence, and that what he said on the subject of the immortal gods he said for the sake of avoiding extreme offence. He would not, surely, have been so foolish as to imagine a god resembling a mere mortal, with only surface features and an unsubstantial body, possessing all the limbs of a man without even the slightest use for them, a kind of attenuated, transparent being who has no consideration for anyone, performs no service for anyone, cares for nothing at all, and does nothing at all. In the first place the existence of such a nature is impossible, and Epicurus, seeing that, in reality does away with the gods, while verbally retaining them. In the second place, if the main characteristic of God is his emancipation from beneficence and love for man, good-bye to him.” (On the Nature of the Gods, 1.30, 44). Discuss Cicero’s point and how Epicurus or Lucretius might respond (assuming that they believed in some sort of gods).
3. Dionysius of Alexandria makes the following criticism of Epicurus’ atomism. "How can we accept the Epicureans when they say that the wise and, for that reason, the good productions of Creation are the results of chance coincidences? . . . They will not even be taught by the small and familiar examples lying at their feet, from which they might learn that no useful and beneficial work is made without a special purpose, or by mere accident, but is perfected by handiwork for its proper service. . . . How did it adapt the many other limbs, and organs, and entrails, and instruments of sense, some within and some without, by which the body was quickened into life? For among these no idle nor useless part was added, no, not even the meanest, neither hair, nor nails, but all contribute, some to the benefit of the constitution, and others to the beauty of the appearance.” (On Nature). Discuss Dionysius’s point and how Epicurus might respond.
4. Epicurus held that the slight swerve of atoms preserves free will. Plotinus criticized that the slight swerve is still a type of determinism and is thus unacceptable: “We should not accept the [Epicurean] arbitrary convergence of the atoms, nor believe that any body initiates a movement suddenly and without determining reason, nor suppose [with Epicurus] that the soul undertakes some action by a blind impulse, without any motive. Thus to suppose that a thing does not belong to itself, that it could be carried away by involuntary movements, and act without motive, would be to subject it to the most crushing determinism. The will must be excited, or the desire awakened by some interior or exterior stimulus. No determination [is possible] without motive.” (Enneads, 1.3.2). Discuss Plotinus’s point and how Epicurus might respond.
5. Longinus presents the following criticisms of the Stoic view of the corporeal nature of the soul: “To speak briefly, it seems to me that all who represented the soul as a body have strayed, one after another, far away from right reasoning. For how is it at all admissible to assume that what is proper to the soul is similar to any of the elements? Or how refer it to the compounds and mixtures, which occurring in many ways are of a nature to generate forms of countless other bodies, in which, if not continuously, at all events at intervals one may see the cause of the elements, and the advance of the primary elements towards the secondary and tertiary compounds? But of properties pertaining to the soul not a trace nor a sign is found in bodies, not even if one should strive, like Epicurus and Chrysippus, to turn every stone, and examine every power of body for an origin of the functions of the soul” (Longinus in Eusebius, Preparation, 15). Discuss Longinus’s point and how Epicurus might respond.
6. Pseudo-Plutarch makes the following criticism of Epicurus’ view that the thought of death should not trouble us. “[Epicureans] themselves tell us that the thought of future [death through] dissolution leaves them one most assured and satisfying goods, namely, freedom from anxious speculations of continual and endless evils. For, Epicurus's doctrine does this by stopping the fear of death through the soul's dissolution. But if then deliverance from the expectation of infinite evils is a matter of greatest satisfaction, why is it not troubling to be deprived of eternal good things and to miss of the highest and most perfect happiness?” (“That One Cannot Live Happily”). Discuss Pseudo-Plutarch’s argument and how Epicurus might respond.
7. Epictetus makes the following criticism of Epicurus’s view of bodily pleasure. “If Epicurus would come and say that the good must be in the body, that will lead to a long discussion. It means we must be taught what is the commanding faculty in us, what constitutes our substantial and true nature. If it is not probable that the good of the snail is in the shell, is it probable that man's good is in his body? Take yourself, Epicurus. What is the more masterful faculty you possess? What is it in you which deliberates, which examines everything, which examines the body itself and decides that it is the principal thing? Why do you light a lamp and toil for us, and write such big volumes? Is it that we may not be ignorant of the truth? Who are we? What concern have we with you? So the argument becomes a long one.” (Discourses, 20). Discuss Epictetus’ point and how Epicurus might respond.
8. Grotius makes the following criticism of Epicurus’s account of justice in Principle Doctrines 31-38: “Epicurus, after having abolished divine providence, left nothing of justice except the empty name so that he could say it arose from agreement only and endured no longer than the common advantage therefrom endured; that one must then abstain from the things which are likely to injure another solely through fear of punishment. His own remarkable words on this point are found in Diogenes Laertius.” Discuss Grotius’s point and how Epicurus might respond.
9. To help us avoid experiencing anxiety over death, Epicurus recommends that we adopt the following principle: enjoy your time “not measuring it as to whether it is of the greatest length, but as to whether it is most enjoyable.” But this exact same recommendation might also serve as a justification for a life of indulgence—eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you will die—which, it turns out, is an approach to life that Epicurus rejects. Is there a way of rescuing Epicurus from this apparent conflict with his recommendation?
10. According to Epicurus and Lucretius, our fear of God is the result of popular misconceptions that God punishes evil people and rewards good people. Are they right that this view of God is fear-producing to the point that it obstructs human happiness, and is how is Epicurus’s own conception of God an improvement?
11. Pick one of Lucretius’s arguments for the immortality of the soul and discuss whether it succeeds.