Gassendi’s Epicurus – Part 2A – Of Philosophy in General

[button link=”” size=”medium” variation=”blue” align=”center”]Top Level Table of Contents[/button]

Of Philosophy In Generall

[1]Philosophy (or, the love of wisdom) is an exercising of the reason; by which, in meditating and discoursing, it acquireth happy life, and enjoyeth it. For, [2] Philosophy hath this propriety above other Arts, that its end is the end also of reason, which so tends to it, that it may rest in the enjoyment of it.

Now, happy life consisting in the tranquillity of the mind, and indolency of the body, but especially in the former, (in regard, the goods of the mind are better then those of the body, and the ills thereof worse); it comes to pass, that Philosophy is chiefly the medicine of the mind, in regard it both makes and preserves it found, its foundnesse or health being nothins else but its tranquillity.

Hence it followeth, [3] that neither ought a young man to delay Philosophizing, nor an old man to be wearied therewith; for, to rectifie and cure his mind, no man is too young; and he who pretends, that the time of Philosophizing either is not yet, or is past, doth, as he who saith, the time to live well and happily either is not yet come, or is quite gone.

Both young and old therefore must Philosophize; the one, that whilst he is growing old, he may persevere to advance himself in good things, to continue the excellence of his former actions; the other, that, though aged in years, he may yet be youthfull in mind, remaining secure from future eminent harms.

For it is Philosophy alone which breeds in its followers and assurednesse and immunity from all vain fears, whence we ought to devote our selves to it that we may be truly free.

Happy they, who are of such a disposition of body or mind, or born in such a Country, as they can either of themselves, or by the instigations of others, addict themselves to Philosophy, and pursue truth; by attainment whereof, a man is made truly free or wise, and absolute Master of himself.

They who apply their minds hereto, are of three sorts; some address themselves to enquire after truth, without the assistance of any; some require help, and would not go, if non had gone before, but follow well; some may be compelled and driven to the right, who need not so much a leader, as an assistant, and, as I may call it, a Driver.

The first are most to be commended; yet the ingenuity of the second is excellent likewise; and the third, not to be contemned. Of the second was Metrodorus; of the third, Hermachus. As I highly praise the fortune of the former, so I no lesse admire and value the later; but although both of them arriv’d at the same end, yet he deserv’d the greater praise, who, their performances being equall, broke through the greater difficulties.

Now whereas to a Philosopher nothing ought to be more valuable then Truth, let him proceed to it in a direct way, [4] and neither feign any thing, nor admit any thing that is feigned by another; [5] for no kind of fiction beseemeth Professors of truth. Neyther is that perpetual Irony of Socrates to be approved, whereby he extolled to the skies {Anaxagoras}, Hippias, Prodicus, Gorgias, and the rest, but pretended himselfe rude and ignorant of all things.

[6] How much lesse was it becoming a [7] Philosopher to have feign’d that Fable concerning Erus Armenius; for why (If he had an intent to teach us the knowledge of celestiall things, and the disposition of souls) did he not perform this by a naked plain instruction, but rather chose to introduce a person; by which carriage the newnesse of the invention, and the formall scene of fiction represented on the stage, contaminated the very way of seeking truth with a falshood?

For this reason, [8] a wise man will neither hearken to the Fables of Poets, nor will himself labout in composing fabulous poems; nay rather, [9] he will have an aversion from the jugling tricks & sophistications of Oratours; and as he exacts no more from Grammar then congruity, so neither will he exact more from Rhetorick then perspicuity of speech, but will use a plain familiar style; whether he professe to teach or write bookes, or, explicate to the multitude any thing already written, he will be wary that he do it not panegrically and hyperbolically.

But seeing that, of Philosophers there are some, who assert nothing certaine of truth, but doubt of all things; others, who imagine they know all things, and assert without any distinction: A wise man ought not to behave himself so, as that he assert not all, but [10] only maintain some positive Maxims which are indisputable.

For when there are divers ways whereby some things may be performed, as the eclipses of the starrs, their rising setting and other superiour things, so to approve one way as to disapprove the rest; is certainly ridiculous. But when we speak of things that cannot be any way but one (such as are these Maxims, Of nothing is made nothing; the Universe consist of body and Vacuum; The principles of things are indivisible, and the like; then is it very absurd not to adhere firmely to them.

Hence, it is proper for a wise man to maintain both the manifold ways in those, and the one single way in these, and not to stagger nor recede from science once obtained; not like those, who as if prescribed by a law, Philosophize concerning Nature, not in such manner as the things themselves require; but goe out of the right way and run into fables, never considering that to vent, or vainly boast our own opinions, conduceth nothing to happy life, but disturbeth the mind.

Now whereas, [11] the principall parts of Philosophy are held to be two; one, Physick, consisting in contemplation of nature; the other, Ethick, which treats of directing of manners in order to happy life, it is manifest, either that Ethick comprehends all Philosophy, or that Physick comes to be a part therefore, only in as much as it conduceth to happy life.

For [12] if those things, which we suspect and dread from the Superiour bodies & even from death it selfe, breed no disturbance in us, as things unconcerning our condition; if also we could sufficiently comprehend what are the just bounds of our desires, and to what degree the grief which springs from them is to be asswaged, there were no need of Physiology, or the explication of Nature.

But because [13] it is not possible we should arrive at so great a good without having first surveyd the nature of things, but, [14] as children in the dark tremble and are afraid of every thing; so we miserable groping in the darknesse of ignorance, fear things that are fabulous, and no more to be dreaded then those which children feare in the dark, and fancy to themselves will happen. It is therefoer necessary that this terrour and darkenesse of the minde be dispelled, not by the beams of the Sun, but by impressions from Nature and Reason, that is by Physiology. Whence also Physick is to be esteemed a part of Philosophy.

Dialectick, which some adde as a third part, is to be rejected, because, as ordinarily taught, it doth nothing but beget thorny questions, being an empty bubbling, and forge of cavills. Moreover, because it is superfluous to that end which they propose, that is, to the perception and dijudication of the reasons of Naturalist; for there needs no more thereto, the, like the naturall Philosophers themselves, to use termes ordinary and perspicuous.

If, besides this, there may seem any thing of use, it can bee nothing but a coollection of some few Canons or Rules both concerning term, and the Criteries whereby we use to dijudicate.

Thus may this short Canonick, or treatise of rules, serve instead of a laborious and prolixe Dialectick, and be reputed either a distinct part of Philosophy (though least considerable); or [15] an addition to Physick, by way of Introduction.


 [button link=”” size=”medium” variation=”blue” align=”center”]Top Level Table of Contents[/button]

[1] Sext. Emp. adv. Eth.


[2] Sext. Emp. adv. Math. 1.


[3] Laert.


[4] Laert.


[5] Cic. in Bruto


[6] Macro. b in Sumn. lib. 1. cap. 2.


[7] viz. Plato in Rep. Sib. 10


[8] Tacit.


[9] Laert.


[10] Laert.


[11] Senec. Epist.


[12] Laert.


[13] Laert.


[14] Laert. lib. 2. v. 53.


[15] Senec. ep. 89.