1. Any being which is happy and imperishable neither has trouble itself, nor does it cause trouble to anything else. A perfect being does not have feelings either of anger or gratitude, for these feelings only exist in the weak.
Letter to Menoeceus: First of all, believe that a god is an incorruptible and happy being, just as Nature has commonly implanted the notion in the minds of men. But attach to your theology nothing which is inconsistent with incorruptibility or with happiness, and believe that a god possesses everything which is necessary to preserve its own nature. Indeed the gods do exist, and Nature gives to us a degree of knowledge of them. But gods are not of the character which most people attribute to them, and the conception of the gods held by most people is far from pure. It is not the man who discards the gods believed in by the many who is impious, but he who applies to the gods the false opinions that most people entertain about them. For the assertions of most people about the gods are not true intuitions given to them by Nature, but false opinions of their own, such as the idea that gods send misfortune to the wicked and blessings to the good. False opinions such as these arise because men think of the gods as if they had human qualities, and men do not understand that the gods have virtues that are different from their own.
Letter to Herodotus: As to the heavenly phenomena, such as the motion and course of the stars, their rising and setting, the eclipses, and all other appearances of this sort, we must beware of thinking that they are produced by any superior being whose business it is to regulate the order of the world. For a god is a being which is immortal and perfectly happy, free of cares and anxieties. Benevolence and anger, however, far from being compatible with perfection, are on the contrary the consequence of weakness, of fear, and of the desire which a thing has for something that it lacks. Therefore we must not fancy that the globes of fire which roll on in space are gods which enjoy a perfect happiness, and which give themselves, with reflection and wisdom, the motions which they possess. On this subject we must respect the established notions, but only if they do not at all contradict the respect due to the truth. For nothing is more calculated to trouble the soul than the strife of contradictory notions and principles. We must therefore conclude that from the first movement of the heavenly bodies at the time of the organization of the universe, there results some sort of necessary cause which regulates their course to this very day. Let us be well assured that it is to natural science which belongs the determination of the causes of these heavenly phenomena. Happiness comes through the study of natural science, by which we acquire the knowledge of analogous phenomena, which then aids us in the understanding of ethical matters. The heavenly phenomena, on the other hand, admit of several explanations. There is no reason that they must necessarily be of a particular character, and one may explain them in various manners. In short, a moment’s consideration will show that the heavenly phenomena have no relationship with gods, which are imperishable and happy beings which suffer no destruction or confusion.
Letter to Pythocles: Further, the forecasts some give based on the the conduct of certain animals arise from a fortuitous combination of circumstances; for there is no necessary connection between certain animals and winter. These animals do not produce winter; nor is there any divine being sitting aloft watching the exits of these animals, and then fulfilling signs of this kind. No folly such as this would occur to any being who is even moderately comfortable, much less to a god who is possessed of perfect happiness.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book II: For by nature of the gods must always in themselves of necessity enjoy immortality together with supreme repose, far removed and withdrawn from our concerns. This is because a god is exempt from every pain, exempt from all dangers, strong in its own resources, not wanting anything of us, and it neither gains by favors nor is moved by anger. And if any one thinks proper to call the sea Neptune and corn Ceres and chooses rather to misuse the name of Bacchus than to utter the term that belongs to that liquor, let us allow him to declare that the earth is mother of the gods, if he will in truth forbear from staining his mind with foul religion.
Cicero – On The Nature of The Gods XVI: [Velleius – ] Now whoever reflects on the rashness and absurdity of these tenets [of opposing philosophers about the nature of the gods], must inevitably entertain the highest respect and veneration for Epicurus, and perhaps even rank him in the number of those beings who are the subject of this dispute. For he alone first founded the idea of the existence of the Gods on the impression which nature herself hath made on the minds of all men. For what nation, what people are there, who have not, without any learning, a natural idea, or pre-notion of a Deity? Epicurus calls this [an “anticipation”]; that is, an antecedent conception of the fact in the mind, without which nothing can be understood, inquired after, or discoursed on. [This is the] force and advantage of [the] reasoning we receive from that celestial volume of Epicurus concerning the Rule and Judgment of things [the Canon of Truth]. Here, then, you see the foundation of this question clearly laid. For since it is the constant and universal opinion of mankind, independent of education, custom, or law, that there are Gods, it must necessarily follow that this knowledge is implanted in our minds, or rather innate in us. That opinion respecting which there is a general agreement in universal nature, must infallibly be true. Therefore it must be allowed that there are Gods, for in this we have the concurrence, not only of almost all philosophers, but likewise of the ignorant and illiterate. It must be also be confessed that the point is established that we have this idea naturally, as I said before, of the pre-notion of the existence of the Gods. New things require new names, so that Epicurus called “pre-notion” by the name “[anticipation],” an appellation never before used. On the same principle of reasoning we think that the Gods are happy and immortal. This is because that nature which hath assured us that there are Gods, has likewise imprinted in our minds the knowledge of their immortality and felicity. This has been declared to be true by Epicurus in these words: “That which is eternally happy cannot be burdened with any labor itself, nor can it impose any labor on another; nor can it be influenced by resentment or favor; because things which are liable to such feelings must be weak and frail.” We have said enough to prove that we should worship tho Gods with piety, and without superstition, if that were the only question. For the superior and excellent nature of the Gods requires a pious adoration from men, because it is possessed of immortality and the most exalted felicity, for whatever excels bas a right to veneration. All fear of the power and anger of the Gods should be banished, for we must understand that anger and affection are inconsistent with the nature of a happy and immortal being. These apprehensions being removed, no dread of the superior powers remains.
NewEpicurean Commentary: Nature has endowed men with Anticipations that gods do exist, and the clearest of these anticipations is that a god is perfect a perfect being which has no troubles of its own, nor does it cause trouble to anything else. A perfect being has all of its needs already fulfilled and is without weakness of its own, and as a result such a being does not feel anger or gratitude, as such emotions exist only in beings that are weak. It is therefore false to believe that a perfect “God” intervenes in the lives of men, for good or evil, nor does such a being seek to punish you or reward you for your actions, either during your life or after your death.
Letter to Menoeceus: Next, accustom yourself to think that death is a matter with which we are not at all concerned. This is because all good and all evil come to us through sensation, and death brings the end of all our sensations. The correct understanding that death is no concern of ours allows us to take pleasure in our mortal lives, not because it adds to life an infinite span of time, but because it relieves us of the longing for immortality as a refuge from the fear of death. For there can be nothing terrible in living for a man who rightly comprehends that there is nothing terrible in ceasing to live. Seen in this way, it was a silly man who once said that he feared death, not because it would grieve him when it was present, but because it grieved him now to consider it to be coming in the future. But it is absurd that something that does not distress a man when it is present should afflict him when it has not yet arrived. Therefore the most terrifying of fears, death, is nothing to us, since so long as we exist death is not present with us, and when death comes, then we no longer exist. Death, then, is of no concern either to the living or to the dead – to the living, death has no existence, and to the dead, no concerns of any kind are possible.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Observe that if one removes from mankind of all the faculties that Nature has provided, nothing remains.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Let us imagine a man who is living in the continuous enjoyment of numerous vivid pleasures, of both body and of mind, and who is undisturbed either by the presence or by the prospect of pain. What possible state of existence could we describe as being more excellent or more desirable? A man so situated must possess in the first place a strength of mind that is impregnable against all fear of death or of pain. He will have no fear of death because he will know that death only means complete unconsciousness, and he will have no fear of pain, because he will know that while he is alive, pain that is long is generally light, and pain that is strong is generally short. In other words, he will also know that the intensity of pain is alleviated by the briefness of its duration, and that continuing pain is bearable because it is generally of lesser severity. Let such a man moreover have no fear of any supernatural power; let him never allow the pleasures of the past to fade away, but let him constantly renew their enjoyment in his recollection, and his lot will be one which will not admit of further improvement.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: The fear of death plays havoc with the calm and even tenor of life, and it is a pitiful thing to bow the head to pain and bear it abjectly and feebly. Such weakness has caused many men to betray their parents or their friends; some even betray their own country, and very many utterly fall to ruin themselves. On the other hand, a strong and lofty spirit is entirely free from anxiety and sorrow, and makes light of death, for the dead are only as they were before they were born. It is wise to recall that pains of great severity are ended by death, and slight pains have frequent intervals of respite; while pains of medium intensity lie within our ability to control. If pains are endurable then we can bear them, and if they are unendurable, we may choose ourselves to leave life’s theater serenely when the play has ceased to please us.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book III: Death is nothing nothing to us, concerning us not at all, since the nature of the mind is mortal. Think how in times gone by we felt no distress when the Carthaginians from all sides came together to do battle, and all things were shaken by war’s troubling uproar, shuddering and quaking beneath high heaven, and mortal men were in doubt which of the two peoples it would be whose empire would fall by land and sea. So the same applies when we ourselves shall be no more, when our body and soul are separated, out of the both of which we are formed into a single being. You may be sure that for us, who shall then be no more, nothing whatever can happen to excite sensation, not if earth itself should be overturned to mingle with the sea and the sea with heaven. And even supposing the nature of the mind and power of the soul do have feeling, after they have been severed from our body, that is still nothing to us, who by the marriage of body and soul are formed into one single being. And even if time should gather up after our death that material from which we are made and put it once more into the position in which it now holds, and give the light of life to us again – even this result even would not concern us at all. This is because the chain of our self-consciousness has been snapped asunder, just as we now have no concern about any life which the material from which we are made might have held before our birth, nor do we feel any distress about that prior life. When you look back on the whole past course of immeasurable time, and think how many are the combinations which the motions of matter take, you may easily believe that the very same seeds from which we are now formed have often before been placed in the same order in which they now are. And yet we can recall no memory of this — a break in our existence has been interposed, and all the materials from which we are made have wandered to and fro, far astray from the sensations they once produced. For he to whom evil befalls must exist as his own person at the time that evil comes, if the misery and suffering are to happen to him at all. But since death precludes this, and takes away the existence of him on whom evil can be brought, you may be sure that we have nothing to fear after death. He who does not exist cannot become miserable, and once death has taken away his mortal life, it does not matter at all whether he has lived at any other time. Therefore when you see a man bemoaning his hard life, worrying that after death he shall either rot with his body laid in the grave, or be devoured by flames, or by the jaws of wild beasts, you may be sure that there lurks in his heart a secret fear, though he may declare that he does not believe that any sense will remain to him after death. Such a man does not really hold the conclusion which he professes to hold, nor believe the principle which he professes. For such a man may profess that his body is fully dead, but yet unconsciously imagine something of self to survive, and worry that that birds and beasts will rend his body after death, moaning for his end. Such a man does not separate himself from what remains after he has died, and instead he fancies himself to be those remains, and he stands by and impregnates those remains with his own sensations. For this reason he makes much of bemoaning that he has been born mortal, and he does not see that after death there will be no other self to remain and lament to itself that hehas met death, and to stand and grieve that he is lying there mangled or burnt. For if it is an evil to be pulled about by the devouring jaws of wild beasts after death, I cannot see why it should not be just as cruel a pain to be laid on fires and burn in hot flames, or to be placed in honey and stifled, or to stiffen with cold, stretched on the smooth surface of an icy slab of stone, or to be pressed down and crushed by a load of earth above. Some men say to themselves: “No more shall my house admit me with glad welcome, nor a virtuous wife and sweet children run to be the first to snatch kisses and touch my heart with joy. No more may I be prosperous in my doings, a safeguard to my own. One disastrous day has taken from me, luckless man, all the many prizes of life.” But these men do not add: “And now no longer does any craving for these things beset me either.” For if these men could rightly perceive this in thought, and follow up the thought in words, they would release themselves from great distress and apprehension of mind: “You, even as you are now, sunk in the sleep of death, shall continue so to be so for all time to come, freed from all distressful pains. But we who remain, with a sorrow that could not be healed, wept for you when close you turned to an ashen heap on your funeral pile, and no length of days shall pluck from our hearts our ever-during grief.” To those who mourn for the dead, this question should be asked: “What is there in death so extremely bitter, if it comes in the end to sleep and rest, that anyone should pine over the dead in never-ending sorrow?” This too men often love to say, when they have reclined at table, cup in hand, and shaded their brows with crowns: ”Short is this enjoyment for poor weak men; presently it will have passed and never after may it be called back!” Such men say this as if, after their death, their chief affliction will be thirst and parching drought, burning them up, luckless wretches, or craving for any thing else. What folly! No one feels the need for himself and life when mind and body are together sunk in sleep. For all we care, this sleep might be everlasting, and no craving whatever for ourselves would move us. And yet those first beginnings throughout our frame wander far away from their sense-producing motions before a man starts up from sleep and collects himself. Death therefore must be thought to concern us much less than sleep, if less there can be than what we see to be nothing during sleep, for a greater dispersion of our first-beginnings follows after death, and no one wakes up once the chill cessation of life has come. If Nature could suddenly utter a voice and address us in person, she might use words such as these: “Why do you, O mortal, go on to such length in sickly sorrow? Why do you bemoan and bewail death? For have you had a good life, and do you say that the life you have lost has been welcome to you, and that your blessings have not all been poured as if into a perforated jar, from which they have run through and been lost to no avail? If your life has been so blessed, why not then depart from life like a guest filled with food and drink as if at the end of a party, and with relief that it is over enter upon untroubled rest?” “But if on the other hand you have had a bad life, and all that you enjoyed has been squandered and lost, and if life is a grievance to you, why seek to continue that life any longer, to be wasted in its turn and utterly lost for nothing? Why not rather make an end of life and its troubles? For there is nothing more which I can contrive for you to give you pleasure. All things are always the same, and even if your body is not yet decayed with age nor worn out and exhausted, yet all things will remain the same, even if you should outlast all men now living — even if you should never die!” What answer could we give to Nature, but that her case is well-founded and that she pleads it honestly and well? If, however, a man more advanced in years should complain about his death more than is right, would Nature not with even greater cause raise her voice in words such as these: “Away with thy tears, rascal; a truce to your complaining. Your death comes after full enjoyment of all the prizes of life. Because you nevertheless yearn for what you do not have, and despise what you do have, life has slipped from your grasp unfinished and unsatisfied. And now, before you expected it, death has taken its stand at your bedside, before you can take your departure satisfied and filled with good things. Give up those things that are unsuited to your age, and with good grace and nobility get up and go: you must.” Nature’s charge would be brought with good reason, for old things must give way and be supplanted by the new, and new things must ever be replenished out of old things. No one is delivered over to the pit and black Tartarus to be utterly destroyed — matter is needed for future generations to grow. All of these, too, will follow you when you have finished your term of life, just as all those that have come before and after, no less than you, have and always will come to their own ends. Thus one thing will never cease to rise out of another — life is granted to none to possess forever, to all it is only a loan. Think how the bygone antiquity of everlasting time before our birth was nothing to us. Nature holds those ancient days up to us as a mirror of the time yet to come after our death. Is there anything in this that looks appalling, anything that appearsf gloomy? Is this not a rest more untroubled than any sleep?
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book III: This too you may sometimes say to yourself, “Even worthy Ancus has seen his eyes close to the light, and he was a far better man than you. And since then many other kings and potentates have been laid low. Even that great king who once paved a way over the sea as a path for his legions to march, and taught them to pass on foot over the roaring of the sea, trampling on it with his horses, had the light taken from him and shed forth his soul from his dying body. Even the son of the Scipios, thunderbolt of war, terror of Carthage, yielded his bones to earth just as if he were the lowest laborer. Think, too, of the inventors of all sciences and arts, think of those such as Homer, who was without a peer, but yet now sleeps the same sleep as the others. Then there was Democritus who, when he found that his memory was failing him in old age, offered up himself to death. Even Epicurus himself, who surpassed in intellect all other men and quenched the light of all rivals, as the sun quenches the stars, passed away when his light of life had run its course. Will you then hesitate and think it a hardship for you to die? You for whom life is not far from death even while you yet live and see the light of day? You, who spends the greater part of your time in sleep, and snore even when you are wide awake, and never cease seeing visions? You, who have a mind troubled with groundless terrors, and cannot discover what it is that troubles you? You, pitiful man that you are, pressed on all sides with many cares, who constantly stray due to the tumbled wanderings of your mind? If, just as men feel the weight of the load on their minds which oppresses them, they would understand from what causes this load is produced, and why such a weight lies on their hearts, they would not spend their lives as we see most of them do. Such men never know – any one of them – what they want, and thus always seek a change of place as though they might there lay down their burdens. Men who are sick of being home often issue forth from their mansions, but just as suddenly come back to it, once they find that they are no better off abroad. Such men race to their country-house, driving his horses in headlong haste as if hurrying to bring help to a house on fire. But then the moment he reaches the door of his house he yawns, and sinks heavily into sleep, seeking forgetfulness, or even in haste goes back again to town. In this way each man flies from himself, but as you may be sure is commonly the case, he cannot escape from himself, which always clings to him against his wishes. Such a man hates himself because he is sick, but does not know not the cause of his sickness. For if he could rightly see into these matters, giving up all other distractions, he would study to learn the Nature of things, since the point at stake is his condition – not for one hour – but for eternity: the state in which all mortals must pass all the time which remains after death. Once more, what evil lust for life is this which constrains us with such force to be so troubled by doubt and danger? A set term of life is fixed for all mortals, and death cannot be avoided — meet it we must. Moreover, we are always engaged in the same pursuits, and no new pleasure is available by living on. But so long as we crave what we lack, that desire seems to transcend all the rest. When once it is obtained, we then crave something else, and ever does the same thirst for life possess us, as we gape for with open mouth. It is quite doubtful what fortune the future will bring with it, or what chance will bring us, or what end is at hand. Nor, by prolonging life, do we take one moment from the time we pass in death, nor can we by worrying spend a moment less in the eternity of death. You may live as many generations as you please during your life, but nonetheless everlasting death will await you. For the man who ended his life today will be no less time in nonexistence than the man who died many months or many years ago.
NewEpicurean Commentary: In regard to death, we must keep in mind that we are conscious that we are alive only because we experience life through our eyes, ears, and our other sensations. When we die, these sensations come to an end, and thus so does our ability to experience anything. For that reason, death is not to be feared, because once you are dead, your sensations end, and thus your consciousness ends. Even if the components which made up your consciousness continue to exist in some form, in such a state whatever is left of you has no sensation and therefore no ability to feel any kind of pain. Further, do not allow yourself to feel any regret that your consciousness will not live forever. You do not now worry about your condition during all the time that passed before you were born, and in the same way there is no need for you to worry about the eternity that will pass after your death. All the things that will happen after your death are simply a mirror of all that happened before you were born — neither should cause you to fear to live today to its fullest potential. This is not to say that death is of no significance to us. Death is a part of our nature as human beings, but Nature has designed us to live, and our natural goal is to live a life of happiness. A life of good health and happiness is to be pursued with all our strength, and the ending of that life is certainly of very great significance. What is referred to here is simply that death is the end of our consciousness, and we have no continued state after death to be concerned about, and so in that context, indeed, death is nothing to us.
Letter to Menoeceus: For you see when we lack pleasure and we grieve, we have need of pleasure, because pleasure is not present. But so long as we do not grieve, life affords us no lack of pleasure. On this account we affirm that Nature has provided that Pleasure is the beginning and end of living happily; for we have recognized that Nature has provided that happiness is the first good that is innate within us.
Letter to Menoeceus: When, therefore, we say that pleasure or happiness is the chief good, we are not speaking of the pleasures of debauched men, or those pleasures which lie in sensual enjoyment, as some allege about us who are ignorant, or who disagree with us, or who perversely misrepresent our opinions. Instead, when we speak of pleasure or happiness as the chief good, we mean the freedom of the body from pain and the freedom of the soul from confusion. For it is not continued drinking and reveling, or the temporary pleasures of sexual relations, or feasts of fish or such other things as a costly table supplies that make life pleasant. Instead, Nature provides that life is made pleasant by sober contemplation, and by close examination of the reasons for all decisions we make as to what we choose and what we avoid. It is by these means that we put to flight the vain opinions from which arise the greater part of the confusion that troubles the soul.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: The happiness we pursue does not consist solely of the delightful feelings of physical pleasures. On the contrary, according to Epicurus the greatest pleasure is that which is experienced as a result of the complete removal of all pain, physical and mental. When we are released from pain, the mere sensation of complete emancipation and relief from distress is itself a source of great gratification. But everything that causes gratification is a pleasure, just as everything that causes distress is a pain. Therefore the complete removal of pain has correctly been termed a pleasure. For example, when hunger and thirst are banished by food and drink, the mere fact of getting rid of those distresses brings pleasure as a result. So as a rule, the removal of pain causes pleasure to take its place. For that reason Epicurus held that there is no such thing as a neutral state of feeling that is somewhere between pleasure and pain. This is because for the living being, the entire absence of pain, a state supposed by some philosophers to be neutral, is not only a state of pleasure, but a pleasure of the highest order. A man who is living and conscious of his condition at all necessarily feels either pleasure or pain. Epicurus holds that the experience of the complete absence of all pain is the highest point, or the “limit,” of pleasure. Beyond this point, pleasure may vary in kind, but it does not vary in intensity or degree. To illustrate this, my father used to tell me (when he wanted to show his wit at the expense of the Stoics) that there was once in Athens a statue of the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus. This statue was fashioned with Chrysippus holding out one hand, in a gesture intended to indicate the delight which he used to take in the following little play on words: ”Does your hand desire anything, while it is in its present condition?” ”No, nothing.” ”But if pleasure were a good, it would want pleasure.” ”Yes, I suppose it would.” ”Therefore pleasure is not a good.” This is an argument, my father declared, which not even a dumb statue would employ, if a statue could speak. This is because the argument is cogent enough as an objection to those who pursue sensual pleasures as the only goal of life, but it does not touch Epicurus. For if the only kind of pleasure were that which, so to speak, tickles the senses with a feeling of delight, neither the hand nor any other member of the body could be satisfied with the absence of pain, if it were not accompanied by an active sensation of pleasure. If, however, as Epicurus holds, the highest pleasure is experienced at the removal of all pain, then the man who responded to Chrysippus was wrong to be misled by his questions. This is because the man’s first answer, that his hand was in a condition that wanted nothing, was correct. But his second answer, that if pleasure were a good, his hand would want it, was not correct. This was wrong because the hand had no need to desire any additional pleasure, because the state in which it was in – a state without pain – was itself a state of pleasure.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Further, we do not agree with those who allege that when pleasure is withdrawn, anxiety follows at once. That result is true only in those situations where the pleasure happens to be replaced directly by a pain. The truth is, in general, we are glad whenever we lose a pain, even though no active sensation of pleasure comes immediately in its place. This fact serves to show us how life in the absence of pain is so great a pleasure.
NewEpicurean Commentary: Nature has established that the greatest pleasure toward which all men should strive is the achievement of a state where one has eliminated from one’s life all mental and physical pain whatsoever. The state of being alive and conscious is a great pleasure, in fact the greatest of them all, but the nature of existence is that throughout our lives we have needs that cause us to experience pain. As a result most of our life is spent fulfilling our needs, such as those for food, water, air, shelter, etc. Because every gratification of a need or satisfaction of pain brings with it a great pleasure, and because a life completely without mental or physical pain is itself the greatest of pleasure, we are required to face appetites that are by nature incapable of being satisfied. Rather, each of us is provided by Nature with a path to achieving all the pleasure that can be achieved by devoting ourselves rationally to the elimination of pain in our lives. Once we have achieved pleasure, we have no need of anything else, because we then neither lack anything to satisfy any need, nor need anything further to attain pleasure.
4. In contrast to pleasure, nature does not provide that we suffer continuous pain. When pain is intense, it is present only for a very short time, and when pain is not intense, but outweighs the pleasure that we also feel, such pain does not last very long. And in those situations where physical pain does last for a long time, our lives still have in them more pleasure than pain.
Vatican Collection 3: Continuous bodily pain does not last long; instead, pain, if extreme, is present a very short time, and even that degree of pain which slightly exceeds bodily pleasure does not last for many days at once. Diseases of long duration allow an excess of bodily pleasure over pain.
Vatican Collection 4: All bodily suffering is easy to disregard: for that which causes acute pain has short duration, and that which endures long in the flesh causes but mild pain.
NewEpicurean Commentary: Nature provides that into every life some amount of pain will come, but we should not live our lives in fear of pain to come. This is because Nature has provided that in the vast majority of cases, the pain that we confront will either be of relatively low intensity so that it is endurable and offset by pleasures that we will continue to experience even while the pain is present, or else, if the pain is sharp and intense, it will also be brief. If it is so sharp and long as to be unendurable, it is readily possible to escape it by ending one’s own life. Thus there is no reason to be in constant worry about future pain.
5. It is not possible to live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably, and justly. Nor can one live wisely, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly. But those who for any reason do not live wisely, honorably, and justly cannot possibly live pleasantly.
Letter to Menoeceus: Now, the beginning and the greatest good of all these things is wisdom. Wisdom is something more valuable even than philosophy itself, inasmuch as all the other virtues spring from it. Wisdom teaches us that it is not possible to live happily unless one also lives wisely, and honestly, and justly; and that one cannot live wisely and honestly and justly without also living happily. For these virtues are by nature bound up together with the happy life, and the happy life is inseparable from these virtues.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Here indeed is the renowned road to happiness — open, simple, and direct! For clearly man can have no greater good than complete freedom from pain and sorrow coupled with the enjoyment of the highest bodily and mental pleasures. Notice then how the theory embraces every possible enhancement of life, every aid to the achievement of that chief good – a life of happiness – which is our object. Epicurus, the man whom you denounce as given to excessive sensuality, cries aloud that no one can live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably and justly, and no one can live wisely, honorably and justly without living pleasantly.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Or look again at men who are petty, narrow-minded, confirmed pessimists, or others who are spiteful, envious, ill-tempered, unsociable, abusive, cantankerous. Look at those who are enslaved to the follies of love, or those who are impudent, reckless, wanton, headstrong and yet irresolute, always changing their minds. Such failings render their lives one unbroken round of misery. The result is that no foolish man can be happy, nor any wise man fail to be happy. This is a truth that we establish far more conclusively than do the Platonic philosophers, who maintain that nothing is good save that vague phantom which they entitle “Moral Worth,” a title more splendid in sound than it is substantial in reality. Such men are gravely mistaken when, resting on this vague idea of “Moral Worth” they allege that Virtue has no need of pleasure, and that Virtue is sufficient for itself. At the same time, this view can be stated in a form to which we do not object, and can indeed endorse. For Epicurus tells us that the Wise Man is always happy. The Wise Man’s desires are kept within Nature’s bounds, and he disregards death. The wise man has a true conception, untainted by fear, of the Divine Nature. If it be expedient to depart from life, the wise man
does not hesitate to do so. Thus equipped, the wise man enjoys perpetual pleasure, for there is no moment when the pleasures he experiences do not outbalance his pains, since he remembers the past with delight, he grasps the present with a full realization of its pleasantness, and he does not rely wholly upon the future. The Wise Man looks forward to the future, but finds his true enjoyment in the present. Also, the wise man is entirely free from the vices that I referenced a few moments ago, and he derives considerable pleasure from comparing his own existence with the life of the foolish. Any pains that the Wise Man may encounter are never so severe but that he has more cause for gladness than for sorrow.
Letter to Pythocles: Imprint all these precepts in your memory, Pythocles, and you will easily escape fables, and it will be easy for you to discover other truths that are analogous to these. Above all, apply yourself to the study of general principles of the infinite, and of questions of this kind, and to the investigation of the different criteria of knowledge, and of the principles of choice and avoidance, and to the study of the chief good, keeping in mind the purpose of all our researches. When the general questions are once resolved in your mind, the means to resolve all particular difficulties will become clear to you. As to those who will not apply themselves to these principles, such men will neither be able to give a good explanation for these same matters, nor to reach that end to which all our researches tend, [a life of happiness].
NewEpicurean Commentary: Because the goal of living a happy life is the highest value, it is right for men to protect themselves from the oppression of others in any way necessary. This observation is related to Crucial Doctrine 33 and Crucial Doctrine 34, which hold that “justice” has no existence independent from the voluntary covenant between men not to harm each other, and that no actions are unjust as to those men who are not able or willing to enter such a covenant.
7. For the sake of feeling confidence and security in regard to other men, some men wish to be eminent and powerful, failing to remember the limits of kingly power. If such men happen to achieve a life of safety, then they have attained their goal, which is a good. But if their lives are not in fact safe, they have failed in obtaining the goal for the sake of which they originally desired power, and that is the result that generally occurs according to Nature.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book V: For a man who orders his life by the rule of true reason, a frugal subsistence joined to a contented mind is for him great riches, as never is there any lack of a little. But some men desire to be famous and powerful in order that their fortunes might rest on a firm foundation, and that they might be able by their wealth to lead a tranquil life. This is in vain, since their struggle to mount up to the heights of power renders their path full of danger. Even if they reach it, envy, like a thunderbolt, strikes them from the summit and dashes them down with ignominy into the roar of Tartarus. The highest summits are often blasted by envy as if by a thunderbolt, so it is better to obey in peace and quiet than to wish to rule with supreme power and be the master of kingdoms. Such men wear themselves out to no purpose and sweat drops of blood as they struggle on the road of ambition, since they gather their knowledge from the mouths of others and follow after hearsay, rather than following the dictates of their own feelings. This course does not prevail now, nor will it prevail in the future any more than it has prevailed in the past.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: And always there is death, the stone of Tantalus ever hanging over men’s heads, and then there is religion, that poisons and destroys all peace of mind. Fools do not recall their past happiness or enjoy their present blessings – they only look forward to the desires of the future, and as the future is always uncertain, they are consumed with agony and terror. And the climax of their torment is when they perceive, too late, that all their dreams of wealth or station, power or fame, have come to nothing. For fools can never hold the pleasures for which they hoped, and for which they were inspired to undergo all their arduous toils.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book II: It is sweet, when on the great sea the winds trouble its waters, to behold from land another’s deep distress; not that it is a pleasure or a delight that any should be afflicted, but because it is sweet to see from what evils you are yourself exempt. It is sweet also to look upon the mighty struggles of armies arrayed along the plains without sharing yourself in the danger. But nothing is more welcome than to hold lofty and serene positions well fortified by the learning of the wise. From here you may look down upon others and see them wandering, going astray in their search for the path of life, and contesting among themselves their intellect, the rivalry of their birth, their striving night and day with tremendous effort to struggle up to the summit of power and be masters of the world. O miserable minds of men! O blinded hearts! In what darkness of life and in what great danger is passed this term of life whatever its duration. How can you choose not to see that Nature craves for herself no more than this: that the body feel no pain, and the mind enjoy a feeling of pleasure exempt from care and fear?
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book III: In life, too, we have a Sisyphus before our eyes. Such is the man who is bent on seeking political office, constantly seeking political power, but who always retires defeated and disappointed. To ask for power, empty as it is, but to never find it despite the constant chase for it — this is forcing uphill a stone which, after all one’s effort, rolls back again from the summit and in headlong haste finds once again the levels of the plain.
Vatican Collection 58: We must free ourselves from the prison of public education and politics.
8. In regard to our desire for pleasure, no pleasure is intrinsically bad; but that which is necessary to achieve some pleasures brings with it disturbances many times greater than those same pleasures.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure on its own account. Those who reject pleasure do so because men who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally suffer consequences that are extremely painful. Nor does anyone love or pursue or desire to obtain pain on its own account. Those who pursue pain do so because on occasion toil and pain can produce some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with those men who choose to enjoy pleasures that have no annoying consequences, or those who avoid pains that produce no resulting pleasures? On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of the pleasure of the moment, who are so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee the pain and trouble that are bound to follow. Equal blame belongs to those who fail in their duties because their will is weak, which is the same as saying that they fail because they shrink back from toil and pain. These cases are simple and easy to understand. In a free hour, when our power of choice is unrestrained and when nothing prevents us from doing what we like best, every pleasure is to be welcomed and every pain is to be avoided. But in certain circumstances, such as because of the claims of duty or the obligations of business, it will frequently occur that pleasures have to be put aside and annoyances accepted. The wise man always holds in these matters to this principle of selection: he rejects some pleasures in order to secure other and greater pleasures, or else he endures some pains to avoid worse pains.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book III: Nor do birds eat away into the breast of Tityos in Hell nor could they find during eternity enough food to peck from his large breast. However huge the bulk of his body, even if with outspread limbs he took up the space not of nine acres, as the story goes, but of the whole earth — even so he would not be able to endure everlasting pain and supply food from his body forever. But in our own world we know men such as Tityos: those who, groveling in love, or torn by troubled thoughts from any other passion, are eaten up by bitter anguish as if by vultures.
9. Although we may unthinkingly desire it, if any pleasure could be intensified so that it did not come to an end, and affected the whole person, there would be no room for the experience of new pleasures.
NewEpicurean Commentary: Nature provides that if a pleasure lasted forever, and consumed your whole experience, then no new pleasure could be experienced because the first would never end. Thus, in the same way that neither the atoms nor the void can consume the whole of existence, Nature provides for change and limits to pleasure.
10. If those things which debauched men consider pleasurable in fact put an end to the fears of the mind, and of the heavens, and of death, and of pain; and if those same pleasures taught us the natural limits of our desires, we would have no reason to blame those who devote themselves to such pursuits.
NewEpicurean Commentary: Nature provides that our goal is to live a happy life, and thus the true and only test of how to live is to follow that which in fact brings a happy life. A happy life is one in which we experience pleasure, have no fears as to punishment by gods, or fear of death, or fear of pain, and in which we recognize the natural limits of our desires. If the activities that men consider to be debauchery brought this result, those activities would be proper to pursue. Also, compare Crucial Doctrine 35 for another example of Epicurus’ commitment to the implications of his positions. In Doctrine 10 we see that Nature’s ultimate standard of living a happy life would justify even those things we think of as debauched, IF they in fact led to happiness, and in Doctrine 35 we see that those things which we think of as evil, such as injustice, are bad only because they bring pain, and not because they violate some hypothetical Platonic/religious ideal that does not exist in Nature.