(Cross-posted with a few edits from the Garden of Epicurus facebook group.) This is in regard to strengthening our minds. It was inspired by Mark C.’s thread in the Facebook group on facing death, but it’s something I have been thinking about due to some recent reading and discussion.
Here’s the deal: The letter to Menoeceus, and the Authorized Doctrines, are, of course, brilliant, tremendously insightful, etc., They are where we most often turn for practical guidance on how to live happily. But in the end, brilliant as they are, they are in fact, largely **assertions**, just as Christians and Muslims and Jews and Platonists have their own assertions.I think Epicurus’ assertions make the most sense, but maybe that’s just me.
I have recently been re-reading an essay entitled “Epicurus’ Last Will and Testament”, however, by Diskin Clay (at link below). The title is not a narrow reference to Epicurus’ actual will, but to the wider point, that his letters (and one in particular) were meant to contain his real legacy. Here it’s important to see that, for Epicurus and Lucretius (and as it should be for us) the letter to Menoeceus and the 40 Doctrines come at the END of the presentation process, as a summary of conclusions, not at the beginning where the proof and foundation are laid.
The BEGINNING, the HEART, and the PROOF of the truth of Epicurus’ doctrines come in the Letter to Herodotus, amplified at great length in Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura. It is not overemphasis to say that all of Epicureanism rests on the truth of “nothing comes from nothing at the whim of gods” as both the Letter to Herodotus and DRN state forcefully and early.
Lucretius said it this way (Munro):
This terror then and darkness of mind must be dispelled not by the rays of the sun and glittering shafts of day, but by the aspect and the law of nature; the warp of whose design we shall **begin with this first principle, nothing is ever gotten out of nothing by divine power.** Fear in sooth holds so in check all mortals, because they see many operations go on in earth and heaven, the causes of which they can in noway understand, believing them therefore to be done by power divine. For these reasons when we shall have seen that nothing can be produced from nothing, we shall then more correctly ascertain that which we are seeking, both the elements out of which everything can be produced and the manner in which all things are done **without the hand of the gods.** This is not to be overlooked and dismissed as old-school “atomism.” This is our rock on which we rest *everything.*
Show me ONE thing created (or destroyed) BY A GOD, and I will abandon Epicurus faster than the speed of his atoms. And yes (Lawrence Krauss!), I am careful here to point out that even though our science has progressed since 300 BC, the rule stated in basic form still stands: NOWHERE can a GOD be shown to have created anything in the past, or in the present. And that’s part of why it is important that if you live in a city or urban area you make sure to connect yourself to animals (especially baby animals) so that you drive it into your mind in direct and unmistakeable terms how these things work. And “once is not enough” — you have to REPEATEDLY surround yourself, and study these things, as Epicurus and Lucretius said.
I know in my studying I tend to emphasize the Letter to Menoeceus and the 40 Doctrines, and I no doubt always will talk about them a lot, because they state sound conclusions. But CONCLUSIONS are not PROOF, and it is when we divorce ourselves from proof that we fall into Platonism. What the academics and preachers want us to do is to immerse ourselves in arguments and abstractions and dialectic, and that is nothing more than a prescription for error and confusion.
The indoctrinators want you to be believe that their god created EVERYTHING. The truth that you can see for YOURSELF, without relying on ANYONE’s credibility, that nothing goes to nothing at the will of any priest or god, and nothing comes from nothing at the will of any priest or god. The false claims to the contrary are just ASSERTIONS WITHOUT PROOF. Line them up against the PROOF which you yourself can verify by looking and hearing and touching and feeling, and surround yourself with people who are equally dedicated to following the evidence of nature and not the speculation of priests — THAT’s the way Epicurus points, and that’s the path that makes the most sense to me!
A “preview” of Diskin Clay’s book, including the important first Chapter, is viewable for free here.