Let us … now add the finishing stroke, as one may say, to this whole treatise, and to the life of the philosopher; giving some of his fundamental maxims, and closing the whole work with them, taking that for our end which is the beginning of happiness.
Doctrine 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 exist only in the weak.
Doctrine 2. Death is nothing to us, because that which is dead has no sensations, and that which cannot be sensed is nothing to us.
Doctrine 3. The limit of quantity in pleasures is the removal of all that is painful. Wherever pleasure is present, as long as it is there, there is neither pain of body nor of mind, nor of both at once.
Doctrine 4. Bodily pain does not last continuously. The most intense pain is present only for a very short time, and pain which outweighs the body’s pleasures does not continue for long. Even chronic pain permits a predominance of pleasure over pain.
Doctrine 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.
Doctrine 6. Any means by which we can secure protection from other men is a natural good.
Doctrine 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.
Doctrine 8. 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.
Doctrine 9. If any pleasure could be intensified so that it did not come to an end, and affected the whole person or the most essential parts of our nature, there would be no room for the experience of new pleasures.
Doctrine 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.
Doctrine 11. If fears relating to the heavens did not disturb us, and if the terrors of death did not concern us, and if we had the courage to contemplate the natural limits of pain and of desire, we would have no need to study the nature of things.
Doctrine 12. It is not possible for a man to banish all fear of the essential questions of life unless he understands the nature of the universe, and unless he banishes all consideration that the fables told about the universe could be true. Therefore a man cannot enjoy full happiness, untroubled by turmoil, unless he acts to gain knowledge of the nature of things.
Doctrine 13. It does no good for a man to secure himself safety from other men so long as he remains in a state of fear about heaven, about hell, and about the nature of the boundless universe.
Doctrine 14. Great power and wealth may, up to a certain point, bring us security from other men. But the greatest security depends upon tranquility of the soul and freedom from the crowd of men.
Doctrine 15. The Natural desires are easily obtained and satisfied, but the unnatural desires can never be satisfied.
Doctrine 16. Chance only rarely intrudes into the lives of wise men, because wise men direct the greatest and most important matters of life by the power of reason.
Doctrine 17. The man who is just is, of all men, the most free from trouble, but the unjust man is a perpetual prey to turmoil.
Doctrine 18. Once the pain arising from need is removed, physical pleasure is not increased, and only varies in another direction. The essential happiness of the soul depends on understanding this, and on understanding the nature of similar questions which cause great concern of the mind.
Doctrine 19. If we measure the limits of pleasure by reason, infinite and finite time both provide the opportunity for complete pleasure.
Doctrine 20. We assume that physical pleasure is unlimited, and that unlimited time is required to procure it. But through understanding the natural goals and limits of the body, and by dissolving the fear of eternity, we produce a complete life that has no need infinite time. The wise man neither flees enjoyment, nor, when events cause him to exit from life, does he look back as if he had missed any essential aspect of life.
Doctrine 21. He who is acquainted with the natural limits of life understands that those things that remove the pain that arises from need, and those things which make the whole of life complete, are easily obtainable, and that he has no need of those things that can only be attained with trouble.
Doctrine 22. We must keep in mind the conceptions established by reality and the evidence provided by our senses, and to those we must refer all our opinions, otherwise all things in life will be full of confusion and doubt.
Doctrine 23. If we resist the senses, we have nothing left to which we can refer, or by which we may judge, the falsehood of the senses which we condemn.
Doctrine 24. We must not discard any evidence provided by a sense simply because it does not fit our prior conceptions, and we must always distinguish between those matters which are certain and those which are uncertain. We must do this so we can determine whether our conclusions go beyond that which is justified by the actual evidence of the senses. We cannot be confident of our conclusions unless they are justified by actual, immediate, and clear evidence, and this evidence must come from the conceptions of the mind which arise from the five senses, from the sense of pain and pleasure, and from the Anticipations. If we fail to keep in mind the distinction between the certain and the uncertain, we inject error into the evaluation of the evidence provided by the senses, and we destroy in that area of inquiry every means of distinguishing the true from the false.
Doctrine 25. If we consider those opinions which are only tentative, and must await further information before they can be verified, to be of equal authority with those opinions which bear about them an immediate certainty, we will not escape error. For if we do this we overlook the reason for doubt between that which is right and that which is wrong.
Doctrine 26. If on every occasion we do not refer all our actions to the chief end of Nature, and if we turn aside to some other standard when we are determining what to seek or to avoid, then our actions will not be consistent with our principles.
Doctrine 27. Of all the things which the wise man seeks to acquire to produce the happiness of a complete life, by far the most important is the possession of friendship.
Doctrine 28. The same opinion that encourages us to trust that no evil will be everlasting, or even of long duration, shows us that in the space of life allotted to us the protection of friendship is the most sure and trustworthy.
Doctrine 29. Of the desires, some are natural and necessary, some are natural but not necessary, and some are neither natural nor necessary, but owe their existence to vain imagination.
Doctrine 30. In the case of physical desires which require intense effort to attain and do not lead to a sense of pain if they are not fulfilled, such desires are due to idle imagination. It is not because of their own nature that they fail to be dispelled, but because of the empty imaginings of the man.
Doctrine 31. Natural justice arises from a covenant between men for their mutual advantage to refrain from harming one another.
Doctrine 32. For those living things that are unable to enter into a covenant to refrain from harming one another, nothing is just or unjust, and this applies also to those men who are either unwilling or unable to enter into such a covenant.
Doctrine 33. Justice has no independent existence, but results only from the agreement of men to enter mutual covenants to refrain from harming one another.
Doctrine 34. Injustice is not evil in itself; it is evil because fear of not escaping punishment necessarily arises from it.
Doctrine 35. It is not possible for men who secretly violate a mutual covenant not to harm one another to believe that they will always escape detection. Even if they have escaped it ten thousand times already, so long as they live they cannot be certain that they will not be detected.
Doctrine 36. In general, justice is the same for all, for justice is a mutual advantage in the dealings of men with each other, but in different nations and under different circumstances, the application of justice may differ.
Doctrine 37. Among those actions which the law sanctions as just, that which is determined to be of mutual advantage is in fact just whether or not it is universally regarded to be so. But if a law, once established, is determined not to be mutually advantageous, then it is by nature unjust. As to those laws which were at first just, but later become unjust, such laws were in fact just for the period in which they were of mutual advantage, at least in the eyes of those who do not confound themselves with empty words, but look to the actual facts.
Doctrine 38. Where actions which were formerly considered to be just under former circumstances are seen not to accord with the general concept of mutual advantage, then they are seen not to have been just. But actions which were in fact of mutual advantage and therefore just at one time under former circumstances, but cease being of mutual advantage under new circumstances, cease also being just.
Doctrine 39. He who desires to live tranquilly without having anything to fear from other men ought to make them his friends. Those whom he cannot make friends he should at least avoid rendering enemies, and if that is not in his power, he should avoid all dealings with them as much as possible, and keep away from them as far as it is in his interest to do so.
Doctrine 40. The happiest men are those who have arrived at the point of having nothing to fear from their neighbors. Such men live with one another most pleasantly, having the firmest grounds of confidence in one another, enjoying the full advantages of friendship, and not lamenting the departure of their dead friends as though they were to be pitied.
The Principal Doctrines With References
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 exist only in the weak.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: The blessed and immortal nature knows no trouble itself nor causes trouble to any other, so that it is never constrained by anger or favor. For all such things exist only in the weak. Yonge: The blessed and immortal nature knows no trouble itself nor causes trouble to any other, so that it is never constrained by anger or favor. For all such things exist only in the weak.
Letter to Menoeceus : First of all, believe that a god is an incorruptible and happy being, even as the common notion of a god is implanted 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 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.
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.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: Death is nothing to us: for that which is dissolved is without sensation; and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us. Yonge: Death is nothing to us: for that which is dissolved is without sensation; and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us. Strodach: Death means nothing to us, because that which has been broken down into atoms has no sensation, and that which has no sensation is no concern of ours.
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 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 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 he has 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 appears 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.
Alternate Translations: Yonge: The limit of quantity in pleasures is the removal of all that is painful. Wherever pleasure is present, as long as it is there, there is neither pain of body nor of mind, nor of both at once. Strodach: The quantitative limit of pleasure is the elimination of all feelings of pain. Wherever the pleasurable state exists, there is neither bodily pain nor mental pain nor both together, so long as the pain continues.
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. Bodily pain does not last continuously. The most intense pain is present only for a very short time, and pain which outweighs the body’s pleasures does not continue for long. Even chronic pain permits a predominance of pleasure over pain.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: Pain does not last continuously in the flesh, but the acutest pain is there for a very short time, and even that which just exceeds the pleasure in the flesh does not continue for many days at once. But chronic illnesses permit a predominance of pleasure over pain in the flesh. Yonge: Pain does not last continuously in the flesh, but the acutest pain is there for a very short time, and even that which just exceeds the pleasure in the flesh does not continue for many days at once. But chronic illnesses permit a predominance of pleasure over pain in the flesh.
Vatican Saying 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 Saying 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.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: It is not possible to live pleasantly without living prudently and honorably and justly, [nor again to live a live of prudence, honor, and justice] without living pleasantly. And the man who does not possess the pleasant life is not living prudently and honorably and justly, [and the man who does not possess the virtuous life] cannot possibly live pleasantly. Yonge: It is not possible to live pleasantly without living prudently and honorably and justly, [nor again to live a life of prudence, honor, and justice] without living pleasantly. And the man who does not possess the pleasant life, is not living prudently and honorably and justly, [and the man who does not possess the virtuous life] 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].
Alternate Translations: Bailey: To secure protection from men anything is a natural good, by which you may be able to attain this end. Yonge: To secure protection from men anything is a natural good by which you may be able to attain this end. Strodach: Any means by which it is possible to procure freedom from fearing other men is a natural good.
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.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: Some men wished to become famous and conspicuous, thinking that they would thus win for themselves safety from other men. Wherefore if the life of such men is safe, they have obtained the good which nature craves; but if it is not safe, they do not possess that for which they strove at first by the instinct of nature. Yonge: Some men wished to become famous and conspicuous, thinking that they would thus win for themselves safety from other men. Wherefore if the life of such men is safe, they have obtained the good which nature craves, but if it is not safe, they do not possess that for which they strove at first by the instinct of nature. Strodach: Some men have desired to gain reputation and to be well regarded, thinking in this way to gain protection from other people. If the lives of such men are secure, they have acquired a natural blessing; but if they are not, they do not possess what they originally reached for by natural instinct.
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 Saying 58: We must free ourselves from the prison of public education and politics.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: No pleasure is a bad thing in itself, but the means which produce some pleasures bring with them disturbances many times greater than the pleasures. Yonge: No pleasure is a bad thing in itself: but the means which produce some pleasures bring with them disturbances many times greater than the 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. If any pleasure could be intensified so that it did not come to an end, and affected the whole person or the most essential parts of our nature, there would be no room for the experience of new pleasures.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: If every pleasure could be intensified so that it lasted and influenced the whole organism or the most essential parts of our nature, pleasures would never differ from one another. Yonge: If every pleasure could be intensified so that it lasted and influenced the whole organism or the most essential parts of our nature, pleasures would never differ from one another. Strodach: If all pleasures could be compressed in time and intensity, and were characteristic of the whole man or his more important aspects, the various pleasures would not differ from each other.
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 devote themselves to such pursuits.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: If the things that produce the pleasures of profligates could dispel the fears of the mind about the phenomena of the sky and death and its pains, and also teach the limits of desires (and of pains), we should never have cause to blame them: for they would be filling themselves full with pleasures from every source and never have pain of body or of mind, which is the evil of life. Yonge: If the things that produce the pleasures of profligates could dispel the fears of the mind about the phenomena of the sky and death and its pains, and also teach the limits of desires (and of pains), we should never have cause to blame them: for they would be filling themselves full with pleasures from every source and never have pain of body or of mind, which is the evil of life.
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 produces a life of happiness, not momentary pleasure. 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.
11. If fears relating to the heavens did not disturb us, and if the terrors of death did not concern us, and if we had the courage to contemplate the natural limits of pain and of desire, we would have no need to study the nature of things.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: If we were not troubled by our suspicions of the phenomena of the sky and about death, fearing that it concerns us, and also by our failure to grasps the limits of pains and desires, we should have no need of natural science. Yonge: If we were not troubled by our suspicions of the phenomena of the sky and about death, fearing that it concerns us, and also by our failure to grasps the limits of pains and desires, we should have no need of natural science.
Letter to Pythocles: Know then, that the only aim of the knowledge of the heavenly phenomena, both those which we can observe directly, and those on which we can only speculate, is freedom from anxiety, and the calmness which is derived from a firm belief; and this is the aim of every science.
Letter to Herodotus: As for the theoretical knowledge of the rising and setting of the stars, of the movement of the sun between the tropics, and of the eclipses, and all other similar phenomena, that is utterly useless as far as having any influence upon happiness. Moreover, those who possess knowledge of the movement of the stars, but are nonetheless ignorant of Nature and of the most probable causes of that movement, are no more protected from fear than if they were in the most complete ignorance. Such men experience the most lively fears, for the knowledge of the motion of the stars that they do possess inspires in them troubles which they cannot resolve, and those troubles cannot be dissipated except through a clear perception of the reasons for these phenomena. As for us, we find many explanations of the motions of the sun, of the rising and setting of the stars, of the eclipses, and of similar phenomena. One must not think that this method of explanation is insufficient to procure happiness and tranquility. Let us content ourselves with examining how it is that similar phenomena are brought about directly under our own eyes, and let us apply these observations to the heavenly objects and to everything which is known only indirectly. Let us despise those people who are unable to distinguish those facts which may be explained in various ways from those facts which can only be explained in one single way. Let us disdain those men who do not understand the means of explaining the heavenly phenomena in ways that do not excite fear in us.
Once we understand that a phenomenon can be brought about by Nature in any of several natural ways, rather than by the gods in a way that inspires fear, we shall not be more troubled at the sight of it than if we actually knew the real cause. We must also recall that the thing which principally troubles the spirit of men is the persuasion which they cherish that the stars are gods, [which we must always remember are] beings that are imperishable and perfectly happy. Such men fear that their thoughts and actions are displeasing to the will of these superior beings. Deluded by these fables, such men fear an eternity of punishment, and they fear the insensibility of death, as if that could affect them. What do I say? It is not the falseness of their beliefs, but their lack of knowledge and blindness, which governs them in all things. This is true to such a degree that, not even considering the truth of whether they really fear their gods, they are just as much troubled as if they really believed in these vain phantoms. Real freedom from this kind of trouble consists in being emancipated from all these things, and in preserving the recollection of the principles which we have established, especially those that are most essential. Accordingly, it is well to pay careful attention to the phenomena with which we are familiar and to the sensations, both general and particular, which we have confirmed to be true. In sum, we must take note of the immediate evidence which each of our faculties furnishes to us. For if we pay attention to those points where uncertainty arises, we shall divine the causes of confusion and fear correctly. In this way we may trace back the heavenly phenomena to their causes, and deliver ourselves from those feelings which inspire the common people with extreme terror at every step.
NewEpicurean Commentary: Many circumstances, including religion and some philosophers, call out to us to adopt false opinions. We are not born with knowledge of the phenomena we see in the skies; the seas seem mysterious, the diseases we suffer from seem inexplicable, death seems to be a horrible fate, and great danger is posed to us by those religions and philosophies who seek to deceive us into following them rather than the guidelines set by Nature. If these dangers did not exist and did not cause us to be fearful and deprive us of joy of mind, we would have no reason to study science or philosophy. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that we study science and philosophy, as those are the antidote to all false opinion and terrors of the mind. Note that we say “this reason alone” not to disparage the study of the study of Nature, but to reinforce that everything we do is for the attainment of a happy life. Far from disparaging the study of Nature, in recognizing that this study is required for a happy life we recognize how important the study of Nature is.
12. It is not possible for a man to banish all fear of the essential questions of life unless he understands the nature of the universe, and unless he banishes all consideration that the fables told about the universe could be true. Therefore a man cannot enjoy full happiness, untroubled by turmoil, unless he acts to gain knowledge of the nature of things.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: A man cannot dispel his fear about the most important matters if he does not know what is the nature of the universe but suspects the truth of some mythical story. So that without natural science it is not possible to attain our pleasures unalloyed. Yonge: A man cannot dispel his fear about the most important matters if he does not know what is the nature of the universe but suspects the truth of some mythical story. So that without natural science it is not possible to attain our pleasures unalloyed
Letter to Menoeceus: Let no one delay in the study of philosophy while he is young, and when he is old, let him not become weary of the study. For no man can ever find the time unsuitable or too late to study the health of his soul. And he who asserts either that it is too soon to study philosophy, or that the hour is passed, is like a man who would say that the time has not yet come to be happy, or that it is too late to be happy. So both the young and the old must study philosophy – that as one grows old he may be young in the blessings that come from the grateful recollection of those good things that have passed, and that even in youth he may have the wisdom of age, since he will know no fear of what is to come. It is necessary for us, then, to meditate on the things which produce happiness, since if happiness is present we have everything, and when happiness is absent we do everything with a view to possess it.
Letter to Menoeceus: Meditate then, on all these things, and on those things which are related to them, both day and night, and both alone and with like-minded companions. For if you will do this, you will never be disturbed while asleep or awake by imagined fears, but you will live like a god among men. For a man who lives among immortal blessings is in no respect like a mortal being.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: The great disturbing factor in man’s life is ignorance of good and evil. Mistaken ideas about these frequently rob us of our greatest pleasures, and torment us with the most cruel pains of mind. Thus we need the aid of Wisdom to rid us of our fears and unnatural desires, to root out all our errors and prejudices, and to serve as our infallible guide to the attainment of happiness. Wisdom alone can banish sorrow from our hearts and protect us from alarm and apprehension. Become a student of Wisdom, and you may live in peace and quench the glowing flames of vain desires. For the vain desires are incapable of satisfaction — they ruin not only individuals but whole families, and in fact they often shake the very foundations of the state. It is the vain desires that are the source of hatred, quarreling, strife, sedition, and war. Nor do the vain desires flaunt themselves only away from home, and turn their onslaughts solely against other people. For even when they are imprisoned within the heart of the individual man, they quarrel and fall out among themselves, and this can have no result but to render the whole of life embittered. For this reason it is only the wise man, who prunes away all the rotten growth of vanity and error, who can possibly live untroubled by sorrow and by fear, and who can live contentedly within the bounds that Nature has set.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Therefore we observe that ignorance and error reduce the whole of life to confusion. It is Wisdom alone that is able to protect us from the onslaught of the vain appetites and the menace of fears. Only wisdom is able to teach us to bear the hardships of fortune with moderation, and only wisdom is able to show us the paths that lead to calmness and to peace. Why then should we hesitate to proudly affirm that Wisdom is to be desired, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the happiness it brings? And why therefore should we hesitate to affirm that Folly is to be avoided, again not for its own sake, because of the injuries that follow in its path?”
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Theoretical logic, on which your Platonic school lays such stress, Epicurus held to be of no assistance either as a guide to conduct or as an aid to thought. In contrast, he deemed Natural Philosophy to be all-important. Natural Philosophy explains to us the meaning of terms, the nature of cause and effect, and the laws of consistency and contradiction. A thorough knowledge of the facts of Nature relieves us of the burden of superstition, frees us from fear of death, and shields us against the disturbing effects of ignorance, which is often in itself a cause of terrifying fears. A knowledge of those things that Nature truly requires improves the moral character as well. It is only by firmly grasping a well-reasoned scientific study of Nature, and observing Epicurus’ Canon of truth that has fallen, as it were, from heaven, which affords us a knowledge of the universe. Only by making that Canon the test of all our judgments can we hope always to stand fast in our convictions, undeterred and unshaken by the eloquence of any man. On the other hand, without a firm understanding of the world of Nature, it is impossible to maintain the validity of the perceptions of our senses. Every mental presentation has its origin in sensation, and no knowledge or perception is possible unless the sensations are reliable, as the theory of Epicurus teaches us that they are. Those who deny the reliability of sensation and say that nothing can be known, having excluded the evidence of the senses, are unable even to make their own argument. By abolishing knowledge and science, they abolish all possibility of rational life and action. Thus Natural Philosophy supplies courage to face the fear of death; and resolution to resist the terrors of religion. Natural Philosophy provides peace of mind by removing all ignorance of the mysteries of Nature, and provides self-control, by explaining the Nature of the desires and allowing us to distinguish their different kinds. In addition, the Canon or Criterion of Knowledge which Epicurus established shows us the method by which we evaluate the evidence of the senses and discern truth from falsehood.
Letter to Pythocles: It is not good to desire what is impossible and to endeavor to articulate a uniform theory about everything. Accordingly, we should not adopt here the method which we have followed in our researches into ethics or in the solution of problems of natural philosophy. There we said, for instance, that there are no other things except matter and the void, and that the atoms are the principle elements of things, and so on. In other words, we gave a precise and simple explanation for every fact that could be conformed to what we see [and observe directly]. We cannot act in the same way with respect to the heavenly phenomena. These phenomena may arise from several different causes, and we may arrive at many different explanations on this subject that are equally agreeable with the appearances that we can observe through the senses. In regard to the stars and planets we do not have the ability to reason out new principles and to lay down absolute rules for the interpretation of Nature, because the only guide for us to follow here are the appearances themselves. Our object then that we have in view is not to set up a system of vain opinions, but rather to attain a life that is exempt from every kind of fear and turmoil. So long as we accept only those explanations of the heavenly phenomena that are conformable with the evidence we see, we are not inspired with any fears, as are those who allow that any hypothesis at all may possibly be true. But if we abandon the rule of accepting only those hypotheses that are reasonable, and we renounce the attempt to explain the heavenly phenomena by means of analogies that are founded on the evidence provided by senses, then we are conducting ourselves in complete disregard of the science of Nature in favor of falling into fables.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book I: When human life – before the eyes of all – lay foully prostrate upon the earth, crushed down under the weight of religion, which glowered down from heaven upon mortal men with a hideous appearance, one man – a Greek – first dared to lift up his mortal eyes and stand up face-to-face against religion. This man could not be quashed either by stories of gods or thunderbolts or even by the deafening roar of heaven. Those things only spurred on the eager courage of his soul, filling him with desire to be the first to burst the tight bars placed on Nature’s gates. The living force of his soul won the day, and on he passed, far beyond the flaming walls of the world, traveling with his mind and with his spirit the immeasurable universe. And from there he returned to us – like a conqueror – to tell us what can be, and what cannot, and on what principle and deep-set boundary mark Nature has established all things. Through this knowledge, superstition is thrown down and trampled underfoot, and by his victory we are raised equal with the stars.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book I: Your terror and darkness of mind must be dispelled – not by the rays of the sun and glittering shafts of day, but by the study of the law of nature.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book II: For even as children are terrified and dread all things in the thick darkness, thus we in the daylight fear at times things not a bit more to be dreaded than those which children shudder at in the dark and fancy to be true. Therefore this terror and darkness of mind must be dispelled, not by the rays of the sun and glittering shafts of day, but by a clear view of the law of Nature.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book III: So far, I have shown in what way all things have their first beginnings, of such diverse shapes, which fly spontaneously on in everlasting motion, and how all things are produced out of these. Next, my verses must clear up the nature of the mind and soul, and drive the dread of Hell headlong away, since that dread troubles the life of man from its inmost depths, and overspreads all things with the blackness of death, allowing no pleasure to be pure and unalloyed.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book III: And men are driven on by an unreal dread, wishing to escape and keep the gates of death far away. They amass wealth by civil bloodshed and greedily double their riches, piling up murder on murder. Such men cruelly celebrate the sad death of a brother, and hate and fear the tables of their relatives. Often, from the same fear, envy causes them to grieve, and they moan that before their very eyes another person is powerful, famous, and walks arrayed in gorgeous dignity, while they are wallowing in darkness and dirt. Some wear themselves to death for the sake of statues and a famous name. Often men dread death to such a degree that hate of life and the sight of daylight seizes them so that in their sorrow they commit suicide, quite forgetting that this fear of death was the source of their worries. Fear of death prompts some men to forsake all sense of shame, and others to burst asunder the bonds of friendship, overturning duty at its very base. Often men even betray their country and their parents in seeking to escape the realms of Hell. For even as children are flurried and dread all things in the thick darkness, thus we in the daylight fear things not a bit more to be dreaded than what children shudder at in the dark and fancy to be real. This terror and darkness of mind must be dispelled, not by the rays of the sun and glittering shafts of day, but by the study of the law of Nature.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book III: In truth there is no Tantalus, poor wretch, numbed by groundless terror as the story goes, fearing a huge stone hanging in the air above him. In life, however, a baseless dread of the gods terrifies men, and the falling rock they fear is the bad luck that chance brings to each one.
Vatican Saying 49: It is impossible for someone to dispel his fears about the most important matters if he does not know the Nature of the universe but still gives some credence to myths. So without the study of Nature there is no enjoyment of pure pleasure.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: There is no profit in securing protection in relation to men if things above and things beneath the earth and indeed all in the boundless universe remain matters of suspicion. Yonge: There is no profit in securing protection in relation to men if things above and things beneath the earth and indeed all in the boundless universe remain matters of suspicion.
Vatican Saying 72: There is no advantage to obtaining protection from other men so long as we are alarmed by events above or below the earth or in general by whatever happens in the boundless universe.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book I: We shall begin with this first principle: nothing ever comes from nothing by divine power. In truth, fear holds all mortals in check, because they see many operations go on in earth and heaven, the causes of which they can in no way understand, and therefore they believe them to be done by divine power. Once 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 every thing can be produced and the manner in which all things are done – without the hand of the gods.
NewEpicurean Commentary: Security in the form of physical protection from other men does you no good if you still fear the basic Nature of the universe, because you cannot live a happy life unless you understand your place in the infinite and eternal universe.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: The most unalloyed source of protection from men, which is secured to some extent by a certain force of expulsion, is in fact the immunity which results from a quiet life and the retirement from the world. Yonge: The most unalloyed source of protection from men, which is secured to some extent by a certain force of expulsion, is in fact the immunity which results from a quiet life and the retirement from the world. Strodach: The simplest means of procuring protection from other men (which is gained to a certain extent by deterrent force) is the security of quiet solitude and withdrawal from the mass of people.
NewEpicurean Commentary: Wealth and power are possessions that are desirable in that they bring a certain amount of security against dangers presented by other men and Nature, but the most important possession is a calm mind that is governed by reason and deters unwise indulgence in any pleasure or appetite. Only a calm mind governed by reason is fully secure against the dangers one can expect to encounter.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: The wealth demanded by Nature is both limited and easily procured; that demanded by idle imaginings stretches on to infinity. Yonge: The wealth demanded by Nature is both limited and easily procured; that demanded by idle imaginings stretches on to infinity.
Letter to Menoeceus: We must also consider that some of our human desires are given to us by Nature, and some are vain and empty. Of the Natural desires, some are necessary, and some are not. Of the necessary desires, some are necessary to our happiness, and some are necessary if our body is to be free from trouble. Some desires are in fact necessary for living itself. He who has a correct understanding of these things will always decide what to choose and what to avoid by referring to the goal of obtaining a body that is healthy and a soul that is free from turmoil, since this is the aim of living happily. It is for the sake of living happily that we do everything, as we wish to avoid grief and fear. When once we have attained this goal, the storm of the soul is ended, because we neither have the need to go looking for something that we lack, nor to go seeking something else by which the good of our soul or of our body would be improved.
Letter to Menoeceus: As we pursue happiness we also hold that self-reliance is a great good, not in order that we will always be satisfied with little, but in order that if circumstances do not allow that we have much, we may wisely make use of the little that we have. This is because we are genuinely persuaded that men who are able to do without luxury are the best able to enjoy luxury when it is available. We also believe that Nature provides that everything which is necessary to life is easily obtained, and that those things which are idle or vain are difficult to possess. Simple flavors give as much pleasure as costly fare when everything that causes pain, and every feeling of want, is removed. Bread and water give the most extreme pleasure when someone in great need eats of them. To accustom oneself, therefore, to simple and inexpensive habits is a great ingredient towards perfecting one’s health, and makes one free from hesitation in facing the necessary affairs of life. And when on certain occasions we fall in with more sumptuous fare, this attitude renders us better disposed towards luxuries, as we are then fearless with regard to the possibility that we may thereafter lose them.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Nothing could be more instructive and helpful to right living than Epicurus’ doctrine as to the different classes of the desires. One kind he classified as both natural and necessary, a second as natural but not necessary, and a third as neither natural nor necessary. The principle of the classification comes from observing that the necessary desires are gratified with little trouble or expense. The natural desires also require little effort, since the quantity of Nature’s riches which suffices to bring contentment is both small and easily obtained. In contrast, for the vain and idle desires, no boundary or limit can be discovered.
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 you pass 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 pleasure exempt from care and fear? Thus we see that for the body’s nature few things are needed – only such things as take away pain. Although at times luxuries can provide us many choice delights, Nature for her part does not need them, and never misses it when there are no golden images of youths throughout the house, holding in their right hands flaming lamps to light the nightly banquet, or when the house does not shine with silver or glitter with gold, or when there are no paneled and gilded roofs to echo the sound of harp. Men who lack such things are just as happy when they spread themselves in groups on soft grass beside a stream of water under the limbs of a high tree, and at no great cost pleasantly refresh their bodies, especially when the weather smiles and the seasons sprinkle the green grass with flowers. Nor does fever leave the body any sooner if you toss about under an elegant bedspread amid bright purple linens than if you must lie under a poor man’s blanket. Since treasure is of no avail to the body, any more than is high birth or the glory of kingly power, by this we see that treasure and high birth are of no service to the mind either. In the same way, when you see your legions swarm over the battleground, strengthened front and rear by powerful reserves and great force of cavalry, and when you marshal them together well armed and in high spirits, do you find that these scare away the fears of religion, and that those fears fly panic-stricken from your mind? Or do you find that when you see your navy sail forth and spread itself far and wide over the waters, does that drive away the fear of death and leave your heart untroubled and free from care? But we see that this is laughable, because in truth the real fears and cares of men do not run from the clash of arms and weapons. If these same fears trouble kings and caesars, and if their fears are not quieted by the glitter of gold or the brilliant sheen of the purple robe, how can you suspect that these matters can be resolved by reason alone, when the whole of life is a struggle in the dark?
Vatican Saying 8: The wealth required by Nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.
NewEpicurean Commentary: The desires that Nature reasonably establishes for us are easy to obtain, but the desires that exceed the benchmark of what is reasonable are all-consuming and insatiable.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: In but few things chance hinders a wise man, but the greatest and most important matters reason has ordained and throughout the whole period of life does and will ordain. Yonge: In but few things chance hinders a wise man, but the greatest and most important matters reason has ordained and throughout the whole period of life does and will ordain.
Letter to Menoeceus: The wise man laughs at the idea of “Fate”, which some set up as the mistress of all things, because the wise man understands that while some things do happen by chance, most things happen due to our own actions. The wise man sees that Fate or Necessity cannot exist if men are truly free, and he also sees that Fortune is not in constant control of the lives of men. But the wise man sees that our actions are free, and because they are free, our actions are our own responsibility, and we deserve either blame or praise for them. It would therefore be better to believe in the fables that are told about the gods than to be a slave to the idea of Fate or Necessity as put forth by false philosophers. At least the fables which are told about the gods hold out to us the possibility that we may avert the gods’ wrath by paying them honor. The false philosophers, on the other hand, present us with no hope of control over our own lives, and no escape from an inexorable Fate. In the same way, the wise man does not consider Fortune to be a goddess, as some men esteem her to be, for the wise man knows that nothing is done at random by a god. Nor does he consider that such randomness as may exist renders all events of life impossible to predict. Likewise, he does not believe that the gods give chance events to men so as to make them live happily. The wise man understands that while chance may lead to great good, it may also lead to great evil, and he therefore thinks it to be better to be unsuccessful when acting in accord with reason than to be successful by chance when acting as a fool.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: This same principle leads us also to pronounce that Temperance is not desirable for its own sake, but because it bestows peace of mind, and soothes the heart with a calming sense of harmony. For it is temperance that warns us to be guided by reason in what we desire and in what we choose to avoid. Nor is it enough to judge what it is right to do or leave undone, we must also take action according to our judgment. Most men, however, lack tenacity of purpose. Their resolution weakens and succumbs as soon as the fair form of pleasure meets their gaze, and they surrender themselves prisoner to their passions, failing to foresee the inevitable result. Thus for the sake of small and unnecessary pleasures, which they might have obtained by other means or even denied themselves altogether without pain, they incur serious disease, loss of fortune, or disgrace, and often become liable to the penalties of the law and of the courts of justice. Other men, however, resolve to enjoy their pleasures so as to avoid all painful consequences, they retain their sense of judgment, and they avoid being seduced by pleasure into courses that they see to be wrong. Such men reap the very highest pleasure by forgoing other pleasures. In a similar way, wise men voluntarily endure certain pains to avoid incurring greater pain by not doing so. This clearly shows us that temperance is not desirable for its own sake. Instead, temperance is desirable, not because it renounces pleasures, but because it produces greater pleasures.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: It was a central doctrine of Epicurus that “the Wise Man is but little interfered with by fortune. The great concerns of life, the things that matter, are controlled by his own wisdom and reason.”
Vatican Saying 47: I have anticipated thee, Fortune, and entrenched myself against all thy secret attacks. And I will not give myself up as captive to thee or to any other circumstance; but when it is time for me to go, spitting contempt on life and on those who vainly cling to it, I will leave life crying aloud a glorious triumph-song that I have lived well.
NewEpicurean Commentary: The wise man does not seek after good luck, but knows that some unhappy events in life are accidental and unavoidable, while at the same time generally few and rare. By living a life according to reason and Nature you can expect to obtain the true and essential happiness that is important as the goal of life, and in so doing you will avoid unnecessary turmoil.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: The just man is most free from trouble; the unjust most full of trouble. Yonge: The just man is most free from trouble; the unjust most full of trouble
Vatican Saying 12: The just man is most free from disturbance, while the unjust is full of the utmost disturbance.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: It remains to speak of Justice to complete the list of the virtues. But justice admits of practically the same explanation as the others. I have already shown that Wisdom, Temperance and Courage are so closely linked with happiness that they cannot possibly be severed from it. The same must be deemed to be the case with Justice. Not only does Justice never cause anyone harm, but on the contrary it always brings some benefit, partly because of its calming influence on the mind, and partly because of the hope that it provides of never-failing access to the things that one’s uncorrupted nature really needs. And just as Rashness, License and Cowardice are always tormenting the mind, always awakening trouble and discord, so Unrighteousness, when firmly rooted in the heart, causes restlessness by the mere fact of its presence. Once unrighteousness has found expression in some deed of wickedness, no matter how secret the act may appear, it can never be free of the fear that it will one day be detected. The usual consequences of crime are suspicion, gossip, and rumor — after that comes the accuser, then the judge. Many wrongdoers even turn evidence against themselves ….. And even if any transgressors think themselves to be well fortified against detection by their fellow men, they still dread the eye of heaven, and fancy that the pangs of anxiety that night and day gnaw at their hearts are sent by Providence to punish them. So in what way can wickedness be thought to be worthwhile, in view of its effect in increasing the distresses of life by bringing with it the burden of a guilty conscience, the penalties of the law, and the hatred of one’s fellow men?
NewEpicurean Commentary: Living one’s life justly is the best way to avoid turmoil, as he who is unjust is perpetually prey to fear that his unjustness will be found out.
18. Once the pain arising from need is removed, physical pleasure is not increased, and only varies in another direction.The essential happiness of the soul depends on understanding this, and on understanding the nature of similar questions which cause great concern to the mind.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: The pleasure in the flesh is not increased when once the pain due to want is removed, but is only varied; and the limit as regards pleasure in the mind is begotten by the reasoned understanding of these very pleasures and of the emotions akin to them which used to cause the greatest fear to the mind.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: 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.
NewEpicurean Comment: Once pain arising from need has been removed, bodily pleasure does not increase in intensity — the body merely turns to other pleasures. It is critical to happiness in life that one reflect on and understand the benchmarks, limits, and boundaries that Nature has set. If desires are allowed to go unrestrained then we are defying the limits set by Nature, and defying Nature leads to the worst terrors and anxieties of life.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: Infinite time contains no greater pleasure than limited time, if one measures by reason the limits of pleasure. Strodach: Infinite time contains no greater pleasure than does finite time, if one determines the limits of pleasure rationally.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Epicurus also taught that “No greater pleasure could be derived from a life of infinite duration, than is actually afforded by this existence, which we know to be finite.”
Vatican Saying 22: Unlimited time and limited time afford an equal amount of pleasure, if we measure the limits of that pleasure by reason.
NewEpicurean Commentary: The universe is eternal and infinite in space, but Nature provides that only certain things and events are possible. Nature provides a limited life span for a single human consciousness, and although time goes on without end, a human consciousness can experience only so much, even though time is infinite. The limit of the amount of pleasure that can be experienced by a single human is thus set by Nature, and if we recognize that limit we see that we need not be concerned about obtaining more time than Nature has provided.
20. We assume that physical pleasure is unlimited, and that unlimited time is required to procure it. But through understanding the natural goals and limits of the body, and by dissolving the fear of eternity, we produce a complete life that has no need of infinite time. The wise man neither flees enjoyment, nor, when events cause him to exit from life, does he look back as if he has missed any essential aspect of life.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: The flesh perceives the limits of pleasure as unlimited and unlimited time is required to supply it. But the mind, having attained a reasoned understanding of the ultimate good of the flesh and its limits and having dissipated the fears concerning the time to come, supplies us with the complete life, and we have no further need of infinite time. But neither does the mind shun pleasure, nor when circumstances begin to bring about the departure from life, does it approach its end as though it fell short in any way of the best life. Strodach: The body takes the limits of pleasure to be infinite, and infinite time would provide such pleasure. But the mind has provided us with the complete life by a rational examination of the body’s goals and limitations and by dispelling our fears about a life after death, and so we no longer need unlimited time. On the other hand, [the mind] does not avoid pleasure, nor, when conditions occasion our departure from life, does it come to the end in a manner that would suggest that it had fallen short in any way of the best possible existence.
Letter to Menoeceus: Many people, however, flee from death as if it were the greatest of evils, while at other times these same people wish for death as a rest from the evils of life. But the wise man embraces life, and he does not fear death, for life affords the opportunity for happiness, and the wise man does not consider the mere absence of life to be an evil. Just as he chooses food not according to what is most abundant, but according to what is best; so too, the wise man does not seek to live the life that is the longest, but the happiest. And so he who advises a young man to live well, and an old man to die well, is a simpleton, not only because life is desirable for both the young and the old, but also because the wisdom to live well is the same as the wisdom to die well. Equally wrong was the man who said: ‘Tis well not to be born, but when born, tis well to pass with quickness to the gates of Death.’ If this was really his opinion, why then did he not end his own life? For it was easily in his power to do so, if this was really his belief. But if this man was joking, then he was talking foolishly in a case where foolishness ought not be allowed.
NewEpicurean Commentary: Bodily pleasures seem unlimited, and so the body seems to wish to live forever. But the mind, recognizing that Nature does not allow the body to live forever, and recognizing that there is nothing to fear in the eternal time after death, guides us to a complete and optimal life, and we then realize that we no longer have the need for an unlimited time. Even though the mind enjoys pleasure, the mind does not feel remorse when the end of life approaches, so long as the mind has led the person to live the best life possible to him according to Nature.
21. He who is acquainted with the natural limits of life understands that those things that remove the pain that arises from need, and those things which make the whole of life complete, are easily obtainable, and that he has no need of those things that can only be attained with trouble.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: He who has learned the limits of life knows that that which removes the pain due to want and makes the whole of life complete is easy to obtain; so that there is no need of actions which involve competition. Strodach: One who understands the limits of the good life knows that what eliminates the pains brought on by need and what makes the whole of life perfect is easily obtained, so that there is no need for enterprises that entail the struggle for success.
NewEpicurean Commentary: An understanding of Nature leads us to see that the things which Nature requires — those things that remove physical pain — are easy to obtain, and are all that are needed to furnish a complete and optimal life. Thus the man who understands the laws of Nature no longer desires those things which are more trouble to obtain than they are worth.
22. We must keep in mind the conceptions established by reality and the evidence provided by our senses, and to those we must refer all our opinions, otherwise all things in life will be full of confusion and doubt.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: We must consider both the real purpose and all the evidence of direct perception, to which we always refer the conclusions of opinion, otherwise all will be full of doubt and confusion. Strodach: It is necessary to take into account both the actual goal of life and the whole body of clear and distinct percepts to which we refer our judgments. If we fail to do this, everything will be in disorder and confusion.
Diogenes Laertius: In regard to the five senses, [Epicurus states] that the senses themselves are devoid of reason, and they are not capable of receiving any impressions from memory. For they are not by themselves the cause of any impression, and when they have received any impression from any external cause, they can add nothing to it, nor can they subtract anything from it. Moreover, they are not within the control of the other senses; for one sense cannot judge another, as all observations have an equal value, and their objects are not identical. In other words, one sensation cannot control another, since the effects of all of them influence us equally. Also, reason by itself cannot pronounce judgment on the senses; for … all reasoning rests on the senses for its foundation. Reality and the evidence provided by the senses establish the certainty of our faculties; for the impressions of sight and hearing are just as real, just as evident, as pain. It follows from these considerations that we should judge those things which are obscure by their analogy to those things which we perceive directly. In fact, every notion proceeds from the evidence provided by the senses, either directly, or as a result of some analogy, or proportion, or combination to that which we do perceive directly, reasoning always participating in these operations.
In regard to the preconceptions, Epicurus meant a sort of comprehension, or right opinion, or notion, or general idea which exists within us. In other words, a preconception is a kind of mental recollection of an external object that we experience before we perceive it. For instance, one example is the idea: “Man is a being of such and such Nature.” At the same moment that we utter the word man, we conceive the figure of a man, in virtue of a preconception which we owe to the preceding operations of the senses. [An anticipation is] therefore the first notion which each word awakens within us …. In fact, we could not seek for anything if we did not previously have some notion about it. To enable us to affirm that what we see at a distance is a horse or an ox, we must have some preconception in our minds which makes us acquainted with the form of a horse and an ox. We could not even give names to things, if we did not have a preliminary notion of what the things were. These preconceptions then furnish us with certainty. And with respect to judgments, their certainty depends on our referring them to some previous notion which has already been established to be certain. This is how we affirm or judge the answer to any question; for instance, “How do we know whether this thing is a man?”
Letter to Herodotus: First of all, Herodotus, one must determine with exactness the meaning and concept behind every word so that we are able to refer to that concept as an established standard as we pursue our research. Otherwise, the judgments that we reach will have no foundation, and we will go on studying to infinity without understanding, because we will be using words devoid of meaning. In fact, it is absolutely necessary that we grasp directly the fundamental concept which each word expresses, without need of reminder, if we are to have a standard on which to rest all our investigations. In order to do this we must keep all our investigations in accord with and reconciled to the evidence from our senses, especially in those matters in which our minds have grasped a clear view and reached a firm judgment. We must do this so we may identify that point in the examination where we find it necessary to reserve judgment as to the truth of a matter, which will occur when we do not have immediately perceptible to us sufficient evidence to form a clear determination.
Letter to Pythocles: The regular and periodic march of the heavenly phenomena has nothing in it that would surprise us if we would only pay attention to the analogous facts which take place here on earth under our own eyes. Above all things, let us beware against making a god interpose itself here, for we ought always to consider a god to be exempt from all toil and perfectly happy. Otherwise we shall find ourselves giving vain explanations to the heavenly phenomena, as has happened already to a crowd of philosophers. Because they do not recognize what is really possible and what is not, they have fallen into vain theories, supposing that for all phenomena there is but one single mode of production, and rejecting all other explanations which are also founded on probability. They have adopted the most unreasonable opinions because they failed to place in the forefront of the analysis the evidence of the senses, which ought always to serve as the first basis for explaining all phenomena.
Letter to Pythocles: The thunderbolt may be produced either by a violent condensation of the winds, or by their rapid motion and collisions. …. In short, one may give a number of explanations of the thunderbolt. Above all things we must always be on guard against fables, and fables will easily be avoided if one follows faithfully the phenomena that are observed directly in searching for the explanation of those things which are only perceived indirectly.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book I: But now to resume the thread of the design that I am weaving in verse: all nature then, as it exists by itself, is founded on two things: there are bodies and there is void in which these bodies are placed and through which they move about. For that material things exist is declared by the general acknowledgement of mankind. Unless, at the very first, our conviction of this is firmly grounded, there will be nothing to which we can appeal in regard to things that are only perceived indirectly, in order to prove anything by the reasoning of the mind. Then again, if room and space which we call void did not exist, bodies could not be placed anywhere nor move about at all to any side; as we have demonstrated to you already.
NewEpicurean Commentary: The ultimate goal of human life is to live a happy life here on this earth, in this reality, without being deceived that there is some other dimension or other standard for how we should live our lives. The key to determining the laws of Nature, and how they apply to us, is to refer all questions to our senses, and to make sure that all our opinions are consistent with reality as we sense and experience it. Applying any other standard other than a reasoned understanding of reality as experienced through our senses will lead to a life full of confusion and turmoil.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: If you fight against all sensations you will have no standard by which to judge even those of them which you say are false. Strodach: If you reject all sensations, you will not have any point of reference by which to judge even the ones you claim are false.
Lucretius, De Rerum Natura Book IV: [I] f a man contends that nothing can be known, he knows not whether this contention itself can be known, since he admits that he knows nothing. I will therefore decline to argue the question against him who places his head where his feet should be. And yet granting that this man knows his contention to be true, I would still ask this question: Since he has never yet seen any truth in any thing, how does he know what “knowing” and “not knowing” are? What has produced his knowledge of the difference between the true and the false, and between the doubtful and the certain? You will find that all knowledge of the true comes from the senses, and that the senses cannot be refuted. For anything which on its own can distinguish that which is false from that which is true must by nature possess a higher certainty than the thing which it judges. Well, then, what can fairly be accounted of higher certainty than the senses? Shall reasoning alone be able to contradict the sensations? No, not when reasoning is itself wholly reliant on the senses for its accuracy. If the evidence of the senses is not true, then all reasoning based on that evidence is rendered false. Are the ears able to take the eyes to task, or the sense of touch take the ears to task? Shall the sense of taste or smell or vision call into question the sense of touch? No, for each sense has its own separate and distinct office and power. … It therefore follows that no sense can refute any other. Nor can any sense take itself to task, since equal credit must be assigned to the evidence it produces at all times. What has at any time appeared true to each sense must be taken as a true sensation.
At times you may experience sensations which your reason is unable to explain – for example, why a tower close at hand is seen to be square, but when seen at a distance appears round. In such cases it is better, if you are at a loss for a reason to explain this, to admit that you do not know the truth of the matter, rather than to accept an explanation that makes no sense. If you accept as true a possibility that contradicts your senses, you have set the stage to let slip from your grasp all those other things which you know to be manifestly true. In so doing you will ruin the groundwork of all your beliefs, and wrench up all the foundations on which life and existence rest. For not only would all reason give way, but life itself would fall to the ground, unless you pursue the truth and choose to trust the senses, shunning the steep cliffs of life that must be avoided. All that host of words drawn out in array against the senses is quite without meaning. If, in the construction of a building, the measuring stick first applied by the builder is crooked, or his square is untrue and swerves from its straight lines, or if there is the slightest hitch in any part of his level, all the construction will turn out to be faulty, crooked, sloping, leaning forward or backward, without symmetry, so that some parts seem ready to fall, and others do fall, all ruined by the first erroneous measurements. So too, all reasoning of things which is not founded on the senses will prove to be distorted and false.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book I: To say that all things are fire, and that nothing really exists except fire, as one philosopher does, is clearly sheer insanity. For this man takes his stand on the side of the senses at the same time that he fights against the senses. His argument challenges the authority of the senses, on which rests all our convictions, even his own belief about this fire (as he calls it) that is known only to himself. For what he is saying is that he believes that the senses can truly perceive fire, but he does not believe they can perceive all other things, which are not a bit less clear! Now this is clearly as false as it is foolish, for to what shall we appeal to resolve the question? What more certain test can we apply but that of the senses to judge truth and falsehood? Why should anyone choose to abolish all other things and choose to leave only fire? Why not abolish fire, and hold that nature is composed of all other things? It would be equal madness to affirm either one or the other position.
Letter to Herodotus: [As we move to the consideration of phenomena such as the nature of sight and images], we must consider that there may be [various] manners in which things of this kind are produced. But we must never accept anything in these various possibilities which at all contradicts the senses, and [in evaluating these things] we must consider in what way the senses are exercised and the relationship that is established between the external objects we observe and ourselves.
24. We must not discard any evidence provided by a sense simply because it does not fit our prior conceptions, and we must always distinguish between those matters which are certain and those which are uncertain. We must do this so we can determine whether our conclusions go beyond that which is justified by the actual evidence of the senses. We cannot be confident of our conclusions unless they are justified by actual, immediate, and clear evidence, and this evidence must come from the conceptions of the mind which arise from the five senses, from the sense of pain and pleasure, and from the Anticipations. If we fail to keep in mind the distinction between the certain and the uncertain, we inject error into the evaluation of the evidence provided by the senses, and we destroy in that area of inquiry every means of distinguishing the true from the false.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: If you reject any single sensation and fail to distinguish between the conclusion of opinion as to the appearance awaiting confirmation and that which is actually given by the sensation or feeling, or each intuitive apprehension of the mind, you will confound all other sensations as well with the same groundless opinion, so that you will reject every standard of judgment. And if among the mental images created by your opinion you affirm both that which awaits confirmation and that which does not, you will not escape error, since you will have preserved the whole cause of doubt in every judgment between what is right and what is wrong. Strodach: If you summarily rule out any single sensation and do not make a distinction between the element of belief that is superimposed on a percept that awaits verification and what is actually present in sensation or in the feelings or some precept of the mind itself, you will cast doubt on all other sensations by your unfounded interpretation and consequently abandon all the criteria of truth. On the other hand, in cases of interpreted data, if you accept as true those that need verification as well as those that do not, you will still be in error, since the whole question at issue in every judgment of what is true or not true will be left intact.
Letter to Herodotus: [We must also consider] the possibility of error and false judgments. These arise due to our supposing that a preconceived idea will be confirmed, or at any event will not be overturned, by additional evidence when we receive it. Falsehood and error arise when we form an opinion prematurely, without waiting for additional evidence to confirm or to contradict our conclusion before reaching it. [We must always recognize that] the representations we receive from images have been received by our intelligence like reflections from a mirror, whether those images are perceived in a dream or through any other conceptions of the mind or the senses. But [we cannot conclude that] these representations resemble the objects from which they came closely enough so that we can call them real and true unless we are examining objects that we perceive directly. Error arises when we receive impressions which our minds accept as a direct representation but which in fact are not. In such cases, due to considerations that are unique to ourselves, our minds mistakenly take these indirect perceptions and form conceptions which go beyond the reality of the actual object. Error results when our minds reach conclusions based on evidence that is not confirmed, or is contradictory, rather than based on evidence that we directly observe to be confirmed and uncontradicted.
We must carefully preserve these principles so that we will not reject the authority of our faculties when we perceive truth directly. We must also observe these principles so that we will not allow our minds to believe that what is false or what is speculative has been established with equal firmness with what is true, because this results in everything being thrown into confusion. If you simply reject any sensory experience which you believe to be incorrect, and you fail to reason and integrate those sensations which appear to conflict with those you know to be true, you will introduce a fundamental error into your logic that will lead you to be unable to separate true from false. Also, is a blunder to consider that some theory that is untested, and not proven to conform with reality, has the same status of truth as other knowledge which you know to be true, and which has been proven to be consistent with reality. This latter error is a blunder because you will then introduce doubt into your reasoning and lose the ability to distinguish the true from the false in everything.
25. If we consider those opinions which are only an tentative, and must await further information before they can be verified, to be of equal authority with those opinions which bear about them an immediate certainty, we will not escape error. For if we do this we overlook the reason for doubt between that which is right and that which is wrong.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: And if among the mental images created by your opinion you affirm both that which awaits confirmation and that which does not, you will not escape error, since you will have preserved the whole cause of doubt in every judgment between what is right and what is wrong. Strodach: On the other hand, in cases of interpreted data, if you accept as true those that need verification as well as those that do not, you will still be in error, since the whole question at issue in every judgment of what is true or not true will be left intact.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book IV: Many are the marvels … we see which seek to shake the credit of the senses. But such efforts are quite in vain, since the greatest part of these cases deceive us on account of the opinions which we add ourselves, taking things as seen which have not been seen by the senses. For nothing is harder than to separate those facts that are clearly true from those that are doubtful which the mind adds itself.
Diogenes Laertius: The Epicureans refer to ‘opinion’ as supposition, and say that it is at times true, and at times false. An opinion which is supported by evidence, and is not contradicted by other evidence is true. An opinion which is not supported by evidence, and is contradicted by other evidence, is false. On this account they have introduced the expression of “waiting,” such as when, before pronouncing that a thing seen is a tower, we must wait until we approach it, and learn what it looks like when we are nearby.
NewEpicurean Commentary: If you allow yourself to think that speculations which are not grounded in reality (such as speculations about the heavens or about infinity, subjects which you do not have the ability to verify) are of equal authority with deductive reasoning grounded in direct evidence (such as observations about things close at hand that you know to be true by experience) you will surely fall into error, because you will be confusing what is speculative with what is certain.
26. If on every occasion we do not refer all our actions to the chief end of Nature, and if we turn aside to some other standard when we are determining what to seek or to avoid, then our actions will not be consistent with our principles.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: If on each occasion instead of referring your actions to the end of nature, you turn to some other nearer standard when you are making a choice or an avoidance, your actions will not be consistent with your principles. Strodach: If at any time you fail to refer each of your acts to nature’s standard, and turn off instead in some other direction when making a choice to avoid or pursue, your actions will not be consistent with your creed.
Letter to Menoeceus: To this view of Happiness as our starting point and as our goal we refer every question of what to choose and what to avoid. And to this same goal of happy living we again and again return, because whether a thing brings Happiness is the rule by which we judge every good.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Epicurus holds that Nature’s ultimate goal for life is pleasure, or happiness, which he holds to be the chief good, with pain, whether physical or mental, being the chief evil. Epicurus sets out to show this as follows: Every living thing, as soon as it is born, seeks after pleasure, and delights in it as its chief good. It also recoils from pain as its chief evil, and avoids pain so far as is possible. Nature’s own unbiased and honest judgment leads every living thing to do this from birth, and it continues to do as long as it remains uncorrupted. Epicurus refuses to admit any need for discussion to prove that pleasure is to be desired and pain is to be avoided, because these facts, he thinks, are perceived by the senses, in the same way that fire is hot, snow is white, and honey is sweet. None of these things need be proved by elaborate argument — it is enough merely to draw attention to them.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: A city torn by faction cannot prosper, nor can a house whose masters are at strife. Much less then can a mind that is divided against itself and filled with inward discord taste any particle of pure and liberal pleasure. One who is perpetually swayed by conflicting and incompatible opinions and desires can know no peace or calm. If the pleasantness of life is diminished by the serious bodily diseases, how much more must it be diminished by the diseases of the mind! Extravagant and vain desires for riches, fame, power, and other pleasures of license, are nothing but mental diseases. Grief, trouble and sorrow gnaw the heart and consume it with anxiety if men fail to realize that the mind need feel no pain unless it is connected with some pain of body, present or to come. Yet all foolish men are afflicted by at least one of these diseases – and therefore there is no foolish man who is not unhappy.
NewEpicurean Commentary: Nature provides that we must act according to the ultimate goal set for us by Nature – a life a happiness. All actions must therefore be judged according to whether those actions will or will not lead to attaining a happy life. If we use any other standard we will find ourselves in hopeless confusion.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: Of all the things which wisdom acquires to produce the blessedness of the complete life, far the greatest is the possession of friendship. Strodach: Of all the things that wisdom provides for the happiness of the whole man, by far the most important is the acquisition of friendship.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: There remains a topic that is supremely relevant to this discussion – the subject of Friendship. Your [Platonic] school maintains that if pleasure is held to be the Chief Good, friendship will cease to exist. In contrast, Epicurus has pronounced in regard to friendship that of all the means to happiness that wisdom has devised, none is greater, none is more fruitful, none is more delightful than friendship. Not only did Epicurus commend the importance of friendship through his words, but far more, through the example of his life and his conduct. How rare and great friendship is can be seen in the mythical stories of antiquity. Review the legends from the remotest of ages, and, many and varied as they are, you will barely find in them three pairs of friends, beginning with Theseus and ending with Orestes. Yet Epicurus in a single house (and a small one at that) maintained a whole company of friends, united by the closest sympathy and affection, and this still goes on today in the Epicurean school. … The Epicureans maintain that friendship can no more be separated from pleasure than can the virtues, which we have discussed already. A solitary, friendless life is necessarily beset by secret dangers and alarms. Hence reason itself advises the acquisition of friends. The possession of friends gives confidence and a firmly rooted hope of winning pleasure. And just as hatred, jealousy and contempt are hindrances to pleasure, so friendship is the most trustworthy preserver and also creator of pleasure for both our friends and for ourselves. Friendship affords us enjoyment in the present, and it inspires us with hope for the near and distant future.
Thus it is not possible to secure uninterrupted gratification in life without friendship, nor to preserve friendship itself unless we love our friends as much as ourselves. … For we rejoice in our friends’ joy as much as in our own, and we are equally pained by their sorrows. Therefore the wise man will feel exactly the same towards his friends as he does towards himself, and he will exert himself as much for his friend’s pleasure as he would for his own. All that has been said about the essential connection of the virtues with pleasure must be repeated about friendship. Epicurus well said (and I give almost his exact words): “The same creed that has given us courage to overcome all fear of everlasting or long-enduring evil after death has discerned that friendship is our strongest safeguard in this present term of life. … All these considerations go to prove not only that the rationale of friendship is not impaired by the identification of the chief good with pleasure, but, in fact, without this, no foundation for friendship whatsoever can be found.”
Vatican Saying 78: The noble soul occupies itself with wisdom and friendship; of these the one is a mortal good, the other immortal.
28. The same opinion that encourages us to trust that no evil will be everlasting, or even of long duration, shows us that in the space of life allotted to us the protection of friendship is the most sure and trustworthy.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: The same conviction which has given us confidence that there is nothing terrible that lasts forever or even for long has also seen the protection of friendship most fully completed in the limited evils of this life. Yonge: Of all the things which wisdom provides for the happiness of the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friendship. Strodach: It is the same judgment that has made us feel confident that nothing fearful is of long duration or everlasting, and that has seen personal security during our limited span of life most nearly perfected by friendship.
NewEpicurean Commentary: A firm understanding of the Nature of things allows us to see that nothing terrible lasts forever, or even for a long time, and it also allows us to see that nothing enhances our security so much as does friendship.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: Among desires some are natural (and necessary, some natural) but not necessary, and others neither natural nor necessary, but due to idle imagination.
Vatican Saying 20: Of our desires some are natural and necessary, others are natural but not necessary; and others are neither natural nor necessary, but are due to groundless opinion.
NewEpicurean Commentary: You will more easily keep reason in charge of your desires if you remember that some desires are both natural and necessary, some are natural but not necessary, and some are neither natural nor necessary but purely the result of illusions that we pick up from other people.
30. In the case of physical desires which require intense effort to attain and do not lead to a sense of pain if they are not fulfilled, such desires are due to idle imagination. It is not because of their own nature that they fail to be dispelled, but because of the empty imaginings of the man.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: Wherever in the case of desires which are physical, but do not lead to a sense of pain if they are not fulfilled, the effort is intense, such pleasures are due to idle imagination, and it is not owing to their nature that they fail to be dispelled, but owing to the empty imaginings of the man.
Letter to Menoeceus: But although happiness is the first and a natural good, for this same reason we do not choose every pleasure whatsoever, but at many times we pass over certain pleasures when difficulty is likely to ensue from choosing them. Likewise, we think that certain pains are better than some pleasures, when a greater pleasure will follow them, even if we first endure pain for time. Every Pleasure is therefore by its own Nature a good, but it does not follow that every pleasure is worthy of being chosen, just as every pain is an evil, and yet every pain must not be avoided. Nature requires that we resolve all these matters by measuring and reasoning whether the ultimate result is suitable or unsuitable to bringing about a happy life; for at times we may determine that what appears to be good is in fact an evil, and at other times we may determine that what appears to be evil is in fact a good.
Vatican Saying 21: We must not violate nature, but obey her; and we shall obey her if we fulfill those desires that are necessary, and also those that are natural but bring no harm to us, but we must sternly reject those that are harmful.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: First, the natural ends of good and evil, that is, pleasure and pain, are not open to mistake. Where people go wrong is in not knowing what things are in fact productive of pleasure and pain.
NewEpicurean Commentary: The illusory desires that we pick up from other people include some desires that are natural, but would not create any pain if not fulfilled. Such desires can be overcome by acknowledging that they are difficult to gratify or likely to produce harm greater than achieving the desire is worth.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: The justice which arises from nature is a pledge of mutual advantage to restrain men from harming one another and save them from being harmed.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: It remains to speak of Justice to complete the list of the virtues. But justice admits of practically the same explanation as the others. I have already shown that Wisdom, Temperance and Courage are so closely linked with happiness that they cannot possibly be severed from it. The same must be deemed to be the case with Justice. Not only does Justice never cause anyone harm, but on the contrary it always brings some benefit, partly because of its calming influence on the mind, and partly because of the hope that it provides of never-failing access to the things that one’s uncorrupted nature really needs. And just as Rashness, License and Cowardice are always tormenting the mind, always awakening trouble and discord, so Unrighteousness, when firmly rooted in the heart, causes restlessness by the mere fact of its presence. Once unrighteousness has found expression in some deed of wickedness, no matter how secret the act may appear, it can never be free of the fear that it will one day be detected. The usual consequences of crime are suspicion, gossip, and rumor – after that comes the accuser, then the judge. Many wrongdoers even turn evidence against themselves …..
And even if any transgressors think themselves to be well fortified against detection by their fellow men, they still dread the eye of heaven, and fancy that the pangs of anxiety that night and day gnaw at their hearts are sent by Providence to punish them. So in what way can wickedness be thought to be worthwhile, in view of its effect in increasing the distresses of life by bringing with it the burden of a guilty conscience, the penalties of the law, and the hatred of one’s fellow men?” Nevertheless, some men indulge without limit their avarice, ambition, love of power, lust, gluttony, and those other desires which ill-gotten gains can never diminish, but rather inflame. Such men are the proper subjects for restraint, rather than for reformation. Men of sound natures, therefore, are summoned by the voice of true reason to justice, equity, and honesty. For those without eloquence or resources, dishonesty is not a good policy, since it is difficult for such a man to succeed in his designs, or to make good his success once it is achieved. On the other hand, for those who are rich and intelligent, generous conduct seems more appropriate, for liberality wins them affection and good will, the surest means to a life of peace. This is especially true since we see that there is really no need for anyone to transgress, because the desires that spring from Nature are easily gratified without doing wrong to any man, and those desires that are vain and idle can be resisted by observing that they set their sights on nothing that is really desirable, and that there is more loss inherent in injustice than there is profit in the gains that it may bring for a time.
NewEpicurean Commentary: The concept of “justice” derives from the mutual advantage that comes from an agreement not to inflict or allow harm.
32. For those living things that are unable to enter into a covenant to refrain from harming one another, nothing is just or unjust, and this applies also to those men who are either unwilling or unable to enter into such a covenant.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: For all living things which have not been able to make compacts not to harm one another or be harmed, nothing is either just or unjust, and likewise too for all tribes of men which have been unable or unwilling to make compacts not to harm or be harmed.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Nevertheless, some men indulge without limit their avarice, ambition, love of power, lust, gluttony, and those other desires which ill-gotten gains can never diminish, but rather inflame. Such men are the proper subjects for restraint, rather than for reformation.
NewEpicurean Commentary: There is no concept of justice or injustice between living creatures that are incapable of making agreements not to harm one another, and this includes men who are unable or unwilling to make such agreements. For a related application of this concept, see the discussion in Porphyry of the Epicurean view attributed to Hermarchus as to the propriety of using animals for food.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: Justice never is anything in itself, but in the dealings of men with one another in any place whatever and at any time it is a kind of compact not to harm or to be harmed.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Pleasure and pain therefore supply the motives and the principles of choice and of avoidance, and thus they are the springs of conduct generally. This being so, it clearly follows that actions are right and praiseworthy only to the extent that they are productive of a life of happiness. But something which is not itself a means to obtain anything else, but to which all other things are but the means by which it is to be acquired, is what the Greeks term the highest, or final good. It must therefore be admitted that the chief good of man is to live happily. Those who place the chief good in “virtue” alone are beguiled by the glamor of a name, and they do not understand the true demands of Nature. If they will but consent to listen to Epicurus, they will be delivered from the grossest error. Your school waxes eloquently on the supposedly transcendent beauty of the “virtues.” But were they not productive of pleasure, who would deem the virtues either praiseworthy or desirable? We value the art of medicine not for its interest as a science, but because it produces health. We commend the art of navigation for its practical, and not its scientific value, because it conveys the rules for sailing a ship with success. So also Wisdom, which must be considered as the art of living, would not be desired if it produced no result. As it is, however, wisdom is desired, because it is the craftsman that produces and procures pleasure. The meaning that I attach to pleasure and happiness must by this time be clear to you, and you must no longer be biased against my argument due to the discreditable associations that others have attached to the terms.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: As with the other virtues, Justice cannot correctly be said to be desirable in and of itself. Here again, Justice is desirable because it is so highly productive of gratification. Esteem and affection are gratifying because they render life safer and happier. Thus we hold that injustice is to be avoided not simply on account of the disadvantages that result from being unjust, but even more, because when injustice dwells in a man’s heart, it never allows him to breathe freely or to know a moment’s rest.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Lisping babies, even dumb animals, prompted by Nature’s teaching, can almost find the voice to proclaim to us that in life there is no welfare but pleasure, no hardship but pain – and their judgment in these matters is neither corrupted nor biased.
NewEpicurean Commentary: There is no such thing as “absolute justice.” “Justice” depends entirely on the circumstances of specific mutual agreements among men, made a various times and places, not to inflict or allow harm to each other.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: Injustice is not an evil in itself, but only in consequence of the fear which attaches to the apprehension of being unable to escape those appointed to punish such action.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: The mind possesses nothing within itself on which it can rest as final. Every fear, every sorrow, can be traced back to pain — and there is nothing besides pain which has the capacity to cause either anxiety or distress.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: As with the other virtues, Justice cannot correctly be said to be desirable in and of itself. Here again, Justice is desirable because it is so highly productive of gratification. Esteem and affection are gratifying because they render life safer and happier. Thus we hold that injustice is to be avoided not simply on account of the disadvantages that result from being unjust, but even more, because when injustice dwells in a man’s heart, it never allows him to breathe freely or to know a moment’s rest.
NewEpicurean Commentary: Acts of injustice are not evil in themselves, but only because we see that those who have committed the unjust act are never free of the turmoil of fear of suffering punishment for those unjust acts. This is an application of the rule that the desires of debauched men would not be blameworthy if they in fact procured a happy life. Ultimately the order of Nature is that all good derives from pleasure, all evil derives from pain.
35. It is not possible for men who secretly violate a mutual covenant not to harm one another to believe that they will always escape detection. Even if they have escaped it ten thousand times already, so long as they live they cannot be certain that they will not be detected.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: It is not possible for one who acts in secret contravention of the terms of the compact not to harm or be harmed to be confident that he will escape detection, even if at present he escapes a thousand times. For up to the time of death it cannot be certain that he will indeed escape.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book II: In addition, Cerberus and the Furies are idle tales, and Tartarus as well, belching forth hideous fires from his throat. Such things have never existed anywhere, and in truth can never exist. But there is in life a dread of punishment for evil deeds: the prison, the frightful hurling down from the rock, the scourgings, the executioners, the dungeon of the doomed, and the torches. And even when these do not come, yet the conscience-stricken mind torments itself with fear of the fire and the lash, and sees no end to such punishment fearing that those very evils will be enhanced after death.
Vatican Saying 70: 1. Let nothing be done in your life which will cause you fear if it becomes known to your neighbor.
NewEpicurean Commentary: One who acts unjustly is not isolated from the punishment of mental turmoil by the thought that he has acted secretly and will not get caught, even if he has gotten away with the unjust act a thousand times before, because up until the moment of death there is no certainty that he will escape detection.
36. In general, justice is the same for all, for justice is a mutual advantage in the dealings of men with each other, but in different nations and under different circumstances, the application of justice may differ.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: In its general aspect justice is the same for all, for it is a kind of mutual advantage in the dealings of men with one another, but with reference to the individual peculiarities of a country or any other circumstances the same thing does not turn out to be just for all.
NewEpicurean Commentary: The concept of justice is essentially the same for all people insofar as it derives from mutual benefit. But the details of how justice is applied may vary in particular circumstances.
37. Among those actions which the law sanctions as just, that which is determined to be of mutual advantage is in fact just whether or not it is universally regarded to be so. But if a law, once established, is determined not to be mutually advantageous, then it is by nature unjust. As to those laws which were at first just, but later become unjust, such laws were in fact just for the period in which they were of mutual advantage, at least in the eyes of those who do not confound themselves with empty words, but look to the actual facts.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: Among actions which are sanctioned as just by law, that which is proved on examination to be of advantage in the requirements of men’s dealings with one another has the guarantee of justice, whether it is the same for all or not. But if a man makes a law and it does not turn out to lead to advantage in men’s dealings with each other, then it no longer has the essential nature of justice. And if the advantage in the matter of justice shifts from one side to the other, but for a while accords with the general concept, it is none the less just for that period in the eyes of those who do not confound themselves with empty sounds but look to the actual facts. Strodach: In the case of actions that are legally regarded as just, those that are of tested utility in meeting the needs of human society have the hallmark of justice, whether they turn out to be equally just in all cases or not. On the other hand, if somebody lays down a law and it does not prove to be of advantage in human relations, then such a law no longer has the true character of justice. And even if the element of utility should undergo a change after harmonizing for a time with the conception of justice, the law was still just during that period, in the judgment of those who are not confused by meaningless words but who look at the actualities.
Vatican Saying 13: Among the things held to be just by law, whatever is proved to be of advantage in men’s dealings has the stamp of justice, whether or not it be the same for all; but if a man makes a law and it does not prove to be mutually advantageous, then this is no longer just. And if what is mutually advantageous varies and only for a time corresponds to our concept of justice, nevertheless for that time it is just for those who do not trouble themselves about empty words, but look simply at the facts.
NewEpicurean Commentary: Actions that are mutually beneficial are to be considered just whether they are the same for all peoples or not. Laws that are not mutually advantageous are no longer to be considered just. Therefore we see that justice can change over time and is dependent on circumstances, not on some absolute other-dimensional standard.
38. Where actions which were formerly considered to be just under former circumstances are seen not to accord with the general concept of mutual advantage, then they are seen not to have been just. But actions which were in fact of mutual advantage and therefore just at one time under former circumstances, but cease being of mutual advantage under new circumstances, cease also being just.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: Where, provided the circumstances have not been altered, actions which were considered just have been shown not to accord with the general concept in actual practice, then they are not just. But where, when circumstances have changed, the same actions which were sanctioned as just no longer lead to advantage, there they were just at the time when they were of advantage for the dealings of fellow-citizens with one another, but subsequently they are no longer just, when no longer of advantage. Strodach: In cases where the surrounding conditions are not new and where laws regarded as just have been shown to be inconsistent with the conception of justice in their actual workings, such laws are unjust. Again, in cases where the circumstances are new and where the same laws, once deemed to be just, are no longer serviceable, the laws in this case were just as long as they were useful to the community of citizens, but later when they were no longer useful they became unjust.
39. He who desires to live tranquilly without having anything to fear from other men ought to make them his friends. Those whom he cannot make friends he should at least avoid rendering enemies, and if that is not in his power, he should avoid all dealings with them as much as possible, and keep away from them as far as it is in his interest to do so.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: The man who has best ordered the element of disquiet arising from external circumstances has made those things that he could akin to himself, and the rest at least not alien. But with all to which he could not do even this, he has refrained from mixing, and has expelled from his life all which it was of advantage to treat thus. Strodach: The person who is the most successful in controlling the disturbing elements that come from the outside world has assimilated to himself what he could, and what he could not assimilate he has at least not alienated. Where he could not do even this, he has disassociated himself or eliminated all that it was expedient to treat in this way.
NewEpicurean Commentary: If you desire to live tranquilly then you ought to make friends with your neighbors. If you cannot make friends of them, you should at least avoid making enemies of them, and if you cannot even do that, you should avoid all dealings with them to the extent possible.
40. The happiest men are those who have arrived at the point of having nothing to fear from their neighbors. Such men live with one another most pleasantly, having the firmest grounds of confidence in one another, enjoying the full advantages of friendship, and not lamenting the departure of their dead friends as though they were to be pitied.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: As many as possess the power to procure complete immunity from their neighbors, these also live most pleasantly with one another, since they have the most certain pledge of security, and after they have enjoyed the fullest intimacy, they do not lament the previous departure of a dead friend as though he were to be pitied.
Vatican Saying 66: Let us show our feeling for our lost friends not by lamentation but by meditation.
NewEpicurean Commentary: The happiest men are those who enjoy the condition of having nothing to fear from those around them. Such men have the firmest grounds for confidence in one another, and enjoy the full benefits of friendship, and they do not mourn a friend who dies before they do, as there is in such situation no need for pity.
This list, compiled by an unknown author, was discovered in 1888 at the Vatican. It is reputed to date from the Fourteenth Century, but little beyond this is known about its origin. The following translation follows that of Cyril Bailey except where noted.
VS3. 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.
VS5. It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.
VS6. It is impossible for a man who secretly violates the terms of the agreement not to harm or be harmed to feel confident that he will remain undiscovered, even if he has already escaped ten thousand times; for until his death he is never sure that he will not be detected. (see Principal Doctrine 35)
VS10. Remember that you are mortal and have a limited time to live and have devoted yourself to discussions on Nature for all time and eternity and have seen “things that are now and are to come and have been.”
VS13. Among the things held to be just by law, whatever is proved to be of advantage in men’s dealings has the stamp of justice, whether or not it be the same for all; but if a man makes a law and it does not prove to be mutually advantageous, then this is no longer just. And if what is mutually advantageous varies and only for a time corresponds to our concept of justice, nevertheless for that time it is just for those who do not trouble themselves about empty words, but look simply at the facts. (see Principal Doctrine 37)
VS14. We are born once and cannot be born twice, but for all time must be no more. But you, who are not master of tomorrow, postpone your happiness. Life is wasted in procrastination and each one of us dies without allowing himself leisure.
VS17. It is not the young man who should be thought happy, but the old man who has lived a good life. For the young man at the height of his powers is unstable and is carried this way and that by fortune, like a headlong stream. But the old man has come to anchor in old age as though in port, and the good things for which before he hardly hoped he has brought into safe harbor in his grateful recollections.
VS21. We must not violate nature, but obey her; and we shall obey her if we fulfil those desires that are necessary, and also those that are natural but bring no harm to us, but we must sternly reject those that are harmful. (Note: The translation by Peter St. Andre, found here, is “Nature must be persuaded, not forced. And we will persuade nature by fulfilling the necessary desires, and the natural desires too if they cause no harm, but sharply rejecting the harmful desires.” The St. Andre translation comports more closely with that followed by DeWitt in Epicurus and His Philosophy.)
VS27. In all other occupations the fruit comes painfully after completion, but in philosophy pleasure goes hand in hand with knowledge; for enjoyment does not follow comprehension, but comprehension and enjoyment are simultaneous.
VS29. In investigating nature I would prefer to speak openly and like an oracle to give answers serviceable to all mankind, even though no one should understand me, rather than to conform to popular opinions and so win the praise freely scattered by the mob.
VS39. He is no friend who is continually asking for help, nor he who never associates help with friendship. For the former barters kindly feeling for a practical return and the latter destroys the hope of good in the future.
VS45. The study of nature does not make men productive of boasting or bragging nor apt to display that culture which is the object of rivalry with the many, but high-spirited and self-sufficient, taking pride in the good things of their own minds and not of their circumstances.
VS47. I have anticipated thee, Fortune, and entrenched myself against all thy secret attacks. And I will not give myself up as captive to thee or to any other circumstance; but when it is time for me to go, spitting contempt on life and on those who vainly cling to it, I will leave life crying aloud a glorious triumph-song that I have lived well.
VS49. It is impossible for someone to dispel his fears about the most important matters if he does not know the Nature of the universe but still gives some credence to myths. So without the study of Nature there is no enjoyment of pure pleasure. (see Principal Doctrine 12)
VS51. You tell me that the stimulus of the flesh makes you too prone to the pleasures of love. Provided that you do not break the laws or good customs and do not distress any of your neighbors or do harm to your body or squander your pittance, you may indulge your inclination as you please. Yet it is impossible not to come up against one or other of these barriers, for the pleasures of love never profited a man and he is lucky if they do him no harm.
VS62. Now if parents are justly angry with their children, it is certainly useless to fight against it and not to ask for pardon; but if their anger is unjust and irrational, it is quite ridiculous to add fuel to their irrational passion by nursing one’s own indignation, and not to attempt to turn aside their wrath in other ways by gentleness.
VS67. A free life cannot acquire many possessions, because this is not easy to do without servility to mobs or monarchs, yet it possesses all things in unfailing abundance; and if by chance it obtains many possessions, it is easy to distribute them so as to win the gratitude of neighbors.
VS81. The disturbance of the soul cannot be ended nor true joy created either by the possession of the greatest wealth or by honor and respect in the eyes of the mob or by anything else that is associated with or caused by unlimited desire.
This list comes from the biography of Diogenes Laertius as translated by Cyril Bailey, except where noted.
WM2. When once a man has attained wisdom he no longer has any contrary tendency to it, nor does he willingly pretend that he has. He will be more deeply moved by feelings than others, but this will not prove to be an obstacle to wisdom.
WM9. The Epicureans do not think that the wise man will fall in love, or be anxious about his burial, for they hold that love is not a passion inspired by the gods, as Diogenes says in his twelfth book.
WM41. The wise man holds that friendship is first brought about due to practical need, just as we sow the earth for crops, but it is formed and maintained by means of a community of life among those who find mutual pleasure in it.
[i] This is the DeWitt translation from his article “The Summum Bonum Fallacy” in The Classical Weekly, Vol. 44, No. 5 (Dec. 18, 1950), pp. 69-71 The same item is rendered by Epicurus.net as: “The same time produces both the beginning of the greatest good and the dissolution of the evil.”
[ii] Items 56 and 57 are unclear in the original. This is an attempt at reconstructing them.
[iii] Items 56 and 57 are unclear in the original. This is an attempt at reconstructing them.