Against the Men of the Crowd
An essay On Epicurean Philosophy
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The City of Athens is renowned in history as the place where men learned a new model of life. It was here that they first lived according to the rule of law, and based their lives on the philosophies of men such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
But Athens also bestowed upon the world another man – a man far greater than these – who by his genius pulled down the walls that other philosophies and religions had erected, walls which separated men from the pursuit of the happiness to which Nature had called them. The glory of this man, his philosophy, and his name – Epicurus – spread far and wide, and even after his death his reputation reached as high as heaven itself.
For Epicurus had seen that Nature had provided all the things which men really need, and had thereby established human life on a sure footing.
But he also saw that even where men were great in riches and honor, and in glory and power, that these things did not calm their hearts, that constant troubles plagued their lives, and that men felt constrained to cry out to the gods for relief from their distress.
Seeing this before him, Epicurus perceived that the cause of the trouble was the manner of thinking which unhappy men had either been taught, or had adopted for themselves. He saw that the manner of thinking of a man is the vessel in which he places his life, but that this vessel had been corrupted by false teachings, and that this corruption spoiled all of the good things which Nature had provided.
Epicurus saw that the vessel men had chosen was leaky and full of holes, so that it could never by any means be filled full, and that it had been befouled with a nauseous flavor that contaminated everything placed within it.
Epicurus therefore cleansed the vessel, replacing bitter flavor with sweet, and filling its holes with precepts of truth. He showed men the error in their manner of thinking, the limits to their lusts and fears, the true goal to which Nature called them, and the direct course by which this goal may be reached.
He also showed men what true evils Nature allows to exist in mortal affairs, and how men must fortify their walls, and erect their gates, from which they may sally out to battle these evils.
And Epicurus showed men that – for the most part – the melancholy billows of care that plague their hearts need not arise at all!
For just as children are afraid, and dread all things in the darkness of night, so we, as adults in the daylight, fear things which are not a bit more awful than the imaginings of children!
And so Epicurus showed men how to dispel this terror and darkness of mind – not by the rays of the sun, but by studying and applying the laws of Nature.
The study of Nature requires that we understand clearly the meaning of our words, so that we may firmly refer to them as we proceed in testing our opinions. Unless we do this, our arguments will run on, untested, to infinity, based on terms that are empty of meaning. We must see clearly, and at the start, the primary meaning of every word, without need to prove the meaning further, so that we have a firm standard to which to refer to as we proceed.
In order to understand and prove our words, we must always hold fast to the present impressions we receive from the faculties given to us by Nature. These faculties are the five senses, the faculty of pain and pleasure, and the faculty we call preconceptions, or anticipations. It is these, working together, that provide us the means for distinguishing between that which is clear and that which is unclear. And this is what we call reasoning by the senses, or by analogy, for we look always to these faculties as our standard of truth. When we examine matters beyond our direct perception, we compare them to similar things that these faculties have already perceived clearly. We look for aspects that are similar, and aspects that are different, and from these we reason by analogy to separate true from false.
In Epicurus’ own day, teachers and preachers of false philosophies and religions were everywhere, both in the poetry about the gods and in the schools of Plato, and Aristotle, and many others. The false ideas they taught remain with us today, among Cynics, Skeptics, Stoics, and other Men of Logic, and among the Men of Religion who imitate them, and who add falsehoods of their own. A great multitude of people suffer from this disease, and their numbers increase as if in a plague, for as they emulate each other, men pass this disease among themselves like sheep.
And so it is necessary to warn you against both the Men of Logic, and the Men of Religion, who we shall refer to, together, as the Men of the Crowd. All these men will tell you that you cannot trust your senses. They will tell you that they possess means for determining a higher truth, that is open only to those who will renounce the faculties of Nature, and who will instead follow their school or their religion.
Plato, for example, in his “Republic,” taught that men who rely on the senses are no better than slaves who are shackled in chains, facing the wall in a cave, who can see only shadowy reflections of the truth behind them. Such men can never look directly on the truth, but Plato claims to have access to a higher truth, which he says is open to him through logic, and which is based on ideal concepts that exist beyond the reach of the senses.
Further, in his “Phaedrus,” Plato taught that true reason must be based on these ideal concepts, which he calls “causes” and “forms,” and that unless we base our reasoning on these ideal concepts, and give up our reliance on the senses, we can never hope to find the truth.
Likewise, Aristotle, in his “Prior Analytics,” taught that the senses alone can never reveal what he says are “causes,” or “necessary connections,” between objects. Aristotle taught that, in order to find these “causes,” including his imaginary “first cause,” men must look to what he calls “indications,” but that these “indications” are never reliable unless they can be stated in terms of logical formulas, called syllogisms.
In response to these Men of Logic, and against all Men of the Crowd, Epicurus told us that he would prefer to speak truthfully, and in his own terms, about Nature, and about what is of advantage to all men, even if no one understood him, rather than conform to popular opinion, and gain the praise that comes from holding the ideas of the Men of the Crowd.
And Epicurus also showed us that the study of Nature does not create men who are fond of boasting, and of clamoring to show off the education that impresses the crowd. Instead, the study of Nature produces men who are strong and self-sufficient, and who take pride in their own personal qualities, not in those circumstances that depend on the crowd.
And Epicurus told us that in order to live confidently, and in order to avoid doubt and confusion, we must seek the path of happy living set by Nature, and navigate that path by the senses, rather than follow the Crowd. For the Men of the Crowd will fight against our confidence in our senses, but we can defeat them when we see that despite what they say, such men in fact have no standard of their own to replace the senses. With no firm standard to guide them, the Men of the Crowd fail to distinguish between what is certain and what is uncertain; they confuse what their sensations truly report with their opinions of what they think they see; and they wander endlessly and hopelessly, having destroyed their only means of correcting their errors.
So Epicurus warned us to stand firm against all who seek to convince us that the senses cannot be trusted. He warned us that the Men of the Crowd will point to disagreements about what is true, and to difficulties in separating fact from illusion, and they will claim to possess something higher than the senses. Epicurus warned us that all these claims are lies, but that we must each learn for ourselves why they are false.
Many are the illusions and the arguments that the Men of the Crowd will cite to us to shake our confidence in the senses. These arguments are in vain, for you can defeat them when you see that illusions arise when our minds add false opinions, or mental suppositions, to what the senses report. Thus the fault, when we are fooled by illusions, is in our manner of thinking, and not in the senses themselves, in that we convince ourselves that we see things which in fact we have not seen.
For those who fail to study Nature, to study how the senses work, and to study proper methods of thinking, nothing is harder than separating facts which are clearly true from opinions which are doubtful. The manner of thinking of such men accustoms them to add unverified opinions to whatever their senses report, and without an understanding of proper reasoning based on the senses, they have no way to correct their errors.
The Men of the Crowd fail to see that true reasoning must be based on the senses, and so they argue, in their confusion, that therefore nothing can be known. These men speak falsely, for those who say that nothing can be known admit that they themselves know nothing. With such men you cannot argue, for they fail to use their head, and they might just as well be thinking with their feet.
Consider what these men are saying to you, and ask them this question: “Since you are trying to tell me that there is no truth in anything, how do you know what “true” and “false” really are? What is it that in your own mind has produced your knowledge of the true and false?”
As you think about this question, you will find that all you can know about what is true comes from the faculties that Nature gave you. When you see this, you will see that the senses cannot be refuted by any argument which is not based on the senses. Anything which might claim to be able to refute the senses must be more reliable than the senses. But what can fairly be accounted to be of higher certainty than the senses?
The Men of Religion will claim that their gods have revealed to them holy words that are higher than the senses. The Men of Logic will claim that their logic has allowed them access to ideal concepts that are higher than the senses. But neither of these Men of the Crowd can provide you any evidence from the senses to support their claims.
Can logic which is not based on the evidence of the senses contradict the senses? No – all true reasoning relies on the senses for verification. If the senses are unreliable, as the Men of the Crowd say, then their logic is also unreliable, as all reasoning based on unreliable things is also unreliable.
Can you rely on one sense to refute another? Can the ears contradict the eyes, or can the sense of touch contradict the ears? Can the sense of taste question the sense of touch, or the sense of smell question the eyes? No – each sense has its own distinct office, each its own power, and each rules in its own domain. No sense can contradict another, nor is any one sensation less trustworthy than another. The senses do not add their own opinion to what they report, so a sense is entitled to equal confidence at all times.
Because the senses report to us faithfully what they perceive, without adding opinion, Epicurus showed us that whatever a sense perceives to be true must be considered to be truly reported. Now this does not mean, of course, that a single sensation can reveal to us all the facts of a matter at any particular moment, regardless of the circumstances. A stick immersed in water is not really bent, even though it appears that way. The true meaning of Epicurus’ insight is that the way we check the straightness of the stick is to look at it again, this time when the stick is lifted from the water. Thus the sense of sight is our means for checking the things that we see, just as we check the things that we hear by listening again and again until the evidence is clear.
Epicurus taught us to deal in the same way with other illusions, such as the tower at a distance that appears round, but which on closer inspection appears square. When such illusions occur, evidence can appear to conflict, and we are sometimes unable explain the reason for the difference in observations. In those cases, we must acknowledge to ourselves that the difference exists, but the reason is unknown, and we must “wait” before we pronounce any conclusion. We must not jump to a conclusion that is arbitrary and not supported by the evidence, but even more, we must not let lack of knowledge of the difference shake our confidence in the senses.
The senses are the foundation of all knowledge of truth, and if we lose our confidence in senses, and in the truths they have established, we undermine the entire foundation of our life and our existence. Not only would we then lose the foundation for all reason, but we would then lose our very ability to live. We would be like those who, failing to use their eyes to see the cliff in front of them, step off to their deaths.
Again and again we will repeat this: we must always have the courage, and the nerve, to trust the senses.
All this would seem too simple, and too clear to cause any concern, but be warned: the Men of the Crowd will confront you with a host of words and arguments, all for the purpose of undermining your confidence in your senses.
As you consider the arguments of the Men of the Crowd, always remember this: If you were erecting a building, and your ruler was bent, your square edge was curved, and your level was tilted, there is no doubt but that all your construction would be faulty, crooked, without symmetry, and likely to fall at any time – ruined by the erroneous measurements of the false tools. In the same way, all arguments and reasoning that is based on any tools other than the faculties provided us by Nature will be distorted and false.
Now let us examine some of the most frequent arguments of the Men of the Crowd.
The Men of the Crowd argue that reasoning according to the senses is unreliable because the senses are not able to perceive the truth of the ideal concepts. By this they mean, as did Plato with his parable of the cave, and all who have come after him using similar arguments, that their gods or their logic are the real source of ultimate truth. They argue, for example, that some rich men are good, and some rich men are bad, and thus nothing can be determined about the goodness of a man by seeing that he is rich. So they say that the only way to tell whether a rich man is good is to compare him to their ideal concept of a good man, which the senses alone can never reveal.
In fact, the Men of the Crowd argue that we who reason based on the senses are in fact using their same ideal concepts. They say that whenever we judge that, “since men which our senses have revealed to us have been mortal, all men are mortal,” what we are doing is nothing more than referring to an ideal concept, and assuming that men we meet in the future will match the ideal concept the same as those we have previously seen. The Men of the Crowd allege that mortality is a part of the ideal concept of being a man, which has been established by the gods, or by their ideal forms. The Men of Religion say, “It is by the will of Zeus, and not because all men in our experience are mortal, that any new race we encounter will also be mortal,” and by this they mean that their god has established the ideal concept of what it means to be a man. The Men of Logic say that men are proved to be mortal by stating the conclusion as a syllogism, in which all their definitions are consistent with their ideal concepts. Both of these arguments of the Men of the Crowd ignore they evidence of the senses, and they are wrong.
As Epicurus has shown us, nothing exists in the universe except bodies and space. We conclude that bodies exist because it is the experience of all men, through our senses, that bodies exist. As we have already said, we must necessarily judge all things, even those things that the senses cannot perceive, by reasoning that is fully in accord with the evidence that the senses do perceive. We conclude that space exists because, if it did not, bodies would have nowhere to exist and nothing through which to move, as we see that bodies do move. Besides these two, bodies and space, and properties that are incidental to combinations of bodies and space, nothing else whatsoever exists, nor is there any evidence on which to speculate that anything else exists that does not have a foundation in bodies and space. Thus we conclude that there is no evidence whatsoever for any world of ideal concepts, or higher forms, in which exist the imaginary creations of the Men of Logic or the Men of Religion.
In addition, we know that in any world that does exist, the ultimate particles of the universe are in continual motion through all eternity. Some travel for long distances, while others bound and rebound in their movements because they are interlaced with others around them. We conclude this because the space around the particles offers them no resistance, and as the universe is boundless in all directions, there is no place for the particles to come to rest. Thus there is no quarter of the universe where ideal concepts could exist, unchanging, for eternity.
Those who say that truth must be found in ideal concepts are also wrong because they do not understand that qualities of bodies have no separate existence of their own, and they fail to see that the various qualities held by bodies, such as color, are different from the qualities of the particles that make up the body. For example, when particles of gold come together to form a body of gold visible to our sight, the body of gold appears to be a shade of yellow in color. Were we to observe the lump in the dark, however, we would see that the body of gold is colorless, and thus the color of the gold is incidental to its coming together in a body and the circumstances under which we view it.
We must not suppose that these qualities are independent existences with their own material parts or nature. But it is equally wrong to consider these qualities as not having any existence at all, or that they have some kind of incorporeal existence such as to exist as an ideal concept. The truth is that qualities of particles are unchanging over time, and qualities of bodies remain the same only for a time and under certain conditions, but in both cases, qualities are not separate existences which have been brought together from outside to form the body. It is through qualities that a body has its identity, but the quality itself does not exist apart from the particles and the bodies involved, so the qualities themselves have no separate existence which can be defined as ideal concepts. Thus there is, for example, no ideal concept of the color “blue,” any more than there is an ideal concept of a good man, or of “the good” itself.
The truth is that we must at all times use the faculties given us by Nature, observe the world around us, and decide what to choose and what to avoid based on the guidance of Nature, not by looking to ideal concepts for the answers to our questions. As Epicurus showed us, that which creates the highest pleasure in human life is the complete removal of the greatest pain. And such is the nature of what we call good, if one can once grasp it rightly, and then hold by it, and not walk about babbling idly about an ideal concept of the good.
Further, the Men of the Crowd argue that reasoning based only on the senses would require us to believe that all things are everywhere the same. For example, they say that reasoning based only on the senses would lead us to think that since we have found figs in our own country, figs exist everywhere in the world. They argue that the senses would also lead us to conclude that, because all types of plants do not exist here in our country, we should conclude that they do not exist anywhere. They argue that a method of thinking which reaches such conclusions is totally untrustworthy.
But we do not suppose that things are always the same! Whenever we sense that there is an iota or breath of evidence that circumstances are different, we honor that evidence, and we do not presume that new things will be the same as before.
Yes, we confidently look to experience as the basis for our reasoning. We see that all men die if they are beheaded, and they do not grow new heads, and so we conclude that all men everywhere who are decapitated will die. But no, we do not conclude that, because we see figs in our own fields, figs exist everywhere. The difference is that experience shows us that men are necessarily like men in respect to losing their heads, even in places we have not traveled. But plants are not the same, even in the same region and family, and often differ from one another in odor, color, form, size, and other characteristics. Thus we do not conclude that the same plants can exist everywhere.
In all cases we look for the similarities and differences that are involved. When we see differences we do not say that since hair and fingernails which are plucked out are seen to return and grow again, that eyeballs and heads may also do the same.
The Men of the Crowd also argue that reasoning cannot rely on the senses because some things are unique, and with unique things the senses have nothing to which to compare. For example, there is only one kind of stone that attracts iron, called a magnet, and only one kind of rectangle which has a perimeter equal to its area, called a square. The Men of the Crowd argue that because these unique things exist, cannot reveal to us how many other unique things might. Thus the Men of the Crowd argue that experience is not a sufficient basis to find the truth. They argue that even though all men in our experience whose hearts have been pierced have died, we cannot conclude that by necessity all men will die if their hearts are pierced. They argue that there are many unique men, such as the man in Alexandria who was half a cubit high, with a colossal head that could be beaten with a hammer. There was the person in Epidaurus who was a woman when he was married, and then later became a man. And there were pygmies shown in Acoris which were similar to those which Antony brought from Syria. The Men of the Crowd say that if all these men exist as exceptions to our general experience of men, does this not show that what we think to be common about men may not be common at all, and that experience is useless?
The truth is that no Epicurean denies that unique things exist, and method of reasoning based on the senses does not lose its validity because only one type of stone attracts iron. There is only one sun and one moon in our world; and there are unique attributes in every type of object. If a stone existed that was identical with a magnet, but it did not attract iron, then reasoning based on the senses would be undermined. But this does not happen! Among the many different types of stones, magnets have a unique quality that is evident to the senses. Likewise, the fact that a square is the only rectangle having a perimeter equal to its area does not undermine the senses. All squares tested by trial show this same distinction, and anyone who would deny this distinction would contradict the senses. When we follow the evidence that all squares in our experience have a perimeter equal to their area, we are justified in reasoning that all squares in the infinite universe have the same characteristic. This is because it is inconceivable that any square is different in that regard from those we have experienced.
Unique cases do not undercut reasoning based on the senses, because we pay attention to both similarities and differences, and we look to the substances, powers, attributes, dispositions, and numbers as the circumstances require. In some cases we dismiss many differences in things that are otherwise alike, and in some cases we dismiss few of these differences. Reasoning in this way, we judge that men everywhere are mortal, but that they are different in other respects. We confidently judge that there will not be a peculiarity of some kind such that a some men may be immortal, just as we conclude that we will never see any finite object which is not bounded by some other object. It is from our observations, not based on ideal concepts, that we confirm our conclusion that certain objects have certain qualities. Likewise, we conclude that no animal could reason on higher things, since animals are without reason. So we refer to men as mortal due to our having observed their quality of mortality, just as we refer to numerals as numbers because we observe their quality of being composed of units.
On the other hand, the soul is a unique thing, different from every other object, as is time itself. We acknowledge this uniqueness, so why should we consider unique things to be a barrier to our reasoning? Indeed, anyone looking at the manifold variety of things in our experience will judge also that similar variety exists among unperceived objects. Thus whether we deal with things that are identical, or merely similar, we reason appropriately based on the case. We look for the similarities and differences in the things that we observe, and we are corrected in our reasoning by the facts of the individual case.
Whether we are speaking in terms of universal propositions, or simply probabilities, both are derived from the evidence of the senses. It is by our senses that we establish when circumstances and relationships are important. In the case of drugs, for example, we have observed that some are deadly poison, some are purgatives, and some have other powers. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that there is great variation in whether a thing is nourishing. And so based on our experience, we do not admit that there are men who eat hay, easily digest it, and are nourished. Be warned that the Men of the Crowd often fabricate things according to their opinions, and create false records of the past. But in this they accomplish nothing, because anyone who misrepresents the evidence destroys the entire basis of reasoning by any method.
In respect to what food men can eat, the same principle applies. We reason by observing what follows necessarily from circumstances, be they common or unique. One who relies on the senses will not question the fact that it is the nature of the moon to wax and to wane, and it is the nature of men to die. On the other hand, not in every case should a thing be denied, even though much experience would lead us to deny it. Sometimes the evidence happens to come from qualities that are all incidental, and even though a large amount of incidental evidence has been gathered, the matter is still not established with certainty. An example of this is in regard to food, for no one affirms confidently that if a thing is similar to food in odor, color, and taste, it is nourishing. Many objects have incidental qualities that make them similar in appearance, color, and even taste to nourishing food, but in many cases they are not nourishing at all.
The Men of the Crowd go even further, and say that we Epicureans are inconsistent in how we reason based on the senses. They say that since all objects which we have seen in the past appear to have color, we should conclude that the atoms themselves must have color. They also say that since all bodies we have ever seen can be destroyed, we should conclude that the atoms themselves can be destroyed. They say that we are inconsistent when we conclude that atoms have no color, and that atoms cannot be destroyed. What they do not see is that we reach these conclusions based on the most firm of reasoning. Were we to conclude that atoms have color, or that atoms can be destroyed, we would in so doing be repudiating the truth that we have previously established through the senses.
When the Men of the Crowd accuse us of inconsistency, remember that their arguments in themselves, without evidence, have no weight against the probability of our doctrine. We do not in any way contradict ourselves so long as we have the evidence of the senses to confirm our statements. Indeed, we know that the gods and the first elements of things are indestructible and uncreated, not by argument alone, but because this is a condition of their being such as they are by reasoning from the senses. In the same way, living creatures are those that in our experience are nourished by certain food, and are born, and possess similar qualities, and by these characteristics we know them to be living creatures.
And the Men of the Crowd also ask us, “What kind of evidence from the senses are we to rely upon? Are we to judge men only by other men? What about judging men by looking to animals? Why should we judge living things only according to living things? Why should we not start with our ideal concepts, and judge men and animals based on those? What degree of similarity between things do we require before we can apply analogy to new things? Do not tell us that things must be identical before we can reason based on the similarity, for that would be ridiculous. If the thing we are attempting to judge is identical with the thing we already perceive, then no judgment is necessary, as they are obviously the same. So the Men of the Crowd argue that reasoning based on the senses can never be conclusive. They say we will always be comparing one thing to something else, in an infinite chain, never reaching anything final. And they say that the only way to establish the true nature of anything is by referring to ideal concepts, as those alone have certainty, by definition!
And the Men of the Crowd even argue that they can use our reasoning against us. They say that unless Epicureans are similar to those types of men they have already experienced, they shall deny that Epicureans exist, for they shall deny that they have ever seen an Epicurean by which they might recognize one! Not only that, they say that unless we define an ideal concept of an Epicurean, we will ourselves have no way to recognize each other!
Here again the Men of the Crowd fail to see that when we reason based on the senses, we search out similarities and differences carefully. We do not base our conclusions on evidence that has arisen incidentally, changing according to time or circumstance.
For example, we conclude that bodies, which are combinations of elements and void, are destructible. This is not because they are composed of elements, which we know cannot be destroyed, but because they are in part composed of void, which has no attribute but empty space. This is a conclusion that does not change according to time or place. On the other hand, we observe that bodies have color, not because they are elements, which we know do not have color, but because we observe color. We see that bodies in the dark have no color, and thus we know that color arises according to circumstance. Even in the dark, however, bodies retain their weight and shape. Therefore we do not reason from incidental qualities such as color to draw conclusions concerning all bodies. Instead, when we draw conclusions about all bodies, we look to similarities that remain the same under similar conditions, such as lightness and heaviness, which provide a proper basis of confidence for the use of analogy.
Thus as we reason we look to matters that appear most closely related and as similar as possible. We should not be over-broad in choosing what things are similar; we must look to those qualities which correspond most closely. Thus the most reliable conclusions come from observing men whose qualities are especially similar to each other, and from those qualities that follow the whole class of men, while we always watch for differences that would incline us the slightest bit to the contrary. Thus when we seek to identify Epicureans, we reason about Epicureans based on those men that are most like them, as we would for any class of things. And as we reason, we reach our conclusions about Epicureans just as we always reason, based on analogy to what we have perceived previously through the senses, not by looking to the non-existent ideal concepts of the Men of the Crowd.
The Men of the Crowd also argue that we are being illogical in referring to probabilities based on evidence we have observed in the past. When we say that it will probably be safe to sail in the summer, since past experience has shown that favorable winds occur in that season, they say that referring to probability is pointless. They refer us to our rule that a matter should be held to be true where evidence supports it, and where no evidence contradicts it. They say that if our method were valid, we ought to be certain that it will in fact be safe to sail in the summer. They say that, in fact, referring to the gods or to ideal concepts is the only reliable method for deciding anything with certainty.
The answer to these men, of course, is that there is a proper method for reasoning according to the senses. One who follows our method will not fail to see that we are justified in holding a conclusion to be true even if the similarity exists only in a large number of cases, so long as there is no evidence that contradicts the conclusion.
And so we shall continually, and always, say in defense of the senses: if reasoning based on the senses is not valid, then reasoning based on ideal concepts cannot possibly be valid either!
The Men of the Crowd also claim that so-called “indications,” by which they mean circumstances that tend to give evidence of other things, such as smoke indicating the presence of fire, cannot be trusted when they are based only on the senses, and that only indications based on ideal concepts are certain. The truth is that whenever an indication is always true, the evidence that it is true comes from the senses, and not from the claim that the indication represents a word of god, or an ideal concept. Only the senses can tell us whether a thing is conceivable or not, just as only the senses can tell us that it is impossible that Epicurus is a man and Metrodorus not a man.
Consider the argument, “If there is motion, there is void.” We cannot establish the truth of this other than by referring to the senses. We do so by proving that, by experience, we have seen that it is impossible for a thing to move without an empty space into which to move. We therefore establish, by observation, the conditions which are necessary for a thing to move in our experience. We then conclude, by analogy, that these same conditions are necessary in every case for motion to occur, as it is impossible for motion to occur without empty space. If our method of observation is not sufficient to establish this, surely any attempt to look to ideal concepts cannot possibly establish it either.
Even where the available evidence is not sufficient for us to claim certainty, reasoning according to the senses is more reliable than reasoning according to ideal concepts. Therefore we hold even unique objects should be judged as they are revealed to us by our senses. And it is for this reason that so much time is spent on discussion of the size of the sun. The Men of the Crowd argue that they can prove mathematically that the Sun is much larger than it appears to our senses, so we should accept this as evidence that reasoning through mathematics and logic is superior to reasoning based on the senses.
Our answer to this is that the sun is unique, and we observe conflicting evidence about it, so we must wait before claiming that the size of the sun is certain. We know that, in general, things seen at a distance lose their color, move slowly, and appear less distinct. The sun, however, is seen at a distance, but has a contrary appearance. The sun has color, it moves quickly, and it appears sharp and bright, even though it is far away. Thus the sun differs from all objects in our experience, just as the magnet differs from all other stones in being the only stone which attracts iron.
In arguing that the sun is certainly huge, Men of Logic set up a formula. They argue that:
“All objects in our experience that reappear slowly from behind objects that eclipse them have this character either because they move slowly, or because they are very large.
“Since the sun reappears slowly, it must necessarily have one of these two characteristics.
“But it does not move slowly, since it completes the path from sunrise to sunset in twelve hours, passing through a very great distance; and therefore it must be very large.”
The Men of Logic say that this shows the superiority of reasoning based on logic rather than on the senses. They presume that the correct cause for the sun reappearing slowly is that it is very large. But in fact this argument, even if true, is based on the evidence of the senses in suggesting size as the cause. They have not in fact proved that some other cause might not account for what we observe about the sun, any more than that they have proved, from the fact that only magnets attract iron, that reasoning based on the senses is not valid.
The Men of the Crowd cannot refute reasoning based on the senses by logic alone! In response to every argument against the senses, we justifiably reply that all proof of the truth comes from the senses, and not from logic using ideal concepts which cannot be verified by the senses.
Indeed, the arguments of the Men of the Crowd are easily dissolved if we examine them closely. The Men of the Crowd say that they can reason by syllogisms and formulas. They say that to prove a statement like, “If item A is true, then item B is true,” it is only necessary to rearrange the words to say that “if item B is not true, then item A is not true.” But it does not follow that rearranging the words of a proposition to deny its opposite proves anything. The correctness of a conclusion depends only on the facts which are incorporated into that conclusion.
For example, consider the proposition, “Plato is a man, and Socrates is a man.” The Men of Logic say that if this is true, it is true also that, “If Socrates is not a man, neither is Plato a man.” But the truth of this is not established by denying Socrates and Plato along with him. This statement is true because it is inconceivable for Socrates not to be a man and Plato to be a man. All true proof is derived from the evidence of the senses, and playing games with words proves nothing that is not proved by the senses.
The Men of the Crowd also argue that the senses cannot conclude anything about that which cannot be perceived. They say that if we were to try to include all the evidence, the task would be impossible, and that if we choose only part of the evidence, we cannot reach a conclusion based on limited samples. They also say that since we observe variations in atmosphere, food, and natural constitution that effects how long men live, why might there not also be other variations about which we are not aware? They say that we cannot reason based only on things that appear identical, as that would vary only by number, and we cannot reason based on things that are not alike, because of those very differences!
What the Men of the Crowd are saying is that the object we are considering, but cannot perceive, may itself have certain peculiarities that are not present in the objects to which we are comparing it. They say that since the object may in fact not be at all like what we are used to, it is not proper for us to make a judgment about it based only on the senses. For example, they argue that because some people digest goat meat more easily than other food which would appear more digestible, this is evidence that food has no consistent nature by which we can judge. From this they argue that since we see that all men are mortal, we should hold that the gods are mortal, and since we see that all bodies are created and destroyed, we should hold that the elements are likewise created and destructible.
The Men of the Crowd are wrong, Bromius shows us, because it is wrong to consider that all evidence is faithful to all the facts, and we cannot rely on incidental similarities in judging what things are always true. In determining truth we seek as much as evidence as possible, both consistent evidence and inconsistent evidence, and not only from our own observation, but from the observation of as many men as possible through history. From this, our task is to consider what qualities are inseparable about the things we are observing, and from these observations draw conclusions about all the others. For example, if men are found to differ in all respects except one, and in that respect all men are the same, why shall we not say confidently, on the basis of the evidence that we and other men have observed throughout history, that all men are mortal? When we have established this conclusion based on the evidence, and when we have observed no evidence that conflicts, we shall conclude with confidence that men who say that men were formerly immortal are stating a falsehood.
And so our conclusions reached in this way are not shaken by observing differing circumstances, for in fact by observing these differing circumstances, we confirm the variations which first called our attention to the differences. And if the Men of the Crowd remain stubborn, we can ask them, if necessary, on what ground, and from what starting-point, do they ever object to any conclusion, or consider any investigation to be futile? What other principle of proof is higher than observing that an object which cannot be sensed in any way is inconceivable? No matter what the circumstances of the atmosphere, or any difference of any kind, we shall make the same argument. We do not reject the evidence of the differences, but incorporate it! And we ourselves reject those who are so stubborn as to question whether there are not in fact men made of iron who can walk through walls, as we walk through air – the proof is that such things are inconceivable!
And the Men of the Crowd are also wrong when they say that we cannot draw conclusions from objects which are identical. Even identical objects may appear different when there is some difference in the circumstances that accompany them. Taking identical objects as they are perceived by the senses, we reason about the differences in the way we perceived them, according to the evidence of the senses. At other times we reason based on objects that are different from one another, but they share similar appearances. For example, some attributes are peculiar to men alone, and some attributes are shared with the gods. Thus we use the evidence of the senses about all living beings we observe. We observe that only man in our experience is capable of higher thought, and we reason that gods possess higher thought as well, as we observe nothing that prevents gods being similar to men in that respect. For a god cannot be conceived apart from thought; and even though gods are not created, yet gods are composed of soul and body, and are therefore living creatures.
So it is not necessary for us to refer to ideal concepts when we reason that all men must be mortal. Nor is it necessary for us to look to construct a syllogism, and set forth a denial to complete the syllogism. It is by reasoning based on the senses that we confidently affirm that all men are mortal. Since the attribute of mortality is common to all men in our experience, we shall judge in every case that it is an attribute of all men everywhere, and thus we confirm by reasoning on the senses that all men are similar in this way.
As for the argument that we ignore the possibility of differences that we cannot perceive, we say that we do not ignore differences when there is any reason to suppose them. For example, it is possible for us to draw conclusions about the universal nature of fire. We observe that some combustible materials are ignited by drought or friction or lightning, but not in other ways. We also observe that some fires differ in respect to length of time they burn, and in how easily they are quenched, and in how bright they are. Proper reasoning requires us to identify which differences are unique, and which properties are common, in order to evaluate the nature of fire. This is the same process we apply to other things.
Whenever we reason from the proposition, “Men in our experience are mortal,” to the proposition, “Men everywhere are mortal,” we do not presuppose anything about an ideal concept of men or mortality. We reason based on the fact that all of the multitudes of men in our experience are similar in being mortal, and we conclude that all men universally are mortal because no evidence opposes this conclusion, or draws us a step toward the view that men can be immortal. Thus we appeal to the similarity that we have observed through our senses, and seeing no evidence to the contrary, we confidently declare that, in respect to morality, the men about whom we have no experience are similar to those about whom we do.
When we reason, based on experience, that all men everywhere are mortal, we make this judgment by analogy, based on the senses. We look to the fact that all men who lived in the past according to history, and all men we have observed ourselves, have all been mortal, without exception. The Men of the Crowd, who claim to reason based on ideal concepts, can provide no such confirmation. We do not at all say that Acrothoites are short-lived because men in our experience are short-lived. We acknowledge that some Acrothoites may die young and some may live to an old age, because we observe that men in our own experience differ greatly in how long they live.
The arguments of the Men of the Crowd we have covered so far are as they have been preserved for us by Bromius and Zeno. Let us now follow the example of Demetrius, and view in summary the errors that pervade all of these arguments.
First, the Men of the Crowd fail to see the fatal flaw of their logical method. It is not simply because they can construct a logical formula, in which they set their own definitions so that when a proposition is reversed, the thing is proved to be true. The proof that a thing exists comes from the senses, and the proof that a thing does not exist only comes because the thing cannot possibly be conceived according to the senses.
When the Men of the Crowd construct their syllogisms, the conclusions they reach are not tested by reversing the syllogism, but by looking to the senses. Those who use dialectical reasoning do not know that they are shamefully refuting themselves, for the arguments that they devise to refute the senses merely contribute to the confirmation of our method. When they say that we are being illogical to presume that all creatures are destructible because those in our experience are destructible, and they argue that similar objects can differ from each other according to circumstances like atmospheric condition, they are themselves using the senses to make their judgments. And when they say that the existence of unique cases means that the things we cannot perceive may also be unique, they are again using the method of looking to the senses for their unique examples. In all such cases, the arguments of the Men of the Crowd refute themselves.
Second, the Men of the Crowd fail to see that true reasoning by the senses does not ground its conclusions on observation of incidental matters that change with circumstance. True reasoning is grounded in observation of matters that are constantly similar. For example, we reason that no incidental observations can lead us to a conclusion that conflicts with the elemental nature of the atoms.
Third, the Men of the Crowd fail to see that it is the senses themselves establish that some things are unique, such as certain stones and certain numbers. Our observation of these unique qualities does not in any way undermine our method of reasoning, but on the contrary strengthens it.
Fourth, the Men of the Crowd fail to see that we do not reach our conclusions by reasoning indiscriminately from all things in our experience to the unknown. True reasoning evaluates and tests evidence in every way, observing whether there is even the slightest evidence to the contrary, before reaching a conclusion. In fact, errors made by our method of relying on the senses are themselves corrected by the senses. Indeed, if anyone starting with the experience of Athens says that all men are white, or starting from the experience of the Ethiopians says that all men are black, or that everywhere the sundial shows no shadow at the summer solstice, will not this argument be proven wrong by the senses? The man who makes wrong conclusions such as these has failed because he has observed the evidence incorrectly, and it is by the further observation through the senses that he corrects his error.
Fifth, the Men of the Crowd fail to see that there is no other means of reasoning about those things that cannot be perceived other than reasoning based on the senses. Even where we find no consistent evidence to observe, one who reasons as we do admits this inconsistency, as we have discussed. Those who say that ideal concepts are tested by the senses say virtually the same thing that we do, but they create the suspicion by their teaching that there are two methods of reasoning, and that their method is a valid alternative to the senses. Such men agree with us that inconceivability is a proof of their formulas, but since they argue that reasoning based on syllogisms is as valid as reasoning based on the senses, they are completely wrong. The Men of the Crowd fail to see that their method leaves them without a reliable means of reasoning. When they agree with us that all men are mortal, and that Centaurs and Pans and such imaginary monsters do not exist, they do not confirm these conclusions in any way other than by reference to the analogies of the senses. They do not see that if analogy based on the senses is not a valid method, they have no ground for their own views.
Sixth, the Men of the Crowd ignore the fact that we do not say that all things, but only things that are similar, provide reliable evidence as we reason by analogy from the senses. And as they construct their syllogisms, they fail to see that they must look to the senses to determine what kinds of similarity are present. And what is more, they must look again to the senses to establish the denials they construct for their syllogisms.
Seventh, the Men of the Crowd ignore the fact that true reason is not based only on our own observations, but also on the observations of others. Do those men who have never been to Crete and Sicily doubt that they are islands? A conclusion grounded in the senses is valid only when there is no evidence that conflicts with the conclusion, and men who would argue that Crete and Sicily are not islands are ignoring the observations of other men. The Men of the Crowd thus are wrong when they think that, by bringing forward a few dissimilar cases that conflict with things we know about ourselves, they have refuted our whole method.
Eighth, the Men of the Crowd ignore the fact that reasoning according to the senses about unperceived objects requires us to observe the variety of differences in perceived objects, and to check to be sure that there is no conflicting evidence. Proper reasoning requires us to view it as impossible that the nature of things should be inconsistent with what we observe. It is on reasoning such as this, starting with the observation that no matter is ever created or destroyed, that we reach the proper conclusion that the universe, as a whole, was never created at a single point in time.
Ninth, the Men of the Crowd fail to see that there are valid means of connecting observations other than necessity. The Men of the Crowd say that if the connection is not stated as a matter of necessity, the argument will be inconclusive, and that necessity is revealed only through ideal concepts. But we Epicureans take a thing to be connected with another by the fact that the connection has been observed in all cases that we have come upon by experience. According to this method, we say that man, in so far as he is man, is mortal, on the ground that we have examined systematically many diverse men, and we have found no variation in respect to this characteristic, and no evidence to the contrary. Thus we reach the conclusion based on observation, rather than on necessity, that one thing does not occur without the other.
Tenth, the Men of the Crowd often invent peculiar and impossible arguments to support their opinions. They seize upon the mythical inventions of some poets and religious myths, while at the same time they discard others, and they accuse each other of forgery. In this way, Men of the Crowd try to strengthen their own beliefs, and discredit others. But he who has devoted himself to the accurate use of the senses, and to the study of the faculties that Nature has given us, differs entirely from the Men of the Crowd, and always insists that the evidence be considered honestly.
And so now we have considered what those of the Epicurean school who have spent the most time in this study have preserved for us. What some of the other Men of the Crowd have said, and have written about the Epicurean method, we shall take note of later, if we have the stomach for it, and if nothing more important hinders us.
But for now we have no more time for the word games of the Men of the Crowd. Subtle masters of dialectic that they are, let us ask them for advice on subjects that really matter, such as how men should be happy, and on how we should make friends. Let us not look to them for arguments as to how many ways the word “friend” is used, and how many meanings the word “man” possesses.
The Men of the Crowd would have us believe that if we hold pleasure to be the goal of life, as Epicurus showed us that it is, then all friendship will cease to exist.
But the Men of the Crowd are wrong. Epicurus has shown us that friendship can in no way be separated from pleasure, because a solitary, friendless life must be beset by secret dangers and alarms. Hence reason itself advises the acquisition of friends. The possession of friends gives confidence, and a firmly grounded 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, both for 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 happiness in life without friendship, nor yet to preserve friendship itself, unless we love our friends as much as ourselves. 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 will exert himself as much for his friend’s pleasure as he would for his own.
The Men of the Crowd would also have us believe that Virtue, rather than pleasure, is the goal of life.
On the other hand, Epicurus has shown us that those who place the Chief Good in virtue alone are beguiled by the glamour of a name, and do not understand the true demands of Nature. The Men of the Crowd love to wax poetic on the transcendent beauty of the virtues. But were they not productive of pleasure, who would deem the virtues to be either praiseworthy or desirable? We esteem the art of medicine not for its interest as a science, but for its conduciveness to health. The art of navigation is commended for its practical and not its abstract value, because it conveys the rules for sailing a ship with success. So also wisdom, which must be considered as the art of living, if it effected no result, would not be desired. But as it is, wisdom is desired, because it is the artificer that procures and produces pleasure. Thus the virtues, on which the Men of the Crowd love to expound so eloquently, has, in the last resort, no meaning unless it is based on pleasure. And because pleasure is the only thing that is intrinsically attractive and alluring, it cannot be doubted that pleasure is the goal of life, and that a life of happiness is nothing else than a life of pleasure.
So look there! These positions on the goal of life are opposite, and one side is wise and the other one folly. Which shall you join? Which party would the Men of the Crowd have you follow? On the one side, the Men of Logic say that the word “friend” can be defined with precision as an ideal concept, but that it is not possible to tell by looking whether a particular man is your friend. On the other side, the Men of Nature say to judge a friend by looking to whether the men in question act to their mutual advantage. In response, the Men of Logic will tell you that friendship grounded in advantage will destroy the ideal concept of friendship.
What the Men of the Crowd offer through their subtle logic is nothing but distortion of words, and splitting of syllables.
Be not one of those who is caught in their trap. For the Men of Logic say that unless you can devise some tricky premises, and by logical deduction tack on to them some fallacy which springs from the truth, you will not be able to distinguish between what things to choose, and which to avoid!
Such men should be ashamed! Adults, as they are, dealing with problems so serious, yet making a game out of it!
The Men of Logic would have you to reason according to formulas. They would say to you that the word ‘mouse’ is a syllable. Now a mouse eats its cheese; therefore, a syllable eats cheese.
Suppose now that you cannot solve this dialectic problem. See what peril hangs over your head as a result of such ignorance! What a scrape you will be in! Without doubt you must beware, or some day you shall be catching syllables in a mousetrap, or, if you grow careless, a book may devour your cheese!
That is, unless the Men of Logic offer to come to your assistance, and bless you with the following syllogism, which is shrewder still: ‘Mouse’ is a syllable. Now a syllable does not eat cheese. Therefore a mouse does not eat cheese.
What childish nonsense! Do we knit our brows over this sort of problem? Do we let our beards grow long for this reason? Is this the manner of thinking which we teach with such serious and sour faces?
Would you really know what wisdom offers to humanity? Wisdom offers counsel. Death calls away one man, and poverty sorrows another; a third is worried by comparing his neighbor’s wealth to his own. One man is afraid of bad luck; another desires to get away from his own good fortune. Some men are mistreated by other men, some men think they are mistreated by the gods.
Why, then, do the Men of Logic frame for us word games as these? The great issues of life are no occasion for jest. You are retained as counsel for unhappy men, the sick and the needy, and those whose heads are under the poised ax. Where, and why, are you straying? What are you doing?
This friend, in whose company you are joking, is in fear. Help him, and take the noose from about his neck. Men are stretching out imploring hands to you on all sides. Men whose lives are ruined, or in danger of ruin, are begging for assistance. Men’s hopes, men’s resources, depend upon you.
Men ask that you deliver them from their restlessness, that you reveal to them, scattered and wandering as they are, the clear light of truth. Tell them what things Nature has made necessary, and what things are unnecessary. Tell them how simple are the laws that Nature has laid down, how pleasant and unimpeded life is for those who follow her laws, but how bitter and perplexed it is for those who have put their trust in Logic, and Opinion, rather than in Nature.
We would deem the games of logic to be of some avail in relieving men’s burdens if the Men of Logic could first show us what part of these burdens they will relieve. What among these games of logic banishes lust? Or controls it? Would that we could say that these word games were merely of no help at all! They are positively harmful!
What is perfectly clear is that a noble spirit, when involved in such subtle games of logic, is impaired and weakened.
We should be ashamed to say what weapons the Men of the Crowd supply to those who are destined to go to war with fortune, and how poorly they equip them! Is this the path to their so-called greatest good? Is philosophy to proceed by such claptrap, and by such quibbles, which would be a disgrace and a reproach even for the lowest of the lawyers?
For what else is it that the Men of Logic are doing, when they deliberately ensnare the person to whom they are putting questions, other than acting the part of the deceitful lawyer, making it appear that their victim has lost his case on a technical error?
But just as the judge in a court can reinstate those who have lost a lawsuit due to trickery, so philosophy can reinstate the victims of quibbling to their former condition.
Why do we see the Men of Logic fail to attain their mighty promises? Have they not assured us in high-sounding language that they will permit neither the glitter of gold nor the gleam of the sword to dazzle their eyesight? Have they not assured us that they will, with mighty steadfastness, spurn both that which all men crave and that which all men fear? Why do the Men of Logic descend to the foolish rhymes of schoolteachers? What is their answer? Is what they offer as their path to heaven? For that is exactly what true philosophy promises to us, that we shall be made equal to the gods!
It is to a life of wisdom, as a god among men, that we have been summoned! For this purpose have we come. Nature, and true philosophy, will keep their promises!
For all these reasons, then, withdraw yourself as far as possible from the syllogisms, the rationalizations, and the lies of the Men of the Crowd. It is frankness and simplicity that lead to true goodness.
Even if you are very young, and have many good years left to you, you will find the time for leisure and necessary things all too short. But no matter your age, time is precious, and what madness it is to learn superfluous things!
Theoretical logic, on which the Men of the Crowd lay such stress, Epicurus showed us to be of no assistance at all, either as a guide to conduct, or as an aid to thought. In contrast, Epicurus has shown us that the study of Nature is all-important. The study of Nature 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 the 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 study of Nature, and observing Epicurus’ Canon of Truth, that has fallen from heaven more surely than any so-called holy book, which affords us a knowledge of the universe. Only by studying the laws of Nature, and following the Epicurean canon as the test of all our judgments, can we hope 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 be confident of the validity of the perceptions of our senses. Always remember that every mental presentation has its origin in sensation, and no knowledge or perception is possible unless the sensations are reliable, as Epicurus has shown us that they are.
Those Men of the Crowd who deny the reliability of the senses, and say that nothing can be known, have excluded Nature’s test of truth, and are unable even to make their own arguments. In this way they have lost even the possibility of knowledge and science, and in so doing they have abolished all possibility of rational life and action.
In contrast, the study of Nature supplies courage to face the fear of death; and resolution to resist the terrors of religion. The study of Nature provides peace of mind, by removing all ignorance of the mysteries of Nature, and provides self-control, by explaining the classes of the desires, and allowing us to distinguish their different kinds.
In sum, then, the theory of Epicurus is more clear and more luminous than daylight itself. It is derived entirely from Nature’s sources. The entire Epicurean method relies for confirmation on the unbiased and unimpeachable evidence of the senses. 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.
Ought we then not feel the greatest gratitude to Epicurus, the man who listened to these words from Nature’s own voice, and grasped their meaning so firmly, and so fully, that he was able to guide all sane-minded men into the path of peace and happiness, of calmness and repose?
The Men of the Crowd amuse themselves by thinking that Epicurus was uneducated. The truth is that Epicurus refused to consider any education to be worthy of the name if it did not teach the means to live happily. Was Epicurus to spend his time, as the Men of the Crowd encourage the weak-minded to do, perusing the poets, and speculations of false religion, which give us nothing solid and useful, but only childish amusement? Was Epicurus to occupy himself, like Plato and Aristotle, with music and geometry, arithmetic and games of logic? These things are at best mere tools, and if they start from false premises, they can never reveal truth or contribute anything to make our lives happier, and therefore better!
Was Epicurus to study the limited arts, such as these, and neglect the master art, so difficult, but correspondingly so fruitful, the art of living? No! It was not Epicurus who was uninformed. The truly uneducated are those who ask us to go on studying, until old age, the subjects that we ought to be ashamed that we did not learn when we were children!