NOTE: As of 10/12/19, the most up-to-date version of this list is maintained within the main site at Epicureanfriends.com. This page will remain in place for reference purposes, but please refer to the main Epicureanfriends.com version for the most reliable current version.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 – 11 – 12 – 13 – 14 – 15 – 16 – 17 – 18 – 19 – 20
21 – 22 – 23 – 24 – 25 – 26 – 27 – 28 – 29 – 30 – 31 – 32 – 33 – 34 – 35 – 36 – 37 – 38 – 39 – 40
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.
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.
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 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, travelling 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 much 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 Collection 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.
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.
Vatican Collection 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.
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.
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.
15. The Natural desires are easily obtained and satisfied, but the unnatural desires can never be satisfied.
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 Collection 8: The wealth required by Nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.
Seneca, Letter XVI, On Philosophy, the Guide of Life: This also is a saying of Epicurus: “If you live according to nature, you will never be poor; if you live according to opinion, you will never be rich.” Nature’s wants are slight; the demands of opinion are boundless. Suppose that the property of many millionaires is heaped up in your possession. Assume that fortune carries you far beyond the limits of a private income, decks you with gold, clothes you in purple, and brings you to such a degree of luxury and wealth that you can bury the earth under your marble floors; that you may not only possess, but tread upon, riches. Add statues, paintings, and whatever any art has devised for the luxury; you will only learn from such things to crave still greater. Natural desires are limited; but those which spring from false opinion can have no stopping point. The false has no limits. When you are traveling on a road, there must be an end; but when astray, your wanderings are limitless. Recall your steps, therefore, from idle things, and when you would know whether that which you seek is based upon a natural or upon a misleading desire, consider whether it can stop at any definite point. If you find, after having traveled far, that there is a more distant goal always in view, you may be sure that this condition is contrary to nature.
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.
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.
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 Collection 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.
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.
Vatican Collection 12: The just man is most free from disturbance, while the unjust is full of the utmost disturbance.
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 Comment: 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.
Cicero’s Defense of Epiucurus: 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.
19. If we measure the limits of pleasure by reason, infinite and finite time both provide the opportunity for complete pleasure.
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 Collection 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.
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.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 – 11 – 12 – 13 – 14 – 15 – 16 – 17 – 18 – 19 – 20
21 – 22 – 23 – 24 – 25 – 26 – 27 – 28 – 29 – 30 – 31 – 32 – 33 – 34 – 35 – 36 – 37 – 38 – 39 – 40