The Message Of The Epicureans

Epicurus Overcame The Terror Of Religion And Showed Us How To Live According to Nature

The Teachings of Epicurus About Knowledge

  1. Knowledge Is Based On The Senses, Not on Reasoning Alone
  2. Confidence Is Built Step By Step On The Conclusions Established By The Senses

The Teachings of Epicurus About the Nature of the Universe

  1. Nothing Comes From Nothing
  2. Nothing Is Destroyed To Nothing
  3. The Universe As A Whole Has Always Existed, and Will Always Exist
  4. Nothing Has Eternal Independent Existence Except the Elemental Particles
  5. Combinations of Matter and Void Are Perishable And Do Not Last Forever
  6. All That We See Around Us Arises From The Properties And Qualities of Combinations of Particles And Space
  7. The Elemental Particles Are Constantly In Motion
  8. Elemental Particles Have the Capacity To Swerve At No Fixed Place Or Time
  9. The Universe As A Whole Is Boundless
  10. The Universe Is Populated With Life In Other Worlds
  11. In Other Worlds There Are Beings Lower and Higher That Ourselves, Some of Whom Have Attained Immortality and Perfect Happiness
  12. Although We Lack Evidence About The Things We See In The Sky, Many Natural Explanations Are Possible
  13. Knowledge of the Universe Is Gained Naturally, By Intelligent Use of the Images We Receive In the Flow of Elemental Particles
  14. The False Threat Posed By Religion

The Teachings of Epicurus About Nature's Goal For All Life

  1. Life Begins When Our Bodies Are Formed And Ends When We Die - Death Is Nothingness To Us
  2. The Goal of All Living Beings Is to Live Pleasurably
  3. Reject The Argument That Pleasure Is Not the Goal of Life Because Pleasure Has No Limit
  4. Reject The Argument That We Should Pursue Virtue Rather Than Pleasure
  5. Nature Calls All Living Beings to Pursue Pleasure Intelligently
    1. Mental Pleasure And Pain Are More Intense Than That of the Body
    2. In Pursuing Pleasure Intelligently Sometimes We Will Choose Pain
    3. "Fate" Does Not Exist - We Have Much Freedom To Choose Our Path In Life
    4. Life Is Desirable So That We May Live Pleasurably
    5. Wise Men Pursue Pleasure Through Reasoning And Not Through Chance
    6. Wise Men Live According To Their Means And Circumstances
    7. Wise Men Embrace Emotion And Do Not Seek To Suppress It
    8. Life Is Short So It Must Be Used Wisely To Maximize Happiness
    9. Store Up Good Memories To Enjoy When Times Are Bad
    10. Treasure Friendship As Essential To Happiness
  6. Treasure Freedom From the Crowd And Proclaim True Philosophy To Those Who Will Listen
  7. Reject the Argument That There Is Single Absolute Justice And A Single Way For All Men To Live
  8. Treasure Your Community Of Friends And Protect It From Those Who Would Harm You

The Epicureans' Great Commission For Life According to Nature


  1. Epicurus - Elementary Principles of Nature
  2. Epicurus - Principal Doctrines
    1. Doctrine 1
    2. Doctrine 2
    3. Doctrine 3
    4. Doctrine 4
    5. Doctrine 5
    6. Doctrine 6
    7. Doctrine 7
    8. Doctrine 8
    9. Doctrine 9
    10. Doctrine 10
    11. Doctrine 11
    12. Doctrine 12
    13. Doctrine 13
    14. Doctrine 14
    15. Doctrine 15
    16. Doctrine 16
    17. Doctrine 17
    18. Doctrine 18
    19. Doctrine 19
    20. Doctrine 20
    21. Doctrine 21
  3. Epicurus - Sayings From The "Vatican List"
  4. Epicurus - Sayings About the Wise Man
  5. Epicurus - Letter to Herodotus
  6. Epicurus - Letter to Pythocles
  7. Epicurus - Letter to Menoeceus
  8. Lucretius - On The Nature of Things
    1. 1 Lucretius
      1. Epicurus broke through the chains of religion to discover the truth about Nature
      2. Religion is the true mother of wickedness in the world.
      3. Religion oppresses men by causing them to fear punishment by the gods both in this life and in eternal hell hereafter.
      4. The remedy to the terrors of the spirit manufactured by religion is to study and uncover the true nature of the universe, for this will allow us to see that those threats are not real.
      5. The true nature of the soul is not obvious to us, so if we are to free ourselves from religious fears we must study nature. We must also see that religion is not correct when it asserts that we have eternal souls which will be punished or rewarded by gods after death.
      6. Our starting point in this study of nature is this primary observation: nothing ever comes from nothing. We observe that neither gods nor any other forces are able to create any thing from nothing.
      7. Once we see that nothing comes from nothing, we can see that all things come into being in accord with the nature of their elemental material, and that all things occur without any intervention from any gods.
      8. Our method for proving that nothing comes from nothing is the same method we use to address all questions. We must look at the evidence around us and draw deductive conclusions based on the evidence nature provides to us through our senses.
      9. We must also test conclusions by looking to see that the opposite conclusion is not supported by the evidence nature provides.
      10. Nature determines qualities of all things, and the limits and boundaries of what is possible to them, including how all things come into being, grow, and pass away.
      11. Nature also contains life-giving particles which, under certain conditions, are capable of springing to life.
      12. Our second primary observation is this: all things pass away and change back into the essential material from which they are made, but nothing is ever absolutely destroyed to nothing.
      13. If things passed away to nothing, in the eternity of time past all things would have passed away, and nothing would be left in the universe.
      14. But we see that the universe survives, and has not all passed away, and therefore we conclude that the basic material of the universe is indestructible.
      15. Do not doubt that elementary material is indestructible simply because it is too small to see. You cannot see the air or odors either, and yet you know they exist.
      16. Nature’s work is done by elementary particles so small that they are unseen. In addition to these particles, however, there is also empty space, or "void.”
      17. We know that void exists because otherwise movement would be impossible; but we see that things do move, so we know void exists.
      18. We conclude that everything in nature is made up of matter and void. Nothing exists in the universe except matter and void.
      19. Because the elementary material of the universe is eternal, the universe is itself eternal. This does not mean that the current form of the universe is eternal, because the elementary material constantly changes position, but the elementary material from which the universe is made is itself eternal.
      20. There is a limit to the divisibility of the elementary material. The smallest elementary materials are indivisible and eternal
      21. All things are not made from a single substance, but from many distinct elementary materials. Fools often admire the things their blindness sees in hidden meanings, and they follow men such as Heraclitus, who argued that all things are made from a single substance – fire.
      22. Errors about the nature of things arise because philosophers teach that the senses cannot be trusted, but all arguments against the reliability of the senses are madness. This is because such arguments are self-contradictory – they argue against the senses by using the senses, and those who use the senses must accept that they are trustworthy.
      23. Just as a limited number of letters in the alphabet form all words by being arranged differently, the elementary materials of the universe form all things by combining in different ways.
      24. There is a limit to divisibility. There is an absolute smallest.
      25. Our goal is to free the mind from the restrictions imposed by religion. Although it may seem grim to conclude that life ends at death, we will rim the cup with honey so that take the medicine that may seem bitter, but which brings healing.
      26. The universe is infinite in extent, and has no boundaries no matter how far you travel in any direction.
      27. The universe has no center.
      28. Matter and space are equally infinite.
      29. These basic lessons lead to all the rest that follows. Applying our method to all questions will lead to a series of answers which each, in turn, illuminates the next.
    2. 2 Lucretius
    3. 3 Lucretius
      1. Epicurus is like a father who has brought us immortal truths
    4. 4 Lucretius
    5. 5 Lucretius
    6. 6 Lucretius
      1. Civilization first flowered in Athens, and Athens brought to us a man – Epicurus – who discovered and brought to us the complete truth, and as a result his glory makes him seem to us almost divine
      2. Epicurus diagnosed the problem that corrupts men’s lives, and cleansed our hearts by words of truth, showing us (1) the error of greeds and fears, (2) the highest good that Nature has ordained for men, (3) the natural evils that confront the lives of men, and that they can be defeated once we learn the proper way to deal with them, and (4) that most of the anxieties we face are imaginary, no worse than the imaginings of children.
      3. Even those who otherwise understand the laws of Nature may wonder how certain things can happen, especially in the sky, and this wonder leads to confusion and to regress to superstitious religious awe
      4. Stop having thoughts unworthy of the gods, because this will harm you – not because the gods will care, but because you will fear that you are at the mercy of the gods and this will cause you great anxiety.
      5. We see that lightning is not caused by the gods because it does not occur with any consistency to punish the enemies of the gods or to accomplish anything.
      6. Snow, wind, hail and the light are understandable if you keep in mind the basic properties of the elements involved.
      7. Many natural phenomena cannot be isolated to a single cause due to lack of information, so consider all reasonable possibilities that are not eliminated by the evidence.
  9. Diogenes Laertius - Biography of Epicurus
  10. Cicero - On Ends
  11. Cicero - On The Nature of the Gods
  12. Diogenes of Oinoanda - The Inscription
  13. Philodemus - On Methods of Inference
  14. Epicurean Passages From Other Sources

Epicurus Overcame The Terror Of Religion And Showed Us How To Live According to Nature

The students of Epicurus considered him to be a father figure who had left them the most precious of gifts: a true philosophy which allowed them to understand how to live their lives. Key aspects of this philosophy were:

1. Religion is an oppressive and terrorizing weight which prevents mankind from studying and understanding the true ways of Nature.

2. Epicurus' life was devoted to the study of Nature, and this allowed him to discover the laws of Nature which determine what things are possible and what things are not possible.

3. Epicurus' study of the laws of Nature allowed him to see that the fears and anxiety which torment mankind can be fought successfully.

4. Epicurus therefore taught that in order to live successfully, we must see

A) That the desire for pleasure can be satisfied, and the fear of pain can be extinguished, if we consider our natural capacities and limits as human beings. Once we understand these capacities and limits for desire and fear, we are able to see that it is possible to achieve a life of continuous pleasure in which pleasure is maximized and pain is minimized.

B) That there is in fact a highest good toward which all should strive, and it is happiness. If happiness be present, we have everything; if happiness be absent, all our actions are directed toward attaining it.

That Nature provides to all living things a faculty of pleasure and pain by which to assess happiness. This faculty of pleasure and pain is the ultimate guide of life by which we must intelligently decide what we should choose and what we should avoid.

D) That evil in life arises by our own actions, or by force of Nature, or by chance, and not by the actions of gods.

E) That the most reliable way to maximize pleasure and at the same time to minimize pain over our lifetimes is to study and apply the lessons of Nature so that we can better decide what to choose and what to avoid.



Lucretrius Book III

THEE, who first was able amid such thick darkness to raise on high so bright a beacon and shed a light on the true interests of life, thee I follow, glory of the Greek race, and plant now my footsteps firmly fixed in thy imprinted marks, not so much from a desire to rival thee as that from the love I bear thee I yearn to imitate thee; for why need the swallow contend with swans, or what likeness is there between the feats of racing performed by kids with tottering limbs and by the powerful strength of the horse? Thou, father, art discoverer of things, thou furnishest us with fatherly precepts, and like as bees sip of all things in the flowery lawns, we, o glorious being, in like manner feed from out thy pages upon all the golden maxims, golden I say, most worthy ever of endless life. For soon as thy philosophy issuing from a godlike intellect has begun with loud voice to proclaim the nature of things, the terrors of the mind are dispelled, the walls of the world part asunder, I see things in operation throughout the whole void: the divinity of the gods is revealed and their tranquil abodes which neither winds do shake nor clouds drench with rains nor snow congealed by sharp frosts harms with hoary fall: an ever-cloudless ether overcanopies them, and they laugh with light shed largely round. (Munro translation)

Lucretius, Book I:

At a time when humanity lay prostrate upon the Earth, crushed down under the weight of religion, it was Epicurus - a man of Hellas - who first dared to lift up his mortal eyes and stand up - face to face - this hideous threat scowling down from heaven upon men. Epicurus was not discouraged by the fables about the gods, or by thunderbolts, or by any of the threatening roar of heaven. These served only to spur him on, filling him with courage and the desire to be the first among men to burst the bars holding tight the gates of knowledge about Nature. Thus the living force of his soul won the day, and through mind and spirit Epicurus traversed the immeasurable universe, far beyond the flaming walls of the world, and returned again to us - a conqueror - to relate those things that can be, and those that can not, and to tell us on what principle each thing has its powers defined - its boundary-mark set deep. By his victory Epicurus trampled the terror of religion underfoot, and in turn lifted up to the stars those who follow his example.*** 

Epicurus then looked around him and saw that mortals had attained those things which their needs required, that their lives had been established in safety, and that they abounded in wealth and honor and fame, and were proud of the good names of their children. Yet Epicurus also saw that despite this, the hearts of men were filled with anguish, and all lived with tortured minds, without respite, and raging with complaints. And then he understood that it was a false understanding of Nature that wrought the disease that corrupted the vessel of life and tainted all that was gathered within it, and that this false view of life rendered the vessel so leaky and full of holes that it could never be filled.

So with words of truth Epicurus purged the hearts of men, showing the limits to desires and fears, explaining the truth about the highest good toward which we all should strive, and pointing out the path whereby we may work toward that goal on a straight course. He explained the nature of evil in mortal affairs, and that these evils come to pass by chance, or by force of Nature, rather than by the will of the gods. Epicurus then showed us from what gates we must march forth to combat each of these evils, proving to us that it is mostly in vain that we toss our hearts in gloomy billows of care. For just as children tremble and fear everything in the dark, so do we - even in the light - dread things that are not a bit more to be feared than the imagination of children. These terrors and darknesses of mind must be dispelled, but not by gleaming shafts of daylight. Terrors such as these can only be scattered by study of the laws of Nature.

And so Epicurus taught us to grasp the principles of things above, the principles by which the sun and moon go on their courses, and the forces by which every thing on Earth proceeds.  And he taught that above all we must find out by keen reasoning the nature of the soul and of the mind, and the nature of those things that frighten us when we are under the influence of disease, or buried in sleep, or when we seem to see or hear those who are long dead, and whose bones the Earth holds in its embrace. *** 

Letter to Menoeceus:

So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed towards attaining it.

...Therefore we call pleasure the alpha and omega of a blessed life. Pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the starting-point of every choice and of every aversion, and to it we come back, inasmuch as we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing.

Principal Doctrine 3:

The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain. When such pleasure is present, so long as it is uninterrupted, there is no pain either of body or of mind or of both together.

Principal Doctrine 4:

Continuous bodily pain does not last long; instead, pain, if extreme, is present a very short time, and even that degree of pain which slightly exceeds bodily pleasure does not last for many days at once. Diseases of long duration allow an excess of bodily pleasure over pain.

Principal Doctrine 9:

If every pleasure could be intensified so that it lasted and influenced the whole organism or the most essential parts of our nature, pleasures would never differ from one another.

Principal Doctrine 11:

If we were not troubled by our suspicions of the phenomena of the sky and about death, fearing that it concerns us, and also by our failure to grasp the limits of pains and desires, we should have no need of natural science.

Principal Doctrine 18:

The pleasure in the flesh is not increased, when once the pain due to want is removed, but is only varied: and the limit as regards pleasure in the mind is begotten by the reasoned understanding of these very pleasures and of the emotions akin to them, which used to cause the greatest fear to the mind.

Principal Doctrine 19:

Infinite time contains no greater pleasure than limited time, if one measures by reason the limits of pleasure.

Principal Doctrine 20:

The flesh perceives the limits of pleasure as unlimited, and unlimited time is required to supply it. But the mind, having attained a reasoned understanding of the ultimate good of the flesh and its limits and having dissipated the fears concerning the time to come, supplies us with the complete life, and we have no further need of infinite time: but neither does the mind shun pleasure, nor, when circumstances begin to bring about the departure from life, does it approach its end as though it fell short in any way of the best life.

Principal Doctrine 21:

He who has learned the limits of life knows that that which removes the pain due to want and makes the whole of life complete is easy to obtain, so that there is no need of actions which involve competition.