A Summary Of the Philosophy of Epicurus

A Summary of the Philosophy of Epicurus.

[A] The universe is infinitely large, so it is impossible for one man to know everything about it. But Nature has equipped each man to act to determine the reality of that part of the universe which is relevant to him. Nature gives men the free will to close their eyes to this truth if they so desire, but only at terrible cost. If a man is to live a happy life he must trust and act on the evidence that Nature provides to him.

The universe is infinitely large and has no boundaries.1 It is therefore impossible for a single man to know everything. Because it is not good to desire what is impossible, it is wrong for man to expect to know all there is to know about the universe.2 For those matters on which there is no clear evidence on which to form an opinion, one must wait until such evidence is obtained before taking a position.3 But within the limits that Nature allows to a man in one lifetime, Nature has equipped him to know that part of the reality of the universe that is relevant to him. Nature has provided men with three faculties through which to attain this knowledge: (1) the five senses, which provide reliable evidence about the universe around us,4 (2) the pain / pleasure mechanism, which guides us toward what is beneficial and steers us away from what is harmful, and (3) the “anticipations” – certain intuitive concepts, such as a sense of justice and equity, that Nature provides to men in the same way that she endows other living creatures with characteristics essential for their survival (such as lions have fierceness, deer have swiftness, etc.)5 When we act to gather information about reality through these three faculties, and we sift the resulting evidence properly through the reasoning mind, it is possible for us to obtain reliable knowledge about reality.

At times our senses may seem to be unreliable, as when we see optical illusions such as a stick appearing bent when partly submerged in water, or a tower at a distance appearing to be round, when we know from closer observation to be square.vi In these cases, we are misled because we apply preconceived ideas that we suppose will be confirmed by the evidence, and we acceptance this supposition without realizing that the evidence we have received is limited or distorted.vii In such situations error can be corrected and truth determined if we identify the limitation and the distortion that would otherwise undermine our confidence in our senses.viii We must always remember that the senses provide valuable information about reality that neither reason nor religion can refute.ix The information the senses provide to us is real, and it is impossible for us to possess tranquility and happiness if we accept anything that contradicts the evidence of the senses.x Reason relies on the senses for the accuracy of the conclusions that it reaches, and unless we accept the existence of the objects plainly before our eyes, there is nothing to which our reasoning minds can appeal to prove anything.xi

But Nature does not require that we accept the evidence in front of us, and men have the free will to close their eyes and ignore that evidence. Often, in order to justify their decision to turn away from the evidence, such men invent false religions and false philosophies in an effort to take the place of the information our senses provide about reality.

False religions and philosophies contend that the senses are unreliable, or that knowledge is impossible, or that knowledge comes from a different reality. These arguments are nonsense, however, and they refute themselves.xii Arguments against knowledge and the senses rely on the validity of knowledge (to understand what the question means) and the validity of senses (to communicate the arguments) even as they attempt to attack the possibility of deriving accurate knowledge from the senses.xiii Once you understand that those who argue against the possibility of knowledge and the validity of the senses are using knowledge and the senses to make their arguments, you will see that these arguments are foolish – and worse, that these arguments are intentionally deceitful. You should not attempt to argue against persons who advocate such positions, because they do not accept reality or reason as a standard of truth.xiv Those who advance self-contradictory arguments reject the validity of reality and reason as a method of settling a question, so it is impossible to reason with them. Your defense against these arguments is to study for yourself and understand that Nature has a fundamental order which is never self-contradictory.

In order for your conclusions about the truth to be correct, your reasoning must be based on accurate information about reality. If you base your reasoning on anything other than accurate evidence from the sources provided by Nature (the senses, the pain/pleasure mechanism, and the anticipations) your reasoning will lead you astray.xv Likewise, you must be sure to determine with exactness the meaning of each word, so that the chain of your understanding is clear to you. Only with clarity of meaning will each definition demonstrate another, and otherwise the entire exercise becomes mere words.xvi First make sure you have a firm grasp of what is certain, for only then are you ready to turn to the study of things for which the evidence is not immediately perceivable to you.xvii

It is crucial to realize that there will be times when you confront things that are new and unknown to you. In these situations, you may never be able to obtain sufficient information to be certain of the truth, and you must be content with identifying explanations that reasonably fit the observable facts. Your goal in such cases is not the vanity of inventing a system that cannot be proven, but in determining reasonable explanations that allow you to live your life and act with confidence, and thereby dismissing unnecessary fears.xviii

For example, when you look up into the night sky and see the stars, you do not have the physical ability to make up-close and direct observations to determine the size of the sun or the nature of the stars.xix In such cases, it is better to adopt a reasonable theory based on the evidence that is available, recognizing that this theory may prove to be wrong if you are able to obtain additional information later. Never be tempted to entertain a possibility that would contradict things you already know to be true, because this would lead you to conclude that no truth can be determined with certainty, and this will destroy the foundations of living on which your life and happiness are based.xx Do not be seduced into believing the astrologers who say the stars control mens’ lives, or those who believe that that stars in fact are gods themselves.xxi In all such cases you must clearly recognize the limits of your knowledge, and you must remember that theoretical knowledge about such things that have no relationship to your daily life are utterly useless in assisting you in achieving happiness.xxii

You must always preserve the integrity of your mind. Never confuse what is certain with what is speculative, and you must be able to hold open in your mind any possibilities which are supported by the evidence, but only such options as have evidence to support them.xxiii When you study those things that are capable of being verified through direct observation, you must not hesitate to hold firm to the truth of conclusions that you reach about them. The essential principle is that in order hold your grasp on those things you know to be true, you must separate them from those things that are uncertain. If you confuse those things that you can verify to be true with those things that you cannot verify, you will be thrown into much confusion and lose your ability to separate true from false.xxiv For the same reason you cannot consider those things that are speculative to be of the same weight as those things you know to true, or again you will lose your grip on the ability to determine reality.xxv Only if you identify, remember, and apply the principles which you have already established with certainty are you able to keep in view at all times the difference between what is certain and what is uncertain.xxvi

Nature requires that you diligently focus your mind on the study of the Nature of Things, even though you will often find truths that are new, challenging, and potentially uncomfortable. Every new thing, no matter how easy in the end, at first appears difficult, so stop rejecting new knowledge simply because it is new. Weigh the evidence about the Nature of Things carefully and use your best judgment to determine the truth. If these ideas about the Nature of Things seem false, fight against them, but if they seem true, embrace them. For the mind seeks to know what is out there beyond the present walls, and the spirit forever yearns for greater knowledge of the unknown.xxvii

At times you may experience sensations which your reason is unable to explain — for example, why a tower close at hand is seen to be square, but when seen at a distance appears round. In such cases it is better, if you are at a loss for a reason to explain this, to admit that you do not know the truth of the matter, rather than to accept an explanation that makes no sense. If you accept as true a possibility that contradicts your senses, you have set the stage to let slip from your grasp all those other things which you know to be manifestly true. In so doing you will ruin the groundwork of all your beliefs, and wrench up all the foundations on which life and existence rest. For not only would all reason give way, but life itself would fall to the ground, unless you pursue the truth and choose to trust the senses, shunning the steep cliffs of life that must be avoided. All that host of words drawn out in array against the senses is quite without meaning.xxviii

[B] The universe we see around us was not created by a supernatural god, nor did it arise randomly or by accident. The truth is that the universe is eternal – the fundamental elements from which the universe is made have always existed and will always exist. These elements possess unchanging properties and characteristics that shape everything that exists. Throughout infinite time and space, all things, including the gods of Nature, are part of and subject to the same Natural Laws that govern the familiar world we see around us every day.

As we observe the universe around us, we see that although everything is constantly changing, nothing springs into existence entirely from nothing,xxix and nothing decays entirely to nothing.xxx All things exist and change from one form into another without any new thing ever coming into existence from nothing, nor any old thing decaying entirelyto nothing. Similarly, all things we see around us are born, grow old, and die, starting from and returning to the elements from which they were composed. Even man and the animals, who we see possess the power of free will to act according to their desires, are born from eternal elements and return at death to those same elements. All of human experience shows us that never has any element sprung into existence from nothing, nor has any element ever decayed to nothing. Our proof of this proposition comes from our senses, and we observe that as we look around us we see that men do not arise full grown from the oceans, fish do not arise from the earth, and birds do not burst forth full-grown from the sky.xxxi

From these observations about reality, uncontradicted in the history of mankind, we conclude that the elements of which the universe is composed were never created – they have existed eternally and always will exist with the same characteristics as determined by Nature.xxxii We also conclude that these elements are constantly in motion and constantly undergoing change – but in ways that are strictly in accord with the laws of Nature.xxxiiixxxiv In short, we see that all of the elements of the universe exist (and have always existed and always will exist) and change (and have always changed and always will change) according to natural processes as established by Nature. Even though the universe is eternal and infinite in size, there are definite limitations on the possible arrangements of matter, as all things cannot be joined together in all ways.xxxv The universe had no beginning and has no end, either in time or space, but Nature’s eternal laws limit and govern the entire universe through eternity.

Thus we see from our own observation that the universe is not random, that the universe is not unpredictable, that human life is not mechanistically controlled by any sort of Fate, and that men do have free will to control their own lives. This knowledge preserves us from the anxieties that arise when we confront unfamiliar things we do not understand. It allows us to embrace the necessary effort that life requires, it and empowers us to reject those fears and anxieties that have no basis in reality. This is not to say that we are the highest species of living things in the universe, and in fact it is likely that other worlds exist populated by beings of greater power than we ourselves possess. But all things and all beings are subject to the laws of Nature, and the universe was never created by any supernatural gods that intervene in worldly affairs or govern the movements of the stars.xxxvi Every thing or being that exists here or anywhere else in the universe, now or in the past or the future, is subject to the same laws of Nature as are we ourselves.xxxvii

[C] Nature endows each man at birth with life, free will, and the goal of pursuing his own pleasure to achieve a life of happiness. Pleasure is not evil, and in fact it is a direct guide toward proper living — but a life of happiness cannot be attained by referring only to the pleasures of the moment. All decisions that we make as to what to choose and what to avoid must be made in light of the standards set by Nature. Lives of happiness are is attainable, but in order to achieve them we must study the laws of Nature and live in accord with them.

Nature has established a life of happiness as man’s goal, with pleasure as a guide toward that goal.xxxviii Nature has determined for us which sensations are painful and which are pleasurable, and thus we are provided the pleasure and pain mechanism as man’s guide to life. When we say that pleasure is the guide, however, it is important to understand that we are not speaking of the pleasures of debauched men or mere sensual enjoyment, as some men will attempt to make you believe. Instead, we recognize that life without pain is pleasurable in itself, and the ultimate pleasure to which Nature calls us is the freedom of the body from pain and the soul from confusion. This is because there is no state of existence that is between pleasure and pain, and therefore all life without pain is pleasurable. A pleasant life free from pain can only come from sober contemplation of all our actions to ensure that they conform to the principles of Nature.xxxix Indeed, contemplation of the lessons of the Nature of things, and the freedom from the turmoil that plagues most men, are among life’s sweetest pleasures.xl

Experience shows us that release from any pain is a pleasure, and indeed among the greatest pleasures are those when we escape from death.xli A happy life of any degree cannot be obtained, however, unless we live wisely, honorably, and justly, nor can one who does not live wisely, honorably, and justly achieve a life of pleasure. For this reason wisdom is more valuable even than detailed philosophic wisdom, for all the other virtues spring from wisdom.xlii The wise man therefore does not consider Fortune to be a goddess, or “chance” a cause to rely on, because he thinks it better to be unfortunate in accordance with reason than to be fortunate as a fool.xliii

The wise man has correct and holy opinions of the gods as they really exist, is utterly fearless with respect to death, has properly understood the ends fixed by Nature, understands that Nature’s goal of a happy life is readily obtained, and understands that great evils, when they occur and cannot be avoided, last only a short while and cause only brief pain. The wise man knows that there is no such thing as Fate, and he understands that some things happen by chance and others due to our own actions. The wise man rejects any form of Fate or Necessity, whether argued on a religious or any other basis, because he knows that Fate destroys any possibility of control over our own lives. The wise man sees that men do have free will, and because our actions are our own responsibility we deserve either blame or praise for them.xliv

At birth, however, Nature does not provide us the food which we require to live, nor does Nature provide our minds with a clear understanding of how to pursue happiness. The mind is no less a part of a our body than our hands or feet,xlv and the mind must seek out and acquire knowledge of Nature’s laws and boundaries to sustain its health just as the body must seek out food and water.xlvi The only way for men to grow in wisdom and to dispel the childish fantasies of dangers that lurk in the dark is by study of the law of Nature.xlvii

We must clearly come to understand that Nature calls us to lives of happiness and pleasure, and we must not shrink from this realization. If in fact those debaucheries for which we condemn the drunken and the dissolute brought them peace of mind and happy lives, we would have no cause for condemning their actions as debaucheries. It is the actual productiveness of an activity toward the realization of happy lives that allows us to know the difference between what is good and what is evil.xlviii Another aspect of the same consideration is that we would have no need to study any of the sciences, or to study the nature of things at all, if we did not fear the mysteries of the sky and if we did not fear death.xlix We must therefore keep the goal of a happy life clearly in mind and refer to it to determine whatever we think and believe. If we allow any consideration other than this ultimate law of Nature to enter into our judgment, all things will be full of confusion and uncertainty.l We must therefore on every occasion guide our actions by reasoning according to Nature’s goal of a happy life, and if we turn aside from that object to seek or avoid some other object, our lives will be full of confusion and conflict.li

Because the goal is a life of happiness rather than momentary physical pleasure, we must come to understand that Nature requires that we not rely on fortune or chance, but affirmatively act to order all of the great and important decisions of our lives by the power of reason.lii As a result, we will sometimes choose to experience some pain in order to achieve a greater pleasure as a result.liii Sadly, men often fail to seek out knowledge of Nature’s rules of choice and avoidance. As a result, men are plagued by doubt and error, and they experience great anxieties and fears about their goals and actions. In contrast, the man who lives by justice and wisdom is the freest of all men from turmoil of mind.liv If men are to live happy lives they cannot avoid the exertion of mind and body which Nature requires.

While it is true that some men will be struck down by illness, accident, or by the malice of others, the goal of living a happy life is readily attainable for most men. These possibilies are required if we are to have free will, but Nature allows us to achieve happy lives if we simply identify and remove those things that cause us pain.lv The true riches that Nature calls men to seek are simple and readily procurable, but the vain desires are insatiable, and we have no real need of them.lvi It is of great assistance for us to recognize that of all the desires that men experience, some are natural and necessary, some are natural but not necessary, and some are neither natural nor necessary.lvii Those desires that do not lead to pain when they are not satisfied are not necessary, and it is easy to discipline ourselves to refrain from them when they are difficult to obtain or likely to produce injury.lviii If the failure to satisfy a desire does not lead to pain, that is proof that the desire does not arise from nature, but from vain imagination.lix Viewed in this way, we realize that the keys to happiness are not found in great wealth and power, as many people seek and then realize to be ineffective.lx Rather, the wise man pursues a simple life suitable to his circumstances, seeking out and enjoying what is available and can be obtained at reasonable cost, and in general guiding his life by prudence and reason.lxi Nature has provided that if we follow her laws what is truly good in life is relatively easy to get, and what is truly terrible in life is relatively easy to avoid.lxii

[D] Men fail to appreciate that the fear of the unknown that arises inevitably at birth can only be defeated by studying Nature. In addition to those fears we face due to our limited knowledge, men’s troubles are greatly worsened by false religions and philosophies. Only by undertaking the lifelong effort to obtain knowledge of the true Nature of things can a man empower himself to recognize and defeat these fears and errors.

Just as with false religions, we must defeat the false philosophers who argue that knowledge is impossible, free will is a fiction, and all things are governed by mechanistic necessity or randomness. We must not be dismayed that we do not know the answer to all questions, and we must embrace the fact that Nature has set a definite limit to our lifespans and therefore to our ability to gather knowledge. False philosophers pervert this law of nature and attempt to convince us that because all knowledge is not attainable, no knowledge is attainable. They argue that men disagree as to what are the laws of Nature, and therefore no such laws exist. These false philosophers spend much energy attacking the validity of our senses, because they realize that their arguments are easily defeated if men will but believe their eyes, and observe that no priest or philosopher has ever been able to produce evidence that any law of Nature has been or can ever be violated.

One need only look up at the night sky to see the vastness of the universe and realize that in one lifetime we can never learn all there is to know about the universe. Rather than acknowledge this, however, some men despair, give up their grasp of that knowledge which is in fact possible to them, and fall prey to false gods and philosophies.lxiii This error is fatal to our happiness, because Nature requires that if we are to live we must use our free will to take control of ourl lives and act on the knowledge that is available to us. Unless we have the courage to trust the senses and the evidence that Nature has provided to us we have no hope of living happy lives.

Among the most critical errors we make is to reject Nature’s provision of Pleasure as our guide, a life of happiness as our goal, and reason as our indispensable tool. We are often encouraged in this error by men who promote false religions and philosphies, and we must be prepared to understand why they are wrong.lxiv Such men set up many beguiling reasons why we can not or should not seek to control our own lives. Some men choose false religion as their guide, with life in some other dimension as their goal. Other men choose false philosophy as their guide, with high-sounding notions such as “Virtue” or “The Common Good” as their goal. The arguments of such men can be as terrifying as any monster that a child thinks may be lurking in the dark, and such fears can only be dispelled by study of the true nature of things.

In order to defeat false religion, we must understand an essential truth about the nature of the gods. We acknowledge that the universe is boundless, and Nature provides us with intuition that beings higher than ourselves can and do exist. But it is contrary to all the evidence to assert that the universe was created by supernatural gods who exist outside our universe, who require men’s obedience, or who offer men some new existence after death. By its very definition, a “god” is a perfect being, and beings which are perfect have no need for work of any kind, no need for worship, and no interest in punishment.lxv Any gods that do exist therefore give us no reason to be fearful of punishment or expectant of reward.lxvi It is not those who disbelieve the common views about the gods who are being impious, but those who hold the opinions of the majority of religions.lxvii The opinions about the gods held by most people are not true anticipations based on evidence, but false opinions.lxviii There is no evidence to support the false tales of eternal punishment after death, and once we see that our consciousness ends at death, at which point all our troubles are over, we will finally be able to resist the priests’ threats of everlasting torment.lxix

In place of the evidence they lack to support their argument, false philosophers offer only their own ignorance as proof that universe is unknowable and unpredictable. Such men will argue to you that the universe is random, and some new fact may come to light at any moment which will overturn all your existing knowledge. Other false philosophers will argue not randomness, but “necessity”, and argue that your every action and thought are controlled by “fate” that deprives you of the free will necessary to control your own life. If you have to choose between them before you come to understand and accept the Nature of Things, it is actually better for you to follow the false religions than to accept the false philosophers who say you have no control over your life. At least the illusory hope set forth by religion, false as it may be, provides some hope that you might obtain happiness by placating their gods. Even this is better than the complete inability to control your life, or hope for happiness, that results in a universe that is random or controlled by fate.lxx

It is essential to recognize that a life of true happiness is not possible unless a man dispels both erroneous religion and erroneous philosophy from his mind, and replaces them with an active awareness and appreciation of the true Nature of things.lxxi Each man must recognize that there are many things within the universe that will never be known to him. But though the universe does not provide us with knowledge of all things, Nature does provide us with both a free will and ready access to all the knowledge that is essential to living happily. No matter how enticing the offer, terrible the threat, or beguiling the argument, if a man gives up the knowledge that Nature does provide for the sake of some desire, goal, or supposed knowledge that Nature does not allow, such a man is in rebellion against Nature. To rebel against Nature is to forfeit all connection to reason and reality – everything on which human life is based – and such a man dooms himself to a life of misery. We must therefore content ourselves with the knowledge that is ours, and we should despise, disdain, and hold in contempt those who are unable or unwilling to distinguish the certain from the possible. Holding fast to that which is certain, we shall not be any more troubled by the sight of those things which are as yet undetermined than if we knew the real causes of them.lxxii

[E] If we are to live happy lives, we must consciously learn and embrace Nature, putting aside all worries about the limits of our knowledge of the infinities of space and time that have no relevance to us. In the same way, that we must put aside all fear and concern about the limit of our lifespans. We must come to understand that death is natural, and not to be feared, because there is no possibility of pain or torment once our life is over. Our consciousness ends at death, and our condition after death is of no more concern to us than our condition before we were born.

Nature provides that all men are born, have a period of life for growth and living, and then pass away. To deny the necessity of this cycle of birth and death is to rebel against a fundamental law of Nature. As is the case with rebellion against any fundamental Natural law, if we fail to understand and embrace this cycle we render it impossible to live a truly happy life.

Although the fact that individual lives must come to an end may seems grim, this is because we fail to remember that dying is natural and no more to be feared than being born. Those things to which we have unlimited access, such as air, we do not value highly, and limited access and change are required if we are to savor our pleasures and experience new ones — an essential part of feeling a pleasure is the realization that it is not permanent.lxxiii It is not possible to increase the intensity of a pleasure once the pain arising from lack of that pleasure is removed, for at that point we only move on to the desire to experience a different pleasure. Our finite lifespans therefore do not deprive us of any intensity of pleasure that is possible to us.lxxiv Seen thus in the light of reason and the facts of our mortal nature, we have no need for infinite time in order to experience that which is possible to us as men.lxxv This knowledge enables us to overcome the desires of the flesh, which are insatiable. Contemplation of the law of nature assures us that we have no need for infinite time, in this way when by our lot or by our choice it becomes our time to exit this life, we can do so with contentment.lxxvi

Further, we must dismiss the the false and foolish fear of eternal punishment after death, and its equally unfounded twin, the hope for eternal reward after death. It is true that we do not know the nature of the soul, and that it appears to be a combination of elements, some of which have not been identified.lxxviilxxviii Because nothing comes from nothing, just as with all other eternal elements, there must also be one or more eternal “life elements” that distinguish us as living things.lxxix

But although these life elements are eternal, we observe ample evidence that our consciousness is not eternal, because we observe that consciousness grows and changes over time, experiences periods of health and sickness, and depends ultimately on the body and its senses for connection with reality and with continuation. We have no memory of any life before our births, and because all our sensations end at death our consciousness also ends forever at death, so it is not possible for it to experience any further reward or punishment after death. Therefore death is nothing but a state of unconsciousness – of nothingness – akin to eternal sleep.lxxx Even if we were to assume that our souls had some permanent existence and we held other lives before our current lifetime, we now have no memory or any other concern about that existence. In the same way, any theoretical experience our souls may have after death has no concern for us.lxxxi Understood in this way, Nature holds up the eternity past before our birth as a mirror of the eternity that will come after our death – and neither is any concern to us today.lxxxii Even if we were to suppose that the soul has some feeling after death, it is only by the union of our current body and soul that we exist as individuals, and thus after death we are not present to experience any feeling.lxxxiii Even if all the atoms of our bodies were rearranged in some future time to come together just as we are now, this result would not concern us at all once the chain of our consciousness has been broken.lxxxiv We therefore see that a man’s consciousness lives for only a definite period of time, during which we are called to live fully according to Nature’s laws and without fear of death.lxxxv The future is neither wholly ours nor wholly not ours. Life is not a gift, only a loan to us, and therefore we must seize the day.lxxxvi Men who do not understand the nature of things flee from themselves, but cannot escape. Their only hope is to realize that they must reconcile themselves not to the current hour, but to the state in which they will spend eternity.lxxxvii

[F] All men must seek out, learn, and focus on the laws of Nature if they are to live happy lives. We must therefore seek out the best sources of wisdom available to us, and study it regularly both alone and in the company of like-minded men. Among the most important discoverers of truth in human history was Epicurus, the Master-Builder of Human Happiness, and it is of great benefit to us to remember him with gratitude for his achievements.

Nature has established that it is not possible for us to banish the fears and anxieties which prevent us from living a happy life unless we study and understand the essential nature of things.lxxxviii Happiness is impossible if we allows himself to believe that fables such as the existence of a Hell could be true.lxxxix No amount of wealth or power are sufficient to secure happiness if we live in a state of fear about heaven, hell, and the infinite.xc While it is true that wealth and power can to some extent be helpful, ultimate security and tranquility comes only from wisdom and freedom from dependence on the crowd of men.xci It is not possible for us to live happily unless we live in constant awareness of and compliance with Nature’s laws. As Epicurus held, “it is not possible to live a happy life without wisdom, honesty, and justice, nor is it possible to live a life with wisdom, honesty, and justice without happiness.”xcii

Of all the things which wisdom tells us to seek out in order to procure a happy life, the most important is the possession of friends.xciii In the time allotted to us to live, our greatest security and our greatest pleasure come from the experiences of friendship.xciv Epicurus specifically instructed us to study Nature both alone and with our friends, that in this way we might achieve a life “as a god among men” by living in the constant presence of the highest pleasures, which comes from contemplating the greatest truths that relieve us from the greatest fears.xcv

Epicurus also taught us that although our friends are the sources of many great enjoyments, we must order our affairs with men in general according to the dictates of justice. In order to do this we must understand that natural justice has no independent existence, but comes solely from a covenant among men to avoid injuring each other.xcvi For those animals or men unable or unwilling to enter into such a covenant to refrain from mutual injury, no concepts of natural justice apply.xcvii Because justice has no independent existence and is not established by gods, superior force, rights of inherited kingship, or otherwise, we ground it solely upon voluntary consent.xcviii A thing is just only so long as it brings mutual gain, and injustice is undesirable because it is inconsistent with happiness, and because it creates a fear of punishment that cannot be avoided.xcixc Justice can be viewed as the same interest that everyone has in avoiding injury, but due to differences in places and circumstances, the precise rules of justice will vary.ci Nature justice therefore derives its authority from its actual usefulness in securing the safety of the general body of men, and whether it is universally regarded as just by the majority is of no consequence.cii Likewise, the majority may change their view over time as to what is actually useful in securing the general safety, but the question is always settled by what is according to reason actually useful, not according to the opinion of the majority about it.ciii

Thus it is most productive for happiness for men to live among each other as friends, observing the rules of natural justice. Those whom we cannot make friends we should at least seek to avoid making enemies, and if for some reason that is impossible then we should avoid all connection with them.civ The happiest men are those who live with each other without fear, enjoying the advantages of common society with firm confidence in one grounded in a shared understanding of the nature of things, and with such friends we should seize the time available to us for living, and then, when death comes, remembering the good times that we have experienced in the past, and not lamenting that our deceased friend has found anything in death but the end of all his troubles.cv

Given the brilliance of his mind Epicurus seems to us almost godlike, but he was mortal as are we, and he is now dead and gone. During his life he brought to men a message that was revolutionary in scope, and in the ancient world his wisdom inspired a great movement of men toward lives of happiness and away from the errors and the lies of false religions and philosophies. His message spread widely throughout the world of that time, but its very success made it the chief target of those profited from religion an false philosophy. As time passed new variations of the old religions and philosophies arose, and even though they possessed no more evidence to support them than before, eventually they enticed the masses of men to believe that they held the keys to a higher reality than Nature.

If this reasoning be understood as valid, and preserved carefully in the memory, the man who allows himself to be influenced by it, even though he may not descend to a profound study of its details, will have a great superiority of character over other men. He will personally discover a great number of truths which I have myself set forth in my entire work. These truths, being stored in his memory, will be a constant assistance to him.cvi

The eternal issues that Epicurus addressed remain with us today. We, too, face the same necessity to study and apply the laws of Nature if we wish to live happy lives. Epicurus continues to call us to study the nature of things for ourselves, to seek out like-minded friends in the pursuit of that knowledge, to prepare ourselves to defeat the errors of false religions and philosophies, and to come to see that Nature calls us to live lives of pleasure and happiness. The first step is to trust Nature and the senses that Nature has provided, to observe that “nothing can be created from nothing,” and from there to follow the lifelong path of study of the Nature of Things.


F1 – DL – Letter to Herodotus, “The universe is infinite.”

F2 – DL – Letter to Pythocles, “It is not good to desire what is impossible”

F3 – DL – Biographical – “on which account they have introduced the expression of “waiting”” See also, DL Principle Doctrine 24 “If you allow equal authority to the ideas, which being only an opinion, require to be verified, and to those which bear about them an immediate certainty, you will not escape error; for you will be confounding doubtful opinions with those which are not doubtful, and true judgments with those of a different character.”

F4 – DL – Letter to Herodotus, “ evidence of the senses… is the rule of our reasoning on all that is not directly perceivable”

F5 – DL – Biographical – Explanation of preconceptions as deriving from prior sensations.

vi DRN 4, “Many are the other marvels of this sort we see which seek to shake the credit of the senses.”

vii DL – Letter to Herodotus, “the parent of error” DRN 4, “the greatest part of these things cheats us on account of the mental-suppositions which we add ourselves.”

viii DL – Letter to Herodotus, “then it produces truth”; DL – Letter to Herodotus, “real freedom … consists in being emancipated from these things … accordingly it is well to pay a scrupulous attention to existing phenomena”

ix DRN 4, “the senses cannot be refuted”

x DL – Letter to Pythocles, “from the moment when one comes to any point of contradiction to the evidence of the senses”; DL – Letter to Pythocles, “Imprint these precepts on your memory….”

xi DRN 1, “unless, at the very first, belief in this be firmly”

xii DL – Principle Doctrine 22, DL PD22; DRN 1, “for he himself takes his stand on the side of the senses…”

xiii DRN 4, “How does he know what knowing and not knowing are”

xiv DRN 4, “I will therefore decline to argue the question against him who places his head where his feet should be”

xv DL – Letter to Herodotus, “not to reject the authority of the faculties which perceive truth directly” DRN 4, “all reasoning of things which is founded on false interpretations of evidence from the senses will prove to be distorted and false”

xvi DL – Letter to Herodotus, “Determine with exactness”

xvii DL – Letter to Herodotus, “When these foundations are once laid”; DL – Biographical Notes – Reason cannot pronounce upon the senses.

xviii DL – Letter to Pythocles, “We cannot act the same way in respect to the heavenly phenomena”

xix DL – Letter to Pythocles, (The majority of the letter to Pythocles addresses the problem posed by our limited knowledge of the stars.)

xx DRN 4, “And if you find your reason is unable to explain the cause why….”

xxi DL – Letter to Herodotus, “we must not fancy that these globes of fire”; DL – Letter to Herodotus, “have no relation.. with those imperishable and happy Natures”; DL – Letter to Pythocles, “it is the conduct of ignorant astrologers”; DL – Letter to Pythocles, “To give one uniform and positive explanation… is not consistent with the conduct of any people but those who love to flash prodigies in the eyes of the multitude.”

xxii DL – Letter to Herodotus, “theoretical knowledge of the rising and setting… is utterly useless as far as any influence upon happiness”

xxiii DL – Letter to Herodotus, “to allow what is false to be established with equal firmness”

xxiv DL – Principle Doctrine 23, DL PD23

xxv DL – Principle Doctrine 24, DL PD24

xxvi DL – Letter to Herodotus, “give preference to former knowledge”

xxvii DRN 2, “Apply now, I entreat you, your mind to true reason”

xxviii DRN 4, “And if you find your reason is unable to explain the cause why….”

xxix DL- Letter to Herodotus, “nothing can come from that which does not exist”‘; DRN Book I(“nothing ever comes from nothing by divine power”)

xxx DL – Letter to Herodotus, “if that which disappeared were so absolutely destroyed”; DRN Book I (“does not totally annihilate anything”)

xxxi DRN 1, “if things came from nothing, any kind might be born of any thing”

xxxii DL – Letter to Herodotus, “the universal whole always was such as it is now”

xxxiii DRN 1, (“what can be and what cannot”)

xxxiv DRN 1, (without the hand of the gods”)

xxxv DRN 2, “we are not to suppose that all things can be joined together in all ways”

xxxvi DL – Letter to Herodotus, “beware of thinking that they are produced by any particular being”, DRN 2, “The Nature of the world has by no means been made for us by divine power, so great are the defects with which it stands encumbered.”

xxxvii DRN 5, “Wherefore also he who fables that in the new time of the earth and the fresh youth of heaven such living creatures could have been begotten, resting upon this one futile term “new,”

xxxviii DL – Letter to Menoeceus,”Pleasure is the beginning and end of living happily, for we have recognized this as the first good” DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “ If happiness is present, we have everything” DRN 2, “divine pleasure, the guide of life”; Cicero ONOTG, “pleasure is the chief good”; “it cannot be doubted that pleasure is the one supreme and final good”

xxxix DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “we are not speaking of the pleasures of the debauched man”; DRN 2 – “Nature craves for herself no more than this, that pain hold aloof….”

xl DRN 2, “it is sweet, when on the great see the winds trouble the waters”

xli See discussion in Dewitt, Norman W. , “The Summum Bonum Fallacy”. The Classical Weekly, Vol. 44, No. 5 (Dec. 18, 1950), pp. 69-71. “That which causes the unsurpassable joy is the bare escape from some awful calamity, and this is the nature of ‘good,’ if one apprehends it rightly and then stands by his finding, instead of walking around uselessly and harping on the meaning of ‘good.”‘ See also Vatican Saying 42.

xlii DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “beginning and greatest good of all this things is prudence…”

xliii DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “better to be unfortunate in accord with reason….”

xliv DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “Such a man has no belief in Fate….”

xlv DRN 3 – “the mind .. is no less part of a man than hand and foot and eyes are part of the whole living creature”

xlvi The mind requires knowledge to be free of anxiety: DL – Letter to Pythocles, “Know then that the only aim of knowledge… is freedom from anxiety” ; DL – Letter to Pythocles, unless you imprint these precepts you cannot reach happiness.

xlvii DRN 2, “For even as children are flurried and dread all things in the thick darkness”

xlviii DL – Principle Doctrine 9, DL PD9

xlix DL – Principle Doctrine 10, DL PD10; Also, the aim of all the sciences is freedom from anxiety and the calmness that comes from firm knowledge DL – Letter to Pythocles, (“this the the aim of every other science”)

l DL – Principle Doctrine 21, DL PD21

li DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “with pleasure in mind as the starting point we refer every question of choice and avoidance,” DL – Principle Doctrine 25, DL PD25

lii DL – Principle Doctrine 15, DL PD15 DL- The Wise Man, “injuries exist among men … all which the wise man overcomes by Reason.”

liii DL- Letter to Menoeceus, “for the same reason we do not choose every pleasure whatsoever.” DL – Principle Doctrine 7, DL PD7; Our goal is a happy life, not momentary pleasure. Cicero – On Ends, “we denounce…men who are.. beguiled.. by the charms of the pleasure of the moment.”

liv DL – Principle Doctrine 16, DL PD16

lv DL – Principle Doctrine 3, DL PD3

lvi DL – Principle Doctrine 14, DL PD14; DL – Principle Doctrine 20, DL PD20

lvii DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “some of the passions are natural, and some empty” DL – Principle Doctrine 28, DL PD28

lviii DL – Principle Doctrine 29, DL PD29

lix DL – Principle Doctrine 30, DL PD30

lx DL – Principle Doctrine 6, DL PD6

lxi DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “Contentment is a great good” DL – The Wise Man, (This section is devoted to general precepts of wise living) DRN 5, “But were a man to order his life by the rules of true reason”

lxii DL – Principle Doctrine 4, DL PD4

lxiii DRN 1, Seeing things they do not understand they attribute to the gods; ; DL – Letter to Herodotus. (troubles of the spirit come from belief in fables about the stars as gods)

lxiv DRN 1, “So great are the evils to which religion can persuade”

lxv DL – Letter to Herodotus, “cares and anxieties … the consequence of weakness” DRN 2, “supreme repose, far removed and withdrawn from our concerns”

lxvi DL – Principle Doctrine 1, DL PD1

lxvii DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “that man is not impious”

lxviii DL – Letter to Menoeceus “For the assertions of the many about the gods are not anticipations, but false opinions.”

lxix DRN 1, “if men were to see that there was a fixed limit to their woes”

lxx DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “it would therefore be better”

lxxi DL – Letter to Pythocles, “Imprint these precepts on your memory, O Pythocles, and so you will easily escape fables.” DRN 1, “Your terror and darkness of mind must be dispelled … by the study of the law of nature.”

lxxii DL – Letter to Herodotus, “Let us disdain those men who do not know”

lxxiii DL – Principle Doctrine 8, DL PD8

lxxiv DL – Principle Doctrine 17, DL PD17

lxxv DL – Principle Doctrine 18, DL PD18

lxxvi DL – Principle Doctrine 19, DL PD19

lxxvii DRN 1, “It is true that we do not know the nature of the soul” DRN 3, “Fourth element”

lxxviii DRN 3, “some fourth element must be added to these…”

lxxix DL – Letter to Herodotus, “the soul is a bodily substance composed of light particles” DL – Letter to Herodotus, “they who pretend the soul is incorporeal utter words destitute of sense.”

lxxx DL- Letter to Menoeceus, “death is a matter with which we are not at all concerned” DL – Principle Doctrine 2, DL PD2 DRN 3, “death is therefore nothing to us”

lxxxi DRN 3, “As in time gone by we felt no distress when the Carthaginians from all sides came together to do battle…”

lxxxii DRN 3, “Nature therefore holds this up to us as a mirror”

lxxxiii DRN 3, “And even supposing that Nature of the mind and power of the soul do feel”

lxxxiv DRN 3, “And if time should gather up our matter after death and put it once more into position…”

lxxxv DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “wise man neither rejects life nor is he afraid of not living”

lxxxvi DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “future is not our own, nor, on the other hand, is it wholly not our own.” DRN 3, “life is granted to none in fee-simple, to all in usufruct”

lxxxvii DRN 3, “since the point at stake is the condition for eternity, not for one hour, in which mortals have to pass all the time….”

lxxxviii DL – Principle Doctrine 11, DL PD11

lxxxix DRN 3 – “the dread of Acheron should be driven headlong forth, troubling as it does the life of man from its inmost depths….allowing no pleasure to be pure and unalloyed”

xc DL – Principle Doctrine 12, DL PD12

xci DL – Principle Doctrine 13, DL PD13

xcii DL – Principle Doctrine 5, DL PD5

xciii DL – Principle Doctrine 26, DL PD26

xciv DL – Principle Doctrine 27, DL PD27

xcv DL – Letter to Menoeceus, “you will live like a god among men”

xcvi DL – Principle Doctrine 31, DL PD31

xcvii DL – Principle Doctrine 32, DL PD32

xcviii DL – Principle Doctrine 33, DL PD33

xcix DL – Principle Doctrine 34, DL PD34

c DL – Principle Doctrine 35, DL PD35

ci DL – Principle Doctrine 36, DL PD36; see also DL- Letter to Menoeceus, “at times we may feel the good as an evil…”

cii DL – Principle Doctrine 37, DL PD37

ciii DL – Principle Doctrine 38, DL PD38

civ DL – Principle Doctrine 39, DL PD39

cv DL – Principle Doctrine 40, DL PD40

cvi DL – Letter to Herodotus, “a kind of summary… will be a constant assistance to him”