We frequently encounter situations where in the past we had a high opinion of someone, but recent events cause us to lower that opinion considerably. Does this mean that we were necessarily “wrong” in the past? Does the possibility of being “wrong” mean that nothing is ever certain and we can never have confidence in our judgments? That’s the way a lot of people think.
Epicurus dealt with this issue by grounding his philosophy in things that DON’T change. It is these observations which are the foundation for all analysis of those things that DO change. And our proof that these don’t change comes to us from our senses, rather than from gods or abstract speculation, and that is why “logic” always relies on the senses to reach proper conclusions.
In the end, all important conclusions in life start with remembering this list of observations about the universe. If we internalize them and they become “second nature” to us, we don’t have to list them out every time we make a decision. But when we are starting out in Epicurean philosophy, and we are contaminated by false religions and philosophies, we need to keep them readily at hand so we can test each sensation of the moment against these standards. That way – and only in that way – we can be sure that we are not temporarily being fooled by illusions or false arguments.
On top of these we then call into action our faculties of pleasure and pain, and our faculty of anticipations, as these give us vital additional information about the issues that confront us. The details of each situation that confronts us will vary tremendously, but underlying our personal circumstances are these basics which do not vary over time, or from person to person. It is on this foundation – a set of observations about the nature of the universe that Epicureans hold to be universally true and never change – that we make every ethical decision in life about things that do change:
1. Matter is uncreatable.
2. Matter is indestructible.
3. The universe consists of solid bodies and void.
4. Solid bodies are either compounds or simple.
5. The multitude of atoms is infinite.
6. The void is infinite in extent.
7. The atoms are always in motion.
8. The speed of atomic motion is uniform.
9. Motion is linear in space, vibratory in compounds.
10. Atoms are capable of swerving slightly at any point in space or time.
11. Atoms are characterized by three qualities: weight, shape and size.
12. The number of the different shapes is not infinite, merely innumerable.
(This is the list as summarized in English by Norman Dewitt in “Epicurus and His Philosophy.”)