The following is based on the French translation found in the best Epitome of all things Epicurean in the French language: the 1550-page tome titled Les Epicuriens [Bibliotheque de la Pleiade] (French Edition).
A central concept here is the problem of causal responsibility, and whether this responsibility can be attached to our initial constitution (our nature, our physiology), to the environment, or to our agency.
If one’s nature is responsible for actions, we attach less praise and blame to actions. Epicurus says that there are people who are, by nature, “solidified” and lack malleability (changeability), ergo one does not try to encourage or incite that person to the accomplishment of the most opportune actions, as his or her nature does not allow us to assign causal responsibility.
F. Massi suggests that this malleability or softness, which is hated by the Stoics, is praised as good by Epicurus because it aids against solidification: one who is malleable, flexible, or soft, can make progress and become morally better through education. As a side note, this subject of how being flexible and malleable is a virtue in naturalist philosophy was elaborated during our Taoist Contemplations.
Yet, because of his evil nature, we denigrate and often hate a man so that in the end, in practice our reaction is frequently non-different from blame. The example given in the French-language book Les Epicuriens is that of a shark: we hate the creature, but we do not blame the shark for eating a man because the shark’s initial constitution and the developed product (of the shark’s character) are non-different.
This is the case even if we separate to some degree the first (initial) constitution (or nature) of a man from his product in the course of development, because the initial constitution (a man’s nature, no matter how evil) may sometimes make a way for it to be possible for other things (non-nature, culture, environment, education) to build a developed product, a wholesome character.
This is why we still admonish people who by nature are evil, and we do not fully absolve them of their crimes, we are merely more lenient with them. We do not treat them as we would wild beasts (in the words of Epicurus) because men are not sharks. Members of our species are domesticated creatures. Therefore, we have a bit more expectations of even the least morally developed of our fellow humans than we do of wild beasts.
Many of Epicurus’ reasonings in this book might be (and have been) interpreted to include cats, dogs, horses, and other animals whom we have domesticated, and whose behavior therefore departs from their initial constitution to some extent.
Therefore, there is a correlation between the initial constitution (or nature) of a creature, who may have anti-social or vicious tendencies, and the attribution of causal responsibility.
But as man matures, it ceases to be the case that he acts purely on impulse. This is moral development, and it transforms the initial constitution. We can therefore evaluate and describe man’s moral evolution.
According to Epicurus’ early theory concerning our instinctive, subconscious drives, we carry within us certain tendencies, or dispositions, which in turn inform our actions. Epicurus claimed that, in the process of moral development, one has the power to change one’s beliefs, and even to atomically change one’s mind. This, today, is being researched under the science of neuroplasticity. The goal of Epicurean therapy is, therefore, to transform our dispositions in order to have a final developed product, which is a good and happy character that experiences ataraxia and is free from irrational or superstitious fears.
People have, from the beginning, the germs of good, bad, and neutral tendencies. There comes a time when these seeds bear fruit, and that depends absolutely on us. We admonish, combat, and transform each other as if we had the causal responsability in ourselves and not just in our initial constitution.
Causal responsibility resides on agents, not merely on actions that are caused by previous movements, for it is agents who are observed to stop themselves from doing the evil things of which their nature is capable.
If a determinist argues against this, he can choose to continue admonishing and praising others, but will still leave intact our anticipation of responsibility–upon which our judgements of praise and blame are constructed–and will only have re-named it.
And, if all things are by necessity, then the determinists must not give themselves the responsibility for reasoning soundly, and give us the blame for reasoning unsoundly, therefore attributing to their adversaries the causal blame for their own wrong reasoning.
If all actions are determined by atoms (by nature), then our moral and social practices of admonition would make no sense. Therefore, Epicurus’ (determinist) adversary would have to renounce his moral, social and educational practice due to the incompatibility of theory and action.
In fact, the determinists’ actions and opinions would constantly be in contradiction, because we constantly stop ourselves and others from doing bad or stupid things, in spite of our own impulses and desires.
Our contribution (to our actions) consists on perceiving that, if we do not clearly understand the rules and criteria of all the things done by virtue of our opinions, and instead we follow our impulses irrationally, all is lost to excess and fault. – Epicurus
There are many things that are done with the contribution of nature, as well as many things which are done without its contribution; and also many things which are done by putting our nature in order (via restraining, educating, or training our initial constitution), and many other things are done where nature herself serves as guide.
Both causal responsibility and necessity procure each other. We are causally responsible to seek out the principle, rule and criterion by which to act, little by little.
Moral Responsibility and Moral Development in Epicurus, by
1. Sankta kaj nedetruebla estaĵo ne havas malfacilaĵojn nek kreas problemojn por aliaj estaĵoj; do ĝi liberas je kolero kaj partieco, tio implikas malforton.
2. Morto estas nenio al ni; ĉar tio, kio estis solvita en ties elementoj ne spertas sentojn, kaj tio kio ne havas sentojn estas nenio al ni.
3. La grando de plezuro atingas sian limon kiam ĉia doloro estas forigita. Kiam tia plezuro ĉeestas, kiam ajn sen interrompo, neniu doloro ekzistas korpe aŭ mense.
4. Kontinua korpa doloro ne daŭras longe. Kontraŭe, doloro, se ekstrema, daŭras mallongan tempon, kaj eĉ tia nivelo de doloro kiu surkreskas ete la korpan plezuron ne daŭras multajn tagojn. La longtempaj malsanoj permesas troon de korpa plezuro super doloro.
5. Estas neeble vivi agrablan vivon sen vivi saĝe, honore kaj juste, kaj estas neeble vivi saĝe, noble kaj juste sen vivi agrable. Kiam ajn unu el tiuj mankas–ekzemple, se homo ne povas vivi saĝe kvankam li vivas noble aŭ juste–, estas neeble vivi agrablan vivon.
6. Ajna metodo serĉata por protekti sin de aliaj homoj, estas natura bonaĵo.
7. Kelkaj homoj volas famon kaj rangon, pensante ke tiel ili sekuriĝos kontraŭ aliaj homoj. Se la vivo de tiaj homoj vere sekuras, ili akiris naturan bonaĵon. Tamen, se ĝi ne sekuras, ili ne akiris la celon ke la naturo mem origine faris ilin serĉi.
8. Neniu plezuro estas malbona afero en si mem, sed aferoj produktitaj de iaj plezuroj enhavas tumultojn multfoje pligrandajn ol la plezuroj mem.
9. Se ĉia plezuro estus amasigebla, ne nur tratempe sed tra la tuta korpo aŭ almenaŭ tra la plej gravaj partoj de nia naturo, tiam la plezuroj neniam diferencus inter ili.
10. Se la aferoj kiuj plezurigas la homojn senregajn vere liberigus ilin el la mensaj timoj pri la ĉielaj kaj atmosferaj fenomenoj, la timo de morto kaj la timo de doloro; ja, se plue ili instruus al tiuj homoj pri kiel limigi siajn dezirojn, ni neniam devus trovi erarojn en tiaj homoj, ĉar ili tiam estus plezurplenaj el ĉiu fonto kaj neniam havus doloron korpan aŭ mensan, kiu estas la malbonaĵoj.
11. Se ni neniam ĝeniĝus pri la ĉielaj kaj atmosferaj fenomenoj, nek pri’l timo de morto aŭ pri nia nescio de’l limoj de doloroj kaj deziroj, ni ne bezonus sciencon naturan.
12. Estas neeble forigi la timojn pri la plej gravaj aferoj se oni ne konas la naturon de’l aĵoj, sed ankoraŭ donas ian krediton al la mitoj. Do sen studi la naturon ne ekzistas ĝuo de’l pura plezuro.
13. Ne ekzistas avantaĝo en akiri protekton kontraŭ aliaj homoj dum ni alarmiĝas pri la okazaĵoj sub kaj sur la tero, aŭ ĝenerale per ia ajn okazaĵo en la senfina universo.
14. La protekto kontraŭ aliaj homoj, atingitaj iagrade per la povo forpeli kaj per materiala prospero, en ĝia plej pura formo devenas el trankvila vivo for de la homamaso.
15. La riĉeco nature bezonata estas limigita kaj facile havebla; sed la riĉeco volata per vantaj idealoj etendas senfine.
16. Sorto malofte sin intermetas kun la saĝulo; liaj plej grandaj kaj plej altaj interesoj estis, estas kaj estos direktitaj per la rezono dum sia tuta vivo.
17. La justulo estas la plej senĝena, dum la maljustulo esta la plej ĝenplena.
18. La korpa plezuro ne pliiĝas kiam oni forigas mankodoloron; poste ĝi nur subtenas variadon. La limo de la mensplezuro tamen atingeblas kiam oni pripensas tiajn korpajn plezurojn kaj siajn rilatajn emociojn, kiuj kutimis kaŭzi al la menso la plej egajn alarmojn.
19. La tempoj limigita kaj senlima ambaŭ donas egalan kvanton de plezuro, se oni mezuras la limojn de’l plezuro rezone.
20. La karno ricevas kiel senlimaj la limojn de’l plezuro; kaj por ilin postuli oni bezonas senliman tempon. Sed la menso, komprenante la celon kaj limon de la karno, kaj forigante la terurojn pri’l estonteco, havendas kompletan kaj perfektan vivon, kaj oni ne plu bezonas senliman tempon. Tamen, la menso ne rifuzas la plezuron, kaj eĉ kiam cirkonstancoj faras la morton tuja, la menso ne mankas ĝuon de’l plejbonvivo.
21. Tiu kiu komprenas la limojn de’l vivo scias ke estas facile atingi kion forigas la mankodoloron, kaj kompletigas kaj perfektigas la tutan vivon. Tiel oni ne plu necesas l’aĵojn kiuj postulas lukton.
22. Ni devas konsideri la finfinan celon kaj repacigi ĉiujn niajn opiniojn kun la klara sensa evidenteco; alie ĉio estos plena je necerteco kaj konfuzo.
23. Se oni luktas kontraŭ siaj sentoj, oni ne havas normon al kiu rilati, kaj do neniel povas juĝi eĉ tion, kion asertas esti falsa.
24. Se oni malakceptas ajnan percepton sen halti por distingi inter siaj opinioj sur tio, kio jam estis konfirmita kiel ĉeestanta ĉu en emocioj aŭ sentoj aŭ ajna alia apliko de’l intelekto al la prezentoj, oni konfuzas la reston de siaj perceptoj kaŭze de opinioj sen fundamento kaj malakceptas ĉian normon de vero. Se oni rapide konkludas, ke estas konfirmataj la ideoj bazataj je opinio, ĉu oni atendas konfirmon aŭ ne, oni eraros, ĉar oni daŭrigos ĉian kialon por dubo en ĉia juĝo inter la prava kaj malprava opinioj.
25. Se oni ne ĉiam rilatas ĉiajn siajn agojn al la finfina celo establita de’l naturo, sed en siaj decidoj kaj nefaroj elektas alian celon, siaj agoj ne estos konsekvencaj kun siaj teorioj.
26. Ĉiuj deziroj kiuj ne kondukas al doloro kiam ili restas nesataj estas nenecesaj, sed la deziro estas facile forigebla kiam la afero dezirata estas malfacile akirebla aŭ kiam la deziroj ŝajnas kunporti la eblon damaĝi.
27. El ĉiuj rimedoj kiujn akiras la saĝeco por feliĉon certe havi tra la vivo, senkompare la plej grava estas la amikeco.
28. La sama konvinko kiu inspiras konfidon, ke nenio timenda estas eterna aŭ eĉ longdaŭra, ankaŭ montras al ni, ke el la limigitaj malbonoj de tiu ĉi vivo, nenio pli sekurigas nin ol la amikeco.
29. El niaj deziroj, kelkaj estas naturaj kaj necesaj, aliaj estas naturaj sed nenecesaj; kaj aliaj estas nek naturaj nek necesaj, sed estas pro senbazaj opinioj.
30. Tiaj naturaj deziroj kiuj alportas neniun doloron se oni ne satigas ilin, malgraŭ esti serĉataj intenspene, ankaŭ kaŭzatas pro senbazaj opinioj; kaj homoj malsukcesas forigi ilin, ne pernature sed per la opinioj senbazaj de’l homamasoj.
31. Natura justeco estas reciproke utila interkonsento por eviti ke oni estu damaĝata aŭ ke oni damaĝu la aliajn.
32. Tiuj estaĵoj kiuj estas nekapablaj fari interkonsentojn kun aliaj por ne kaŭzi suferadon nek vundiĝi konas nek justecon nek maljustecon; kaj la sama por tiuj kiuj estis nekapablaj aŭ nevolaj eniri en ĉi tiujn interkonsentojn.
33. Neniam ekzistis ia absoluta justeco, nur reciprokaj interkonsentoj inter homoj de malsamaj lokoj kaj tempoj kiuj evitis esti damaĝataj aŭ damaĝi la aliajn.
34. Maljusteco ne estas malbono en si mem, sed nur en konsekvenco de la timo asociita kun esti eltrovota per administrantoj por puni tiajn agojn.
35. Estas neeble por homo kiu sekrete malobservas la kondiĉojn de interkonsento ne damaĝi aŭ esti damaĝitaj, ke li sentu certecon ke li restos neeltrovota, eĉ se li jam eskapis dekmil fojojn; sed eĉ ĝis sia morto oni neniam certiĝos ke oni ne estos detektata.
36. Ĝenerale, la justeco estas la sama por ĉiuj, ĉar ĝi estas bazita sur reciproka avantaĝo en homaj aferoj, sed en sia apliko al apartaj lokoj aŭ cirkonstancoj, la justeco ne nepre estas la sama por ĉiuj.
37. Inter la aĵoj kiujn la leĝo konsideras justaj, ĉio kio estas pruvita avantaĝa en la homaferoj havas la stampon de justeco, ĉu tio estas la sama por ĉiuj; sed se homo faras leĝon kaj ne pruvas ke ĝi reciproke profitas, ĝi ne plu estas justa. Kaj se tio, kio reciproke avantaĝas, varias kaj nur mallonge samas al nia koncepto de justeco, tamen dum tiu tempo estas justa laŭ tiuj kiuj ne sin koncernas kun malplenaj vortoj sed nur rigardas la faktojn.
38. Kie, sen ekzisti ŝanĝo de cirkonstancoj, aperas ke aferoj konsideritaj justaj per la leĝo ne samas al la koncepto de justeco en praktiko, tie tiaj leĝoj ne vere justas; sed kie ajn la leĝoj ĉesis esti avantaĝaj pro ŝanĝo de cirkonstancoj, tiukaze la leĝoj estis justaj dum la tempo ke ili estis reciproke utilaj por la civitanoj, kaj ĉesis esti justaj kiam ili ne plu estis avantaĝaj.
39. La homo kiu plej bone scias alfronti eksterajn minacojn faras familion el ĉiu ajn kiun li eblas familiigi; kaj tiuj, kiuj oni ne povas unuigi al si, oni tamen ne ilin havu kiel fremduloj; kaj kiam oni trovas ke eĉ tio neeblas, oni evitu ĉian kontakton kun ili, kaj dum la tempo kiam tio avantaĝos, ekskludas ilin el sia vivo.
40. Tiuj kiuj havas la povon defendi sin kontraŭ minacoj de siaj najbaroj, havante la plej certan garantion de sekureco, vivas la plej agrablan vivon unu kun aliaj; kaj tia estas sia ĝuo kompleta de intimeco, ke se unu el ili mortas antaŭtempe, la aliaj ne lamentos sian morton kvazaŭ tio postulus domaĝon.
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Our tradition is firmly secular and most modern Epicureans would label themselves atheists, humanists, or agnostics, but in antiquity the founders of our School were all pious men, and the ancient atomists had a naturalist theology according to which the Gods were naturally evolved beings who lived in the space between the worlds (metakosmai), and whose bodies were–like all bodies–made up of atoms and void.
The two traditional interpretations of the Epicurean Gods are the older, realist view according to which Gods are natural, sentient beings who live in never-ending ataraxia as described by our Sages, and the newer, idealist view according to which Gods are mental constructs which are, perhaps, therapeutically, culturally and spiritually useful, but nonetheless imaginary. A third view has been proposed in our generation, according to which belief in Gods is neither necessary nor natural, and that their existence can not be justified using our Canon.
But we live in a world governed by fear and awe of Gods, and recently some of the members of Society of Epicurus have been engaged in discussions about the nature of the Epicurean Gods in order to answer questions posed by students of philosophy. Furthermore, we also live in an age where science fiction has begun to explore in detail the repercussions of the possibility of the existence of superior extraterrestrial beings, which is inherent in Epicurean speculation on the innumerable worlds. Portions of these discussions are being published here for the benefit of anyone new to the subject, and to encourage the study of alternative, naturalist views on the Gods as entities within a natural ecology and cosmology rather than as characters in fables and in people’s supernatural fancy.
Dialogues on the Epicurean Gods
First believe that a God is a living being immortal and blessed, according to the notion of a god indicated by the common sense of mankind; and so believing, you shall not affirm of him anything that is foreign to his immortality or that is repugnant to his blessedness. Believe about him whatever may uphold both his blessedness and his immortality. For there are gods, and the knowledge of them is manifest; but they are not such as the multitude believe, seeing that men do not steadfastly maintain the notions they form respecting them. Not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them is truly impious. For the utterances of the multitude about the gods are not true preconceptions but false assumptions; hence it is that the greatest evils happen to the wicked and the greatest blessings happen to the good from the hand of the gods, seeing that they are always favorable to their own good qualities and take pleasure in men like themselves, but reject as alien whatever is not of their kind. – Epicurus, in his Epistle to Menoeceus
Alexander. A friend of mine, who is a biology student, has asked me why the Epicurean gods do not experience the emotion of gratitude. After giving an introduction to my view of the gods I ended with my speculation that natural selection has removed the never-invoked vestigial emotion. My answer was:
“Great question about gratitude by the gods. I was stuck there too. There is no single point in any ancient document at which the question is answered directly that I know of. My answer is derived and constructed, and not definitive. All the points I parrot and paraphrase below are found in Epicurus’ three letters, and in Lucretius’s poems, and perhaps some other public and free sources. Many translations exist, and each has their strength and weakness. I have studied them and continue to do so. I understand more upon each reading. I am still learning. Here goes. Its not all my words, but a mix.
When it comes to humans, gratitude is a pleasant feeling. A good feeling. A desirable feeling. A pleasurable feeling. It warms our hearts and puts smiles on our faces. We actively and wisely recall past pleasant moments and actively renew our happiness with such recollections. We humans are not gods, yet, even though we can live a life that can compare to theirs. The virtues of the gods are different from the virtues of humans. In both cases Nature give the animal its virtues. Natural selection gives each life form virtues that help it navigate its natural environment. The Epicurean gods are natural beings that are made of elementary particles just like you and me.
The universe is unbounded. The universe is composed of many cosmos (observable universes). Physics is the same everywhere. The universe is full of life and beings that compare to those animals we know on Earth and similar to beings we can imagine/intuit.
Everywhere on earth that we look, we conclude that human nature has given people the intuition that blessed beings exist. By blessed, we mean happy and able to preserve their nature against the diseases of old age. Hence there must exist beings that we would consider to be gods. Happy and able to preserve their nature against disease. They have all the resources they need to preserve their nature. They have no need to fear for their life, or for their health or for their happiness. They need nothing from us. They gain nothing from interacting with us. The demand nothing of us. They are not unhappy with us. Nature made our cosmos and them. The gods did not make our cosmos.
When our senses are extinguished, during sleep, or when they are unreliable, when we are sick, thirsty, hungry or injured we cannot rely on our mental impressions, which must always be tested via the senses because illusions of all kinds abound, and imagination is encouraged over careful judgement by most people. It is during these times that humans claim to have visions and dreams of the gods. These are never confirmed by a Canonic (scientifically reliable) approach to observation, analysis, testing and thinking.
At this point I tend to IMAGINE an advanced alien species that is self sufficient and happy, and has been for a while, and so natural selection has removed the never-invoked VESTIGIAL faculty of gratitude.
Once again, I have to admit that I am not satisfied with my answer because gratitude is an instrument of pleasure for humans and is invoked in us because natural selection made us that way. Finally you should know, that we do know that the study of the gods is a very advanced Epicurean topic, left for students who had mastered physics, even though having “the proper attitude” about the gods is a beginner topic.”
What do you guys think?
Cassius. Alexander I think THIS in what you said is the key: “They need nothing from us. They gain nothing from interacting with us”. Gratitude would be an emotion of pleasure arising from having a need fulfilled which was not previously fulfilled. If we are postulating a being who already has all needs filled, and needs nothing further, then there would never arise a situation in which gratitude would be displayed, because gratitude is a response to an unmet need being fulfilled. So I think that’s the heart of it. All the rest you said is true too, but I don’t see any way around this being the heart of it.
Ilkka. My answer would depend on the reason she’s asking this. Is this a practical question or is she interested in the minutiae of Epicurean Philosophy … If this is a practical question, my answer would be that they don’t experience gratitude because they don’t exist … This situation would indicate to me that the person is struggling with a lingering fear of the gods, and I’d work on THAT …
On the level of the philosophical theory, Epicurean gods cannot experience gratitude. They are wholly self-contained and self-maintained beings. Gratitude implies that a being has asked for or received help from an other being. An Epicurean god couldn’t be in either position, because it could help itself in any manner required (self-contained and self-maintained). They are Perfect-with-a-capital-P.
Hiram. I remember that the commentary on Philodemus said that gratitude and anger are related to each other, and both are related to their lack of need and their being self-sufficient.
Alexander. Ilkka, what do you mean when you say with a capital “P”?
Ilkka. Perfect in the strongest sense. Not just a garden variety perfect that is thrown around everywhere.
Alexander. That kind of “Perfect” sounds like “imaginary” to me.
Ilkka. Yes, they are 🙂 …
Alexander. The inquirer is definitely struggling with God belief, and is more comfortable sharing thoughts that would incur the wrath of her family and friends in a private space. Here is the initial inquiry:
I’ve been meaning to read this, finally started this morning, and already got stuck wrestling one of the first few lines: ‘Any perfect being has no trouble of its own, nor does it cause trouble to anyone else; and such a being has no emotions of anger or gratitude, as those emotions exist only in beings that are weak”. It says this is one of the principal doctrines, however, I can’t understand how or why gratitude would be frowned upon. Thoughts?
Further on, I appreciate this line “He who desires to live tranquilly without having anything to fear from other men ought to make them his friends. Those whom he cannot make friends he should at least avoid rendering enemies, and if that is not in his power, he should avoid all dealings with them as much as possible, and keep away from them as far as it is in his interest to do so.” (PD 39)
Ilkka. You could say to her that the first doctrine means that the gods (who don’t exist …) don’t repay worship with favours. Gratitude is only frowned upon when people say that gods have it towards those who pray. Humans can, and should, feel gratitude towards those who actually help them. Does she know that this doctrine is talking about the gods?
Alexander. I assume that she thinks that a “perfect being” is a god.
Ilkka. I would make sure of it by asking, because that might be the source of the confusion.
Alexander. Ilkka, I agree that the gods of popular religion, supernatural gods, do not exist. When you say that the Epicurean gods do not exist in practice, what do you mean? Is it that: being able to preserve their nature is impossible due to heat? Is it that: continuous happiness is impossible while at the same time being born beings that pass through a childhood? Is it that physics (Relativity) forbids causal contact between different cosmos? Is it that even if they could arrive in our solar system that they are immediately rendered unable to preserve their nature when they approach our star’s particle emissions? Is it that they are too smart to risk contact with us? Is it that they have better things to do and would avoid us?
Ilkka. Wow! Now that is a headache of questions, a group of questions, like a pride of lions … I’m joking … I mean that if we follow the rules of evidence (the Canon) and apply it to the gods as presented in the works of Epicurus, we see that such beings don’t exist. This is because we know so MUCH more about the universe than was possible for Epicurus. It’s possible that there are extraterrestrial intelligent beings and they could be vastly more powerful than us, but they would be beings LIKE us, not above us like the Epicurean gods. They would need to preserve themselves like us by eating, consuming energy or whatever. Continuous happiness is possible for humans, so it would be possible to ETs as well …
I have no idea what relativity says about contact between the universes of the multiverse … It would be awesome to see what kind of vehicle ETs would arrive in the Sol system. But I’m pretty sure that the vacuum of space would kill them, provided they hadn’t done some serious genetic engineering … Perhaps they are too smart for that. I would avoid most people if I could …
Alexander. Sorry for the barrage of questions. Especially on a topic that we have so little info about.
Yes, we have never met them, and never seen them. Yes, they would need to eat to preserve/remake their particle bonds against the always-existing fast collisions, that knock particles off their bodies, even if they lived in the cold inter-mundial spaces that disconnect the various cosmos, and have few fast particles. Yes they would be made of the same elementary particles as us and so their particle bond strengths would be the same as ours, and if they were in a warm environment like ours they would need to work harder to preserve their natures.
Not sure what you mean by “above us”? As far as I have read, only in happiness and in finding themselves located where they could preserve their nature–ie. in a cool enough place that their particle bonds could be repaired at a faster rate than they’re broken. I suspect we have different ideas about the advanced alien beings, but I also suspect that humans will never encounter them face to face.
Cassius. Alexander, I doubt it is needed for me to repeat what I’ve said in the past, but this is an area where Ilkka and I disagree, so just wanted to make note of that so my silence isn’t misinterpreted. I believe there is nothing in modern science which would render Epicurus’ logic on this point obsolete.
Alexander. Thanks for the reminder. I think my opinion has changed on this topic a bit. I now see the Epicurean “gods” as compatible with the idea of advanced alien beings that take action to be self sufficient, and avoid disease, but could be murdered in principle even if not in practice. They stay away from dangerous beings like us. 🙂
Cassius. That last comment Alexander harks back to (Norman) DeWitt, who makes the point that Epicurus himself never called them “immortal”. Another analogy to this god issue is the “life on other planets” issue. I suspect he considered the points closely related, and they are pretty equally objectionable to the religious types, who want to see men and their redeemer to be the center of the universe.
Alexander. Look at these guys. They live right here on Earth. Everywhere. They are so small we can barely see them and they can preserve their nature from all kinds of danger. I doubt they fear much. Is there any reason they should be excluded?
Alexander then shared a picture of microscopial tardigrades, who “can go without food and water for more than 10 years and can survive the vacuum of space. They can also withstand pressures around six times greater than those found in the deepest ocean trenches, and handle great doses of ionising radiation”.
Cassius. Good question. They may have the “immortality” part covered, but would our anticipation of a perfect being also require that it be intelligent? I gather that the Epicureans thought (or joked) that the gods must speak Greek, so that may be evidence that we’re talking “perfect” in many different aspects …
Alexander. Yes. Intelligence would seem to matter, but I can’t find anything that says that. All that I find is: happy and self sufficient. “Greek” as perfection in language seems to be a big mistake to me. Seems like Diogenes of Oenoanda would take exception to that too. The following tells me that gods are either not immortal or incapable of learning.
For it is fair to assume that every endeavor to transform the mind, and indeed every attempt to alter any other substance, entails the addition of parts or the transposition of the existing parts or the subtraction of at least some tittle from the sum. But an immortal substance does not allow its parts to be transposed, nor does it permit one jot to be added or to steal away. For every change that involves a thing outstepping its own limits means the instantaneous death of what previously existed.
– (Ferguson’s translation of) Lucretius “On the Nature of Things”
Cassius. I see; thanks. I don’t have much insight, other than to say that in regard to “gods”, the key passage to consider is the “on the nature of the gods” section from Cicero where we find the basis of the “waterfall” analogy…
“For the divine form we have the hints of nature supplemented by the teachings of reason. From nature all men of all races derive the notion of gods as having human shape and none other; for in what other shape do they ever appear to anyone, awake or asleep? But not to make primary concepts the sole test of all things, reason itself delivers the pronouncement. For it seems appropriate that a being who is the most exalted, whether by reason of his happiness or of his eternity, should also be the most beautiful; but what disposition of the limbs, what cast of features, what shape or outline can be more beautiful than the human form? You Stoics at least, Lucilius, (for my friend Cotta says one thing at one time and another at another) are wont to portray the skill of the divine creator by enlarging on beauty as well as the utility of design displayed in all parts of the human figure. But if the human figure surpasses the form of all other living beings, and god is a living being, god must possess the shape which is the most beautiful of all; and since it is agreed that the gods are supremely happy, and no one can be happy without virtue, and virtue cannot exist without reason, and reason is only found in the human shape, it follows that the gods possess the form of man. Yet their form is not corporeal, but only resembles bodily substance; it does not contain blood, but the semblance of blood.
These discoveries of Epicurus are so acute in themselves and so subtly expressed that not everyone would be capable of appreciating them. Still I may rely on your intelligence, and make my exposition briefer than the subject demands. Epicurus then, as he not merely discerns abstruse and recondite things with his mind’s eye, but handles them as tangible realities, teaches that the substance and nature of the gods is such that, in the first place, it is perceived not by the senses but by the mind, and not materially or individually, like the solid objects which Epicurus in virtue of their substantiality entitles steremnia; but by our perceiving images owing to their similarity and succession, because an endless train of precisely similar images arises from the innumerable atoms and streams towards the gods, our mind with the keenest feelings of pleasure fixes its gaze on these images, and so attains an understanding of the nature of a being both blessed and eternal.
Moreover there is the supremely potent principle of infinity, which claims the closest and most careful study; we must understand that it has in the sum of things everything has its exact match and counterpart. This property is termed by Epicurus isonomia, or the principle of uniform distribution. From this principle it follows that if the whole number of mortals be so many, there must exist no less a number of immortals, and if the causes of destruction are beyond count, the causes of conservation also are bound to be infinite.”
Alexander. Hmm. Cicero. Less than desirable. I don’t find any mention of waterfall in that. Some immediate reactions: Cicero’s beauty argument seems invalid if we spit on beauty when it does not bring pleasure. But noninteracting gods cannot bring pleasure except by unfortunate dreams and unreliable visions, and we’d rather fail than succeed by fortune.
Seeing with the mind is “imagination”. Right? Humans are not the only animals that reason. Natural selection gives virtues to all animals, to a lesser or greater degree.
I fail to understand Isonomia. It implies that gods reproduce, but that implies they reorganize their elementary particles and so that means they can be killed. Perhaps we are the gods. If only we could be happier!
Cassius. I think I am referring to DeWitt with the waterfall analogy, or the analogy of moving pictures and movies. As far as seeing with mind, I am not sure that means imagination, at least not if imagination means “making it up”.
Isonomia is very interesting. I am not sure that it implies reproduction but the implication is multiple gods because of the other observation that nature does not make only a single one of a kind. Also with isonomia I think there may be some relationship with anticipations or maybe just the standard way that the faculties interact, but it seems to me the core of it is some process or capacity by which we recognize or have the ability to order items into a series of “higher” and “lower”, in other words I think there is something here that helps us think up the series of characteristics that would come together to form a “perfect” being at the top versus a “primitive” being at the low end.
And there might perhaps be the kind of pleasure in contemplating or visualizing higher beings that perhaps it seems dogs have in interacting with people–as an example. They seem to instinctively be happy around humans beyond just a good source. I think that it is possible that such a reaction might be similar to what the ancient Epicureans were suggesting we would feel with the beneficent images from “gods”. Not sure, but something in that direction. Or maybe just the sense of admiration that a young tennis player might feel in personally interacting with Arthur Ashe or John McEnroe–my sports analogies are dated.
I suppose to comment on this point, it is very important for our confidence in the stability of the universe to consider that there is at some level some “smallest” particle which carries the basic characteristics which give the universe stability. I certainly don’t consider a particle a god, but Epicurus appears to have been looking in the isonomia concept at a sliding scale from most primitive to highest, and that just as an elemental particle is absolutely stable and needs/gives nothing, he was probably thinking that a “perfected” form of life would have the same characteristics. I think I do agree that Epicurus would probably say that he had never seen one himself nor expected to, but this kind of logical argument–or, should I say, arguing at this kind of basic theoretical level–is probably necessary for some people, who would otherwise worry that there is some possibility that Jehovah (or Allah, or Krishna) does exist. Remember the passage in Lucretius about arguments that win “coming and going” or something like that–cutting off the enemy’s retreat. I think this is that kind of argument.
… Now that I think further, wasn’t the reference “Greek or a language like Greek”? This phrasing “or an X like X” seems to have been an Epicurean pattern.
Ilkka. Cassius, you wrote above: “I believe there is nothing in modern science which would render Epicurus’ logic on this point obsolete“, in reference to the Epicurean gods.
My point is that it’s NOT his logic, but the evidence that he (could have) had at his disposal. I think that if Epicurus saw the evidence we have, he too would come to the conclusion that the Epicurean gods are not possible.
From particle physics we know that there are only so many possible combinations that material beings can be made out of, and none of them seem to produce gods. We know from looking into the universe in ever broadening range of wavelengths that there doesn’t seem to be intelligent life anywhere near us. And studies of human perception have shown that although many people THINK they have seen ‘gods’, they really haven’t. It’s not that the Epicurean gods are at odds with modern science–though they are–but that they are at odds with Epicurean epistemology. And the Canon of Knowledge trumps theology every time …
Cassius. In a universe that is infinite in size, which is not theology but deduced from the principles of atomism, it is impossible to say that we can ever see far enough to rule out all combinations that exist in the universe.
Elli. From Diogenes’ inscription:
Only a few men among hundreds are conscientious because they fear the gods rather than the laws. Not even these few are steadfast in acting righteously, for even these are not soundly persuaded about the will of the gods. Clear proof of the complete inability of religion to prevent wrong-doing is provided by the example of the Jews and the Egyptians. These nations, while being among the most religious and superstitious of men, are also the most vile.
So what kind of gods or religion will cause men to act righteously? Men are not righteous on ACCOUNT OF THE REAL GODS, nor on account of Plato’s and Socrates’ judges in Hades.
With your permission, my Epicurean friends: in the above paragraph I understand that Diogenes examines the consequences and he declares clearly that both of gods (REAL and FAKE) do not cause men to act righteously.
So, according to the above from Diogenes, we understand that he examines the matter of “gods” under the term of “benefit”. How beneficial are the gods for a human being to live a happy and pleasant life? As we have confirmed with our own senses and history, there is no benefit at all. From Epicurus’ Epistle to Menoeceus, we undestand that to live a pleasant life we have to connect it with wisdom (or prudence) as all virtues spring from it.
Wisdom is something more valuable even than philosophy itself, inasmuch as all the other virtues spring from it. Wisdom teaches us that it is not possible to live happily unless one also lives wisely, and honestly, and justly; and that one cannot live wisely and honestly and justly without also living happily. For these virtues are by nature bound up together with the happy life, and the happy life is inseparable from these virtues.
Another point of the letter is:
But, men do not understand that the gods have virtues that are different from their own.
Must we connect the virtues with prudence and pleasure? Yes! Question: which are those different virtues that the gods have to maintain for ever to live pleasantly? OR do the gods not live pleasantly? If gods do not have pleasure this means that they are against all of Nature. For this reason, in my opinion, Epicurus placed gods in metakosmia (intermundia).
Question: Did Epicurus declare whether the atoms and the void exist in the intermundia (the space between the kosmoi)? Our first principle is that the atoms and the void exist everywhere. So, the gods live in a place where Nature gives to those upper beings the same aim: “pleasure”.
Why, then, are gods such kinds of beings that have different virtues from us? Their different virtues based on the fact that they keep their energy and pleasure on the level of 100% constantly and they do not worry about food, water, and there is no entropy. The universe is not a closed system. If we have a confirmation of this, then we have to admit that the gods are obvious.
What is obvious and what has been confirmed? Particles and the void, and endless energy. In my view, when Epicurus spoke about “gods” who are obvious, he meant and described the particles, the void, and the endless energy. In my view, the “void” has the same meaning as the word intermudia. If it was not like this, then we have to call Epicurus “idealist” and not “materialist”.
Hiram. According to Philodemus’ scroll On Piety, Metrodorus proposed a theory whereby immortal gods might be viable, based on an unclear concept of something being numerically indistinct. This sounds like the way in which a beehive or some insect species constitute an autonomous super-being by virtue of being so numerous. It’s a fascinating concept, and I wish we had better and more complete sources on this.
Metrodorus … explained that if a compound is made of things that aren’t numerically distinct, these things may be imperishable and indestructible or divine. In his work “On Holiness”, Epicurus is quoted as elaborating a doctrine about the physical Gods being eternal and indestructible, and saying that one who exists in this manner “in perfection as one and the same entity, is termed a unified entity“.
Alexander. I have similar, but not identical thoughts. I thought that perhaps the gods were elementary particles, but ruled that out, since such could not be happy. Then I thought maybe they were composites of one kind of elementary particles, but that could not be complex enough to experience happiness, or be able to preserve its nature. With regards to preserving their nature, the inter-mundial spaces provide good shelter.
The inter-mundial spaces must have some particles even if the density is much less and the particles are much slower. Kind of like intergalactic space is said to be cold (less particles and slower particles). But this means a lack of action, and so living longer adds no benefit, since it does not mean more pleasure.
No entropy? How can there be no entropy? No entropy, no change, no sensation, no pleasure, no virtue, no nature to preserve.
Elli. The universe not being a closed system, and having endless energy. And if we base ourselves on the atoms to prove the swerve (free will), we have to base ourselves on the atoms to prove the obvious nature of gods as Epicurus said.
Alexander. The Universe, not a closed system? Do you mean the cosmos? There are many cosmos, but only one Universe. Nothing can enter the Universe from outside it, and nothing can exit the Universe.
Elli. Yes many Cosmos and only one Universe.
Alexander. The Universe is closed by definition. Right?
Elli. Right! Cosmos is not a closed system. Right?
Alexander. The kosmoi are not closed systems. Modern science calls them “observable universe”. We know there are many but we can only observe our own. We only have evidence from our own. The kosmoi are born and die. We can see the evidence of our cosmos birth. Big Bang.
Cassius. There are all sorts of questions here but I think it is useful, because there will be clues to the train of thought by asking these questions. What attributes would a highest perfect being have. Consciousness would seem mandatory. But we know that consciousness comes from / through nonconscious particles. So even if we don’t worry about whether the term “God” is appropriate, we ought to be able to approximate their view by considering how men might “evolve” into deathless, fully self-sufficient organisms. And there’s no need to exclude the idea that this “evolution” comes from scientific genetic engineering. We are making fast progress ourselves, and the time we have to continue making improvements is essentially unlimited. And since the universe is infinitely old, and boundless in space, one would expect and presume that the process of perfection of life forms has occurred an innumerable number of times in the past.
Elli. But Cassius, as we said with Alex above, our Universe is a closed system and there is entropy. The energy one day will finish. How can those beings or gods maintain their energy forever in a closed system, as our Universe? For this reason, Epicurus placed them in metakosmia or intermundia. This means between the kosmoi.
Alexander. Hold on. There is entropy. What does that mean from a particle point of view? It means only that some particles are faster than the average speed transferred between them upon scattering events (collisions, absorptions, and emissions). Meaning change within our cosmos exists for now. Our cosmos will die–change in our cosmos will cease. We cannot conclude the same for the Universe. We can only observe our cosmos, hence we never observe anything that resides “between the (plural) cosmos”. Not that I even know what “between the cosmos” even means. Sounds like “imaginary” to me.
Cassius. I am not sure I am following the closed system implications, but Lucretius clearly states that in total, the forces of creation prevail over the forces of destruction, or the universe would have long ago ceased to exist. If “closed system” conflicts with this, then I would say it is not. Only in the verbal sense of defining universe as “all that there is” would I think the term could be used, and even there it would be necessary to stipulate that “closed” does not mean numerable. I do not claim expertise in this so correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think it is a good idea to talk in terms of observable universes because an infinite universe is going to be infinitely larger than that which is observable to us.
Hiram. Right, if the universe is really infinite, and if so is the number of atoms, then the question of exhaustion of particles and entropy can be in theory overruled because there is no end.
Alexander. The universe is closed, according to the Epistle to Herodotus. Nothing can enter or exit it, but that does not mean the universe will run out of motion or particles (energy). The cosmos we live in will die (reach particle equilibrium) and no further change will occur in it.
Cassius. As I reread what you wrote, Elli, I think we are together. There are innumerable kosmoi …
Elli. We read that this imperishable being has the feeling of pleasure, for it is happy! If this being had not the feeling of “pleasure”, that would be against the Nature. Wouldn’t it?
Principal Doctrine 1. Any being which is happy and imperishable neither has trouble itself, nor does it cause trouble to anything else. A perfect being does not have feelings either of anger or gratitude, for these feelings exist only in the weak.
Do you know, Cassius, that in ancient Greek language PD1 continues: Elsewhere he (Epicurus) says that the gods are perceived by the mind, that some were subjected by number (ie. as individualities), others as their likeness that was formed from the continuous (prosthetics) flow of identical images which end up in the same place, (and that they are) anthropomorphic … (?)
Cassius. Also we have to remember that Epicurus was always constructing plausible alternative explanations, and stating clearly that any number of alternatives consistent with our limited evidence, and not contradicted by our limited evidence, may be part or all of the truth. So by definition with our limited evidence it would be improper to assert that only one explanation can fit the bill where multiple explanations also fit the evidence.
Good point, Elli. He clearly was talking not just imperishable but also “happy”, and that surely implies consciousness …
Elli. Is it true that particles and the void exist all over the kosmoi? Why did Epicurus place the gods in “metacosmia”? This means between the kosmoi. If a sentient being lives between the kosmoi, and it is happy and pleased—as it maintains its energy internally–how can they communicate with other kosmoi and send identical images to us? That is, how does the mind perceive their images? My mind goes to the particles only. These can end up in the same place and be anthropomorphic too.
Alexander. Yes. If they are “between the kosmoi” then it is impossible to bidirectionally communicate to entities within the cosmos, but not impossible to have one way communication from the far past arrive into the future of a cosmos as long as the universe is expanding. Eventually it will be impossible. For example today we have evidence of the birth of our cosmos, but in half a million years, no living being will have access to that fact. The cosmos will look unborn to them.
In the same way, a god could have transmitted a broadcast 12 billion years ago and that could arrive here but the expanding cosmos prevents communicating back. Eventually the god is forever kept from interacting with us too. Even one way communication eventually fails to keep up to the expansion rate.
Elli. “Even one way communication fades”. Alexander, do you mean that they can’t send images and we can’t send our images back?
Alexander. Yes. Eventually the distance and the separation velocity is too large to be overcome even by the fastest particles. Even the unsurpassable particles. Photons.
Elli. Is there somewhere in the kosmoi any other velocity faster than light? In my opinion: yes, our mind, which can run anywhere faster than light. This means that we can imagine everything. So if the gods can perceived by the mind, and if we connect them with justice as Diogenes said … but now, as we know, “justice” is not something that can be perceived by the mind, only Plato said that. So, the perception of the gods is totally useless for human beings and provides no benefit to live a pleasant and untroubled life. Epicurus was right to place them in metacosmia! No communication, just images of our imagination. As Liantinis explained and said it: “GHOSTS are the gods for Epicurus”.
Alexander. I think I agree with your conclusion, but not the premise of faster than light minds. Mind is matter. Our brain neurons communicate by the exchange of ions. Ions are electrically charged chemical elements with significant mass and inertia, but the electrical charges they have are mediated by photons. These are the fastest and lightest elementary particles. Our imagination takes short cuts, and does not generate reliable complete images, and hence can “leap” to conclusions. The conclusions might be wrong.
Elli. Alexander can you tell me please, if the scientists managed to see and watch the particles? Because an Epicurean friend somewhere wrote that we did not see them yet, and we perceive them only by the mind as we perceive the gods!
Alexander. Animal/human eyes see by photon collisions changing the shape of retinal molecules that transduce electrical charge. No eye or instrument is capable of seeing chemical elements by photon collisions, of the kind that eyes are sensitive too. It is impossible. Epicurus was right.
However we can collide electrons off of chemical molecules and large atoms. If we collide many many electrons off chemicals and observe their ricochet patterns we can deduce their shape and density. People say “we photographed” the chemical, but its not photography by photons. These instruments are called electron microscopes. “Electrography”.
We can also deduce the shape of some molecules by bombarding them with x-ray photons and observing the patterns of reflected photon on xray sensitive photographic paper.
Epicurus taught us that all sensation is by “touch”. That is why we collide particles with the target that we hope to learn about. The photons that human eyes can detect are not suitable for detecting chemicals. They are even less suitable for seeing elementary particles.
There are three types of “scattering events”. They are:
Epicurus knew this. Collision means that the projectile particle that has been emitted in the direction of a target body is repulsed when it comes near the target body under investigation. This is “touching”. If there is no repulsion, there is no “touching” and there cannot be sensation.
Regarding the forces of creation and destruction. On the Universal scale the creative forces exceed the destructive ones, but not on smaller scales.
I take this as self evident. I mean of the four known forces gravity is always attractive (creative) and the others have both attractive and repulsive actions that cancel, on average, when summed at long distances. At Universal scales gravity dominates despite the fact that at short scales it is the weakest.
Elli. How many things I learn from you, Alexander, and how happy you make me when you say that “Epicurus knew this”! We are “touching” his philosophy, and keeping in touch with each other. I am really so proud for my Epicurean friends all over the world.
I wish to finish my life in that moment when Epicurus’ philosophy helps and gives many people mental balance, as he gave to me. Next year I will start to write a book addressed to my unborn grandchildren. They have to learn everything that I did not know in my childhood, when darkness covered the light of pleasure and happiness. I will write down the punishments from my “teacher” of theology. I still remember his red face, how he goggled his eyes, and that steam in his ears when I asked him questions and I didn’t get the right answers.
And thus ends the record of our dialogues on the Epicurean Gods.
Please remember my doctrines! – Epicurus’ last words
The following meme series was put together by one of the newest members of SoFE in commemoration of the 40 Principal Doctrines.
Epicurus: Principle Doctrines #1
A blessed and indestructible being has no trouble itself and brings no trouble upon any other being; so it is free from anger and partiality, for all such things imply weakness.
Τὸ μακάριον καὶ ἄφθαρτον οὔτε αὐτὸ πράγματα ἔχει οὔτε ἄλλῳ παρέχει· ὥστε οὔτε ὀργαῖς οὔτε χάρισι συνέχεται· ἐν ἀσθενεῖ γὰρ πᾶν τὸ τοιοῦτον.
Epicurus: Principle Doctrines #2
Death is nothing to us; for the body, when it has been resolved into its elements, has no feeling, and that which has no feeling is nothing to us.
La muerte es nada para nosotros, ya que el cuerpo, cuando ha sido disuelto en los elementos, no tiene sensación, y aquello que no tiene sensación es nada para nosotros.
Ὁ θάνατος οὐδὲν πρὸς ἡμᾶς· τὸ γὰρ διαλυθὲν ἀναισθητεῖ· τὸ δ’ ἀναισθητοῦν οὐδὲν πρὸς ἡμᾶς.
Epicurus: Principle Doctrines #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.
Ὅρος τοῦ μεγέθους τῶν ἡδονῶν ἡ παντὸς τοῦ ἀλγοῦντος ὑπεξαίρεσις. ὅπου δ’ ἂν τὸ ἡδόμενον ἐνῇ, καθ’ ὃν ἂν χρόνον ᾖ, οὐκ ἔστι τὸ ἀλγοῦν ἢ τὸ λυπούμενον ἢ τὸ συναμφότερον.
Epicurus: Principle Doctrines #4
Continuous pain does not last long in the flesh, and pain, if extreme, is present a very short time, and even that degree of pain which barely outweighs pleasure in the flesh does not occur for many days together. Illnesses of long duration even permit of an excess of pleasure over pain in the flesh.
Οὐ χρονίζει τὸ ἀλγοῦν συνεχῶς ἐν τῇ σαρκί, ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν ἄκρον τὸν ἐλάχιστον χρόνον πάρεστι, τὸ δὲ μόνον ὑπερτεῖνον τὸ ἡδόμενον κατὰ σάρκα οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας συμβαίνει· αἱ δὲ πολυχρόνιοι τῶν ἀρρωστιῶν πλεονάζον ἔχουσι τὸ ἡδόμενον ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἤ περ τὸ ἀλγοῦν.
Epicurus: Principle Doctrines #5
It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man does not live wisely, though he lives well and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.
Οὐκ ἔστιν ἡδέως ζῆν ἄνευ τοῦ φρονίμως καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως <οὐδὲ φρονίμως καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως> ἄνευ τοῦ ἡδέως· ὅτῳ δ᾽ ἕν τούτων μὴ ὑπάρχει οἷον ζῆν φρονίμως, καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως ὑπάρχει, οὐκ ἔστι τοῦτον ἡδέως ζῆν.
Principle Doctrines #6:
To secure protection from men anything is a natural good, by which you may be able to attain this end.
Ἕνεκα τοῦ θαρρεῖν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἦν κατὰ φύσιν ἀγαθόν, ἐξ ὧν ἄν ποτε τοῦτο οἷός τ’ ᾖ παρασκευάζεσθαι.
Epicurus Principle Doctrines 7:
Some men want fame and status, thinking that they would thus make themselves secure against other men. If the life of such men really were secure, they have attained a natural good; if, however, it is insecure, they have not attained the end which by nature’s own prompting they originally sought.
Ἔνδοξοι καὶ περίβλεπτοί τινες ἐβουλήθησαν γενέσθαι, τὴν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἀσφάλειαν οὕτω νομίζοντες περιποιήσεσθαι. ὥστε εἰ μὲν ἀσφαλὴς ὁ τῶν τοιούτων βίος, ἀπέλαβον τὸ τῆς φύσεως ἀγαθόν· εἰ δὲ μὴ ἀσφαλής, οὐκ ἔχουσιν οὗ ἕνεκα ἐξ ἀρχῆς κατὰ τὸ τῆς φύσεως οἰκεῖον ὠρέχθησαν.
Epicurus Principle Doctrines #8
No pleasure is in itself bad, but the things which produce certain pleasures entail annoyances many times greater than the pleasures themselves.
Οὐδεμία ἡδονὴ καθ’ ἑαυτὴν κακόν· ἀλλὰ τὰ τινῶν ἡδονῶν ποιητικὰ πολλαπλασίους ἐπιφέρει τὰς ὀχλήσεις τῶν ἡδονῶν.
Epicurus Principle Doctrines #9
If every pleasure were condensed and were present at the same time and in the whole of one’s nature or its primary parts, then the pleasures would never differ from one another.
If all pleasure had been capable of accumulation, if this had gone on not only in time, but all over the frame or, at any rate, the principal parts of man’s nature, there would not have been any difference between one pleasure and another as, in fact, there now is.
If the objects which are productive of pleasures to profligate persons really freed them from fears of the mind—the fears, I mean, inspired by celestial and atmospheric phenomena, the fear of death, the fear of pain—if, further, they taught them to limit their desires, we should not have any reason to censure such persons, for they would then be filled with pleasure to overflowing on all sides and would be exempt from all pain, whether of body or mind, that is, from all evil.
If the things that produced the delights of those who are decadent washed away the mind’s fears about astronomical phenomena and death and suffering, and furthermore if they taught us the limits of our pains and desires, then we would have no complaints against them, since they would be filled with every joy and would contain not a single pain or distress (and that’s what is bad).
Εἰ τὰ ποιητικὰ τῶν περὶ τοὺς ἀσώτους ἡδονῶν ἔλυε τοὺς φόβους τῆς διανοίας τούς τε περὶ μετεώρων καὶ θανάτου καὶ ἀλγηδόνων, ἔτι τε τὸ πέρας τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν ἐδίδασκεν, οὐκ ἄν ποτε εἴχομεν ὅ τι μεμψαίμεθα αὐτοῖς, πανταχόθεν ἐκπληρουμένοις τῶν ἡδονῶν καὶ οὐδαμόθεν οὔτε τὸ ἀλγοῦν οὔτε τὸ λυπούμενον ἔχουσιν, ὅ περ ἐστὶ τὸ κακόν.
Epicurus Principle Doctrines 11-13 deal with the fear of celestial occurrences that many superstitions ascribe to vengeful deities. The fear of death and the neglect of life can hold people bound. The release from these fears comes from studying nature (demystifying natural phenomena such as comets, earthquakes and death).
11 Εἰ μηθὲν ἡμᾶς αἱ τῶν μετεώρων ὑποψίαι ἠνώχλουν καὶ αἱ περὶ θανάτου, μή ποτε πρὸς ἡμᾶς ᾖ τι, ἔτι τε τὸ μὴ κατανοεῖν τοὺς ὅρους τῶν ἀλγηδόνων καὶ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, οὐκ ἂν προσεδεόμεθα φυσιολογίας.
12 Οὐκ ἦν τὸ φοβούμενον λύειν ὑπὲρ τῶν κυριωτάτων μὴ κατειδότα τίς ἡ τοῦ σύμπαντος φύσις, ἀλλ’ ὑποπτευόμενόν τι τῶν κατὰ τοὺς μύθους. ὥστε οὐκ ἦν ἄνευ φυσιολογίας ἀκεραίους τὰς ἡδονὰς ἀπολαμβάνειν.
13 Οὐθὲν ὄφελος ἦν τὴν κατὰ ἀνθρώπους ἀσφάλειαν παρασκευάζεσθαι τῶν ἄνωθεν ὑπόπτων καθεστώτων καὶ τῶν ὑπὸ γῆς καὶ ἁπλῶς τῶν ἐν τῷ ἀπείρῳ
11 If we had never been molested by alarms at celestial and atmospheric phenomena, nor by the misgiving that death somehow affects us, nor by neglect of the proper limits of pains and desires, we should have had no need to study natural science.
12 It would be impossible to banish fear on matters of the highest importance if a man did not know the nature of the whole universe but lived in dread of what the legends tell us. Hence, without the study of nature there was no enjoyment of unmixed pleasures.
13 There would be no advantage in providing security against our fellow-men so long as we were alarmed by occurrences over our heads or beneath the earth, or in general by whatever happens in the infinite void.
11 If our suspicions about astronomical phenomena and about death were nothing to us and troubled us not at all, and if this were also the case regarding our ignorance about the limits of our pains and desires, then we would have no need for studying what is natural.
12 It is impossible for someone who is completely ignorant about nature to wash away his fears about the most important matters if he retains some suspicions about the myths. So it is impossible to experience undiluted enjoyment without studying what is natural.
13 It is useless to be safe from other people while retaining suspicions about what is above and below the earth and in general about the boundless unknown
Epicurus Principle Doctrine 14
Safety from people although attained up to a certain point by strength and the ability to repel and by prosperity – (the) truest [safety] comes from tranquility and withdrawal from the many.
Τῆς ἀσφαλείας τῆς ἐξ ἀνθρώπων γενομένης μέχρι τινὸς δυνάμει τινὶ ἐξερειστικῇ καὶ εὐπορίᾳ εἰλικρινεστάτη γίνεται ἡ ἐκ τῆς ἡσυχίας καὶ ἐκχωρήσεως τῶν πολλῶν ἀσφάλεια.
When tolerable security against our fellow-men is attained, then on a basis of power arises most genuine bliss, to wit, the security of a private life withdrawn from the multitude.
Although some measure of safety from others comes from the power to fight them off and from abundant wealth, the purest security comes from solitude and breaking away from the herd.
Epicurus Principle Doctrines 15
Natural wealth is both limited and easy to acquire, but the riches incited by groundless opinion are boundless.
Nature’s wealth has its bounds and is easy to procure, but the wealth of vain fancies recedes to an infinite distance.
Ὁ τῆς φύσεως πλοῦτος καὶ ὥρισται καὶ εὐπόριστός ἐστιν· ὁ δὲ τῶν κενῶν δοξῶν εἰς ἄπειρον ἐκπίπτει.
Epicurus Principle Doctrines #16
Fortune but slightly crosses the wise man’s path; his greatest and highest interests are directed by reason throughout the course of life.
Chance steals only a bit into the life of a wise person: for throughout the complete span of his life the greatest and most important matters have been, are, and will be directed by the power of reason.
Βραχέα σοφῷ τύχη παρεμπίπτει, τὰ δὲ μέγιστα καὶ κυριώτατα ὁ λογισμὸς διῴκησε κατὰ τὸν συνεχῆ χρόνον τοῦ βίου.
The same conviction which inspires confidence that nothing we have to fear is eternal or even of long duration, also enables us to see that in the limited evils of this life nothing enhances our security so much as friendship.#KnowYourCircle
Ἡ αὐτὴ γνώμη θαρρεῖν τε ἐποίησεν ὑπὲρ τοῦ μηθὲν αἰώνιον εἶναι δεινὸν μηδὲ πολυχρόνιον, καὶ τὴν ἐν αὐτοῖς τοῖς ὡρισμένοις ἀσφάλειαν φιλίας μάλιστα κατεῖδε συντελουμένην.
Epicurus: Principle Doctrines #32
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Nevertheless, some men indulge without limit their avarice, ambition, love of power, lust, gluttony, and those other desires which ill-gotten gains can never diminish, but rather inflame. Such men are the proper subjects for restraint, rather than for reformation.
NewEpicurean Commentary: There is no concept of justice or injustice between living creatures that are incapable of making agreements not to harm one another, and this includes men who are unable or unwilling to make such agreements.
Epicurus: Principle Doctrines #39
The man who best knows how to meet external threats makes into one family all the creatures he can; and those he can not, he at any rate does not treat as aliens; and where he finds even this impossible, he avoids all dealings, and, so far as is advantageous, excludes them from his life.
To eat and drink without a friend is to devour like the lion and the wolf. ― Epicurus
In a letter written in 1429, Cosma Raimondi–a native of Cremona in Lombardy, Italy who later migrated to France to teach–was one of the early Renaissance humanists who defended Epicurus against the Stoics, Platonists, and Aristotelians in an early epistolary treatise in defense of Epicurus and of virtuous pleasure. His letter–a translation of which is available from New Epicurean–and the fervor with which it was written, stand out as symptoms of the dawn of the Enlightenment. It’s titled A Letter to Ambrogio Tignosi in Defence of Epicurus against the Stoics, Academics and Peripatetics, and it was intended for an apostate who had at one point been Epicurean but had abandoned the Epicurean camp.
This indicates that they belonged to a circle of friends in the Italy of the early 15th Century that had an intellectually rich life and, in fact, he was a pupil of the well-known humanist teacher Gasparino Barzizza.
It is not just a dispute between ourselves, for all the ancient philosophers, principally the three sects of Academics, Stoics and Aristotelians, declared war to the death against this one man who was the master of them all. Their onslaught sought to leave no place for him in philosophy and to declare all his opinions invalid in my view, because they were envious at seeing so many more pupils taking themselves to the school of Epicurus than to their own.
Immediately, one feature stands out which reminds us of Jefferson’s epistle to William Short: his fervor for the doctrine. Jefferson refers to Epicurus as his Master and to himself as a pupil, and a true and passionate one who must defend the Master. In Jefferson’s letter, we find the author arguing in favor of the true, not the imputed teachings of Epicurus.
Cosma begins his arguments by ridiculing the Stoic view that virtue is the source of human happiness, and that even if a man is being tortured by the cruellest butchers, that he can still be happy. The author calls this view absurd and dismisses it as obviously and self-evidently false.
How again could you be further from any sort of happiness than to lack all or most of the things that themselves make up happiness? The Stoics think that someone who is starving and lame and afflicted with all the other disadvantages of health or external circumstances is nonetheless in a state of perfect felicity as long as he can display his virtue.
He then goes on to question the neglect of the flesh, of the body, which goes along with the rejection of pleasure and the exaltation of virtue, as problematic.
Why do they consider only the mind and neglect the body, when the body houses the mind and is the other half of what man is?
And in the same way that the body is not to be thought healthy when some part of it is sick, so man himself cannot be thought happy if he is suffering in some part of himself. As for their assigning happiness to the mind alone on the grounds that it is in some sense the master and ruler of mans body, it is quite absurd to disregard the body when the mind itself often depends on the state and condition the body and indeed can do nothing without it. Should we not deride someone we saw sitting on a throne and calling himself a king when he had no courtiers or servants? Should we think someone a fine prince whose servants were slovenly and misshapen?
The Stoics’ lack of concern for bodily integrity, which comes adorned with an air of fortitude and nobility, constitutes to a great extent lack of compassion on the one hand, and on the other hand it produces, in its practical effects, indifference towards injustices and evils that may be committed against innocent persons. Together with the arbitrary and unqualified elevation of apathy and resignation to the status of virtues, this leads to a lifestyle that impedes the addressing of grievances and is in huge contrast with the approach that we see in Philodemus’ scroll On Anger, which calls for the compassionate treatment of anger and indignation as a source of insight and as an excuse for reformation and change.
By requiring the silence and consent of our emotions, Stoicism holds its victims hostage to fate even when things might be done to address grievances and to challenge evil, dangerous and harmful paradigms. Without finding useful and pragmatic outlets for anger, there would have been no civil rights movement, no Stonewall riots, no possibility of redemption from injustices.
The rationalizing of dangerous, cruel and irrelevant so-called moral views divorced from the study of nature also produces a kind of alienation from nature. Or perhaps this rationalizing is produced by alienation? Cosma makes the observation:
I find it surprising that these clever Stoics did not remember when investigating the subject that they themselves were men. Their conclusions came not from what human nature demanded but from what they could contrive in argument.
Cosma then visits all the senses and comments on how they like to dwell on the sensory objects that are aesthetically pleasing. He takes a moment to notice the self-evident truths of hedonistic naturalism. He does not rationalize these pleasures, or link them to theories such as natural selection. He also does not deny mental pleasures, in fact he includes them in his contemplation. He then concludes:
Epicurus was right, then, to call pleasure the supreme good, since we are so constituted as almost to seem designed for that purpose. We also have a certain inherent mental disposition to seek and attain pleasure: as far as we can, we try to be happy and not sad.
Cosma also makes indirect mention of the doctrine of confident expectation, which indicates that we derive ataraxia not only from friends, philosophy, and other pleasures, but from the confident expectation that our friends will be there if we need them, that the necessary and natural goods are easy to attain, etc. This, together with his indication that virtue derives its value from the pleasure it brings, indicates the author’s deep insight into Epicurean ethics.
If virtue brings no pleasure or delight, why should we want it or make much of it? But if it does, why not concede that the greatest of all goods what should seek above all is that for the sake of which virtue itself is desirable
Since Epicurus does not suppose that life should be lived without virtue, I do not think he leads the life of animals. So he is not to be shunned like some traitor who would overthrow or pervert human society. He does not corrupt public morals; his whole doctrine is instead directed at making us as happy as we can be.
The epistle closes with an invitation to return back to the philosophy that Ambrogio had once, like Cosma, embraced and defended, and with a regretful declaration that, due to limited time, he was unable to cover more points.
Alex Díaz’ Presentation to Red Bank Humanists on Epicurean Philosophy:
Video by New Epicurean:
A Gigantic Jigsaw Puzzle: The Epicurean Inscription of Diogenes of Oinoanda
Share Ideas video titled “Epicurus: Taking Pleasure Seriously”
Gregory B Sadler Videos on Epicurus: