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Epicurean Week Development Project

Why study Epicurus? Everyone needs a philosophy by which to organize their lives. (This is the short introduction.)

In this section we ask and answer the question; “Why Study Epicurus?” A list of modern problems we all have.

  1. Why study Epicurean philosophy? Reasons presented by the Letter of Menoeceus and the Wall of Oinoanda, & VS14, VS54
  2. The life of Epicurus and historical context of Epicurus and the Epicurean School
  3. Other historical figures influenced by Epicureanism
  4. Overview of the Epicurean texts extant remains
  5. The importance of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura

Read what famous people throughout history have said about Epicurus:

  1. Thomas Jefferson - As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us. Epictetus indeed, has given us what was good of the stoics; all beyond, of their dogmas, being hypocrisy and grimace. Their great crime was in their calumnies of Epicurus and misrepresentations of his doctrines; in which we lament to see the candid character of Cicero engaging as an accomplice. Diffuse, vapid, rhetorical, but enchanting. His prototype Plato, eloquent as himself, dealing out mysticisms incomprehensible to the human mind, has been deified by certain sects usurping the name of Christians; because, in his foggy conceptions, they found a basis of impenetrable darkness whereon to rear fabrications as delirious, of their own invention. These they fathered blasphemously on him who they claimed as their founder, but who would disclaim them with the indignation which their caricatures of his religion so justly excite. Of Socrates we have nothing genuine but in the Memorabilia of Xenophon; for Plato makes him one of his collocutors merely to cover his own whimsies under the mantle of his name; a liberty of which we are told Socrates himself complained. Seneca is indeed a fine moralist, disguising his work at times with some Stoicisms, and affecting too much of antithesis and point, yet giving us on the whole a great deal of sound and practical morality.” [Jefferson’s letter to William Short]
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche - “The imperium Romanum that we know, and that the history of the Roman provinces teaches us to know better and better,—this most admirable of all works of art in the grand manner was merely the beginning, and the structure to follow was not to prove its worth for thousands of years. To this day, nothing on a like scale sub specie aeterni has been brought into being, or even dreamed of!—This organization was strong enough to withstand bad emperors: the accident of personality has nothing to do with such things—the first principle of all genuinely great architecture. But it was not strong enough to stand up against the corruptest of all forms of corruption—against Christians… These stealthy worms, which under the cover of night, mist and duplicity, crept upon every individual, sucking him dry of all earnest interest in real things, of all instinct for reality—this cowardly, effeminate and sugar-coated gang gradually alienated all “souls”, step by step, from that colossal edifice, turning against it all the meritorious, manly and noble natures that had found in the cause of Rome their own cause, their own serious purpose, their own pride. The sneakishness of hypocrisy, the secrecy of the conventicle, concepts as black as hell, such as the sacrifice of the innocent, the unio mystica in the drinking of blood, above all, the slowly rekindled fire of revenge, of Chandala revenge—all that sort of thing became master of Rome: the same kind of religion which, in a pre-existent form, Epicurus had combatted. One has but to read Lucretius to know what Epicurus made war upon—not paganism, but “Christianity”, which is to say, the corruption of souls by means of the concepts of guilt, punishment and immortality.—He combatted the subterranean cults, the whole of latent Christianity—to deny immortality was already a form of genuine salvation.—Epicurus had triumphed, and every respectable intellect in Rome was Epicurean—when Paul appeared… Paul, the Chandala hatred of Rome, of “the world”, in the flesh and inspired by genius….”’ [Nietzsche - AntiChrist]
  3. Diogenes Laertius (Ancient Biographer of Philosophers): “There are plenty of witnesses of the unsurpassable kindness of [Epicurus] to everybody; both his own country which honored him with brazen statues, and his friends who were so numerous that they could not be contained in whole cities; and all his acquaintances who were bound to him by nothing but the charms of his doctrine.”
  4. Lucretius (Ancient Poet): “Epicurus […] he who outshone the human race in genius and obscured the luster of all as the rising of the sun extinguishes the stars.” (III:1043-45)
  5. “For if we are to speak as the majesty of his revelations demand, a god he was, a god […] who first discovered that principle of life which is now identified with wisdom, and who by his genius saved life from such mighty waves and such deep darkness and moored it in such calm water and so brilliant light. […] so we have the more justification for deifying the author of the sweet consolations of life that, disseminated throughout might nations, even now are soothing people’s minds.” (V:7-12, 19-21)
  6. “And will not the man who, using words instead of weapons, subdued all these monsters and banished them from the mind rightly be considered worthy of a place among the gods? Especially since it was his wont to present many precepts in a good and godlike manner about the immortal gods themselves, and to reveal the whole nature of things in his discourse.” (V:49-54)
  7. “[…] a man endowed with such genius, whose lips once gave utterance to true pronouncements on every subject. And even now, though his life’s light is extinguished, the godlike nature of his discoveries ensures that his fame, spread far and wide long ago, is raised to the skies.” (VI:4-8)

In this section, we explain how the study of the nature of things (physics) combined with the study of the nature of knowledge (canonics) are the necessary steps to obtaining confidence in the conclusions taught by Epicurus.

  1. Atoms and Void: the underpinnings of a new world view
  2. Observations which lead to the belief that the gods were not involved
  3. Lucretius and the 12 principles of natural physics
  4. The epistemology of Epicurean Canonics
  5. Can we adapt Epicurean canonics for modern use?
  6. Hellenistic Epicureanism contained many ideas which lead to the later development of the modern scientific method
  7. Modern scientific understandings which have superseded Epicurean natural physics
  1. Study the nature of various phenomena so that you can make prudent choices. What is lightning and how do you stay safe if you are caught outside in a thunderstorm? What are ticks and how do you prevent tick bites? Or river safety when rafting. Choose something that reflects a personal interest or is specific to where you live.
  2. Read Epicurus in his letter to Herodotus - [37] “Wherefore since the method I have described is valuable to all those who are accustomed to the investigation of nature, I who urge upon others the constant occupation in the investigation of nature, and find my own peace chiefly in a life so occupied, have composed for you another epitome on these lines, summing up the first principles of the whole doctrine.” 2. Torquatus: “Natural Philosophy he deemed all-important. This science explains to us the meaning of terms, the nature of predication, and the law of consistency and contradiction; secondly, a thorough knowledge of the facts of nature relieves us of the burden of superstition, frees us from fear of death, and shields us against the disturbing effects of ignorance, which is often in itself a cause of terrifying apprehensions; lastly, to learn what nature’s real requirements are improves the moral character also. Besides, it is only by firmly grasping a well-established scientific system, observing the Rule or Canon that has fallen as it were from heaven so that all men may know it—only by making that Canon the test of all our judgments, that we can hope always to stand fast in our belief, unshaken by the eloquence of any man. On the other hand, without a full understanding of the world of nature it is impossible to maintain the truth of our sense-perceptions. Further, every mental presentation has its origin in sensation: so that no certain knowledge will be possible, unless all sensations are true, as the theory of Epicurus teaches that they are. Those who deny the validity of sensation and say that nothing can be perceived, having excluded the evidence of the senses, are unable even to expound their own argument. Besides, by abolishing knowledge and science they abolish all possibility of rational life and action. Thus Natural Philosophy supplies courage to face the fear of death; resolution to resist the terrors of religion; peace of mind, for it removes all ignorance of the mysteries of nature; self-control, for it explains the nature of the desires and distinguishes their different kinds; and, as I showed just now, the Canon or Criterion of Knowledge, which Epicurus also established, gives a method of discerning truth from falsehood.”
  3. Read Epicurus in his letter to Pythocles: “All these things, Pythocles, you must bear in mind; for thus you will escape in most things from superstition and will be enabled to understand what is akin to them. And most of all give yourself up to the study of the beginnings and of infinity and of the things akin to them, and also of the criteria of truth and of the feelings, and of the purpose for which we reason out these things. For these points when they are thoroughly studied will most easily enable you to understand the causes of the details. But those who have not thoroughly taken these things to heart could not rightly study them in themselves, nor have they made their own the reason for observing them.”
  4. Torquatus: “Again, it is a fine saying of Epicurus that “the Wise Man is but little interfered with by fortune: the great concerns of life, the things that matter, are controlled by his own wisdom and reason”
  5. Torquatus: “Logic, on which your school lays such stress, he held to be of no effect either as a guide to conduct or as an aid to thought.”
  6. Add in here the WAITING and the PDs on canonics
  7. Epicurus in his letter to Herodotus - “Wherefore we must pay attention to internal feelings and to external sensations in general and in particular, according as the subject is general or particular, and to every immediate intuition in accordance with each of the standards of judgment. For if we pay attention to these, we shall rightly trace the causes whence arose our mental disturbance and fear, and, by learning the true causes of celestial phenomena and all other occurrences that come to pass from time to time, we shall free ourselves from all which produces the utmost fear in other men.

In this section we explain the first and most important of Epicurus’ key conclusions: that the universe is totally natural and is neither created by nor run by supernatural beings.

  1. The nature of God (or the gods)
  2. The nature of death
  3. The nature of the soul
  4. There are no angels, demons, ghosts, or after-life
  5. No fate but what we make.
  6. Revolutionary thinking - why atoms and void, natural physics and canonics, and no supernatural god(s) or supernatural phenomenon is revolutionary, then and now
  1. Read Epicurus in his letter to Menoeceus: “The things which I used unceasingly to commend to you, these do and practice, considering them to be the first principles of the good life. First of all believe that god is a being immortal and blessed, even as the common idea of a god is engraved on men’s minds, and do not assign to him anything alien to his immortality or ill-suited to his blessedness: but believe about him everything that can uphold his blessedness and immortality. For gods there are, since the knowledge of them is by clear vision. But they are not such as the many believe them to be: for indeed they do not consistently represent them as they believe them to be. And the impious man is not he who popularly denies the gods of the many, but he who attaches to the gods the beliefs of the many. [124] For the statements of the many about the gods are not conceptions derived from sensation, but false suppositions, according to which the greatest misfortunes befall the wicked and the greatest blessings (the good) by the gift of the gods. For men, being accustomed always to their own virtues, welcome those like themselves, but regard all that is not of their nature as alien.”
  2. Read Epicurus in his letter to Menoeceus: “We must then bear in mind that the future is neither ours, nor yet wholly not ours, so that we may not altogether expect it as sure to come, nor abandon hope of it, as if it will certainly not come.”

The second most important of Epicurus’ key conclusions follows directly from the first; since the universe is entirely natural and was not created by supernatural gods, humans do not have supernatural souls that can survive death. This means that there is neither any reward or punishment for what we do in life, so all that we will ever experience, for good or bad, must be experienced while we are alive.

  1. Accustom yourself to understand that “death is nothing to us”
  2. You only live once, so seize the day and be confident that even if bad things come despite your best choices, your troubles are limited and will not last forever.
  1. Visit a local cemetery and read the inscriptions on the tombstones as a way of reflecting on the shortness of life and that you too will one day be gone forever.
  2. How does it feel to you when you think about there being a limited amount of time in which you can experience, think, and feel?
  3. Read Epicurus in his letter to Menoeceus: “Become accustomed to the belief that death is nothing to us. For all good and evil consists in sensation, but death is deprivation of sensation. And therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not because it adds to it an infinite span of time, but because it takes away the craving for immortality. [125] For there is nothing terrible in life for the man who has truly comprehended that there is nothing terrible in not living. So that the man speaks but idly who says that he fears death not because it will be painful when it comes, but because it is painful in anticipation. For that which gives no trouble when it comes is but an empty pain in anticipation. So death, the most terrifying of ills, is nothing to us, since so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist. It does not then concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more. [126] But the many at one moment shun death as the greatest of evils, at another (yearn for it) as a respite from the (evils) in life. (But the wise man neither seeks to escape life) nor fears the cessation of life, for neither does life offend him nor does the absence of life seem to be any evil. And just as with food he does not seek simply the larger share and nothing else, but rather the most pleasant, so he seeks to enjoy not the longest period of time, but the most pleasant. And he who counsels the young man to live well, but the old man to make a good end, is foolish, not merely because of the desirability of life, but also because it is the same training which teaches to live well and to die well. Yet much worse still is the man who says it is good not to be born but ‘once born make haste to pass the gates of Death’ [127] For if he says this from conviction why does he not pass away out of life? For it is open to him to do so, if he had firmly made up his mind to this. But if he speaks in jest, his words are idle among men who cannot receive them.
  4. PD01. The blessed and immortal nature knows no trouble itself, nor causes trouble to any other, so that it is never constrained by anger or favor. For all such things exist only in the weak.
  5. Go through the examples asked of Nature at the end of Book 2, such as thinking about the time before you were born. Were you in pain then?
  6. Torquatus: Again, it is a fine saying of Epicurus that … “no greater pleasure could be derived from a life of infinite duration than is actually afforded by this existence which we know to be finite.”

The third of Epicurus’ key conclusions is that since there are no supernatural gods who have established how to live, and since the only things in the universe that are eternal and unchanging are the atoms and void, it then follows that humans must look for guidance ultimately to the only faculty for choosing given by nature; Pleasure and Pain. These serve as Nature’s “stop” and “go” signals.

Epicurean spokesman Torquatus explained: “We are inquiring, then, what is the final and ultimate Good, which as all philosophers are agreed must be of such a nature as to be the End to which all other things are means, while it is not itself a means to anything else. This Epicurus finds in pleasure; pleasure he holds to be the Chief Good, pain the Chief Evil. This he sets out to prove as follows: Every animal, as soon as it is born, seeks for pleasure, and delights in it as the Chief Good, while it recoils from pain as the Chief Evil, and so far as possible avoids it. This it does as long as it remains unperverted, at the prompting of Nature's own unbiased and honest verdict. Hence Epicurus refuses to admit any necessity for argument or discussion to prove that pleasure is desirable and pain to be avoided. These facts, be thinks, are perceived by the senses, as that fire is hot, snow white, honey sweet, none of which things need be proved by elaborate argument: it is enough merely to draw attention to them. (For there is a difference, he holds, between formal syllogistic proof of a thing and a mere notice or reminder: the former is the method for discovering abstruse and recondite truths, the latter for indicating facts that are obvious and evident.) Strip mankind of sensation, and nothing remains; it follows that Nature herself is the judge of that which is in accordance with or contrary to nature. What does Nature perceive or what does she judge of, beside pleasure and pain, to guide her actions of desire and of avoidance?”

  1. Epicurus held that pleasure is the beginning and culmination of a happy life
  2. Pleasure is a sweeping term that includes all types of mental and bodily pleasures, with mental pleasures frequently being as much or more important to us than bodily pleasures. Pleasure is the guide of life and a life of happiness is judged by the standard of pleasure.
  3. Lucretius: “Divine Pleasure, Guide of Life”
  4. Enhancing pleasure and reducing pain (PD4)
  5. Pleasure is our motive and our goal
  6. Living as blessed as the ancient Greek gods
  7. Understanding why pleasure as the goal was revolutionary and why it was and is still misunderstood or misrepresented
  1. Write out a list of things that bring you physical pleasure and which are experienced through sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. Include as much detail as possible in your description of each item.
  2. roprioception, otherwise known as kinesthesia, is your body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location. It’s present in every muscle movement you have. This is also a source of pleasure, as in dancing. Do you currently enjoy some type of physical activity? (add it to your list above). If not, is there something you might like to try?
  3. On your list of physical pleasures, put a star next to the ones that are your favorites. Put a question mark next to the ones that bring both pleasure and pain at the same time.
  4. Think about what the word pleasure means to you, and how and when you use that word. Do you feel guilt or embarrassment about pleasurable experiences? Why might this be so? Journal your thoughts.
  5. Write out a list of things that bring you mental pleasure – thinking, reading, learning, memories, imagination, contemplation, discussion, etc. Include as much detail as possible in your description of each item. 6. Put a star next to the ones which are your favorite mental pleasures. Put a question mark next to the ones that bring both pleasure and pain at the same time.
  6. The enjoyment of pleasurable memories: Start a journal to record good things that happen each day (to assist in recalling past pleasures).
  7. Take a “pleasure walk”: Choose a busy city area or a quiet nature area (or do both). Pay attention to things which draw your eyes while looking for pleasing elements. Listen for pleasing sounds. Notice if there are pleasing smells or aromas or things you can touch which have pleasing textures.
  8. Cook a simple meal and pay attention to the experience of eating and the feeling of pleasure it gives.
  9. Pains are short when strong, and lesser pains that last longer do not prevent pleasure from being experienced. The next time you experience pain in your body, during illness or something like accidentally stubbing your toe, have this ready for contemplation.
  10. Pain is like a warning light to the body, and yet some pain now can lead to greater pleasure and benefit in the future. When is it worth it to endure pain in your body during exercise or for some future benefit? 3. How does pain detract from the feeling of pleasure? Write about the times when you experienced this happening to you.
  11. Think about how mental pain is different from physical pain.
  12. Read Epicurus in his letter to Menoeceus: “And for this cause we call pleasure the beginning and end of the blessed life. For we recognize pleasure as the first good innate in us, and from pleasure we begin every act of choice and avoidance, and to pleasure we return again, using the feeling as the standard by which we judge every good. And since pleasure is the first good and natural to us, for this very reason we do not choose every pleasure, but sometimes we pass over many pleasures, when greater discomfort accrues to us as the result of them: and similarly we think many pains better than pleasures, since a greater pleasure comes to us when we have endured pains for a long time. Every pleasure then because of its natural kinship to us is good, yet not every pleasure is to be chosen: even as every pain also is an evil, yet not all are always of a nature to be avoided. [130] Yet by a scale of comparison and by the consideration of advantages and disadvantages we must form our judgment on all these matters. For the good on certain occasions we treat as bad, and conversely the bad as good.”
  13. Read Epicurus in his letter to Menoeceus: “We must consider that of desires some are natural, others vain, and of the natural some are necessary and others merely natural; and of the necessary some are necessary for happiness, others for the repose of the body, and others for very life. [128] The right understanding of these facts enables us to refer all choice and avoidance to the health of the body and (the soul’s) freedom from disturbance, since this is the aim of the life of blessedness. …
  14. Read Epicurus in his letter to Menoeceus: “And again independence of desire we think a great good — not that we may at all times enjoy but a few things, but that, if we do not possess many, we may enjoy the few in the genuine persuasion that those have the sweetest pleasure in luxury who least need it, and that all that is natural is easy to be obtained, but that which is superfluous is hard. And so plain savors bring us a pleasure equal to a luxurious diet, when all the pain due to want is removed; and bread and water produce the highest pleasure, when one who needs them puts them to his lips. [131] To grow accustomed therefore to a simple and not luxurious diet gives us health to the full, and makes a man alert for the needful employments of life, and when after long intervals we approach luxuries disposes us better towards them, and fits us to be fearless of fortune. When, therefore, we maintain that pleasure is the end, we do not mean the pleasures of profligates and those that consist in sensuality, as is supposed by some who are either ignorant or disagree with us or do not understand, but freedom from pain in the body and from trouble in the mind. [132] For it is not continuous drinkings and revelings, nor the satisfaction of lusts, nor the enjoyment of fish and other luxuries of the wealthy table, which produce a pleasant life, but sober reasoning, searching out the motives for all choice and avoidance, and banishing mere opinions, to which are due the greatest disturbance of the spirit. Identify at the very beginning of your study that you are not seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but you are working so that you will live well.
  15. Read Epicurus from his letter to Pythocles: “First of all then we must not suppose that any other object is to be gained from the knowledge of the phenomena of the sky, whether they are dealt with in connection with other doctrines or independently, than peace of mind and a sure confidence, just as in all other branches of study. [86] We must not try to force an impossible explanation, nor employ a method of inquiry like our reasoning either about the modes of life or with respect to the solution of other physical problems: witness such propositions as that ‘the universe consists of bodies and the intangible,’ or that ‘the elements are indivisible,’ and all such statements in circumstances where there is only one explanation which harmonizes with phenomena. For this is not so with the things above us: they admit of more than one cause of coming into being and more than one account of their nature which harmonizes with our sensations. [87] For we must not conduct scientific investigation by means of empty assumptions and arbitrary principles, but follow the lead of phenomena: for our life has not now any place for irrational belief and groundless imaginings, but we must live free from trouble. Now all goes on without disturbance as far as regards each of those things which may be explained in several ways so as to harmonize with what we perceive, when one admits, as we are bound to do, probable theories about them. But when one accepts one theory and rejects another which harmonizes as well with the phenomenon, it is obvious that he altogether leaves the path of scientific inquiry and has recourse to myth. Now we can obtain indications of what happens above from some of the phenomena on earth: for we can observe how they come to pass, though we cannot observe the phenomena in the sky: for they may be produced in several ways. [88] Yet we must never desert the appearance of each of these phenomena, and further, as regards what is associated with it, must distinguish those things whose production in several ways is not contradicted by phenomena on earth.”
  16. “Torquatus” in Cicero’s “On Ends’: “XII. The truth of the position that pleasure is the ultimate good will most readily appear from the following illustration. Let us imagine a man living in the continuous enjoyment of numerous and vivid pleasures alike of body and of mind, undisturbed either by the presence or by the prospect of pain: what possible state of existence could we describe as being more excellent or more desirable? One so situated must possess in the first place a strength of mind that is proof against all fear of death or of pain; he will know that death means complete unconsciousness, and that pain is generally light if long and short if strong, so that its intensity is compensated by brief duration and its continuance by diminishing severity. Let such a man moreover have no dread of any supernatural power; let him never suffer the pleasures of the past to fade away, but constantly renew their enjoyment in recollection, and his lot will be one which will not admit of further improvement. Suppose on the other hand a person crushed beneath the heaviest load of mental and of bodily anguish to which humanity is liable. Grant him no hope of ultimate relief in view also give him no pleasure either present or in prospect. Can one describe or imagine a more pitiable state? If then a life full of pain is the thing most to be avoided, it follows that to live in pain is the highest evil; and this position implies that a life of pleasure is the ultimate good. In fact the mind possesses nothing in itself upon which it can rest as final. Every fear, every sorrow can be traced back to pain; there is no other thing besides pain which is of its own nature capable of causing either anxiety or distress. Pleasure and pain moreover supply the motives of desire and of avoidance, and the springs of conduct generally. This being so, it clearly follows that actions are right and praiseworthy only as being a means to the attainment of a life of pleasure. But that which is not itself a means to anything else, but to which all else is a means, is what the Greeks term the Telos, the highest, ultimate or final Good. It must therefore be admitted that the Chief Good is to live agreeably.”
  17. Epicurus in his letter to Menoeceus: “Of all this the beginning and the greatest good is prudence. Wherefore prudence is a more precious thing even than philosophy: for from prudence are sprung all the other virtues, and it teaches us that it is not possible to live pleasantly without living prudently and honorably and justly, (nor, again, to live a life of prudence, honor, and justice) without living pleasantly. For the virtues are by nature bound up with the pleasant life, and the pleasant life is inseparable from them. [133] For indeed who, think you, is a better man than he who holds reverent opinions concerning the gods, and is at all times free from fear of death, and has reasoned out the end ordained by nature? He understands that the limit of good things is easy to fulfill and easy to attain, whereas the course of ills is either short in time or slight in pain; he laughs at (destiny), whom some have introduced as the mistress of all things. (He thinks that with us lies the chief power in determining events, some of which happen by necessity) and some by chance, and some are within our control; for while necessity cannot be called to account, he sees that chance is inconstant, but that which is in our control is subject to no master, and to it are naturally attached praise and blame. [134] For, indeed, it were better to follow the myths about the gods than to become a slave to the destiny of the natural philosophers: for the former suggests a hope of placating the gods by worship, whereas the latter involves a necessity which knows no placation. As to chance, he does not regard it as a god as most men do (for in a god’s acts there is no disorder), nor as an uncertain cause (of all things) for he does not believe that good and evil are given by chance to man for the framing of a blessed life, but that opportunities for great good and great evil are afforded by it.
  18. Torquatus from Cicero’s On Ends: ”(2) Again, we aver that mental pleasures and pains arise out of bodily ones (and therefore I allow your contention that any Epicureans who think otherwise put themselves out of court; and I am aware that many do, though not those who can speak with authority); but although men do experience mental pleasure that is agreeable and mental pain that is annoying, yet both of these we assert arise out of and are based upon bodily sensations. Yet we maintain that this does not preclude mental pleasures and pains from being much more intense than those of the body; since the body can feel only what is present to it at the moment, whereas the mind is also cognizant of the past and of the future. For granting that pain of body is equally painful, yet our sensation of pain can be enormously increased by the belief that some evil of unlimited magnitude and duration threatens to befall us hereafter. And the same consideration may be transferred to pleasure: a pleasure is greater if not accompanied by any apprehension of evil. This therefore clearly appears, that intense mental pleasure or distress contributes more to our happiness or misery than a bodily pleasure or pain of equal duration. (4) But we do not agree that when pleasure is withdrawn uneasiness at once ensues, unless the pleasure happens to have been replaced by a pain: while on the other hand one is glad to lose a pain even though no active sensation of pleasure comes in its place: a fact that serves to show how great a pleasure is the mere absence of pain. (5) But just as we are elated by the anticipation of good things, so we are delighted by their recollection. Fools are tormented by the memory of former evils; wise men have the delight of renewing in grateful remembrance the blessings of the past. We have the power both to obliterate our misfortunes in an almost perpetual forgetfulness and to summon up pleasant and agreeable memories of our successes. But when we fix our mental vision closely on the events of the past, then sorrow or gladness ensues according as these were evil or good. \
  19. Torquatus from Cicero’s On Ends: “Here is indeed a royal road to happiness—open, simple, and direct! For clearly man can have no greater good than complete freedom from pain and sorrow coupled with the enjoyment of the highest bodily and mental pleasures. Notice then how the theory embraces every possible enhancement of life, every aid to the attainment of that Chief Good which is our object. Epicurus, the man whom you denounce as a voluptuary, cries aloud that no one can live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably, and justly, and no one wisely, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly. For a city rent by faction cannot prosper, nor a house whose masters are at strife; much less then can a mind divided against itself and filled with inward discord taste any particle of pure and liberal pleasure. But one who is perpetually swayed by conflicting and incompatible counsels and desires can know no peace or calm. Why, if the pleasantness of life is diminished by the more serious bodily diseases, how much more must it be diminished by the diseases of the mind! But extravagant and imaginary desires, for riches, fame, power, and also for licentious pleasures, are nothing but mental diseases. Then, too, there are grief, trouble and sorrow, which gnaw the heart and consume it with anxiety, if men fail to realize that the mind need feel no pain unconnected with some pain of body, present or to come. Yet there is no foolish man but is afflicted by some one of these diseases; therefore there is no foolish man that is not unhappy. Moreover, there is death, the stone of Tantalus ever hanging over men’s heads; and superstition, that poisons and destroys all peace of mind. Besides, they do not recollect their past nor enjoy their present blessings; they merely look forward to those of the future, and as these are of necessity uncertain, they are consumed with agony and terror; and the climax of their torment is when they perceive too late that all their dreams of wealth or station, power or fame, have come to nothing. For they never attain any of the pleasures, the hope of which inspired them to undergo all their arduous toils. Or look again at others, petty, narrow-minded men, or confirmed pessimists, or spiteful, envious, ill-tempered creatures, unsociable, abusive, brutal; others again enslaved to the follies of love, impudent or reckless, wanton, headstrong and yet irresolute, always changing their minds. Such failings render their lives one unbroken round of misery. The conclusion is that no foolish man can be happy, nor any wise man fail to be happy. This is a truth that we establish far more conclusively than do the Stoics. For they maintain that nothing is good save that vague phantom which they entitle Moral Worth, a title more splendid than substantial; and say that Virtue resting on this Moral Worth has no need of pleasure, but is herself her own sufficient happiness. At the same time this Stoic doctrine can be stated in a form which we do not object to, and indeed ourselves endorse. For Epicurus thus presents his Wise Man who is always happy: his desires are kept within bounds; death he disregards; he has a true conception, untainted by fear, of the Divine nature; he does not hesitate to depart from life, if that would better his condition. Thus equipped he enjoys perpetual pleasure, for there is no moment when the pleasures he experiences do not outbalance the pains; since he remembers the past with gratitude, grasps the present with a full realization of its pleasantness, and does not rely upon the future; he looks forward to it, but finds his true enjoyment in the present. Also he is entirely free from the vices that I instanced a few moments ago, and he derives no inconsiderable pleasure from comparing his own existence with the life of the foolish.

Given that Nature gives living things only pleasure as a guide for what to pursue, consistency impels us to the conclusion that Nature guides us to organize our affairs to pursue pleasure, which is the means of obtaining a life of happiness. Diogenes of Oinoanda stated it this way: “The issue is not “what is the means of happiness?” but “what is happiness and what is the ultimate goal of our nature?,” I say both now and always, shouting out loudly to all Greeks and non-Greeks, that pleasure is the end of the best mode of life, while the virtues, which are inopportunely messed about by these people (being transferred from the place of the means to that of the end), are in no way an end, but the means to the end.“

Epicurean spokesman Torquatus phrased the point this way: “It is plain that all right and praiseworthy action has the life of pleasure for its aim. Now inasmuch as the climax or goal or limit of things good (which the Greeks term telos) is that object which is not a means to the attainment of any thing else, while all other things are a means to its attainment, we must allow that the climax of things good is to live agreeably.” … “If then even the glory of the Virtues, on which all the other philosophers love to expatiate so eloquently, has in the last resort no meaning unless it be based on pleasure, whereas pleasure is the only thing that is intrinsically attractive and alluring, it cannot be doubted that pleasure is the one supreme and final Good and that a life of happiness is nothing else than a life of pleasure.”

  1. Virtues are tools that are used to create a pleasurable and pleasant life, and are not the end goal (PD5)
  2. Justice depends upon laws created by human beings, does not originate from any absolute source or God, and depends upon our correct understanding of pleasure and pain. Justice should be maintained or amended when circumstances change according to the needs of human beings (not God).
  3. Friendship is one of the most important aspects of a pleasurable life - VS52, VS78
  4. Epicureanism vs. Platonism and Stoicism
  5. Current challenges in presenting the true Epicurean world view
  6. Choices and Avoidances (VS71, PD8)
  7. Natural desires, necessary desires, unquenchable desires
  1. Read Principal Doctrine 27 - “Of all the things that wisdom provides for the complete happiness of one’s entire life, by far the greatest is friendship.”
  2. Read Vatican Saying 23 - “Every friendship is an excellence in itself, even though it begins in mutual advantage.”
  3. Read Vatican Saying 52 -“Friendship dances around the world, announcing to each of us that we must awaken to happiness.”
  4. Do you have (or have had) a friendship that made you feel happy? If so, write about why your friendship brought happiness to you. If you have found past friendships to be painful or difficult, first write about what was difficult, and then imagine specifically what would need to be different so that it would contribute to happiness instead. Write out your insights into a story imagining a future friendship with a new friend who brings you happiness.
  5. Make a list of your family members, your friends, and your acquaintances. Then write about the good things that result from those interactions. Can you trust them to help you out in an emergency?
  6. Remember a past time when you helped out a friend or a family member during a difficult time. Did it help make the relationship stronger? If not, think about why and what would have needed to be different. 4. Think about and then write out ways to make new friends or ways to improve your current friendships.
  7. Make a phone call to a friend you need to reconnect with (if your schedule is busy, set a timer for a time that works).
  8. Have lunch with a friend
  9. Read “Torquatus” from Cicero’s On Ends; 'XIII. Those who place the Chief Good in virtue alone are beguiled by the glamor of a name, and do not understand the true demands of nature. If they will consent to listen to Epicurus, they will be delivered from the grossest error. Your school dilates on the transcendent beauty of the virtues; but were they not productive of pleasure, who would deem them either praiseworthy or desirable? We esteem the art of medicine not for its interest as a science, but for its conduciveness to health; the art of navigation is commended for its practical and not its scientific value, because it conveys the rules for sailing a ship with success. So also Wisdom, which must be considered as the art of living, if it effected no result would not be desired; but as it is, it is desired, because it is the artificer that procures and produces pleasure.” … “If then even the glory of the Virtues, on which all the other philosophers love to expatiate so eloquently, has in the last resort no meaning unless it be based on pleasure, whereas pleasure is the only thing that is intrinsically attractive and alluring, it cannot be doubted that pleasure is the one supreme and final Good and that a life of happiness is nothing else than a life of pleasure.
  10. Read Diogenes of Oinoanda, from his Inscription, Fragment 32: ” If, gentlemen, the point at issue between these people and us involved inquiry into «what is the means of happiness?» and they wanted to say «the virtues» (which would actually be true), it would be unnecessary to take any other step than to agree with them about this, without more ado. But since, as I say, the issue is not «what is the means of happiness?» but «what is happiness and what is the ultimate goal of our nature?», I say both now and always, shouting out loudly to all Greeks and non-Greeks, that pleasure is the end of the best mode of life, while the virtues, which are inopportunely messed about by these people (being transferred from the place of the means to that of the end), are in no way an end, but the means to the end. Let us therefore now state that this is true, making it our starting-point.”

The happiest life possible to us cannot be obtained without effort. It is necessary to study nature and use our minds to understand that we need not live forever in order to live a full and complete life. We cannot be confident that we will not be punished after death, or that Fate does not hold us in its grip, or that the claims of absolute right and wrong and absolute virtue - the claim that all men should live exactly the same way and follow the same rules – unless we understand the nature of the universe. And we cannot successfully navigate the problems of life, or attain our happiest times, unless we have like-minded friends with whom to work in our pursuit of the best life. Epicurus taught that we cannot hope to attain the goal of living as “a god among men” without continued study and engagement in the study of nature, so it is necessary for us to work throughout our lives to understand the truths of the universe, for which the Epicureans believed the teachings of Epicurus himself were the best guide. We do not always need to remember the details, but we need to always be able to recall to memory the core elements of the Epicurean worldview:

  1. Epicurus founded the most important philosophical movement in human history for the promotion of a philosophy of a consistent view of nature, knowledge, and ethics, leading to the conclusion that a life of happiness is based on pleasure and that we have only one life to live.
  2. Epicurus showed through his Physics and Canonics that we can be confident that our conclusions about how to live are correct.
  3. There are no supernatural gods to be afraid of, no fear of punishment after death to concern us, and no fate that controls our actions,
  4. Death is nothingness to us, so we need to spend our time prudently to pursue happiness in this life, the only life we have. We should find this fact to be motivational, not depressing.
  5. Nature gave us only pleasure and pain as the ultimate guide to our conduct, and other claims that there are mandatory rules of conduct according to supernatural gods or ideals of absolute virtue are false. Pleasure is a sweeping term that includes all types of mental and bodily pleasures, with mental pleasures frequently being as much or more important to us than bodily pleasures. Pleasure is the guide of life and a life of happiness is judged by the standard of pleasure.
  6. Virtue is not its own reward, and all means of obtaining happiness have pleasure as their ultimate goal
  7. Commemoration of Epicurus on the 20th of each month – past and present (On this day a potluck, picnic, or pub meal will be held which will include open discussion of the Epicurean philosophy).
  1. Cultivate Friends: Read Torquatus from Cicero’s On Ends: “There remains a topic that is pre-eminently germane to this discussion, I mean the subject of Friendship. Your school maintains that if pleasure be the Chief Good, friendship will cease to exist. Now Epicurus’s pronouncement about friendship is that of all the means to happiness that wisdom has devised, none is greater, none more fruitful, none more delightful than this. Nor did he only commend this doctrine by his eloquence, but far more by the example of his life and conduct. How great a thing such friendship is, is shown by the mythical stories of antiquity. Review the legends from the remotest ages, and, copious and varied as they are, you will barely find in them three pairs of friends, beginning with Theseus and ending with Orestes. Yet Epicurus in a single house and that a small one maintained a whole company of friends, united by the closest sympathy and affection; and this still goes on in the Epicurean school. But to return to our subject, for there is no need of personal instances: I notice that the topic of friendship has been treated by Epicureans in three ways: (1) Some have denied that pleasures affecting our friends are in themselves to be desired by us in the same degree as we desire our own pleasures. This doctrine is thought by some critics to undermine the foundations of friendship; however, its supporters defend their position, and in my opinion have no difficulty in making good their ground. They argue that friendship can no more be sundered from pleasure than can the virtues, which we have discussed already. A solitary, friendless life must be beset by secret dangers and alarms. Hence reason itself advises the acquisition of friends; their possession gives confidence, and a firmly rooted hope of winning pleasure. And just as hatred, jealousy, and contempt are hindrances to pleasure, so friendship is the most trustworthy preserver and also creator of pleasure alike for our friends and for ourselves. It affords us enjoyment in the present, and it inspires us with hopes for the near and distant future. Thus it is not possible to secure uninterrupted gratification in life without friendship, nor yet to preserve friendship itself unless we love our friends as much as ourselves. Hence this unselfishness does occur in friendship, while also friendship is closely linked with pleasure. For we rejoice in our friends’ joy as much as in our own, and are equally pained by their sorrows. Therefore the Wise Man will feel exactly the same towards his friend as he does towards himself, and will exert himself as much for his friend’s pleasure as he would for his own. All that has been said about the essential connection of the virtues with pleasure must be repeated about friendship. Epicurus well said (I give almost his exact words): “The same creed that has given us courage to overcome all fear of everlasting or long-enduring evil hereafter, has discerned that friendship is our strongest safeguard in this present term of life.” (2) Other Epicureans though by no means lacking in insight are a little less courageous in defying the opprobrious criticisms of the Academy. They fear that if we hold friendship to be desirable only for the pleasure that it affords to ourselves, it will be thought that it is crippled altogether. They therefore say that the first advances and overtures, and the original inclination to form an attachment, are prompted by the desire for pleasure, but that when the progress of intercourse has led to intimacy, the relationship blossoms into an affection strong enough to make us love our friends for their own sake, even though no practical advantage accrues from their friendship.

\ Does not familiarity endear to us localities, temples, cities, gymnasia, and playing-grounds, horses and hounds, gladiatorial shows and fights with wild beasts, then how much more natural and reasonable that this should be able to happen in our intercourse with our fellow-men! (3) The third view is that wise men have made a sort of compact to love their friends no less than themselves. We can understand the possibility of this, and we often see it happen. Clearly no more effective means to happiness could be found than such an alliance. All these considerations go to prove not only that the theory of friendship is not embarrassed by the identification of the Chief Good with pleasure, but also that without this no foundation for friendship whatsoever can be found. - Epicurus in his letter to Herodotus: “But those also who have made considerable progress in the survey of the main principles ought to bear in mind the scheme of the whole system set forth in its essentials. For we have frequent need of the general view, but not so often of the detailed exposition. [36] Indeed it is necessary to go back on the main principles, and constantly to fix in one’s memory enough to give one the most essential comprehension of the truth. And in fact the accurate knowledge of details will be fully discovered, if the general principles in the various departments are thoroughly grasped and borne in mind; for even in the case of one fully initiated the most essential feature in all accurate knowledge is the capacity to make a rapid use of observation and mental apprehension, and this can be done if everything is summed up in elementary principles and formulae. For it is not possible for anyone to abbreviate the complete course through the whole system, if he cannot embrace in his own mind by means of short formulae all that might be set out with accuracy in detail.” - Contemplate the need to avoid delay in studying philosophy, and the need to avoid growing weary of it, and the things we must know and do to make ourselves happy. - Epicurus in his letter to Menoeceus: “Let no one when young delay to study philosophy, nor when he is old grow weary of his study. For no one can come too early or too late to secure the health of his soul. And the man who says that the age for philosophy has either not yet come or has gone by is like the man who says that the age for happiness is not yet come to him, or has passed away. Wherefore both when young and old a man must study philosophy, that as he grows old he may be young in blessings through the grateful recollection of what has been, and that in youth he may be old as well, since he will know no fear of what is to come. We must then meditate on the things that make our happiness, seeing that when that is with us we have all, but when it is absent we do all to win it.”

  • epicureanweek.txt
  • Last modified: 2023/03/21 16:12
  • by cassius