The Doctrine of Necessity In "A Few Days In Athens"

  • One passage in "A Few Days In Athens" I have always found a little hard to parse is where (in Chapter 14) Frances Wright discusses the doctrine of "necessity." It seems to me that she leaves her own view of Epicurus' opinion a little ambiguous, because in the phrase I always remember she has Epicurus say: "we will not now traverse the ethical pons asinorum of necessity - the most simple and evident of moral truths, and the most darkened, tortured, and belabored by moral teachers."

    The clip below contains the exchange, and the full chapter is here. I would be very interested in any comments on what you think Frances Wright believed Epicurus' position on this to be. Is she stating the same position that Epicurus writes in the letter to Menoeceus? Is she varying that position? If so, how? If not, why do you think that she does not make the position more clear? Or is this in fact clear and I just personally find it difficult for some reason?

    Below is theBailey translation of an excerpt from the letter to Menoeceus:

    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. 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. He therefore thinks it better to be unfortunate in reasonable action than to prosper in unreason. For it is better in a man’s actions that what is well chosen (should fail, rather than that what is ill chosen) should be successful owing to chance.

    And a clip of the PDF: