Episode One Hundred Twenty-Three: Letter to Herodotus 12 - Events and Time

  • Welcome to Episode One Hundred Twenty Three of Lucretius Today.

    This is a podcast dedicated to the poet Lucretius, who wrote "On The Nature of Things," the only complete presentation of Epicurean philosophy left to us from the ancient world.

    I am your host Cassius, and together with our panelists from the EpicureanFriends.com forum, we'll walk you through the ancient Epicurean texts, and we'll discuss how Epicurean philosophy can apply to you today. We encourage you to study Epicurus for yourself, and we suggest the best place to start is the book "Epicurus and His Philosophy" by Canadian professor Norman DeWitt.

    If you find the Epicurean worldview attractive, we invite you to join us in the study of Epicurus at EpicureanFriends.com, where you will find a discussion thread for each of our podcast episodes and many other topics.

    Today we continue in Epicurus' letter to Herodotus, and address some difficult material about the properties and qualities of atoms and bodies and what it means to exist. We probably raise more issues than we answer in this episode, so please review the show notes and we will come back to these issues in the next show.

    Now let's join Martin reading today's text:


    All these properties have their own peculiar means of being perceived and distinguished, provided always that the aggregate body goes along with them and is never wrested from them, but in virtue of its comprehension as an aggregate of qualities acquires the predicate of body.

    [70] Furthermore, there often happen to bodies and yet do not permanently accompany them accidents, of which we must suppose neither that they do not exist at all nor that they have the nature of a whole body, nor that they can be classed among unseen things nor as incorporeal. So that when according to the most general usage we employ this name, we make it clear that accidents have neither the nature of the whole, which we comprehend in its aggregate and call body, nor that of the qualities which permanently accompany it, without which a given body cannot be conceived.

    [71] But as the result of certain acts of apprehension, provided the aggregate body goes along with them, they might each be given this name, but only on occasions when each one of them is seen to occur, since accidents are not permanent accompaniments. And we must not banish this clear vision from the realm of existence, because it does not possess the nature of the whole to which it is joined nor that of the permanent accompaniments, nor must we suppose that such contingencies exist independently (for this is inconceivable both with regard to them and to the permanent properties), but, just as it appears in sensation, we must think of them all as accidents occurring to bodies, and that not as permanent accompaniments, or again as having in themselves a place in the ranks of material existence; rather they are seen to be just what our actual sensation shows their proper character to be.

    [72] Moreover, you must firmly grasp this point as well; we must not look for time, as we do for all other things which we look for in an object, by referring them to the general conceptions which we perceive in our own minds, but we must take the direct intuition, in accordance with which we speak of “a long time” or “a short time,” and examine it, applying our intuition to time as we do to other things. Neither must we search for expressions as likely to be better, but employ just those which are in common use about it.

    Nor again must we predicate of time anything else as having the same essential nature as this special perception, as some people do, but we must turn our thoughts particularly to that only with which we associate this peculiar perception and by which we measure it.

    [73] For indeed this requires no demonstration, but only reflection, to show that it is with days and nights and their divisions that we associate it and likewise also with internal feelings or absence of feeling, and with movements and states of rest; in connection with these last again we think of this very perception as a peculiar kind of accident, and in virtue of this we call it time.


    They all have their own characteristic modes of being perceived and distinguished, but always along with the whole body in which they inhere and never in separation from it; and it is in virtue of this complete conception of the body as a whole that it is so designated.

    [70] Again, qualities often attach to bodies without being permanent concomitants. They are not to be classed among invisible entities nor are they incorporeal. Hence, using the term 'accidents' in the commonest sense, we say plainly that 'accidents' have not the nature of the whole thing to which they belong, and to which, conceiving it as a whole, we give the name of body, nor that of the permanent properties without which body cannot be thought of.

    [71]And in virtue of certain peculiar modes of apprehension into which the complete body always enters, each of them can be called an accident. But only as often as they are seen actually to belong to it, since such accidents are not perpetual concomitants. There is no need to banish from reality this clear evidence that the accident has not the nature of that whole – by us called body – to which it belongs, nor of the permanent properties which accompany the whole. Nor, on the other hand, must we suppose the accident to have independent existence (for this is just as inconceivable in the case of accidents as in that of the permanent properties); but, as is manifest, they should all be regarded as accidents, not as permanent concomitants, of bodies, nor yet as having the rank of independent existence. Rather they are seen to be exactly as and what sensation itself makes them individually claim to be.

    [72]There is another thing which we must consider carefully. We must not investigate time as we do the other accidents which we investigate in a subject, namely, by referring them to the preconceptions envisaged in our minds; but we must take into account the plain fact itself, in virtue of which we speak of time as long or short, linking to it in intimate connexion this attribute of duration. We need not adopt any fresh terms as preferable, but should employ the usual expressions about it.

    Nor need we predicate anything else of time, as if this something else contained the same essence as is contained in the proper meaning of the word 'time' (for this also is done by some). We must chiefly reflect upon that to which we attach this peculiar character of time, and by which we measure it.

    [73] No further proof is required: we have only to reflect that we attach the attribute of time to days and nights and their parts, and likewise to feelings of pleasure and pain and to neutral states, to states of movement and states of rest, conceiving a peculiar accident of these to be this very characteristic which we express by the word 'time.' [He says this both in the second book "On Nature" and in the Larger Epitome.]

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Episode One Hundred Twenty-Three: Events and TIME” to “Episode One Hundred Twenty-Three: Events and Time”.
  • Sorry for the delay in getting this week's episode posted, but it should be up later today. In the meantime as it goes through editing, here are some comments;

    1 - Joshua brought up the highly useful idea of using Venn Diagrams to illustrate issues involving the relationship between Properties and Qualities. I'm going to slap together a preliminary version for discussion purposes but it's likely to be either wrong or woefully incomplete. It would be an EXCELLENT idea to get a good one however.

    This one needs to be torn apart and put back together but it is a starting point for thought / discussion:


    1 - Nothing has permanent unchanging existence except atoms and void (no realm of Platonic ideals or Aristotelian Essences)

    2 - The atoms have no unchanging eternal properties other than shape, weight, and size. The void has only one eternal and unchanging property: it provides space in which bodies exist.

    3 - Human senses cannot penetrate to observe directly the level of unchanging atoms - our sensations occur on the level of "bodies" that we see in the world around us, and therefore our level of existence is subject to change.

    3 - Some bodies we consider to have "properties," which are aspects like weight to stones which cannot be changed at our level of existence without destroying what we perceive to be its essence.

    4 - Bodies also have "qualities" which can and do change without changing their essence, which include slavery, poverty, riches, war, peace, rest, motion. (See Loeb / Hicks edition of DIogenes Laertius, page 600.)

    5 - Successful living requires being able to understand how the world we live in arises from the atomic level, and how some things change while others do not change, all without the creation or supervision of supernatural gods.

  • OK I recognize that the circles in the diagram above don't intersect, so maybe it's not really a Venn diagram. That's where we need an improved version, because one of the points is that the word "properties" appears to be used in Epicurean texts as referring in some contexts to both (1) the unchanging aspects of atoms (weight, shape, and size) and in other contexts to (2) the essential aspects of some bodies which, if lost, lead to what we consider to be the destruction of the body, like loss of weight to a stone, or loss of moisture to the sea, or loss of heat to fire, which events would destroy that object at least in our perception of it.

  • To amplify on this one:

    4 - Bodies also have "qualities" which can and do change without changing their essence, which include slavery, poverty, riches, war, peace, rest, motion. (See Loeb / Hicks edition of DIogenes Laertius, page 600.)

    Are in fact rest, motion, and TIME properly considered to be Qualities / Events? I think so based on what I am reading. I point this out because it seems to me it is one thing to consider bondage/liberty/riches/poverty etc to be "qualities" but to consider "time" and "motion" and "rest" to be qualities stretches our normal use of the word "quality."

    "Event" seems a much more appropriate word for time and motion and rest than "quality" or "accident," and that's likely another argument for using the term "Event" to describe this category.

  • Don laughs, but wait til you hear the episode and it will REALLY be confusing! ;) However, the first step toward unraveling things is to at least "put it out there" what we want to talk about! ;) If intersecting circles is the essence of a Venn diagram, then this is really tricky.

  • Episode 123 of the Lucretius Today Podcast is now available. This week we tackle the implications of "properties" and "qualities" of matter in the context of "time."

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  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Episode One Hundred Twenty-Three: Events and Time” to “Episode One Hundred Twenty-Three: Letter to Herodotus 12 - Events and Time”.