"Epicurean Philosophy: An Introduction from the 'Garden of Athens'" edited by Christos Yapijakis

  • This post is just an introductory post for this introductory book. I'm only part way through the book, but there are two topics in particular which look to be fruitful for discussion here.

    But first, a quick overview. As the title indicates, this is intended to be an introductory book. In keeping with that, it's a fairly quick read. The Principal Doctrines, the Vatican Sayings, some of Diogenes Laertius, and the three letters are included (these are not new translations, for those interested). The chapters are essays written by members of the Garden of Athens and originally published separately over the last decade or so.

    The essays provide an introductory outline of the philosophy, and include a few that focus on the Canon and epistemology (or gnoseology, the term used in the book).

    The topics of particular interest here are:

    1) The principles of atomic physics. Not 12, not 10, but 18 principles are listed. I didn't notice how this number was derived. Given some of the recent discussion on the forum, however, this might be fuel for a post or two ;)

    2) Even more interesting, to me, is the discussion of epistemology. A case is made for the Canon having four parts, not three. Here, we subscribe to the idea of the three part Canon but are aware of the argument for a fourth part; in the book they make the argument for the fourth, which is "the imaginary impositions of the mind." Definitely a topic worth discussing!

    There's more, but this is as far as I've read so far. I'll want to go back and review some of the book before I post in detail: consider this a teaser for the book :) They have some different takes on the philosophy than we do, and understanding their thinking on various issues will, I think, be very useful for us, whether we eventually agree or not.

    I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on the book. It's reasonably priced, and the Kindle version is available for free on Amazon Unlimited. (For the budget conscious: a couple of weeks ago I got a two month AU subscription for 99 cents a month, but I'm not sure if Amazon is still offering that.)

  • Thank you Godfrey! Yes it would be very helpful to take note of differences of interpretation as that will help clarify things whether we agree or disagree.

    The "three" vs. "four" legs of the canon is a great example of that. Diogenes Laertius himself points out that later Epicureans disagreed with Epicurus on this and added the fourth. DeWitt sides strongly with Epicurus on this, but no matter which side we choose it helps to understand why there was disagreement. In discussions from some years ago I recall reading that the current Greek Epicureans take the "four" position, but I don't recall seeing a good clear written explanation as to why they do so.

    This is similar to issues pointed out by Torquatus where he himself appears to say that he is deviating from Epicurus. If we can't explain the disagreement then there is no way we can intelligently decide which we think is correct.

  • Godfrey thank you for identifying this! Amazon is sending me this book tomorrow and I happen to be on a bit of a ΣΤΟΙΧΕΙΩΜΑΤΑ kick so I am really interested to see other people's interpretations of the "elementary principles." I've been breaking-down the Epistles and am including this brief sketch for myself for future references when I have a chance to read the book and explore how they constructed their list of elementary principles.


    στοιχειώμaτa, “elementary principles(EH 36.8-9); στοιχεíωσιν, “first principles(EH 37.5)

    Αἱ δώδεκα στοιχειώσειςThe Twelve Elements

    Epicurus’ ΣΤΟΙΧΕΙΩΜΑΤΑ (stoikheiṓmata, or “elementary outline”, per R. D. Hicks) conceptually anticipated the Cosmological Principle, the Law of Conservation of Mass, the Law of Definite Proportions, the First Law of Thermodynamics, Molecular Vibration, Brownian Motion, the Special Theory of Relativity, and Quantum Field Theory.

    Epicurus’ Synopsis On Physics (to Herodotus):

    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.” (EH 36.1-2)

    “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. (EH. 37.4-5)

      • 1. Things don’t just appear. (EH 38.10-11; DRN I 150-174)
      • 2. Things don’t just disappear. (EH 39.1-2; DRN I 215-224, 238)
      • 3. It’s always been this way. (EH 39.2-6, 44.6-7; DRN II 297-308, V 362-364)
      • 4. It’s all just things in space. (EH 39.7-40.6; DRN I 419-439, V 352-362)
      • 5. All things are made of particles. (EH 40.7-41.5; DRN I 483-503)
      • 6. Everything extends infinitely. (EH 41.6-10; DRN I 959-984)
      • 7. Particles and space are unlimited. (EH 42.1-42.5; DRN I 985-1021, II 339-40, 523-531)
      • 8. Particles have nearly unlimited shapes. (EH 42.6-42.12; DRN II 341-381)
      • 9. Particles move constantly, even when entangled. (EH 43.1-44.7; DRN II 309-333)

    “These brief sayings, if all these point are borne in mind afford a sufficient outline for our understanding of the nature of existing things.(EH 45.1)

      • There are an infinite number of worlds. (EH 45.3-9)
      • Everything radiates tiny, sensible particles. (EH 46.1-47.2)
      • Particles are unsurpassably fine and fast. (EH 47.1-4, 61.11-13)
      • Particles flow at a continuous, instantaneous rate. (EH 48.1-6)
      • Particles can mix in the air and form illusions. (EH 48.6-11)
      • We see when particles emanate from things and hit our eyes. (EH 49.1-50.8)
      • “Truth” is a true opinion about sensations. (EH 50.8-52.4)
      • We hear when currents of particles stretch into our ears. (EH 52.5-53.8)
      • We smell when particles waft from things into our noses. (EH 53.9-53.13)
      • Particles have three qualities: shape, size, and weight. (EH 54.1-8; DRN II 748-752)
      • Particles have a maximum size. (EH 55.1-8)
      • Particles have a minimum size. (EH 56.5-59.12)
      • All positions are relative. (EH 60.1-12)
      • Particles move with equal speed when falling through the void. (EH 61.1-10)
      • Particles move imperceptibly, imcomprehensibly fast. (EH 46b.1-3)
      • Particles move even when entangled in compounds. (EH 62.1-47b.8)

    “Next, referring always to the sensations and the feelings <for in this way you will obtain the most trustworthy ground of belief>, you must consider that…(EH 63.1-2)

      • The soul is made of particles. (EH 63.2-11)
      • The soul gives the body sensation. (EH 63.11-64.1)
      • The soul lives within the body. (EH 64.1-10)
      • The body cannot perceive without a soul. (EH 65.1-8)
      • The soul cannot perceive outside a body. (EH 65.8-67.9)
      • Only void is incorporeal. (EH 67.1-68.1)

    “Now if one refers all these reasonings and remembers when was said at the outset, he will see that they are sufficiently embraced in thse general formulae to enable him to work out with certainty on this basis the details of the sytem as well.” (EH 68.1-5)

      • Properties do not exist without bodies (EH 68.6-69.1)
      • Properties are not incorporeal. (EH 69.1-69.3)
      • Properties define bodies. (EH 69.3-69.11)
      • Properties of bodies can change. (EH 70.1-71.11)
      • Time is neither a body nor a body’s property. (EH 72.1-73.6)

      • Worlds evolved from clumps of particles. (EH 73.7-73.12)
      • Worlds are similar yet diverse in nature. (EH 74.1-2)
      • Worlds host other kinds of plants and animals. (EH 74.2-6)
      • Civilizations evolve over time. (EH 75.1-2)
      • Languages evolve over time. (EH 75.6-76.7)

      • “The All” is NOT governed by a divine being. (EH 76.8-77.5)
      • Celestial objects are just collections of fire. (EH 77.5-12)
      • Happiness requires a clear understanding of nature. (EH 78.1-79.1)
      • Obsessing over mythic questions does not lead to happiness. (EH 79.1-80.3
      • Conclusions should cohere with evidence. (EH 80.1-80.11)
      • Confidence is knowing that you are not being dogged by a demon. (EH 81.1-82.3)
      • Trust your feelings and sensations; apply standards of judgment. (EH 82.4-82.10)

    “Here […] is my treatise on the chief points concerning the nature of the general principles, abridged so that my account would be easy to grasp with accuracy.”  (EH 82.11-83.2)

    A number of those can be derived (the nature of the soul, the orientation and organization of the world, human evolution and civilization, sensible properties, etc.) from the "first principles".

    I am personally curious how many of EH 45-62 get included in their list.

  • Everything radiates tiny, sensible particles. (EH 46.1-47.2)

    Nate - In regard to this one, I think it would be useful if we could mention -- when the occasion arises in these discussions you are referring to -- the distinction or relationship between (1) the process of seeing or hearing or smelling due to the movement of particles, and (2) the phenomena described as "images."

    It seems pretty clear when you drill down that the processing of "images" is not the same thing as "seeing" (or hearing or smelling) but it is very easy to lump all these things together and talk about them as if they are the same. For example the phenomena you are referencing in this item is not necessarily describing sight, yet many readers are likely going to presume that that is what it refers to (especially when we call them "sensible").

    Another reason for my comment is that I think this probably plays into the controversy of the "present impressions of the mind." It would therefore be helpful for a number of reasons if we could work to make clear the distinction between "images" and the phenomena we include under the 5 senses (if in fact there is a difference, which I am presuming there is.)

  • fwiw ...

  • Godfrey I just finished editing and posting this week's Lucretius Today podcast, and I realized that this issue of the alleged "fourth leg" of the canon comes up at the 56 minute mark of the episode. We didn't get into it in great detail, since I haven't been able to read the new book yet, but thought I would mention this here for future reference because this issue is part of what DeWitt addressed in discussing "The Canon, Reason, And Nature" in his chapter seven.

  • Just to set the stage on the "three legs of the canon vs. four" issue, the following is from the chapter of the book entitled "Epicurean Gnoseology":

    The four criteria of truth include senses, concepts (προλήψεις, “preconceptions”), emotions (πάθη, “passions”) of pleasure and pain and the imaginary imposition of the mind (φανταστική ἐπιβολή τῆς διανοίας):


    Preconceptions are concepts stored in the mind and are derived from the senses. These concepts are based on repetitive sensory experiences. They do not need verbal proof since they are evident by observation to all ("universal understanding"), constituting a criterion of correct belief. For example, it is common to all people who have seen a rose, the "clear preconception of a rose", that is, the explicit concept based on observation of this material object. Through preconceptions, the chaotic information of the sensory world begins to assemble into a coherent, structured, and stable entity leading to the emergence of language and consciousness.


    Imaginary impositions of the mind are representations that the mind captures when it focuses its attention on something. In its singular form, the term has been interpreted as "insightful conception of the mind", "immediate perception of the mind", and "focus of the mind on an impression", but perhaps the best conceptual approach to the term is ‘focusing on a cognitive image’. According to Diogenes Laertius, Epicurus, in his book “Kanon”, describes the three criteria of truth, senses, preconceptions and passions. At the same time, the imaginary imposition of mind was added as a criterion of truth by the later Epicureans (D.L. X31). However, Epicurus, in his Principal Doctrines (XXIV), mentions: “If you reject absolutely any single sensation without stopping to discriminate with respect to that which awaits confirmation between matter of opinion and that which is already present, whether in sensation or in feelings or in any immediate perception of the mind,

    [The discussion of this latter paragraph is taken further, basically in the direction of interpreting impacts of "images" on the mind as constituting a fourth leg. As far as I can tell so far the book does not attempt to take a position on why Epicurus himself did not consider this to be a full leg of the canon, or on why later Epicureans thought he was wrong in failing to do so.]

  • The "fourth leg" seems to me that it's simply the way the mind can be used as a "sense organ." I grasp smells with my nose, sights with my eyes, sounds with my ears, physical senses with me sense of touch, tastes with my tongue (and nose!), and ideas with my mind. I can't "see" language, as a concept, but I can grasp it with my mind.

    That said, I could also see this "Fourth leg" as just a synonym for prolepsis or a "kind" off prolepsis. It seems to me that the 4 instead of 3 is maybe splitting hairs unnecessarily.

    I found this from one of my posts from similar discussions last year looking at a Sedley paper:

    Quote from Sedley

    According to Diogenes Laertius (X 31), the Canon gave the three criteria as being sensations, προλεψεις, and feelings. Cicero's translation of this phrase shows that there is no significance; except perhaps a grammatical one, in Diogenes' omission of the article before προλεψεις. I mention this because Furley and Rist have deduced from it that προλεψεις were lumped together with sensations as constituting a single category. Its inclusion of προλεψεις as truth-criteria dates the Canon at any rate later than the Letter to Herodotus, according to the principle established above. It may well also be significant that the metaphor of κανων, meaning a truth-criterion, does not occur in the fragments of On Nature Books I-XV, or in the Letter to Herodotus, but is found frequently in the writings which we have already established to belong after 300 B.C.71

    This should help dispel the mystification created by Diogenes Laertius' observation that the Epicureans add φανταστικαι επιβολαι της διάνοιας as truth-criteria, which has appeared to many to conflict with Epicurus' own acceptance of these 'image-making mental acts of concentration ' as virtual truth-criteria in the Letter to Herodotus 79 and in KD XXIV. If we assign an early date not only to the Letter to Herodotus but also to KD XXIV, the most satisfactory solution will be that when he came to develop the notion of προλεψεις in the following years he subsumed under it certain truth-criteria to which he had previously granted an independent validity. We have already observed that the 'fundamental meaning of a word ' became an element in the broader concept of προλεψεις ; and the same goes also for the φανταστικαι επιβολαι της διάνοιας , without which we could not visualise things at will, and consequently could have no generalised conceptions at all. Thus when he came to write the Canon he had downgraded φανταστικαι επιβολαι της διάνοιας in favour of προλεψεις. And if later Epicureans chose to upgrade them once more to the status of criteria, they had good authority in their master's early works for so doing. (p.16)

    Sedley's paper is available on Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/resource/work/4310042

  • Also from the article Don cited, it is interesting to see Sedley disagree so strongly with Bailey's interpretations. This kind of disagreement leads me to conclude that while I am not ready to die on the hill of whether there were only three or actually four criterion of truth, the real issue is the deeper question of making sure that the criterion come to us "naturally" and "without opinion" and can therefore serve as data which Nature programs us to accept as a given. That's the problem with most versions I see that attempt to describe a "fourth" leg. Like Don is saying, suggestions as to a fourth seem to be describing a process of evaluation, not a mechanism for receiving raw unfiltered data.

    To me the danger zone is anytime you cross that line into thinking that something you have developed in your own mind, after evaluation, has to be taken with the kind of acceptance you grant to what you see or hear or touch. I've always read Bailey as indicating that the thinks that conceptions which we develop in our minds can serve as a criterion of truth, and in fairness to him Diogenes Laertius can be read that way.

    But I think it's beyond dispute that Epicurus was looking to develop a theory of the tools which Nature gave to us by which to evaluate our conclusions. If so, questions like whether "images" fit within the canon, and whether the canon has three or four or fourteen legs, are not nearly as important as avoiding considering our own thoughts as criteria of truth. But Nature does not give us full-blown conceptions either at birth or at anytime later, at least under any interpretation of Epicurus that I can find to be reasonable.

    Considering our own conclusions to be criteria of "truth" seems to me very much like what Plato was doing in suggesting that our minds can make contact with ideal forms. And if you get to that point of agreeing with Plato there, then you get to the point (which we regrettably left out of our most recent podcast) that Plato could hold that you could never really know whether the thing in front of you is a horse, but that you *can* know the ideal form of "horseness."

    That Platonic position is at the very least impractical, if not in fact total nonsense.

  • Am I correct in understanding that "intuitive leaps" are being discussed as a part of this 4th leg? These would be the kind of thing that gives you an "aha!" moment in the shower, for example. If so, the dividing line as to whether or not these are a criterion would be whether or not they are conscious of non-conscious.

    Dreams are non-conscious constructs from prior input and are considered "true." Aha moments, I think, are also non-conscious constructs from prior input, so would they, too, be true? Is the answer different depending on whether you consider it from the Epicurean theory of atoms or from modern science?

  • Am I correct in understanding that "intuitive leaps" are being discussed as a part of this 4th leg?

    Is that in the Greek book Godfrey? My reading of this 4th leg in the past was that the assertion is much more broad than that, and essentially would include every time a concept is judged to match something being observed - which would be virtually constantly during thought processes. I have not seen it asserted to be something special such as what you might be thinking there.

  • Not sure; I was reacting to the above posts. I'm pretty unclear as to the 4th criterion and the epibolai so I'm just trying to get my footing at this point. Also, as I recall epibolai have something to do with grasping (as in understanding?). Both dreams and intuitive leaps are mechanisms for grasping, to my thinking.

  • Also, as I recall epibolai have something to do with grasping (as in understanding?). Both dreams and intuitive leaps are mechanisms for grasping, to my thinking.

    I could easily be wrong, Godfrey, but what I thought I read in the past was that the 4th leg argument asserted that every "flash of recognition" (every time we made a conceptual connection of any kind) was an example of this fourth leg in action. That seems unlikely to me to be what Epicurus intended, but I could be reading it negatively because of my concern that the argument goes too far. A limited faculty like you are talking about would make more sense, but I think what we are dealing with too is an attempt by some to incorporate Diogenes' Laertius' description of how anticipations work (which I think is probably faulty) and to consider as a test of truth every time something matches one of our preconceived concepts - and I don't think that would be consistent with basic canon theory.

  • In fact Godfrey what you may be describing is probably closer to what DeWitt describes in considering anticipations to be more of an "intuitive" faculty. That would make more sense to me if what is being described is something automatic or involuntary, but I don't get the impression that a generalized fourth leg is meant by its advocates to be that kind of thing. This is definitely a murky subject which is another reason why I resist adding another category which seems so difficult to describe -- anticipations themselves are already difficult enough to describe!

  • This thread and the Episode 155 thread are getting intertwined! I just posted there before reading the last couple of posts here. Here's the link to that post, so I don't duplicate it:

  • The topics of particular interest here are:

    1) The principles of atomic physics. Not 12, not 10, but 18 principles are listed. I didn't notice how this number was derived. Given some of the recent discussion on the forum, however, this might be fuel for a post or two ;)

    Starting on Pages 58 and 59 of An Introduction From the "Garden of Athens", a chapter titled "The Epicurean Philosophy: Kanonikon – Physikon – Ethikon" by Giorgos Bakogiannis:

    "A. Physikon (Physics)

    First, I must stress that this presentation completes my previous short one on atomic physics at the Second Panhellenic Symposium of Philosophy, so I will deal with issues that I did not have the time to present back then.

    The principles of atomic physics. Although the atom-based cosmology of Epicurus of Athens corresponds to a certain degree to the physics of Democritus of Abdera, it has its own principles. It is important to emphasize that these principles do not need prerequisites or a priori proposals. On the contrary, they can be subjected to intensive scrutiny through the use of Epicurean Kanon (Canon, Criterion). Epicurus proved each principle's validity using analogical thought and Aristotelian reasoning.

    Based my argument on the method of the French academic J.M. Gabaude, I will refer to each one of these principles and their corresponding forms of proof:

    1. There are bodies. Our senses confirm it.

    2. Everything that happens has one or more causes of happening. The opposite cannot be confirmed through our senses.

    3. Nothing is born out of nothing. The opposite cannot be confirmed.

    4. Nothing is annihilated. The opposite argument is unconfirmed.

    5. The whole consists of bodies. Our senses can confirm it.

    6. The whole also consists of the void. The opposite can be ruled out through reductio ad absurdum (proof by contradiction).

    7. Atoms possess a complete state of existence which is unchanged and unbroken. The opposite argument is refuted.

    8. Each atom is impenetrable. No space can be simultaneously occupied by two different bodies. The opposite is invalid.

    9. The whole is infinite. The opposite argument is invalid.

    10. Void is infinite. The opposite argument is invalid.

    11. The number of atoms is infinite. The opposite argument is invalid.

    12. Atoms move ceaselessly. The opposite argument is invalid.

    13. Each composite body possesses properties that the particles comprising it o not possess (principle of emergence-the basis of Chemistry)

    14. There is no expediency in nature. There is no divine intervention. The opposite argument is invalid.

    15. What is considered as necessary integrates the element of probability. There is a random or 'by chance' element occurring in nature. The opposite is not valid.

    16. The birth of a compound body is achieved through the union of atoms. The opposite is invalid.

    17. Every composite body is temporary, and when it is destroyed, it is dividied into the atoms that comprised it. The opposite is invalid.

    18. There are two levels of reality, the level of atoms within the void that is timeless and the level of the sensible world set in time. The opposite holds no validity."

  • I presume we are seeing a little roughness in the Greek to English translation, but aside from that what do you make of the list Nate? The "confirmed" and "cannot be confirmed" by the senses, but harder to tell about the "valid / invalid" labeling.

  • 18. There are two levels of reality, the level of atoms within the void that is timeless and the level of the sensible world set in time. The opposite holds no validity."

    This is new to me, and a bit surprising. Did Epicurus say this? Where is it coming from?

    Sounds almost Platonic.