"The Canon of Epicurus In Everyday Life"

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"The Canon of Epicurus In Everyday Life"

The purpose of this proposition is a brief introduction to the Canon of Epicurus that will help us to use it in our everyday life. There are, of course, studies on logical issues, which are very advanced and are based on studies of brain function, mathematical formulas etc. These are extremely important issues, but we, who do not study Logic in universities, should have help in our everyday life on this field.

When we were at school, we used to call as Canon the ruler that helped us to draw a straight line. Canon was also the thread of the level used by the builders, to build the wall vertically, not to lean. Canon is therefore something that is meant to be used and not just to mention, to describe it and comment on it.

A fundamental issue is that Epicurus classified Canon with Physics:

“They tend to place the Canon together with the Physics, and they call it about criterion and principle, and elementary”. It is about "criterion" because it refers to the criteria, “of principle" because it goes up to the first principles, and "elementary" because it is based on the elements of nature. The Canon comes out from the study of Nature and then helps us to study Nature.

In an academic type seminar, we would use the term "Gnoseotheory". Now, however, we will talk "basically" about the way we engage –we import– data and process the data. For the information we get and for the process of judgment.

The obstacles

The scientists did an experiment. They placed a grid, and put food on the one side. On the other side they left dogs. The dogs ran straight to the food, but between them there was the grid and the food. One of them did not go straight, but went around the grid. It was the only one that was not unfed finally. And that's because he had superior intelligence than the others; and the first thing he did was to spot the obstacle.

This is the first step. Locating the obstacles first. And then think about ways to overcome them. Of course, those who have higher intelligence than average, do this easily. But what about the rest of us? The answer is simple. By following a method, we can become smarter than the smart ones. So starting, we will always locate the obstacles first.

Epicurus, who was a man of superior intelligence, teaches us this way with his own philosophical work. Thus first of all he teaches how to locate and deal with obstacles. Epicurus says: Is there the fear of God between you and your happiness? God is not feared. Is there the fear of death? Death is nothing to us. Similarly: The good is easy to get and the terrible is easy to endured. Only after the elimination of these obstacles, the positive steps to gain pleasure and bliss begin.

As for “taking and processing data” by us, according to Canon, two obstacles will certainly concern us: The first is the concept of the words, and the second is the separation between real and imaginary.

The concepts of the words

The concepts of the words should be obvious, without having to look at evidences and without giving the definition of the word.

Note that Canon does not accept the definitions. So when we say the word "human," we all understand what is "sub - mitted" to the word without the need of its definition. Either way, Epicurus does not accept that the words come from divine or artificial inventions, but they were created in a natural way and corresponded exactly to things.

From time to time in our Garden visitors are shown, all of them saying the same things. That is, we are talking to each other without understanding, because we do not define what each word means. That is, we do not define the meaning of the word. Because all of them tell us the same things, I understand that they have read something common, probably Socrates, Plato, Stoics, I do not know exactly. However, they have not read Cornelius Castoriadis, who says the simple fact that the meaning of each word refers to an indeterminate number of other meanings. That is, by trying to give the definition of the word we lead to endless interpretations and word games. And that is precisely the obstacle we have to overcome. (Example of the word "Bank"). Finally, my revenge on all those who support the definition is that from antiquity until now, none of them has been able to give a definition that fully reflects reality. But if there is one who insists, let’s first define the meaning of the word "leftist" and then we will discuss about it.

The Separation between Real and Imaginary

The imaginary "sells". It has an organized sales system and there are always buyers. It is a big obstacle. That is why Canon advises first to distinguish the real from the imaginary and then proceed to assessments and judgments. (Lucian, Hermotimus or rival philosophies, 810). A simple example: Pass data to your computer, from which others will be real and others imaginary. Then let the computer process them and get them done. You understand what will happen. Something similar happens to us, who, confusing the imaginary with the real, end up being unable to judge and decide properly. We see this in Greece and at social level for many decades. To overcome this obstacle, Canon uses the criteria of truth.

The criteria of truth are: The senses, the preconceptions and the passions that are the feelings (pleasure and pain).

As for the senses. Young people today consider as self-evident that our senses introduce real facts. There are, however, many old people who claim that the senses deceive and we can’t rely on them. These old people are the power of inertia that tries to engross the thought. Because I do not have the patience to wait for their biological disappearance, I suggest that: Ask for the doctors to discontinue the clinical examination of patients because it is based on sensations, to abolish microbiological and other tests because they are an extension of the senses, ask the judges and lawyers to remove documents and testimonies from the courts as means of proof because, of course, they are based on the senses, and then all of them to be replaced by their own criteria that they do not deceive. Note that senses are not wrong. The processing of sensory data in our brain may be incomplete.

As for the preconceptions. The data from something that our senses and feelings send repeatedly create accumulation of interpretations that ultimately acts as a frame of reference. Thus, for example, a preconception that is created for a man who, as a framework, includes the characteristics of a man.

The feelings. Be assured that if, at this moment that I speak to you, I have noticed anger and aggression by the audience against me, my feelings would advise me to close my speech, run quickly the side corridor, get to the door and flee from the room.

All this is being investigated by modern science, which has made progress to unbelievable degree. But we also say these, not only because science confirms them, but also because the Epicurean philosophy is being integrated to the enlightenment stream and therefore should strike the inertia that is installed in the minds of idealism’s followers.

As we understand, Canon tells us to rely on phenomena. And not in words empty of content.

Multiple causes

We said above that Epicurus ranked Canon together with Physics. He honored Democritus because he first discovered the principles of Nature, the atomic theory, namely the "elements", the atoms and the void. Let's not forget that Canon was also called "Elementary". Αs we know, he added the swerve. The movement of atoms in any direction, the unpredictable movement due to swerve, the striking between them, the repulsion of the striking, the creation of formations, the deconstruction of formations, if we accept that the causes are where the atoms are (this is from Metrodorus), we end up in the logic of the multiple causes and the many possible effects... and so through Physics we get to Canon. Everything is arranged “unshaken”, namely that everything is arranged firmly, without being shaken, “in any way cleansed according to the phenomena”, if they are explained by the manifold method, always in agreement with the events.

Canon and Fuzzy Logic

Cicero blames Epicurus because, as he writes, he abolishes the definition and says nothing about division and separation to parts. We add that Epicurus does not accept the "Excluded Middle of Law": "A is B or Non-B” (A is either bald or non-bald, male or non-male.) Nature is not bound by such laws. The structure of the logical system that accepts the Excluded Middle Law is two-dimensional, which means it requires that every aspect of existence can be divided into two lasting possibilities: true - false, it is – it is not, yes or no. But these two possibilities are not the only ones in nature (we reject the necessity in nature).

Thus, we can’t characterize Epicurean way of reasoning as Two-dimensional Logic, but we can easily characterize and call it a Manifold Reasoning.

All of the above are the features of the logic system which is called Fuzzy Logic. Modern technology, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology etc. are based on this.

Canon is the forerunner of Fuzzy Logic, but almost no one says it. The Garden of Thessaloniki tries and wishes this to be known throughout Europe and around the world. It would be a great help if a scientist specializing in these issues, that is in the field of the positive sciences, would be activated in this field and help us.

Thinking Method

This is where TV will help us. You’ve all watched, I can imagine, the "Medical Affairs" series with Dr. House. So we will notice what Dr. House does, alongside what Epicurus teaches in his Letter to Pythocles.

All are starting with a patient that he presents some symptoms. The problem is that they can’t combine these symptoms with some causes. So they do not know the treatment. And that is where the difficulties start.

Dr. House always has as a field of thought the whole, the general, the undefined, the "infinity" according to Canon. He tries to transform this undefined into determined, so the treatment will be found, but in what way: He constantly refers to the «first principles», the root of first causes, <<την των αρχών>>. He does not reject any case, since it is based on the empirical reality, the «phenomena» of Canon. He uses the criteria, the senses and the feelings, <<έτι τε κριτηρίων και παθών>>. He takes into account the different contingencies that have «the akin to them» <<τα ομογενή τούτοις συνοράν>> and he makes his choices. While doing all this, he remains in touch with the general picture, as a permanent field of research, and never abandons the reference to the first principles, the search for the first causes. He remains perfectly stable in the purpose of «for which we reason out these things» <<oυκ ένεκεν ταύτα εκλογιζόμεθα>>. He combines all these “synthesized” and it is easy for him to see the causes of the details, namely the causes of the human organism systems malfunctioning, and the way these causes are combined, <<ραδίως τα περί των κατά μέρος αιτίας συνοράν ποιήσει>>.

If now I was asked by someone to say three things to remember the above, I would say: First, our thought constantly runs to the unspecified and the general, secondly, constantly goes deeper into the first principles, namely the first causes, and thirdly it is compinational, that is to say it combines.

To convince you, I'll bring you another example from TV. From the series with the great detectives, Hercules Poirot, Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, etc. I have not yet studied ours, Angeliki Nikolouli. All of these follow, of course, the natural way of thinking, namely the Canon. But beside them there is always a police inspector who continues to be wrong. What happens? The author, who has studied these, puts the police inspector to restrict his thinking to the part rather than to the general one, and at the same time to investigate the superficial causes, i.e. not to go deeper into the first principles and not to seek and combine the parts. Inevitably, the mistake comes.

I like these police inspectors, who follow a course prescribed not by themselves, but by others.

However, I do not like so much our fellow men who follow the same course, which is prescribed by themselves.


The epicurean Canon along with its continuous implementation offers us a calm field of communication, understanding and pleasurable relationships.

November 2017, by George Kaplanis founding member of the Garden in Thessaloniki.

Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

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