Classical Epicurean Philosophy - Four Points of Emphasis At EpicureanFriends.com

  • The following document summarizes sources in support of each of the four primary points of emphasis at EpicureanFriends.com. This list will continue to be displayed, as it has in the past, as a right-side graphic, but as of 7/7/23 is being added to the main section of the home page for ease of reference on mobile devices.


    The sources listed below could be greatly expanded, so please feel free to make suggestions for additions in the comments below. Four items are included so as to keep the list manageable and consistent with the goals of the forum.


    Items one, two, and four are self-explanatory. Item three, a direct excerpt from Epicurus' letter to Menoeceus and included as well within Principal Doctrine 3, is included here to emphasize the basis of the Epicurean teaching that "good," "evil," and "virtue" are relative to the feelings of pleasure and pain rather than absolute.

    1. Four Points of Emphasis At EpicureanFriends.com


    1.1. There Are No Supernatural Gods

    1. Lucretius Book 2 - 1090
      1. Bailey - "And if you learn this surely, and cling to it, nature is seen, free at once, and quit of her proud rulers, doing all things of her own accord alone, without control of gods."
      2. Humphries - Holding this knowledge, you can't help but see, That nature has no tyrants over her, But always acts of her own will; she has no part of any godhead whatsoever."
      3. Brown 1743 - "These things, if you rightly apprehend, Nature will appear free in her operations, wholly from under the power of domineering deities, and to act all things voluntarily, and of herself, without the assistance of gods."
      4. Munro - "If you well apprehend and keep in mind these things, nature free at once and rid of her haughty lords is seen to do all things spontaneously of herself without the meddling of the gods. "
      5. M.F. Smith - "Once you obtain a firm grasp of these facts, you see that nature is her own mistress and is exempt from the oppression of arrogant despots, accomplishing everything by herself spontaneously and independently and free from the jurisdiction of the gods. "


    1.2. There Is No Life After Death

    1. Lucretius Book Three [560]
      1. Munro: "Therefore, again and again I say, when the enveloping body has been all broken up and the vital airs have been forced out, you must admit that the senses of the mind and the soul are dissolved, since the cause of destruction is one and inseparable for both body and soul."
    2. Lucretius Book Three [679]
      1. Munro: "Wherefore, again and again I say, we must believe souls to be neither without a birth nor exempted from the law of death; for we must not believe that they could have been so completely united with our bodies, if they found their way into them from without, nor since they are so closely interwoven with them, does it appear that they can get out unharmed and unloose themselves unscathed from all the sinews and bones and joints."


    1.3. All Good And Evil Consists In Sensation

    1. Letter to Menoeceus [124]
      1. Bailey: "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."
      2. Hicks: "Accustom thyself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply sentience, and death is the privation of all sentience; therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life an illimitable time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality."
      3. Inwood-Gerson: "Get used to believing that death is nothing to us. For all good and bad consists in sense-experience, and death is the privation of sense-experience. Hence, a correct knowledge of the fact that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life a matter for contentment, not by adding a limitless time [to life] but by removing the longing for immortality."
      4. Epicurus Wiki (Epicurism.info): " Accustom yourself to thinking that death is no concern to us. All things good and bad are experienced through sensation, but sensation ceases at death. So death is nothing to us, and to know the truth of this makes a mortal life happy -- not by adding infinite time, but by removing the desire for immortality."


    1.4. Pleasure is the guide of life.

    1. Lucretius Book Two [167]:
      1. Munro: "But some in opposition to this, ignorant of matter, believe that nature cannot without the providence of the gods, in such nice conformity to the ways of men, vary the seasons of the year and bring forth crops, ay and all the other things, which divine pleasure, the guide of life, prompts men to approach, escorting them in person and enticing them by her fondlings to continue their races through the arts of Venus, that mankind may not come to an end."
      2. Rouse: "But some in opposition to this, knowing nothing of matter, believe that without the gods’ power nature cannot with so exact conformity to the plans of mankind change the seasons of the year, and produce crops, and in a word all else which divine pleasure, the guide of life, persuades men to approach, herself leading them and coaxing them, through the ways of Venus, to beget their generations, that the human race may not come to an end."
      3. Humphries: "Some people do not know how matter works. They think that nature needs the will of the gods to fit the seasons of the year so nicely to human needs, to bring to birth the crops And other blessings, which our guide to life, the radiance of pleasure, makes us crave through Venus' agency. "
    2. Epicurus' Letter to Menoeceus [129]:
      1. Bailey: [129] 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.




    Click below for clickable version of the Forum Navigation Map


Share

Comments 10

  • While the "Four Points of Emphasis At EpicureanFriends.com" do a great job in summarizing key parts of the philosopy (especially to newbies), they lack the therapeutical attributs of PD1-4 which are present in the Tetrapharmakos: Don't fear god, don't worry about death. What's good is easy to get, what's bad is easy to endure. This is why I'm propably more favorable towards the antique formula. I say this out of my position as a.) a fan of the ethical derivates of the philosophy who tries to apply them to his own life and b.) considering PD and VS as rather imperative than relative, giving specific advice how to live a good life.

    Thanks 1
    • Those are valid points, Titus. You'll note that the heading is as to four points of emphasis "at EpicureanFriends.com." The reason for that prepositional phrase is that the forum itself has to take into account its role as a place for voluntary discussion of a viewpoint which is highly controversial but yet about which there is a large degree of diverging interpretation. There are a lot of considerations involved in that, and one of them is that we want to be as clear as possible as quickly as possible to new readers that we're trying to be as accurate as possible in making what Epicurus taught the center of activity here. As you know, Epicurus himself did not write the abbreviated "four part cure," and while many of us really appreciate it, it is so broadly stated that it does not convey the reasoning that is present in the first four Principal Doctrines.


      We regularly have people come here to the forum who are aware of little more than that in the modern world Epicurus has a reputation for providing advice in treating anxiety. More than once we have had people join the forum and start posting before realizing that their strongly held supernatural religious views are totally incompatible with Epicurean philosophy. To be courteous to both them and to our existing participants, we want everyone to understand that the focus here is:


      - that the reason the gods are not to be feared is that there are in fact no supernatural providential gods;

      - that the reason death is not to be feared is that there is in fact no existence at all after death;

      - that the reason "the good is easy to get" is that the good is pleasure and that there are many ways to achieve it; and

      - that the reason "what's bad is easy to endure" (if you accept that formulation as true to Epicurus at all, which I doubt as to the word 'easy') is that sharp pain is usually short, long-term pain allows for a predominance of pleasure, and if things get totally out of hand you can exit the theatre when the play ceases to please you.


      Let me always include the caveat when I make a statement like that that I do not doubt Philodemus himself. I question the intent of this formulation given the fragmentary out-of-context state in which it comes down to us as part of a treatise in which Philodemus is criticizing the failure of some Epicureans to study the original texts. You will note that when people talk about the Tetapharmakos they generally do not refer to the name of the scroll from which it comes as anything more than "Herculaneum Scroll 1005." That's because the topic of the scroll is apparently "Against.." something, and to "admonish those who call themselves Epicurean but do not know the writings and doctrines," and who prefer outlines that generalize, also warning about incomplete sources. More past discussion of these issues is here.


      The last two in particular require a subtlety of explanation which many of us still struggle with after years of reading. Discussion and explanation are what we do here, but we also have to be careful that people realize as quickly as possible the "limits and boundaries" within which we operate.

      Like 1
    • Quote from Cassius

      we want to be as clear as possible as quickly as possible to new readers that we're trying to be as accurate as possible in making what Epicurus taught the center of activity here

      I totally agree, that for this purpose the "four points" do a great job. On the one hand, I could imagine formulating the key issues of Epicurean philosophy quite the same way. On the other hand, the "four points" give me the impression of reading the articles of faith of any Atheist/Humanist club. I know, the study of the deeper concepts makes the difference, but it just sounds too plain for my taste. But for sure, for your intended purpose, they serve quite well.


      Quote from Cassius

      I question the intent of this formulation given the fragmentary out-of-context state in which it comes down to us as part of a treatise in which Philodemus is criticizing the failure of some Epicureans to study the original texts

      You're joking :D . Philodemus thus indirectely critizises the recipients of his own text when they pick only fragments.

  • I have certain concerns with the line "All Good And Evil Consists In Sensation." I understand where the translators are coming from, but that turn of phrase just hits the ear weird. I see people asking "what do the moral topics of good and evil have to do with sensation?" and so on. In my own translation of Menoikeus, I've taken the tack of paraphrasing πᾶν ἀγαθὸν καὶ κακὸν "all good (things) and evil (things)" as "pleasure and pain" which is how the Tetrapharmakos uses "The Good" to mean pleasure and "The Terrible" to mean pain. My Menoikeus uses: "Death is nothing since all pleasure and pain are in perception of the senses and the mind, and death is the absolute negation of perception."

    Thanks 1
    • " I see people asking "what do the moral topics of good and evil have to do with sensation?" "


      Is that not exactly what they *should" ask?


      This is a good issue to discuss because as I recall Frances Wright has her Epicurus say explicitly that there is no good but pleasure and no evil but pain. Ultimately after thinking it through I think I am currently at the view that this is the necessary conclusion - if for no other reason than to attack fhe Platonic sounding idea that good and evil have absolute meaning.

    • Also Don, if those words are not in fact pleasure and pain in the Greek, do you not worry that the change you adopted compromises the value of your translation on a core issue of philisophy?


      It would almost be desirable for translators (not referring to you) to provide a "list of emendations."

    • And one final question - why do you say that the Tetrapharmankon does not in fact mean good and evil as well? Are the Greek words different? I would think they are referring to exactly the issue we are discussing , the philosophic question of the ultimate ends.


      Since comments in a thread don't always get picked up let's ask @Nate what he thinks here as well.


      Good material to discuss.

    • Quote from Cassius

      Frances Wright has her Epicurus say explicitly that there is no good but pleasure and no evil but pain.

      And I think that's what I'm doing with my translation. There is no "good" or "evil" apart from the sensation/perception of pleasure and pain. There is no abstract Platonic Good or Evil floating around as ideals. The Good ταγαθον (tagathon < to agathon) and The Terrible το δεινον (to deinon (see English dino-saur)) of the Tetrapharmakos are specifically referring to pleasure and pain. The good things and bad things of the Menoikeus are referring to pleasure and pain. It's also simplistic (but very easy) to translate agathos and kakos (the ancient Greek words used) as "good" and "evil" and can convey a moralistic/ethical paradigm that is convenient to modern sensibilities. Agathos and kakos have a much wider semantic field that just "good" and "evil." Maybe "positive" and "negative" would be better, but even that doesn't get at the all-encompassing nature of those two words. Epicurus's revolution was to demand that ALL our experience of the world, all of it, every last bit of it, both the positive aspects and the negative aspects, is predicated on our sensing it or perceiving it. We are ALWAYS experiencing either a positive or negative affect due to the fact of our being alive, of being able to sense and perceive. The ideas of morality are overlaid on top of that fundamental perception, but they need not be. Just go back to the perceptions of pleasure and pain, the positive and negative.

      That's a start, and I know you raised more concerns, so I'll come back and address some of the others.

    • Yes we agree exactly that Epicurus stands for the proposition that there is no good apart from what arises from pleasure and no evil apart from what arises from pain.


      But like in a lot of other issues, we have a playing field in which "good" and "evil" are really the ultimate pawns in the chessboard. Plato et al (really everyone, pretty much) are setting up the game for people to understand that good and evil have absolute meanings and reference points, and that is a **huge** problem, because once you accept Plato's points of reference then every time you use 'good" and "evil" you are digging yourself deeper. I think that Nietzsche was correct on this exact point and thus his work on "Beyond Good and Evil." Those terms as commonly used are deadly for the reason that motivates you to try to avoid them in this translation.


      But Epicurus is pushing back, from what seems to me to be the point of view that when terms like "good" and "evil" and evil are so entrenched, you can't just ignore them, you have to redefine them or define them accurately, as Epicurus does with "gods" and "virtue." He doesn't stop using those words, he uses them because they connect with people, and they find those words useful, but Epicurus insists that these words do not mean what the majority think they mean, and that the words need to be defined properly.


      So we are in agreement as to the ultimate meaning of what Epicurus thinks, but I don't think it's what he did, or possible, or desirable, to simply take the words that people use and stop using them. People have to be reeducated on proper meanings and connotations, and it IS permissible to talk about "good" and "evil" when they are properly expressed as stemming from pleasure and pain, which is what both Epicurus and the Tetrapharmakon (of course I hedge in taking that for an authority ;) seem to be doing,


      So I would see this as a case where if the words good and evil are dropped, a large part of the meaning and intent - to draw very clear and philosophical distinctions - are also lost.