Principal Doctrines, 1–40

Epicurus  translated by Robert Drew Hicks

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1A blessed and eternal being has no trouble itself and brings no trouble upon any other being; hence it is exempt from movements of anger and favour, for every such movement implies weakness.

2Death is nothing to us; for the body, when it has been resolved into its elements, has no feeling, and that which has no feeling is nothing to us.

3The magnitude of pleasures is limited by the removal of all pain. Wherever there is pleasure, so long as it is present, there is no pain either of body or of mind or both.

4Continuous pain does not last long in the flesh, and pain, if extreme, is present a very short time, and even that degree of pain which barely outweighs pleasure in the flesh does not occur for many days together. Illnesses of long duration even permit of an excess of pleasure over pain in the flesh.

5It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man does not live wisely, though he lives well and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.

6As far as concerns protection from other men, any means of procuring this was a natural good.

7Some men sought to become famous and renowned, thinking that thus they would make themselves secure against their fellow-men. If, then, the life of such persons really was secure, they attained natural good; if, however, it was insecure, they have not attained the end which by nature’s own promptings they originally sought.

8No pleasure is in itself evil, but the things which produce certain pleasures entail annoyances many times greater than the pleasures themselves.

9If all pleasure had been capable of accumulation, if this had gone on not only in time, but all over the frame or, at any rate, the principal parts of man’s nature, there would not have been any difference between one pleasure and another as, in fact, there now is.

10If the objects which are productive of pleasures to profligate persons really freed them from fears of the mind—the fears, I mean, inspired by celestial and atmospheric phenomena, the fear of death, the fear of pain—if, further, they taught them to limit their desires, we should not have any reason to censure such persons, for they would then be filled with pleasure to overflowing on all sides and would be exempt from all pain, whether of body or mind, that is, from all evil.

11If we had never been molested by alarms at celestial and atmospheric phenomena, nor by the misgiving that death somehow affects us, nor by neglect of the proper limits of pains and desires, we should have had no need to study natural science.

12It would be impossible to banish fear on matters of the highest importance if a man did not know the nature of the whole universe but lived in dread of what the legends tell us. Hence, without the study of nature there was no enjoyment of unmixed pleasures.

13There would be no advantage in providing security against our fellow-men so long as we were alarmed by occurrences over our heads or beneath the earth, or in general by whatever happens in the infinite void.

14When tolerable security against our fellow-men is attained, then on a basis of power arises most genuine bliss, to wit, the security of a private life withdrawn from the multitude.

15Nature’s wealth has its bounds and is easy to procure, but the wealth of vain fancies recedes to an infinite distance.

16Fortune but slightly crosses the wise man’s path; his greatest and highest interests are directed by reason throughout the course of life.

17The just man enjoys the greatest peace of mind, the unjust is full of the utmost disquietude.

18Pleasure in the flesh admits no increase when once the pain of want has been removed; after that it only admits of variation. The limit of pleasure in the mind is obtained by calculating the pleasures themselves and the contrary pains, which cause the mind the greatest alarms.

19Infinite time and finite time hold an equal amount of pleasure, if we measure the limits of that pleasure by reason.

20The flesh assumes the limits of pleasure to be infinite, and only infinite time would satisfy it. But the mind, grasping in thought what the end and limit of the flesh is, and banishing the terrors of futurity, procures a complete and perfect life and has no longer any need of infinite time. Nevertheless, it does not shun pleasure, and even in the hour of death, when ushered out of existence by circumstances, the mind does not fail to enjoy the best life.

21He who understands the limits of life knows how easy it is to procure enough to remove the pain of want and make the whole of life complete and perfect. Hence he has no longer any need of things which are not to be won save by conflict and struggle.

22We must take into account as the end all that really exists and all clear evidence of sense to which we refer our opinions; for otherwise everything will be full of uncertainty and confusion.

23If you fight against all your sensations you will have no standard to which to refer, and thus no means of judging even those sensations which you pronounce false.

24If you reject absolutely any single sensation without stopping to discriminate between that which is matter of opinion and awaits further confirmation and that which is already present, whether in sensation or in feeling or in any mental apprehension, you will throw into confusion even the rest of your sensations by your groundless belief, so as to reject the truth altogether. If you hastily affirm as true all that awaits confirmation in ideas based on opinion, as well as that which does not, you will not escape error, as you will be taking sides in every question involving truth and error.

25If you do not on every separate occasion refer each of your actions to the chief end of nature, but if instead of this in the act of choice or avoidance you swerve aside to some other end, your acts will not be consistent with your theories.

26Some desires lead to no pain when they remain ungratified. All such desires are unnecessary, and the longing is easily got rid of when the thing desired is difficult to procure or when the desires seem likely to produce harm.

27Of all the means which are procured by wisdom to insure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.

28The same conviction, which inspires confidence that nothing we have to fear is eternal or even of long duration, also enables us to see that even in our limited life nothing enhances our security so much as friendship.

29Of our desires, some are natural and necessary; others are natural, but not necessary; others, again, are neither natural nor necessary, but are due to groundless opinion.

30Some natural desires, again, entail no pain when not gratified, though the objects are vehemently pursued. These desires also are due to groundless opinion, and when they are not got rid of, it is not because of their own nature, but because of the man’s groundless opinion.

31Natural justice is a contract of expediency, to prevent one man from harming or being harmed by another.

32Those animals which were incapable of making compacts with one another, to the end that they might neither inflict nor suffer harm, are without either justice or injustice. Similarly those tribes which either could not or would not form mutual covenants to the same end are in the like case.

33There never was an absolute justice, but only a convention made in mutual intercourse, in whatever region, from time to time, providing against the infliction or suffering of harm.

34Injustice is not in itself an evil, but only in its consequence, viz., the terror which is excited by apprehension that those appointed to punish such offences will discover the injustice.

35It is impossible for the man who secretly violates any article of the social compact to feel confident that he will remain undiscovered, even if he has already escaped ten thousand times; for until his death he is never sure he will not be detected.

36Taken generally, justice is the same for all, but in its application to particular cases of territory or the like, it varies under different circumstances.

37Whatever in conventional law is attested to be expedient in the needs arising out of mutual intercourse is by its nature just, whether the same for all or not, and in case any law is made and does not prove suitable to the expediency of mutual intercourse, then this is no longer just. And should the expediency which is expressed by the law vary and only for a time correspond with the notion of justice, nevertheless, for the time being, it was just, so long as we do not trouble ourselves about empty terms but look broadly at facts.

38Where without any change in circumstances the conventional laws when judged by their consequences were seen not to correspond with the notion of justice, such laws were not really just; but wherever the laws have ceased to be expedient in consequence of a change in circumstances, in that case the laws were for the time being just, when they were expedient for the mutual intercourse of the citizens, and ceased subsequently to be just when they ceased to be expedient.

39He who best insured safety from external foes made into one nation all the folk capable of uniting together, and those incapable of such union he assuredly did not treat as aliens; if there were any whom he could not even on such terms incorporate, he excluded them from intercourse whenever this suited with his own interests.

40Those who could best insure the confidence that they would be safe from their neighbours, being thus in possession of the surest guarantee, passed the most agreeable life in each other’s society, and their enjoyment of the fullest intimacy was such that, if one of them died before his time, the survivors did not lament his death as if it called for pity.

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