The Forty Principle Precepts of #Epicurus

bust_philosopher_metrodoros_pupil_of_epicurus(Memorization of these precepts was required for admittance into the school of Epicurus)

1. A blessed and eternal being neither troubles another being nor causes trouble for another being. Because of this, a blessed and eternal being feels neither anger nor favor because either of these implies weakness.

2. Death is nothing to us because the body, when it has returned to the elements, has no feeling, and something with no feeling is nothing to us.

3. Pleasure depends upon the absence of pain. As long as there is pleasure, there is no pain in mind or body.

4. Pain does not last long in the body. If it is intense, it is short—pain that is greater than pleasure does not last many days at a time. Long illnesses allow for more pleasure than pain.

5. A pleasant life is impossible without living wisely, well (beautifully), and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely, well, and justly without living pleasantly. The absence of any one of these three makes a pleasant life impossible.

6. As far as safety goes, any way of gaining safety is naturally good.

7. Some think that fame will make them safe. If that works, it works, but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

8. No pleasure is in and of itself evil, but the things that produce many pleasures require so much bother that they have the potential to produce evil.

9. If pleasure could be accumulated—both in time and in the body—there would be no difference between one pleasure and another. Yet we know there is.

10. If those things that produce pleasure actually freed hedonists from fear—fears ranging from fortunetelling to pain and death—and if, further, pleasures taught hedonists to limit their desires, we should not have any reason to blame such persons, since pleasure would fill them and they would have no pain, whether of mind or body.

11. If storms or celestial happenings had never frightened human beings, and if fear of death had never worried human beings, and if fear of the limits of both pleasure and pain had never stymied human beings, there would never have been a need to study science.

12. Without an understanding of the universe, it is impossible to escape fear and superstition. Therefore, without the study of nature, there is no pure pleasure.

13. Why seek any peace as long as we live in fear of heaven and hell?

14. When we are reasonably safe, then we may pursue bliss for ourselves, away from the crowd.

15. The wealth of nature is limited and easy to attain, but the wealth of vanity keeps growing larger and moving farther away.

16. Fate hardly crosses the path of the wise because their lives are directed by reason.

17. The just enjoy the highest peace of mind, while the unjust are full of disquiet.

18. When the pain of want is removed, pleasure in the body is possible—from then on, there is only variety. We calculate the limits of pleasure by realizing the pains and fears that lie in going on.

19. Infinite time and finite time hold the same amount of pleasure when we measure the limits of pleasure by reason.

20. The body assumes there is no limit to pleasure and that only infinity is satisfactory. But the mind, understanding what the limits of the flesh are and that there is no future, achieves a complete and perfect life and therefore has no need of eternity. Still, the body does not shun pleasure, and the mind, even in the hour of death, enjoys life.

21. Those who understand life’s limitations know how simple it is to remove the pain of want and find completion and perfection in life. Therefore, they no longer need those things that are acquired by conflict and struggle.

22. We must shape our opinions to those things that actually exist according to the evidence of our senses. Otherwise, all we have is uncertainty and confusion.

23. Dismissing sense perceptions leaves us with no method for judging any sensations, even those we consider false.

24. If you reject the evidence of the senses without distinguishing between what is subjective and what is objective—whether this is sense perception or feeling or any mental reservations—you will confuse your thinking. If you confirm as true all that is not proven as well as all that is, you will always be in error because you will always be taking sides.

25. If you do not constantly compare what you are doing with what we know of nature, but instead go about merely choosing and avoiding, you will swerve aside to some other end and your actions will not be consistent with your theories.

26. Some desires lead to no pain when they go unmet. Desires of this sort are unnecessary, and the longing for them is easily got rid of by the difficulty of obtaining the desire or when it is seen that the desire will clearly produce harm.

27. Of all the ways that wisdom finds to acquire happiness in life, by far the most important is making friends.

28. The same conviction that tells us that fear is not eternal, or even particularly long, also allows us to see that even in our limited life nothing ensures safety so much as friendship.

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

30. To repeat: some natural desires entail no pain when not gratified, even if the object of the desire is furiously pursued. These desires have to do with baseless opinion, and when they are not got rid of, it is not because they are natural but because of mere baseless opinion.

31. Natural justice is a contract of expedience that prevents one person from harming or being harmed by another person.

32. Animals that cannot make agreements concerning inflicting or receiving harm are without justice or injustice. Nations that will not make such agreements are likewise.

33. Never has there been absolute justice, but only agreements in different regions at different times that have prevented people from inflicting or suffering harm.

34. Injustice is not in itself an evil, but is evil only in its consequences. That is to say, the terror created by fear that those appointed to punish such offenses will discover the injustice.

35. It is impossible for anyone who secretly violates the social contract to feel confident that he will remain undiscovered, even if he has already escaped ten thousand times. No, until his death he is never sure he will not be caught.

36. Taken abstractly, justice is the same for everyone everywhere, but in its application to particular cases in particular places, it varies by circumstance.

37. Convention in the law will be considered expedient under the circumstances and so is in that way just, whether the law proves to be the same for all or not. Similarly, any law that is created that does not prove useful in the circumstances is not just. Furthermore, should circumstances create a situation in which a law temporarily corresponds to ideas of justice, then—at least for the time being—that law is just. These things are true so long as we do not trouble ourselves about empty abstractions but look at facts.

38. When laws, without any change in circumstances, are judged not to correspond with the notion of justice, such laws were not really just. On the other hand, laws that cease to correspond with the notion of justice due to a change in circumstances, those laws once were just but now are not. When those laws were useful, they were just; when they ceased to be useful, they were unjust.

39. Those who are best at insuring safety from external enemies build a nation capable of uniting people. Those best at insuring safety will not condemn as non-citizens those incapable of joining such a union, though leaders may exclude such people in the interest of the nation.

40. Those who have the most confidence that they are safe pass the most agreeable life in any society, and their enjoyment of community is such that, if one of them dies young, the survivors will not lament the death as pitiful.

(based on a translation from the Greek by Robert Drew Hicks, 1910)

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