Letter to Menoeceus
Translated by Robert Drew Hicks
Epicurus to Menoeceus, greetings:
Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the
search of it when he has grown old. For
no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has
not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no
more. Therefore, both old and young alike ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over
him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he
is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come. So we must
exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that
be absent, all our actions are directed towards attaining it.
Those things which without ceasing I have declared unto you, do them,
and exercise yourself in them, holding
them to be the elements of right life. First believe that God is a living being immortal and blessed, according to
the notion of a god indicated by the common sense of mankind; and so believing, you shall not affirm of him
anything that is foreign to his immortality or that is repugnant to his blessedness. Believe about him whatever
may uphold both his blessedness and his immortality. For there are gods, and the knowledge of them is manifest;
but they are not such as the multitude believe, seeing that men do not steadfastly maintain the notions they form
respecting them. Not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, but he who affirms of the gods
what the multitude believes about them is truly impious. For the utterances of the multitude about the gods are not
true preconceptions but false assumptions; hence it is that the greatest evils happen to the wicked and the greatest
blessings happen to the good from the hand of the gods, seeing that they are always favorable to their own good
qualities and take pleasure in men like themselves, but reject as alien whatever is not of their kind.
Accustom yourself to believing that death is nothing to us, for good
and evil imply the capacity for sensation, and
death is the privation of all sentience; therefore a correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the
mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life a limitless time, but by taking away the yearning after
immortality. For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly understood that there are no terrors for him in
ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it
comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a
groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when
we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the
dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer. But in the world, at one time men shun death as the
greatest of all evils, and at another time choose it as a respite from the evils in life. The wise man does not
deprecate life nor does he fear the cessation of life. The thought of life is no offense to him, nor is the cessation
of life regarded as an evil. And even as men choose of food not merely and simply the larger portion, but the
more pleasant, so the wise seek to enjoy the time which is most pleasant and not merely that which is longest.
And he who admonishes the young to live well and the old to make a good end speaks foolishly, not merely
because of the desirability of life, but because the same exercise at once teaches to live well and to die well. Much
worse is he who says that it were good not to be born, but when once one is born to pass quickly through the
gates of Hades. For if he truly believes this, why does he not depart from life? It would be easy for him to do so
once he were firmly convinced. If he speaks only in jest, his words are foolishness as those who hear him do not
We must remember that the future is neither wholly ours nor wholly not
ours, so that neither must we count upon
it as quite certain to come nor despair of it as quite certain not to come.
We must also reflect that of desires some are natural, others are groundless;
and that of the natural some are
necessary as well as natural, and some natural only. And of the necessary desires some are necessary if we are to
be happy, some if the body is to be rid of uneasiness, some if we are even to live. He who has a clear and certain
understanding of these things will direct every preference and aversion toward securing health of body and
tranquillity of mind, seeing that this is the sum and end of a blessed life. For the end of all our actions is to be
free from pain and fear, and, when once we have attained all this, the tempest of the soul is laid; seeing that the
living creature has no need to go in search of something that is lacking, nor to look for anything else by which the
good of the soul and of the body will be fulfilled. When we are pained because of the absence of pleasure, then,
and then only, do we feel the need of pleasure. Wherefore we call pleasure the alpha and omega of a blessed life.
Pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the starting-point of every choice and of every aversion, and to it we
come back, inasmuch as we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing. And since pleasure is
our first and native good, for that reason we do not choose every pleasure whatsoever, but will often pass over
many pleasures when a greater annoyance ensues from them. And often we consider pains superior to pleasures
when submission to the pains for a long time brings us as a consequence a greater pleasure. While therefore all
pleasure because it is naturally akin to us is good, not all pleasure is should be chosen, just as all pain is an evil
and yet not all pain is to be shunned. It is, however, by measuring one against another, and by looking at the
conveniences and inconveniences, that all these matters must be judged. Sometimes we treat the good as an evil,
and the evil, on the contrary, as a good. Again, we regard independence of outward things as a great good, not
so as in all cases to use little, but so as to be contented with little if we have not much, being honestly persuaded
that they have the sweetest enjoyment of luxury who stand least in need of it, and that whatever is natural is easily
procured and only the vain and worthless hard to win. Plain fare gives as much pleasure as a costly diet, when
once the pain of want has been removed, while bread and water confer the highest possible pleasure when they
are brought to hungry lips. To habituate one's self, therefore, to simple and inexpensive diet supplies all that is
needful for health, and enables a man to meet the necessary requirements of life without shrinking, and it places
us in a better condition when we approach at intervals a costly fare and renders us fearless of fortune.
When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean
the pleasures of the prodigal or the
pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful
misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an
unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of revelry, not sexual lust, not the enjoyment of the fish and other
delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of
every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of
the soul. Of all this the beginning and the greatest good is wisdom. Therefore wisdom is a more precious thing
even than philosophy ; from it spring all the other virtues, for it teaches that we cannot live pleasantly without
living wisely, honorably, and justly; nor live wisely, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly. For the
virtues have grown into one with a pleasant life, and a pleasant life is inseparable from them.
Who, then, is superior in your judgment to such a man? He holds a holy
belief concerning the gods, and is
altogether free from the fear of death. He has diligently considered the end fixed by nature, and understands how
easily the limit of good things can be reached and attained, and how either the duration or the intensity of evils is
but slight. Fate, which some introduce as sovereign over all things, he scorns, affirming rather that some things
happen of necessity, others by chance, others through our own agency. For he sees that necessity destroys
responsibility and that chance is inconstant; whereas our own actions are autonomous, and it is to them that praise
and blame naturally attach. It were better, indeed, to accept the legends of the gods than to bow beneath that yoke
of destiny which the natural philosophers have imposed. The one holds out some faint hope that we may escape
if we honor the gods, while the necessity of the naturalists is deaf to all entreaties. Nor does he hold chance to be
a god, as the world in general does, for in the acts of a god there is no disorder; nor to be a cause, though an
uncertain one, for he believes that no good or evil is dispensed by chance to men so as to make life blessed,
though it supplies the starting-point of great good and great evil. He believes that the misfortune of the wise is
better than the prosperity of the fool. It is better, in short, that what is well judged in action should not owe its
successful issue to the aid of chance.
Exercise yourself in these and related precepts day and night, both
by yourself and with one who is like-minded;
then never, either in waking or in dream, will you be disturbed, but will live as a god among men. For man loses
all semblance of mortality by living in the midst of immortal blessings.
Letter to Herodotus
Epicurus to Herodotus, greetings:
For those who are unable to study carefully all my physical writings
or to go into the longer treatises at all, I have
myself prepared an epitome of the whole system, Herodotus, to preserve in the memory enough of the principal
doctrines, to the end that on every occasion they may be able to aid themselves on the most important points, so far
as they take up the study of Physics. Those who have made some advance in the survey of the entire system ought
to fix in their minds under the principal headings an elementary outline of the whole treatment of the subject. For a
comprehensive view is often required, the details but seldom.
To the former, then - the main heads - we must continually return, and
must memorize them so far as to get a valid
conception of the facts, as well as the means of discovering all the details exactly when once the general outlines are
rightly understood and remembered; since it is the privilege of the mature student to make a ready use of his
conceptions by referring every one of them to elementary facts and simple terms. For it is impossible to gather up the
results of continuous diligent study of the entirety of things, unless we can embrace in short formulas and hold in
mind all that might have been accurately expressed even to the minutest detail.
Hence, since such a course is of service to all who take up natural
science, I, who devote to the subject my
continuous energy and reap the calm enjoyment of a life like this, have prepared for you just such an epitome and
manual of the doctrines as a whole.
In the first place, Herodotus, you must understand what it is that words
denote, in order that by reference to this we
may be in a position to test opinions, inquiries, or problems, so that our proofs may not run on untested ad
infinitum, nor the terms we use be empty of meaning. For the primary signification of every term employed must
be clearly seen, and ought to need no proving; this being necessary, if we are to have something to which the point
at issue or the problem or the opinion before us can be referred.
Next, we must by all means stick to our sensations, that is, simply
to the present impressions whether of the mind or
of any criterion whatever, and similarly to our actual feelings, in order that we may have the means of determining
that which needs confirmation and that which is obscure.
When this is clearly understood, it is time to consider generally things
which are obscure. To begin with, nothing
comes into being out of what is non-existent For in that case anything would have arisen out of anything, standing
as it would in no need of its proper germs. And if that which disappears had been destroyed and become
non-existent, everything would have perished, that into which the things were dissolved being non-existent.
Moreover, the sum total of things was always such as it is now, and such it will ever remain. For there is nothing
into which it can change. For outside the sum of things there is nothing which could enter into it and bring about the
Further, the whole of being consists of bodies and space. For the existence
of bodies is everywhere attested by
sense itself, and it is upon sensation that reason must rely when it attempts to infer the unknown from the known.
And if there were no space (which we call also void and place and intangible nature), bodies would have nothing in
which to be and through which to move, as they are plainly seen to move. Beyond bodies and space there is nothing
which by mental apprehension or on its analogy we can conceive to exist. When we speak of bodies and space, both
are regarded as wholes or separate things, not as the properties or accidents of separate things.
Again, of bodies some are composite, others the elements of which these
composite bodies are made. These
elements are indivisible and unchangeable, and necessarily so, if things are not all to be destroyed and pass into
non-existence, but are to be strong enough to endure when the composite bodies are broken up, because they
possess, a solid nature and are incapable of being anywhere or anyhow dissolved. It follows that the first beginnings
must be indivisible, corporeal entities.
Again, the sum of things is infinite. For what is finite has an extremity,
and the extremity of anything is discerned
only by comparison with something else. Now the sum of things is not discerned by comparison with anything else:
hence it has no extremity, it has no limit; and, since it has no limit, it must be unlimited or infinite.
Moreover, the sum of things is unlimited both by reason of the multitude
of the atoms and the extent of the void. For
if the void were infinite and bodies finite, the bodies would not have stayed anywhere but would have been
dispersed in their course through the infinite void, not having any supports or counter-checks to send them back on
their upward rebound. Again, if the void were finite, the infinity of bodies would not have anywhere to be.
Furthermore, the atoms, which have no void in them - out of which composite
bodies arise and into which they are
dissolved - vary indefinitely in their shapes; for so many varieties of things as we see could never have arisen out of
a recurrence of a definite number of the same shapes. The like atoms of each shape are absolutely infinite; but the
variety of shapes, though indefinitely large, is not absolutely infinite.
The atoms are in continual motion through all eternity. Some of them
rebound to a considerable distance from each
other, while others merely oscillate in one place when they chance to have got entangled or to be enclosed by a mass
of other atoms shaped for entangling.
This is because each atom is separated from the rest by void, which
is incapable of offering any resistance to the
rebound; while it is the solidity of the atom which makes it rebound after a collision, however short the distance to
which it rebounds, when it finds itself imprisoned in a mass of entangling atoms. Of all this there is no beginning,
since both atoms and void exist from everlasting.
The repetition at such length of all that we are now recalling to mind
furnishes an adequate outline for our conception
of the nature of things.
Moreover, there is an infinite number of worlds, some like this world,
others unlike it. For the atoms being infinite
in number, as has just been proved, are borne ever further in their course. For the atoms out of which a world might
arise, or by which a world might be formed, have not all been expended on one world or a finite number of worlds,
whether like or unlike this one. Hence there will be nothing to hinder an infinity of worlds.
Again, there are outlines or films, which are of the same shape as solid
bodies, but of a thinness far exceeding that
of any object that we see. For it is not impossible that there should be found in the surrounding air combinations of
this kind, materials adapted for expressing the hollowness and thinness of surfaces, and effluxes preserving the
same relative position and motion which they had in the solid objects from which they come. To these films we give
the name of 'images' or 'idols.' Furthermore, so long as nothing comes in the way to offer resistance, motion
through the void accomplishes any imaginable distance in an inconceivably short time. For resistance encountered is
the equivalent of slowness, its absence the equivalent of speed.
Not that, if we consider the minute times perceptible by reason alone,
the moving body itself arrives at more than
one place simultaneously (for this too is inconceivable), although in time perceptible to sense it does arrive
simultaneously, however different the point of departure from that conceived by us. For if it changed its direction,
that would be equivalent to its meeting with resistance, even if up to that point we allow nothing to impede the rate of
its flight. This is an elementary fact which in itself is well worth bearing in mind. In the next place the exceeding
thinness of the images is contradicted by none of the facts under our observation. Hence also their velocities are
enormous, since they always find a void passage to fit them. Besides, their incessant effluence meets with no
resistance or very little, although many atoms, not to say an unlimited number, do at once encounter resistance.
Besides this, remember that the production of the images is as quick
as thought. For particles are continually
streaming off from the surface of bodies, though no diminution of the bodies is observed, because other particles
take their place. And those given off for a long time retain the position and arrangement which their atoms had when
they formed part of the solid bodies, although occasionally they are thrown into confusion, Sometimes such films a
are formed very rapidly in the air, because they need not have any solid content; and there are other modes in which
they may be formed. For there is nothing in all this which is contradicted by sensation, if we in some sort look at the
clear evidence of sense, to which we should also refer the continuity of particles in the objects external to ourselves.
We must also consider that it is by the entrance of something coming
from external objects that we see their shapes
and think of them. For external things would not stamp on us their own nature of color and form through the
medium of the air which is between them and use or by means of rays of light or currents of any sort going from us
to them, so well as by the entrance into our eyes or minds, to whichever their size is suitable, of certain films coming
from the things themselves, these films or outlines being of the same color and shape as the external things
themselves. They move with rapid motion; and this again explains why they present the appearance of the single
continuous object, and retain the mutual interconnection which they had in the object, when they impinge upon the
sense, such impact being due to the oscillation of the atoms in the interior of the solid object from which they come.
And whatever presentation we derive by direct contact, whether it be with the mind or with the sense-organs, be it
shape that is presented or other properties, this shape as presented is the shape of the solid thing, and it is due either
to a close coherence of the image as a whole or to a mere remnant of its parts. Falsehood and error always depend
upon the intrusion of opinion when a fact awaits confirmation or the absence of contradiction, which fact is
afterwards frequently not confirmed or even contradicted following a certain movement in ourselves connected with,
but distinct from, the mental picture presented - which is the cause of error.
For the presentations which, for example, are received in a picture
or arise in dreams, or from any other form of
apprehension by the mind or by the other criteria of truth, would never have resembled what we call the real and true
things, had it not been for certain actual things of the kind with which we come in contact. Error would not have
occurred, if we had not experienced some other movement in ourselves, conjoined with, but distinct from, the
perception of what is presented. And from this movement, if it be not confirmed or be contradicted, falsehood
results; while, if it be confirmed or not contradicted, truth results.
And to this view we must closely adhere, if we are not to repudiate
the criteria founded on the clear evidence of
sense, nor again to throw all these things into confusion by maintaining falsehood as if it were truth.
Again, hearing takes place when a current passes from the object, whether
person or thing, which emits voice or
sound or noise, or produces the sensation of hearing in any way whatever. This current is broken up into
homogeneous particles, which at the same time preserve a certain mutual connection and a distinctive unity extending
to the object which emitted them, and thus, for the most part, cause the perception in that case or, if not, merely
indicate the presence of the external object. For without the transmission from the object of a certain interconnection
of the parts no such sensation could arise. Therefore we must not suppose that the air itself is molded into shape by
the voice emitted or something similar; for it is very far from being the case that the air is acted upon by it in this
way. The blow which is struck in us when we utter a sound causes such a displacement of the particles as serves to
produce a current resembling breath, and this displacement gives rise to the sensation of hearing.
Again, we must believe that smelling, like hearing, would produce no
sensation, were there not particles conveyed
from the object which are of the proper sort for exciting the organ of smelling, some of one sort, some of another,
some exciting it confusedly and strangely, others quietly and agreeably.
Moreover, we must hold that the atoms in fact possess none of the qualities
belonging to things which come under
our observation, except shape, weight, and size, and the properties necessarily conjoined with shape. For every
quality changes, but the atoms do not change, since, when the composite bodies are dissolved, there must needs be a
permanent something, solid and indissoluble, left behind, which makes change possible: not changes into or from
the non-existent. but often through differences of arrangement, and sometimes through additions and subtractions of
the atoms. Hence these somethings capable of being diversely arranged must be indestructible, exempt from change,
but possessed each of its own distinctive mass and configuration. This must remain.
For in the case of changes of configuration within our experience the
figure is supposed to be inherent when other
qualities are stripped of, but the qualities are not supposed, like the shape which is left behind, to inhere in the
subject of change, but to vanish altogether from the body. Thus, then, what is left behind is sufficient to account for
the differences in composite bodies, since something at least must necessarily be left remaining and be immune from
Again, you should not suppose that the atoms have any and every size,
lest you be contradicted by facts; but
differences of size must be admitted; for this addition renders the facts of feeling and sensation easier of explanation.
But to attribute any and every magnitude to the atoms does not help to explain the differences of quality in things;
moreover, in that case atoms large enough to be seen ought to have reached us, which is never observed to occur;
nor can we conceive how its occurrence should be possible, in other words that an atom should become visible.
Besides, you must not suppose that there are parts unlimited in number,
be they ever so small, in any finite body.
Hence not only must we reject as impossible subdivision ad infinitum into smaller and smaller parts, lest we make
all things too weak and, in our conceptions of the aggregates, be driven to pulverize the things that exist, in other
words the atoms, and annihilate them; but in dealing with finite things we must also reject as impossible the
progression ad infinitum by less and less increments.
For when once we have said that an infinite number of particles, however
small, are contained in anything, it is not
possible to conceive how it could any longer be limited or finite in size. For clearly our infinite number of particles
must have some size; and then, of whatever size they were, the aggregate they made would be infinite. And, in the
next place, since what is finite has an extremity which is distinguishable, even if it is not by itself observable, it is
not possible to avoid thinking of another such extremity next to this. Nor can we help thinking that in this way, by
proceeding forward from one to the next in order, it is possible by such a progression to arrive in thought at infinity.
We must consider the minimum perceptible by sense as not corresponding
to that which is capable of being
traversed, that is to say is extended, nor again as utterly unlike it, but as having something in common with the
things capable of being traversed, though it is without distinction of parts. But when from the illusion created by this
common property we think we shall distinguish something in the minimum, one part on one side and another part on
the other side, it must be another minimum equal to the first which catches our eye. In fact, we see these minima one
after another, beginning with the first, and not as occupying the same space; nor do we see them touch one another's
parts with their parts, but we see that by virtue of their own peculiar character (as being unit indivisibles) they afford
a means of measuring magnitudes: there are more of them, if the magnitude measured is greater; fewer of them, if
the magnitude measured is less.
We must recognize that this analogy also holds of the minimum in the
atom; it is only in minuteness that it differs
from that which is observed by sense, but it follows the same analogy. On the analogy of things within our
experience we have declared that the atom has magnitude; and this, small as it is, we have merely reproduced on a
larger scale. And further, the least and simplest things must be regarded as extremities of lengths, furnishing from
themselves as units the means of measuring lengths, whether greater or less, the mental vision being employed,
since direct observation is impossible. For the community which exists between them and the unchangeable parts
(the minimal parts of area or surface) is sufficient to justify the conclusion so far as this goes. But it is not possible
that these minima of the atom should group themselves together through the possession of motion.
Further, we must not assert 'up' or 'down' of that which is unlimited,
as if there were a zenith or nadir. As to the
space overhead, however, if it be possible to draw a line to infinity from the point where we stand, we know that
never will this space - or, for that matter, the space below the supposed standpoint if produced to infinity - appear to
us to be at the same time 'up' and 'down' with reference to the same point; for this is inconceivable. Hence it is
possible to assume one direction of motion, which we conceive as extending upwards ad infinitum, and another
downwards, even if it should happen ten thousand times that what moves from us to the spaces above our heads
reaches the feet of those above us, or that which moves downwards from us the heads of those below us. None the
less is it true that the whole of the motion in the respective cases is conceived as extending in opposite directions ad
When they are traveling through the void and meet with no resistance,
the atoms must move with equal speed.
Neither will heavy atoms travel more quickly than small and light ones, so long as nothing meets them, nor will
small atoms travel more quickly than large ones, provided they always find a passage suitable to their size. and
provided also that they meet with no obstruction. Nor will their upward or their lateral motion, which is due to
collisions, nor again their downward motion, due to weight, affect their velocity. As long as either motion obtains, it
must continue, quick as the speed of thought, provided there is no obstruction, whether due to external collision or
to the atoms' own weight counteracting the force of the blow.
Moreover, when we come to deal with composite bodies, one of them will
travel faster than another, although their
atoms have equal speed. This is because the atoms in the aggregates are traveling in one direction a during the
shortest continuous time, albeit they move in different directions in times so short as to be appreciable only by the
reason, but frequently collide until the continuity of their motion is appreciated by sense. For the assumption that
beyond the range of direct observation even the minute times conceivable by reason will present continuity of motion
is not true in the case before us. Our canon is that direct observation by sense and direct apprehension by the mind
are alone invariably true.
Next, keeping in view our perceptions and feelings (for so shall we
have the surest grounds for belief), we must
recognize generally that the soul is a corporeal thing, composed of fine particles, dispersed all over the frame, most
nearly resembling wind with an admixture of heat, in some respects like wind, in others like heat. But, again, there
is the third part which exceeds the other two in the fineness of its particles and thereby keeps in closer touch with the
rest of the frame. And this is shown by the mental faculties and feelings, by the ease with which the mind moves,
and by thoughts, and by all those things the loss of which causes death. Further, we must keep in mind that soul has
the greatest share in causing sensation. Still, it would not have had sensation, had it not been somehow confined
within the rest of the frame. But the rest of the frame, though it provides this indispensable conditions for the soul,
itself also has a share, derived from the soul, of the said quality; and yet does not possess all the qualities of soul.
Hence on the departure of the soul it loses sentience. For it had not this power in itself; but something else,
congenital with the body, supplied it to body: which other thing, through the potentiality actualized in it by means of
motion, at once acquired for itself a quality of sentience, and, in virtue of the neighborhood and interconnection
between them, imparted it (as I said) to the body also.
Hence, so long as the soul is in the body, it never loses sentience
through the removal of some other part. The
containing sheaths may be dislocated in whole or in part, and portions of the soul may thereby be lost; yet in spite of
this the soul, if it manage to survive, will have sentience. But the rest of the frame, whether the whole of it survives
or only a part, no longer has sensation, when once those atoms have departed, which, however few in number, are
required to constitute the nature of soul. Moreover, when the whole frame is broken up, the soul is scattered and has
no longer the same powers as before, nor the same notions; hence it does not possess sentience either.
For we cannot think of it as sentient, except it be in this composite
whole and moving with these movements; nor
can we so think of it when the sheaths which enclose and surround it are not the same as those in which the soul is
now located and in which it performs these movements.
There is the further point to be considered, what the incorporeal can
be, if, I mean, according to current usage the
term is applied to what can be conceived as self-existent. But it is impossible to conceive anything that is incorporeal
as self-existent except empty space. And empty space cannot itself either act or be acted upon, but simply allows
body to move through it. Hence those who call soul incorporeal speak foolishly. For if it were so, it could neither
act nor be acted upon. But, as it is, both these properties, you see, plainly belong to soul.
If, then, we bring all these arguments concerning soul to the criterion
of our feelings and perceptions, and if we keep
in mind the proposition stated at the outset, we shall see that the subject has been adequately comprehended in
outline: which will enable us to determine the details with accuracy and confidence.
Moreover, shapes and colors, magnitudes and weights, and in short all
those qualities which are predicated of body,
in so far as they are perpetual properties either of all bodies or of visible bodies, are knowable by sensation of these
very properties: these, I say, must not be supposed to exist independently by themselves (for that is inconceivable),
nor yet to be non-existent, nor to be some other and incorporeal entities cleaving to body, nor again to be parts of
body. We must consider the whole body in a general way to derive its permanent nature from all of them, though it
is not, as it were, formed by grouping them together in the same way as when from the particles themselves a larger
aggregate is made up, whether these particles be primary or any magnitudes whatsoever less than the particular
whole. All these qualities, I repeat, merely give the body its own permanent nature. They all have their own
characteristic modes of being perceived and distinguished, but always along with the whole body in which they
inhere and never in separation from it; and it is in virtue of this complete conception of the body as a whole that it is
Again, qualities often attach to bodies without being permanent concomitants.
They are not to be classed among
invisible entities nor are they incorporeal. Hence, using the term 'accidents' in the commonest sense, we say plainly
that 'accidents' have not the nature of the whole thing to which they belong, and to which, conceiving it as a whole,
we give the name of body, nor that of the permanent properties without which body cannot be thought of. And in
virtue of certain peculiar modes of apprehension into which the complete body always enters, each of them can be
called an accident. But only as often as they are seen actually to belong to it, since such accidents are not perpetual
concomitants. There is no need to banish from reality this clear evidence that the accident has not the nature of that
whole-by us called body-to which it belongs, nor of the permanent properties which accompany the whole. Nor, on
the other hand, must we suppose the accident to have independent existence (for this is just as inconceivable in the
case of accidents as in that of the permanent properties); but, as is manifest, they should all be regarded as accidents,
not as permanent concomitants, of bodies, nor yet as having the rank of independent existence. Rather they are seen
to be exactly as and what sensation itself makes them individually claim to be.
There is another thing which we must consider carefully. We must not
investigate time as we do the other accidents
which we investigate in a subject, namely, by referring them to the preconceptions envisaged in our minds; but we
must take into account the plain fact itself, in virtue of which we speak of time as long or short, linking to it in
intimate connection this attribute of duration. We need not adopt any fresh terms as preferable, but should employ
the usual expressions about it. Nor need we predicate anything else of time, as if this something else contained the
same essence as is contained in the proper meaning of the word 'time' (for this also is done by some). We must
chiefly reflect upon that to which we attach this peculiar character of time, and by which we measure it. No further
proof is required: we have only to reflect that we attach the attribute of time to days and nights and their parts, and
likewise to feelings of pleasure and pain and to neutral states, to states of movement and states of rest, conceiving a
peculiar accident of these to be this very characteristic which we express by the word 'time.'
After the foregoing we have next to consider that the worlds and every
finite aggregate which bears a strong
resemblance to things we commonly see have arisen out of the infinite. For all these, whether small or great, have
been separated off from special conglomerations of atoms; and all things are again dissolved, some faster, some
slower, some through the action of one set of causes, others through the action of another.
And further, we must not suppose that the worlds have necessarily one
and the same shape. For nobody can prove
that in one sort of world there might not be contained, whereas in another sort of world there could not possibly be,
the seeds out of which animals and plants arise and all the rest of the things we see.
Again, we must suppose that nature too has been taught and forced to
learn many various lessons by the facts
themselves, that reason subsequently develops what it has thus received and makes fresh discoveries, among some
tribes more quickly, among others more slowly, the progress thus made being at certain times and seasons greater,
at others less.
Hence even the names of things were not originally due to convention,
but in the several tribes under the impulse of
special feelings and special presentations of sense primitive man uttered special cries. The air thus emitted was
molded by their individual feelings or sense-presentations, and differently according to the difference of the regions
which the tribes inhabited. Subsequently whole tribes adopted their own special names, in order that their
communications might be less ambiguous to each other and more briefly expressed. And as for things not visible, so
far as those who were conscious of them tried to introduce any such notion, they put in circulation certain names for
them, either sounds which they were instinctively compelled to utter or which they selected by reason on analogy
according to the most general cause there can be for expressing oneself in such a way.
Nay more: we are bound to believe that in the sky revolutions, solstices,
eclipses, risings and settings, and the like,
take place without the ministration or command, either now or in the future, of any being who it the same time
enjoys perfect bliss along with immortality. For troubles and anxieties and feelings of anger and partiality do not
accord with bliss, but always imply weakness and fear and dependence upon one's neighbors. Nor, again, must we
hold that things which are no more than globular masses of fire, being at the same time endowed with bliss, assume
these motions at will. Nay, in every term we use we must hold fast to all the majesty which attaches to such notions
as bliss and immortality, lest the terms should generate opinions inconsistent with this majesty. Otherwise such
inconsistency will of itself suffice to produce the worst disturbance in our minds. Hence, where we find phenomena
invariably recurring, the invariability of the recurrence must be ascribed to the original interception and
conglomeration of atoms- whereby the world was formed.
Further, we must hold that to arrive at accurate knowledge of the cause
of things of most moment is the business of
natural science, and that happiness depends on this (viz. on the knowledge of celestial and atmospheric phenomena),
and upon knowing what the heavenly bodies really are, and any kindred facts contributing to exact knowledge in this
Further, we must recognize on such points as this no plurality of causes
or contingency, but must hold that nothing
suggestive of conflict or disquiet is compatible with an immortal and blessed nature. And the mind can grasp the
absolute truth of this.
But when we come to subjects for special inquiry, there is nothing in
the knowledge of risings and settings and
solstices and eclipses and all kindred subjects that contributes to our happiness; but those who are well-informed
about such matters and yet are ignorant -what the heavenly bodies really are, and what are the most important causes
of phenomena, feel quite as much fear as those who have no such special information-nay, perhaps even greater
fear, when the curiosity excited by this additional knowledge cannot find a solution or understand the subordination
of these phenomena to the highest causes.
Hence, if we discover more than one cause that may account for solstices,
settings and risings, eclipses and the like,
as we did also in particular matters of detail, we must not suppose that our treatment of these matters fails of
accuracy, so far as it is needful to ensure our tranquillity and happiness. When, therefore, we investigate the causes
of celestial and atmospheric phenomena, as of all that is unknown, we must take into account the variety of ways in
which analogous occurrences happen within our experience; while as for those who do not recognize the difference
between what is or comes about from a single cause and that which may be the effect of any one of several causes,
overlooking the fact that the objects are only seen at a distance, and are moreover ignorant of the conditions that
render, or do not render, peace of mind impossible -all such persons we must treat with contempt. If then we think
that an event could happen in one or other particular way out of several, we shall be as tranquil when we recognize
that it actually comes about in more ways than one as if we knew that it happens in this particular way.
There is yet one more point to seize, namely, that the greatest ,anxiety
of the human mind arises through the belief
that the heavenly bodies are blessed and indestructible, and that at the same time they have volition and actions and
causality inconsistent with this belief; and through expecting or apprehending some everlasting evil, either because
of the myths, or because we are in dread of the mere insensibility of death, as if it had to do with us; and through
being reduced to this state not by conviction but by a certain irrational perversity, so that, if men do not set bounds to
their terror, they endure as much or even more intense anxiety than the man whose views on these matters are quite
vague. But mental tranquillity means being released from all these troubles and cherishing a continual remembrance
of the highest and most important truths.
Hence we must attend to present feelings and sense perceptions, whether
those of mankind in general or those
peculiar to the individual, and also attend to all the clear evidence available, as given by each of the standards of
truth. For by studying them we shall rightly trace to its cause and banish the source of disturbance and dread,
accounting for celestial phenomena and for all other things which from time to time befall us and cause the utmost
alarm to the rest of mankind.
Here then, Herodotus, you have the chief doctrines of Physics in the
form of a summary. So that, if this statement
be accurately retained and take effect, a man will, I make no doubt, be incomparably better equipped than his
fellows, even if he should never go into all the exact details. For he will clear up for himself many of the points
which I have worked out in detail in my complete exposition; and the summary itself, if borne in mind, will be of
constant service to him.
It is of such a sort that those who are already tolerably, or even perfectly,
well acquainted with the details can, by
analysis of what they know into such elementary perceptions as these, best prosecute their researches in physical
science as a whole; while those, on the other hand, who are not altogether entitled to rank as mature students can in
silent fashion and as quick as thought run over the doctrines most important for their peace of mind.
David H. Calhoun
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