January

31   Method and purpose are integral to success


“People who have not fully embraced these ideas (concerning nature and natural phenomena) could not gain a successful overall view of the phenomena, nor have they assimilated the purpose for which these things must be considered.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.116)


 

30   Study nature, human nature and ethics


“But above all devote yourself to considering the basic principles and infinity and related questions, and in addition our means of judgment and sensations, and the reason why we reflect on these things.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.116)


 

29   Develop a framework of understanding


“Now remember all these things, Pythocles, for you will thus move well away from myth and be able to have in your field of view the range of related topics.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.116)


 

28   Myth should not displace reason


“And there are other ways in which this effect (the phenomenon of falling stars) may be produced that are not mythological.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.115)


 

27   Dogmatism is for display


“But to pronounce on these things (differences in the movements of heavenly bodies) in a simplistic way befits those who wish to impress the majority with marvels.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.114)


 

26   Some notions are idiotic time-wasters


“But to give a single reason for these things (regular and apparently irregular movements of heavenly bodies) when the phenomena call for multiple explanations is the mad and inappropriate proceeding of those who are keen on the vanities of astrology and uselessly assign causes to phenomena, since they completely fail to absolve the divine nature from being at work.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.113)


 

25   Meaninglessness is not a helpful outcome


“Since if this is not done (i.e. if we neglect the evidence of experience and go beyond the evidence) the entire explanation of causes in relation to celestial phenomena will be futile, as has already been the case with some who have not caught on to the method of possibilities but have lapsed into futility, through thinking that things occur in one way only and rejecting all the other possible ways, and are carried away into absurdity, unable to consider comprehensively the phenomena which must be accepted as indicative evidence.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.97)


 

24   Using theology to explain physics


“And let the divine nature not be brought to bear on these questions (the regular movements of the heavenly bodies) in any way, but let it be kept free from employment and in complete blissfulness.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.97)


 

23   Why fight against the evidence?


“For if we are at odds with clear evidence we will never be able to experience genuine freedom from disturbance.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.96)


 

22   Evidence is not a hindrance to sound method


“And none of the celestial phenomena presents an obstacle to this approach (of multiple explanations), if we always remember the method of explaining things in multiple ways and consider the range of hypotheses that follow from the evidence together with (possible) causes, not looking to hypotheses that do not follow and giving them a false dignity and (now in one way, now in another) descending to the level of a single explanation.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.95)


 

21   Acknowledging the limits of available evidence


“(On the basis of experience of things among us we can propose a range of reasonable explanations for the phases of the moon, or other celestial phenomena,) unless we are content to explain a thing in one way only and reject other explanations without adequate justification, having failed to consider what can and what cannot be observed by a human being and as a result wanting to observe things that we cannot observe.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.94)


 

20   Observation and hypothesis


“However, the appearance of each celestial phenomenon must be taken into account, and furthermore we must distinguish features associated with it whose various possibilities are not testified against by phenomena which take place among us.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.88)


 

19   Using different types of evidence


“Some of the phenomena which take place among us, whose occurrence is directly observable, offer indications of how phenomena in the heavens are produced, whereas the phenomena in the heavens do not offer comparable indications and may take place in a variety of ways.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.87)


 

18   Choosing between sound method and myth


“But when a person allows one explanation but rejects another that is equally consistent with the phenomenon concerned, this is clearly a case of departing completely from scientific procedure and descending into myth.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.87)


 

17   Finding a firm basis for argument


“Once all is explained according to multiple hypotheses consistent with the phenomena, and a person duly admits what can be argued as probable about them, everything can proceed in a settled manner.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.87)


 

16   Science has an ethical purpose


“In the first place, then, we must hold that there is no other goal to be attained by investigating celestial phenomena, whether they are discussed in conjunction with other things or independently, than freedom from disturbance and firm confidence, just as with the investigation of other subjects.”

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.85)


 

15   Access to truth via sensation and reasoning


“… since in any case (in the theory of Epicurus) everything perceived by the senses or grasped by application of the intellect is true.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.62)


 

14   Maintaining a firm grasp of reality


“And we must keep firm hold of this view (concerning the relationship of evidence and interpretation), so that we do not overturn our means for judging clear perceptions and so that we do not allow false understandings to confuse everything by being taken as confirmed.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.52)


 

13   We depend on evidence and interpretation


“And then we must be sure to note the evidence of our senses along with the plain and straightforward application either of the intellect or of any other means of judgment whatever, and similarly the evidence of our present feelings, so that we may have at our disposal things awaiting confirmation and things not clearly evident, by which we may make inferences.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.38)


 

12   Uncertainty need not be fatal to happiness


“So if we think that something is possible in some particular way of a kind that produces freedom from disturbance, in also recognizing the possibility that it may happen in various ways we will be just as free from disturbance as we would be if we knew that it happens in some particular way.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.80)


 

11   Openness to theoretical possibilities


“… disregarding (as we investigate causes) those who fail to recognize that a thing can exist or come to be in one particular way or happen in various ways, who neglect the fact that these appearances arrive from a distance, and who furthermore fail to see which approaches cannot produce freedom from disturbance.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.80)


 

10   Reasoning from the known to the unknown


“And so, in relation to celestial phenomena and all that is not clearly evident to the senses, we must investigate causes by taking into account the various ways in which a similar thing occurs among us.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.80)


 

9   Content to explain as far as we can


“Therefore, if we discover multiple causes for turnings and settings and risings and eclipses and such-like, as we have found with respect to particular details, it is not necessary to consider that we have failed to attain the level of precision about these matters that is needed for contributing to our calmness and happiness.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.79-80)


 

8   A misguided world-view adds to our problems


“Perhaps they (people who revere celestial phenomena) have even more fears, since the terror produced by this by-way of investigation cannot achieve a resolution of the problems or a systematic correlation of the most important factors.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.79)


 

7   Special knowledge and vital understanding


“(We must hold that) the area of enquiry into settings and risings and turnings and eclipses and associated phenomena of that kind makes no additional contribution to our investigations with regard to blissfulness; rather, those who are knowledgeable about these matters have the same sorts of fears that they would have if they did not possess this extra knowledge, so long as they are ignorant of the natures and the principal causes of the phenomena involved.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.79)


 

6   Clear thinking saves us from confusion


“And that this is plainly so (that imperfection is not consistent with perfection) can be grasped by the intellect.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.78)


 

5   A perfect being cannot be imperfect at the same time


“And again in such matters we cannot have it both ways and allow what is possible to be somehow otherwise; we must accept that in an imperishable and blissful nature there is simply no suggestion at all of differentiation or consternation.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.78)


 

4   Happiness lies in enquiry and understanding


“And (we must hold that) blissfulness is found there (in scientific investigation) and in understanding the natures we observe in these celestial phenomena and in similar things relevant for precision of knowledge that tends to blissfulness.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.78)


 

3   We need to study nature to understand nature


“Furthermore, we must hold that it is the task of natural science to discover exactly the cause of the principal features (of the world).”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.78)


 

2   Physics explains the dance of the heavens


“Hence, then, we must hold that it is in accordance with the original involvement of these (celestial) formations in the constitution of the cosmos that their regularities and revolutions are brought about.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.77)


 

1   We hurt ourselves by misleading ourselves


“Otherwise, the contrariety (of terms which signify perfection and terms which imply that perfection has imperfect attributes) will produce very great consternation in our souls.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.77)


 

Headings are linked (or are to be linked) to related blog posts, where comments can be submitted. The translations are open to revision on textual or other grounds. At some points the interpretation is provisional.

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