31   Laws judged by their effectiveness and usefulness

“Where circumstances do not change but laws that have been made turn out not to work in accordance with the basic conception of justice, these laws are not just. Where circumstances have changed and the same laws apply but are no longer useful, in that case they were just while they were useful for the purposes of mutual association among citizens, but later they are no longer just when they are not useful.”

Principal Doctrines 38


30   The variability of justice

“Something that is attested as useful in practice in the course of mutual association has the character of justice, whether it is the same thing for all people or not. If anyone passes a law which does not turn out to conform to what is useful in mutual association, it no longer has the nature of justice. If what is found useful in relation to justice changes, if it fitted for a time the basic conception of justice it was no less just for that period of time – from the point of view of those who do not confuse themselves with futile talk but look to actualities.”

Principal Doctrines 37


29   Justice: the same but different

“In general, justice is the same thing for everyone, being what is in people’s interests in their associating with one another. But in relation to individual places and changing conditions, the same thing does not remain just for everyone.”

Principal Doctrines 36


28   A fear to be avoided

“A person who does something in secret against what has been mutually agreed upon as to not harming or being harmed cannot be sure of escaping notice, even after escaping notice for the present ten thousand times; until death it will be unclear whether escape is possible.”

Principal Doctrines 35


27   Injustice and the fear of punishment

“Injustice is not an evil all on its own, but is found in the worried fear that it will not escape the attention of those appointed to punish such things.”

Principal Doctrines 34


26   Justice does not exist in and by itself

“Justice is not something that exists in and by itself but is an agreement in the context of people’s contacts with one another, in different times and places, not to harm nor to be harmed.”

Principal Doctrines 33


25   When nothing is just or unjust

“With those living things that cannot make agreements not to harm one another nor to be harmed, nothing is just or unjust; similarly with peoples who are unable or unwilling to make agreements not to harm nor to be harmed.”

Principal Doctrines 32


24   Natural justice depends on agreement

“Natural justice is a practical agreement not to harm one another nor to be harmed.”

Principal Doctrines 31


23   Eagerness can mislead us

“In the case of natural desires that do not lead to pain if left unfulfilled, some are pursued with intense eagerness but they too arise from false expectations; the fact that they are not dissipated is not because of their own basis in nature but because of the false reasoning of the human being.”

Principal Doctrines 30


22   Classifying desires

“Some of our desires are natural and necessary, some are natural but unnecessary, and some are neither natural nor necessary but arise through false expectations.”

Principal Doctrines 29


21   The right outlook gives us clarity and strength

“The same outlook that makes us confident that nothing terrible lasts for ever or for a long time also helps us to achieve above all the security of friendship in the midst of things that do occur within natural limits.”

Principal Doctrines 28


20   Wisdom and friendship

“Having friendship is by far the greatest of the things which wisdom organizes for the happiness of one’s whole life.”

Principal Doctrines 27


19   Some desires can just be left to go away

“Those desires which do not lead to pain if left unfulfilled are not necessary and involve a longing that readily dissipates whenever they seem difficult to achieve or causative of harm.”

Principal Doctrines 26


18   Always act with reference to the goal of nature

“Unless on every occasion you do everything with reference to the goal of nature – if you stop short at some other consideration when you are either declining or pursuing an objective – your actions will not accord with what you say you intend to do.”

Principal Doctrines 25


17   Interpreting the evidence of the senses

“If you simply reject any sensation as unreliable, without dividing an opinion into anticipated confirmation and evidence already present (as detected via sensation, feelings and immediate mental representation), by this false view you will disrupt the meaning of the rest of your sensations as well, with the result that you will be rejecting all basis for evaluation. If you validate all the things that await confirmation in your opinion-forming thoughts along with those that do not, you will inevitably be mistaken, as you will have done away with all room for questioning in every decision as to the correct or incorrect interpretation of reality.”

Principal Doctrines 24


16   Sensation and judgment

“If you dispute all your sensations, you will not have any criteria to evaluate even those sensations which you say are false.”

Principal Doctrines 23


15   The need for sound reasoning

“It is necessary to take into account the essential goal (of living) and each clear perception (of reality) to which we refer our opinions; otherwise, everything will be full of confusion and disturbance.”

Principal Doctrines 22


14   A life that is finite but full and complete

“The body takes the limits of pleasure to be infinite – and infinite time could provide it. The mind takes account of the end and limit of bodily existence, dispels fears about eternity, and provides for a full and complete life, so that we no longer have a need for an infinite amount of time. But the mind does not shun pleasure nor on decease (when circumstances bring about an exit from life) does it go as if leaving a well-lived life unfinished.”

Principal Doctrines 20


13   The extent of pleasure over time

“Infinite time contains the same amount of pleasure as finite time, if we employ our reasoning to measure out the limits of pleasure.”

Principal Doctrines 19


12   Reaching the limits of bodily and mental pleasure

“Bodily pleasure does not increase when once the pain of need is taken away, but only undergoes variation. The limit of pleasure in the mind is produced when we think through these things and things of the same kind which give the mind the greatest fears.”

Principal Doctrines 18


11   Justice and calmness

“A just person is very calm, but an unjust person is full of the greatest agitation.”

Principal Doctrines 17


10   Chance and reason

“For a wise person chance is of brief effect, whereas reason, having organized the greatest and most important matters in the past, continues to do so throughout life and into the future.”

Principal Doctrines 16


9   Natural wealth and imagined wealth

“The wealth of nature is both limited and easily obtained; the wealth of false expectations goes on and on to infinity.”

Principal Doctrines 15


8   The best type of security

“Once we have attained a certain amount of security against other people, our strongest support and finest resource is the security that comes from living quietly and not going along with the crowd.”

Principal Doctrines 14


7   Our need to be at peace with the universe

“It is no use managing to feel secure at the human level while there are things up above and under the earth and in the universe generally that raise our suspicions.”

Principal Doctrines 13


6   Our need to know

“If we were not troubled by concerns about the possible significance for us of celestial and terrestrial phenomena and death, or by lack of understanding of the limits of pains and desires, we would not need to investigate nature.”

Principal Doctrines 11


5   The good, the bad and the reckless

“If the things that give pleasure to reckless people rescued their minds from fears about celestial and terrestrial phenomena and death and painful suffering, and in addition taught them the natural limit of desires, we would never have reason to criticize them, because from every direction they would be filled up with pleasures, and from no direction would they be experiencing bodily pain or mental distress – which is in fact what ‘bad’ means.”

Principal Doctrines 10


4   Condensed pleasure

“If all the pleasures a person experiences were compressed together in space and time and if that went throughout the human organism (or the main parts of our nature), pleasures would never differ one from another.”

Principal Doctrines 9


3   Radical and conservative

“No pleasure is bad in itself, but with some pleasures the things that give the pleasure also give troubles many times larger than the pleasures.”

Principal Doctrines 8


2   Missing out on the best

“Some people want to become honoured and admired because they think that in this way they can gain for themselves security against other people. If in consequence such people do live in security, they have gained that natural good. But if their lives are not secure, they have not got their original wish so far as it accorded with nature.”

Principal Doctrines 7


1   Nature dictates that we need to feel secure

“To gain freedom from fear of others, whenever that is possible, is a natural good of having government authorities and kingly office.”

Principal Doctrines 6


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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