by Ken Mylot
The following is a rendition of the first twenty-five Principal Doctrines of Epicurus into understandable, contemporary English. More than half a dozen translations were consulted during the writing of these paraphrases.
1) If God is perfect, He is always at peace and cannot become angry or upset at anyone or anything because only an imperfect being can be disturbed in these ways. Likewise, if God is perfect, He doesnt need or want anything from anyone since if He did need or want anything, He would not be God but an unhappy and imperfect being.
2) Death is nothing to us; once the body and brain decompose into dust and ashes, there is no feeling or thought, and what has no feeling or thought is nothing to us.
3) This is the height of pleasure: to be free of all pain and discomfort in both the body and the mind. When this pleasure is present, all pain, of both body and mind, is absent.
4) Illnesses which cause excruciating pain last only a short time and then you are free. Illnesses which cause mild pain may last long but it is possible to live in such a way that the pleasures of life far outweigh the discomforts. Either way, pain is nothing to fear.
5) It is impossible to be happy without also being wise, honorable and honest, and it is impossible to be wise, honorable and honest without also being happy. Happiness is so dependent upon the practice of wisdom, honor and honesty that being negligent in just one of these will lead to nothing but trouble and sorrow in life.
6) Absolutely anything which will keep you from being harmed by people is good and right.
7) Some men and women want to be famous and well-known because they think that this will make their lives safe and secure. If fame brings safety and security, it is good and right to want to be famous; but if a famous life brings more trouble than an obscure life, it is foolish to want what is actually bad for us.
8) There is no such thing as a pleasure that is bad in and of itself. What is bad are the unpleasant consequences that can result if you do not use your head when deciding on which pleasures to pursue and which to avoid.
9) If every pleasure lasted and affected the entire body and not just one or two parts, there would be no difference between one pleasure or another; they would all be equally desirable.
10) If the things which bring pleasure to licentious men and women freed them from troubled minds, that is, if such a life freed them from the fear of God, the fear of death and the fear of pain, and if those things further taught them how to rationally manage their desires, we would find no wrong with these men and women; they would have reached the height of pleasure and would be free of all bodily and mental pain, which is the beginning and the end of all evil.
11) If our peace of mind were not disturbed by superstitious ideas about comets, falling stars and other types of astronomical phenomenon, or by the thought of death (which is really nothing to us), and also by our lack of understanding of the limits of pain and how to rationally manage our desires, we wouldnt have any need to acquire a thoroughly scientific understanding of nature.
12) An individual cannot be free from the most disturbing fears about the universe as long as he lacks a thoroughly scientific understanding of nature and instead believes in legends, parables and myths. So without a thoroughly scientific understanding of nature, one cannot reach the height of pleasure.
13) There is no point in working hard to achieve physical safety and security from those who can harm you if your peace of mind can be easily attacked and destroyed by fears and anxieties that result from an unscientific understanding of why nature works as it does in the sky, in the earth, or anywhere else in the universe.
14) While some safety and security from others might possibly be obtained if you were to amass great wealth and power, safety, security and tranquility would more certainly be yours if you simply lived a quiet and simple life withdrawn from the world.
15) Understand that true wealth is having what you really need for a happy life and you will find out how easy it is to be completely satisfied; mistakenly believe that wealth consists in possessing all that one could possibly imagine and dream up and there will never be an end to your toil and sweat.
16) By continuously managing the most important matters of life according to the dictates of reason, the wise man or woman constructs a lifelong defense against misfortunes and troubles and seldom suffers from them.
17) The honest individual has more peace of mind than anyone; its the dishonest man or woman who always has some reason to worry and feel anxious.
18) As soon as the height of physical pleasure has been reached by the satisfaction of bodily craving, there is no greater pleasure beyond that to be enjoyed; one has reached a plateau that cannot be surmounted. At that point, one can vary the type of pleasure; one cannot increase the intensity. Mental pleasure also has a natural limit which cannot be surpassed and it is this) the peace of mind that results from the rational understanding and pursuit of pleasure and a thoroughly scientific understanding of those things which used to fill the mind with fear and trembling.
19) An immortal life would not provide an opportunity for any more pleasure than this mortal life does. A rational understanding of happiness makes clear the fact that the height of pleasure is attainable here and now, in this life, and it cannot be surpassed, even if one could live forever.
20) If there were no natural limit to pleasure, it would take an eternity to satisfy the infinite number of desires and wants that one could imagine and dream up. The mind, however, is able to discover the natural limit and height of pleasure; it is also capable of freeing us from all fears of any life after death so that we do not need, want nor fear eternity. Therefore, even if the time has come for us to depart from life, we can approach our final rest with the absolute confidence that we have enjoyed all of the pleasure that it was possible to enjoy.
21) The individual who learns what the natural limits of pleasure are knows how very little is actually required to satisfy his or her needs and have a happy life and how easy it is to obtain it. Therefore, it is unnecessary to spend ones life struggling and slaving away.
22) In all decision making, the criterion should be the ultimate goal of life which we have set before us and the no-nonsense facts of what we actually know and experience (rather than what others wildly imagine) if you stray from this rule, you will be overwhelmed with doubt and confusion.
23) If you deny or dismiss all of the no-nonsense facts of what we actually know and experience, there will be nothing left to serve as a criterion for judging anything, even those views which you state must be false.
24) Absolute confidence in determining what is true and what is delusional is only possible if you learn to clearly distinguish between those ideas which are based upon the no-nonsense facts of what we actually know and experience and those ideas which have their origin in the imagination and nothing more. In other words, if you give the same authority to the imagination and your inner feelings that you give to the no-nonsense facts of what we actually know and experience, you will never be completely sure about anything, as there will no longer be any criterion left to remove your doubt and confusion.
25) If you do not keep the ultimate goal clearly in mind whenever you must decide whether to pursue or avoid a particular pleasure or pain, but decide according to some less well thought out criterion, your behavior will not be consistent with your principles.
Democritus was the head of the Atomist school of philosophy. He was highly regarded by both Epicurus and Lucretius. Many of his ideas were further developed by Epicurus.
Diogenes of Oenoanda lived in the third century AD and erected a unique monument to Epicurean philosophy) he had the basic teachings of Epicurus engraved in stone. Only a very few fragments have survived from this monument.
The following are my paraphrases of some of their ethical maxims which might be of particular interest to those exploring Epicureanism. I am always interested in popularizing Epicureanism so the paraphrases here are free and idiomatic rather than strictly to the letter.
1) Our inclinations to vice are strengthened in the company of evil companions and weakened in the company of good men.
2) Be grateful and content for what you have and do not dwell on things which you do not have. Do this and a mind troubled by envy will be far from you.
3) If you consider the lives of those who are worse off than you, you will realize that the little which you have is very much in the eyes of the many and that your dissatisfaction is unwarranted. Hold to this truth and you will drive jealousy and envy far from your heart.
4) Some men rule nations while being enslaved by their desires for the flesh.
5) Dont waste your breath offering advice to those who think that they know everything already.
6) A greedy heart is a heavier burden to bear than poverty, for it is never satisfied and is always desiring more.
7) Anything acquired through dishonesty leads to a loss of character.
8) People sometimes rationalize their greed by saying that it is all for the good of their children but this is nothing but an excuse they use to make their despicable actions appear respectable and praiseworthy.
9) Whatever we really need to live happily can be found without too much struggle; it is the things which we are brainwashed into believing that we need which cause us trouble.
10) It is better to speak the truth simply than to be long-winded.
11) Your time is better spent correcting your own follies than in studying your neighbors.
12) Tact is welcome on all occasions; frankness on few.
13) Simple living and a plain diet are good but so is an occasional break from the day-to-day routine. Wise people know how to be flexible and when.
14) A life without parties and celebrations is like a long journey without rest stops.
15. The wise man doesnt complain about what he does not have but finds pleasure and contentment in what he does have.
16) Beyond a certain point, most pleasures bring pain. There is a natural limit to pleasure. Beyond that limit, you have "too much of a good thing".
17) Men and women pray to god for health when much of the power to achieve and maintain their physical well-being lies within themselves, in the wise management of their desires which, when allowed to run unchecked, become their ruin.
18) Men and women who constantly exceed the natural limits of food, drink, and sex eventually discover that the pleasures derived from them are few and short-lived while the pains that result from excess are many and can haunt them for a lifetime.
19) If your character is stable and orderly, your life will be also.
20) When you envy someone, you cause yourself unnecessary disturbance and become an enemy of your own peace of mind.
21. Having children brings much trouble and numerous responsibilities, and no matter how much care you give your children there is never any guarantee that they will not bring you great pain and heartbreak.
22) Dont have children; they bring much trouble, toil, and sorrow. What few advantages there are to having children rarely outweigh the disadvantages.
23) Men and women are like other living creatures: they bring children into the world with little or no thought about the matter and then they suffer and toil as best as they can to rear them. Men and women think that it is necessary to have children. It is not. It is their animal nature and social custom, rather than reason, which makes them believe that this is a necessity.
24) If you keep your desires within the natural limits set by nature, poverty will seem like great wealth to you.
25) The wise man is happy with a modest lifestyle; the fool is miserable even with luxuries.
26) These rules you must follow if you are to be happy: Do not let yourself get too busy. Know your limits and do not attempt what is beyond them.
27) Be ready to suffer and forgive the wrongs done to you.
28) The hopes of the wise are attainable; the daydreams of fools impossible.
29) All old men were once young, but not all young men will safely reach old age.
30) People who do not understand that death is nothing waste their lives in fear because of the many superstitions about life after death.
31) Fools do not listen to wisdom but only learn when they suffer the painful consequences of their actions.
32) Examining your plans before you act is much better than repenting of them after.
33) Friendship with one wise man is better than friendship with a hundred fools.
34) Physical beauty without wisdom is worthless.
35) People are widely celebrated for all types of foolishness; how much better to be honored for even a tiny bit of wisdom.
36) Always think on what is good and pleasant and you will have the mind of a god.
1) Extravagant wealth is of no more benefit to men and women than water is to an already full glass. Both are useless and unnecessary.
2) We can achieve great satisfaction when we look upon the wealth and vast possessions of others by remembering that we are not troubled by those desires nor are we a slave to the labors and duties necessary to fulfill such wants.
3) These are the root of all evil: fear of god, of death, of pain, and desire which goes beyond what nature requires for a happy life.
4) Nothing contributes more to serenity than a simple lifestyle that is not too busy, that does not demand that we engage in disagreeable tasks, and that does not require us to push ourselves beyond our power and strength.