Epicurean Guidelines

by Gordon L. Ziniewicz

1. Overall End or "Summum Bonum" or "Reason for Living": Happiness or Pleasure. Happiness is peace of mind and body. It is tranquillity or undisturbedness (ataraxia), the quiet of a mind free from fear (or anxiety) and a body content with natural satisfactions.

2. Mental pleasure is better than bodily pleasure.

3. Mental pain (anxiety) is worse than bodily pain.

4. Quality of pleasure is more important than quantity of pleasure.

5. Fear causes mental disturbance.

6. Do not fear the gods: They do not concern themselves with human problems; nor do they reward or punish.

7. Do not fear death: Life is feeling or sensation; when life ends, there is no feeling (no pain); death does not hurt.

8. Do not fear physical nature: Nature is indifferent; the universe is but the motion and the mingling of atoms.

9. Exercise prudence: Although every pleasure in itself is good and every pain is evil, some pains should be endured for the sake of future pleasure and some pleasures should be forgone since they may lead to future pain.

10. Live simply and prudently (with self-control and moderation). Seek simple pleasures, those that satisfy natural and necessary desires. By nature we need food, drink, clothing, shelter, prudence (reason), and friendship.

11. Seeking luxuries (extravagant food, excessive drink, sexual love, and the like) creates anxiety in our minds and disturbance in our bodies.

12. Avoid excess of all kinds; simple pleasures (with a gentle motion of atoms) are preferable to painful excesses (with a violent motion of atoms).

13. Make friends: They provide security and pleasant conversation.

14. Avoid disturbing people. Stay in the Garden with your friends.

15. Make agreements with others (laws), so that you will not disturb one another.

16. There is no right or wrong (justice or injustice) outside of these agreements. Agreements (and justice therefore) differ from community to community. [cultural relativism]

17. Live justly (obey the laws), so that you will not have the anxiety of wondering if you will be caught and punished.

18. When you are old, think about the good times you have had. That will make up for bodily pain.

19. When you are young, think about the good that lies ahead. Do not fear the future. We can control some things, but we cannot control everything.

20. Dread (anxiety or fear) is worse than present bodily suffering. Present suffering soon passes; anxiety lasts a long time.

21. When enough security against other people is achieved, if one has enough power and material wealth as a base, then one can have the safety of a quiet life in solitude apart from the crowd. (after Principal Doctrines, XIV)

Some Metaphysical (or Scientific) Foundations of Epicureanism

1. The soul and the body are composed of indivisible (and invisible) small particles called atoms. All that exists is either atoms, bodies compounded of atoms, or void (pure empty space within which atoms move). The human body is composed of coarser atoms that tend to hold together. The human soul is composed of very fine and smooth atoms that are dispersed (at death), if they are not held in by the body.

2. The universe is eternal: atoms are eternal and indestructible and infinite in number. The void is infinite in extent (the void has no limits). Atoms are constantly moving through the universe forming compounds. They generally move in a straight line, but they sometimes swerve, bumping into other atoms, vibrating back and forth and forming compounds.

3. The health of the body and the peace of the mind result from a regulated and balanced commotion of atoms. If atoms in body or soul move chaotically, mental or physical disturbance results. Disturbance is pain; undisturbance is pleasure. When there is too much disturbance, the body comes apart, releasing soul atoms.

4. Pleasure is the absence of pain; it is undisturbance in body and mind. Pleasure is due to harmony of atoms; pain is due to disharmony of atoms. Happiness is pleasure (the chief good) which means bodily and mental calm.

5. The gods too are made of atoms, very fine like human soul atoms, but holding together forever. The gods are free from anxiety and trouble. They exist happily together in friendship, blissfully carefree and completely unconcerned about human affairs. The gods are not political (they do not govern) and they are not productive (things are made by the collision of atoms). They are free of worries. The best human life imitates the carefree and unpolitical life of the gods.

6. Bad opinions cause mental disturbance, and bad (imprudent) conduct causes mental and bodily disturbance. True philosophy replaces false and disturbing opinions with true and pacifying ones and it teaches prudence -- the wisdom of calculating what pleasures ought to be pursued, when they ought to be pursued, and how much of them. Bodily and mental peace result from the enjoyment of simple pleasures in moderation. Lacking what we naturally need causes pain. Having or seeking what we do not really need or more than we really need also causes pain.

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Copyright © 1997 Gordon L. Ziniewicz
This page last updated 10/14/12

Please note: These philosophical commentaries, though still in process, are the intellectual property of Gordon L. Ziniewicz. They may be downloaded and freely distributed in electronic form only, provided no alterations are made to the original text. One print copy may be made for personal use, but further reproduction and distribution of printed copies are prohibited without the permission of the author.