Multae Sententiae is Latin for "many thoughts". Free thinking leads to Enlightenment. Enlightenment leads to happiness...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006 CE

Epicurean Philosophy: Principle Doctrines 1-4 out of 40

I consider myself an atheist due to my lack of belief in gods, a bright (noun) due to my naturalistic approach to life, a socialist because I believe in redistribution of wealth so that society can avoid phenomena such as billionaires or homeless individuals. Philosophically, I must say that I am an epicurean. After reading for some time what Epicurus meant about life and how to live it, I can say that my goal is to live as close as he said life should be lived.

I am going to show the 40 Principle Doctrines in different posts. After each Principle I am going to write a brief paragraph of what I understand of them.

1) A blessed and imperishable being neither has trouble itself nor does it cause trouble for anyone else; therefore, it does not experience feelings of anger or indebtedness, for such feelings signify weakness.

Weakness means a vulnerable state. We are vulnerable when we are angry; we are vulnerable in extreme joy; we are vulnerable in sadness. Why? We become vulnerable because extreme emotion makes us lose awareness of our surroundings. On the other hand, strength is the ability to keep our integrity despite the intensity of the aggression. By living a moderate life avoiding causing trouble for us and for the people we interact with, we avoid situations in which we could be the subject of the anger of the individual we interact with. In addition, we save energy for what is really important.

2) Death is nothing to us, because a body that has been dispersed into elements experiences no sensations, and the absence of sensation is nothing to us.

This seems very logical. Why worry about death? Dead people do not feel. This is one of the situations in which the concept of afterlife is pernicious. It creates an extra worry. Personally, my only worry would be the financial one, to assure my family with a secure future in the event of my death. The other issue with afterlife is selfishness. People who believe in an afterlife are still concerned about themselves even as they are going to pass away. On the contrary, it is better to think about leaving a legacy and to assume that our memories are going to be our only survivors.

3) Pleasure reaches its maximum limit at the removal of all sources of pain. When such pleasure is present, for as long as it lasts, there is no cause of neither physical nor mental pain present – or of both together.

In the absence of disease and violence, which cause physical pain, the only source of pain is mental. Anxiety is a major source of “mental pain.” This is why, in order to achieve the state of maximum enjoyment of life, we have to live anxiety-free. This is difficult, especially in the 21stcentury world. The lesson here would be to remove minor daily problems as a source of anxiety and only worry about the important things of life. Of course, there will still be many major sources of anxiety for the common people, however, without the extra weight of the anxiety caused by the minor issues, the stress produced by the major ones would be better dealt with.

4) Continuous physical pain does not last long. Instead, extreme pain lasts only a very short time, and even less-extreme pain does not last for many days at once. Even protracted diseases allow periods of physical comfort that exceed feelings of pain.

This is a good observation. After a major injury, the human mind loses its consciousness and when it is regained the memories of the injury are found to be erased. When this does not happen, post traumatic stress disorder is the consequence. I see this Principle Doctrine as an optimistic message for the future sufferer.


Blogger Truth Seeker said...


I'd say he is describing a God (imperishable) in #1. But if I'm wrong and he is referring to us mortals, then I interpret his meaning to be that since we are not Gods, we will have troubles and we will cause troubles. Extending from that point - we are foolish to lament the past (since we can't change it) and we should just move on - hopefully having learned how to avoid being the cause or recipient of similar troubles in our future.

Also, I'd say your interpretation of #1 conflicts with with socialism. If a socialist redsitributes my wealth thru government, using the rule of law, enforced by the threat of violence (fines, imprisonment, etc.), it is likely causing me trouble.

I have a whole different take on death. Life is good. Death is part of life. Therefore, death is good - it is at least ok. My father would say we no longer feel physical pain, we no longer have conflict with others, we no longer have to pay taxes, etc.

I find #3 interesting because for many years I've said pleasure is the absence of pain. Seems he thought the same thing. Seems to substantiate the position that all original thoughts have already been thought... ALL FEAR comes from a mixture of the future and the unknown (which are one and the same). Consider "global warming" - People are taking some data, ignoring the data that doesn't match their thoughts, and are forecasting the future based on data from the past. In most forecasts you see a projection of doom which is equal to FEAR... because the media makes a lot money selling fear. So much for the objectivity and value of a free press (maybe we should call it something else since we have to pay).

#4 is pretty straight forward. I would add that "long" is undefined and is subjective. In terms of the universe a human 70 year life span is miniscule. Of course, time is relative and emotional (a minute can seems like years).

Good post. I like this stuff.


10:43 AM  
Blogger Diane S. said...

You know Marco, you intimidate me a bit. I'm not sure I'm smart enough to hang out at your blog. But I like it here, so I hang out anyway.

I have to take issue with some of what you've said.

First of all, I think vulnerability is a beautiful thing. Vulnerability is uncomfortable, but being truly vulnerable also means being truly open to being loved. I think if you're not vested enough to be vulnerable, you're not vested enough to be engaged, and being engaged with life is beautiful.

I don't know about Death. I'm a Christian, but I don't buy the streets of gold sort of heaven. Frankly because it sounds so damned boring. But I believe that life is energy, and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Ergo, I believe we go on after we die. Into what? I don't have the foggiest idea. Maybe just into rest. Or maybe it's like a drop of water falling into the sea - we lose our "individuality" and become part of something much bigger. But regardless of what one does or does not think about the afterlife, the fact remains: we will all die. Knowing this helps us to remember that life is important.

I think it's possible to experience pleasure aside from a mere absence of pain. I even think it's possible to experience pleasure while in pain. Pleasure is somewhat mystical to me. Pleasure can be as deep as love, and as shallow as the pleasure of chocolate cake with a glass of milk. But it all involves being present in the moment. Being open to something being "good". Maybe even a little vulnerability.

Continuous physical pain does exist. Ask anyone with fybromyalgia. But the ability to transcend pain also exists. And that ability is part of what makes life beautiful.

I don't know if any of that means anything, but it's my 2 cents.

Thanks for inviting me to your blog. I'm really not sure if I'm smart enough to hang out here, but the conversation is always memorable and feeds the soul.

10:23 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...


Thanks for your comment. Constructive as usual.

With respect to Principle Doctrine (PD) 1, I do not think he was referring to any divinity since he despised the idea of the supernatural. I understood imperishable like imperturbable, unshakable. They are not synonims, but it makes more sense if we follow his concept of ataraxia (freedom from anxiety and fear). I do not think Epicurus was thinking about socialism when he developed his school of thought. I looked at it as lessons of how to live as an individual.

With respect to your comment regarding PD 2, your father sounded like a good epicurean! Natural death is neutral not bad, nor good.

Again, in PD 3, your position seems epicurean. However, you bring up the topic of global warming as if it were one of the topics that is supposed to cause unsubstantiated fear. This will be topic of a future post, in which I will sound much more pessimistic, with respect to our future, than you.

In the comment about PD 4, I agree on the relativity of the interpretation of the word "long".

10:27 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Hi Diane,

As I said before, the majority of my posts are a result of recently acquired knowledge. I have a strong desire to share that knowledge and my opinions with loyal people like you.

Your idea of vulnerability is one that never crossed my mind. I always talk about the "dual nature of things" meaning that EVERYTHING can be "good" or "bad", but it never occurred to me that vulnerability could be part of that everything.

I am a doctor, I have seen people with fibromyalgia, listened to their complaints, but it is difficult for me to understand the concept of continous physical pain. It seems unreal, but who m I to judge something that I have only read in a book and that I am unable to feel?

You blew my mind with your concept beautiful vulnerability. You have given me an idea for a future post.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Truth Seeker said...


Your appologies are misplaced. Please stop appologizing for not being smart.

Just because people like me write with bravado and confidence (very likely over confident) doesn't mean that we are smart or right.

I bet my IQ (95) is lower than yours. Wanna bet? Feel better now?


9:29 AM  
Blogger Truth Seeker said...


I love this stuff.

I see your point on PD1 about the supernatural. Perhaps by using "supernatural" terms like imperishable to describe us mere humans he is attempting to bring humans up to the level of supernatural or bring the supernatural down to our human level. (Our words become our thoughts, our thoughts become our beliefs, our beliefs become our actions, our actions become our words...).

Concerning socialism, I agree that he wasn't even considering socialism. TO ME it is important that all the parts of my thinking fit together. I might be completely wrong on my assumptions of life and existence, but if one understands my assumptions (not the same thing as accepting them) and then looks at the positions I take I don't think you will find many anamolies or conflicts. I am therefore super-sensitive to what I perceive to be anamolies.

TO ME your position on socialism and your position on Epicurian Philosophy PD1 conflict. I'm not really trying to be critical, I'm just pointing it out because I personally like to find those kind of conflicts in my thinking because I always end up learning and growing from them.

Concerning global warming.
1. Wouldn't Epicurius say that all fears are unsubstantiated?
2. My real point was that all fear comes from the unknown and the future is always unknown.
3. So, for example, people see global warming data then they start forecasting the future - which people rarely do well (otherwise we'd be able to predict the weather, scores in sports, stock market, etc.).
4. There is a tendancy for humans to fill voids with negativity. I personally attribute this to people that are driven by fear (very few Epicurians in the world).
5. The press makes most of its money presenting fear and hatred because most people are drawn to it by their own fear and hatred.


9:55 AM  
Blogger Truth Seeker said...


Concerning vulnerability.
1. We are all vulnerable. It is ridiculous to deny it.
2. We all have strengths and weaknesses relative to each other while we are here on Earth. But we all die.
3. Like death, vulneralbility is a given part of life and since life is good vulneralbility is good. It is not to be feared.
4. My grandmother and father used to say embrace the things you can't change. If we can embrace vulneralability we won't fear it.
5. Everybody has emotions, but one of things that seperates a civilized person from a barbarian is our ability to control how we react to our emotions.
6. Now let's all go out their and embrace our vulnerability (and I'll go learn how to spell it!).

Thank you for pointing out the very human trait of vulneralability, and that it is beautiful.


10:04 AM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...


I guess there is many ways of interpret the text, specially if we want to apply it to what it is not intended for. Regarding PD1, socialist might tell you that if the goal is not to cause trouble to the people we interact with, then we should make sure that wealth is distributed fairly. With respect to PD3, a socialist would tell you that a just distribution of wealth would decrease the overall level of anxiety (mental pain) (and fear) of a society by providing secure access to health and education.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Truth Seeker said...


You lost me now.

It seems to me that all of the principles were intended by Epicurius to be used by people of any age or culture.

Do you disagree? If so, then what is the point of trying to understand his philosophy?

If you agree, then why is it inappropriate to apply PD1 to today's events and issues like economics and form of government?

There seem to be 2 points in PD1.
1. There is no point in being angry
2. There is no point in feeling indebtedness

Redistributing wealth to make the distribution of wealth more "fair" or "equal" seems like a response to indebtedness to me. I say Epicurius would reject socialism.

I haven't read the book. So, can you tell me if there is any form of hierarchy. In other words, is PD1 the foundation for the other principles to build on, or do you think they are designed to be equals that compliment each other?


12:35 AM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...


The way I see it is as follows. When someone like Epicurus communicates his thoughts, he is being altruistic in thinking that his views are going to help people be better. People with socialist mentalities can go back to his writings and say "I see socialism here and there". People with a capitalist mentalities can do likewise. I see no point in extracting words from the PD's and giving them an economic or sociologic meaning. For example, a pure capitalist might be anxiety-free when it sees free market thriving and will regard the beggar in the street as an acceptable by-product. On the other hand, a pure socialist could be anxiety-free in a society of automatons living for the state and will regard the lack of desire to improve its way of life as a necessary by-product for the survival of the system. Both would be epicureans.

7:05 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Okay, blogger keeps crashing so I'll try again:

I think I agree with everything but the last statement. It seems that extreme pain can last a long time.

My father at the end of his life required more and more morphine. He didn't want to take it at first because 1) he'd fought in World War II and associated morphine with putting dying soldiers to "sleep," and 2) he thought he should "suffer as Christ suffered" (I was shocked by that!). His pastor talked him out of that, for which I'm grateful.

But once he felt the pain and tried the morphine he definitely took it. He needed more and more until after a few weeks he finally died.

I must say that I'm not scared of death, but of dying, yes. I'm scared of extreme pain, too.

8:00 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

As a doctor I must say that there exists terrible chronic pain. However, it is relatively rare. I am sorry that your dad had to go through that.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Diane S. said...


Thank you for your kind words.

While I agree that everyone is always vulnerable to a certain degree, there is a special vulnerability that is the result of choice. Choice to let one's guard down, to abadon one's defenses. That's the vulnerability I'm talking about. It ain't for sissy's but it's almost always worth it.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Chris Bradley said...

Mmmm. Epicurus.

I'm a philosophical Taoist for a lot of the same reasons, but I deeply appreciate Epicurus.

1:26 AM  
Blogger Chris Bradley said...

Also, I'd say your interpretation of #1 conflicts with with socialism. If a socialist redsitributes my wealth thru government, using the rule of law, enforced by the threat of violence (fines, imprisonment, etc.), it is likely causing me trouble.

Not all socialists believe in redistribution through either government or coercion, such as libertarian socialists. ;)

1:35 AM  
Anonymous ram said...


So cool man! Just roaming around when I saw you guys arguing. Well, I feel as a lover of Sophia I must say something.



I once read that the philosophy of the garden did not deny the existence of gods. Epicurus avoided expressing an overt atheism. Rather, he conceived the gods as blissful and immortal yet material beings made of atoms inhabiting the metakosmia: empty spaces between worlds in the vastness of infinite space.

I feel, that we cannot really call Epicurus an atheist.

I also feel that joy is quite relative! What can you say about the lovers of pain? Wont you agree?

Another thing.. Do you believe in God? Any god? I am a Christian like Diane and I can prove to you in five logical ways that there is really a supreme being...

I was once like you.

1:16 AM  

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