The principal doctrines



By Haris Dimitriadis

  1. I philosophize on the necessities of life.
  2. Everything happens according to the natural laws, without any divine intervention.
  3. All creatures have sprung from within the mother Earth.
  4. I obey the laws of Nature.
  5. I pursue a happy life.
  6. I seek pleasure; I avoid pain.
  7. I make choices wisely.
  8. I live a quiet life away from the crowd.
  9. I cultivate friendship.
  10. I enjoy the moment.
  11. I recall the past with gratitude.
  12. I look to the future with optimism.

The way in which we see life, our thoughts, plans and decisions depend on the perceptions that, consciously or unconsciously, have been imprinted in our minds through heredity and experiences. The most important concepts of the Epicurean Philosophy had been coded by Epicurus in a list, known as Principal Doctrines, which the students of the Epicurean “university’’ had to adopt and memorize. The Principal Doctrines, forty in number, constituted the core of his philosophy, out of which all other conceptions arise with a series of simple reasoning. An attempt has been made by the author to transfer these doctrines in contemporary terms by referencing original excerpts. A positive attitude towards them is a prerequisite for those who wish to enjoy the positive effects of the implementation of the Epicurean Philosophy in life.

The Contemporary Doctrines with Reference to Ancient Epicurean Excerpts
1: I philosophize on the necessities of life
“To be involved and to philosophize with the issues and needs of life and to not be wasted on marginal issues, with barren discussions and dialectical tricks.”
“Vain is the philosophical suggestion, which does not cure any human passion.”
“We need to ponder on what brings happiness.”
“We can discover the limitations of Nature and ourselves through the knowledge of the truth.”
“At the same time, we must philosophize, laugh, and manage our household and other business, while never ceasing to proclaim the words of true philosophy.”
2: Everything happens according to the natural laws, without any divine intervention
“The universe has always been what it is now and it will always be the same.”
“Nothing comes from nothing.”
“Nothing can be dissolved into nothing.”
“Apart from atoms and void, nothing is true.”
“The universe is infinite.”
“But even the worlds are infinite: the ones like ours and the dissimilar ones"
“Our starting point in this study of Nature is this primary observation: nothing ever comes from nothing; neither gods nor any other forces are observed to create anything from nothing.”
3: All creatures have sprung from within the mother Earth
“And it must needs be that many races of living things perished and could not beget and propagate their offspring. For whatever animals you see feeding on the breath of life, either their craft or bravery, aye or their swiftness has protected and preserved their kind from the beginning of their being.”
“The living beings are nothing but atoms combined in an especially appropriate manner.”
“Our spirit is born as a mortal physical substance, and it is not to be left upright forever.”
“The mind and the soul are held tightly to each other and constitute a single nature.”
4: I obey the laws of Nature
“We must not resist Nature but submit to it. We shall satisfy it if we satisfy the necessary desires and also those bodily desires that cause us no harm, while sternly rejecting those that are harmful.”
“Freedom is the greatest fruit of self-sufficiency.”
“Natural wealth is both limited and easily obtained, but vanity is insatiable.”
“If you arbitrarily reject any sensory experience and fail to differentiate between an opinion awaiting confirmation and what is already perceived by the senses, feelings, and every intuitive faculty of mind, you will impute trouble to all other sensory experiences, thereby rejecting every criterion.”
5: I seek a happy life
“We must practice what produces happiness because when we have it, we have everything, and if we lack it, we shall do everything necessary to regain it. So I encourage you, as always, to study and practice my teachings, for they are the basic ingredients of a happy life.”
“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.”
“Feelings, they say, are two: pleasure and pain, which affect every living being. Pleasure is congenial to our nature, while pain is hostile to it. Thus they serve as criteria for all choice or avoidance.”
6: I look for pleasure, I avoid pain
“Pleasure is the beginning and the end of the happy life because it is the primary good related to our nature.”
“Pleasure, we declare, is the beginning and end of the happy life. We are endowed by nature to recognize pleasure as the greatest good. Every choice and avoidance we make is guided by pleasure as our standard for judging the goodness of everything.”
“When we say that pleasure is the goal, we do not mean the pleasure of debauchery or sensuality. Despite whatever may be said by those who misunderstand, disagree with, or deliberately slander our teachings, the goal we do seek is this: freedom from pain in the body and freedom from turmoil in the soul. For it is not continuous drinking and revelry, the sexual enjoyment of women and boys, or feasting upon fish and fancy cuisine which result in a happy life. Sober reasoning is what is needed, which decides every choice and avoidance and liberates us from the false beliefs which are the greatest source of anxiety.”
7: I make choices wisely
“If you do not reconcile your behavior with the goal of Nature, but instead use some other criterion in mattersof choice and avoidance, then there will be a conflict between theory and practice.”
“Sober reasoning is what is needed, which decides every choice and avoidance and liberates us from the false beliefs which are the greatest source of anxiety.”
“Among desires some are natural and necessary, some natural but not necessary, and others neither natural nor necessary, but based on baseless opinion.”
“Those natural desires which create no pain when unfulfilled, though pursued with an intense effort, are also based on baseless opinion; and if they are not dispelled, it is not because of their own nature, but because of human vanity.”
“Necessity is an evil; but there is no necessity for continuing to live subjected to necessity.”
“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.”
“Wealth, power, and the like are no guarantee of happiness – only reason has power over the fear of death and other irrational fears.”
“Do not reason with something based on erroneous observations of the facts of reality, or else your conclusions will also be erroneous.”
“Chance has little effect upon the wise man, for his greatest and highest interests are directed by reason throughout the course of his life.”
8: I live a quiet life away from the crowd
“I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.”
“True security is that of a quiet life and away from the crowd.”
“I live unnoticed.”
“We must free ourselves from the prison of private and public affairs.”
9: I cultivate friendship
“Of all things that wisdom provides for living one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.”
“Every friendship in itself is to be desired; but the initial cause for friendship is from its advantages.”
‘’He who desires to live in tranquility with nothing to fear from other men ought to make friends. Those of whom he cannot make friends, he should at least avoid rendering enemies; and if that is not in his power, he should, as much aspossible, avoid all dealings with them, and keep them aloof, insofar as it is in his interest to do so.”
“The superior man more than anything is dedicated to wisdom and friendship. Of these the first is mortal good, the second immortal.”
“The major motive of friendship is security. To maintain a friendship though one needs to love the friend as one loves ourself.”
10: I enjoy the moment
“There is no reason to destroy that which you have. Instead give value to the fact that what you have surpasses your expectations.”
“We have been born once and there can be no second birth. For all eternity we shall no longer be. But you, although you are not master of tomorrow, are postponing your happiness. We waste away our lives in delaying, and each of us dies without having enjoyed leisure.”
11: I recall the past with gratitude
“All this is encountered with the joy that I feel in my soul as I recall a discussion we had.”
“We should find solace for misfortune in the happy memory of the things that are gone, and in the knowledge that what has come to be cannot be undone.”
“We show our feeling for deceased friends, not by wailing, but by pleasant recollections.”
“Mental pleasure is much more important than bodily pleasure. Whereas the body can feel pleasure only at the time of the pleasurable experience, the mind has the gifts of memory and anticipation: it can mitigate or eliminate present pain by the recollection of past pleasures or the expectation of pleasures to come.”
12: I look to the future with optimism
“The steady state of wellness and the certain hope that it will last longer offers more confident joy to the one who knows how to estimate correctly.”
“Future days are neither wholly ours, nor wholly not ours. We must neither depend on them as they are sure to come nor despair that we will not live to see them.”
“Although the mind’s ability to look back and forward is exploited by the wise to their advantage, it ruins the lives of those whose attitude to past events is bitter, and whose attitude to the future is dominated by unnecessary fears, especially of the gods and of death, and unnecessary and insatiable desires, especially for wealth and power.”