Epicurus: The Principal Doctrines
In this article, we will read together and discuss the main work of the philosophy of happiness of Epicurus, the Principal Doctrines. Epicurus wrote many works (Diogenes Laertius, from whom we know most about Epicurus, lists 44 books!). But for his theory of happiness, we only need three works:
The Principal Doctrines is a collection of 40 sayings that summarise the whole of the Epicurean philosophy of life.
The Letter to Menoeceus, who was one of Epicurus’ students, is one of three Epicurean letters that we have. It is a less systematic and slightly more superficial text than the Principal Doctrines, but covers essentially the same ground.
Finally, the so-called Vatican Sayings are a collection of 81 quotes that were discovered in the Vatican Library in 1888. Some of them are almost identical to some of the Principal Doctrines, but others cover also different topics. We will occasionally refer to the Vatican Sayings when we discuss Epicurus.
Both the Principal Doctrines and the Letter to Menoeceus we know of only because the 3rd century AD author Diogenes Laertius quoted them in full in his work “Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers,” which also contains source material from many other Greek philosophers.
Thankfully, all these sources are available in English and anyone can read them for free on the Internet. Here are the links:
The Hicks translation is a bit weird at times, but it’s easily available and in the public domain, and this is why we will use it here. Whenever the translation is unclear, I will provide notes in the commentary that will, hopefully, make things a bit clearer. Other sources on the Principal Doctrines:
Julia Hannafin offers a different translation of the Principal Doctrines without stating who the translator is.
Epicurus.net has another translation of the Principal Doctrines, again without translator information.
Finally, Erik Anderson offers his own modern (2006) translation. This one is interesting because it groups the text into eight sections that cover different topics, and it is the most modern of the translations listed here.
Thematic grouping of the doctrines
Erik Anderson divides the text into the following sections:
The four-fold cure for anxiety (Doctrines 1-4)
Pleasure and virtue are interdependent (5)
Social and financial status have recognizable costs and benefits (6-8)
Through the study of Nature, we discern the limits of things (9-13)
Unlike social and financial status, which are unlimited, peace of mind can be wholly secured …
Originally appeared on Daily Philosophy Read More