As soon as we wrap up the series on DeWitt's “Epicurus and His Philosophy,” the next project the podcast will tackle will be the full sections of Cicero's “On Ends” devoted to discussing (attacking) Epicurean philosophy - Books One and Two. In this work Cicero has summarized and preserved what are probably the most important objections to Epicurus collected from across the ancient world in the prior two hundred years, so this work gives us both a wealth of knowledge about Epicurus combined with extremely intelligent criticisms. Cicero skimps on the time he gives the Epicurean Torquatus to respond, so we can formulate for ourselves what we think are the best full responses.

We have previously discussed the Torquatus Narrative in Episodes 93-111 (Torquatus narrative of Epicurean Philosophy). As a resultwe will review that section only briefly, and in only enough detail to keep the flow of the full discussion of Book One.

The text we are covering can be found in three editions at

As before when we went through Torquatus in detail, we will use the Reid version as our main text, but compare frequently with Rackham. We favor Reid because he seems to be both more readable and more literal than Rackham. However many of us are more familiar with the more recent wording of Rackham, so we will often use both on important passages.

We will therefore suggest that those who are following along grab a copy of the Reid version at the link above, and then you will be able to follow any references we make to page or line numbers.

  1. Week One - Episode 190 - Book One Sections I-VII
  2. Week Two - Episode 191 - Book One Sections VII - End of Book One (We go through the Torquatus speech quickly because we covered it in much more detail in Lucretius Today Episodes 93-111.)

  1. As To Physics:
    1. Epicurus Borrowed from Democritus while at the same time reviling him;
    2. I:VI:20 As to the swerve and downward movement of atoms (which leads to Democritus' determinism);
    3. I:VI:20 As to Epicurus' rejection of infinite divisibility;
    4. I:VI:20 As to Democritus' view of the size of the sun (which leads to Democritus' skepticism) [Note: Cicero notes that the issue of images by which we see but also think comes from Democritus];
  2. As To Canonics / Epistemology / Logic:
    1. Epicurus does away with the process of division;
    2. Epicurus says nothing about subdivision and partition;
    3. Epiciurus gives no method for constructing an argument;
    4. Epicurus does not show how to unriddle fallacies or clarify ambiguities;
    5. Epicurus places his criteria of objective truth in the senses and thinks that it destroys the senses to admit for a moment that they might err in any way;
  3. As to Ethics:
    1. The pursuit of pleasure as the goal belongs to Aristippus and was better and more frankly advocated by the Cyreniacs
    2. The Epicurean system is of such a character that no system is more unworthy of the human race, as “Nature has created and shaped us for higher aims.”
      1. On Ends Book 2 XXI: “But when one is arguing with philosophers of your school, one is forced to hear a great deal about even the obscure pleasures which Epicurus himself continually mentions. You cannot then, Torquatus, believe me, you cannot uphold those principles, if you examine into yourself, and your own thoughts and studies. You will, I say, be ashamed of that picture which Cleanthes was in the habit of drawing with such accuracy in his description. He used to desire those who came to him as his pupils, to think of Pleasure painted in a picture, clad in beautiful robes, with royal ornaments, and sitting on a throne. He represented all the Virtues around her, as her handmaidens, doing nothing else, and thinking nothing else their duty, but to minister to Pleasure, and only just to whisper in her ear (if, indeed, that could be made intelligible in a picture) a warning to be on her guard to do nothing imprudent, nothing to offend the minds of men, nothing from which any pain could ensue. We, indeed, they would say, we Virtues are only born to act as your slaves; we have no other business.”
    3. The Torquatii did not look for bodily enjoyment or any pleasure when the ancestor wrenched the necklet from his foe, or punished his son.
    4. Cicero alleges that Epicureans do not value mental pleasure. [“What pleasure do you, Torquatus, or what does our friend Triarius here derive from literature, from records and the investigation of historical facts, from conning the poets, from learning by heart so laboriously so many lines? And do not say to me “Why, these very actions bring me pleasure, as theirs did to the Torquati” Never indeed did Epicurus or Metrodorus or any one possessed of any wisdom or any knowledge of the tenets of your school ever maintain such a position by such arguments. And when the question is asked, as it often is, why Epicureans are so numerous, I answer that there are no doubt other motives, but the motive which especially fascinates the crowd is this; they believe their chief to declare that all upright and honourable actions are in themselves productive of delight, or rather pleasure.”]

  1. Cicero alleges that Torquatus does not know what pleasure means. “As it is, however, I allege that Epicurus himself is in the dark about it and uncertain in his idea of it, and that the very man who often asserts that the meaning which our terms denote ought to be accurately represented, sometimes does not see what this term pleasure indicates, I mean what the thing is which is denoted by the term.” (End of Section II)
  2. No one else talks about Pleasure this way
  3. Epicurus is failing to be clear
  4. No only do the words differ, but the THINGS differ - freedom from pain is not pleasure
  5. In holding that pleasure is the supreme good Epicurus says that ANY kinds of pleasures are desirable, even depraved ones, if they banish pain, which is what he means by evil (Section VII)
  6. Epicurus calls a profligate life desirable, and that is despicable. No reputable man speaks that way.
  7. How can pleasure be the supreme good, when we can't even say that pleasure is the goal of a dinner? (IX)
  8. The natural and necessary distinction is awkwardly worded.
  9. Even Epicurus says that pleasure is not the goal, because what he really says is the goal is “absence of pain” (X)
  10. Epicurus' defense of pleasure based on looking at babies and animals makes no sense because they are not authorities on the subject.
  11. It may be difficult to determine whether pleasure is a primary endowment of man, but certainly there are others that are more important, such as man's intellectual ability, and the virtues.
  12. The senses cannot decide as to the goal because they have no jurisdiction to answer that question.
  13. If we do refute the claim that pleasure is the supreme good we must turn our backs upon virtue. (XIV)
  14. The moral is that which, even if it had no utility, would be desired for its own qualities, regardless of its advantages. (XIV-45)
  15. The classical virtues are seen to be lovely and beautiful in themselves.
  16. .
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  • Last modified: 2024/01/14 08:59
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