Doctrine 15

15. The Natural desires are easily obtained and satisfied, but the unnatural desires can never be satisfied.

Alternate Translations: Bailey: The wealth demanded by Nature is both limited and easily procured; that demanded by idle imaginings stretches on to infinity. Yonge: The wealth demanded by Nature is both limited and easily procured; that demanded by idle imaginings stretches on to infinity.

Letter to Menoeceus: We must also consider that some of our human desires are given to us by Nature, and some are vain and empty. Of the Natural desires, some are necessary, and some are not. Of the necessary desires, some are necessary to our happiness, and some are necessary if our body is to be free from trouble. Some desires are in fact necessary for living itself. He who has a correct understanding of these things will always decide what to choose and what to avoid by referring to the goal of obtaining a body that is healthy and a soul that is free from turmoil, since this is the aim of living happily. It is for the sake of living happily that we do everything, as we wish to avoid grief and fear. When once we have attained this goal, the storm of the soul is ended, because we neither have the need to go looking for something that we lack, nor to go seeking something else by which the good of our soul or of our body would be improved.

Letter to Menoeceus: As we pursue happiness we also hold that self-reliance is a great good, not in order that we will always be satisfied with little, but in order that if circumstances do not allow that we have much, we may wisely make use of the little that we have. This is because we are genuinely persuaded that men who are able to do without luxury are the best able to enjoy luxury when it is available. We also believe that Nature provides that everything which is necessary to life is easily obtained, and that those things which are idle or vain are difficult to possess. Simple flavors give as much pleasure as costly fare when everything that causes pain, and every feeling of want, is removed. Bread and water give the most extreme pleasure when someone in great need eats of them. To accustom oneself, therefore, to simple and inexpensive habits is a great ingredient towards perfecting one’s health, and makes one free from hesitation in facing the necessary affairs of life. And when on certain occasions we fall in with more sumptuous fare, this attitude renders us better disposed towards luxuries, as we are then fearless with regard to the possibility that we may thereafter lose them.

Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Nothing could be more instructive and helpful to right living than Epicurus’ doctrine as to the different classes of the desires. One kind he classified as both natural and necessary, a second as natural but not necessary, and a third as neither natural nor necessary. The principle of the classification comes from observing that the necessary desires are gratified with little trouble or expense. The natural desires also require little effort, since the quantity of Nature’s riches which suffices to bring contentment is both small and easily obtained. In contrast, for the vain and idle desires, no boundary or limit can be discovered.

Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book II: It is sweet, when on the great sea the winds trouble its waters, to behold from land another’s deep distress; not that it is a pleasure or a delight that any should be afflicted, but because it is sweet to see from what evils you are yourself exempt. It is sweet also to look upon the mighty struggles of armies arrayed along the plains without sharing yourself in the danger. But nothing is more welcome than to hold lofty and serene positions well fortified by the learning of the wise. From here you may look down upon others and see them wandering, going astray in their search for the path of life, and contesting among themselves their intellect, the rivalry of their birth, their striving night and day with tremendous effort to struggle up to the summit of power and be masters of the world. O miserable minds of men! O blinded hearts! In what darkness of life and in what great danger you pass this term of life, whatever its duration. How can you choose not to see that Nature craves for herself no more than this: that the body feel no pain, and the mind enjoy pleasure exempt from care and fear? Thus we see that for the body’s nature few things are needed – only such things as take away pain. Although at times luxuries can provide us many choice delights, Nature for her part does not need them, and never misses it when there are no golden images of youths throughout the house, holding in their right hands flaming lamps to light the nightly banquet, or when the house does not shine with silver or glitter with gold, or when there are no paneled and gilded roofs to echo the sound of harp. Men who lack such things are just as happy when they spread themselves in groups on soft grass beside a stream of water under the limbs of a high tree, and at no great cost pleasantly refresh their bodies, especially when the weather smiles and the seasons sprinkle the green grass with flowers. Nor does fever leave the body any sooner if you toss about under an elegant bedspread amid bright purple linens than if you must lie under a poor man’s blanket. Since treasure is of no avail to the body, any more than is high birth or the glory of kingly power, by this we see that treasure and high birth are of no service to the mind either. In the same way, when you see your legions swarm over the battleground, strengthened front and rear by powerful reserves and great force of cavalry, and when you marshal them together well armed and in high spirits, do you find that these scare away the fears of religion, and that those fears fly panic-stricken from your mind? Or do you find that when you see your navy sail forth and spread itself far and wide over the waters, does that drive away the fear of death and leave your heart untroubled and free from care? But we see that this is laughable, because in truth the real fears and cares of men do not run from the clash of arms and weapons. If these same fears trouble kings and caesars, and if their fears are not quieted by the glitter of gold or the brilliant sheen of the purple robe, how can you suspect that these matters can be resolved by reason alone, when the whole of life is a struggle in the dark?

Vatican Saying 8: The wealth required by Nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.

NewEpicurean Commentary: The desires that Nature reasonably establishes for us are easy to obtain, but the desires that exceed the benchmark of what is reasonable are all-consuming and insatiable.

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