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According to Epicurus, the gods do exist, but are patently indifferent to, and uninvolved in human affairs; they also played no role whatsoever in the original creation of the world, nor do they do so in the ongoing workings of nature. The basic Epicurean understanding of the gods is outlined in Principal Doctrine 1.

The only rational defense Epicurus offers for the existence of the gods is based on his notion of preconceptions [προλήψεις] -- the gods must surely exist, he argues, because all people, regardless of race, era, geographical location, or specific cultural heritage, do hold preconceptions of them.

The formation of preconceptions in Epicurus' view depends on sensory impressions. We acquire, for example, preconceptions of what "dog" means because we have first had numerous experiences of real specimens, as perceived by our senses (by having seen dogs, heard them bark, etc.). Where, then, do we get preconceptions of the gods if we do not see or hear them? It may be said that images of the gods trickle in from the intermundia which are too subtle or incomplete to register in the conscious mind; the accumulation of these partial or subliminal images may eventually culminate into fully formed preconceptions.

Epicurus' argument is perhaps fundamentally flawed because it is circular: people's preconception of the gods cannot be based on experience through their senses, but on their belief(s) in the gods. On such grounds, one could easily also argue for the existence of just about anything (including all those things Epicurus decidedly did not believe in, e.g. centaurs, satyrs, Chimera, Medusa, etc.)

With the example of Socrates' (mis)trial and execution on grounds of "not believing in the gods" indelibly etched in the consciousness of every Athenian, it is possible that Epicurus' defense of the existence of the gods was influenced by a motivation for self-preservation. However, Epicurus' potrayal of the gods as positive ethical role models served an inspirational purpose.

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