Principal Doctrine 22

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We must consider the ultimate goal to be real, and reconcile our opinions with sensory experience; otherwise, life will be full of confusion and disturbance.


This Doctrine begins Epicurus' extensive presentation of his epistemological beliefs.

First of all, suggests Epicurus, one must consider the "underlying goal". Unfortunately, this opening phrase does not continue into a more detailed discussion of causality, as is expected. It is tempting to imagine what exactly Epicurus might have meant; perhaps this relates to the extensive passages in De Rerum Natura, where Lucretius debunks causality, as it is understood by popularly held beliefs, e.g. that edible products of nature were made by design for humans to eat. Epicurus leaves this particular thread hanging.

One must also consider, he continues, the enargeia, literally the state-of-being-open-eyed (i.e. our sharp, trusty senses), from which we derive, and to which he relate all that we believe. This is indeed the cornerstone of Epicurean epistemology, namely that all our beliefs do, and should flow from our sensory perceptions.

If we fail to do that, he concludes in one of his usual rhetorical antitheses, everything in our lives will be negatively affected by our inability to judge, and thus will be full of disturbance; having mistrusted our senses, we will not be able to pass judgment on anything, and will therefore be in a state of anxious confusion about what is and is not true. This point exactly is made in the following Principal Doctrine 23.

  • The combination of ei de me (literally: if but not) is a standard colloquialism in both ancient and modern Greek; the most natural rendition in English would be "or else", "otherwise", conjoining the preceding and following clauses with an "if not A, then B" conjunction.
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