Principal Doctrine 29

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Among desires some are natural and necessary, some natural but not necessary, and others neither natural nor necessary, but due to baseless opinion.


Having differentiated between necessary and unnecessary desires in Principal Doctrine 26, Epicurus proceeds to apply this distinction to the broad group of desires he calls "natural", subdividing them into two categories. There are thus:

1st category: some desires that are both natural and necessary, and

2nd category: some that are natural, but unnecessary.

After the above two sub-classes of natural desires have been subtracted from the sum total of all desires ever possible, the only logical remainder are

3rd category: those desires that are neither natural nor necessary; this last group of desires, claims Epicurus, are engendered by "empty belief".

Obviously, there is no "4th category" of necessary but unnatural desires, as that notion would be both illogical and impossible. It might have made better linear sense if Epicurus had first excised all "unnatural" desires summarily, i.e. before even embarking on the sub-classification of the natural ones into necessary and unnecessary. Accordingly, the "3rd category" desires would have been deemed just as useless (if not outright harmful) anyhow, simply on the grounds that they are unnatural, contrary to nature; the fact that they are "neither natural NOR necessary" is redundant, and does not add any weight to the argument. Of course, regardless of the order in which the sum of all desires is "sifted", this syllogism yields exactly the same result. Perhaps Epicurus wished to present this as a rhetorical scheme, built on multi-layered antitheses.

By way of example, (indicated by scholiast commentary) Epicurus considered natural and necessary desires those that relieve a natural "pain", as drink relieves thirst. The critical manner in which the natural but unnecessary desires belonging in the "2nd category" are differentiated from those of the "1st category" is outlined in Principal Doctrine 30.

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