Principal Doctrine 30

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Those natural desires which create no pain when unfulfilled, though pursued with an intense effort, are also due to groundless opinion; and if they are not dispelled, it is not because of their own nature, but because of human vanity.


In this Doctrine, Epicurus offers a detailed critical treatment of those morally and intellectually troublesome desires belonging in the "2nd category", those that are on one hand natural (and therefore defensible to some extent on the basis of everyday human experience) yet on the other hand unnecessary (and thus better avoided by the philosophically enlightened).

The trouble with this category of desires, explains Epicurus, is that they exhibit several problematic qualities, that should alert us to caution:

  • First of all, they do not lead to pain if not satisfied, and are thus unnecessary (as per the distinction made in Principal Doctrine 29.)
  • Rather perniciously, these desires that are unnecessary to begin with are also difficult to satisfy; there is intense effort needed in order to fulfill them (especially compared to the easy manner in which the desires of the "1st category" are satisfied). With this subtle correlation of positives and negatives, Epicurus lays the groundwork for his characteristic "cost/benefit analysis".

Closing in to severely downgrade the value of these desires, Epicurus ascribes to them several damning defects:

  • They are products of "empty beliefs", and are thus not mandated by nature but by whatever meaningless opinions (unwise) people may hold.
  • They do not spread because of their own nature, i.e. they do not naturally attend human nature (as, e.g. thirst does).
  • Instead, they spread merely because of people's vanity.

This Doctrine is part of Epicurus' broader critique of society which, in his view, can propagate all sorts of falsehoods, and thereby have an injurious effect on the uncritical individual.

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