Principal Doctrine 32

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For all living creatures incapable of making agreements not to harm one another, nothing is ever just or unjust; and so it is likewise for all tribes of men which have been unable or unwilling to make such agreements.


Having established the basis of his understanding of justice in Principal Doctrine 31, Epicurus proceeds to delimit what he means by the "justice of nature". Excluded from it are:

  • such animals as are unable to enter into similar agreements about neither harming, nor being harmed by each other.

[There is a logical, or rather biological weakness in this argument: highly social animals (e.g. ants) exhibit characteristically collaborative behavior; it would, however, be absurd to imagine them consciously "entering into agreement" about it.]

  • such nations (of humans) as are unable -- strikingly, Epicurus states "or unwilling" (!) -- to enter into such agreements.

In both these cases, pronounces Epicurus, it is meaningless to speak of "just" or "unjust".

[Specifically the possible unwillingness of some "nations" to enter into agreements of neither harming nor being harmed is logically, legally, and philosophically problematic: if they refused to agree, they must at least have been aware of consent as an available option, but instead consciously chose not to agree; that obviously makes the co-existence of such "nations" with other (similarly human, i.e. same-species) groups problematic; and, if one allows for an "opt-out clause" in this "justice of nature", exactly how natural, or how meaningful at all is this sort of justice?]

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