Principal Doctrine 35

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It is not possible for one who secretly violates the provisos of the agreement not to inflict nor allow harm to be confident that he won't get caught, even if he has gotten away with it a thousand times before. For up until the time of death, there is no certainty that he will indeed escape detection.


This Doctrine elaborates on, and deepens the psychological reasoning against unjust conduct presented in Principal Doctrine 34. The scenario Epicurus unfolds plays out intuitively:

Even if a perpetrator of some unjust act has so far managed to escape detection, apprehension, and punishment (which, of course, is quite possible and a frequent occurrence), Epicurus argues that it is quite impossible for him to actually escape his own fears about getting caught. Thus this hypothetical criminal, who has secretly violated the "social contract" of neither harming nor being harmed, cannot rest assured that his actions will remain secret forever. This is so, even if he has escaped notice "a myriad times" so far. In fact, Epicurus closes the argument, the crime(s) committed follow the perpetrator until his death, who will have lived out his life in constant anxiety; it is simply unknown whether he will escape punishment until his dying day.

Considering the very high, indeed cardinal value Epicurus attached to ridding oneself of fear for the benefit of attaining personal happiness, the moral of the story is clearly "crime does not pay".

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