Principal Doctrine 39

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He who desires to live in tranquility with nothing to fear from other men ought to make friends. Those of whom he cannot make friends, he should at least avoid rendering enemies; and if that is not in his power, he should, as much as possible, avoid all dealings with them, and keep them aloof, insofar as it is in his interest to do so.


Editorial Note: The third word in this text is illogical, or rather contradictory to the sense of this Doctrine. Tharrein means "to not fear"; the noun tharros means "courage". Epicurus is obviously praising the hypothetical subject of the first sentence, saying that, "He who has best arranged, so that he has no fear..." It is therefore superfluous, worse yet a double negation, to include the third word, thereby rendering the meaning as "He who has best arranged, so that the does NOT have no fear..." Speculatively speaking, the negative me may have been a manuscript (or subsequently typographical) error, and another word may have been meant. Or, perhaps, the insertion of the doubly negative me is simply an absent-minded error of Laertius, and it should simply be omitted.

In this Doctrine, Epicurus outlines a three-tier guide to a happy life, which, in the general context of Epicurean doctrine on the needed gratification of natural and necessary desires, requires that one attain personal security from "those outside", so that one is not plagued by fear of one's environment. Thus the wise man, "who has arranged such things in the best way",

  • has made "what was possible" (i.e. all those things that were under his control) most congenial to him;
  • he has made "what was not possible" (i.e. what lay outside his control) at least "not foreign" to him, not exceedingly antithetical to his personal happiness; finally,
  • he has kept himself "unmixed", uninvolved in those things that could not be made even tolerably acceptable.

This paradigm plays out well, to mention only one example, in Epicurus' recommendations on the individual's engagement with society at large:

  • The wise man picks his friends carefully, and cherishes their friendship deeply; with those chosen few, one shares happily the pleasures of like-mindedness.
  • He keeps a reasonable distance from the "unenlightened many", retreating into his own Garden (literally or figuratively), basing his happiness on a firm conviction in his own beliefs, not on popular misconceptions, prejudices, and superstitions.
  • He abstains from politics, an arena whose values are diametrically opposite to his (power, public accolades, pandering to the crowds, vs living unnoticed).
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