Marx’s Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy 
“ ...but on coming across the works of Democritus [Epicurus] turned to philosophy.” p. 10.
(Posidonius the Stoic and Nicolaus and Sotion in the twelfth book of the work entitled Dioclean Refutations allege) “... that he put forward as his own the doctrines of Democritus about atoms and of Aristippus about pleasure.” p. 11.
“I [Epicurus] know not how to conceive the good, apart from the pleasures of taste, [sexual pleasures,] the pleasures of sound and the pleasures of beautiful form.” p.12.
“Among the early philosophers ... his favourite was Anaxagoras, although he occasionally disagreed with him....” p. 16.
“It [Epicurean philosophy] is divided into three parts -- The Canon, Physics, Ethics” [p. 25.]
“Now in The Canon Epicurus affirms that our sensations and preconceptions (prolepseis) and our feelings are the standards of truth; the Epicureans generally make perceptions of mental presentations to be also standards.” pp. 25-26. “His own statements are also to be found ...in the Principal Doctrines.” p. 26.
I. “...the sensations are true. Every sensation ... is devoid of reason and incapable of memory; for neither is it self-caused nor, regarded as having an external cause, can it add anything thereto or take anything therefrom, neither judge nor deceive.”
“Nor is there anything which can refute sensations: one sensation cannot convict another and kindred sensation, for they are equally valid (aequipollentiam); nor can one sensation refute another which is not kindred, for the objects which the two judge are not the same; nor can one sensation refute another, since we pay equal heed to all; nor again can reason refute them, for reason is dependent on sensation.
“And the reality of ... perceptions guarantees the truth of our senses. But seeing and hearing are just as real as feeling pain. Between being true and being a reality, there is no difference.” p. 26.
“Hence it is from phenomena that we must seek to obtain information about the unknown. For all our notions are derived from perceptions, either by actual contact or by analogy, or resemblance, or composition, with some slight aid from reasoning.” p[p]. 26[-27].
“And the objects presented to madmen as well as presentations in dreams are true, for they ... produce movements, which that which does not exist never does.” p. 27.
II. “By preconception they [the Epicureans] mean a sort of apprehension or a right opinion or notion or universal idea stored in the mind; that is, a recollection of an external object often presented, e. g., such and such a thing is a man; for no sooner is the word man uttered than we think of his shape by an act of preconception in which the senses take the lead. Thus the object primarily denoted by every term is then evident. And we could not seek what we do seek, unless we knew it before. ...we could not name anything at all, if we did not previously know its form by way of preconception. It follows, then, that preconceptions are evident. Mere opinion also depends on a previous evident presentation, by reference to which we form a judgment [...]. Opinion they also call ... assumption. They say it is sometimes true, sometimes false by something being added to it or taken away from it, or by its being confirmed or contradicted as being evident or not. For if it is confirmed or not contradicted, it is true, and if it is not confirmed or is contradicted, it is false. Hence the introduction of ‘that which awaits’, for example, when one waits and then approaches the tower and establishes whether it looks from close quarters as it does from afar .” [p]p. [27-]28.
“They affirm that there are two feelings: pleasure and pain The first is favourable to nature, the second hostile; according to these is determined what we must strive after and what we must avoid."[p]p. [28-]29.
“There are two kinds of inquiry, the one concerned with things, the other with the mere word.” p. 29.
“First believe that God is a ... being indestructible and blessed according to the universal notion of God, and do not ascribe to him anything which is incompatible with his immortality, or that agrees not with his blessedness.” p. 82.
“For gods verily there are. For the notion of them is evident” (cf. “the universal notion of God”, consensus omnium, c[onsensus] gentium), [The consensus of all, the consensus of the peoples.] “but they are not such as the multitude believe, seeing that men do not steadfastly maintain the notions they form respecting them.
“Not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believe about them is truly impious.” For the utterances of the multitude about the gods are not true preconceptions, but false assumptions; hence the multitude believe that the greatest evils happen to the wicked and the greatest blessings happen to the good from the hand of the gods. For being entirely prejudiced in favour of their own virtues, they grant their favour to those who are like themselves and consider as alien whatever is not so.” p. 83
“Accustom thyself to believe that death is nothing to us, for all that is good or bad is based on sentience, and death is the loss of sentience.
“Therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes transient life worth living, not by adding indefinite time to life, but by putting an end to the yearning after immortality. For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly apprehended that ceasing to live has no terrors. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death not because it causes suffering when it comes, but because it causes suffering when it is yet to come. For that which causes no annoyance when it is present causes only imaginary suffering when it is expected. Death, which is indeed the most terrifying of all evils, is nothing to us since, as long as we are, death is not come, and as soon as death is come, we are no more. It is nothing then, either to the living or to the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no longer.” pp. 83-84.
“He who admonishes the young to live honourably and the old to die honourably, is foolish, not merely because of the desirableness of life, but also because the striving to live honourably and the striving to die honourably are one and the same thing.” p. 84.
“We must however remember that the future neither depends on us nor is altogether independent of us, so that we must not expect it as something which will certainly be nor give up hope of it as of something which will certainly not be.” p. 85.
“ ... some desires are natural, others are vain, and among the natural ones some are necessary, others natural only. And among the necessary ones some are necessary for happiness (as the desire to free the body of uneasiness), others for very life.” p. 85.
“An error-free consideration of these things can lead ... to health of body and ataraxy of soul, for these are the aim of a blessed life. For the end of all our actions is to be free from pain and not to live in confusion. And when once we have attained this, every tempest of the soul is laid, for man no longer needs to seek for something which he still lacks or for anything else through which the welfare of the soul and the body will be complete. For we need pleasure when the lack of pleasure causes us pain, but when we feel no pain, we no longer need pleasure.” p. 85.
“Wherefore we say that pleasure is the beginning and the end of the blessed life. We apprehend pleasure as the first and innate good and we proceed from it in all that we do or refrain from doing and to it we come back, inasmuch as this feeling serves us as the guide-line by which we judge of everything good.” [p]p. [85-]86.
“And since pleasure is our first and innate good for that reason we do not choose every pleasure ....
“All pleasure therefore, because it is suited to us by nature, is a good, yet not every pleasure is choiceworthy; just as all pain is an evil and yet not all pain is to be avoided under all circumstances. All these matters must rather be decided by weighing one against another and from the standpoint of advantage and disadvantage, for what is good proves at certain times to be an evil for us, and conversely what is evil proves to be a good.” p. 86.
“Again we regard independence of outward things as a great good, not so as to be satisfied in every case with little, but in order to be contented with little when abundance is lacking, being honestly convinced that those who least need luxury enjoy it most and that everything which is natural is easy to obtain, while that which is vain and worthless is hard to procure.” p. 86.
“[...] By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul...” p. 87.
“Of all this the beginning and the supreme good is reasonableness, and hence it is more precious even than philosophy, from which all other virtues spring, and they teach us that one cannot live pleasantly unless one lives reasonably, honourably [and justly], [and that one cannot live reasonably, honourably] and justly without living pleasantly. For the virtues are closely connected with pleasant living, and Pleasant living is inseparable from them.” p. 88.
“Who, then, in your opinion, is superior to him who thinks piously of the gods and is quite fearless of death, who has reflected on the purpose of nature and understands that the greatest good is easy to reach and to attain whereas the worst of evils lasts only a short time or causes short pains? Necessity, which has been introduced by some as the ruler over all things, is not the ruler, he maintains, over that some of which depends on chance and some on our arbitrary will. Necessity is not subject to persuasion; chance, on the other hand, is inconstant. But our will is free; it can entail blame and also the opposite.” p. 88.
“It would be better to accept the myth about the gods than to bow beneath the yoke of fate imposed by the Physicists, for the former holds out hope of obtaining mercy by honouring the gods, and the latter, inexorable necessity. But he [the wise man] must accept chance, not god as the multitude do ... and not an uncertain cause .... He considers it better to be unhappy but reasonable than to be happy but unreasonable. It is, of course, better when in actions a good decision attains a good issue also through the favour of circumstances.” [p]p. [88-]89.
“[...] you will never be disturbed, but will live as a god among men. For a man who lives in the rnidst of intransient blessings is not like a mortal being.” p. 89.
“Elsewhere he [Epicurus] rejects the whole of divination .... There is no divination, and even if there is, what happens does not rest with us .... “ [p. 89].
“He differs from the Cyrenaics in his teaching on pleasure. They do not recognise pleasure in a state of rest, but only pleasure in motion. But Epicurus admits both, the pleasure of the mind as well as the pleasure of the body ... for one can conceive Pleasure in a state of rest as well as in motion. But Epicurus says ... the following: ‘Ataraxy and freedom from pain are sensations of pleasure in a state of rest, joy and delight are seen to be effective only in motion.'” p. 90.
“He further differs from the Cyrenaics in this: they hold that bodily pains are worse than mental pains ... whereas he holds mental pains to be worse, since the flesh is tormented only by that which is present, the mind by that which is past as well as by that which is present and that which is corning. So also are the pleasures of the mind greater.” p.90.
“And as proof that pleasure is the end he adduces the fact that living beings, as soon as they are born, naturally and unaccountably to themselves find satisfaction in pleasure but reject pain. Instinctively, then, we shun pain .... “ [pp. 90-91.]
“And the virtues too are chosen on account of pleasure and not for themselves ... he says also that only virtue is inseparable from pleasure, all the rest is separable, for instance human things.” p.91.
“A blessed and immortal being has no trouble himself nor brings it on anybody else; hence he knows no anger or partiality, for the like exists only in the weak.”
“Elsewhere he says that the gods are discernible by reason alone, not, indeed, being numerically distinct, yet through resemblance (as a result of the continuous influx of similar images made precisely for this purpose) human in appearance.” pp. 91-92.
“The highest peak of pleasure is the exclusion of all pain. For wherever pleasure reigns, as long as it continues, there is no pain or grief, nor both together.” p. 92.
“It is impossible to live pleasantly without living reasonably, honourably and justly, and it is impossible to live reasonably, honourably and justly without living pleasantly.” p. 92.
“No pleasure is in itself an evil, but that which produces certain pleasures causes manifold disturbances of pleasure.” p. 93.
“If all pleasure were accumulated and with time had become compact, this concentrate would be just as [perfect] as principal parts of nature, and the sensations of pleasure would never differ one from another.” p. 93.
“It is impossible to banish fear over matters of the greatest importance if one does not know the essence of the universe but is apprehensive on account of what the myths tell us. Hence without the study of nature one cannot attain pure pleasure.” p[p]. 93[-94].
“If we were not alarmed by the meteors and by death, as to how it might in some way or other affect us, and if we were moreover able to comprehend the limits of pain and desire, we should need no study of nature.” p. 93.
“It is useless to provide security against men so long as we are alarmed by things up above and things under the earth and in general things in the boundless universe. For security against men exists only for a definite time.” p. 94.
“The same security which we attain by quiet and withdrawal from the multitude arises through the possibility of banishing [by moderation those desires which are not necessary] and through the very simple [and very easy] attainment of [the necessary things].” p. 94.
“The wealth of nature is limited and easily obtainable, but that which arises from vain fancies extends into infinity.” p. 94.
“Pleasure of the flesh does not increase any more once the pain of privation has been removed, it is then subject only to variation.” p. 94.
“The peak of thought (as far as joy is concerned) in fathoming precisely those questions (and those related to them) which most alarm the mind.” p. 94.
“Unlimited time contains the same pleasure as the limited if its limits are measured with the necessary discernment.” p. 95.
“Limits of pleasure are prescribed to the flesh, but the yearning for unlimited time has made them recede to infinity; but the mind, which has made clear to itself the aim and the limits of the flesh and has extinguished desires concerning eternity, has made a complete life possible for us and we no longer need infinite time. And it does not shun pleasure, even when circumstances cause a parting from life, accepting the end of the best life as a consummation.” p. 95.
“We must always have before our mind’s eye the set aim to which we refer all our judgments; if not, everything will be full of disorder and unrest.” p. 95.
“If you fight against all sensations, you will have nothing by which to be guided in judging those which you declare to be false.” p. 95.
“Unless on every occasion you refer all your actions to the end prescribed by nature, but swerve and (whether in shunning or in striving after something) turn to something else, your actions will not be in harmony with your words.” p. 96.
“Some desires are natural and necessary, others natural [but] not necessary, and others again neither natural nor necessary, but the offspring of vain fancy.” p. 96.
“The same knowledge which fills us with assurance that terrors are neither eternal nor of long duration enables us to see that in our limited lifetime the security of friendship is the most reliable.” p. 97.
The following passages represent Epicurus’ views on spiritual nature, the state. The contract (sunqhkh) he considers as the basis, and accordingly, only utility (sumjeron) as the end.
“Natural right is a mutual agreement, contracted for the purpose of utility, not to harm or allow to be harmed.” p.97.
“For all living beings which could not enter into mutual contracts not to harm each other or allow each other to be harmed, there is neither justice nor injustice. It is the same, too, with peoples who have been either unable or unwilling to enter into contracts not to harm each other or allow each other to be harmed.” p. 98.
“Justice is not something existing in itself; it exists in mutual relations, wherever and whenever an agreement is concluded not to harm each other or allow each other to be harmed.” p. 98.
“Injustice is not in itself an evil, but the evil lies in the fearful anxiety over its remaining concealed from the guardians of the law appointed to deal with it .... For whether he [the transgressor of the law] will remain undiscovered until death, is uncertain.” p. 98. “In general, the same justice is valid for all (for it is something useful in mutual intercourse); but the special conditions of the country and the totality of other possible grounds bring it about that the same justice is not valid for all.” p. 98.
“That which proves to be useful for the needs of mutual intercourse, that which is considered just, has the essence of right when the same is valid for everyone. If, however, somebody stipulates this, but it does not turn out to be to the advantage of mutual intercourse, then it no longer has the essence of justice.” p.99.
“And when the usefulness which is contained in right has ceased to exist but for a certain time continues to correspond to the conception of right, then it has nevertheless during that time remained right for those who do not let themselves be deluded by empty talk, but take many things into account.” p. 99.
“Where, without any new circumstances having arisen, that which is considered as right proves in practice not to correspond to the conception of right, then it is not right; but where, new circumstances having arisen, the same valid right is no longer useful, it was indeed formerly right, when it was useful for the mutual intercourse of citizens, but later when it was no longer useful, it was no longer right.” p. 99.
“He who knew how best to gain self-assurance from the external circumstances procured for himself that which was possible, as something not alien to himself, and considered that which was not possible as alien to himself.” p. 99
“In the first place ... we must understand what it is that words denote, so that we have something to which we can refer opinions or inquiries or doubts, and by which we can test them, and so that everything does not slip from us into infinity without our having a judgment on it and that we are not left with mere empty words. For it is necessary that the original meaning of every word should be perceived and need no proof. if we want to have something to which we can refer inquiries or doubts or opinions.” pp. 30-31.
It is significant that Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, makes the same remark on the relation of language to philosophising. Since the ancient philosophers, not excluding the Sceptics, all begin by presupposing consciousness, a firm foothold is necessary .This is provided by the concepts presented in knowledge in general. Epicurus, being the philosopher of the concept, is most exact in this and therefore defines these fundamental conditions in greater detail. He is also the most consistent and, like the Sceptics, he completes ancient philosophy, but from the other side.
“Further we must observe everything both on the basis of sensations and also simply of present impressions, whether of the mind or of any criterion whatever, and equally on the basis of actual feelings, so that we have something by which we can characterise what is to be expected and what is unknown. Once this is done, one must begin reflections on the unknown.” p. 31.
“[...] the common opinion of the physicists that nothing comes into being from not-being [...].” Aristotle, Physics, Book I, Chap. 4, Commentary of Coimbra [Jesuit] College, p[p]. 123[-125].
“[...] In one sense things come-to-be out of that which has no ‘being’ ... yet in another sense they come-to-be always out of ‘what is’. For coming-to-be necessarily implies the pre-existence of something which potentially ‘is’, but actually ‘is not'; and this something is spoken of both as ‘being’ and as ‘not-being’.” Aristotle, De generatione et corruptione, Book I, Chap. 3, Commentary of Coimbra College, p. 26.
[Diogenes Laertius, X, 39] “[...] the universe was always such as it is now, and such it will ever remain.” p. 31.
“[...] the universe consists of bodies and space.” [p. 32.]
“[...] of bodies some are composite, others the elements of which these composite bodies are made.” p. 32.
“These [elements] are indivisible and unchangeable ... if things are not all to be destroyed and pass into non-existence [...].” [p]p. [32-]33. “[...] the universe is infinite. For what is finite has an extremity [...].” p. 33, “[...] the universe is unlimited by reason of the multitude of bodies and the extent of the void.” p. 33. (“[...] the infinite body will obviously prevail over and annihilate the finite body ....” Aristotle, Physics, Book III. Chap. 5, Commentary of Coimbra College, p. 487.)
[Diogenes Laertius, X, 42] “[...] they [the atoms] ...vary indefinitely in their shapes.” p[p]. 33[-34].
“The atoms are in continual motion through all eternity.” p. 34.
“Of all this there is no beginning, since both atoms and void exist from all eternity.” p. 35.
“[...] atoms have no quality at all except shape, size and weight [...].” p. 35. “... “they are not of any and every size; at any rate no atom has ever been seen by our senses.” p. 35. “[...] there is an infinite number of worlds [...].” p. 35. “Again there are impressions which are of the same shape as the solid bodies but far thinner than what we can perceive.” p. 36. “These impressions we call images.” p. 36. “Besides this, ... the production of the images is as quick as thought. For the continual streaming off from the surface of the bodies is evidenced by no visible sign.” p. 37.
“And there are other modes in which these natural Phenomena may be formed. For there is nothing in them which contradicts the sensations if we in some way take into account what is evident in order to refer the impressions produced on us from outside.” p. 38.
“But it must also be assumed that when anything streams in from outside, we see and apprehend the shapes.” p. 38.
“Every presentation received either by the mind or through sensation, but not judged (non judicata), is true. The illusion and error, whether it is not confirmed or is even refuted, always lies in what is added by thought, following a motion in ourselves which, though connected with a certain effort of presentation, has its own perception, through which the error arises.” p. 39.
“For there would be no error if we did not experience also a certain other motion in ourselves which is connected [with the effort of presentation], but has its own perception.” p. 39. “It is through this [inner movement which is connected with] the effort of presentation, but has its own perception, that, if it is not confirmed or is refuted, illusion arises; but if it is confirmed or not refuted, truth results.” [p]p. [39-]40.
“Again, hearing takes place when a current passes from the object which emits sounds, etc.” p. 40.
“Also concerning smell we must assume (as I have said about hearing)” p.41.
“Every quality which is inherent in and proper to them (the atoms), meaning those named above (magnitudo, figura, pondus), [size, shape, weight] is unchangeable just as the atoms also do not change.” p.41.
“Again one should not suppose that there are atoms of every site, lest this be contradicted by phenomena; but some changes in size must be admitted. For if this is so, the processes in feelings and sensations will be more easily explained.” [p]p. [42-]43.
“Besides, one must not suppose that in a limited body there is an infinite number of atoms, and of every size [...].” p. 43.
“[...] one motion must be assumed which must be thought of as directed upwards to infinity, and one directed downwards [...].” p. 45.
See end of page 44 and beginning of page 45, where, strictly speaking, the atomistic principle is violated, and an internal necessity is attributed to the atoms themselves. Since they have a certain size, there must be something smaller than they are. Such are the parts of which they are composed. But these are necessarily to be considered together as a coinoths enuparcousa. [permanent community]. Thus ideality is transferred to the atoms themselves. The smallest thing in them is not the smallest imaginable, but is likened to it without anything definite being thought of. The necessity and ideality attributed to them is itself merely fictitious, accidental, external to them. The principle of Epicurean atomistics is not expressed until the ideal and necessary is made to have being only in an imaginary form external to itself, the form of the atom. Such is the extent of Epicurus’ consistency.
“When they are travelling through the void and meet with no resistance, the atoms must move with equal speed.” p. 46.
Just as we have seen that necessity, connection, differentiation, within itself, is transferred to or rather expressed in the atom, that ideality is present here only in this form external to itself, so it is with motion too, the question of which necessarily arises once the motion of the atoms is compared with the motion of the Cata tas sugcriseis [composite] bodies, that is, of the concrete. In comparison with this motion, the motion of the atoms is in principle absolute, that is, all empirical conditions in it are disregarded, it is ideal. In general, in expounding Epicurean philosophy and its immanent dialectics, one has to bear in mind that, while the principle is an imagined one, assuming the form of being in relation to the concrete world, the dialectics, the inner essence of these ontological determinations, as a form, in itself void, of the absolute, can show itself only in such a way that they, being immediate, enter into a necessary confrontation with the concrete world and reveal, in their specific relation to it, that they are only the imagined form of its ideality, external to itself, and not as presupposed, but rather only as ideality of the concrete. Thus its determinations are in themselves untrue and self-negating. The only conception of the world that is expressed is, that its basis is that which has no presuppositions, which is nothing. Epicurean philosophy is important because of the naiveness with which conclusions are expressed without the prejudice of our day.
“And not even when it is a question of composite bodies can one be said to be faster than the other, etc.” p. 46. “[...] it can only be said that they often rebound until the continuity of their movement becomes perceptible to the senses. For what we conjecture of the invisible, namely, that periods of time contemplated through speculation may also contain continuity of movement, is not true for things of this kind, since only all that which is really perceived or is comprehended from an impression by thinking is true.” p.47.
The question must be considered, why the principle of the reliability of the senses is disregarded and what abstracting conception is set up as a criterion of truth.
“[...] the soul is a corporeal thing, composed of fine particles, which is spread (diffusum) over the whole of the body (corpus) [...].” p. 47.
Interesting here again is the specific difference between fire and air, on the one hand, and the soul, on the other, showing that the soul is adequate to the body, analogy being used and nevertheless discarded, which is in general the method of imaginative consciousness; thus all concrete determinations collapse and a mere monotonous echo takes the place of development.
“Further we must keep in mind that the soul is the chief cause of sensation. It would not be, if it were not in a manner of speaking enveloped by the rest of the mass of the body. The remaining mass of the body, which makes it possible for the soul to be this cause, itself shares through the soul in this quality (yet not in all of what the soul possesses). That is why it has no longer any sentience when the soul has departed. For it did not have this ability in itself, but served as an intermediary for it to another being which emerged simultaneously with it and which, owing to the ability it had achieved to produce immediately a sensation corresponding to the specific stimulation, imparted sentience both to itself and to the remaining mass of the body by reason of neighbourhood (vicinia) and sympathy.” p. 48.
We have seen that the atoms, taken abstractly among themselves, are nothing but entities, imagined in general, and that only in confrontation with the concrete do they develop their ideality, which is imagined and therefore entangled in contradictions. They also show, by becoming one side of the relation, that is, when it comes to dealing with objects which carry in themselves the principle and its concrete world (the living, the animate, the organic), that the realm of imagination is thought of now as free, now as the manifestation of something ideal. This freedom of the imagination is therefore but an assumed, immediate, imagined one, which in its true form is the atomistic. Either of the determinations can therefore be taken for the other, each considered in itself is the same as the other, but in respect of each other too the same determinations must be ascribed to them, from whichever viewpoint they are considered; the solution is therefore the return to the simplest, first determination, where the realm of the imagination is assumed as free. As this return takes place in regard to a totality, to what is imagined, which really has the ideal in itself, and is the ideal itself in its being, so here the atom is posited as it really is, in the totality of its contradictions; at the same time, the basis of these contradictions emerges, the desire to apprehend the thing imagined as the free ideal thing as well, while only imagining it. The principle of absolute arbitrariness appears here, therefore, with all its consequences. In its lowest form, this is already essentially the case with the atom. As there are many atoms, each one contains in itself a difference in respect of the many, and hence it is in itself many. But that is already contained in the definition of the atom, so that the plurality in it is necessarily and immanently a oneness; it is so because it is. But it still remains to be explained, with .regard to the world, why it develops freely from a single principle into a plurality. Therefore what is to be proved is assumed, the atom itself is what is to be explained. Then the difference of the ideality could be introduced only by comparison; in themselves both sides come under the same definition, and ideality itself is again posited by the external combination of these many atoms, by their being the principles of these compositions. The principle of this composition is therefore that which initially was composite in itself without any cause, that is, what is explained is itself the explanation, and it is thrust into the nebulous space of imaginative abstraction. As already said, this emerges in its totality only when the organic is considered.
It must be noted that the fact that the soul, etc., perishes, that it owes its existence only to an accidental mixture, expresses in general the accidental nature of all these notions, e.g. , soul, etc., which, not being necessary in ordinary consciousness, are accounted for by Epicurus as accidental conditions, which are seen as something given, the necessity of which, the necessity of the existence of which, is not only not proved, but is even admitted to be not provable, only possible. What persists, on the other hand, is the free being of the imagination, which is firstly the free which itself exists in general, and secondly, as the thought of the freedom of what is imagined, a lie and a fiction, and hence in itself an inconsistency, an illusion, an imposture. It expresses rather the demand for a concrete definition of the soul, etc., as immanent thought. What is lasting and great in Epicurus is that he gives no preference to conditions over notions, and tries just as little to save them. For Epicurus the task of philosophy is to prove that the world and thought are thinkable and possible. His proof and the principle by which it proceeds and to which it is referred is again possibility existing for itself, whose natural expression is the atom and whose intellectual expression is chance and arbitrariness. Closer investigation is needed of how all determinations may be exchanged between soul and body and how either of them is the same as the other in the bad sense that neither one nor the other is at all conceptually defined. See end of page 48 and beginning of page 49: Epicurus stands higher than the Sceptics in that not only are conditions and presentations reduced to nothing, but their perception, the thinking of them and the reasoning about their existence, proceeding from something solid, is likewise only a possibility.
“It is impossible to conceive anything that is incorporeal as self-existent, except empty space. (The incorporeal is not thought by the imagination, it pictures it as the void and as empty.) And empty space can neither act nor be acted upon, but by virtue of its existence makes motion possible for the bodies.” p. 49. “Hence those who say the soul is incorporeal talk nonsense.” [p]p. [49-]50.
It is necessary to study the passage on page 50 and the beginning of page 51, where Epicurus speaks of the determinations of concrete bodies and seems to refute the atomistic principle by saying:
“... that the whole body in general receives its specific being out of all that; not as though it were a composite of it, as, for instance, when out of conglomerations of atoms themselves a larger formation is made up ... but only that, as stated, it receives its specific being out of all that. And all these things demand specific consideration and judgment, in which the whole must constantly be considered and not in any way be separated, but, apprehended as a whole, receives the designation of body.” pp. 50 and 51.
“Again, the bodies often encounter non-specific accidentals, some of which, of course, are invisible and incorporeal. Thus, by using this word in the manner in which it is most frequently used, we make it clear that the accidentals neither pos- sess the nature of the whole to which, as the composite whole, we give the name of body, nor that [of the] specific qualities without which a body is unthinkable.” p. 51.
“[...] we must regard them as that which they appear to be, namely, as accidental attributes of the body which, however, neither are in themselves concomitants of the body nor possess the function of an independent being; we see them such as sensation itself makes their individuality appear.” p. 52.
It is a matter of certainty for Epicurus that repulsion is posited with the law of the atom, the declination from the straight line. That this is not to be taken in the superficial sense, as though the atoms in their movement could meet only in this way, is expressed at any rate by Lucretius. Soon after saying in the above-quoted passage:
Without this clinamen atomi [declination of the atom] there would be neither “offensus natus, nec plaga creata” ["meeting nor collision possible"] [II, 223], he says:
“Again, if all movement is always interconnected, the new arising from the old in a determinate order -- if the atoms never swerve so as to originate some new movement that will snap the bonds of fate, the everlasting sequence of cause and effect -- what is the source of the free [will] ....” ([On the Nature of Things,] Book II, 251 ff.)
Here another motion by which the atoms can meet is posited, distinct from that caused by the clinamen. Further it is defined as absolutely deterministic, hence negation of self, so that every determination finds its being in its immediate being-otherwise, in the being-negated, which in respect of the atom is the straight line. Only from the clinamen does the individual motion emerge, the relation which has its determination as the determination of its self and no other.
Lucretius may or may not have derived this idea from Epicurus. That is immaterial. The conclusion from the consideration of repulsion, that the atom as the immediate form of the concept is objectified only in immediate absence of concept, this same is true also of the philosophical consciousness of which this principle is the essence.
This serves me at the same time as justification for giving a quite different account of the matter from that of Epicurus.