Chapter4EpicurusCommentary.docx - Epicurus Commentary Section 1 Epicurus begins his exposition of hedonism with a particular cosmology—that is with a

Chapter4EpicurusCommentary.docx - Epicurus Commentary...

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Epicurus Commentary Section 1: Epicurus begins his exposition of hedonism with a particular cosmology—that is, with a comprehensive and rational account of the ultimate nature of the cosmos, or universe. The cosmology we speak of is called atomism, which comes from the ancient Greek word atomos, meaning “uncuttable” or “indivisible.” According to atomism, the universe (and everything in it) is composed of an infinite number of atoms combining and separating in the infinite void. Atoms are the most basic building blocks of reality. They are eternal—they are neither created nor can they ever be destroyed. Thus it makes no sense to ask “where did the atoms come from?” or “why does anything exist at all?” Atoms do not come from anywhere, since they have always existed and always will exist. Epicurus believes that atomism is the most common-sense approach to understanding reality. The fact that there are only material things, or bodies, is confirmed by the experience of all men. It impossible, he says, to even conceive of anything besides bodies and the empty space (void) through which those bodies move. Now it is true that many people believe in incorporeal (i.e., non-bodily) souls, not to mention angels and gods. But Epicurus finds this belief rather silly, since our senses do not allow us to perceive anything that is not a body. In fact, even when we try to imagine angels and gods, we invest them with a human shape or form, as if they were some kind of spiritual body, which is a contradiction in terms (because to be a real, existing being, it must have the power of acting and being acted upon, and only corporeal beings are capable of this). No, says Epicurus, the only real beings are material things. (From this observation he makes the logical deduction that if you divide bodies into halves you will at some point reach a body that is so simple that it can no longer be divided into anything smaller—this is the atom.) Everything else (immaterial gods, souls, angels, demons, spirits, etc.) is the product of our vivid imaginations. The sooner we realize this, the better off we will all be. There are two types of bodies: compounds, which are clusters of two or more atoms, and then the actual atoms out of which those compounds are formed. As we pointed out already, the atoms are indestructible. The constellations of atoms, or compounds, on the other hand, are not indestructible: at some point they will cease to exist as particular compounds. Let us use you as an example: You, as a human being, are a highly complex bundle of perhaps trillions of atoms arranged in a particular configuration. But you have not always been such as you are now. At some point you did not exist: the atoms that now make up your body existed somewhere else in nature (perhaps in the plants and animals your parents used for food around the time of your conception). Then you were born. You went through childhood and adolescence, and now you are in adulthood. Eventually you will grow old, whither, and die, at which point the atoms that
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