Lucretius - Outline of Key Passages

(Hyperlinks Coming Soon!)

Book I

o Humanity has long been oppressed under the grim weight of religion, but Epicurus was the first man with the force of mind to discover the truth of the way things really are, showing us the limits, boundaries, and benchmarks set by nature; in so doing he broke religion’s oppressive hold over the minds of men, raising us equal to the heavens. |^|

o Religion is the true mother of wickedness in the world. |^|

o Religion oppresses men by causing them to fear punishment by the gods after death. |^|

o The true nature of the soul is not obvious to us, so if we are to free ourselves from religious fears we must study nature and determine whether religion is correct when it alleges that we have eternal souls that are subject to the dictates of god here on earth and to eternal damnation after death. |^|

o The remedy to the terrors of the spirit manufactured by religion is to study and uncover the true nature of the universe, which will allow us to see that those threats are not real. |^|

o Our starting point in this study of nature is this primary observation: nothing ever comes from nothing — neither gods nor any other forces are observed to create anything from nothing. |^|

o Once we see that nothing comes from nothing, but that all things come into being in accord with their basic nature, we will see that all things occur without any intervention from the gods. |^|

o Our method for proving that nothing comes from nothing is to look at the evidence around us and draw the logical conclusion. In this case we see that nature functions in orderly way based on seeds. |^|

o As we reason deductively to determine what is true, we will also test our conclusions by showing that the opposite position is NOT supported by the evidence. |^|

o Thus Nature determines from its fixed seeds that which is possible. |^|

o We observe that Nature also contains life-giving particles which, under certain conditions, are capable of springing to life. |^|

o Our second primary observation is this: all things pass away and change back into the essential material from which they are made, but nothing is ever absolutely destroyed to nothing. |^|

o Another reason we know that nothing passes away to nothing is that otherwise in the eternity of time past all things would have passed away and nothing would be left in the universe. |^|

o We conclude that the basic material of the universe is therefore indestructible. |^|](

o Do not doubt that matter is indestructible simply because the atoms are too small to see – you cannot see the air or odors either and yet you know they exist. |^|](

o In addition, within the things we see there is not just particles of matter, but “void”. |^|](

o We know that void exists because otherwise movement would be impossible; but we see that things do move, so we know void exists. |^|](

o These observations are sufficient to allow us to track the truth like hunting dogs. |^|](

o We conclude that the nature of everything is dual – everything is made up of matter and void – nothing exists in the universe except matter and void. |^|](

o Unless we firmly ground our trust in our senses we can prove nothing by reasoning. |^|](

o We also conclude that the basic material of the universe is immortal, meaning that the universe is itself eternal. (This does not mean that the current form of the universe is eternal, because the material is constantly changing form, but the material from which the universe is made is itself eternal.)

o We also conclude that there is a limit to divisibility; those smallest particles are indivisible and eternal

o We must also observe that all things are not made from a single substance, but from many distinct elements. Fools often admire the things their blindness sees in hidden meanings, and an example is Heraclitus, who argued that all things are made from a single substance – fire.

o Errors about the nature of things arise from doubting the senses, but all arguments against the reliability of the senses are madness because they are self-contradictory – they amount to arguing against the senses by using the senses, and to use the senses is to accept that they are trustworthy.

o The basic elements of the universe combine in different ways form all things, in the same way that the same letters form different words when the letters are arranged differently.

o There is a limit to divisibility (part 2) – There is an absolute smallest

o As we proceed, remember that our goal is to free the mind from the restrictions imposed by religion. Although the lesson may seem grim, our goal here is to rim the cup with honey so that you can take what may seem like bitter medicine, and then be healed by it (part 1)

o The universe is infinite in extent, and has no boundaries no matter how far you travel in any direction.

o Matter and space are equally infinite.

o The universe has no center.

o These basic lessons lead to all the rest that follows. Applying our method to all questions will lead to successive answers, and each answer will in turn illuminate the next as we proceed.

Book II

o Wisdom brings great pleasure, including that of appreciating the dangers from which wisdom protects you

o Nature has established that our highest goal is that the mind enjoy delight, and that the body be free of pain.

o Nature has established that neither our bodies nor our minds require great wealth or power over others

o Wealth, power, and the like are no guarantee of happiness – only reason has power over the fear of death and other irrational fears

o Ultimately only applying reason to the study of Nature can cure our childish fears

o Our next lesson is that the basic material of the universe is in constant motion

o The atoms do not move to please us, nor do they move “perfectly” as if their motions were established by a god

o The movement of the atoms is in accord with their nature, but in addition to the movement caused by their interaction with each other, it is also in the nature of certain atoms to swerve unpredictably, and from this atomic swerve comes our free will

o There is a force resident within certain atoms that leads them to swerve

o The atoms have a finite number of shapes

o The atoms are finite in number of shapes, but the atoms are infinite in number

o There is an eternal deadlock between destruction and rebirth

o Let a man call upon the gods in jest if he like, but let him not be polluted by religion to think that the gods control the universe

o Atoms cannot combine in all possible ways, but only according to their nature.

o Atoms have no color.

o Sentient life is made of non-sentient particles.

o The key aspect of sentient life is the arrangement of the particles.

o But while the arrangement of the material makes the key difference, consciousness does not derive from RANDOM combinations of matter

o Men can laugh without being made of laughing particles; men can be wise without being made of wise particles.

o Sentient things are made of particles which do not themselves have sensation.

o The universe is wonderful but do not be shocked by it; in all things welcome the truth; strike down the false.

o Ours is not the only world; there are many others in the universe, and other races of men, as there has been infinite time and space for all natural combinations of things.

o And there is never in nature only one single thing of a kind.

o Nature has no tyrants (gods) over her.

Book III

o Epicurus discovered and has shown to us immortal truths, which we should apply to our own lives as he did to his.

o Most importantly, the fear of hell must be shown to be groundless, as it pollutes life and makes happiness impossible.

o The fear of hell is dispelled by the study of nature.

o Mind is a part of man’s makeup just like hands, feet, and eyes.

o Mind and spirit are, like everything else, material in nature.

o Mind is made up of diminutive particles.

o Mind is made up of small particles but also of a fourth, unnamed element.

o This fourth element is lord of all, and rules body and mind.

o Reason can dispel our primitive elements and allow us to live lives worthy of the gods.

o This fourth element of spirit is inseparable from the body.

o Mind is more powerful than spirit.

o Mind and body are born and age together.

o Mind can be diseased just as the body can.

o The truth meets falsehood head-on and cuts off its retreat as well, so it is doubly victor.

o Mind perishes with the body.

o Even if spirit possesses an immortal quality, it keeps no memory of a prior life, so we are essentially new creations.

o The spirit, once infused throughout the body, dies with it.

o Spirits do not make bodies for themselves and crawl into them

o If spirit were immortal and kept its identify we would see beasts perform like scholars.

o It is comical to think that spirits might stand in lines holding tickets to enter the bodies of living things.

o Trees cannot root in the sky; there is an everlasting fixed assignment set for being and growth.

o It is nonsense to think that mortal and immortal can unite in an immortal pact.

o Death is nothing to us, and has no more relevance to us than did the time before we were born

o Just as we have no concern about the eternity of time before our birth, we should have no concern about the eternity of time after our death.

o Even if the mind or spirit has sensation after death, that is nothing to us, as our essence derives from our union with out body, and any such existence has no meaning to us.

o If tough luck lies ahead for any man, he must be there to experience it, but since death removes our consciousness we have no need to fear it.

o Death is no worse than eternal sleep.

o Take leave of life as if you are leaving a banquet.

o Think of the eternity of time before our birth as a mirror of the eternity of time after death and you will realize that this is not grim, and is a rest more free from care than any sleep.

o The terrors that supposedly exist in Hell really exist here – in the minds of fools.

o Remember that the greatest men in the history of the world have also died, just as you will.

o Half their time men spend in sleep; the other half wandering around aimslessly, sleeping with their eyes wide open

o Men seem to feel a burden on their souls, and they waste their lives away, not realizing that the issue for them to understand is not how they spend an hour, but how they will spend eternity.

o All men must die, and none can escape; you must reconcile yourself to this law of nature.

Book IV

o Epicurus’ teachings bring release from religious fear, and though the limitations of life may seem bitter, it is the best medicine for the soul to realize the natural limits of life.

o We now turn to discussing “images” (visions), to show that they do not result from seeing ghosts of those who are dead.

o Illusions do not show that eyesight is fallible; it is the task of reason to process the information they provide.

o There are many examples of visual illusions, but we fool ourselves; misjudgments are not the fault of the senses but of our processing the information the senses provide

o The man who argues that nothing can be known confesses that he himself is ignorant.

o The ultimate validity of the senses cannot be refuted, because any attempted refutation depends for its proof on the senses.

o If you cannot explain a seeming contradiction, it is better to accept an incorrect theory than to give up those conclusions that you have already had sufficient facts to verify to be true.

o Do not reason based on erroneous observations of the facts of reality, or else your conclusions will be erroneous also.

o Reason is dormant while we sleep, so things seen in dreams cannot be trusted.

o Eyes were not made to see; nor ankle-bones for walking.

o Nature did not make eyes for seeing; what is born creates the use.

o Sleep annuls sensation.

o Avoid the danger inherent in allowing passionate love to overcome your common sense

o Delight comes in a purer form to those who are reasonable in the way they indulge their senses

o It is easier to avoid the snares of love than to escape once you are entangled.

o Romantic love is strongest when based not on passion but on habit, growing stronger over time, like rain wearing away stone

Book V

o Epicurus appears to us now as god-like, given the immortal wisdom he left to us.

o If the reason is unpurified, we wage an internal war against ourselves.

o All the world is mortal too, and just as it once came together into its present form, it will one day pass away.

o Wonderment at the stars in heaven breeds confusion, as fools think that the stars are moved by the gods, and this leads them to invoke a bitter lordship of religion over themselves.

o Everything that has a body does not have a mind – the element of mind and spirit exists only in connection with living animals.

o The gods did not change their immortal ways to create the world for men.

o The gods did not live in darkness and grief before they created the world.

o It would be of no harm to us if we had never been born.

o Nature had to provide the model for creation – how could the gods themselves have created the universe without a model?

o Too much is wrong with the world for it to have been created by an all-powerful god.

o Our world is very young, or else we would have a much longer knowledge of human history.

o Our world was formed by the natural actions of the basic material of the universe.

o Speculations as to the stars are necessarily only theories, since we lack ability to verify the true facts by direct closeup evaluation.

o The size of the sun is an example of the limits of our ability to determine the truth of things in heaven – certain facts observable here on earth (primarily that all things except light appear to grow less distinct when further away) lead us to conclude that the sun is not significantly larger than it appears to us in the sky.

o Another point we lack the ability to verify is whether the Moon shines with its own light, or reflects light from sun.

o Centaurs and such things as half-men, half-animals never existed, and never can exist, because seeds combine only according to their nature.

o Language developed naturally over time as men learned to communicate with each other.

o Men fell under religion because they had visions of gods in dreams and saw things in the world and sky that they did not understand, so they assumed the gods must be responsible.

o Populations die if they disarm.

o Men developed music by imitating the birds

o We toil in vain because we fail to remember the limits of possessiveness and the brevity of our time to enjoy pleasure.

Book VI

o Civilization first flowered in Athens, and Athens brought to us a man – Epicurus – who discovered and brought to us the complete truth, and as a result his glory makes him seem to us almost divine

o Epicurus diagnosed the problem that corrupts men’s lives, and cleansed our hearts by words of truth, showing us (1) the error of greeds and fears, (2) the highest good that Nature has ordained for men, (3) the natural evils that confront the lives of men, and that they can be defeated once we learn the proper way to deal with them, and (4) that most of the anxieties we face are imaginary, no worse than the imaginings of children.

o Even those who otherwise understand the laws of Nature may wonder how certain things can happen, especially in the sky, and this wonder leads to confusion and to regress to superstitious religious awe

o Stop having thoughts unworthy of the gods, because this will harm you – not because the gods will care, but because you will fear that you are at the mercy of the gods and this will cause you great anxiety.

o We see that lightning is not caused by the gods because it does not occur with any consistency to punish the enemies of the gods or to accomplish anything.

o Snow, wind, hail and the light are understandable if you keep in mind the basic properties of the elements involved.

o Many natural phenomena cannot be isolated to a single cause due to lack of information, so consider all reasonable possibilities that are not eliminated by the evidence.

o Disease is caused by noxious particles; the plague of Athens.