Epicurus Assignments

4/25. Theology. Readings: Piece on Epicurean theology I posted on Desire2Learn, plus: Epicurus Letter to Meneoceus 123-4, Principal Doctrine 1 Lucretius DRN II 600-660, III 1-30, V 146-55 (LS 23L), VI 68-79; Cicero On the nature of the Gods I 43-56 (Epicurus Reader 16), 69-76 (Epicurus Reader 17); Philodemus On Piety 105 (Epicurs Reader 56).

paper (Stahnke, Smith, possibly Roberts). Write something about the gods. Topics include


4/23. Continue discussing the canon, also language, re-read 4/18 reading, plus: Epicurus Letter to Herodotus 75-6, Lucretius DRN V 1028-1090), Epicurus Reader texts 73-5 (from Sextus) and readings on the Stoics on 'things said' (lekta) on Desire2Learn. Paper (Sims, Herman, possible Roberts), stuff from last Thursday or the new material e.g., 4/18. The canon. Readings: My chapter on the canon (posted to Desire2Learn, plus Epicurus Letter of Herodotus 37-8, 49-51, 76-80 Letter to Pythocles 85-8, 92-115 (IG I- 3 85-8, 92-155; Principal Doctrines 23, 24 Epicurus On Nature XXV 26- 30 (Epicurus Reader text 34); Diogenes Laertius X 30-34 (Epicurus Reader text 7; Lucretius DRN IV 379-499, V 509-33, V 592-770, VI 703-11; Sextus Empiricus Against The Learned VII 203-16 (Epicurus Reader text 68), XIII 63-4 (Epicurus Reader text 70); look back over Plutarch Against Colotes 1120d-e, 1121c-e (text 29). Optional bonus reading, Gisela Striker on the truth on sense impressions for Epicurus.

papers (Odom, Henchey)

  1. Epicurus claims that 'all sensations are alethes (true or real). Discuss what he may mean by this claim and why he'd believe it's correct. Then give your thoughts regarding it.
  2. Explain and evaluate something else from the readings (e.g., the claim that the senses cannot refute each other, the role of proonceptions in Epicurean epistemology, the doctrine of multiple explanations, etc.)
4/16. Anti-skeptical arguments (and skeptical replies!). Readings: Lucretius, DRN IV 469-521 (also in Epicurus Reader text 27), plus selections from Sextus Empiricus Outlines of Pyrrhonism posted to Desire2Learn.

Papers (Hood Fox)

  1. Explain and evaluate one of the Epicurean anti-skeptical arguments discussed by Lucretius--e.g., that skepticism is self-refuting, that in even stating his position the skeptic refutes himself, that skepticism is unlivable--and/or the Pyrrhonian responses to these sorts of self-refutation or unlivability objections.
  2. Sextus claims that the end/goal of skepticism is tranquility (just like for Epicureanism!), but that you attain it by suspending judgment on all questions rather than by discovering the truth. Evaluate some part of this: is it plausible? is it consistent? How would the Epicureans respond, and is this response cogent?
4/11. Friendship. Readings: Principal doctrines 27, 40 vatican Sayings 34, 39, 52, 56-7, 66, 78 Diogenes Laertius X 120-21 (Epicurus Reader 8) Cicero On Ends book I 65-70 (also Epicurus Reader text 26), and book II 78-85; Seneca Letters 9.8 (Epicurus Reader text 54). Also Matt Evans, "Can Epicureans Be Friends?" Papers (Dennis, Daigle)

  1. Explain and evaluate one of the three Epicurean theories of friendship presented by Torquatus.
  2. Do any of the three theories give a reason for "loving your friend as much as yourself" that is both plausible and consistent with Epicureanism? (Alternative: evaluate one of Evans' arguments for why it is consistent, and why Epicurean friendship qualifies as genuine friendship. Or examine his interpretation of Epicurus.)
  3. Explain and evaluate one of Cicero's criticisms of Epicurus on friendship.


4/9. Justice. Readings: Principal Doctrines 6-7, 14, 31-40 Vatican Sayings 51, 58 Diogenes Laertius X 117-20 (Epicurus Reader 8); On the nature of Things V 925-1135; Cicero On Ends book I 50-53; Porphyry On Abstinence from eating Animal Flesh I.44.2-I.55.4, I.7.1-12.7 (available on Desire2Learn) Stob. Anthology 4.143 (Epicurus Reader 154). Also, John J. Thrasher, "Reconciling Justice and Pleasure in Epicurean Contractarianism"

Papers: Stahnke, Smith

  1. What is justice, according to the Epicureans, and why does it arise? Do you think this account is plausible? Why, or why not?
  2. What reason does the wise person have to be just? What about the foolish person? Are the reasons the Epicureans give for the wise person to be just compelling?
  3. Why is there no justice with regard to non-human animals? Explain and evaluate the Epicurean arguments in favor of this thesis.
  4. Nussbaum expresses some objections to the Epicurean conception of philosophy as therapy. Explain and evaluate one of her objections.
  5. Cicero objects to the role of the virtues in Epicurean ethics--explain and evaluate one of his criticisms.
  6. Something from the Thrasher article: why does he think Epicurean contractarian is plausible? How does he think the Epicurean can reconcile their teleological rationality with eh non-teleological demands of justice? Why is a contract necessary?
  7. Explain and evaluate something else from the readings.
4/2 and 4/4. Death. Readings: Epicurus Ep. Men. 124-5 (Epicurus Reader 4 ); Principal Doctrines 19-21 (Epicurus Reader 5 19-21; Vatican Saying 14 (Epicurus Reader 6); DRN III 630-1094 ); Plut. A Pleasant Life 1101a-b (Epicurus Reader 40); Thomas Nagel, "Death." Papers:
For 3/26 and 3/28. Readings: Epicurus Ep. Men. 122, 132 (text 4 4 122, 132); Principal Doctrines 5, 10-13 (text 5); Vatican Sayings 27, 54 (text 6); Diogenes Laertius X 120 (text 8 8), DRN I 62-79, III 1-30; Cicero On Ends book I 34-6, 42-9; and book II 39-50. Stob. Anthology 3.17.33 (text 59); Ath. Deipnosophists 12, 547a (text 151); Porph. To Marcella 31 (text 124). Also, the Nussbaum article on therapeutic arguments in Aristotle and Epicurus.

Paper topics (T Odom Henchey Th Roberts Fox)

  1. Set out in your own words and briefly evaluate one the arguments the Epicurean spokesman Torqautus gives. This can be any of them, excluding the material already covered, but here are some of the topics that are especially central:
  2. Nussbaum expresses some objections to the Epicurean conception of philosophy as therapy. Explain and evaluate one of her objections.
  3. Cicero objects to the role of the virtues in Epicurean ethics--explain and evaluate one of his criticisms.
For 3/14. Additional readings from book I and book II of De finibus (On Ends). Book one: sections 32-42, 55-57, book II, sections 4-21, 31-34. (Note that the sections are indicated by the small red numbers. Some of this overlaps the earlier readings from the Epicurus Reader, but that's OK.) Extra possible reading response paper topics: explain and evaluate one of Cicero's criticisms of the Epicurean views on pleasure.


For 3/12 and 3/14. Varieties of pleasure, varieties of desire. Reading Epicurus Letter to Meneoceus 127-8, 130-31, Principles Doctrines (Epicurus Reader text 5) numbers 3, 9, 18, 19, 29, 30 (Epicurus Reader I- 5 3, 9, 18, 19, 29, 30; Vatican Sayings (text 6) numbers 33, 59, 69, 71, Diogenes Laertius X 22 (text 41) X 136-7 (text 9); DRN II 963-6, III 28-30, IV 858-76; Cicero On Ends I 37-9 (text 22), 55-7 (text 23).

Papers (T Hood Smith, Th Hunt Daigle)

  1. Why does Epicurus think that mental pleasures are greater than bodily pleasures? Give and evaluate one of his arguments.
  2. Why does Epicurus advocate the simple life? Give and evaluate one of his arguments.
  3. Explain Epicurus' three-fold division of desires. Do you find this division convincing? Why, or why not?
  4. Explain and evaluate something else from the readings.


For 3/5 and 3/7. Pleasure, the highest good. Readings to 3/5: Epicurus Letter to Menoeceus 129-30 (Epicurus reader text 4 129-30) Cicero On Ends book I 29-33 (Epicurus Reader text 21). The Thursday, read David Sedley "The Inferential Foundations of Epicurean Ethics" (1998), posted to Desire2Learn.

Papers: pretty wide open. Briefly explain and one of the Epicurean arguments in the readings for why pleasure is the highest good, or discuss something in the readings about the EPicurean coneption of how one ought to proceed while discussing ethics, or talk about something in Sedley's article (for Thursday): either (i) the correctness of what Sedley says qua interpretation of Epicurus, (ii) the plausibility as such of one of the positions or arguments attributed to the Epicureans cy Sedley, or (iii) the connection between Epicurean ethics and the rest of their philosophy discussed by Sedley.


For 2/26 and 2/28. Continue on the topics of determinism and freedom. I have posted (on Desire2Learn) a slightly longer selection from Cicero's De fato than the one contained in the Epicurus Reader. Please read that plus theLucretius from last week. New readings: Richard Sorabji's article on tomorrow's sea battle (on Desire2Learn), and, as Sorabji talks a lot about Aristotle, look at the passage in which Aristotle talks about tomorrow's sea battle: on-line vtext for Aristotle's De Int. 9. Helpful hint: Aristotle's position on truth-values, the Principle of Bivalence, and deliberation is basically the same as Epicurus' as outlined in De Fato (minus the swerve), and Sorabji's position in response to Aristotle is very similar to Carneades' response to Epicurus.

Papers (Tuesday Stahnke and Fox, Thursday Zreba and Daigle).

Explain and evaluate the Epicurean argument in the readings (new ones for this week or the old ones) for one of the following:

  1. If the present motions of everything were determined without exception from the past motions of atoms (their weight and collisoons alone), then we would be subject a fate in an unacceptable way.
  2. Having the atoms occasionally swerves helps us to escape this fate.
  3. If all statements about what would happen in the future were either true in advance or false in advance, then deliberation and action would be in vain.
  4. To escape this consequence, we should posit that not all statements are either true or false.
Or, if you wish:
  1. Explain why Carneades thinks that PB has no fatalist consequences. Do you agree with him?
  2. Explain why Carneades thinks that not even Apollo can have knowledge of everything that will happen in the future. Do you agree with him?
  3. Explain why Chrysippus thinks that the 'Idle Argument' fails, and why not even causal determinism has fatalistic consequences. Do you agree?
  4. Explain in what sense Sorabji thinks my actions can have an effect on the past, and why he thinks this. Do you agree with his position and arguments?


For 2/19 and 2/21. Action and responsibility. Readings: Epicurus Ep. Men. 133-4 (Epicurus reader text 4 133-4) On Nature Book 25 sections 19-30 (Epicurus Reader text 34; LS 20B, 20C); DRN II 251-93 (Epicurus Reader I- 28; LS 20F), IV 877-906 (LS 14E); Cicero On Fate 18-48 (Epicurus Reader text 15; LS 20E, 70G, 55S, 20H, 34C, 62C). Look back over Plut. Against Colotes 1110e-1111b (Epicurus Reader text 29). Finally, I suggest (to help make sense of these various readings) that you look over my "Action and Responsibility," also posted to uLearn.

Papers (Tuesday Iyasu and Smith, Thursday Sims and Henchey). We'll be more likely to discuss the earlier questions (which deal with On Nature 25) on Tuesday, and the later questions (from DRN and On Fate) Thursday.

Explain and evaluate the argument in the readings for one of the following:

  1. Democritus is self-refuting in not including himself in his own ontology.
  2. We have responsibility for our development because it is "up to us" which of our various congenital dispositions develop. (Alternate interpretive question: is the discussion of development in On Nature 25 consistent with an identity theory of mind? Does this passage show Epicurus abandoning that theory?)
  3. To argue that we are not responsible for our own actions is self-refuting.
  4. Our practices of arguing with one another and persuading one another to change our minds about what to do gives us our basic grasp on what it is for things to be "up to us."
  5. If the present motions of everything were determined without exception from the past motions of atoms (their weight and collisoons alone), then we would be subject a fate in an unacceptable way.
  6. Having the atoms occasionally swerves helps us to escape this fate.
  7. If all statements about what would happen in the future were either true in advance or false in advance, then deliberation and action would be in vain.
  8. To escape this consequence, we should posit that not all statements are either true or false.


For 2/12 and 2/14. The mind. Readings: Epicurus Ep. Hdt. 63-7 (Epicurus Reader text 2 sections 63-7; LS 14A); DRN III 94-869.

Papers (Tuesday Daigle and Roberts, Thursday Stanke and Herman).

Explain and evaluate the argument in the readings for one of the following:

  1. Why the mind is a part of the person and not a harmony.
  2. Why the mind (aka the soul) is corporeal/bodily. (Alternatively: why it cannot be something incorporeal.)
  3. Why it is the whole animal that perceives and not just the mind.
  4. Why the soul cannot survive the death of the body.
  5. Why death is annihilation (lot of different arguments; pick one).
  6. Why the way in which the mind grows and changes along with the body shows that it is mortal
  7. Why there is no pre-birth existence
  8. Why I wouldn't survive my death even if my mind and spirit did

For 2/7. Biology. Readings: DRN IV 823-57, V 772-924, Simplicius Commentary on Aristotle's Physics 198b29 (Epicurus Reader text 111).

Paper (Smith). Explain and evaluate some part of the Epicurean account/argument in the readings for the day: why do they think we should reject the view that the limbs and organs were created for teh sake of fulfilling the purpose they fulfill, and how to they account for he (apprent) purposful organization of animal parts?


For 2/5. No new readings. Continue cosmology assignments from last week. papers: Herman and Odom, choose from the questions below we haven't yet covered.
For 1/29 and 1/31. Cosmology. Readings: Epicurus Ep. Hdt. 41-5 73-4, 76-7 (Epicurus Reader text 2 sections, LS 10A, 12B, 11A, 13A); Ep. Pyth. 88-91 (Epicurus reader text 3; LS 13B); Pincipal Doctrines (aka KD) 1 (Epicurus Reader text 5 #1; LS 23E4); DRN I 1-101, 951-1051 (LS 10B), II 184-215, 1048-104 (LS 13D), V 91-613 (LS 13F, 18D), VI 160-422; Simplicius Commentary on Aristotle's Physics 203b15 (Epicurus reader text 90), Lactantius On the Anger of God 13.20-22 (Epicurus reader text 109).

Papers (choose one of the questions below, earlier ones will be covered first and are probably more suitable for Tuesday's class, later ones more likely to be covered Thursday). Tuesday: Hood, Fox, Thursday Hunt, Henchey).

  1. Explain and evaluate the Epicurean arguments for the universe being unlimited spatially. (Alternative: evaluate their argumetn for its being unlimited temporally.)
  2. Explain and evaluate Lucretius' argument that the cosmos (aka "the world") will perish.
  3. Explain and evaluate Lucretius' argument that there is life (including intelligent life) on other planets.
  4. Explain and evaluate one of the Epicurean arguments that celestial and meteorological phenomena occur for no purpose.
  5. Explain and evaluate Lucretius' argument that the earth and the heavenly bodies are not divine.
  6. Explain and evaluate one or more of the Epicurean arguments that the world was not created by the gods for our benefit.
  7. Explain and evaluate Lucretius' argument that thunderbolts are not the weapons of Jupiter.

For 1/24. Sensible Qualities. Epicurus Ep. Hdt. 68-71 (Epicurus Reader text 2 68- 71; LS 7B); Plut. Adv. Col. 1109a-1112e (Epicurus Reader text 29 up to 1112e; LS 16I), and Polystratus On Irrational Contempt 23.26-26.23 (LS 7D, or follow this link.). Also read my article "The Ontological Status of Sensible Qualities for Democritus and Epicurus."

Papers (Dennis, Gilleon)

  1. How does Democritus get into skeptical difficulties on account of his views on sensible qualities like heat, sweetness, etc.? Do you agree that his views on sensible qualities should present him with skeptical difficulties? (Optional extra: how (if at all) do you think these difficulties, if there are some, should be overcome, if at all?)
  2. Plutarch argues that Epicurus runs into exactly the same skeptical difficulties as does Democritus. Explain and evaluate his arguments.
  3. Explain and evaluate Epicurus' position on sensible qualities, and how he thinks he can accept Democritus' theory of perception while avoding Democritus' skeptical problems.
  4. Something else from the readings.

For 1/22. Atomic motion. Epicurus Ep. Hdt. 43-4, 60-62 (Epicurus Reader text 2 43-4, 60-62; LS 11A, 10C, 11E); DRN II 184-250 (Epicurus Reader 28; LS 11H); Aetius I.3.18ff . (Epicurus Reader 77, also in Desire2Learn).

papers (Sims and Daigle); write on one.

  1. Leaving aside what he says about human freedom, why does Lucretius think atoms must sometimes swerve to the side? What do you think of his arguments and the doctrine of the swerve, and why?
  2. Give and evaluate one of the arguments for the existence of spatial minima (from readings for last Thursday).
  3. Why does Epicurus think that bodies and void are the only things that exist per se, although (in a sense) things like colors, time, extension and slavery also exist? What is the relationship between 'things' like color, time etc., and bodies and void, according to Epicurus? Explain and his position.
  4. Something else from the readings thus far.

For 1/17. Atoms and Void. Read Letter to Herodotus sections 38-41, 54-9, and 68-73. (The Letter to Herodotus is text 2 in the Epicurus Reader [read the right sections] and in Long and Sedley texts 4A, 5A, 7B, 8A, 9A, and 12D). Also read On the nature of things Book I lines 146-634 and Book II lines 730-1022. Finally, read Sextus Empiricus Against the Mathemeticians X 219-27 (Epicurus Reader text 89, L&S 7C). Optional additional reading: David Sedley's article "Two Conceptions of vacuum."
For 1/15. No reading necessary, but feel free to look over the following texts: Diogenes Laertius, Book 10:1-16 (text 1 in the Epicurus Reader), Lucretius On the nature of things Book I lines 1-148 (henceforward referred to in the following style: DRN I 1-148)
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