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Diogenes Laertius : The Letter of Epicurus to Herodotus

Book 10, Sections 35-83

The Lives of the Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, is the most comprehensive ancient account of the lives of the early Greek philosophers. Book 10 contains the life and doctrines of Epicurus.

This translation is by C.D.Yonge (1895). The section numbers in the Greek text are shown in red and the section numbers in the translation are shown in green. Click on the G symbols to go to the Greek text for each section.


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{24} Let us now go to his letter:

THE LETTER TO HERODOTUS, on physics

Epicurus to Herodotus, wishing he may do well.

[35] G   For those, Herodotus, who are not able accurately to comprehend all the things which I have written about nature, nor able to investigate those larger books which I have composed on the subject, I have made an abridgment of the whole discussion on this question as far as I thought sufficient to enable them to recollect accurately the most fundamental points; that so, on all occasions, they might be able to assist themselves on the most important and undeniable principles; in proportion as they devoted themselves to speculations on natural philosophy. And here it is necessary for those who have made sufficient progress in their view of the general question, to recollect the principles laid down as elements of the whole discussion; for we have still greater need of a correct notion of the whole, than we have even of an accurate understanding of the details. [36] G   We must therefore, give preference to former knowledge, and lay up in our memory those principles on which we may rest, in order to arrive at an exact perception of things, and at a certain knowledge of particular objects.

Now one has arrived at that point when one has thoroughly embraced the conceptions, and, if I may so express myself, the most essential forms, and when one has impressed them adequately on one's senses. For this clear and precise knowledge of the whole, taken together, necessarily facilitates one's particular perceptions, when one has brought one's ideas back to the elements and simple terms. In short, a veritable synthesis, comprising the entire circle of the phenomena of the universe, ought to be able to encompass in itself, and in a few words, all the particular facts which have been previously studied. [37] G   This method being useful even to those who are already familiarised with the laws of the universe, I recommend them, while still pursuing without intermission the study of nature, which contributes more than anything else to the tranquillity and happiness of life, to make a concise statement, or summary of their opinions.

First of all then Herodotus, one must determine with exactness the notion comprehended under each separate word, in order to be able to refer to it, as to a certain criterion, the conceptions which emanate from ourselves, the ulterior researches and the difficulties; otherwise the judgment has no foundation. One goes on from demonstration to demonstration ad infinitum; or else one gains nothing beyond mere words. [38] G   In fact, it is absolutely necessary that we should perceive directly, and without the assistance of any demonstration, the fundamental notion which every word expresses, if we wish to have any foundation to which we may refer our researches, our difficulties, and our personal judgments, whatever in other respects may be the criterion which we adopt, whether we take as our standard the impressions produced on our senses, or the actual impression in general; or whether we cling to the idea by itself, or to any other criterion.

We must also note carefully the impressions which we receive in the presence of objects, in order to bring ourselves back to that point in the circumstances in which it is necessary to suspend the judgment, or even when the question is about things, the evidence of which is not immediately perceived.

When these foundations are once laid we may pass to the study of those things, about which the evidence is not immediate. And, first of all, we must admit that nothing can come of that which does not exist; for, were the fact otherwise, then everything would be produced from everything, and there would be no need of any seed. [39] G   And if that which disappeared were so absolutely destroyed as to become non-existent, then every thing would soon perish, as the things with which they would be dissolved would have no existence. But, in truth, the universal whole always was such as it now is, and always will be such. For there is nothing into which it can change; for there is nothing beyond this universal whole which can penetrate into it, and produce any change in it.   (And Epicurus establishes the same principles at the beginning of the Great Abridgment; and in the first book of his treatise on Nature.)

Now the universal whole is a body; for our senses bear us witness in every case that bodies have a real existence; and the evidence of the senses, as I have said before, ought to be the rule of our reasoning about everything which is not directly perceived. [40] G   Otherwise, if that which we call the void, or space, or intangible nature, had not a real existence, there would be nothing on which the bodies could be contained, or across which they could move, as we see that they really do move. Let us add to the reflection that one cannot conceive, either in virtue of perception, or of any analogy founded on perception, any general quality peculiar to all beings which is not either an attribute, or an accident of the body, or of the void.   (The same principles are laid down in the first, and fourteenth, and fifteenth book of the treatise on Nature; and also in the Great Abridgment.)

Now, of bodies, some are combinations, and some are the elements out of which these combinations are formed. [41] G   These last are indivisible, and protected from every kind of transformation; otherwise everything would be resolved into non-existence. They exist by their own force, in the midst of the dissolution of the combined bodies, being absolutely full, and as such offering no handle for destruction to take hold of. It follows, therefore, as a matter of absolute necessity, that the principles of things must be corporeal, indivisible elements.

The universe is infinite. For that which is finite has an extreme, and that which has an extreme is looked at in relationship to something else. Consequently, that which has not an extreme, has no boundary; and if it has no boundary, it must be infinite, and not terminated by any limit. The universe then is infinite, both with reference to the quantity of bodies of which it is made up, and to the magnitude of the void; [42] G   for if the void were infinite, the bodies being finite, then, the bodies would not be able to rest in any place; they would be transported about, scattered across the infinite void for want of any power to steady themselves, or to keep one another in their places by mutual repulsion. If, on the other hand, the void were finite, the bodies being infinite, then the bodies clearly could never be contained in the void.

Again: the atoms within the bodies, and these full elements from which the combined bodies come, and into which they resolve themselves, assume an incalculable variety of forms, for the numerous differences which the bodies present cannot possibly result from an aggregate of the same forms. Each variety of forms contains an innumerable amount of atoms, but there is not for that reason an infinity of atoms; it is only the number of them which is beyond all calculation.   (Epicurus adds, a little lower down, that divisibility, ad infinitum, is impossible; [43] G   for says he, the only things which change are the qualities; unless, indeed one wishes to proceed from division to division, till one arrives absolutely at infinite smallness.

The atoms are in a continual state of motion.   (He says, farther on, that they move with an equal rapidity from all eternity, since the void offers no more resistance to the lightest than it does to the heaviest.)

Among the atoms, some are separated by great distances but others come very near to one another in the formations of combined bodies, or at times are enveloped by others which are combining; but in this latter case they, nevertheless, preserve their own peculiar motion, [44] G   thanks to the nature of the void, which separates the one from the other, and yet offers them no resistance. The solidity which they possess causes them, while knocking against one another, to re-act the one upon the other; till at last the repeated shocks bring on the dissolution of the combined body; and for all this there is no external cause, the atoms and the void being the only causes.   (He says, further on, that the atoms have no peculiar quality of their own, except from magnitude and weight. As to colour, he says in the twelfth book of his Principia, that it varies according to the position of the atoms. Moreover, he does not attribute to the atoms any kind of dimensions; and accordingly, no atom has ever been perceived by the senses; [45] G   but this expression, if people only recollect what is here said, will by itself offer to the thoughts a sufficient image of the nature of things.)

But, again, the worlds also are infinite, whether they resemble this one of ours or whether they are different from it. For, as the atoms are, as to their number, infinite, as I have proved above, they necessarily move about at immense distances; for besides the infinite multitude of atoms, of which the world is formed, or by which it is produced, could not be entirely absorbed by one single world, nor even by any worlds, the number of which was limited, whether we suppose them like this word of ours, or different form it. There is therefore, no fact inconsistent with an infinity of worlds.

[46] G   Moreover, there are images resembling, as far as their form goes, the solid bodies which we see, but which differ materially from them in the thinness of their substance. In fact it is not impossible but that there may be in space some secretions of this kind and an aptitude to form surfaces without depth, and of an extreme thinness; or else that from the solids there may emanate some particles which preserve the connection, the disposition, and the motion which they had in the body. I give the name of images to these representations; and indeed, their movement through the void taking place, without meeting any obstacle or hindrance, traverses all imaginable extent in an inconceivable moment of time; for it is the meeting of obstacles, or the absence of obstacles, which produces the rapidity or the slowness of their motion. [47] G   At all events, a body in motion does not find itself, at any momentum imaginable, in two places at the same time; that is quite inconceivable. From what ever point of infinity it arrives at some appreciable moment, and whatever may be the spot it its course in which we perceive its motion, it has evidently quitted that spot at the moment of our thought; for this motion which, as we have admitted up to this point, encounters no obstacle to its rapidity, is wholly in the same condition as that the rapidity of which is diminished by the shock of some resistance.

It is useful, also, to retain this principle, and to know that the images have an incomparable thinness; which fact indeed is in no respect contradicted by sensible appearances. From which it follows that their rapidity also is incomparable; for they find everywhere an easy passage, and besides, their minuteness causes them to experience no shock, or at all events to experience but a very slight one, while a multitude of elements very soon encounter some resistance.

[48] G   One must not forget that the production of images is simultaneous with the thought; for from the surface of the bodies images of this kind are continually flowing off in an insensible manner indeed, because they are immediately replaced. They preserve for a long time the same disposition and the same arrangement that the atoms do in the solid body, although, notwithstanding, their form may be sometimes altered. The direct production of images in space is equally instantaneous, because these images are only light substances destitute of depth.

But there are other manners in which phenomena of this kind are produced; for there is nothing in all this which at all contradicts the senses, if one only considers in what way the senses are exercised, and if one is inclined to explain the relation which is established between external objects and ourselves. [49] G   Also, one must admit that something passes from external objects into us in order to produce in us sight and the knowledge of forms; for it is difficult to conceive that external objects can affect us through the medium of the air which is between us and them, or by means of rays, whatever emissions proceed from us to them, so as to give us an impression of their form and colour. This phenomenon, on the contrary, is perfectly explained, if we admit that certain images of the same colour, of the same shape, and of a proportionate magnitude pass from these objects to us, and so arrive at being seen and comprehended. [50] G   These images are animated by an exceeding rapidity, and as on the other side, the solid object forming a compact mass, and comprising a vast quantity of atoms, emits always the same quantity of particles, the vision is continued, and only produces in us one single perception which preserves always the same relation to the object. Every conception, every sensible perception which bears upon the form or the other attributes of these images, is only the same form of the solid perceived directly, either in virtue of a sort of actual and continued condensation of the image, or in consequence of the traces which it has left in us.

Error and false judgments always depend upon the supposition that a preconceived idea will be confirmed, or at all events will not be overturned, by evidence. Then, when it is not confirmed, we form our judgments in virtue of a sort of initiation of the thoughts connected, it is true, with the perception, and with a direct representation; but still connected also with a conception peculiar to ourselves, which is the parent of error. [51] G   In fact the representations which intelligence reflects like a mirror, whether one perceives them in a dream or by any other conceptions of the intellect, or of any other of the criteria, can never resemble the objects that one calls real and true, unless there were objects of this kind perceived directly. And, on the other side, error could not be possible, if we did not receive some other motion also, a sort of initiative of intelligence connected, it is true, with direct representation, but going beyond that representative. These conceptions being connected with direct perception which produces the representation, but going beyond it, in consequence of a motion peculiar to the individual though, produces error when it is not confirmed by evidence, or when it is contradicted by evidence; but when it is confirmed, or when it is not contradicted by evidence, then it produces truth.

[52] G   We must carefully preserve these principles in order not to reject the authority of the faculties which perceive truth directly; and not, on the other hand, to allow what is false to be established with equal firmness, so as to throw everything into confusion.

Moreover, hearing is produced by some sort of current proceeding from something that speaks, or sounds, or roars, or in any manner causes any sort of audible circumstances. And this current is diffused into small bodies resembling one another in their parts; which, preserving not only some kind of relation between one another, but even a sort of particular identity with the object from which they emanate, puts us, very frequently, into a communication of sentiments with this object, or at least causes us to become aware of the existence of some external circumstance. [53] G   If these currents did not carry with them some sort of sympathy, then there would be no such perception. We must not therefore think that it is the air which receives a certain form, under the action of the voice or some other sound. For it is utterly impossible that the voice should act in this manner on the air. But the percussion produced in us when we, by the utterance of a voice, cause a disengagement of certain particles, constitutes a current resembling a light whisper, and prepares an acoustic feeling for us.

We must admit that the case of smelling is the same as that of hearing. There would be no sense of smell if there did not emanate from most objects certain particles capable of producing an impression on the sense of smell. One class being ill-suited to the organ, and consequently producing a disordered state of it, the other being suited to it, and causing it no distress.

[54] G   One must also allow, that the atoms possess not one of the qualities of sensible objects, except form, weight, magnitude and anything else is unavoidably inherent in form; in fact, every quality is changeable, but the atoms are necessarily unchangeable; for it is impossible but that in the dissolution of combined bodies, there must be something which continues solid and indestructible, of such a kind, that it will not change either into what does not exist, or out of what does not exist; but that it results either from a simple displacement of parts, which is not the most usual case, or from the addition or subtraction of certain particles. It follows from that, that that which does not admit of any change in itself, is imperishable, participates in no respect in the nature of changeable things, and in a word, has its dimensions and forms immutable determined. [55] G   And this is proved plainly enough, because even in the transformations which take place under our eyes, in consequence of the removal of certain parts, we can still recognize the form of these constituent parts; while those qualities, which are not constituent parts, do not remain like the form, but perish in the dissolution of the combination. The attributes which we have indicated, suffice to explain all the differences of combined bodies; for we must inevitably leave something indestructible, lest everything should resolve itself into non-existence.

However, one must not believe that every kind of magnitude exists in atoms, lest we find ourselves contradicted by phenomena. But we must admit that there are atoms of different magnitude, because, as that is the case, it is then more easy to explain the impressions and sensations; [56] G   at all events, I repeat, it is not necessary for the purpose of explaining the differences of the qualities, to attribute to atoms every kind of magnitude.

We must not suppose either, that an atom can become visible to us; for, first of all, one does not see that that is the case, and besides, one cannot even conceive, how an atom is to become visible; besides, we must not believe, that in a finite body there are particles of every sort, infinite in number; consequently, on must not only reject the doctrine of infinite divisibility in parcels smaller and smaller, lest we should be reducing everything to nothing, and find ourselves forced to admit, that in a mass composed of a crowd of elements, existence can reduce itself to non-existence. But one cannot even suppose that a finite can be susceptible of transformation ad infinitum, or even of transformation into smaller objects that itself; [57] G   for when once one has said that there are in an object particles of every kind, infinite in number, there is absolutely no means whatever of imagining that this object can have only a finite magnitude; in fact, it is evident that these particles, infinite in number, have some kind of dimension or other, and whatever this dimension may be in other respects, the objects which are composed of it will have an infinite magnitude; in presenting forms which are determined, and limits which are perceived by the senses, one conceives, easily, without it being necessary to study this last question directly, that this would be the consequence of the contrary supposition, and that consequently, one must come to look at every object as infinite.

[58] G   One must also admit that the most minute particle perceptible to the sense, is neither absolutely like the objects which are susceptible of transformation, nor absolutely different from them. It has some characteristic in common with the object which admit of transformation, but it also differs from them, inasmuch as it does not allow any distinct parts to be discerned in it. When then, in virtue of these common characteristics, and of this resemblance, we wish to form an idea of the smallest particle perceptible by the senses, in taking the objects which change, for our terms of comparison, it is necessary that we should seize on some characteristic common to these different objects. In this way, we examine them successively, from the first to the last, not by themselves, more as composed of parts in juxtaposition, but only in their extent; in other words, we consider, the magnitudes by themselves, and in an abstract manner, inasmuch as they measure, the greater a greater extent, and the smaller a smaller extent. This analogy applies to the atom, as far as we consider it as having the smallest dimensions possible. [59] G   Evidently by its minuteness, it differs from all sensible objects, but still this analogy is applicable to it; in a word, we establish by this comparison, that the atom really has some extent, but we exclude all considerable dimensions, for the sake of only investing it with the smallest proportions.

We must also admit, in taking for our guide the reasoning which discloses to us things which are invisible to the senses, that the most minute magnitudes, those which are not compound magnitudes, and which from the limit of sensible extent, are the first measure of the other magnitudes which are only called greater or less in their relation to the others. For these relations which they maintain with these particles, which are not subject to transformation, suffice to give them this characteristic of first measure. But they cannot, like atoms, combine themselves, and form compound bodies in virtue of any motion belonging to themselves.

[60] G   Moreover, we must not say (while speaking of the infinite), that such or such a point is the highest point of it, or the lowest. For height and lowness must not be predicated of the infinite. We know, in reality, that if, wishing to determine the infinite, we conceive a point above our head, this point, whatever it may be, will never appear to us to have the character in question: otherwise, that which would be situated above the point so conceived as the limit of the infinite, would be at the same moment, and by virtue of its relation to the same point, both high and low; and this is impossible to imagine.

It follows that thought can only conceive that one single movement of transference, from low to high, ad infinitum; and one single movement from high to low. From low to high, when even the object in motion, going from us to the places situated above our heads, meets ten thousand times with the feet of those who are above us; and from high to low, when in the same way it advances towards the heads of those who are below us. For these two movements, looked at by themselves and in their whole, are conceived as really opposed the one to the other, in their progress towards the infinite.

[61] G   Moreover, all the atoms are necessarily animated by the same rapidity, when they move across the void, or when no obstacle thwarts them. For why should heavy atoms have a more rapid movement than those which are small and light, since in no quarter do they encounter any obstacle? Why, on the other hand, should the small atoms have a rapidity superior to that of the large ones, since both the one and the other find everywhere an easy passage, from the very moment that no obstacle intervenes to thwart their movements? Movement from low to high, horizontal movement to and fro, in virtue of the reciprocal percussion of the atoms, movement downwards, in virtue of their weight, will be all equal, for in whatever sense the atom moves, it must have a movement as rapid as the thought, till the moment when it is repelled, in virtue of some external cause, or of its own proper weight, by the shock of some object which resists it.

[62] G   Again, even in the compound bodies, one atom does not move more rapidly than another. In fact, if one only looks at the continued movement of an atom which takes place in an indivisible moment of time, the briefest possible, they all have a movement equally rapid. At the same time, an atom has not, in any moment perceptible to the intelligence, a continued movement in the same direction; but rather a series of oscillating movements from which there results, in the last analysis, a continued movement perceptible to the senses. If then, one were to suppose, in virtue of a reasoning on things invisible, that, in the intervals of time accessible to thought, the atoms have a continued movement one would deceive one's self, for that which is conceived by the thought is true as well as that which is directly perceived.

[63] G   Let us now return to the study of the affections, and of the sensations; for this will be the best method of proving that the soul is a bodily substance composed of light particles, diffused over all the members of the body, and presenting a great analogy to a sort of spirit, having an admixture of heat, resembling at one time one, and at another time the other of those two principles. There exists in it a special part, endowed with an extreme mobility, in consequence of the exceeding slightness of the elements which compose it, and also in reference to its more immediate sympathy with the rest of the body. That it is which the faculties of the soul sufficiently prove, and the passions, and the mobility of its nature, and the thoughts, and, in a word, everything, the privation of which is death. We must admit that it is in the soul most especially that the principle of sensation resides. [64] G   At the same time, it would not possess this power if it were not enveloped by the rest of the body which communicates it to it, and in its turn receives it from it; but only in certain measure; for there are certain affections of the soul of which it is not capable.

It is on that account that, when the soul departs, the body is no longer possessed of sensation; for it has not this power, (namely that of sensation) in itself; but on the other hand, this power can only manifest itself in the soul through the medium of the body. The soul, reflecting the manifestations which are accomplished in the substance which environs it, realizes in itself, in a virtue or power which belongs to it, the sensible affections, and immediately communicates them to the body in virtue of the reciprocal bonds of sympathy which unite it to the body; [65] G   that is the reason why the destruction of a part of the body does not draw after it a cessation of all feeling in the soul while it resides in the body, provided that the senses still preserve some energy; although, nevertheless, the dissolution of the corporeal covering, or even of any one of its portions, may sometimes bring on with it the destruction of the soul.

The rest of the body, on the other hand, even when it remains, either as a whole, or in any part, loses all feeling by the dispersion of that aggregate of atoms, whatever it may be, that forms the soul. When the entire combination of the body is dissolved, then the soul too is dissolved, and ceases to retain those faculties which were previously inherent in it, and especially the power of motion; so that sensation perishes equally as far as the soul is concerned; [66] G   for it is impossible to imagine that it still feels, from the moment when it is no longer in the same conditions of existence, and no longer possesses the same movements of existence in reference to the same organic system; from the moment, in short, when the things which cover and surround it are no longer such, that it retains in them the same movements as before.   (Epicurus expresses the same ideas in other works, and adds that the soul is composed of atoms of the most perfect roundness and lightness; atoms wholly different from those of fire. He distinguishes in it the irrational part which is diffused over the whole body, from the rational part which has its seat in the chest, as is proved by the emotions of fear and joy. He adds that sleep is produced either when the parts of the soul diffused over the whole of the body concentrate themselves, or when they disperse and escape by the pores of the body; for particles emanate from all bodies.)

[67] G   It must also be observed, that I use the word incorporeal in the usual meaning of the word, to express that which is in itself conceived as such. Now, nothing can be conceived in itself as incorporeal except the void; but the void cannot be either passive or active; it is only the condition and the place of movement. Accordingly, they who pretended that the soul is incorporeal, utter words destitute of sense; for if it had this character, it would not be able either to do or to suffer anything; but, as it is, we see plainly enough that it is liable to both these circumstances.

[68] G   Let us then apply all these reasoning to the affections and sensations, recollecting the ideas which we laid down at the beginning, and then we shall see clearly that these general principles contain an exact solution of all the particular cases.

As to forms, and hues, and magnitudes, and weight, and the other qualities which one looks upon as attributes, whether it be of every body, or of those bodies only which are visible and perceived by the senses, this is the point of view under which they ought to be considered: they are not particular substances, having a peculiar existence of their own, for that cannot be conceived; nor can one say any more that they have no reality at all. [69] G   They are not incorporeal substances inherent in the body, nor are they parts of the body. But they constitute by their union, I repeat, the eternal substance of the body. Each of these attributes has ideas and particular perceptions which correspond to it; but they cannot be perceived independently of the whole subject taken entirely. The union of all these perceptions forms the idea of the body. [70] G   Bodies often possess other attributes which are not eternally inherent in them, but which nevertheless, cannot be ranged among the incorporeal and invisible things. Accordingly, it is sufficient to express the general idea of the movement of transference to enable us to conceive in a moment certain distinct qualities, and those combined beings, which, being taken in their totality, receive the name of bodies; and the necessary and eternal attributes without which the body cannot be conceived.

There are certain conceptions corresponding to these attributes; but nevertheless, they cannot be known abstractedly, and independently of some subjects; [71] G   and further, inasmuch as they are not attributes necessarily inherent in the idea of a body, one can only conceive them in the moment in which they are visible; they are realities nevertheless; and one must not refuse them being an existence merely because they have neither the characteristic of the compound beings to which we give the name of bodies, nor that of the eternal attributes. We should be equally deceived if we were to suppose that they have a separate and independent existence; for that is true neither of them nor of the eternal attributes. They are, as one sees plainly, accidents of the body; accidents which do not of necessity make any part of its nature; which cannot be considered as independent substances, but still to each of which sensation gives the peculiar character under which it appears to us.

[72] G   Another important question is that of time. Here we cannot apply any more the method of examination to which we submit other objects, where we study with reference to a give subject; and which we refer to the preconceptions which exist in ourselves. We must seize, by analogy, and going round the whole circle of things comprised under this general denomination for time - we must seize, I say, that essential character which causes us to say that time is long or short. It is not necessary for that purpose to seek for any new forms of expression as preferable to those which are in common use; we may content ourselves with those by which time is usually indicated. Nor need we, as certain philosophers do, affirm any particular attribute of time, for that would be to suppose that its essence is the same as that of this attribute. It is sufficient to seek for the ingredients of which this particular nature which we call time is composed, and for the means by which it is measured. [73] G   For this we have no need of demonstration; a simple exposition is sufficient. It is, in fact, evident, that we speak of time as composed of days and nights, and parts of days and nights; passiveness and impassability, movement and repose, are equally comprised in time. In short it is evident that in connection with these different states, we can conceive a particular property to which we give the name of time.   (Epicurus lays down the same principles in the second book of his treatise on Nature, and in his Great Abridgment.)

It is from the infinite that the worlds are derived, and all the finite aggregates which present numerous analogies with the things which we observe under our own eyes. Each of these objects, great and small, has been separated from the infinite by a movement peculiar to itself. On the other hand, all these bodies will be successively destroyed, some more, and others less rapidly; some under the influence of one cause, and others because of the agency of some other.   (It is evident, after this, that Epicurus regards the worlds as perishable, since he admits that their parts are capable of transformation. He also says in other places, that the earth rests suspended in the air.)

[74] G   We must not believe that all worlds necessarily have one identical form.   (He says, in fact, in the twelfth book of his treatise on the World, that the worlds differ from one another; some being spherical, other elliptical, and others of other shapes.)

Let us also beware of thinking that animals are derived from the infinite; for there is no one who can prove that the seeds from which animals are born, and plants, and all the other objects which we contemplate, have been brought from the exterior in such a world, and that this same world would not have been able to produce them of itself. This remark applies particularly to the earth.

[75] G   Again, we must admit that in many and various respects, nature is both instructed and constrained by circumstances themselves; and that Reason subsequently makes perfect and enriches with additional discoveries the things which it has borrowed from nature; in some cases rapidly, and in others more slowly. And in some cases according to periods and times greater than those which proceed from the infinite; in other cases according to those which are smaller. So, originally it was only in virtue of express agreements that one gave names to things. But men whose ideas and passion varied according to their respective nations, formed these names of their own accord, uttering diverse sounds produced by each passion, or by each idea, following the differences of the situations and of the peoples. [76] G   At a later period one established in each nation, in a uniform manner, particular terms intended to render the relations more easy, and language more concise. Educated men introduced the notion of things not discoverable by the senses, and appropriated words to them when they found themselves under the necessity of uttering their thoughts; after this, other men, guided in every point by reason, interpreted these words in the same sense.

As to the heavenly phenomena, such as the motion and course of the stars, the eclipses, their rising and setting, and all other appearances of the same kind, we must beware of thinking that they are produced by any particular being which has regulated, or whose business it is to regulate, for the future, the order of the world, a being immortal and perfectly happy; [77] G   for the cares and anxieties, the benevolence and the anger, far from being compatible with felicity, are, on the contrary, the consequence of weakness, of fear, and of the want which a thing has of something else. We must not fancy either that these globes of fire, which roll on in space, enjoy a perfect happiness, and give themselves, with reflection and wisdom, the motions which they possess. But we must respect the established notions on this subject, provided, nevertheless, that they do not all contradict the respect due to truth; for nothing is more calculated to trouble the soul than this strife of contradictory notions and principles. We must therefore admit that from the first movement impressed on the heavenly bodies since the organization of the world there is derived a sort of necessity which regulates their course to this day.

[78] G   Let us be well assured that it is to physiology that it belongs to determine the causes of the most elevated phenomena, and that happiness consists, above all things, in the science of the heavenly things and their nature, and in the knowledge of analogous phenomena which may aid us in the comprehension of ethics. These heavenly phenomena admit of several explanations; they have no reason of a necessary character, and one may explain them in different manners. In a word, they have no relation - a moment's consideration will prove this by itself - with those imperishable and happy natures which admit of no division and of no confusion. [79] G   As for the theoretical knowledge of the rising and setting of the stars, of the movement of the sun between the tropics, of the eclipses, and all other similar phenomena, that is utterly useless, as far as any influence upon happiness that it can have. Moreover, those who, though possessed of this knowledge, are ignorant of nature, and of the most probable causes of the phenomena, are no more protected from fear than if they were in the most complete ignorance; they even experience the most lively fears, for the trouble, with which the knowledge of which they are possessed inspires them, can find no issue, and is not dissipated by a clear perception of the reasons of these phenomena.

As to us, we find many explanations of the motions of the sun, of the rising and setting of the stars, of the eclipse and similar phenomena, just as well as of the more particular phenomena. [80] G   And one must not think that this method of explanation is not sufficient to procure happiness and tranquillity. Let us content ourselves with examining how it is that similar phenomena are brought about under our own eyes, and let us apply these observations to the heavenly objects and to everything which known only indirectly. Let us despise those people who are unable to distinguish facts susceptible of different explanations from others which can only exist and be explained in one single way. Let us disdain those men who do not know, by means of the different images which result form distance, how to give an account of the different appearances of things; who, in a word, are ignorant about what are the objects which can excite any trouble in us. If, then, we know that such a phenomenon can be brought about in the same manner as another given phenomenon of the same character which does not inspire us with any apprehension; and if, on the other hand, we know that it can take place in many different manners, we shall not be more troubled at sight of it than if we know the real cause of it.

[81] G   We must also recollect that which principally contributes to trouble the spirit of men is the persuasion which they cherish that the stars are beings imperishable and perfectly happy, and that then one's thoughts and actions are in contradiction to the will of these superior beings. They also being deluded by these fables, apprehend an eternity of evils, and they fear the insensibility of death, as if that could affect them. What do I say? It is not even belief, but inconsiderateness and blindness which govern them in every thing, to such a degree that, not calculating these fears, they are just as much troubled as if they really had faith in these vain phantoms. [82] G   And the real freedom from this kind of trouble consists in being emancipated from all these things, and in preserving the recollection of all the principles which we have established, especially of the most essential of them. Accordingly, it is well to pay a scrupulous attention to existing phenomena and to the sensations, to the general sensations for general things, and to the particular sensations for particular things. In a word, we must take note of this, the immediate evidence with which each of these judicial faculties furnishes us; for, if we attend to these points, namely, whence confusion and fear arise, we shall divine the causes correctly, and we shall deliver ourselves from those feelings, tracing back the heavenly phenomena to their causes, and also all the other which present themselves at every step, and inspire the common people with extreme terror.

This, Herodotus, is a kind of summary and abridgment of the whole question of natural philosophy. [83] G   So that, if this reasoning be allowed to be valid, and be preserved carefully in the memory, the man who allows himself to be influenced by it, even though he may not descend to a profound study of its details, will have a great superiority of character over other men. He will personally discover a great number of truths which I have myself set forth in my entire work; and these truths being stored in his memory, will be a constant assistance to him. By means of these principles, those who have descended into the details, and have studied the question sufficiently, will be able, in bringing all their particular knowledge to bear on the general subject, to run over without difficulty almost the entire circle of the natural philosophy; those, on the other hand, who are not yet arrived at perfection, and who have not been able to hear me lecture on these subjects, will be able in their minds to run over the main of the essential notions, and to derive assistance from them for the tranquillity and happiness of life.

This then is his letter on physics.

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