Epicureanism: 12 main conclusions about the universe

From time to time I publish, or re-publish, some basic background information  about Epicurean science.

 Epicurus reached twelve  conclusions of particular importance, provable through firm evidence and reasoning. The three faculties being given us by Nature to deduce this evidence are (1) our five senses, (2) our faculty of perceiving “anticipations,” and (3) our faculty of “feeling” pleasure and pain. We have to  adopt  those conclusions supported by convincing evidence, and never hold to be true any conclusions which are not.

Because our faculties report their sensations exactly as they perceive them,  we must  honor what they report to us, even information distorted by distance or other obstacles. No firm evidence is ever to be regarded as worthless. Error occurs only in the mind, and where evidence about a matter is insufficient, we must wait before labelling any opinion about the matter as true or false. Only if we use our faculties properly we can be  confident in  our conclusions.

Thus we can conclude that there is no need to rely on any gods, priests, or supernatural claims for our understanding of Nature, and identify the following twelve aspects of nature that are crucial to understanding how Nature, and our faculties, operate:

1.       Matter is uncreatable.

2.       Matter is indestructible.

3.       The universe consists of solid bodies and void, has always been there and was not created by a creator.

4.       Solid bodies are either compounds or simple.

5.       The multitude of atoms is infinite.

6.       The void is infinite in extent, 

7.       The atoms are always in motion.

8.       The speed of atomic motion is uniform.

9.       Motion is linear in space, vibratory in compounds.

10.     Atoms are capable of swerving slightly at any point in space or time to form large bodies such as planets.

11.      Atoms are characterized by three qualities, weight, shape and size.

12.     The number of the different shapes is not infinite, merely innumerable.

The method by which these observations were established can be found in Epicurus’ Letter to Herodotus and Lucretius’  “De Rerum Natura”, and “Authorised Doctrines” 22-26, which describe essential aspects of this process, e.g speculation based on “logic” not firmly supported by evidence from one or all of the three faculties will lead to error.  (Epicurus and his Philosophy, by Norman DeWitt and Paradosis and Survival by Prof Diskin Clay)  

.Modern discoveries in physics would call for the use of new terms in the place of “matter” and “atoms,” which were coined by the ancient Greeks long before men had means to look inside what we today call an atom. But it is a mistake to presume that Epicurus’ views are wrong simply because we have new terms to describe the smallest constituents of the universe. Epicurus was very clear in stating that his essential position was that, at some fundamental level, the universe is composed of elements that are indestructible and indivisible.

It is immaterial whether this fundamental indivisible level is described as “molecular,” “atomic,” or “subatomic,” or by any other name which might be given to observable phenomena. The essential point established by the “true reasoning” method of Epicurus is that at some point an indivisible level exists. No matter what name we may give to the phenomena at that level, any phenomena which is observable to the senses exists as part of our own universe, and was neither created by, nor is subject to, any supernatural forces.  (New Epicurean.com). 

Epicurus did not invent atomism, but did, with his “ swerve” suggest the method by which planets, comets etc  were formed. But it is his stated or inferred examples of how to deal with and treat one’s fellow human beings, individually and en masse, that is the focus of this blog. We are still not good at doing that!


  1. #1 and #2 are both incorrect. E=mc^2 shows how energy and matter are interchangeable. Of course, there’s no way Epicurus could have known this.

    Other items on the list are likely wrong, too. Like #5.

    • Firstly, he was a philosopher, not a scientist, and certainly not a modern one. What would you expect, using only the frail human intellect? Secondly, on an almost weekly basis modern scientists are having to amend the work of their predecessors or current colleagues. Now the whole idea of dark matter is being queried as possibly “wrong”. CERN has thousands of employees in Geneva, some of the smartest people on the planet, and they get things wrong, too (I have visited and talked to scientists there), and spend money on projects that come to nothing. Do you get nothing wrong? Judge not that you be not judged.

  2. You said “Epicurus reached twelve conclusions of particular importance, provable through firm evidence and reasoning.” It seems to me that that’s not true. I’m not saying that Epicurus should have known that energy and matter are interchangeable, I’m saying we shouldn’t say his conclusions were correct if they weren’t. We can appreciate Epicurus, in context, without whitewashing his record on science.

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