[Original Latin Title: De Finibus Bonorum Et Malorum; Volume XVII of Loeb Classical Library’s 28-volume series]
An Epicurean’s Criticism of Education
“[Epicurus] refused to consider any education worth the name that did not help to school us in happiness. Was he to spend his time in perusing poets, who give us nothing solid and useful, but merely childish amusement? Was he to occupy himself like Plato with music and geometry, arithmetic and astronomy, which starting from false premise cannot be true, and which moreover if they were true would contribute nothing to make our lives pleasanter and therefore better?”
The Purpose of Man
Just as the horse is designed by Nature for running, the ox for ploughing, and the dog for hunting, so man, as Aristotle observes, is born for two purposes, thought and action: he is as it were a mortal God.
Wisdom, Justice, Courage and Temperance
Nature has bestowed on man the gift of Reason, of an active, vigorous intelligence, able to carry on several operations at the same time with extreme speed, and having, so to speak, a keen scent to discern the causes and effects of things, to draw analogies, combine things separate, connect the future with the present, and survey the entire field of the subsequent course of life.
It is Reason moreover that has inspired man with a relish for his kind; she has produced a natural conformity both of language and of habit; she has prompted the individual, starting from friendship and from family affection, to expand his interests, forming social ties first with his fellow-citizens and later with all mankind.
Nature has also engendered in mankind the desire of contemplating truth. … We are eager to acquire knowledge even of the movements of the heavenly bodies. This primary instinct leads us on to love all truth as such, that is, all that is trustworthy, simple and consistent, and to hate things insincere, false and deceptive, such as cheating, perjury, malice and injustice.
Further, Reason possesses an intrinsic element of dignity and grandeur, suited rather to require obedience than to render it, esteeming all the accidents of human fortunes not merely as endurable but also as unimportant; a quality of loftiness and elevation, fearing nothing, submitting to no one, ever unsubdued.
A fourth kind is the principle of order and of restraint. from recognizing something analogous to this principle in the beauty and dignity of outward forms, we pass to beauty in the moral sphere of speech and conduct.
Themistocles, when someone offered to teach him the art of memory, replied that he would prefer the art of forgetting, ‘for I remember even things I do not wish to remember, but I cannot forget things I wish to forget’.
Suppose when Xerxes led forth his huge fleets and armies of horse and foot, bridged the Hellespont, cut through Athos, marched over sea and sailed over land–suppose on his reaching Greece with his great armada some one asked him the reason for all this enormous apparatus of warfare, and he were to reply that he had wanted to procure some honey from Hymettus! surely he would be thought to have had no adequate motive for so vast an undertaking.
So with our Wise Man, equipped and adorned with all the noblest accomplishments and virtues, not like Xerxes traversing the seas on foot and the mountains on shipboard, but mentally embracing sky and earth and sea in their entirety–to say that this man’s aim is pleasure is to say that all his high endeavour is for the sake of a little honey. No, we are born for loftier and more splendid purposes.
Wisdom and Dance
For just as an actor or dancer has assigned to him not any but a certain particular part or dance, so life has to be conducted in a certain fixed way, and not in any way we like. This fixed way we speak of as ‘conformable’ and suitable. In fact we do not consider Wisdom to be like seamanship or medicine, but rather like the arts of acting and dancing just mentioned; its End, being the actual exercise of the art, is contained within the art itself, and is not something extraneous to it. At the same time there is also another point which marks a dissimilarity between Wisdom and these arts as well. In the latter a movement perfectly executed nevertheless does not involve all the various motions which together constitute the subject matter of the art; whereas in the sphere of conduct, ‘right actions’, or ‘rightly performed actions’, contains all the factors of virtue. For Wisdom alone is entirely self-contained, which is not the case with the other arts.
Wisdom, according to the Stoics, is both constituent and productive; for as being itself an appropriate activity it comes under the constituent class; as causing and producing moral actions, it can be called productive.
The Stoic View on Suicide
When a man’s circumstances contain a preponderance of things in accordance with nature, it is appropriate for him to remain alive; when he possesses or sees in prospect a majority of the contrary things, it is appropriate for him to depart from life.
Happiness, which means life in harmony with nature, is a matter of seizing the right moment. So that Wisdom herself upon occasion bids the Wise man to leave her. Hence, as vice does not possess the power of furnishing a reason for suicide,… And since the fool is equally miserable when departing from life and when remaining in it, and the undesirability of his life is not increased by its prolongation,… those who are in a position to enjoy a preponderance of things that are natural ought to remain in life.