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4 - Epicurus on the gods

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 June 2011

David Konstan
Affiliation:
Brown University
Jeffrey Fish
Affiliation:
Baylor University, Texas
Kirk R. Sanders
Affiliation:
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
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Summary

In this chapter, I defend (once again) the view that the Epicurean gods are real, in the sense that they exist as atomic compounds and possess the properties that pertain to the concept, or prolêpsis, that people have of them. The contrary view – that the Epicurean gods have no objective existence, and that the notion of them is a consequence of ‘psychological processes…within the human soul’, was proposed in the nineteenth century and revived in the twentieth by Jean Bollack; more recently, it has received support from Long and Sedley and Dirk Obbink, and, most forcefully, in the chapter by David Sedley in this volume. The physical existence of the gods has been reasserted, in turn, by Jaap Mansfeld, Gabriele Giannantoni, Maria Carolina Santoro and Michael Wigodsky.

Given that Epicurus, in the Letter to Menoeceus (123–4), flatly declares that ‘there are gods’ (θεοὶ μὲν γὰρ εἰσίν), and that this dictum is echoed by all subsequent Epicureans who have pronounced on the matter, I venture to say that no one would ever have proposed that they were mere ‘psychological processes’ or ‘thought-constructs’, had it not been for two difficulties that appear to beset the Epicurean theory. Both are evident in the same passage from Epicurus' Letter to Menoeceus.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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