"If we had never been troubled by celestial and atmospheric phenomena, nor by fears about death, nor by our ignorance of the limits of pains and desires, we should have had no need of natural science."
- Epicurus (Principal doctrines, 11)
My own thoughts on the quote:
This Epicurean Principal Doctrine is not about morality or philosophy as many of the other 39 of the 40 Epicurean Principal Doctrines are. It is an explanation for the very human thirst for knowledge and also for the birth of modern science.
Epicurus is simply saying that fear of the unknown does motivate people to find things out. On the other hand, really understanding why things do really happen in the world does give a person also more real peace of mind.
Epicureans say that if we accept the religious explanations for the things around us, we would not need no more explaining. We would not need to have science in the first place. If we simply accept the explanations religions do give us, we have no reason the find out the real causes for natural phenomena. This was also case under the rule of the medieval Christian church.
Natural sciences were quite completely ignored for a whole millennium. This sorry state of affairs continued until the rise of Renaissance and new humanistic thinking did open new avenues for science also.
Epicurus did live in a time before the birth of the modern world religions, but even the Ancient Greek religion was for a great deal born out the need to explain the things that did not yet have on natural explanation at that time. However, this role of religion as a placeholder for a question mark was much more marked in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths.
These religions do still boldly profess to know the final answers to most of the big questions concerning the nature of humanity and our universe. This happens, even if those answers in the real world are mostly just legends, mystical stories and even wild guesses. Only with the rise of the modern science did we get real answers to questions of our own origins and the real nature of our universe.
(This piece was refurbished on 1th of October, 2012)
Epicurus is also in Facebook at:
"Epicurus (Ancient Greek: Ἐπίκουρος, Epikouros, "ally, comrade"; 341 BCE – 270 BCE) was an ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works. Much of what is known about Epicurean philosophy derives from later followers and commentators."