Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Enclosure: Thomas Jefferson’s Syllabus of the Doctrines of Epicurus, [before 31 October 1819]


Syllabus of the Doctrines of Epicurus

[before 31 Oct. 1819]

A Syllabus of the doctrines of Epicurus.

Physical. The Universe eternal.
it’s parts, great & small, interchangeable.
Matter and Void alone.
Motion inherent in matter, which is weighty & declining.
eternal circulation of the elements of bodies.
Gods, an order of beings next superior to man.
enjoying, in their sphere, their own felicities;
but not medling with the concerns of the scale of beings below them.
Moral. Happiness the aim of life.
Virtue the foundation of happiness;
Utility the test of virtue.
Pleasure active and In-dolent.
In-dolence is the absence of pain, the true felicity.
Active, consists in agreeable motion
it is not happiness. but the means to produce it.
thus the absence of hunger is an article of felicity; eating the means to obtain it.
The Summum bonum is to be not pained in body, nor troubled in mind.
i.e. In-dolence of body, tranquility of mind.
to procure tranquility of mind we must avoid desire & fear the two principal diseases of the mind.
Man is a free agent.
Virtue consists in 1. Prudence. 2. Temperance. 3. Fortitude. 4. Justice
to which are opposed 1. Folly. 2. Desire. 3. Fear. 4. Deciept.

MS (ViW: TJP); subjoined to RC of covering letter; entirely in TJ’s hand; undated. PoC (DLC: TJ Papers, 216:38596); subjoined to PoC of covering letter.

For TJ’s earlier summary of the doctrines of epicurus with slightly variant wording, see PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, James P. McClure, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 43 vols. description ends , 31:284–5. At some point TJ’s son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph copied this earlier version, with a heading of “Epicurus—Principles; doctrines—from Stanley by Th: Jefferson—heads” (Tr in ViCMRL: Randolph Letterbook, on deposit ViU). The reference to Stanley suggests that TJ based his notes on Thomas Stanley, The History of Philosophy: containing The Lives, Opinions, Actions and Discourses of the Philosophers Of every Sect (4th ed.; London, 1743; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 34), part 13 of which, pp. 602–714, dealt with Epicurus and his teachings.

in-dolent: TJ presumably hyphenated here to avoid confusion with “indolent” in the sense of being habitually lazy. Here he intends “not dolent,” with “dolent” meaning “Sorrowing, grieving; sorrowful, sad” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

Index Entries

  • Epicurus (Greek philosopher); doctrines of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Syllabus of the Doctrines of Epicurus search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); and TJ’s syllabus of Epicurus’s doctrines search
  • Stanley, Thomas; The History of Philosophy search
  • The History of Philosophy (T. Stanley) search