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Epicureanism

DOI
10.4324/9780415249126-A049-1
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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A049-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 26, 2024, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/epicureanism/v-1

8. Cosmology

Epicurus argues that there can be no creating or controlling divinity (see §9), and that our world, one of infinitely many, is an accidental and temporary product of large-scale atomic collisions (for the role of the ‘swerve’ in this, see §4). Apparent evidence of divine creation can be explained mechanistically. Animal parts, for instance, however well suited to their uses, came into existence accidentally before those uses were conceived. In the early days of life on earth many non-viable creatures were generated, but did not survive (Lucretius V 837–77; a widely admired anticipation of Darwinian survival of the fittest). Even human institutions such as language and law, often attributed to divine benefactors, are formalized versions of modes of behaviour with purely natural origins in human need and instinct.

Epicurus’ account of the world’s structure is largely Presocratic in inspiration. Since atoms have no inherent attractive powers, he cannot accept the geocentric cosmologies of Plato, Aristotle and others, in which heavy stuffs tend not strictly downwards but inwards towards the centre. The direction ‘down’ is itself taken to be an absolute one, so that throughout the universe objects fall parallel to each other, rather than towards the centre of a spherical earth. For him the earth’s stability depends not on its being at the centre (in infinite space there is no centre) but on the cushioning effects of the air beneath it. In a notorious passage (I 1052–82)Lucretius dismisses as ill-conceived the geocentrists’ impressively accurate description of the antipodes.

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Citing this article:
Sedley, David. Cosmology. Epicureanism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A049-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/epicureanism/v-1/sections/cosmology.
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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