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DIOGENES LAERTIUS (180 – 240)

LIVES AND OPINIONS OF EMINENT PHILOSOPHERS

Democritus (460 – 370 BC)

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The first principles of the universe are atoms and empty space ; everything else is merely thought to exist. The worlds are unlimited ; they come into being and perish. Nothing can come into being from that which is not nor pass away into that which is not. Further, the atoms are unlimited in size and number, and they are borne along in the whole universe in a vortex, and thereby generate all composite things--fire, water, air, earth ; for even these are conglomerations of given atoms. And it is because of their solidity that these atoms are impassive and unalterable.

The sun and the moon have been composed of such smooth and spherical masses [i.e. atoms], and so also the soul, which is identical with reason. We see by virtue of the impact of images upon our eyes.

All things happen by virtue of necessity, the vortex being the cause of the creation of all things, and this he calls necessity. The end of action is tranquillity, which is not identical with pleasure, as some by a false interpretation have understood, but a state in which the soul continues calm and strong, undisturbed by any fear or superstition or any other emotion. This he calls well-being and many other names. The qualities of things exist merely by convention; in nature there is nothing but atoms and void space.

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Diogenes of Sinope (413 BC – 327 BC)

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He lit a lamp in broad daylight and said, as he went about, "I am looking for a human." (This line is frequently translated as "I am looking for an honest man.")

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One day, observing a child drinking out of his hands, he cast away the cup from his wallet with the words, "A child has beaten me in plainness of living."

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Alexander the Great found the philosopher looking attentively at a pile of human bones. Diogenes explained, "I am searching for the bones of your father but cannot distinguish them from those of a slave.

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I have nothing to ask but that you would remove to the other side, that you may not, by intercepting the sunshine, take from me what you cannot give.

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The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.

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It is the privilege of the gods to want nothing, and of godlike men to want little.

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Of what use is a philosopher who doesn't hurt anybody's feelings?


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Asked where he came from, he said, "I am a citizen of the world."

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When people laughed at him because he walked backward beneath the portico, he said to them: "Aren't you ashamed, you who walk backward along the whole path of existence, and blame me for walking backward along the path of the promenade?

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The art of being a slave is to rule one's master.

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A philosopher named Aristippus, who had quite willingly sucked up to Dionysus and won himself a spot at his court, saw Diogenes cooking lentils for a meal. "If you would only learn to compliment Dionysus, you wouldn't have to live on lentils."

Diogenes replied, "But if you would only learn to live on lentils, you wouldn't have to flatter Dionysus.

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No man is hurt but by himself.

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The only way to gall and fret effectively is for yourself to be a good and honest man.

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Zeno of Citium (333 BC – 262 BC)

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Man conquers the world by conquering himself.

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All things are parts of one single system, which is called nature; the individual life is good when it is in harmony with nature.

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Steel your sensibilities, so that life shall hurt you as little as possible.

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No matter whether you claim a slave by purchase or capture, the title is bad. They who claim to own their fellow-men, look down into the pit and forget the justice that should rule the world.

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That which exercises reason is more excellent than that which does not exercise reason; there is nothing more excellent than the universe, therefore the universe exercises reason.

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Zeus, the Supreme Head of the government of the universe: God, Mind, Destiny, Zeus, are one thing. Destiny is the power which moves matter; Providence and Nature are other names for it.

God is not separate from the world; He is the soul of the world, and each of us contains a part of the Divine Fire. All things are parts of one single system, which is called Nature; the individual life is good when it is in harmony with Nature. In one sense, every life is in harmony with Nature, since it is such as Nature’s laws have caused it to be; but in another sense a human life is only in harmony with Nature when the individual will is directed to ends which are among those of Nature. Virtue consists in a will which is in agreement with Nature. The wicked, though perforce they obey God’s law, do so involuntarily; in the simile of Cleanthes, they are like a dog tied to a cart, and compelled to go wherever it goes. In the life of an individual man, virtue is the sole good; such things as health, happiness, possessions, are of no account. Since virtue resides in the will, everything really good or bad in a man’s life depends only upon himself.


He may be poor, but what of it? He can still be virtuous. He may be sentenced to death, but he can die nobly, like Socrates. Other men have power only over externals; virtue, which alone is truly good, rests entirely with the individual. Therefore every man has perfect freedom, provided he emancipates himself from mundane desires

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Epicurus (341 BC – 271 BC)

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Letter to Menoeceus

We must also reflect that of desires some are natural, others are groundless; and that of the natural some are necessary as well as natural, and some natural only. And of the necessary desires some are necessary if we are to be happy, some if the body is to be rid of uneasiness, some if we are even to live. He who has a clear and certain understanding of these things will direct every preference and aversion toward securing health of body and tranquillity of mind, seeing that this is the sum and end of a happy life. For the end of all our actions is to be free from pain and fear, and, when once we have attained all this, the tempest of the soul is laid;

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Pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the starting point of every choice and of every aversion, and to it we always come back, inasmuch as we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing.

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Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.

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When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and the aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking bouts and of revelry, not sexual lust, not the enjoyment of fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, that produces a pleasant life. It is rather sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs that lead to the tumult of the soul.

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It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living pleasantly.

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I know not how to conceive the good, apart from the pleasures of taste, of sex, of sound, and the pleasures of beautiful form.

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Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.

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Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

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Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.

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He who is not satisfied with a little, is satisfied with nothing.

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You don't develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.

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It is folly for a man to pray to the gods for that which he has the power to obtain by himself.

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I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.

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Not what we have but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.

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Why should I fear death?

If I am, then death is not.

If Death is, then I am not.

Why should I fear that which can only exist when I do not?

Long time men lay oppressed with slavish fear.

Religious tyranny did domineer.

At length the mighty one of Greece

Began to assent the liberty of man.

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If the gods listened to the prayers of men, all humankind would quickly perish since they constantly pray for many evils to befall one another.

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The art of living well and the art of dying well are one.

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He who has peace of mind disturbs neither himself nor another.

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Accustom yourself to the belief that death is of no concern to us, since all good and evil lie in sensation and sensation ends with death. Therefore the true belief that death is nothing to us makes a mortal life happy, not by adding to it an infinite time, but by taking away the desire for immortality. For there is no reason why the man who is thoroughly assured that there is nothing to fear in death should find anything to fear in life. So, too, he is foolish who says that he fears death, not because it will be painful when it comes, but because the anticipation of it is painful; for that which is no burden when it is present gives pain to no purpose when it is anticipated. Death, the most dreaded of evils, is therefore of no concern to us; for while we exist death is not present, and when death is present we no longer exist. It is therefore nothing either to the living or to the dead since it is not present to the living, and the dead no longer are.

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We must, therefore, pursue the things that make for happiness, seeing that when happiness is present, we have everything; but when it is absent, we do everything to possess it.

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Don't fear the gods,

Don't worry about death;

What is good is easy to get, and

What is terrible is easy to endure.

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The fool’s life is empty of gratitude and full of fears; its course lies wholly toward the future.

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It is better for you to be free of fear lying upon a pallet, than to have a golden couch and a rich table and be full of trouble.