Lucretius From Afar

To Whom It May Concern: A Private Letter to Objectivists

This essay was first published privately in New York in 1970.

By Lucretius From Afar

It has come to me from afar that your Mother, Ayn Rand, who has been your guiding star, has suffered a great loss. In The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged she lifted before you a vision of a life worth living amid a sea of moral grayness. But since the year you call 1968, a strange pall has descended over her, and over you, causing you to doubt your Mother’s judgment, to bring you into violent quarrels with each other, and to question at least a part of the advice she has given you.

In this brief message I want to reassure you: Honor your Mother, for the light that she lifted has had no equal in your lifetimes. But the discord that has now arisen among you, and the confusion which is growing, must be met and dispelled. You must recognize that your Mother’s lamp has not illuminated every corner, and you must now seek out your Father — the Father you have never known.

Why have you not known him? Your Mother has not introduced you, and for reasons of her own she has chosen to walk his path with other companions. Your Mother’s judgment in men has thus far been — shall we say — uneven. Aristotle alone has she acknowledged and recommended for your reverence. In failing to honor your Father, your Mother has failed to teach you several of his most significant precepts, and this failure has caused much sadness both for her and for you.

Many of you are stricken with the enormity of the struggle to attain the values that you now know to be possible, but for guidance in which you trusted in her alone. Know now that you are not the first to walk this path. There is much more which I cannot relate here, but word of your Father still exists in many libraries in your world, and a treasure awaits you there for the finding.

Of course your Father of whom I speak is also my own Father. When I composed my life’s work, in the years before Caesar became dictator of Rome, I too had before me a vision of a world where men pursued their own happiness in justice, honesty, and wisdom, wholly free from the oppression of religion and from the tyranny of the Platonists.

Does it surprise you that I should claim for my own an enemy — the Platonists — whom you believe to be uniquely yours? Ah, children, check your premises — my Father and I precede you by two thousand years.

Before you consider whether to heed a message from a man whose name stirs only the dimmest recollection in your mind, consider why you are also so ignorant of the man you call the Sage of Monticello. What has prevented you from knowing of his letter to William Short, in your year 1819, where he called out in the clearest of terms to our Father, his “Master,” the greatest of all philosophers, the source of “everything rational in moral philosophy which Greek and Rome have left.” Why do you not know better than any words of John Galt what the Sage of Monticello told you clearly: that Plato dealt in “mysticisms incomprehensible to the human mind,” and that Plato’s “foggy conceptions” had formed the “basis of impenetrable darkness” whereon the Christians had reared “fabrications as delirious of their own invention.”

Do you say that you are also unaware that the Sage of Monticello told you that the great crime of those who followed in the steps of Plato was their misrepresentation of the doctrines of our Father? It sorrows me to think that you know so well how your Mother has been slandered by her enemies, but that you are unaware how ages of enemies have prevented you from knowing your Father. Seek out this letter from the Sage of Monticello if you have not read it, and find in it your first connection to the Father whom you must now reclaim.

Why do I say that you must reclaim him? Is it solely because He, not your Mother, was the first and greatest of the Anti-Platonic philosophers? Before I finish this message, I will show you a glimpse of how your Father blazed the trail that you think no one but your Mother could ever have found, and how it was your Father who first kindled the light that drove back the forces of Plato’s omnivorous darkness. You must learn that your Mother’s light, clear as it was, did not shine as brightly as your Father’s. If you pursue the search that is now open to you, the reward will be precepts that light the way out of your current darkness, and that will unite you at last with a great family of friends which has now stretched over two thousand years.

Do I hear you say that not all enemies of Plato are friends of your Mother? Consider — eight years ago, in your year 1962, your Mother wrote that she could state the essence of her philosophy standing on one foot, and she gave you four precepts to remember. Consider each of those precepts in your Mother’s words, and then hear for the first time a small part of the golden words that your Father left to you:

Your Mother wrote that the first precept of her philosophy was “Metaphysics: Objective Reality – Reality exists as an objective absolute — facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.”

Metaphysics” – “Objective Reality” – Fine and high-sounding terms, useful enough in speaking to those professional academics who have always been the scourge of common sense and understanding. What do these words mean to the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker? Are such men forever excluded from the true knowledge of Nature that is essential to happiness? Your Father addressed addressed his words to all who seek the truth, in terms clear and useful to all except those who practice confusion as an occupation.

Your Mother sought to bridge the centuries of science with a generalized term – “objective reality” – but in these words you fail to hear your Father’s central precept, from which all else springs:

Nil posse creari de nilo.
Nothing can be created from nothing.

The butcher and baker can see for themselves – as could the academics if they would but believe their eyes – that nothing is ever created from nothing, and nothing is ever destroyed to nothing. Even the dullest candlestick maker can see what this means: if nothing is created from nothing, then all that is something must come from some prior thing. If no thing is or ever has been created from nothing, then the “something else” from which all that we see is composed is eternal. These eternal elements of the universe have never been “created” — neither by the mind of a god nor by a professor of Platonism. It is well and truly known that your Mother has astounded some of you by failing to embrace what you term “evolution.” Again, check your premises. Your Mother knows well that nothing comes from nothing, and even if she failed to explain this to you clearly enough, the spark of life is an eternal “something” of its own, even though the consciousness which springs from that spark is not.

Instead of worshiping at the feet of fraudulent preachers and hopeless academics, heed the Father who brought you the truth, as I left you in the first book of my poem:

When all of humanity — before our eyes — lay foully groveling upon the earth,
crushed down by the weight of religion,
which showed its face from the realms of heaven,
scowling down upon mortals with dreadful aspect,
it was a man of Greece who dared first to raise his mortal eyes to meet it,
and dared first to stand forth against it.
This man was checked neither by the stories of the gods,
nor by thunderbolts, nor by the sky with its vengeful roar,
but all the more these spurred on the eager daring of his mind to yearn
to be the first to burst through the close-set bolts upon the doors of Nature.
And so it was that the living force of his mind won its way,
and on he passed, far beyond the fiery walls of the world,
and in mind and spirit he traversed the boundless universe.
And from there he came to us back again, in victory,
bringing us tidings of what can be — and what cannot,
and in what way each thing has its power limited by its deepset boundary-stone.
In this way religion is cast beneath our feet and trampled,
and by his victory we are raised equal with heaven.

Your Mother wrote that her second precept was “Epistemology: Reason – Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.”

Here your Mother has presumed that you understand a point that many of you fail to see, and in that ignorance some of you fall victim to the same Platonic worship of “reason” that has led so many astray. Candlestick makers have no use for “epistemology,” but all men have a need to understand whether they have the capacity to learn the truth, and the path by which to seek it. What candlestick makers appreciate better than many of you is that “reason” is but a tool to use on that path, and that the path to truth is illuminated not by “reason” but by “reality” and “the senses.” What tool did Plato and his minions use to deceive the hapless multitudes but the very “reason” that you have elevated in your innocence? How did Plato seduce the minds of men except to convince them that they were unable to find truth except through the private vision of “reason” that he offered only to his golden ones? It is the very seductiveness of the thought — that the mind can rely solely on its own “reason” — that beguiles so many to believe that reason alone is the path to some higher truth. Had you heeded your Father you would never have fallen into this pit of tar.

As I explained to you in my poem, your Father’s torch illumines this darkness and burns away the cancers of those who argue that no truth is possible, and of those who argue that truth can be found in “reason” alone:

Many are the illusions we see which seek to shake the credit of the senses. But this is quite in vain, since the greatest part of these cases cheats us because of the mental-suppositions which we add ourselves, and because we take things as seen which have not been seen by the senses. Nothing is harder than to separate manifest facts from the doubtful which the mind adds on of itself.

But if a man contend that nothing can be known, he knows not whether this claim itself can be known, since he admits he knows nothing. I will therefore decline to argue the case against him who places his head where his feet should be. And yet granting that he knows this much, I would still put to him this question: Since he has never yet seen any truth in things, how does he know what “knowing” and “not knowing” are? And what it is that has produced in him the knowledge of “the true” and “the false?” What has proved to him that “the doubtful” differs from “the certain?”

You will find that from the senses proceeds the knowledge of the true, and that the senses cannot be refuted. For that which is of itself able to refute things which are false, by comparing them to those that are true, must by the nature of the case be provable to a higher certainty. Well then, what may fairly be accounted of higher certainty than the senses?

Shall reason founded on false sensations be able to contradict the senses, when reason itself is wholly founded on the senses? If the senses are not true, then all reason based on those senses is rendered false. Shall the ears be able to take the eyes to task, or the touch the ears? Shall taste call in question touch, or the nostrils refute or the eyes controvert the other?

Not so. For each sense has its own distinct office, each its own power, and therefore we must perceive what is soft and cold or hot by one distinct faculty, by another perceive the different colors of things and thus see all objects which are conjoined with color. Taste too has its separate faculty; smells spring from one source, sounds from another.

It must follow therefore that any one sense cannot confute any other. No nor can any sense take itself to task, since equal credit must be assigned to it at all times. What therefore has at any time appeared true to each sense, is a true sensation.

And if your reason shall be unable to explain away the cause why a thing close at hand appears square, but at a distance appears round, it is better, if you are at a loss for an explanation, to state an erroneous cause than to let slip from your grasp in any manner those things which you know to be manifest. For to give up that which you have a clear view to be true is to ruin the groundwork of belief and wrench up all the foundations on which rest life and existence. Not only would all reason give way, but life itself would at once fall to the ground, unless you choose to trust the senses, shunning precipices and dangers of this sort that are to be avoided, and pursuing the opposite things.

All that host of words which has been drawn out in array against the senses — you can be sure — is quite without meaning. To repeat: If, in a building, the ruler first applied is awry, and the square is untrue and swerves from its straight lines, and if there is the slightest hitch in any part of the level, all the construction must be faulty, all must be crooked, sloping, leaning forwards, leaning backwards, without symmetry, so that some parts seem ready to fall, and others do fall, all ruined by the first erroneous measurements. So too, all reasoning of things must prove to be distorted and false unless it is rightly founded in the senses.

Your Mother wrote that her third precept was: “Ethics: Self Interest – Man — every man — is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.”

Here your Mother presumes that you understand what she means when she speaks of “rational” self-interest. For a woman like her, grounded firmly in reality as she is, it is not necessary to state that what is “rational” must be determined in accord with the laws of Nature, as your Father said so very many times. Ah, but as the years go by you live further and further from Nature, far away from the daily experience of the cycle of birth and death which inform and instruct the farmer, but which intrude so infrequently into the life of the city-dweller. Not even your Sage of Monticello, who sought so often to impress upon you his reliance on the laws of Nature, could transmit this knowledge once you dismissed him as irrelevant to your academic pursuits.

Indeed, your own happiness is the highest purpose of your life according to Nature, but how well by now you must have learned that you cannot achieve happiness unless you walk as Nature requires — wisely, honorably, and justly! Despite his own reluctance to follow our Father in all things, Cicero preserved your Father’s golden rule for happiness:

Here indeed is the renowned road to happiness — open, simple, and direct! For clearly man can have no greater good than complete freedom from pain and sorrow coupled with the enjoyment of the highest bodily and mental pleasures. Notice then how the theory embraces every possible enhancement of life, every aid to the achievement of that chief good – a life of happiness – which is our object. Epicurus, the man whom you denounce as given to excessive sensuality, cries aloud that no one can live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably, and justly, and no one can live wisely, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly.

Last, your Mother told you that the fourth of her precepts was “Politics: Capitalism – The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others.”

Your Mother followed your Father’s path in telling you that relations among men must be based on freedom. But once you come to know more about your Father, you will no longer be tempted to organize your view of the relations among men in terms of how they trade eggs for butter. Nature requires that men live in freedom if they are to live in happiness, but Nature does not require that bankers calculate interest or collect on overdue loans. Nature requires that men live among each other — if at all — as friends. As our Father taught, “[h]e who desires to live in tranquility with nothing to fear from other men ought to make friends. Those of whom he cannot make friends, he should at least avoid rendering enemies; and if that is not in his power, he should, as much as possible, avoid all dealings with them, and keep them aloof, insofar as it is in his interest to do so.”

The relation of friendship among men has implications far deeper than the organization of the means of production. Nature has established that living among friends is a requirement of happy living. Cicero again has preserved our Father’s wisdom:

There remains a topic that is supremely relevant to this discussion – the subject of Friendship. Your Platonic school maintains that if pleasure is held to be the Chief Good, friendship will cease to exist. In contrast, Epicurus has pronounced in regard to friendship that of all the means to happiness that wisdom has devised, none is greater, none is more fruitful, none is more delightful than friendship. Not only did Epicurus commend the importance of friendship through his words, but far more, through the example of his life and his conduct. How rare and great friendship is can be seen in the mythical stories of antiquity. Review the legends from the remotest of ages, and many and varied as they are, you will barely find in them three pairs of friends, beginning with Theseus and ending with Orestes. Yet Epicurus in a single house (and a small one at that) maintained a whole company of friends, united by the closest sympathy and affection, and this still goes on today in the Epicurean school.

The Epicureans maintain that friendship can no more be separated from pleasure than can the virtues, which we have discussed already. A solitary, friendless life is necessarily beset by secret dangers and alarms. Hence reason itself advises the acquisition of friends. The possession of friends gives confidence and a firmly rooted hope of winning pleasure. And just as hatred, jealousy and contempt are hindrances to pleasure, so friendship is the most trustworthy preserver and also creator of pleasure for both our friends and for ourselves. Friendship affords us enjoyment in the present, and it inspires us with hope for the near and distant future. Thus it is not possible to secure uninterrupted gratification in life without friendship, nor to preserve friendship itself unless we love our friends as much as ourselves. For we rejoice in our friends’ joy as much as in our own, and we are equally pained by their sorrows. Therefore the wise man will feel exactly the same towards his friends as he does towards himself, and he will exert himself as much for his friend’s pleasure as he would for his own. All that has been said about the essential connection of the virtues with pleasure must be repeated about friendship. Epicurus well said (and I give almost his exact words): ‘The same creed that has given us courage to overcome all fear of everlasting or long-enduring evil after death has discerned that friendship is our strongest safeguard in this present term of life.’

Do I hear you murmuring that your devotion to your Mother requires you to condemn those who fail to honor her in the way you believe she should be honored? Do I hear you saying that those who have betrayed your Mother can never be your friends?

Perhaps – I cannot judge for you the details of each circumstance. But I can tell you this: our Father and his school of were renowned for their spirit of graciousness and kindness, which we raised to an art, especially in our kindly correction of each other. Even now you may find in the fragments left to you by our friend Philodemus much that has been written about how this spirit of friendliness was applied in our schools – where we had no “teachers” — only guides. For now remember this: Our Father numbered his friends in terms of whole cities, and he left to us this instruction:

Friendship goes dancing round the world
proclaiming to us all to awake to the praises of a happy life.

Where do you go from here?

Do not forget what I have stressed to you: those who have sought to follow your Mother’s wisdom know well how her words have been twisted beyond recognition by her enemies. As you seek your Father’s wisdom you must always remember that your Father’s opponents have worked far longer, and with far greater diligence. Even the most sincere of your translators and your scholars have been subjected to generations of intimidation and distortion of your Father’s views, which has succeeded to the point where you — his children — no longer recognize him. You will find that you are separated from him not only by his language, and by mine, but by a manner of expression that is so profound in meaning that it will seem strange to you. In this you must remember that those texts of our Father that survive come to you through writers who may not have themselves understood what they were copying, or who may even have corrupted the texts for their own purposes.

But enough survives that you may yet find your patrimony — if you will seek it out. Strange as this may seem, despite the ages that have passed, you are uniquely qualified to find it, because your Mother has done great work to lift from your eyes the fog of religion that has obscured the vision of so many generations who have come before. So many have looked back to our Father, but so few have understood what they saw! The Sage of Monticello was one who saw and understood. Look closely, and you may yet follow his example.

Your Mother taught you to revere Thomas Aquinas as the voice of Aristotle. You must now learn that Pierre Gassendi, who is all but unknown to you now, stood in the same stead for the Sage of Monticello and for those other founders of your nation who understood the debt they owed to our Father. I must also mention our faithful son, the professor from Toronto, whose work holds out a clear view of your Father’s philosophy, and a ready key to its recovery. Seek out your Father’s letter to Menoeceus for its clear vision of how you must live to attain the happiness to which Nature calls you. You no longer have the text of your Father’s Canon of Truth, but in the remnants which Cicero and Diogenes Laertius have preserved will be found your Father’s insights into many of the problems with which you now wrestle. Devote special attention to the fifty-first of those which you ironically call the “Vatican Sayings,” and if you will take care to look behind the awkward translations, and to remember that your Father calls you to all the happiness that Nature allows, you will find much enlightenment on the fault that has been more painful for your Mother than any other.

If you will pursue these leads you may yourself travel the path that our Father has staked out for us. You may yet come to understand why the man defamed as “the Prince of the Power of the Air” was regarded in the time of Cicero as a greater light to mankind than any god:

In sum, then, the theory I have set forth is clearer and more luminous than daylight itself. It is derived entirely from Nature’s source. My whole discussion relies for confirmation on the unbiased and unimpeachable evidence of the senses. Lisping babies, even dumb animals, prompted by Nature’s teaching, can almost find the voice to proclaim to us that in life there is no welfare but pleasure, no hardship but pain – and their judgment in these matters is neither corrupted nor biased. Ought we then not to feel the greatest gratitude to Epicurus, the man who listened to these words from Nature’s own voice, and grasped their meaning so firmly and so fully that he was able to guide all sane-minded men into the path of peace and happiness, of calmness and repose?

You amuse yourself by thinking that Epicurus was uneducated. The truth is that Epicurus refused to consider any education to be worthy of the name if it did not teach us the means to live happily. Was Epicurus to spend his time, as you encourage Triarius and me to do, perusing the poets, who give us nothing solid and useful, but only childish amusement? Was Epicurus to occupy himself like Plato, with music and geometry, arithmetic and astronomy, which are at best mere tools, and which, if they start from false premises, can never reveal truth or contribute anything to make our lives happier and therefore better?

Was Epicurus to study the limited arts such as these, and neglect the master art, so difficult but correspondingly so fruitful, the art of living? No! It was not Epicurus who was uninformed. The truly uneducated are those who ask us to go on studying until old age the subjects that we ought to be ashamed not to have learned when we were children!

A Final Word:

Perhaps your eyes are already opening, but heed this warning: Do not fail to reflect on why this path has been hidden from you. In my time, the words of our Father were freely distributed in many and various forms, his face appeared on our rings and on our cups, and we never dreamed that a day would come when these would be lost to those who came after us. The blame rests not with our Father, but with ourselves, who failed to appreciate that the oppressive force of religion was not yet conquered. In the time of my grandchildren an alliance arose that we had thought impossible. As your Sage of Monticello related to you, an unholy pact of Platonists and Nazarenes, dealing in the false hope of life after death, infected our cities from the east and spread among our weaker citizens at a pace we at first hardly noticed. Gradually our Father’s texts were honored less and less, and when the Platonist Nazarenes at last took control of our nations we were barely able to conceal a few of our Father’s words from the flames of their torches. Not even his words carved in stone by our faithful Diogenes in Oenoanda could withstand their onslaught!

Tantum religio posse suadere malorum.
So much does religion have the power to persuade to evil deeds!

Your Father will teach you that there is no such thing as Fate, nor is Fortune a force of gods who preserve those whom they favor from the forces of darkness. Each of you has free will, each of you faces the same call to study and follow Nature, and each of you yourself must bear the merit or the blame for your actions. You are called by Nature to pursue your own happiness, but in order to secure it you must not only study the world around you, you must act on what you learn. Seek out your Father, learn from our own experience, and you will see how to combat those who follow the great manufacturer of quibbles — he who slandered not only your Father but also Divine Nature herself with the epithet of “weak and beggarly elements.”

The future open to you is bright: Your Father will teach you that the universe is boundless, and that just as Nature never creates a single thing of a kind, Nature has no doubt created other worlds, and other races of men, waiting to be found. There is boundless opportunity for happiness ahead for you, if you will heed the laws of Nature.

For now, the times may be uncertain, but a life of full happiness is within your reach. Your Father will teach you that the eternity that existed before your birth is a mirror of the eternity that will follow after your death, but that neither are any concern of yours, for this life is all that Nature grants you. Nature and its elements – among which the “life element” is numbered – are eternal, but your consciousness is not. Death summons you soon enough. Follow only those desires that are necessary or natural and you will find that, as our Father said, the wise man is but little interfered with by fortune. The great concerns of your life — the things that matter — are controlled by your own wisdom and reason.

So long as you live, your own happiness is your highest value, but you must come to understand the nature of that happiness, and that all you really require to achieve it is a sound mind and a sound body. Remember that your Father said of himself that all he needed was a cup of water and a pot of cheese, and he was prepared to compete with Zeus himself for happiness!

Are you so blinded by your Father’s enemies that you fail to see why he stressed to you what great joy is to be found in the absence of pain? Spit out the absurd notion that the withdrawal of pain leaves merely a void, which must be filled with endless sensual stimulations! For the healthy living being, the withdrawal of pain leaves — Life! Life is the joy that Nature intends for you, and that joy is open to all who will apply your Father’s Four-Part Cure. Study and understand each of his Forty Principal Doctrines, but above all remember and apply his first four, which some call the Tetrapharmacon:

A blessed and immortal nature knows no trouble itself nor causes trouble to any other, so that it is never constrained by anger or favor. For all such things exist only in the weak. – This means that any such “gods” as may exist in the boundless universe are no concern of yours, nor are you a concern of theirs.

Death is nothing to us, for that which is dissolved is without sensation, and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us. – This means that death brings not punishment or pain, but simply the end of all your sensations, and therefore there is nothing for you to fear in death.

The limit of the quantify in pleasures is the removal of all that is painful. Wherever pleasure is present, as long as it is there, there is neither pain of body nor of mind, nor of both at once. – This means that although luxuries are desirable when they can be obtained without undue cost, all that you really need to experience the full pleasure to which Nature calls you in life is a sound mind and a sound body with neither burdened by pain.

Pain does not last continuously in the flesh, but the acutest pain is there for only a very short time, and that pain which just exceeds the pleasure in the flesh does not continue for many days at once. Even chronic illnesses permit a predominance of pleasure over pain in the flesh. – This means that pain is not to be feared because it is within your control. It is either minor and bearable, or within your power to end if unbearable, for there is no necessity that you live in pain.

Learn and remember the doctrines of your Father. Apply them. Stand firm and oppose his enemies. Live justly, wisely, and honorably, and you will live happily. When you learn these things, you will understand what we understood, and you will affirm in same words that we spoke: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.”

Now I must close: Preserve, protect, and carry your Father’s words past the flaming walls of this world and to the universe beyond. Never again let his golden words come so close to being lost forever.

Thomas Jefferson’s letter to William Short

Epicurus’ Letter to Menoeceus

Epicurus’ Letter to Herodotus

Epicurus’ Letter to Pythocles

Diogenes Laertius’ Biography of Epicurus

Epicurus’ Forty Principle Doctrines

Cicero’s On the Ends of Good and Evil, containing Torquatus on the philosophy of Epicurus

Lucretius’ On The Nature of Things

Norman W. DeWitt – Epicurus and His Philosophy

Additional information on Ayn Rand and Epicurus of varying degrees of accuracy and reliability can be found at:

Objectivity Archive

Further analysis of Ayn Rand and the history of Epicureanism