Letters on Happiness

by Peter Saint-Andre

Letter Twelve: Fearless and Self-Reliant

Previous: Letter Eleven: Steady and Serene

Dear Schuyler,

Although I like the portrait Jefferson paints in that letter, I'm not sure it's fully consistent with the fragments of Epicurus. In particular, I haven't found any statement about "four cardinal virtues" in what we've been reading, or about fortitude as a key concept in Epicureanism (have you seen that in Lucretius?). The idea that comes closest is self-reliance, which Epicurus contrasts with dependence in several places:

The study of what is natural produces not braggarts nor windbags nor those who show off the culture that most people fight about, but those who are fearless and self-reliant and who value their own good qualities rather than the good things that have come to them from external circumstances. (Vatican Saying 45)

We hold that self-reliance is a great good — not so that we will always have only a few things but so that if we do not have much we will rejoice in the few things we have, firmly persuaded that those who need luxury the least enjoy it the most, and that everything natural is easily obtained whereas everything groundless is hard to get. (Letter to Menoikos, Section 130)

He who follows nature and not groundless opinions is completely self-reliant. With regard to what is enough by nature, everything he owns is a source of wealth; whereas with regard to unlimited desires even the greatest wealth is poverty. (Fragment 202)

Self-reliance is the greatest wealth of all. (Fragment 476)

The greatest fruit of self-reliance is freedom. (Vatican Saying 77)

Here again your suggestion of "the baseline" is lurking in the background, because Epicurus holds that if you limit your desires to what is natural and necessary then you will be fearless and self-reliant, and you will have great natural wealth and personal freedom — whereas if your desires are groundless and unlimited then you will be fearful and dependent, and you will live in true poverty and servitude.

Your friend,


Next: Letter Thirteen: The Natural Goal of Life

Peter Saint-Andre > Writings > Epicurus