An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding HTML version

I know, replied he, that in fact these persecutions never, in any age, proceeded from calm
reason, or from experience of the pernicious consequences of philosophy; but arose
entirely from passion and prejudice. But what if I should advance farther, and assert, that
if Epicurus had been accused before the people, by any of the sycophants or informers of
those days, he could easily have defended his cause, and proved his principles of
philosophy to be as salutary as those of his adversaries, who endeavoured, with such zeal,
to expose him to the public hatred and jealousy?
I wish, said I, you would try your eloquence upon so extraordinary a topic, and make a
speech for Epicurus, which might satisfy, not the mob of Athens, if you will allow that
ancient and polite city to have contained any mob, but the more philosophical part of his
audience, such as might be supposed capable of comprehending his arguments.
The matter would not be difficult, upon such conditions, replied he: And if you please, I
shall suppose myself Epicurus for a moment, and make you stand for the Athenian
people, and shall deliver you such an harangue as will fill all the urn with white beans,
and leave not a black one to gratify the malice of my adversaries.
Very well: Pray proceed upon these suppositions.
104. I come hither, O ye Athenians, to justify in your assembly what I maintained in my
school, and I find myself impeached by furious antagonists, instead of reasoning with
calm and dispassionate enquirers. Your deliberations, which of right should be directed to
questions of public good, and the interest of the commonwealth, are diverted to the
disquisitions of speculative philosophy; and these magnificent, but perhaps fruitless
enquiries, take place of your more familiar but more useful occupations. But so far as in
me lies, I will prevent this abuse. We shall not here dispute concerning the origin and
government of worlds. We shall only enquire how far such questions concern the public
interest. And if I can persuade you, that they are entirely indifferent to the peace of
society and security of government, I hope that you will presently send us back to our
schools, there to examine, at leisure, the question the most sublime, but at the same time,
the most speculative of all philosophy.
The religious philosophers, not satisfied with the tradition of your forefathers, and
doctrine of your priests (in which I willingly acquiesce), indulge a rash curiosity, in
trying how far they can establish religion upon the principles of reason; and they thereby
excite, instead of satisfying, the doubts, which naturally arise from a diligent and
scrutinous enquiry. They paint, in the most magnificent colours, the order, beauty, and
wise arrangement of the universe; and then ask, if such a glorious display of intelligence
could proceed from the fortuitous concourse of atoms, or if chance could produce what
the greatest genius can never sufficiently admire. I shall not examine the justness of this
argument. I shall allow it to be as solid as my antagonists and accusers can desire. It is
sufficient, if I can prove, from this very reasoning, that the question is entirely
speculative, and that, when, in my philosophical disquisitions, I deny a providence and a
future state, I undermine not the foundations of society, but advance principles, which
they themselves, upon their own topics, if they argue consistently, must allow to be solid
and satisfactory.