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Volume 12, 2014

La Causalité Platonicienne, Stoïcienne, Cynique et Médiévale

Andrei Cornea
Pages 213-228

Aristotle and Epicurus on Sensations, Falsity, and Truth

Epicurus claimed that „all sensations are true”, and that the false is only in the opinions. This paradoxical theory, very much criticized both by ancient and modern commentators, for it seems counterfactual, draws on Aristotle’s theory of sensations. Aristotle (as shown especially in the De anima) holds that sensations and opinions must be distinguished. As long as sensations stick to their „proper domain”, they remain trustworthy and cannot refute each other, regardless of whether they are similar or different in kind. Yet they can fail to perceive the truth, when they pass beyond their proper domain into what one can call their „improper domain” (sizes and things). At this moment sensations resemble opinions and become fallible. So, to a certain extent, the divide between sensations and opinions becomes blurred. Epicurus seems to have taken up much of this theory. Yet he submitted it to a radical simplification: now, there is no room for the „improper domain”, so that all one sensation seizes always belongs to its „proper domain”. Thus it can never be refuted neither by a similar, nor by a dissimilar sensation in kind; therefore it is always and in every circumstance trustworthy. One can add that, in reshaping Aristotle’s theory of senses by removing the „improper domain”, Epicurus purged the theory of senses of all elements that could involve uncertainty and imprecision – which is typical for his strenuous attempt to achieve calm and serenity.

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