Volume 22, December 2017
Collected Works of Kisor K. Chakrabarti, Part II
Kisor Kumar Chakrabarti
The Epicurean Attack on Definition
The Epicureans were committed to the priority of sensation and opposed the Platonic/Aristotelian view that definitions that display essences graspable only by reason should play a central role. To the Epicureans the so-called search for essences amounted to turning away from actual observation of things and indulging in speculation based on assumptions: instead one must conduct an inquiry about nature as the phenomena dictate. Epicurus held that the first or basic concepts of an inquiry need not be demonstrated for that would open an infinite regress and might have held that the first concepts need not be defined for the definiens should be prior to the definiendum but nothing is prior to the basic concepts. Further, while explaining or defining each term is impossible (and perhaps involves infinite regress), explaining some is pointless. However, Epicureans were not opposed to providing descriptions so that there could be clear notions of words used, an investigation could proceed methodically, and all participants could agree on the subject matter.