An Examination of the Preconceptions and Anticipations of Epicurus as considered through the Dialogues of Jackson Barwis.
“On Three Legs Liberty Stands” was the original title of this volume. The change to the present title was unfortunate, but necessary: in a world where submission is preached from pulpits and minarets, and liberty is viewed more often with suspicion than with reverence, it is no longer possible to take for granted that Liberty is a desirable thing in itself.
And in truth the desirability of Liberty is not self-evident, not even in the eighteenth-century world of Jackson Barwis. Barwis composed the dialogues which are included here because he saw that the true foundation of Liberty lies, as it does for all other political and ethical values, at a considerable depth. It is only at this deeper level that Liberty, Equality, Rights – and many other values that are often praised but rarely defined – must be established.
The three legs referred to here are the three faculties through which all human knowledge is obtained. The first two faculties are commonly recognized: they are (1) the five bodily senses (vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste), and (2) the pain / pleasure mechanism (the evaluative faculty which provides an automatic sensation in response to many experiences in life).
The third faculty, however, is obscure, and most men of our age deny that it even exists. Ancient in origin, by the time of Jackson Barwis this faculty was referred to as that of principles which are “innate or natural,” and these are the terms by which this faculty is referred in the dialogues in this volume. The concept far predates Barwis, however, and in this brief introduction I urge the reader to follow its heritage to its true father – its greatest ancient proponent – Epicurus.
It is Epicurus who popularized this notion of a third faculty, which he held to consist – not of explicit knowledge such as that of mathematics or geometry, but of a faculty of forming conceptual knowledge according to certain principles considered Natural to men, in the same way that Nature provides more explicit knowledge, generally referred to as instinctual, to all other animal life. Epicurus called this third faculty by the name of “Preconceptions” or “Anticipations, and enshrined it in its proper place – as co-equal with the other two faculties – as a necessary foundation on which all men must seek out knowledge and act accordingly.
Today, however, and throughout most of the non-Epicurean history of world philosophies, this third faculty is commonly held not to exist at all, and those who accept its existence are dismissed as dreamers or worse.
The fragmentary nature of our remaining Epicurean texts makes it difficult to determine the precise attributes of the Epicurean notion of Preconceptions and Anticipations, but sufficient texts remain to enable us to establish the general outlines of the concept.
Diogenes Laertius, Epicurus’ primary ancient biographer, recorded:
Now in the Canon, Epicurus says that the criteria of truth are the senses, the preconceptions, and the passions.” He continues, “By preconception, the Epicureans mean a sort of comprehension as it were, or right opinion, or notion, or general idea which exists in us; or, in other words, the recollection of an external object often perceived anteriorly.
Download these free ebooks by the same author:
The Tripod of Truth
Lion of Epicurus
The Same Span of Time