Ontology of Motion Versus the Epistle to Herodotus

The following is part of my book review of Thomas Nail’s Ontology of Motion.

The atoms are in continual motion through all eternity. – Epicurus’ Epistle to Herodotus

We do not have all the works of Epicurus, particularly his dozens of works on nature, but what we do have does make motion a basic property of nature, so that Nail’s claim that Lucretius was innovating by making motion THE central aspect of Epicurean philosophy seems to lack validity. But this does not mean that Ontology of Motion is without merit or value. What I wish to point out is that anyone studying Lucretius must also study the Epistle to Herodotus–considered the “Little Epitome”–which had to be studied by every beginning Epicurean prior to graduating to the “Larger Epitome”, which contained more advanced subjects.

Nail seems to understand polyvalent logic and the possibility of multiple theories being valid as long as they don’t mutually contradict, or are contradicted by evidence. In his essay The Ontology of Motion, he says:

There can be and certainly are multiple coexisting descriptions of the same things from different perspectives. Why then can’t the mobilities paradigm offer us a new perspective or dimension to everything in the same way that we quite easily talk about spatial and temporal dimensions to all things? Movement is just as real an irreducible dimension of being as space or time. There is nothing that is not or has not been in motion. To believe otherwise is precisely to reduce motion to space and time.

Let’s see the centrality of motion in the Letter to Herodotus, which proves my point that Lucretius got his ideas from Epicurus:

The atoms are in continual motion through all eternity. Some of them rebound to a considerable distance from each other, while others merely oscillate in one place when they chance to have got entangled or to be enclosed by a mass of other atoms shaped for entangling.

… Furthermore, so long as nothing comes in the way to offer resistance, motion through the void accomplishes any imaginable distance in an inconceivably short time. For resistance encountered is the equivalent of slowness, its absence the equivalent of speed. (1)

Note 1. Epicurus’ theory that resistance is slowness and its absence is speed was famously proven true via an experiment carried out by an astronaut in the moon. Typically, a feather falls slower than a hammer on Earth because of the resistance of wind, but since there is no atmosphere in the moon, they both fall at the same speed there.

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About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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