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Classical Philosophy after Aristotle

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After Aristotle had completed his great speculative system, philosophy moves toward a new emphasis. Four groups of philosophers helped to shape this new direction, namely, the Epicureans, the Stoics, the Skeptics, and the Neoplatonist. They were, of course, greatly influenced by their predecessors, so we find that Epicurus relied upon Democritus for his atomic theory of nature, the Stoics made use of Heraclitus’ notion of a fiery substance permeating all things, the Skeptics built a method of inquiry upon the Socratic form of doubt, and Plotinus drew heavily upon Plato. What made their philosophy different, however, was not so much its subject matter as its mood and its emphasis. Its emphasis was practical, and its mood was self-centered. Philosophy became more practical by emphasizing the art of living. To be sure, each of these new movements of thought did involve speculative descriptions of the structure of the universe. But instead of working out blueprints for the ideal society and fitting individuals into large social and political organizations, as Plato and Aristotle had done, these new philosophers led people to think primarily of themselves and how they as individuals in a scheme of nature could achieve the most satisfactory personal life.

These new directions in ethics were brought about to a great extent by the historical conditions of the times. After the Peloponnesian War and with the fall of Athens, Greek civilization declined. With the breakdown of the small Greek city-state, individual citizens lost the sense of their own importance and their ability to control or perfect their social and political destiny. Individuals increasingly felt this loss of personal control over collective life as they were absorbed into the growing Roman Empire. When Greece became a mere province of Rome, men lost interest in pursing the speculative questions concerning the ideal society. What was needed was a practical philosophy to give life direction under changing conditions. And at a time when events overwhelmed people, it seemed idle to try to change history. But if history was beyond humanity’s control, at least a person’s own life could be managed with some success.

Philosophy, therefore, shifted to this practical emphasis in a mood of increasing concern for the more immediate world of the individual. The Epicureans turned in the directions of an ideal for living through what they called ataraxia, or tranquility of soul. The Stoics sought to control their reactions to inevitable events, while the Skeptics sought to preserve personal freedom by refraining from any basic commitment to ideals whose truth was doubtful, and Plotinus promised salvation in a mystical union with god. They looked to philosophy for a source of meaning for human existence, and it is no wonder that their philosophy, particularly Stoicism, was later to compete with religion for the allegiance of humanity. They sought to discover ways in which individual persons could successfully achieve happiness or contentment in a world that was not altogether friendly and filled with many pitfalls.

(341-271 B.C.E.)
The Pleasant Life

Epicureanism was one of the philosophies that arose during the decline of ancient Greece as a source of relief from the increasing social disorganization. Of these “salvation philosophies,” which flourished until the Greco-Roman culture was superseded by the Christian, Epicureanism was distinguished for the constancy of its doctrine. Epicurus teaches us that happiness involves serenity and is achieved through the simple pleasures that preserve bodily health and peace of mind. To realize their ideal, the members of the Epicurean community refrained, insofar as possible, from participation in the affairs of the troubled world, spending their time in philosophical conversation. Epicurus, Inheriting Athenian citizenship from his parents, was born and educated on the island of Samos, in the Aegean Sea, where he spent the first two decades of his life. When, following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E., the Athenians were driven out of Samos, Epicurus went to Asia Minor. After teaching there for several years, he moved to Athens (306 B.C.E.) and until his death taught in his famous garden.

The Garden of Epicurus served as a sanctuary from the turmoil of the outer world for a select group of men who applied in their daily lives the precepts of their mentor. Epicurus’ Garden ranked as one of the great schools of antiquity, along with Plato’s Academy, Aristotle’s Lyceum, and Zeno’s Stoa. It is a prank of history that the word epicure is frequently used to denote a gourmet of a fastidious voluptuary. Epicurus’ enemies in fact accused him of sensualism, but his philosophical teachings and the frugality and simplicity of his life effectively refuted their charge. It was the nobility of his character that accounted for his great popularity.

Indeed, the biographer of ancient philosophers, Diogenes Laertius (third century C.E.), eulogized him in the following manner: Epicurus has witnesses enough and to spare of his unsurpassed kindness to all men. There is his country which honored him with bronze statues, his friends so numerous they could not even be reckoned by entire cities, and his disciples who all remained bound for ever by the charm of his teaching, except Metrodorus . . . overweighted perhaps by Epicurus’s excessive goodness. There is also the permanent continuance of the school after almost all the others had come to an end, and that through it had a countless succession of heads from among the disciples. There is again his grateful devotion to his parents, his generosity to his brothers, And his gentleness towards his servants . . . in short there is his benevolence to all. The Stoics:

Stoicism: Distinguishing Between What We Can and Cannot Control Stoicism as a school of philosophy includes some of the most distinguished intellectuals of antiquity. Founded by Zeno (334-262 B.C.E.), who assembled his school on the Stoa (Greek forporch, hence the term stoic), this philosophical movement attracted Cleanthes (303-233 B.C.E.), Aristo in Athens and later found such advocates in Rome as Cicero (106-43 B.C.E.), Epictetus (60-117 C.E.), Seneca (4 B.C.E.-?-65 C.E.), and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 C.E.). Zeno had been inspired as a youth by the ethical teachings and particularly by the courageous death of Socrates. This influence helped to fix the overwhelming emphasis of Stoic philosophy upon ethics, although the Stoics addressed themselves to all three divisions of philosophy formulated by Aristotle’s Lyceum: logic, physics, and ethics. Wisdom and Control versus Pleasure

In their moral philosophy, the Stoics aimed at happiness, but unlike the Epicureans they did not expect to find it in pleasure. Instead, the Stoics sought happiness through wisdom, a wisdom by which to control what lay within human power and to accept with dignified resignation what had to be. They were profoundly influenced by Socrates, who had faced death with serenity and courage. This example of superb control over the emotions in the face of the supreme threat to one’s existence, a threat of death, provided the Stoics with an authentic model after which to pattern their lives. Centuries later the Stoic, Epictetus, said that “I cannot escape death, but cannot I escape the dread of it?” Developing this same theme in a more general way, he wrote, “Demand not that events should happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.” We cannot, that is, control all events, but we can control our attitude toward what happens. It is useless to fear future events, for they will happen in any case.

But it is possible by an act of will to control our fear. We should not, therefore, fear events—in a real sense we have “nothing to fear but fear itself.” There is an elegant simplicity to this moral philosophy, and yet it was a philosophy for an intellectual elite. The conclusion was simple enough, to control one’s attitudes, but how did the Stoics arrive at this conclusion in a philosophical way? They did it by creating a mental picture of what the world must be like and how man fits into this world. The world, they said, is an orderly arrangement where humans and physical things behave according to principles of purpose. They saw throughout all of nature the operation of reason and law. The Stoics relied upon a special idea of God to explain this view of the world, for they thought of God as a rational substance existing not in some single location but in all of nature, in all things. It was this kind of God, a pervading substantial form of reason, that controls and orders the whole structure of nature, that the Stoics said determines the course of events. Herein lay the basis for moral philosophy, but the direction in which Stoic thought moved on these matters was set by their theory of the nature of knowledge. Ethics and the Human Drama

Moral philosophy in Stoic thought rested upon a simple insight, wherein each person was viewed as an actor in a drama. What Epictetus meant when he used this image was that an actor does not choose a role, but on the contrary it is the author or director of the drama who selects people to play the various roles. In the drama of the world, it is God, or the principle of reason, who determines what each person shall be and how he or she will be situated in history. Human reason, said the Stoics, consists in recognizing what one’s role in this drama is and then performing the part well. Some people have “bit parts,” while others are cast into leading roles. “If it be [God’s] pleasure that you should act a poor person, see that you act it well; or a cripple or a ruler, or a private citizen. For this is your business, says Epictetus, “to act well the given part.” The actor develops a great indifference to those things over which he or she has no control, as, for example, the shape and form of the scenery as well as who the other players will be. The actor especially has no control over the story or its plot. But there is one thing the actor can control, and that is his or her attitude and emotions.

The actor can sulk because of a bit part, or be consumed with jealousy because someone else was chosen to be the hero, or feel terribly insulted because the make-up artist has provided a particularly ugly nose. But neither sulking nor jealousy nor feeling insulted can in any way alter the fact that he or she has a bit part, is not a hero, and must wear an ugly nose. All these feelings can do is rob the actor of happiness. If he or she can remain free from these feelings, or develop what the Stoics called apathy, a serenity and happiness that are the mark of a wise person will be achieved. The wise person is the one who knows what his or her role is. Epicureanism, in a strict sense, the philosophy taught by Epicurus (341–270bce). In a broad sense, it is a system of ethics embracing every conception or formof life that can be traced to the principles of his philosophy.

In ancient polemics, as often since, the term was employed with an even more generic (and clearly erroneous) meaning as the equivalent of hedonism, the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the chief good. In popular parlance, Epicureanism thus means devotion to pleasure, comfort, and high living, with a certain nicety of style. Skepticism or scepticism is generally any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere. Philosophical skepticism is an overall approach that requires all information to be well supported by evidence. Classical philosophical skepticism derives from the ‘Skeptikoi’, a school who “asserted nothing”. Adherents of Pyrrhonism, for instance, suspend judgment in investigations. Skeptics may even doubt the reliability of their own senses. Religious skepticism, on the other hand is “doubt concerning basic religious principles (such as immortality, providence, and revelation

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