Thursday, October 1, 2009

Week Three: Philosophy of the Hellenistic World and the Roman Empire

Osborne: 22-32
Robinson: 36-40


Supplemental Reading:

Oxford: 36-53, 286-291
Lucian of Samosata (A.D. 125 - after A.D. 180):
Philosophies for Sale


Early Christianity




I - Rooted in atomism and the teachings of Aristippus.
II - "Natural law" and "necessity" are rooted in the motions of the atoms that make up the cosmos.
III - The only "legitimate" knowledge is of atoms and the void. Knowledge which comes through the senses is "bastard." Atoms and the void are not accessible to the senses, thus opinions about phenomena perceived by the senses may be misplaced or misdirected. Sense experiences--hot, cold, color--are "conventions," the "truth" is in atoms and the void.
IV - Mind and soul are the same, and are located in especially "fiery" atoms distributed throughout the body. Everything is throwing off "idols" or "effluences" which make contact with the soul atoms, and produce sensations.
V - Everything has a mechanical cause in the atoms of the void.
VI - Only pleasure (living well) is good.

Leucippus (450 - 420 BCE)
a) Atomism.

Democritus (460 - 431 BCE)
a) Atomism.
b) Assumes free will to exist, and promotes a doctrine of "cheerfulness" as being the aim of a good life: contentment, balance, undismayed attitude.

Aristippus of Cyrene (435 - 355 BCE)
a) Cyrenaic School: Pleasure and enjoyment of the present moment is the greatest good.

Epicurus (351 - 270 BCE)
a) Taught in the "Garden" in Athens. Admitted men and women, freeman and slave.
b) Sought to free people from fear and pain.
c) Hedonist: Only pleasure was good. Pleasure is the absence of pain.
d) Two types of pleasure: 1) Catastematic: underlying harmonious state of body or mind. 2) Kinetic: alterations of mental or physical states.
e) Ataraxia: well-being of he mind, or freedom from disturbance.
f) Virtue, goodness, justice, etc, were explained in terms of enlightened self interest. People were taught to be virtuous to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.
g) Sought to liberate people from fear of the gods and fear of death.
h) Atomism explains away such fear: "Death is nothing to us." The gods are built up images from another world far away. The gods are unconcerned with us. There is no divine providence or rationality governing the universe.
i) Atomic swerve: Generates interactions leading to the formation of the world.
j) Political and social commitments bring trouble, thus Epicureans avoided political life, marriage and child-rearing, and advocated
lathe biosas, "get through life unnoticed."
k) Epicureans were not pure hedonists. They avoided pain as much as they pursued pleasure: advocated simple diet, simple pleasures, do nothing that will bring remorse. Aims were frugal living, friendship, conversation, and even the contemplation of the gods who, wisely, have nothing to do with humanity.

Lucretius (95 - 54 BCE)
a) Lucretius's poem
On the Nature of Things provides an accurate account of Epicurus' doctrine.


I - Most influential of the post-Aristotelian schools.
II - Characterized by vehement affirmation rather than argument.
III - Three divisions of Stoic doctrine: Logical, Physical, Ethical.
IV - Logic: Cases occur in which all doubt is out of the question.
V - Physical: Minds, gods, objects, qualities of objects, human minds, even emotions are all corporeal bodies. Monistic: there is only one "substance," one
phusis, underlying all phenomena, and this phusis is referred to by the name of God, and identified with Reason. Everything serves a rational purpose. The universe emerged from a "divine fire" or cosmic conflagration to which it will return again, and the birth and death of the universe will repeat itself in identical cycles forever.
VI - Ethics: Most important part of Stoic doctrine. Stoics seek to attain peace,
apatheia. We are at peace when we have what we want: therefore we should: 1) attempt to get what we want, or 2) attempt to want (or accept) what we have (Stoics pursued #2). Stoics avoided stirring their emotions or appetites. The only good was virtue, the only evil vice, which are defined by either the right or wrong disposition of the will. The will is wholly and unalterably under the control of the individual, so that the true good is wholly within the power of the individual. Everything that does not fall within the sphere of absolute control is to be regarded with indifference, including pain, pleasure, disappointment, and so on.
VII - Ethics Part II: The individual could choose "to act in accordance with nature." 1) Justifiably seek the fulfillment of "natural" human instincts. 2) Since mankind was "naturally" one family, the good Stoic should seek to serve his fellow man. Each man is assigned by Nature his particular role in the drama of existence; and it is fitting and "natural" for us all to play his part to the best of his ability--though at the same time being indifferent to the outcomes of his role. The idea was to arrive at virtue by playing the role one is assigned. Virtue--playing one's role--is what is of value. Everything else--what happens in the world--is unimportant as far as the individual is concerned, because everything that occurs has its place in Nature's grand design. Acceptance of all that occurs is the only rational attitude. Indignation, regret, fear, hope, anxiety are all foolish and unjustifiable feelings, for all these feelings rest on the idea that the natural course of events could be, or could have been, other than what it is, has been, or will be.
VIII - Criticism: Do the Stoics achieve "peace," or rather a sort of radical indifference and "apathy"? See Lucian, page 489: "These things are not in our control, and all that is not in our control is immaterial."

Zeno of Citium (332 - 265 BCE)
a) Student of Diogenes

Chrysippus (280 - 206 BCE)

Panaetius of Rhodes (185 - 110 BCE)
a) Introduced Stoicism to Rome.
b) Virtue lies in human co-operation rather than the attainment of
apatheia (a sort of apathy). Rejected the radical theory if virtue and replaced it with acting rightly.
c) Rejected the idea of recurring cosmic conflagration, soothsaying, and astrology.

Seneca (5 BCE- AD 65)

Epictetus (55 - 135)
a) Lived in Rome as a slave, later became free.
b) Attempted to revive the early teachings of Zeno.
c) But goes further than Zeno, who would at least conceed that some things could be preferable to others: Better to be healthy than sick; wealth was better than poverty. For Epiceteus,the only rational goal was to be master of one's experience through control of the will and the elimination of all feeling whatever.
d) Tolerance of the shortcomings of others; good humor in spite of affliction.

Marcus Aurelius (121 - 180)
a) Emperor of Rome. He taught philosophy in public assemblies.
b) Early studies were in law and rhetoric; took up philosophy, and abandoned Latin to write in Greek. Recorded his philosophy in his
Meditations, some of which was written in the harsh conditions of a military camp during northern warfare against the Germans.
a) Both more ascetic and more human than the traditional stoic, the Aurelian stoic was required to be different:
1) A traditional Stoic would have regarded the material trappings of civilization with indifference. Marcus Aurelius was instead regarded them as repulsive. Not merely independent of worldly goods, he rejected them.
2) Frequent concession to human feelings.
d) Observe one's own feelings and actions with the same coolness and detachment as one observes the feelings and actions of others.


Pyrrho of Elis (360 - 272 BCE)

Cicero (106 - 43 BCE)
a) Academic Skepticism

Aenesidemus (1st Century BCE)

Sextus Empiricus (150 - 225)


Antisthenes (445 - 360 BCE)
Diogenes of Sinope (400 - 325 BCE)


Plotinus (205 - 70 BCE)
a) Mind (nous)--thought thinking itself, “the one” or “the good”: forms are contemplated in unity in a timeless way.
b) Soul (psyche): forms are contemplated separately and successively: space and time.
c) Nature (physis): forms are seen in a dream-like way, and which projects dreams as the material world.
d) The universe is a process of successive emanations:




e) A human being is the microcosm of a process of successive emanations:

The ONE, the GOD

The Spirit

The Soul

Matter & Nature

1. Body/Matter/Nature—are farthest from the ONE, and are thus the most formless, shapeless and imperfect things.
5. “The supreme achievement of the intellect is to leave itself behind.”

Source Material:
The Oxford History of the Classical World: Greece and the Hellenistic World
The Oxford Classical Dictionary
Penguin Dictionary of Philsophy
Richard Osborne
. Philosophy for Beginners

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