(Jones, ch. 8) History of Philosophy: Ancient & Medieval -- Dr. Ess
Rise of empire
--> loss of belief ("optimism") in the power and ability of the "natural man" "to achieve a harmonious, all-round development." (316)
Instead, an "inward turn" (as it will be called with Augustine) -- a concentration on "inner life and one's private sensibilities,"
-- including, in the rise of mystery and salvation religions, a focus on the supernatural as an escape from the trials of this life. (316)
Recall the context of the Socratic | Platonic/Aristotelian project, i.e.,
| to counter the cultural erosion and
| conflicts clustering around the
| Sophistic relativisms (both ethical and
| Whether or not the Platonic or
| Aristotelian responses to the Sophist /
| Old Religionist tension would have
| succeeded in establishing a new,
| rational basis for a stable society --
| the political reality (the fall of the
| Macedonian Empire [323 B.C.E.] and the
| rise of the Roman Empire -- makes such
| philosophical "success" impossible.
| | INSTEAD -- the Socratic themes of self-
| | sufficiency, moderation, and the good
|--------> | of the soul now become lifted up.
--> Cf. the interest in the afterlife and the rise of the mystery religions, Jones, Vol. II, pp. 2 ff.
Five major "schools" following the collapse of the Macedonian empire and Greek city-states:
Academics (Plato's successors)
Peripatetics (Aristotle's successors)
(There are additional, if somewhat less influential schools -- the Hedonists and Cynics, for example. See Jones on these.)
EPICUREANISM: Epicurus (306 - 270 B.C.E.)
Associated with atomism.
GOAL: maximize pleasure (similar to the Hedonists) -- but from the standpoint of enlightened self-interest.
Distinguish between natural and unnatural desires (the latter described as "a bottomless pit the wise man will not attempt to fill" -- 319)
soul's freedom from disturbance (317)
"fearless of fortune" (318)
pleasure as an innate good
freedom from pain in the body and from trouble in the mind
"prudence is a more precious thing even than philosophy"
This preference for "prudence" -- i.e., for an approach to life which succeeds in achieving individual contentment -- over "philosophy" (in this case, a concern for rational consistency between various claims or teachings of a school) is apparent in the fairly obvious philosophical objections to Epicureanism.
1) Platonic critique of pleasure-seeking (from the Republic?):
So soon as one begins to distinguish between pleasures
--> seems to require a standard or criterion for judging between pleasures, where the standard or criterion is itself something different from pleasure as such. That is, it appears that we start down the Platonic road towards a standard known by the mind, a standard universal, unchanging, etc. -- in contrast with objects of the senses (including pleasures) as particular, changing, etc.
Jones (319) puts this in terms of Epicureanism as an effort to establish a "universal" doctrine of "good" and "bad" pleasures.
In short, it appears that there is a contradiction between the basic claims of Epicureanism --
(a) pleasure is the highest good, and
(b) a universal standard is needed for distinguishing between pleasures.
But the Epicureans do not seem to recognize or see the need to deal with this specifically philosophical problem.
2) Insofar as "pleasure" further seems to include "freedom from pain and trouble," -- i.e., "psychic" or mental pleasures, the term is ambiguous. Such ambiguity is recognized by Socrates/Plato/Aristotle as leading to philosophical confusion -- yet again, the Epicureans seem less troubled by the potential philosophical muddiness which will result from ambiguity in their most basic term, and more interested in whether or not their teaching "works" to establish psychic tranquility.
REPOSE -- the supreme good (an appropriate response to the chaos and uncertainty of the post-Alexandrian world).
Two singular problems confront the person seeking such repose:
fear of death
fear of divine intervention
If we rid ourselves of these, it becomes relatively easy to achieve repose. Here is where atomism is useful. Given the atomic theory,
a) personal identity does not survive (and hence, there is no need to fear any "fate" in an afterlife: see 322), and
b) Lucretius is able to attack religion -- in particular, the concern with the gods' intervention -- as superstition which runs counter to the (determined) process of atoms (see 323).
See the extensive quote describing (and condemning) "ordinary life," as "men struggle to escape themselves," (324)
Self-sufficiency as leading to freedom (meaning primarily freedom fear and disquiet: 325).
STOICISM: Zeno (in Athens ca. 320/315; founded his school in 300 B.C.E.; died 264 B.C.E.)
Reflects some influence by the CYNICS:
[CYNICS: take from Socrates the importance of independence of character, and indifference to circumstance -- though they ignore his emphasis on "virtue is knowledge." See 326.]
A. Theory of knowledge: "extreme sensationalism"
B. Physics: materialism, with fire as primary matter.
C. Ethics: the goal is to act in accordance with one's nature ("an original contribution," according to Jones)
"Science" is not valuable qua contemplation (Plato, Aristotle -- and indeed, the thrust of philosophy since the PreSocratics) nor as a means for developing technology (a modern notion -- i.e., since Descartes),
BUT for determining human nature and thus establishing the means to the end of happiness.
Key terms and concepts:
duty, obligation to the state (cf. the Aeneid)
--> social conditions contribute to the creation of "virtues"
SKEPTICISM: Sextus Empiricus (200 C.E.) collects primary texts, beginning with those associated with Pyrrho (275 B.C.E.)
The intention is to suspend judgment about the nature of objects underlying sense experience -- again, for the sake of equanimity. Judgment is suspended -- the skeptic neither affirms nor denies basic claims.
The primary goal is to "destroy the pretensions of dogmatic philosophy," not create a paralysis which incapacitates and makes action impossible. On the contrary, in addition to the primary skeptical arguments, Carneades argues for criteria for judging sense experience which, while not sufficient to deliver us truth about "things in themselves" (to use Kant's language), are nonetheless adequate for making decisions in matters of day to day living. For example, consistency with the larger context of sense experience (see 351). [My examples here: National Enquirer headlines, e.g. "Elvis is alive."]
Two main arguments:
1. Infinite regress argument (inspired, it would seem, by Aristotle's objection to Plato's forms -- an objection articulated in the Parmenides by Plato himself). It would appear that we need a criterion or standard of judgment in order to distinguish between truth and falsehood. The question then arises -- how do we know that this criterion is itself true or false? That is, we appear to need still a further criterion for judging the criterion -- but this third criterion, in turn, would require a criterion, etc.
The point, on the skeptics' account, is to force the defender of a given claim into recognizing circular reasoning in the defense of that claim. (This recalls the importance of both Plato's forms and Aristotle's "first principles" as the starting points of the "arch of knowledge.")
2. Relativity to observer arguments (see 349f.)