Skip to content

Greek philosophy paper

2012/05/19

This was for Hellenistic Greece and Rome. Were were supposed to pick on the major ancient Greek philosophical schools and argue for it and not just copy the arguments in the book.

I am a student of the school of Epicurus, a peaceful school whose ideas have withstood scrutiny for centuries. Epicureanism teaches us that the virtuous life is a matter of avoiding pain and seeking wisdom with few other complications. Our physics are based on things which any man may see or touch and we do not fear death, poverty or divine wrath.

It is self-evident that a rich man is no happier than a poor man. In fact, the stresses of managing wealth and its social obligations bring considerable pain. Therefore, the poor man is in fact happier. If a man is free from pain, hunger and infirmity and has friends in wisdom, what else is there? Does rich wine satisfy a man’s thirst more than common wine?

Similarly, high social status requires you to trade favors. Favors can be a matter of great distress since you do not know when you will be called upon or what you may have to do to repay them. In order to maintain these relationships, you must throw parties and invite and not invite the right people. If you are not invited by your neighbor, what loss is it to you? Don’t you have enough to eat? Will the admiration of other men make you well when you are ill?

If you are ill, you will either get well or die. Either way, your suffering has ended. If we do not bring suffering upon ourselves, none of it lasts long and it will always be outweighed by the simple joys of friendship and knowledge.

As for our physics, we hold the entire world is made of atoms, which are minute, but discrete particles of finite size. Atoms make up the earth around us, our minds and even the gods. While matter changes form, the atoms themselves are immutable. Atoms exist in the void. There are many kinds of atoms and items have varying properties because of varying mixtures of the types of atoms and the void.

The stoics would have us believe all matter is infinitely sub-divisible. Also, while they believe that void exists outside the world, they deny there is void in different admixtures all around us. This denies the testimony of our senses. If you take a brick and break it into smaller pieces, then comes a point at which the remainder is not identifiably part of a brick, but only a bit of clay. If you take a pot of beans and divide it up, you will at some point have a single bean and if you divide beyond that, what you have is no longer beans at all. Stoics tell us that wine is made of water with some earth and fire, but believe these components can continue being divided an unlimited number of times and yet will still be water, fire and earth. However, for everything we know we can divide, there are a finite number of divisions that can be done before we are unable to divide it further or it loses its character. Therefore, infinitely subdivided matter could not have character, for at some point, that which gave it its character would be broken apart. Our senses attest that matter does have character, therefore, our senses attest that atoms must exist.

We know it is easier to move through air than water, yet water can support a man’s weight and air cannot. This is because water has more atoms. It takes effort to push the atoms aside and walk through water, but that same property allows us to swim as the atoms to not part and allow us to sink. Air is mostly void, which is nothing to move through and thus we may move about freely on land. Stoicism gives us no satisfactory explanation of why things have different weights. They would have us to believe fire is lighter than air, which is lighter than water, which is lighter than earth. This purports to explain why a log, which has some fire in it will float. Yet if we burn this log and release the fire, it still floats, even though just earth is left. A rod of lead weighs more than a rod of brass of the same size. Are they not both also earth?

Clearly, four substances cannot explain the variety of properties we see in the world. If we mix, fire water, air and earth, we can make bricks and pottery, but little else that is of use to man. The testimony of our senses and logic says there are many kinds of atoms and we can change their arrangement or spread them out in the void, but we cannot alter them.

Similarly, the stoics’ argument of a first cause is flawed. They reason that since all things have a cause, there must have been a single, initial creative event that is the ultimate cause. However, this does not follow. If all events follow from one another and we never see matter created or destroyed, then it is more reasonable to posit that matter is never created or destroyed or its substance altered and the same atoms have always been here, only changing their arrangement. If the Stoic’s logic is flawed, which leads to errors in their physics, how can we accept their ethics which derive from these faulty premises? Superstitious belief in gods who lie outside of physics has done inconceivable harm. Men do great injury and make war on one another following what they perceive to be the will of the gods. Why should we follow these false examples if by our reason we know them to be evil? If we have the power to prevent or reduce harm, why should we not do so rather than to suffer it as our fate?

While Epicureans rejoice in knowledge, skeptics find virtue in saying they know nothing, but this is no virtue at all. They in fact, do not truly assert total ignorance, or there would be nothing to discuss. A skeptic, like an Epicurean or a stoic, will eat when hungry because they know this will satisfy them. They actually only deny the validity of things which are not readily apparent. In essence, this means despite their claims, in is not knowledge they deny, but logic.

They admit sensations, but when a man gathers data from his senses and attempts to make an inference from this, they accuse him of dogmatism. They say that that our perceptions differ, so our premises are not universally valid. If this is true, no premise can be valid and without valid premises, logic is meaningless. However, while one man may prefer his bath hotter than another, no man who retains his senses can deny that his hearth is warmer than his courtyard in the winter, nor may any man, or beast for that matter, walk through a wall or across a chasm because his senses deny the wall or deny the chasm. A man with a measuring rod will find an object to be of the same length whether he perceives the rod as orange or brown. Therefore, the film on objects we perceive corresponds to the object itself. While we may interpret this film differently to some degree, this does not change the object itself. A blind man may not perceive the film a puddle gives off, but if he steps in it, he will find it as wet as a sighted man would. This is why we hold touch to be supreme over all other senses as it allows us to experience an object directly, rather than its film, which may be distorted, but other senses may also teach us useful things if we are mindful of their limitations

If the skeptics deny logic, then it is little wonder they deny the distinction between man and beast, for principally, this distinction is man’s capacity for reason. A dog may be able to decide a path when he comes to a fork in the road, but can he tell another dog which fork to take? The bee can build a honeycomb, and this may be good for the bee, but men can built many things for many purposes. More importantly, bees in the time of Hercules were much as they are now, yet while our ancestors used bronze tools, we now have iron. Iron existed in nature, but it was in the ground and of no use in men’s happiness. Philosophies are the same way. The skeptics would say that if Epicureanism is valid, would not it also be valid before the birth of Master Epicurus? If it derives from natural principles and those principles have always existed, shouldn’t Epicureanism also have always existed? I respond that Epicureanism’s validity is not because it exists. After all, all philosophies exist and they cannot all be true. Epicureanism is valid because it is beneficial. If the men of the golden age had iron and knew how to smelt it, it would have been beneficial to them, because it would have allowed them to feed themselves while toiling less in the fields. If the tools prevent more suffering than is caused by their making, then tools are good.

If we philosophers can avoid pain and prevent needless pain in others, than our philosophy is good. While we Epicureans have been accused of neglecting our duties, these duties are neither natural nor beneficial. What greater duty could man have than to promote knowledge and the well-being of his countrymen? Seeking pleasures beyond the elimination of pain only causes conflict as the increases cause greater suffering elsewhere. A man can taste rich food and suffer because he knows he cannot afford it in the future or he may cause harm to another man or to himself in an attempt to obtain it anyway. It is better to be satisfied with the simple pleasures of life and friendship for happiness is found in these things.

Advertisements

From → history

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: