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Epicureanism, Stoicism

and Neoplatonism
Epicureanism

is a Hellenistic school or system of philosophy based on the teachings of the


ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. It was founded around 307 B.C., and was
based in Epicurus' home and garden (the school was often called "The Garden").
Epicurus was a materialist, following in the steps of Democritus and the school of
Atomism.
It teaches that the greatest good is to seek modest pleasures in order to
attain a state of tranquillity, freedom from fear ("ataraxia") and absence from
bodily pain ("aponia"). This combination of states is held to constitute happiness
in its highest form, and so Epicureanism can be considered a form of Hedonism,
although it differs in its conception of happiness as the absence of pain, and in its
advocacy of a simple life.
Epicurus directed that this state of tranquillity could be obtained through knowledge of
the workings of the world and the limiting of desires. Thus, pleasure was to be obtained by
knowledge, friendship and living a virtuous and temperate life. He lauded the enjoyment
of "simple pleasures" by which he meant abstaining from bodily desires, such as sex and
appetites, verging on Asceticism. He counseled that "a cheerful poverty is an honorable
state".

Epicureans shunned politics as having no part in the quest for ataraxia and aponia, and
likewise a potential source of unsatisfiable desires and frustration, which was to be
avoided. Like Democritus and Leucippus before him, Epicurus was an Atomist, believing
that all matter, souls and gods are all comprised of atoms, and even thoughts are merely
atoms swerving randomly.
Epicurus was one of the first to develop a notion of justice as a kind of social
contract, an agreement "neither to harm nor be harmed". He argued that laws
and punishments in society are important so that individuals can be free to
pursue happiness, and a just law is one that contributes to promoting human
happiness. In some respects, this was an early contribution to the much later
development of Liberalism and of Utilitarianism.

In modern popular usage, an epicure is a connoisseur of the arts of life and


the refinements of sensual pleasures, especially of good food and drink,
attributable to a misunderstanding of the Epicurean doctrine, as promulgated by
Christian polemicists.
History of Epicureanism
Epicureanism was originally a conceived by Epicurus as a challenge to
Platonism although, arguably, Democritus had propounded a very similar
philosophy almost a century earlier. Along with Stoicism and Skepticism), the
school of Epicureanism later became one of the three dominant schools of
Hellenistic philosophy, lasting strongly through the later Roman Empire. During
Epicurus' lifetime, its members included Hermarchus, Idomeneus, Colotes,
Polyaenus and Metrodorus.

Epicurus emphasized friendship as an important ingredient of happiness and


the school seems to have been a moderately ascetic community which rejected
the political limelight of Athenian philosophy. They were fairly cosmopolitan by
Athenian standards, including women and slaves. Some members were also
vegetarians as, from slender evidence, Epicurus did not eat meat, although no
prohibition against eating meat was made
Lucretius (99 - 55 B.C.) was the school's greatest Roman proponent, composing
an epic poem, "De Rerum Natura" ("On the Nature of Things") on the Epicurean
philosophy of nature. The poet Horace (65 - 8 B.C.) and Julius Caesar (100 - 44
B.C.) both leaned considerably toward Epicureanism.

After the official approval of Christianity by the Roman Emperor Constantine (272
- 337) in 313 A.D., Epicureanism was repressed as essentially irreconcilable with
Christian teachings, and the school endured a long period of obscurity and
decline.

In more modern times, the French philosopher and priest Pierre Gassendi (1592 -
1655) referred to himself as an Epicurean (and attempted to revive the doctrine),
as did Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826) and the Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham.
Epicureanism and Religion

Epicureanism emphasizes the neutrality of the gods and their non-


interference with human lives, although it did not deny the existence of gods,
despite some tendencies towards Atheism. It conceived of the gods as blissful
and immortal, yet material, beings made of atoms, inhabiting the empty spaces
between worlds in the vastness of infinite space, too far away from the earth to
have any interest in what man was doing. It rejected any possibility of an afterlife,
while still contending that one need not fear death. It can be argued that the
philosophy is atheistic on a practical level, but avoids the charge of Atheism on
the theoretical level, thus avoiding the fate of Socrates, who was tried and
executed for the Atheism of his beliefs.
The Paradox of Epicurus is the earliest known description of the "Problem of
evil" and is a famous argument against the existence of an all-powerful and
providential God or gods. It can be stated: If God is willing to prevent evil, but is
not able to, then He is not omnipotent; if He is able, but not willing, then He is
malevolent; if He is both able and willing, then why is there such a thing as evil;
and if He is neither able nor willing, then why call Him God at all?

There are interesting parallels to Buddhism, which similarly emphasizes a lack


of divine interference and has aspects of Atomism. Buddhism also resembles
Epicureanism in its temperateness, including the belief that great excesses lead
to great dissatisfaction.
Stoicism
is an ancient Greek philosophy (developed by Zeno of Citium around 300
B.C. as a refinement of Cynicism) which teaches the development of self-control
and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions. It does not seek to
extinguish emotions completely, but rather seeks to transform them by a resolute
Asceticism (a voluntary abstinence from worldly pleasures), which enables a
person to develop clear judgment, inner calm and freedom from suffering (which
it considers the ultimate goal).

Stoicism is not just a set of beliefs or ethical claims, but rather a way of life,
involving constant practice and training, and incorporating the practice of logic,
Socratic dialogue and self-dialogue, contemplation of death, and a kind of
meditation aimed at training one's attention to remain in the present moment.
The term "stoic" was taken from the "stoa poikile" (meaning "painted porch"
or "colonnade") where Zeno of Citium used to teach. In modern usage, the word
refers to someone who is unemotional or indifferent to pain, pleasure, grief or
joy, and has little in common with its philosophical roots.
Basic Tenets

The Stoics provided a unified account of the world, consisting of formal logic,
monistic physics and naturalistic ethics. Of these, they emphasized ethics as the main
focus of human knowledge, though their logical theories were of more interest for
later philosophers.

Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of


overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and
unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos). A primary
aspect of Stoicism involves improving the individual's ethical and moral well-being:
"Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature." This principle also applies
to the realm of interpersonal relationships; "to be free from anger, envy, and
jealousy," and to accept even slaves as "equals of other men, because all men alike
are products of nature"
The Stoics taught that becoming a clear, unbiased and self-disciplined thinker
allows one to understand the "logos" (the natural universal reason in all things).
Thus, unhappiness and evil are the results of ignorance, and if someone is
unkind, it is because they are unaware of their own universal reason. The
solution to this evil and unhappiness can be achieved through the practice of
Stoic philosophy (the examination of one's own judgments and behavior in order
to determine where they might have diverged from the universal reason of
nature). Hence the famous Stoic maxim: "Live according to nature", both in the
sense of the laws of the universe and of man's own essential nature, reason.
History of Stoicism

Stoicism first appeared in Athens in the period around 300 B.C. and was
introduced by Zeno of Citium. It was based on the moral ideas of Cynicism (Zeno
of Citium was a student of the important Cynic Crates of Thebes), and toned
down some of the harsher principles of Cynicism with some moderation and real-
world practicality. During its initial phase, Stoicism was generally seen as a back-
to-nature movement, critical of superstitions and taboos (based on the Stoic idea
that the law of morality is the same as Nature).
Zeno's successor was Cleanthes of Assos (c. 330 - 230 B.C.), but perhaps his
most influential follower was Cleanthes' student Chrysippus of Soli (c. 280 - 207
B.C.), who was largely responsible for the molding of what we now call Stoicism.
The main focus of Stoicism was always Ethics, Stoicism became the foremost and
most influential school of the Greco-Roman world, especially among the
educated elite.

Neo-Stoicism is a syncretic movement, combining a revival of Stoicism with


Christianity, founded by the Belgian Humanist Justus Lipsius (1547 - 1606). It is a
practical philosophy which holds that the basic rule of good life is that one should
not yield to the passions (greed, joy, fear and sorrow), but submit to God.
Neoplatonism
Is a strand of Platonic philosophy that emerged in the third century AD
against the background of Hellenistic philosophy and religion. founded by
Plotinus. The term "neo-platonism" itself was not used in ancient times (it was in
fact not coined until the early 19th Century), and Neo-Platonists would have
considered themselves simply Platonists, although their beliefs demonstrate
significant differences from those of Plato.

The Egyptian philosopher Plotinus(along with his lesser-known teacher,


Ammonius Saccas), is widely considered the founder of Neo-Platonism

After Plotinus there were three distinct periods in the history of neoplatonism:
the work of his student Porphyry; that of Iamblichus and his school in Syria; and
the period in the fifth and sixth centuries, when the Academies in Alexandria and
Athens flourished.
Neoplatonism had an enduring influence on the subsequent history of
philosophy. In the Middle Ages, neoplatonic ideas were studied and discussed by
Muslim, Christian, and Jewish thinkers.

Neo-Platonism is generally a religious philosophy, combining a form of idealistic


Monism with elements of Polytheism. It teaches the existence of an ineffable and
transcendent One, from which emanates the rest of the universe as a sequence
of lesser beings (although later Neo-Platonic philosophers added hundreds of
intermediate beings such as gods, angels and demons).

The influence of Neo-Platonism also proved significant for both the Eastern
Orthodox and Western branches of Christianity. Neoplatonism also had a strong
influence on the Perennial philosophy of the Italian Renaissance thinkers Marsilio
Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, and continues through nineteenth-century
Universalism and modern-day spirituality and nondualism.
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