TheHellenistic period was an important historical period for philosophy.The Hellenistic period was the period between the reign of Alexanderthe Great (323 BC) and the rise of the Roman Empire in 31 BC due tothe Battle of Actium that led to the conquest of Egypt(Dobbin 9). During this period, different philosophical schools of thoughtemerged and influenced the way people thought about different aspectsof life such as the cosmos, human happiness, the ideal government,and civic participation in societal matters. This essay, however,focuses on three of the many philosophies that emerged during thisperiod: Epicureanism, stoicism, and cynicism. The choice of the threephilosophical schools is based on the fact that they still haveimmense influence on modern thinking. The primary documents thatconstitute the firsthand writings of Hellenistic philosophersgenerally reflect the events the characterized the arguments arecounterarguments of this early historical period especially on issuesof cosmology, human happiness, governance, and civic participation.
Methodologyof the essay
Themain topics covered in the primary writings of early philosopherssuch as Antisthenes, Epicurus, and Zeno are cosmos, human happiness,and logic. For further understanding of how these topic influencedthe philosophical approaches on governance, the contributions ofCatherine Wilson through her book Epicureanismat the origins of modernity,Luis E. Navia’s assertions in his book classicalcynicism: a critical study, andWilliam Irvine’s AGuide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joyprovidedsecondary information for the essay.
Thestoic philosophical school of thought held that the cosmos is acomplete system that is organized rationally and to the will ofgod(Navia 18). Thus, everything that happens in the universe fitswithin the concordance of the organization of the cosmos, whichaccording to stoic philosophy is self-sufficient and providential.Stoicism rejected the idea of chance as a determinant of events infavor of fate. Stoics viewed human endeavor has trying to conform todictates of nature, which means that one has to adjust their personalwill to be aligned with the sequence of events that are bound tooccur in the natural world order (Irvine 23).The cynics had a similarview of the cosmos as the stoics because they viewed themselves as aproduct of nature which is essentially a system that regulatesitself.
Epicurusimproved the earlier philosophy of the 5thcentury that viewed the cosmos in materialistic terms (Wilson 61). According to Epicureanism, the cosmos is composed of atoms thatconstant move in a void. The movements of atoms in free will causedcollisions to each other and clumps that finally led to the formationof the universe. Thus, human beings should exercise their free willin the same way. Epicurus, therefore, did not believe in theexistence a creator.
Cynicssuch as Zeno of Citium viewed human happiness emanates fromconforming to nature and rejecting conventional views of what isright and wrong.Diogenes considered himself as belonging to naturehence, should only behave based on what nature dictates rather thanthe conventional thought. Thus, he engaged in disorderliness and actsthat were considered shameful in Athenian tradition just to show thatone can only achieve happiness by replacing nature with convention asthe standard of judgment. Epicurus, on the other hand viewedhappiness as a product of one’s own fulfillment of success. Theyalso noted that true happiness cannot ideally come from materialsuccess but rater in accepting one’s status without regrets andhave mental peace. Finally, stoic considered knowledge as thefoundation of happiness. Stoics view human happiness as the ultimategoal of human beings that is achievable through a balance betweenreason and virtue. The balance should flow the way nature balancesthe whole cosmos.
Thestoic view of the ideal government was in two versions: the firstversion that favored a government based on justice and the rule oflaw and later, a monarchical government with a specific royals classand the subject’s class. Epicurus advocated for a contractual formof government and that citizens did not need to over-indulge inpolitics because it is capable of curtailing their happiness.
Stoicsadvocated for the participation of citizens in the civic affairs ofthe society. They referred to this as “the virtue ofpublic-spiritedness”. Thus, people would be concerned with naturein its entirety to ensure that its use benefits all people in thesociety. As mentioned above, Epicurus was against active involvementof citizens in the affairs of the state since it is likely to curtailtheir happiness.
Hellenisticphilosophies entailed arguments and counter-arguments of earlierphilosophers.. Specifically, the philosophical schools of thoughtthat emerged during the Hellenistic period are: cynicism (alsoreferred to as Diogenes the dog), Epicureanism, stoicism, skepticism,and Neo-Platonism. It is worth noting that these Hellenisticphilosophies disappeared when Christianity became the dominantreligion in the Roman Empire. Most of the teachings in thephilosophies contradicted with the teachings of the church. Theprimary sources vitally reiterated the historical events thatcharacterized the Hellenistic period. Indeed, stoic, epicurean, andcynic philosophies laid the foundation for modern philosophicalthought, especially on religion, government, human happiness, andcivic participation in government.
Dobbin,Robert F.. The Cynic philosophers: from Diogenes to Julian.
Irvine,William B. Aguide to the good life: The ancient art of stoic joy.Oxford University Press, 2008.
Navia,Luis E. Classicalcynicism: a critical study.Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Wilson,Catherine. Epicureanismat the Origins of Modernity.OxfordUniversity Press, 2008.