Thursday, April 4, 2013

Stoicism And Epicureanism

The Hellenistic philosophy that most deeply influenced Rome, however, was Stoicism, with its belief in a purposeful universe functioning according to a plan of goodness that all humans can understand through reason, and that all humans must obey by living virtuously.

Stoicism, as formulated by Marcus Aurelius, was quite in accord with the ancient Roman virtues.

"Let it be your hourly care," he advised, "to do stoutly what the hand finds to do, as becomes a man and a Roman, with carefulness, unaffected dignity, humanity, freedom, and justice." All people, whether emperors or slaves, must do their duty as it falls to them.  Thus nature's plan is served, and the individual's life is blended with that of the universe.

In accordance with this principle, some writers of Roman times stressed the equal abilities and mutual duties of men and women.  (pg. 110 WCIV Volume I Gavin Lewis)

However these Stoic philosophers felt that women's abilities should be limited to household management.  That in itself was restricting and unfair to women.

The Romans held women in a higher regard as "Matrons" of their "Paterfamilias" This meant that women had a sworn duty to educate their male children to become men with virtues and to make sure they learned how to treat fellow Roman citizens with respect and uphold those virtues.  Women, played an important role during this time period of Roman rule and it was upheld.

The principle of this is a good one, in saying that everyone should be good to one another and live through reason by upholding virtues.

A philosophy based on the teachings of Epicurus, who taught in Athens around 300 B.C. Epicurs's view of the universe was based on that of Democritus of Abdera who had declared that all matter is made up of atoms.  Epicurus claimed that the shape and character of every living and nonliving thing result from the chance motions of these tiny particles, and there is no governing purpose on earth or in the heavens.
In such a universe, Epicurus believed, the only logical aim for the individual is to strive for personal happiness. As a guide in the search for happiness, Epicurus proclaimed the principle that happiness equals pleasure minus pain, and that the best way to secure happiness is by decreasing pain rather than by increasing pleasure. And the deepest source of human pain, Epicurus taught, is fear, the "ache of mind and heart"

A rival Hellenistic philosophy was named after the porch in Athens where Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, taught about 300 B.C. Zeno believed that far from being the result of chance motions of atoms, the universe is pervaded and upheld by a living force, which he called by various names: "Divine Fire," "Providence," "God," and "Reason". This idea came from an earlier thinker, Heraclitus, but Zeno made it much more of a guide for understanding the place of the individual in the universe than Heraclitus is known to have done.

The Reason of the universe, Zeno and his followers thought, was present in everything orderly and good--the movement of the stars in their courses, the growth of seeds into plants, the righteousness and wisdom of human beings. Harmony and happiness, declared the Stoics, are achieved by understanding this Reason, accepting it by self-discipline, and living in accordance with it, all of which means striving for virtue rather than pleasure. Virtue of this kind is not the possession of any particular nation, gender, or social class, because all human beings share the spark of Reason that upholds the universe.  The only qualification is to study philosophy so as to understand the "natural law"--the mutual rights and duties that make it possible for individuals and communities to live in accordance with Reason. And all human beings are capable of this study. An Athenian Stoic, Chrysippus, is supposed to have said around 250 B.C. that "both slaves and women must be philosophers." (Pg 87)

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