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Hellenistic Philosophy

Hellenistic Period: Last quarter of the 4th century BCE (death of

Alexander the Great) to end of the 1st century BCE (fall of Egypt to the

3 Schools:
Epicureans: Founder = Epicurus
Stoics: Founder = Zeno of Citium
Sceptics: Founders = Arcesilaus (Academic Sceptics); Pyhrro
(Pyhrronian Sceptics)

Hellenistic Philosophy

3 Schools, 1 goal: ataraxia or peace of mind.

3 methods of attaining this goal:

Maximize pleasure & minimize pain.
Eliminate fear and the false beliefs that cause it through philosophy.
Eliminate the passions entirely.
Resign oneself to fate.
Sceptics (both Academic & Pyhrronian): completely and systematically
suspending belief.

Hellenistic Philosophy

2 Systems: Epicurean, Stoic (the Sceptics were self-consciously unsystematic).

Epicureans: 3 Divisions: Physics, Epistemology, Ethics
Stoics: 3 Divisions: Physics, Logic (including Epistemology), Ethics
Both the Epicureans and the Stoics were materialists.

Hellenistic Philosophy

Principal Figures
Epicurus (341-270 BCE).
Lucretius (94-55 BCE).
Zeno of Citium (335-263 BCE).
Chrysippus (280-207 BCE).
Seneca (4 BC - 65 CE).
Epictetus (55-135 CE).

Hellenistic Philosophy

Principal Figures
Academic Scepticism:
Arcesilaus (316-242 BCE).
Carneades (214-129 BCE).

Hellenistic Philosophy

Principal Figures
Pyhrronian Scepticism:
Pyrrho (365-275 BCE).
Timon (320-230 BCE).
Aenesidemus (fl. 1st cent. BCE).
Sextus Empiricus (fl. 200 CE).

The Epicureans

Epicurean physics Democritean atomism:

Macroscopic change explained by combination and separation of
Universe is
ultimately made up of unsplittable atoms and void.
infinitely large and contains an infinite number of worlds.
mechanistic, non-teleological, and (for the most part, as we will
see) governed by causal necessity.

The Epicureans

Primary functions of the soul:

transmission of impulses to the body

The soul cant survive the body for 2 reasons:

It is corporeal.
The soul and the body are functionally interdependent.

The Epicureans

Corporeality of the soul:

The soul is a body [made up of] fine parts distributed throughout

the entire aggregate, and most closely resembling breath with a
certain admixture of heat. (1A, 63)

4 material parts of the soul with 4 functions (1B):

1. Breath
2. Air
3. A certain fiery stuff
4. Nameless stuff that provides sensation.

The Epicureans

Main argument for the souls corporeality (1A, 67):

1. If we want to say that the soul is incorporeal we shall have to say it is
made of void. This is because void is the only incorporeal substance.
2. But if the soul is made of void, it cannot act or be acted on, because
only bodies have this nature.
3. Thus, if the soul is to perform any of its functions, it cannot be

The Epicureans
Main argument for the functional interdependence of the body and the
soul (1A, 64-6):
1. The soul is responsible for sense perception, but it could not see if it
did not have eyes, and it could not hear if it did not have ears, etc..
2. The eyes, ears, and other sense organs, in turn, share in sense
perception but they could not do so without the soul.
3. Thus, it makes no more sense to talk of a disembodied soul seeing
than it does to talk of a corpse seeing.
4. So the activities of the soul, i.e., movement and sensation, are joint
activities of the soul and the body, and cant be carried on without
the body.

The Epicureans

Epicurean Theory of Sensation, Imagination & Memory (2A & 2B):


Purpose of the theory

The senses: Vision, Hearing, & Smell

The Veracity of Sensation

Memory, Imagination, Dreams and Error

The Epicureans

Argument for the truth of all impressions (3A):

a) Either all sensations are false or
b) some sensations are true and some are false, or
c) all sensations are true,
but the first two options are false, so the last must be true.

The Epicureans

The criterion of truth:

So, in The Canon Epicurus is found saying that sense-perceptions, basic
grasps, and feelings, are the criteria of truth, and the Epicureans add the
applications of the intellect to presentations. (Diogenes Laertius, 4A)

Canon = kann, which means yardstick or ruler.

Epistemology = to kanonikon.

Criteria of truth = metaphorical yardsticks.

The Epicureans
The 4 criteria of truth:
1. Sense-perceptions (4D):
2. Basic grasps (prolpsis) (4E)
3. Feelings (4F)
4. Applications of the intellect to presentations (4B, 4C, 4F).

The Epicureans
Scientific methodology:

Scientific theory: explains an evident explanandum by means of a

non-evident explanans, where

a basic grasp is testimony for the evident explanandum and

the existence of the non-evident explanans is established by the

lack of testimony against it (its consistency with the evident).

The Epicureans

But consistency implication.

Epicuruss response (5C):

Sometimes there are no other explanations consistent with the

observed data (86).

In case where there are other consistent explanations, since the

universe is infinitely large, each alternative explanation will hold
somewhere at some time (87).

For there to be lack of testimony against a non-evident

explanation, the non-evident explanans must be analogous to the
evident explanandum (87-8)

The Epicureans
Language (6A):

The origin of language:

First stage: spontaneous, onomatopoetic, uninflected, expressive

of the immediate content of sensation.

Second stage: spontaneous utterances come, by convention, to

denote visible things

Third stage: invention of names for invisible things

So words have a natural connection to their referents.

The Epicureans

Free Will

Democritean physics: mechanistic, non-teleological, governed by

causal necessity.

Problem: No room for free will.

Solution: The atomic swerve:

Random & undetermined.

Doesnt disturb the way that macroscopic objects behave but it

makes motion at the atomic level indeterministic.

Problem: Free behavior random behavior.

The Epicureans
Free Will

Atomic swerve = necessary condition of free will ; a starting point

that opens up a field of possibilities within which will can operate.

Problem of bivalence in future-tensed sentences:

Same solution as Aristotle in De interpretatione 9, viz., future

tensed sentences are neither true nor false. (7D

The Epicureans


Pleasure is the highest good because (8A, 29 ):

One can observe (through sensation) that all animals naturally

seek pleasure and avoid pain.

One can feel oneself that pleasure is the greatest good and pain is
the worst evil.

It is a basic grasp of reason and the intellect that pleasure is the

greatest good and pain is the worst evil.

The Epicureans

Socratic Themes:

All pleasures are good, just insofar as they are pleasurable, and all
pains are bad, just insofar as they are painful (8A, 32).

Knowledge is required to pursue pleasure rationally.

Knowledge = comparative measurement of pleasures and pains
(8B, 130).

The Epicureans

Epicurus Innovations:

Negative Conception of the Summum Bonum:

The greatest pleasure is that which is perceived when all pain

is removed. (8A, 37)

The removal of all feeling of pain is the limit of the

magnitude of pleasures. (8C, 3)

Health of the body and freedom of the soul from disturbance is

the goal of a blessed life. (8B, 128; 8F, 33)

Socrates hedonism in the Protagoras vs. Epicurus.

The Epicureans

Epicurus Innovations:

Types of Pleasure (8H) :

katastematic vs. kinetic

Types of Desire (8B, 127-32; 8E, 30)

Natural vs. Unnatural/Groundless

Necessary vs. Unnecessary

The Epicureans

An evolutionist account of social concepts like justice:

Justice is not a thing in its own right, but a historically

conditioned concept based on utility, i.e., a social contract to
avoid mutual harm. (9A, 33)

The existence of justice depends on the ability to make such

contracts. (9A, 32)

Since justice derives from utility, and since utility is ephemeral

and relative to communities, then the concept of justice will vary.
(9B, 36 & 37 )

The Epicureans

Friendship (9C, 23; 9D, 66-7)

The gods (10A)

The Epicureans



Arguments against fearing death:

1. The only rational reason for fearing something is because it is
painful. But death is not painful because we will not exist to
experience it. Therefore, it is irrational to fear death (11A).
2. A person who grieves for pleasures missed after death,
imagines that he is still around to want them. But it is
irrational to grieve for missing things that you dont want.

The Epicureans



Arguments against fearing death contd.:

3. It is irrational for the living to mourn the dead, since the dead
are experiencing nothing bad. (11C)
4. Hell is what the conscience of the guilty create for themselves
here on earth. (11D)
5. We are not distressed at the thought of not existing before we
were born, so why should we worry about not existing after we
are dead? (11C)

The Epicureans



Arguments against fearing death contd.:

6. What if time collected after death the matter of our frames
and set it all again in place as now, and again to us the light
of life were given? In that case, the resurrected person
wouldnt be you because she would have no recollection of her
previous life. (11C)
7. Since time is infinite, no prolongation of your life will reduce
the time that you are dead. (11E)