Thursday, February 18, 2021

Epic Battles in Practical Ethics: Stoicism vs Epicureanism—And yes...I have taken a side


By Steve Otto

When I started college, at Newman University, in Wichita,  had to take a course on ancient civilization. That might seem interesting but it was the ancient philosophers who had all the interesting ideas. I have to admit that I did not know that much about these ancient philosophers and their relationship to Karl Marx. Despite being a Democratic Socialist, many of us also consider ourselves to be Marxists at least theoretically.

Marx had written a dissertation on the difference between the philosophy of Democritus/ Δημόκριτος and Epicurus/ Ἐπίκουρος. In an introduction to his dissertation on the difference between The philosophy of Democritus and Epicurus he admits that these two philosophy, have never been given their full respect. He admitted that he had to chose one philosophy over the other because he was writing a dissertation. He said he had to chose one over  the other.

So I had read Marx's views on these ancient philosophers. I had also realized that these philosophers had developed important views on philosophy and life itself. Since that time I have found that many young Marxist find little they need in these ancient philosophies. In fact, not long ago a young Marxist wrote to me and said that modern Marxists have developed philosophy beyond the needs of the earlier philosophers that they no longer have any need for those ancient philosophies. But I'm not convinced of that. The earlier ancient philosophers laid the ground work for what we are trying to decide today.  

Now let 's fast  forward to an article I read recently, "Epic Battles in Practical Ethics: Stoicism vs Epicureanism."

It just so happens that the author's name was not on this article, so he/she/it was not someone I could find. Why it was not signed I don't know. But I haven't found the author's name yet.

Since reading the ancient texts of Epicurus I have considered that my religion, if there is such a thing. The author of this above article is clearly an enthusiast of stoicism.  According to Wikipedia:


Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. It is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to eudaimonia (happiness, or blessedness) is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or by the fear of pain, by using one's mind to understand the world and to do one's part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.

The Stoics are especially known for teaching that "virtue is the only good" for human beings, and those external things—such as health, wealth, and pleasure—are not good or bad in themselves (adiaphora), but have value as "material for virtue to act upon." Alongside Aristotelian ethics, the Stoic tradition forms one of the major founding approaches to virtue ethics.[1] The Stoics also held that certain destructive emotions resulted from errors of judgment, and they believed people should aim to maintain a will (called prohairesis) that is "in accordance with nature." Because of this, the Stoics thought the best indication of an individual's philosophy was not what a person said but how a person behaved. To live a good life, one had to understand the rules of the natural order since they thought everything was rooted in nature.


I have rejected the Stoic world view, which I believe is close to the US conservative movement. In many ways people might find me a hedonist. And Epicurus, in my opinion, is simply not a hedonist. AristippusἈρίστιππος is a good example of a hedonist. He took part in all kinds of pleasures. I have some hedonistic tendencies. But I have also insisted on trying to make the world a better place. It was Marx who said that “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”


So perhaps I have a unique view of the philosopher's view of the world. While the author of that article clearly takes the side of the Stoics, I take the other side. So to some extent, the Marxist side does resemble Stoicism. And yet I have taken the Epicurean side. Right or wrong, I have taken a side and I do not regret that.


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