Aside from Plato there were two other schools that evolved from
Socrates. Following the death of Alexander and Aristotle it was
these schools, and derivatives from them, that gained in
popularity. Whatever else can be said of Alexander, he did bring
peace to a world that had never known it. Alexander's approach
to governing resulted in a redefining of the world. When he
conquered a community he took care that the culture of that
community was maintained intact, particularly in the former Greek
city-states. However, he acted as though he was a God. Perhaps
he even believed himself one, for he never set up an order of
ascendancy. Of course he was only thirty three when he died and
every one knows when they are thirty three that they are going to
live forever. Whether anyone other than himself believed in his
divinity might be an unanswered question, in any case it was very
much like the world had lost a God. These new schools, though
they may not have denied the existence of the gods, had one thing
in common, they made both the Gods and the Divine irrelevant, and
they lost faith in their sources of truth.
Plato's philosophy, his idea of the good and the world of the
forms came in a direct line from Pythagoras through Parmenides
and Socrates and thus to Plato. Following the cue of Parmenides
and in direct opposition to Hericlitus, Plato proposed a world
separate from the world of our experience. This was the world of
the forms and everything that existed derived its existence
through participating in the forms. But Aristipus of Cyrene and
Epicurus, though also pupils of Socrates, derived their theories
from Democritus and the Atomists. The atomists taught that
existing things were nothing but arrangements of atoms, hard bits
of matter that differed only in size and shape. As a result, they
believed that gods, though they existed, were not of any
particular importance. This was simply because everything that
existed, did so through essentially random arrangement.
Aristipus and the Cyrenaics held therefore that the good is
pleasure and virtue the art of calculating which course of action
would result in the greatest balance of pleasure over pain.
Epicurus, on the other hand, while he made pleasure the good, and
though he made his philosophy a fanatic opposition to religion,
established a new concept of pleasure, a concept that was in one
form or another to dominate Hellenistic philosophy, at least
until Plotinus and the later neo-platonists. In a letter to
Menoeceus, Epicurus said that both
the young and the mature should pursue philosophy . "The latter
to be rejuvenated as they age through the blessings they achieved
from a pleasurable past. The former, in order to become mature
through having no fear of the future."
Epicurus placed two preconditions on happiness. First, you
should think of deity as imperishable and blessed being and not
attribute to it anything foreign to its immortality or
inconsistent with its blessedness. The irreligious man is not
one who destroys the gods of the masses, he is the one who
imposes the ideas of the masses on the gods. The second
precondition, he said, was to accustom yourself to believing that
death means nothing. Every good and every evil lies in sensation
and death is nothing but a privation of sensation. Thus the
mortal aspect of life becomes pleasurable not by conferring on us
a boundless period of time but by removing the yearning for
deathlessness. "There is nothing fearful in living:, He said, "
for the person who has really laid hold of the fact that there is
nothing fearful in not living."
While their approach to natural philosophy is not as important
for our study of the mergence of Greek philosophy and Christian
religion, it will become important again when we delve into the
philosophy of science. A few comments might be of some help.
Epicurus derived his natural philosophy directly from Democritus'
purely mechanical picture of the universe. The things that we
experience, Democritus said, we know only by convention, in
reality all that exists is atoms and the void. There are an
infinite number of atoms and the world too is infinite. Most
important is that death means nothing but a dissolution of the
arrangements of atoms. Because the soul is nothing but an
arrangement of a special kind of atoms the soul disintegrates
along with the body.
Antisthenes, founder of the second of those schools of thought
that helped develop the Hellenic world, the Cynic tradition, was
also a follower of Socrates. Socrates, he said, needed little of
the pleasures of the body in order to make him content. It was
from this Socratic attitude that cynicism drew its force. A
later follower, Diogenes, called the best life the one that could
get along with the least.
Alexander's march across Asia was bloody and unmerciful. As he
went he settled new Greek cities bringing Greek culture along
with him. But as he marched west he became more and more like
those he conquered. He marched into India, but his armies would
go no further. He had already married Roxana, a Bactrian
princess. Still, his admiration for the Persian nobles grew to
the point that at Susa in 324 he married Statira, daughter of
Darius III and Parysatis, daughter of Ataraxes III, attaching
himself to both branches of Persian royalty. On the same day
eighty of his officers and thousands of his men took Persian
wives. As he forced Greek culture east, he also introduced
eastern ideas to the west.
As Alexander moved across Asia he always carried with him Greek
court philosophers. One of these who was to become particularly
important was a Greek from Ellis who had gone with Alexander to
India where he became acquainted with the Indian Buddhists. He
developed a brand of skepticism that lasted a half a millennium
and has been revived in the twentieth century as the proper
attitude toward science. This was Pyrrho from Ellis.
Pyrrho's background came from three directions. From Socrates
through Phaedo's school in Ellis, from a friend who was a
dedicated follower of Democritus, and from his contacts with the
Buddhists in India. Mary Mills Patrick said that Pyrrho taught
that to be happy one should consider these three things.
He called both the skeptics who claimed we could not know and
the atomists who claimed we could dogmatists. He said that we
can not even know if we can know or not. But this was not simply
a rejection of dogmatism. This step was derived out of reason.
Since we do not know things as they are, but only as they seem to
us, nothing can be called good or bad by nature, but only through
law or convention. Neither sense perception nor reason lead to
truth or falsehood because what we learn from either is wholly
related to the world of appearances. We suspend judgment on all
theories of reality or philosophical systems. But we do so to
doubt what we know and not to deny the possibility of knowing.
The natural result of this kind of skeptical doubt is a state of
calmness and tranquility. Although it might not seem likely from
what I have said about Pyrrho, he received the highest awards
Alexandria could give a man in both religion and the arts. He
was a severe moralist. He said that honor and shame and justice
were measured only by the laws and customs of the people. He was
renown for his modesty. He was never excited by the opinions of
others, and he was never disturbed by sudden changes in
legislation. Since he deemed virtue the only good he thought
health, strength, riches, and worldly honors to be matters of
Pyrrho's skepticism concerning final truths was particularly
important to the rise of Hellenistic science. Astronomy in
Greece was developed from Plato's
rational description of the creation of the universe.