Ancient & Medieval Philosophy: Philosophies of Life

History of Western Philosophy: Ancient Philosophy, Philosophies of Life (based on Greg L. Bahnsen’s lecture series)

Proponents: Protagoras (490-420BC), Gorgias (485-380BC)

Sophists believed in the relativity of truth or some were skeptical of truth. They traveled a lot to teach people about their philosophy and they spoke well and were good debaters. They said that deception and manipulation were perfectly acceptable if it helps you get ahead. The Sophists were concerned with self-preservation. The modern day counterparts are lawyers who just want to win their cases and don’t care about truth.

He taught that one suceeds in life by letting yourself be an individual. Man is the measure of all things. He taught that in order to preserve yourself you need to accet the social customs and fit into society.

He believed that there is no absolute truth and even if there were, no one could know it. All that is important is that you win the argument.

Proponents: Anthisthenes (445-365BC), Diogenes (412-323BC), Crates (365-285BC)

Cynics emphasized independence and self-reliance and self-control. They taught that happiness is to be found in a life devoted to morality. Personal contentment comes with independence from society and the world. To become happy one must repudiate all that civilization represents and defy the accepted codes of society. They promoted open sexual relationships to spread the idea that societal codes should be rejected. Cynics taught that you must deal with affliction and adversity through passive indifference. They have this in common with the Stoics. Crates specifically believed that seeking pleasure will get you in trouble; instead, you must live in simplicity and self-control. Happiness is poverty. The modern day counterpart to Cynics are hippies.


Proponent: Pyrrho (360-270BC)

It teaches that no one can know anything for sure; however, this philsophy is self-refuting. Do they know that for sure? If they say yes, then they would be saying, “I know that no one knows anything for sure.” This philosophy is an excuse for intellectual laziness. A Problem with this philosophy is that they can’t say anything is morally wrong.

Cyrenaic Hedonism
Proponenet: Aristippus (435-356BC)

He taught that happiness is the satisfaction that comes from filling your phyiscal appetites. You should engage in plenty of drinking, sex and monetary gain. Pleasure is the highest obtainable good and it is never evil. All pleasure is physical and the only difference between pleasure is quantitative. The only reason why we think some pleasures are wrong is because of customs that have been imposed upon us. Despite the fact that he emphasized the seeking of pleasure, he thought that man needed to master his pleasures or they will give you grief instead of pleasure. If you get drunk then you will get a hangover; if you are sexually promiscuous, then you will get STDs. In terms of his epistemology, we only know our sensations; we cannot know the reality behind sensations. For anything to count as knowledge, it needs to be useful to man in obtaining happiness.

Proponent: (341-270BC)

Epicureanism was named after Epicurus. He was a hedonist and an atomist. He believed that the world is material and is built from an infinite number of atoms. Even the gods are made of atoms. Because he had a materialistic view of life, he believed the highest goal of life was pleasure. However, he believed that there is was a qualitative difference between pleasures. There are intellectual and physical pleasure, but intellectual pleasures are higher than physical pleasures. We are to avoid pain and maximize the pleasures of intellectual pursuits. In terms of his epistemology, he believed that all knowledge is gained through sense perception.

Christian Response:


How does he know that all knowledge is based on observation? Did he observe and perceive that all knowledge is based on observation?
How does he know things about atoms which too small to be perceived? How does he know atoms are eternal? He hasn’t been here long enough to know that they are eternal. He contradicts himself. His philosophy rules out his ability to know that all knowledge is perceptual and that atoms even exist. If all knowledge is perceptual how does he know that there is no life after death? Did he perceive that?

He says everything is material. If everything is made of physical atoms, then why should I trust my brain? They are just atoms in motion. If all is made of matter, then we don’t need to trust our brains at all. How do we get truth from brain fizz?
How can man have free will? The brain is matter in motion subjected to the laws of physics. Epircurus justified free will by saying everything is atoms falling through space, but there was swerve in one of the atoms which that caused a chain reaction of atoms hitting each other and that is what caused free will. Is this adequate? What made that atom swerve though?

How does he prove that people ought to seek pleasure? Why does friendship and altruism need to have a place when seeking pleasure is all that matters? I could say that I seek pleasure by being self-fish and cruel. How is it possible to even choose pleasure and avoid pain? There cannot be free choice and hence no ethical evaluation.
How can mental pleasures be viewed higher than bodily pleasures, if the mind is itself made of atoms? Why should refined fire atoms be valued as higher than coarse bodily atoms

Proponents: Zeno, Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Panaetius, Antipater, Arius Didymus, Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius

Stoicism developed out of cynicism. They emphasized beauty, self control and indifference to pain and passion. They taught must fatalistically accept the affliction and pain in the world. Evil is a failure to let reason control your passion. There is a logos that permeates nature and controls everything; they got this idea from Heraclitus. Virtue for man amounts to living in tune with nature, getting in tune with reason, which harmonizes with the logos of all things. Man is to conqure the world by overcoming their impulses. You must show indifference to pleasure and pain, so then external things can never control you any longer.

Proponent: Cicero 106-43BC
Takes a bit from everything.


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