The Liberty of the Ancients and the Moderns / Epicureanism


The Liberty of the Ancients and the Moderns

Today´s society has a totally different way of thought on liberty, than the ones of the ancient times. We usually see ourselves with the right to express our opinions, associate with others, have some influence over government, to come and go without permission, and the right to use our property as we see fit. However, we never ask ourselves if that is how the ancient people thought of liberty. Our liberty today is based on our individual rights, (that is if there really is liberty: Longing for Liberty), but that wasn´t how the ancient´s thought.

Their individual rights were based on the rights they had as a city-state. It involved collective rights to assemble and accomplish variuos ends. For example, they had the right to discuss and make decisions about war and peace, form foreign alliance, vote on new laws, examine the records of magistrates, call the magistrates to appear before the people in assembly, and accuse and then render judgments on the magistrates. There existed no individual rights as a person or an individual. Actually, ostracism existed. This means that citizens (Men +30, born in that city-state with a mother and father from that same city-state) could vote for the tearing apart of a citizen from his country, owner from his possessions, merchant from his trade, husband from his wife, father from his children, writer from his studious meditations, and old man from his accustomed way of life. Today, this would be considered something horrifying and inhuman, but that was their way of thought.

Our modern society would claim that individual rights as an individual was lacked in the ancient times.



Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. In the Principal Doctrines (P.D.) there is a collection of forty quotes from the writings of Epicurus that serve as a summary of his ethical theory. Throughout the P.D. we find similarities in all that Epicurus says.

Basically, what Epicureanism´s way of thought says is that there is no immaterial realm, and that everything is material and full of atoms, hence everything can be explained by mechanistic forces. However, humans are able to control their own fate. It also says that the universe is meaningless and that the “gods” don´t care about you.

Pleasure was the heart of the good life, and it was an intrinsic good. A pleasure that was free from fear of death, and religious superstition. Whenever pleasure was present there was no pain in the body, mind, or both together. Ultimatley, it was pain of the body and the mind what was bad. However, to them it was impossible to live pleasantly without wisdom, honor and justice, and vice versa. Even so, there is no real enjoyment of pure pleasure without the study of nature, this means that not all pleasures are equal, but equal amount of pleasure comes from reason.

´Moving´ pleasures involve the satisfaction of urges such as hunger and are basically sensual; but the best pleasures are ´static´, invloving satisfaction and the absence of desire. Likewise, the pleasures that should be preferred are the ones that are mental, because they are more profound than bodily pleasures. These include lasting pleasures like friendship, music, books, etc.

They shunned politics as a career, and generally avoided sexual activity, but they claimed that the mind did not shun pleasure or lacked the enjoyment of the best life. Also, to them the greatest and highest interests have been, are, and will be directed by reason throughout the whole life of a wise man. In other words, it is reason that guides him.

Conclusively, pleasure is the most important thing for Epicureanists, but not just any pleasure, but the pleasure of the mind.

Categories: Western Civilization 1 | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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