Notes on Introduction to Philosophy -- Phil A201

William Jamison - Instructor

Lecture 3

Third lecture notes for Introduction to Philosophy:

Living in the empire won by Alexander the Greeks began living with a different set of stresses that comes with pluralism. Alexander had not destroyed the cultures of the communities that became part of his empire. He used a technique that would later be adopted by Rome and still later by the Christians. They incorporated the cultures of the now client states into an inclusive culture of the ruling elite.

We can look at the options for conquerors as three:

1.      totalitarian – impose the same culture and values on everyone (kill or be converted),

2.      Tribal – consider other cultures as evil but allow them to coexist (the Peaceful Coexistence of the super powers during the cold war; the relationship between the Hindus and the Moslems in India are examples),

3.      Individual – each individual chooses the values that are “right” for themselves (pluralism)

Alexander promoted pluralism in his empire. He encouraged client states to continue to value their cultures at the same time that he encouraged them to adopt aspects of the Greek culture. The result was the Hellenization of the known world (the “Greeks” actually referred to themselves in Greek as “Hellenes.”) The language of government and commerce became Greek. Since a language is the most important way a culture lives and thrives, the more the Greek language came to dominate interpersonal relations, the more the Greek world view came to override native cultures (much as modern European languages influenced native cultures in colonies, or English now influences those cultures that adopt American products and values today). Along with this impact on the cultures of client states there is the impact on the dominant culture itself. Accepting other cultures as valuable and as having insights and traits that are worth adopting, even if only to appear friendly to “barbarian” (Greek for “foreign”!) cultures has an impact on the metanarrative accepted by the elite. It becomes no longer clear that the values that were important in a relatively isolated community are necessarily what one should value in the more complex pluralistic community. How should someone decide what values are most important?

We already see in Aristotle’s Ethics a viewpoint that attempts to decide these issues. When we read Aristotle today, it is easy for us to see his point that the Good is what we aim at, and that different people aim at different things. So, unlike Plato, the Good does not lead us in one logical direction, but instead can lead us in many directions. What is good for one person may not be good for another. It was certainly less difficult for Aristotle and his fellow Athenians to still come to a rational consensus about what the good life should be like. They were still culturally sound as Greeks. But the more the pluralism of empire grew the more individuals would be affected and find the good life difficult to determine.

We see certain philosophers typical of schools of thought as we look back at the various philosophical attempts to answer this question. Imagine each of them as reacting to the stresses of pluralism and empire.

·        Skeptics – argue that no metanarrative is believable. Nothing can be known with certainty.

·        Aristotelians – argue that the good life can be known to be the best and that a particular type of individual wisdom enables a person to lead that good life.

·        Platonists – argue that the Good is knowable through emancipation from material things and concentration on spiritual / rational ideas.

Post- Aristotelians

While only some of the philosophical positions literally continue with Aristotle’s views as their starting point, all the positions after Aristotle to the Middle Ages are considered historically Post-Aristotelian.

Skeptics first specifically trace themselves to Pyrrho of Elis. Pyrrho felt that we can know nothing of the real nature of things. As a result, much as Socrates did, he argued that wisdom is in realizing you do not know. For skeptics a wise man suspends judgment on ethical issues.

Epicurus is credited with his own school, called Epicurean and escapes from the stresses of empire and pluralism by getting physically away from those stresses:

- The Garden

Happiness as an escape from trouble

Prudence (Aristotle's Golden Mean)

Death is nothing; the fear of it is the worst of it

Pleasure is the greatest good, but philosophy teaches which pleasures bring the least pain

Life with out fear and anxiety

Current use of "Epicurean" is contrary to his teachings!

Another school had greater impact, especially on the leadership of the Roman Empire, and this was the Stoics. Stoics follow a philosophy that is basically a continuation of Aristotelian principles. The founder of this school is considered to be Zeno of Citium, Cyprus. While he studied under the Cynic philosopher Crates of Thebes and the Platonist Xenocrates the central focus is living the good life with the view of a good life as having self-control, keeping our moral obligation, and living in harmony with nature. The name Stoa Poikile (“painted porch”) was the name given to the place where he taught.

Epictetus is an example of this school:

Harmony with Nature - whereever you are

Escape from trouble through inner peace of mind


Prime leadership philosophy of Empire

Image of the general or bureaucrat making the empire work even in the midst of those in power who are insane

This school is interesting, not only because of the power the individuals had in the empire (Epictetus -- a Greek slave! -- assisted his master who was a member of Nero's administration, Marcus Aurelius was an emperor himself) but also because of some interesting similarities they had in their personal relationship with Zeus, and how contemporaries called Christians demonstrated a like personal relationship with the Christ.

Another school, more closely following the Academy, was that of the neo-Platonists. Plotinus is the main philosopher of this school:


Emphasis on the Emanation Theory

Good is the One

Beauty of the soul is godlike disposition

Mystical experience - unite with the One

Plotinus is said to have achieved this four times in his life

Escape from trouble through union with the One

Focus is on the soul, not the body

The early Christians and link to PBS Dateline.

Religion as tragedy (Aristotle)


depict noble (civilizing) acts and heroes

plot: hero goes from happiness to misery because of a great error on his part


depict worse than average acts, ridiculous

(section on comedy - lost)


Jesus of Nazareth


Focus on the parables, aphorisms, sayings

Scholars interpretation of parables are different than Christian tradition

Jesus as Greek speaking, fond of symposia, law breaker, exciting, funny

Kingdom of God, God as Father

Jesus bar Abbas of Galilee

Death and Resurrection


Paul and Christianity


Who was Paul?

his encomium: (like a modern resume)

birth (Judean born in Tarsus, raised in Jerusalem)- education - actions - comparison - epilogue

he is of high family, good education, but weak physically, ill, poor speaker, but a prophet of God, his knowledge is direct from God

his message is to the foreigners (gentiles)


Paul and Christianity


Antioch and Christ

Orphic cults and Christianity

Conflict with the "Pillars of Jerusalem"

Conflict with Jesus movements

Paul's letters

The synoptic Gospels

The Canon


Power of Christianity


Appeal to those who are poor

Incorporation of Platonic world view with Greek religious, tragic, myth


Athanasius versus Arius (Thomas - Gnostic tradition loses at Nicea)

conversion at death of Constantine

Paganism translated into activities of it's successor


Power of Christianity


The Religion of Constantine achieved, in less than a century, the final conquest of the Roman empire: but the victors themselves were insensibly subdued by the arts of their vanquished rivals."

Pontifex Maximus

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