Ethics Of The Hellenistic World

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In comparing the ethical theories of the Epicureans, Aristotle, and the Stoics it’s found that they possess three separate ideas. These ideas are different in their individual beliefs; yet attempt to accomplish the same goals of creating an inner peace and sense of well being in their followers. Generally these three disciplines had distinctly separate ideas on how to set about accomplishing these goals; the Epicureans felt that the pursuit of pleasure was the correct path to enlightenment, while the Stoics had the idea that the conformation to strict laws regarding virtue was the proper path, and as for Aristotle, he held the middle ground in this debate of the minds, feeling that moderation was the key to complete happiness.
Epicurus' ethics was a form of egoistic hedonism, meaning that the only thing essentially valuable is one's own pleasure. Anything else that has value is valuable merely as a means to securing pleasure for oneself. Epicurus associated this theory to a refined and individual view of the nature of pleasure, which lead him to recommend a virtuous, moderately frugal life as the best means to securing pleasure. His ethical theories find a foundation in the Aristotelian commonplace that the highest good is what is valued for its own sake, and not for the sake of anything else. Epicurus also agreed with Aristotle that happiness is the highest good. However, he disagreed with Aristotle by identifying happiness with pleasure. Epicurus gave two reasons for this. The main reason was that pleasure is the only thing that people do having value just for its own sake; that is, Epicurus' ethical hedonism is based upon his psychological hedonism. Everything we do, he claimed, we do for the sake of ultimately gaining pleasure for ourselves. This is supposedly confirmed by observing the obvious behavior of infants, who instinctively pursue pleasure and shun pain. The truth in this is also found in the behavior of adults, but in adults it is more difficult to see that this truth, since they have much more complicated beliefs about what will bring them pleasure. This hedonism was widely denounced in the ancient world as undermining traditional morality. "The trouble with Epicureanism is its assumption that the self is a bundle of natural appetites and passions, and that the end of life is their gratification. Experience shows that such a policy consi...

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...le relates that the healthy exercise of virtuous function in a well-rounded life exploring personal interests and friendships is the cause of which happiness is the unavoidable and fitting effect. In other words, if you pursue the cause you will create the effect, but if you pursue only the effect circumventing the cause, you will miss both effect and cause entirely. “Aristotle rejects the Epicurean principle of pleasure; because, though a proof that isolated tendencies are satisfied, it is no adequate criterion of the satisfaction of the self as a whole. He rejects the Stoic principle of conformity to law; because it fails to recognize the supreme worth of individuality”(Hyde, 175).
Even after this comparison it is difficult to contend which of these three theories would be a valid philosophy today. As they all have their seemingly strong points, there are still intrinsic weaknesses that would not hold up under the scrutiny of contemporary philosophers.

Hardie, W.F.R. Aristotle’s Ethical Theory. Great Britain: Oxford UP, 1968.
Hyde, William. The Five Great Philosophies of Life. New York: Macmillan, 1945.
Long, A.A. Hellenistic Philosophy. New York: Scribner’s, 1974.
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