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In the period directly following the influences of such names as Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, there came the Hellenistic Philosophies and their many great leaders. Hellenistic philosophies arose out of a time period when Greeks had been encouraged to think of life and actions in relation to the greater political landscape, and yet the political landscape had severely changed with the Roman conquering of Greece. It was because of these changes that philosophical schools of thought transitioned their main points away from the contribution of individuals towards the changes politically. They focused instead on the role that people played in making themselves happy and accepting of the things in life as they came. Ethical thinkers transitioned away from grandiose thinking and moved toward the very small, focusing on what elements constitute the nature and the environment in which people live. This influenced the role that people played within this predetermined and microscopic world. The main school of thought during this time period revolved around the atomists. It was accepted by Epicurus, then the stoics and skeptics.
Democritus and Leucippus were two famous atomists whose work included the creation of a systematic description in the world of nature. Their findings resulted in a conclusion that all things in the world were made up of small particles and that these particles were indestructible. This meant that no matter what people did, the particles would never be destroyed by them, anyone else or by their actions. According to this philosophy everything was made up of particles each of which had mechanical interactions with one another. This process accounted for everything happening in the world. Because of this theory people were paying significant attention to the consequences resulting from their actions. Another aspect to this thought was that these small particles would naturally collide and smash into one another, no matter what actions were taken; they were controlled by larger elements in the universe. The resulting teachings focused on how human life was passive, and how people could only experience the world around them and not control or change it. So rather than focusing efforts on attempts to modify their world or the politics guiding it, people were told that they should focus on living a good life. Living a good life was defined as enjoying more pleasant things in it rather than the unpleasant. Epicurus, the main leader of this philosophy, stated that people should attempt to live a life free from pain, need and sensual desires.
It was perceived as natural and if they went not satiated it would result in a mild form of pain. This could be avoided by simply giving into these desires to achieve a pleasure in life. Another notion was that death was a natural removal of personality from the body and nothing to be feared.
Instead, people should have accepted death as natural and in the meantime strive to live a life whereby they eat, drink, and remain happy.
It was Zeno and Chrusippus who focused on the ideas of the Stoics to counter some of the philosophical elements found in the teachings of Epicurus. The stoics believed that people represented microcosms of the universe and that each person and their actions could be explained in a naturalistic fashion. Stoics believed most strongly, as the name would suggest, in remaining more stoic toward all things in life. Stoicism and stern attitudes were paramount to accepting the fate of life. It was argued by the Stoics that people should accept the things that happen to them and around them without complaint. It was Epicetus who heeded the call of Stoic leadership by promoting the concept that people have very little understanding of how things in the universe work and, what’s more, have very little control over any of it. It was stated that people should never become attached to things or other people in their lives, even friends or family, because all things in life were fleeting or passing and would perish with time. That said, people were encouraged to view all good things in life as a temporary blessing and all bad things as a temporary curse, both of which would naturally pass away.
It was Pyrrho of Elis who formed the leading principles for the school of Skepticism. This school of thinking took the ideas of the other two even further by explaining that people should not dwell on things about which they have no knowledge. But the definition of true knowledge was an absolute comprehension, beyond any doubts. This idea was not something which many people could actually attain, and therefore, peace of mind came by not responding to the things about which people could not be absolutely sure. This also meant that people could not judge or act on situations without absolute knowledge, something that afforded a great deal of mental clarity and calmness according to the teaching.
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