Introduction to Lucretius

Introduction to Lucretius

Introduction to Lucretius

Introduction to Lucretius

Excerpt

When towards the end of the fifth century B.C. philosophers began to turn their thoughts from Natural Science to Ethics, Greek city-states still enjoyed political freedom. With Socrates and Plato, therefore, the moral duty of man as an individual is inseparable from his moral duty as a citizen. Aristotle's ethical views followed, rather belatedly, the same tradition. But with the rise of Macedonia in the middle of the fourth century the Greek city-state declined from a position of independence to a position of subordination in a military empire. The inhabitants of Greek cities ceased to have duties and responsibilities as citizens and found themselves forced to act under orders from Macedonia. The problem, How should a good citizen behave? ceased to have any meaning.

Epicurus was born in 341 B.C. and never knew political freedom. His philosophy was conditioned by the political circumstances of the period. First, he is not concerned with the moral duty of man as a citizen but only with the moral duty of man as an individual. Second, his philosophy betrays the uncertainty and lack of confidence of an age following a great disaster--the disaster of the Macedonian conquest of Greece. The motto of all his moral teaching might well be "Safety First ". "Philosophy is no longer the pillar of fire going before a few intrepid seekers after truth: it is rather an ambulance following in the wake of the struggle for existence and picking up the weak and wounded."

The political circumstances which conditioned Epicureanism at its birth were to some extent reproduced in the time of Lucretius. Political freedom, and the . . .

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