lunes, 3 de febrero de 2014

The Hellenistic Philosophical Schools and Contemporary Philosophy (III)

After having emphasized in a comparative analysis between the Greco-Roman Hellenistic philosophical world and Contemporary Philosophy, in a previous article with the same title, that Stoicism had been the philosophical movement of greatest influence and importance in the ideological unification which occurred at the end of the Roman Empire with Constantine's triumphant Christianity, and that a similar functional role, in the globalizing ideological tendency which seems to start to impose itself in the most advanced democracies of the world, could correspond in Western thought, under the North American supremacy, to a renewed positivist philosophy, we will try to complement such analysis with the consideration of the role, likewise positive, although less fundamental, that the contributions of the other great Hellenistic philosophical school had, that of the Epicureans, in the configuration of that resulting new religious ideological conception which was the mentality or way of understanding and giving sense to the world of medieval Christianity. And this, in relation to the humanistic ideological virtual unification, not anymore theist monotheist, that is beginning to powerfully crystallize in Western societies under the aegis of North America.

Regarding Epicureanism we must point out that its initial failure is usually situated around  the second century AD, in which the number of followers of such doctrine, spread through a vast number of Hellenistic cities, remarkably diminishes at the same time that the number of Christians considerably increases in an unstoppable manner: “[The Church] had by the end of the second century become a much stronger and influential organism than Epicureanism had ever been” (B. Farrington, The faith of Epicurus, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1967, p. 146). Later the Epicurean movement would completely disappear after the Edict of the emperor Constantine which legalized the Christians, their direct competitors, converting to Christianity even many of its followers. The Christian movement, which had taken the Idea of Equality of the human genre from the Stoics, especially took, nevertheless, from the Epicureans the way of organizing the basic communities sustained in the personal relationship of fraternity, very similar to the friendship which grounded the communes or “gardens” founded by Epicurus, following the model of the Garden in Athens. The forthcoming monastical medieval life, especially in the conventual Cistercian version, follows this model of organization, in a functional comparative sense similar to the one which also sustains the similarity between the first Christian hermits, who went to live to the desert (the film Simon of the Desert by Luis Buñuel is a humorous reconstruction of those anchorites) despising the comfortable life of the polis, and the Athenian Cynic philosophers who intended to live a more authentic and wise life dispensing of the superfluous citizen comforts.

Furthermore, Christians imitated also the propagandistic techniques created by Epicurus: “In the Christian era before the age of Constantine Epicureans and Christians had much in common. Their method of propaganda, by word of mouth; and their method of holding their scattered communities together, by an epistolary literature were common to both; and since Epicureans were the earlier in the field by three centuries the pattern was probably of their making. Both communities faced the problem of the style to be employed in addressing themselves to a wide public. Epicurus tried to use words in their ordinary acceptation. Cicero complained that the Latin popularizers of Epicureanism wrote in a uncultivated style. The Christian Fathers, in order to be understood by all often avoided the politer forms of speech” (B. Farrington, op.cit., p. 144-5). Christianity incorporates such organizational techniques with Saint Paul. For this reason, it is not accidental that the main works of Epicurus are the letters to Menoeceus, to Pythocles, to the friends of Lampsacus, to the friends of Egypt, etc., and those of Saint Paul are the epistle to the Corinthians, to the Galatians, to Philemon, to Timothy, etc. 

Moreover, the Epicureans in contrast to the Stoics summed up the essential of their philosophy in a simple and easy to understand book, the Tetrapharmakos, used regularly in the teaching of the catechumens, women and men of any age, just as the Christians will do secularly with their catechesis: “Pupils could be male or female, old or young, even children were admitted, but not all were resident. Resident adults were called fellow-students in philosophy; elementary classes were taken all day long in any available corner of the garden. The pupils were said to be 'in course of preparation', for which the Greek term was kataskeuazomenoi, a forerunner of the Christian term catechumens” (B. Farrington, op.cit., p. 126). It is true that Epicureans and Christians differed philosophically, for the former were supporters of an atomistic materialism and the latter were creationist spiritualists. However, they agreed in two essential things: to overcome the fear of arbitrary pagan gods and not to fear death; although for different causes, the former basing themselves in pure reason and the latter in a new faith which strengthened itself relying on the Skeptic school's constant and increasing criticism of knowledge, both empirical and rational, of Stoics and Epicureans, from Pyrrho to Aenesidemus or Sextus Empiricus. For this reason, Skepticism was also incorporated to the ultimate Christian synthesis, insofar as it was critical and undermining of the rational dogmatism of such schools.

Accordingly Epicureanism, despite its failure as an alternative and radical movement of social change in the mid and long term, contributed with many aspects in its way of understanding philosophy to the constitution of the ultimate ideological synthesis of the Roman Empire which makes its way with the uprising of Christianity, not only as a mere official religion that substitutes pagan polytheism, but as something more important, as a new “spiritual power”, as Auguste Comte would say, of the so-called medieval organic society that finally substitutes the constantly ideologically divided, along its creative although also troubled and insecure existence, Greco-Roman society.

Such a comparative analysis leads us to think that the humanist positivist philosophy which has its origin in Auguste Comte, and that has succeeded in the USA against its Marxist rival or other less influential European philosophical movements, such as Nietzschean Vitalism or Existentialism, will not monopolize in the future, in the form of a Pensée Unique, the great synthesis of a sort of Comtean Religion of Humanity which seems to be breaking its way in the ideological horizon of the most industrialized countries. For many aspects of ideological organization, techniques of propaganda of a philosophy for everybody and not only for an elite of scientists and sages, moral aspects, etc., will surely be conserved, taken and imitated from the work of a great thinker as Marx. For, just as the great Epicurus made serious mistakes in his Physics when he claimed against Democritus the necessity of granting freedom to the atoms (the clinamen) in order to explain the formation of the Cosmos (granting a sort of freedom to the atoms or to the electrons would make many physicist laugh nowadays), we could seriously consider that also Marx made a mistake, e.g., in his scientific economic assumption of the existence of a surplus value that was taken from the worker to explain the value of the produced commodities. The rival theory of economics, Marginalism, explains much better and with a great mathematical precision the value that a commodity should have without resorting to such hypotheses of an alienation of value. Nonetheless, other aspects of the Marxist philosophy such as its insistence on the realization (Verwirklichung) of Philosophy in practical life, on extending philosophy to general education and popularizing it with that sort of Tetrapharmakos that is the Communist Manifesto, although with other contents, will surely persist and be necessary in order to configure the global ideological synthesis toward which we seem to move in the Western World. The so-called movement of the Indignados (the Outraged), the protest against the new economical and social abuses that appear in the stage of a global scale industrialization, will surely be motives enough for new ideological movements that will need to use many of those philosophical aspects which will be conserved as philosophical acquisitions and remain in the future. For this reason, we can conclude by saying that in the struggle of the main movements in Contemporary Philosophy, just as it happened in Hellenistic Philosophy, although in different measure, all of them will have something essential to contribute in the configuration of the Future Globalized Society that seems to be reserved to the inhabitants of planet Earth and that so many futurist series have begun to depict in the contemporary social imaginary. 

Manuel F. Lorenzo

(Translated into English by Luis Fernández Pontón)

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