Epicurus’ Understanding of Society and PoliticsJune 26, 2021
Epicurus adopted an evolutionist understanding of history in terms of his view of history. According to this, in the beginning human beings were alone, they reproduced randomly, they were not in verbal communication; they did not have social institutions in this period, they were able to survive because they were physically stronger than their fellows who came after them. Over time, the human race has softened considerably, partly thanks to the discovery of fire, and as a result, family and neighborhood relations have begun. At this stage, people developed some technical skills such as language, agriculture and house building to protect themselves from natural hazards.
There was one more reason to create the state. After the famine of early history, the relative wealth provided by the discovery of the arts has shown that it is imperative for people to create the political organization we call the state to protect their property as well as their lives. As can be understood from this, Epicurus placed a contractual state doctrine within the evolutionist understanding of history in question. This understanding of the contracting state states that people who struggled with each other without the understanding of common interest in the past, had a sense of common interest in time, and that they established the state on the basis of a contract in order to avoid dangers and to work together to obtain more pleasure and happiness.
This view of the state is diametrically opposed to the Platonic-Aristotelian understanding of the state, which sees the state as a natural institution. Accordingly, the state is not a natural institution, but a contractual institution that exists for the individual. Social life is based on the principle of the interest of the individual; individuals came together to protect themselves, maintain their existence and therefore be happy, and established the state with a contract. Justice is also a purely conventional value based on this contract. The rights we call natural rights are the general rules of behavior that people adopt because of their usefulness. All laws and all institutions, including government, are necessary and just as long as they contribute to the safety and well-being of the individual, that is, are beneficial. People become just because it is in their interests to be just, and they avoid evil and injustice because doing injustice harms their interests and therefore themselves through various punishments. Therefore, injustice is bad not because it is bad in itself, but because its consequences are negative.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook