State and Social Teachings in Ancient TimesJune 28, 2021
What society and the state are and what kind of beings they are are among the oldest problems in the history of philosophy. Some thinkers from presocratic philosophy have also addressed this problem.
The period before Socrates in the history of philosophy is called the Presocratic period of philosophy.
For Presocratic thinkers in ancient times, investigating the structure of the society living in Polis (city-state) and the existence of laws as the rules regulating the society became a second research topic besides nature research. For the Presocratics, harmony and order were necessary in society as well as in nature. The main interest of presocratic philosophy was natural philosophy. However, presocratic thinkers in the Ancient Age were also interested in the problem of human and society. The most important one among the thoughts about human and society has been the idea of happiness of human and society. Philosophy schools of ancient times saw happiness in living in accordance with nature and law. For example, Democritus, who was the representative of the atomist view in the Ancient Age, said that the person who forced himself to act in accordance with the right, law and law would be happy. At the same time, he argued that laws cannot prevent individuals from living as they wish, except to prevent individuals in the society from harming each other. According to Democritus, the most important among all human affairs is state affairs, that is, the issue of how the state will be governed is the top priority. In the administration of the state, any work that is not in accordance with the law and justice should not be done.
A well-governed state is the most perfect institution, and law and justice can only be mentioned in a well-governed state. Democritus also linked the happiness of the individuals who make up the society to the happiness of the whole society. The purpose of laws is to bring prosperity and happiness to human life. According to Democritus, democracy is also one of the best forms of government, and he says that “democracy is much better to suffer from poverty, than to be so-called ‘happy’ in the service of the masters, just as freedom is better than slavery” (Capelle 1995, p. 210). All these views of Democritus emphasize the importance of regulating society with laws as a view representing the views of pre-Socratic thinkers on human, society and state. The prediction of order and harmony in the universe within the society should be seen as an explanation of the reason for the existence of the state. In other words, the state should regulate society with laws on the basis of concepts such as rights, justice, equality and freedom. Such an arrangement would also comply with the principle of universal order and harmony.
The atomic school is the school represented by the ancient philosophical schools Leucippus and Democritus. It is the view that claims that the universe consists of atoms that are indivisible.
Among the Presocratic thinkers, especially the Sophists, turned their attention from nature to man, and thus to society and the state. In this context, they brought some criticisms to the designs of their era and society such as law, politics, justice, state, society and morality.
Sophists were people who taught for money in Ancient times. The movement called sophism also states that it is impossible to reach absolute or objective truths about knowledge; It is a movement towards a kind of criticism of society, morality and knowledge, claiming that such truths do not exist, and that even if there are, reaching them exceeds human understanding. Its main representatives are Protagoras and Gorgias.
The thoughts of some Sophists on this subject can be summarized as follows: According to Kritias, religion and moral rules were created by intelligent and cunning rulers to ensure the obedience of the society. According to Thrasymakhos, right and justice are what the strong in society do. In a sense, justice is determined by those who hold power, and laws are made by those who hold power. Callicles, on the other hand, argued that the weak in society create laws, rules and values such as justice and morality to protect themselves. What is common to all these understandings is that they claim that the laws enacted by people are not created according to an objective concept of rights and justice, but for the benefit of certain classes in the society. Therefore, all the views put forward on these concepts have to be relative. According to the sophists, there is no common and universal human nature, so it is futile to seek a social order in accordance with human nature. The state and society are not natural, but artificial entities. Thus, the Sophists made the distinction between “the natural” and “the one laid by humans”, that is, the “unnatural” distinction (physei – thesei). One of the most fundamental determinations in the history of thought has been the question of whether the rights and duties that people have are innate, that is, whether they are natural or whether they are determined by the laws that people put in place, that is, whether they are not natural but artificially established.
Sophists, like the philosophers before them, turned their attention to the human problem with the thought that it is impossible to reach absolute or objective truths about the problems related to nature and the universe. For the first time in the history of philosophy there is a distinction between the natural and the artificial.