In today’s society especially in the United States, individual liberty and liberty in general is very important, and has influenced today’s society greatly(unfortunately I believe that individual rights have been diminishing over the last few years, but that is a topic for another essay). But what was the concept of liberty of the ancient Greeks, was it different? Well to answer that; yes the Greek concept of liberty is pretty different in comparison to the way most people today perceive the concept of liberty. During the Hellenistic period new philosophes rose into existence; one of the most popular philosophies that was taught during that time was Epicureanism. But what is Epicureanism?
Liberty of the Ancients vs. the Liberty of the Moderns
In Ancient Greece the concept of liberty was the concept that whoever had the right to be a part of political matters. For example a person who was allowed to vote on new laws, exam records of the magistrates, and participate politically was considered to have liberty. As for what the concept of liberty is today? Today’s concept of liberty is mostly related to individual’s rights, for example: having the right to express one’s opinion, right to come and go without permission, and to have the right to have some influence over the government(which is also the main aspect of the liberty of the ancients). So both concepts are pretty different but what were the causes of these differences?
Well to begin with, one single average Canadian or Us citizen doesn’t really have an impact on political decisions, because there are millions of people in both countries, so the average person in both countries don’t really have much of an influence politically. But the population in Ancient Greece was a lot smaller so the political importance of an individual was greater. Also slavery was common during that period, which let the average free Greek citizen to be able to have time to participate in political matters more often, but this was not a good thing in the sense that there was a pretty large group of people who zero rights or liberty, unlike now in a lot countries where slavery is illegal.
The biggest difference from the two by far is the fact that Ancient Greek people didn’t have individual rights; for example people could be ostracized(banished from society), whenever those people had committed an offense or not, just by being voted out of the city, by people who just thought it “necessary” to do so. Also this happened without a trial. Nowadays most of the time no judgement is made until a judge in a court makes a conclusion, which is a far better system for individualistic rights, and at the same time preventing unnecessary and unjust conclusions.
Epicureanism is the philosophical belief that a person should aim for pleasure, intelligently and modestly. Pleasure if you think about it comes into two groups: fleeting or short lived pleasures and long lasting pleasures. Short lived pleasures a lot of the time cause pain after the moment; an example of this is drinking alcohol to the point of drunkenness(I decided not to add just drinking alcohol because moderate amounts do not hurt you), and overeating. When you do those two things at first it is quite pleasant but after you feel terrible physically, and regret doing those things. Therefore it is probably a wiser idea to seek longer-lasting pleasures.This is exactly what Epicureans believed.
Epicureans believed that the world was meaningless. In other words if there were Gods or a God they did not care for you. Also they believed that the world was made up of matter with atoms floating about, and interacting; so in their belief any decisions you make are meaningless because your mind is made up of atoms. So in other words you don’t have a freewill. This was why the Epicureans believed in seeking the long-lasting pleasures of life.
The difference between the concept of liberty during ancient times and the modern concept of it is the fact that the Greek’s did not believe in individual liberty. They believed in liberty in the form of a collective group, or being able to participate in politics. Which is fine and well, but they did leave out the most important aspect of liberty, individual rights, which is mainly the concept of liberty today. The Epicureans believed that you should aim for long-lasting pleasures in life, and that the world was without meaning, hence why you seek for pleasure, to live a peaceful, meaningless life.