The Development of Greek Philosophy (Part 3)

Philo of Man




The Problem of Freedom:
The Development of Greek Philosophy (Part 3)


The Problem of Freedom

In Part 2 of this series of discussions about the history of the development of Greek philosophy, I have traced the development of Greek philosophy from the Sophists to Aristotle, with emphasis on the problem of knowledge. In this post, I will present the development of Greek philosophy, particularly ancient Greek philosophy, from the Stoics to the Skeptics, with emphasis on the problem of freedom.

To reiterate, the classic period of ancient Greek philosophy ends with Aristotle. Now, after Aristotle, philosophy took a different direction. Here, the problem of philosophy was no longer on cosmology, that is, the problem of the world-stuff, world-order, and world-process, but on the person’s freedom from the world. This desire for freedom from the world, which came after Aristotle, was viewed as the restoration of the divine perfection of the human person―an inner perfection which approximate divinity. It is important to note that the human person was conceived in antiquity as an entity that can approximate divinity. It is also important to note that the background here is that the world is full of evil, of debaucheries, of wickedness, which have corrupted the human soul―thus, the need to free oneself from the world.

Those who attempted to free the human person from the world, at least in the context of ancient Greek philosophy, were represented by the Stoics, Epicureans, and the Skeptics. Let me briefly sketch the key concepts in Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Skepticism.

According to The Basics of Philosophy,

“Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy (developed by Zeno of Citium around 300 B.C. as a refinement of Cynicism) which teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions. It does not seek to extinguish emotions completely, but rather seeks to transform them by a resolute Asceticism (a voluntary abstinence from worldly pleasures), which enables a person to develop clear judgment, inner calm and freedom from suffering (which it considers the ultimate goal).” See The Basics of Philosophy,

Thus, according to the virtue of the Stoics, to free oneself from the world, one must cease to desire, to suffer, to struggle, i.e., to strive for the solution of the problems of the world. In a sense, one must put herself in a condition in which there is nothing worthy of desire, in which the will is affected and influenced by nothing. For more on the nature, meaning and dynamics of Stoicism, see Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Epicurus (Photo credit: Free Wikimedia Commons)

On the other hand, Epicurus (341 BCE – 271 BCE) suggests that in order for one to protect herself against the world, one must lead a life that is free from suffering. One way of doing this is not to ask too much from nature. In this way, one suffers a little and enjoy as much as possible.

However, it is a mistake to equate Epicureanism with hedonism. As we know, hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure, sensual pleasure so to speak. Thus, the famous hedonist motto: eat now, drink now, be merry for tomorrow you will die. On the contrary, Epicureanism urges one to seek modest pleasure in order to attain the greatest good, which is the attainment of tranquility and freedom from fear (ataraxia), as well as the absence of bodily pain (aponia). For more on Epicurus and Epicureanism, see Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Lastly, we have the doubt of the ancient Greek Skeptics. Ancient Greek Skepticism “is generally applied either to a member of Plato’s Academy during its skeptical period (c. 273 B.C.E to 1st century B.C.E.) or to a follower of Pyrrho (c. 365 to 270 B.C.E.). Pyrrhonian skepticism flourished from Aenesidemus’ revival (1st century B.C.E.) to Sextus Empiricus, who lived sometime in the 2nd or 3rd centuries C.E. Thus the two main varieties of ancient skepticism: Academic and Pyrrhonian.” See Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

It is known that almost every form of ancient Greek skepticism has something to do with the claim that humans have the inability to gain knowledge of the world, and so the need to suspend judgment. In the case of Pyrrho, who was overwhelmed by his inability to determine rationally which competing schools of thoughts during his time was correct, doubt then is the key to attaining peace of mind (ataraxia). In fact, after admitting to himself that indeed he could not attain absolute truth, Pyrrho gained peace of mind. For more on the life and works of the Skeptic Pyrrho, see Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Thus, doubt for the Skeptics is the key to freeing oneself from the wicked world. In fact, the Skeptics claim that in order for one to get rid of the “unrest of mind”, one must cease to strive, and must give up the solution of the problems of the world, being convinced that these problems cannot be solved.

To reiterate, the Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics have one common goal: freedom from the world. The Stoics seek to become free from the world through “virtue”, the Epicureans through “happiness”, and the Skeptics through “doubt”.


Below is the front cover of our book in philosophy of the human person, a core subject in senior high schools in the Philippines. Chapter 1 of this book discusses the problem of freedom. If you are interested to purchase the book, you may contact the publisher at For more on the basic information of this book, please visit this link:




Professor of Philosophy
Silliman University

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