Epicurus and Social Responsibility
Because we have natural affection for our children, Epicurus advises the wise man not to bring up children? Why is Epicurus afraid that he may thus fall into trouble? Does Epicurus fall into trouble on account of the mouse which is nurtured in the house? What does he care if a little mouse in the house makes lamentations to him? But Epicurus knows that if once a child is born, it is no longer in our power not to love it or care about it. For this reason, Epicurus says that a man who has any sense also does not engage in political matters; for he knows what a man must do who is engaged in such things. Indeed, if you intend to behave among men as you do among a swarm of flies, what hinders you?
The Stoics felt that the Epicurean view led the individual to cast off all social responsibility to family, friends, and society in general. Epicurus indicated that the wise man should not raise children because of the high likelihood of that offspring cause pain. The factors could have been anything from infant mortality to teen rebellion to a disastrous marriage to parricide.
Epictetus points out that this would be unethical and impractical. Humans have a natural affection for their own offspring and other human beings in general. The mouse that Epictetus refers to here is not an animal, it is actually a reference to a slave that Epicurus was known to have favored during his lifetime. Epictetus wants to point out that even Epicurus himself cannot treat human beings as callously as he himself dictates.
Of course, Christianity itself is the quintessential philosophy for urging men to treat their fellow beings well. Christ commanded his followers to "treat others as you yourself would be treated."
The parallels between Stoicism and Christianity are amazing, and what is even more amazing is that they derive from different sources. Even though Epictetus often refers to the authority of Zeus, he largely derives his tenets from natural laws and logic, while Christianity has the authority of God through the Bible as its basic underpinnings. Thus we see that God's laws are indeed written in the Bible, but are also a part of the very nature of humanity. This only makes sense, as it was God who breathed life into humans in the first place.
Stoicism and Christianity Index
- Against Epicurus
- Epicurus and Social Responsibility (23a)
- Epicurus and Children (23b)