Hellenistic Political Theory

Phillip Mitsis

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199238804
Published online September 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

Hellenistic Political Theory

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There is an almost schizophrenic quality to much of the surviving evidence for political thought in the Hellenistic period. The philosophers usually taken to be most characteristic of the Hellenistic period and whose views were to prove by far the most influential for subsequent political thinkers—the Epicureans, Stoics, and sometimes, honorifically, because of their influence on the Stoics, the Cynics—all emphatically insist that individuals can achieve perfect happiness completely on their own and under any kinds of inhospitable political conditions. This article considers a range of recent major reconstructions of Hellenistic political views by scholars who claim that the period did indeed engage in genuine political philosophy. It agrees with Isaiah Berlin's claim that the radically depoliticized outlook of Hellenistic philosophers signaled one of the most revolutionary and crucial breaks in the history of Western political thought. Moreover, two of their central tenets—Stoic natural law and the Epicurean social contract—were to prove unexpectedly fruitful for later political thinkers.

Keywords: Hellenistic period; political thought; political philosophy; Isaiah Berlin; Stoics; Epicureans; natural law; social contract

Article.  12272 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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