Chapter 27. ANALYSIS
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One: Analysis Using Three Viewpoints
SPECIAL NOTES: This paper is written in MLA style. It
also has a "Summary" section that summarizes the reading that the essay
Inver Hills College
Eng 1108, College Composition
© 2002 by Joe Delgado
Concerning the Death Penalty
by Joe Delgado
In the article “The Case Against the Death Penalty,” which appears in
Crime and Criminals: Opposing Viewpoints, Eric Freedman argues that the death
penalty not only does not deter violent crime but also works against reducing
the crime rate. Freedman says, “The
death penalty not only is useless in itself, but counterproductive . . . ”
(140). This paper will analyze
Freedman’s article from the viewpoints of a middle-age working man, a poor
person, and a politician.
Freedman argues that the death penalty does not deter crime.
In his article, he argues that states that use the death penalty have
crime rates nearly indistinguishable from those states that do not have the
death penalty. He also adds that
criminal cases in which the death penalty is sought are much more expensive to
investigate and try, thus denying much-needed funds to programs that have been
proven to reduce crime.
A middle-age working man would probably agree with Freedman’s point of
view with relation to the financial aspect of capital punishment because
Freedman talks about how much more the death penalty costs than life
imprisonment. He says, “In Florida, each execution costs $3,200,000, six times
the expense of life imprisonment” (141).
The workingman would probably be amazed at how much the execution
actually costs compared to how much life imprisonment costs.
The workingman would probably wonder why the death penalty is even sought
when life imprisonment seems to accomplish the same goal for much less money.
working man would also probably agree with Freedman because the workingman would
rather see his tax money spent on more productive programs.
Freedman says, “The reality is that, in a time of fixed or declining
budgets, those dollars are taken away from a range of programs that would be
beneficial” (142). The workingman
would add that with the government taking so much of his income in taxes, it
could at least do something more productive than killing people.
working man would probably be upset at how much money is spent on just trying a
person in a capital punishment case. Freedman
says, “Thus, the taxpayers foot the bill for all the extra costs of capital
pretrial and trial proceedings and then must pay either for incarcerating the
prisoner for life or the expenses of a retrial, which itself often leads to a
life sentence” (142). The
workingman would be upset because not only is the government using his money to
try these criminals, but it is using more of his money to retry these criminals
just because they didn’t get the verdict they wanted in the first place.
The working man might also be upset that more money has to be spent on extra
expenses that would not be incurred if it was not a capital punishment trial. Freedman says, “Much more investigation usually is done in
capital cases, particularly by the prosecution” (141).
The working man might be upset that just because the prosecution wants to
kill the defendant, he has to pay the extra cost so the prosecution can gain
more evidence even though it often leads to a life sentence instead of an
A poor person would agree with Freedman because of how discriminating the
death penalty is. Such a person
would look at Freedman’s article and agree that many poor people are
discriminated against because they do not have the money to receive a high
quality of defense. Freedman says,
“ Most capital defendants cannot afford an attorney, so the court must appoint
counsel. Every major study of this
issue . . . has found that the quality of defense representation in capital
murder trials generally is far lower than in felony cases” (144). The poor person might see poor people as being targeted for
capital punishment simply because of the fact that they won’t be able to
defend themselves properly.
might also be outraged at the fact that people to whom he can relate are not
getting a proper defense because they cannot afford the best.
Freedman says, “[T]here is an overwhelming record of poor people being
subjected to convictions and death sentences that equally or more culpable—but
more affluent—defendants would not have suffered” (144).
Mark Costanzo, author of Just Revenge, agrees. He argues, “If you or
someone you cared about was accused of murder, you would surely want a defense
team as skillful and thorough as [a wealthy person]” (73).
A poor person would add that if poor people had the money to defend
themselves properly, fewer of them would receive the death penalty.
poor person would see the death penalty as a way to rid the world of poor people
because people might think they are different and don’t deserve to live.
Freedman says, “Jurors are more likely to sentence to death people who
seem different from themselves than individuals who seem similar to themselves”
(144). A poor person would probably
view most people as having more money and better things than he and that because
he doesn’t have the best things, he is different than everyone else. He
might feel bad because it seems like the world is against him and wants to get
rid of him.
He may also see the death penalty as trying to take away money from
programs that would benefit him and people like him. Freedman says, "Despite
the large percentage of ordinary street crimes that are narcotics-related, the
states lack the funding to permit drug treatment on demand.
The result is that people who are motivated to cure their own addictions
are relegated to supporting themselves through crime, while the money that could
fund treatment programs is poured down the death penalty drain"
poor person might be sad that he does not have access to beneficial programs
because people are putting so much money into the death.
He may conclude from Freedman’s statement specifically that if the
death penalty were abolished, there would be fewer drug-related crimes because
states would have more money to fund treatment programs.
A politician would probably disagree with Freedman because he would
believe a price tag cannot be put on doing the things that are right. He would probably see the statistics Freedman gave as
irrelevant. Freedman says, “In
Florida, each execution costs $3,200,000, six times the expense of life
imprisonment” (141). The
politician would see these costs as very high but taken out of context.
He would most likely look to the statistics of how the death penalty has
actually been a crime deterrent, as proven by Jay Johansen in his article “Does
Death Penalty Deter Crime?” Johansen
says that the “[h]omicide rate is a mirror image of the number of executions.
Consistently as the number of executions goes down, the homicide rate
goes up, and when the number of executions goes up, the homicide rate goes down”
(138). He would see this as proof
that capital punishment is a deterrent, and it should remain legal as long as it
continues to deter crime.
A politician might use Johansen’s statistics to prove that the death
penalty should not be abolished. He
might see that even though a capital punishment case costs more, if the crime
rate goes down than we have fewer criminals to take to trial.
If we have fewer criminals to take to trial, we are actually saving more
money in the long run by keeping capital punishment legal.
A politician might be angry that Freedman does not show the actual
statistics of the crime rate as executions were outlawed and then when
executions were again legalized. He
might see Freedman as trying to divert people’s attention away
from the actual statistics by showing how much one capital punishment case
compared to one non-capital punishment case.
A politician might also disagree with Freedman
because Freedman proposes to take a state’s right away.
He would agree with Michael Levin that a state should have the right to
enforce its laws however it sees fit. Levin
says, “Well, the state must be able to enforce whatever it commands, or it
is a state in name only” (83). Levin
also states, “Once the state is granted the right to administer lesser
punishments, it cannot be denied the right to kill” (83).
The politician would strongly agree that a law abolishing capital
punishment would be a law that is limiting a state’s right to pass judgement.
paper has shown how three different types of people might interpret Eric
Freedman’s article “The Case Against the Death Penalty,” which appeared in
Crime and Criminals: Opposing Viewpoints. Freedman
argues that the death penalty does nothing to deter crime but uses valuable
resources that could help control crime. Freedman
says, “The death penalty is not just useless—it is positively harmful and
diverts resources from genuine crime control measures” (145).
Freedman argues his point very well and logically and makes it very easy
for people to understand all of the harm capital punishment can inflict.
Whether capital punishment is ethical is still unclear, but what becomes
more obvious is this, that the social class of a person may directly influence
his or her opinion about capital punishment.
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Two: Analysis of Four Arguments
SPECIAL NOTES: This paper is written in APA style. Because there
are only two sources and this paper was not assigned as a research project,
the authors' names and a publication date are not repeated after each
quotation and paraphrase, nor is there a bibliography. This paper has a
summary section. At the end, an optional final evaluation is offered.
University of Minnesota
Eng 1011, Honors College Composition
© 2000 by John Webb
Suicides Using Guns: An Analysis
In the article
"The Number of Gun-Related Teen Suicides is Exaggerated," David B. Kopel (1998)
insists that removing firearms from homes would not reduce the rate of teen suicide. Kopel
says, "Many gun-control advocates assert that removing firearms from the home would
reduce the rate of teen suicide" (p. 56). Kopel also contends, "While the
percentage of teen suicide by firearms is high in the United States, the numbers have
remained stable for many years." This paper will analyze Kopels essay from the
perspective of a gun-control advocate, with the help of the perspective developed in an
article by Christopher Scanlan (1998), "Guns in the Home Contribute to Teen
The introductory section of Kopels article
states that gun-control advocates have exaggerated the extent of teen suicides by
firearms. Kopel continues the article by saying that gun control advocates use false
statistics in their reasoning and in their explanation for the rate of teen suicide. The
next section of the article stresses how gun-control laws have no effect on the rate of
teen suicides in United States. The last portion of Kopels essay mentions how
gun-control advocates have resorted to using factoids written by different reporters
around the country to try and get across their message of pro-gun control across.
Kopel uses a
helpful source, Gary Kleck, to back up his arguments on the issue of teen suicide. Mr.
Kleck is a Criminologist at Florida State University. Kleck conducted a study of suicide
rates and gun laws in every American city with a population over 100,000. The concluding
results were that there seemed to be no evidence that any of the gun-control laws had a
statistical effect on suicide rates in teens. These findings back up Kopels argument
that gun laws have no effect, and Kopel uses these findings to a great extent against the
A first point
of analysis has to do with Kopels statement that gun-control advocates have
exaggerated the extent of teen suicides by firearms. Kopel says, "If guns are not
available, teenagers who want to kill themselves will merely find another method" (p.
56). Kopel insists that the percentage of teen suicide has remained stable for many years.
From the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, teenage suicide rose sharply, and most
of the increase was due to gun suicides. However, since then, the teenage suicide rate has
remained relatively stable and so has the percentage of suicides involving guns.
advocates like Christopher Scanlan, who wrote the article "Guns in the Home
Contribute to Teen Suicide," believe that gun-control advocates havent
exaggerated the extent of teen suicides by firearms. Scanlan contends, "The easy
availability of guns contributes to the high rate of teen suicide" (p. 51). The main
argument of Scanlan and the gun-control advocates is that the incidence of teenagers
killing themselves with firearms has increased dramatically, while the rate of suicides by
other means has remained the same.
for analysis is Kopels belief that gun-control advocates frequently use false
statistics in their arguments. Kopel critiques the advocates when for citing false
statistics to justify their sense of the matter. For example, in 1989, according to
the American Academy of Pediatrics told a Congressional committee that "every three
hours, a teenager commits suicide with a handgun." However, as Kopel points out, this
figure is only valid if one counts all the suicides as handgun suicides, or if one calls
every person under 25 a teenager. In addition, Kopel (1989) insists, "Gun-control
supporters simply assume that fewer firearms would mean fewer suicides" (p. 57).
Kopel can see the fact that if guns were less available, maybe suicide would decline.
However, he insists that this is not inferable from the evidence.
Gun-control advocates do not believe they use false statistics in their arguments. In a
nation where half the homes contain at least one firearm, guns and youth are a fatal
combination that annually kills more than 1,400 American youths between the ages of ten
and nineteen. This is one youth gun suicide every six hours. By restricting the access of
teenagers to guns, suicides could be reduced by twenty percent. Twenty percent is nearly
300 teenagers saved per year. Teen suicide rates have quadrupled since 1950, and according
to Scanlan, a leading panel of firearm researchers concluded that the increase was fueled
by rapid growth in gun suicides. Another twist to the situation is that guns also put at
risk large numbers of young people who consider suicide. According to Scanlan, a 1990
nationwide federal health survey of high school students found that more than one in four
young people had thought seriously about attempting suicide. Scanlan simply states,
"Keeping guns out of the reach of children saves lives" (p. 52).
Gun Control Useless?
A third issue
for analysis is that Kopel firmly believes gun-control laws have no effect. He backs
this strong statement with the help of Gary Kleck (1998), a criminologist at Florida State
University. As was stated earlier in this paper, Kleck analyzed suicide rates and gun laws
in every American city with a population over 100,000. He took into account all the
factors that might affect suicide, such as race, religion, economic situations, and
nineteen different gun-control laws. The result was that Kleck found no evidence that any
of the gun-control laws had a statistical effect on suicide rates. Kleck pointed out,
"People who had decided to kill themselves simply substituted other, equally lethal
methods" (p. 57). According to Kopel, it appears That data from other countries
support Klecks conclusion. An example is Great Britain. There, gun control laws are
much stricter than in the United States; however, teenage suicide rose sharply during the
late 1970s and early 1980s.
Teen suicides often go unnoticed in the national debate
over firearm violence and gun control. According to Scanlan, in a nationwide survey of
youth suicide prevention programs, none reported a major effort to limit gun access.
Instead, government resources are being targeted at other problems such as violence
against women, homicides, and violence against young people. However, says
hopeful sign has sprung up in the last couple of years. In 1993, the American Association
of Suicidology voted to organize a workshop to bring together health advocates and gun
enthusiasts to seek common ground on the issue of reducing access to firearms to our youth
in society. According to Scanlan, National Rifle Association Research Coordinator Paul
Blackman (1998) declared, "Sounds good to me. Were here and waiting"
(Scanlan, p. 53). The National Rifle Association is very skeptical, noting that
the suicidology group sides with gun control advocates in favoring laws that restrict gun
Myths or Facts?
A final point
of analysis is of how Kopel is fed up with gun-control advocates using factoids to try and
support their arguments. For example, according to Kopel, the Washington Post
(1998) stated, "Teenagers in homes with guns are 76 times more likely to kill
themselves than teenagers living in homes without guns" (p. 58). Kopel insists that
this is how myths supporting gun control are started. Kopel says, "Given the lack of
evidence that gun control reduced suicide, anti-gun activists have to resort to factoids
to prove their case" (p. 58).
other gun-control advocates believe they simply state the cold, hard facts about the teen
suicide problem. Gun-control advocates around the country resort to studies certifying
that the increase of guns coincides with a rise in firearm suicides. For example, says
Scanlan, a 1991 study in western Pennsylvania found that the risk of youth suicide
increased when guns were present in the home, no matter how carefully they were stored.
Unfortunately, says Scanlan, the largest increase has been among the young, typically a
group that is looking for quick solutions to lifes difficulties. Scanlan stresses,
"Suicide among all ages remain one of the nations most enduring public health
problems" (p. 54). He adds, "Without ready access to guns, many youth suicides
might remain suicide attempts."
This paper has
analyzed the article "The Number of Gun-Related Teen Suicides is Exaggerated" by
David B. Kopel. Kopel insists gun-control laws have no effect on teenage suicide rates,
and he believes that removing firearms from the home would not reduce the rate of teen
suicide. Kopel insists that gun control advocates state false statistics, use untrue
factoids, and believe falsely that gun-control laws have an effect on teenage suicides.
Even though Kopel agrees in theory with gun-control advocates that "fewer guns
equal fewer teenage suicides," he states, "The evidence is not there to simply
say fewer guns equal fewer teenage suicides" (p. 57). However, after analyzing
Kopels essay, it is reasonable to suggest that suicide should be looked upon more as
a whole. Perhaps instead of just concentrating on gun-related suicides, Kopel and
gun-control advocates such as Scanlan should be focusing on suicide in general, for
perhaps the blame for youth suicide by guns cant be laid just on gun control or its
lack, but on society as a whole.
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Three: Analysis Using Three Theories with Research
NOTE: This is an MLA research paper using three different
psychological theories about one subject in a reading.
Inver Hills College
Psychological Perspectives on a Missionary Woman
David Bergner’s non-fiction work In the Land of Magic Soldiers gives a
very detailed account of what it has been like in Sierra Leone for the past
couple of decades. There are many graphic and gruesome images, and the
character that stands out the most is Mary Kortenhoven; she is like an angel
among murderers. She is a missionary from Michigan who went to Foria, Sierra
Leone with her family to help out with the well being of the native tribal
people. One can only wonder why she would leave a land so beautiful and free
to go to a sad and desolate place like Sierra Leone. According to Bergner,
Sierra Leone “is a place where the bend in a path—just that, a slight curve in
a narrow strip of mud—can produce an ache, a longing, a bending of the heart”
(3). We may determine her motives by analyzing them from the psychological
perspectives of the theory of planned behavior, the empathy-altruism theory,
and the negative state relief theory.
book, Mary Kortenhoven is a missionary. She leaves a wonderful life here in
the United States to go help the Africans in Sierra Leone. She, her husband,
and her three children go to Foria; they all give up running water,
electricity, and the safety net of America. They are subjected to diseases,
harmful animals, and a lack of civilization. She takes much time, teaches the
women new ways to be more sanitary while giving birth and helps clear up and
prevent deadly diseases. Mary Kortenhoven brings in new medical techniques
and tools. She travels by herself through the jungle to stop the Malaria
epidemic. She spends over two decades in Foria, Freetown, and other small
villages, so she and her entire family become a part of Africa.
According to the theory of planned behavior, a person’s behavior is shaped
because his or her attitude towards something is integrated with subjective
norms and perceived control (Brehm, Kassin, and Fein 191). So, in the view of
this theory, Mary may have moved to Foria because she believes that is what
society thinks she must do, along with her own belief that she should go.
It was Mary’s idea initially to possibly do some mission work in Africa
before she and her husband left for Africa, but what really influenced her to
go was pressure from society. Someone advocating for the theory of planned
behavior would argue that that is one of the criteria to “shaping the final
behavior” (Bergner 66). In order to shape the behavior, one must have some
sort of intention; one must want to do the initial behavior. Normative social
influence is when someone succumbs to societal pressures to gain support from
their peers or to avoid some type of disapproval (Myers 705). From the view
of the theory of planned behavior, Mary may have wanted to go, and was also
strongly persuaded by society.
One must also have a strong belief about the behavior as well; Mary strongly
believes that she “needed to treat the children of Foria” (66). Need is a
very strong word; rather than wanting to treat them, she needed
to treat them. She tries to portray this motivation through her kind
Another one of the criteria for shaping behavior, according to the theory of
planned behavior, is that people will only integrate the behavior into their
lives if they believe it is within their control. This may explain why Mary
does not try to convince the women that clitoris cutting, the female
circumcision, was very detrimental to their health because she believes “she
could do little” (76) about the situation since “in Africa alone . . . an
estimated 60-90,000,000 women are circumcised” and “female circumcision is an
ancient blood ritual” (Lightfoot-Klein). She only does what she can, and what
she thinks she cannot change she leaves alone. Someone analyzing this from
the theory of planned behavior would conclude that Mary Kortenhoven goes to
Africa because she feels subjected to do so and only helps where she thinks
she will be an influence.
According to the empathy altruism theory, compassionate concern for a person
in need produces a selfless desire for helping that person (Brehm, Kassin, and
Fein 361). Mary out of the kindness of her heart, goes to Foria in order to
“gain the trust, to teach rather than impose, to introduce the small,
sustainable beginnings of a new and easier life” (Bergner 73). Mary puts
herself into the shoes of the people from Sierra Leone, and according to Brehm,
Kassin, and Fein, “The major cognitive component of empathy is perspective
taking: using the power of imagination to try to see the world through someone
else’s eyes” (361). The empathy altruism theory would say Mary Kortenhoven
does not judge and undoubtedly cares for others.
That is exactly what Mary does; she sees the world through the eyes of the
people of Foria. She realizes that some people are happy with their religious
beliefs and do not wish to change them at all. She does not impose her
beliefs on the villagers; she just suggests better
ways of living.
Mary is not forceful in any way. The way she presents her ideas is in
an empathetic manner.
Even though Mary is not a nurse, she still tries very hard and reads books in
order to learn more. She would “listen with her stethoscope to lungs that
crackled like cellophane” (Bergner 68). She also patiently teaches the
Kuronko what to feed their sick children, how to prevent infection during
pregnancy, and about many other health related issues because, according to
Davis-Floyd and Sargent, “of every 1,000 child born in a given year, over a
quarter [die] by their first birthday, and more than half [do not] reach their
fifth birthday” (Davis-Floyd and Sargent 424). Mary sees a perfect
opportunity where she can be of help, and she does whole heartedly.
Looking at Mary’s behavior from this point of view one can conclude that Mary
is a kind, selfless woman who feels the need to help others simply because
they need her help, and because she has the resources to help them. Even when
living in Sierra Leone became extremely dangerous, Mary stayed and set up a
women’s shelter (Bergner 84). She is not a needy person whatsoever. She
simply enjoys giving, with no expectation of reciprocation.
State Relief Theory
According to Brehm, Kassin, and Fein, the negative state relief theory states
people are motivated to help someone to increase their own welfare, to make
themselves feel better. They say, “Empathy highlights the potential rewards
for helping others . . . . [H]elping makes [the helper] feel good” (363). For
instance, if person A is in need of help, it may cause distress for person B,
so person B in turn will help person A in order to counteract his or her own
sadness. According to Rogers, “Genuineness, acceptance, and empathy
are the water, sun and nutrients that enable people to grow like vigorous oak
trees. For as persons are accepted and prized, they tend to develop a more
caring attitude towards themselves” (Myers 588). According to the negative
state relief theory, Mary only helps others to be accepted and to feel better
From the perspective of this theory, Mary also probably only helps because she
feels saddened by the Kuronko people, so she helps them to relieve her anxiety
that their agony causes. Mary was “not propelled by fanatic devotion”
(Bergner 67). Mary is propelled by the depressed feelings she has; she is
propelled to get rid of those negative feelings by helping others. This, in
turn, makes her feel better.
In compliance with the negative state relief theory, she is only looking out
for her own personal interest, which is to relieve her own anxiety. Mary
often seeks refuge, and the “refuge she needed was from disease, from the
village woman . . . wailing” (Bergner 66). She cannot stand the pain that she
sees the villagers going through. In order to make herself feel like a
competent person, she helps the villagers. Rogers declared that empathetic
concern strengthens relationships; any relationship between two human beings
(Myers 588). The only motivation for Mary’s actions is to relieve her anxiety
and for her to feel more competent among the villagers.
In addition, Mary is also subjected to many depressed people in Africa. For
example, the female circumcisions that many of the women in Africa endure
result in “a severely depressed self-image, lack of confidence, feelings of
sexual inadequacy and worthlessness, repressed rage and anorgasmia”
(Lightfoot-Klein). When Mary sees these depressed and distressed feelings in
the women, it causes her to become upset, and that may be why she is more
inclined to help these women. She does not want to be around that kind of
depressing situation, but since she is, she deals with it by helping others in
order to relieve her agony, her sadness, and it makes her feel like a better
There are many
different ways to analyze Mary Kortenhoven’s motivations for helping out the
people of Foria. We have looked at her actions from three psychological
perspectives. Though one may never know her true motives, by analyzing them
from the perspectives of the theory of planned behavior, the empathy-altruism
theory, and the negative state relief theory, there are several explanations
for her genuine intentions. She may have felt pressured by society, she may
have just wanted to help out of the kindness of her heart, or she may have
wanted to rid herself of her distressing feelings and that is what made her
help. As Bergner states,
To step inside
those chambers [of the buttress trees], to have the massive growths enclose
you, to lean with your feet on the spongy ground and your back to the cool
damp bark, with almost all the sounds of the world absorbed by the misty air
and the immensity of wood, is to exist in some other atmosphere, some softer
medium, some fluid capable of sustaining you between this world and another.
Kortenhoven is existing in this other atmosphere; she was possibly caught
between this world and another.
This bibliography uses some features of the older MLA format—from before
Daniel. In the Land of Magic Soldiers. New York: Picador, 2003.
“Fighting Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone.” Bulletin of the World Health
83.11 (2005): 806-807. Academic Search Premiere. EBSCOhost. Inver Hills
Community College Library, Inver Grove Heights. 28 Oct. 2006 <http://web.ebsco-host.com>.
Kassin, S., and Fein, S. Social Psychology. 6th ed. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
Robbie E., ed, and Carolyn F. Sargent, ed. Childbirth and Authoritative
Knowledge: Cross Cultural Perspectives.
Los Angeles: University of California, 1997.
Lightfoot-Klein, Hanny. “Prisoners of Ritual: Some Contemporary Developments
in the History of Female Genital Mutilation.” Second International
Symposium on Circumcision 30 April,1991.
G. Psychology. 7th ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2004.
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SPECIAL NOTES: This is a
comparison/contrast paper requiring
research. It uses MLA style. The bibliography at the end would, in a normal manuscript, start
on a separate page.
Inver Hills College
Hum 1110, Humanities I
© 2001 by Melanie Pelzel
A Comparison and
Contrast of Three Ancient Roman Philosophies
This paper compares and contrasts three different views of philosophy
of Roman times:
Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Neo-Platonism. These
three philosophies were created out of a need for
explanations about the meaning of life. According to
Lamm, "Epicureanism and Stoicism, two
eminent Athenian schools of philosophy of the third century BC, developed
ethical systems that could help individuals feel more secure in an unstable and
hostile world. Materialistic and
practical, both philosophies suited thoughtful, educated Romans who chose to
confront the problems of living an ethical life in a society plagued by
dissension, vice, and corruption" (241).
It was the era
that sprouted such philosophies. According
to Shapiro, “The moral and emotional conditions in the first true ‘Age of
Anxiety’ suffered in the western world—the Hellenistic Age—called forth
and nourished three great philosophical responses: Epicureanism, Stoicism, and
Purpose in Life
This section will compare and contrast the three philosophies regarding the question "What is one's purpose in life?"
In Epicureanism, securing tranquility is the answer.
The followers of this particular philosophy also believed the highest
good in one's life is secure and lasting pleasure.
According to Lamm, “Epicurus considered pleasure the ultimate good and
adhered, with remarkable consistency, to the consequences of this view” (241).
The only way a person could achieve tranquility and pleasure is, as
De Lacy says, "through the philosopher.
Intelligent choice is also needed, and practical wisdom is more to be
prized than philosophy itself. Practical wisdom measures pleasures against pains, accepting
pains that lead to greater pleasures and rejecting pleasures that lead to
greater pains. It counts the
traditional virtues (justice, temperance, and courage) among the means for
attaining the pleasant life; they have no other justification" (4).
The followers of Epicureanism also felt that if a person were full of
fear and anxiety, he or she would be hindered in achieving her purpose in life.
Religion and the dread of death were viewed as the two great sources of
fear for mankind. To rid mankind of
these fears, De Lacy says, "Epicurus stated that peace of mind is achieved
when the study of natural philosophy has removed all fear of the gods, when
death is recognized to be merely the limit of experience and therefore
irrelevant to the quality of experience, and when the gratification of desires
that go beyond what is necessary and natural is seen to result in greater pains
than pleasure" (4).
This brings up an interesting point, one that should
be addressed. Epicureanism has been
given the reputation of saying that sensual pleasures are the highest good and this is
what a person should strive for. This
view is actually mistaken. According
to Burkhardt, “Intense bodily pleasure has consequences which are painful.
In the long run, therefore, the highest good lies not in bodily pleasure
but in the maximum of equilibrium or absence of pain” (272).
The highest good is not in complete bodily pleasure, but in creating a
total balance between pleasure and pain.
How do the Stoics answer the proposed question "What is one’s
purpose in life?" They viewed purpose in life as the pursuit of virtue. According
to Lamm, “It was seen that virtue was the sole good in an individual’s life;
health, happiness, possessions are of no account.
Because virtue resides in will power, everything good or bad in a
person’s life depends entirely on that person” (242). Lamm goes on to say, “Virtue is seen as a detached calm,
and one must guard himself from allowing others from interfering with this calm.
One can finally achieve freedom by freeing oneself from all non-important
desires” (242). We can now see
that Stoicism and Epicureanism have a common thread: to achieve ones purpose in
life, she must look within. Clark expands on this idea by saying, “to desire the
impossible is irrational; and we should concern ourselves only with what is in
our power—not wealth, pleasure, or reputation, but our inward reaction to the
circumstances of life” (539).
The Stoics’ also wished to
abolish passions, which were thought of as a mental disturbance.
According to Sandbach, “The passions came in four generic kinds: fear,
lust, mental pain, and mental pleasure” (60). A
person who truly followed the Stoic philosophy tried to achieve a detached calm
in any situation. This person could
have lost his wife and children in a fire, but would take care not to let it
disrupt his calm. He would try to
view such a circumstance as of no account to him.
If he did let it distract him, then he would worry that he was
jeopardizing his ultimate goal
of achieving virtue.
Last is the Neo-Platonic view of one’s purpose in life.
This philosophy is somewhat different from Epicureanism and Stoicism.
According to Lamm, “The main idea of one’s life is to approach as
near as possible to an understanding of reality while on earth so that, upon
death, one is fit to enter the City of Good and contemplate the True Reality”
(243). In Neo-Platonism, there is
the belief that nothing exists in its pure form.
Pure form is seen as impossible to experience it in this life.
According to Sweeney, “Neoplatonism tends, then, to put little emphasis
on the material universe and reuses all value to the unique, distinguishing
characteristics of an individual human person; for Plotinus these are unreal and
unworthy accretion and must be put aside when one attains the One” (297).
The idea then, is to live this life as ideally as one would live after
death. By doing this, a person is
more prepared when faced with the True Reality.
This section will compare and contrast the three philosophies regarding the question "Is there a God?"
De Lacy states, “Epicurus preferred the view, like all other atomic
compounds, men have come into being when the necessary conditions have been met.
They have no creator and no destiny” (4).
It was his belief then that no God did, in fact, exist.
But Epicurus was influenced by society's belief at that time that there was a
multitude of gods. Even though he himself believed that there was no creator, he
devised a way to explain the possibility of the existence of these gods.
According to Armstrong, “The gods live in the gaps between the
universes. They are peculiar atomic
structures, immortal in that the flow of atoms into them exactly balances the
outflow” (505). Armstrong explains this
state as follows: “Nothing exists but atoms and the
empty space in which they endlessly move. Universes,
including our own, and all in them are just chance concatenations or chains of
atoms, which are always coming into existence and being dissolved infinite
space” (505). To compromise his
own view with society's, Epicurus further stated that the gods have no power
over mortals and do not interfere in our lives or affairs.
In Stoicism there was a belief in God.
According to Hallie, “The Stoics defined God as a rational spirit
having itself no shape but making itself into all things” (21).
Hallie also states, “ he key words in the Stoic vocabulary are all
basically synonymous: God, Zeus, creative fire, ether, the word (logos), reason
of the world, soul of the world, law of nature, providence, destiny, and order.
The Stoics were monists. There
is no qualitative difference between God and the rest of the universe” (21).
In their view then, God is made up of everything; without Him nothing
belief in a multitude of gods. However,
according to Shapiro, “the gods have no power over the universes.
They must exist because humans believe in them, but there is no need to
fear them. Philosophers can derive
peace and joy from contemplating the ideal existence of gods” (334).
Therefore, even in their existence, they remain completely separate from
mortals. There is a point that does
need to be clarified, though. In
Neo-Platonism there is often the use of the words "The One."
This has led many to mistakenly interpret this philosophy as arguing for
the existence of God or a Creator. However,
to Dillon, “The One can be defined as a principal superior to Intellect and
being, total, unitary and simple” (95). Another
way of defining The One is, according to Sweeney, as follows: “The One is cause and final
goal that unifies us and our love terminates in it.
No one knows for sure what The One is, but it’s beyond being,
knowledge, and language” (297). Therefore,
The One does not represent the idea of God, but in fact an idea in itself.
This section will compare and contrast the three philosophies regarding the question "Is there a soul?"
In Epicureanism there was the belief in a soul, but it was not seen as
living forever. In order to have a
clearer picture of this, it is necessary to understand how this philosophy
viewed the workings of the body. According
to De Lacy, “The human organism is composed of atoms undergoing characteristic
patterns of change. Body and soul
are interdependent; neither can survive without the other.
The soul’s atoms are of four kinds.
Three are the same as the atoms that constitute air, wind, and heat; the
fourth, the smallest and most mobile, is sui genesis and nameless” (4).
Thus it is that the soul is intertwined with the body’s
functions, and has no purpose once the body dies. In this regard, Epicureanism saw religion
and the concept of eternal life as a threat. According
to Lamm, “Religion was not a consolation but a threat [to Epicureans]; it was a supernatural
interference with nature and a source of terror because immortality denied
release from pain. Death was both
extinction and liberation” (241).
Stoics also believed in a soul. They
used the word pneuma, which is "breath" or "seed."
Pneuma is what we now consider the soul in modern terms.
According to Reesor, “The Romans considered the pneuma to be a
tensional motion within each entity, a stretching or tightness responsible for
the entity’s coherence” (735). Another
interpretation of the Stoic's understanding of soul is explained by Clark.
He says, “According to a biological analogy that was proposed, the particular things of the world are governed in their
emergence and development by the inherent power of seed—sparks, as it
were—of the divine reason. The
underlying substance of the world, this divine reason, is an intelligent fire
that directs all events” (539). Without
this pneuma, soul, or fire, nothing would exist.
Neo-Platonism also expresses the view that humans have souls.
They also believed that the soul continues on after the body dies.
Lamm says, “The goal [in Neo-Platonism] is to approach as near as possible to an
understanding of reality while on earth so that, upon death, one is fit to enter
the City of Good and contemplate the True Reality” (243).
This illustrates the Neo-Platonic view that there is a life after death,
which--in this philosophy--is dearly embraced because it frees the soul
for better things. Concerning this, Shapiro says, “Plotinus expresses contempt for all that is of sense,
blames the commerce of soul with body as enchainment, an entombment, and upholds
as a great truth the saying of the mysteries that the soul is here a prisoner”
There is a point that needs
clarification, though. Many have
confused the use of the word "soul" in Neo-Platonism. According to Dillon, "The Soul is regarded as a level
that generates time, and receives the forms into itself as reason principles (logoi).
Our physical, three-dimensional world is the result of the lower aspect
of the Soul (nature) projecting itself upon a kind of negative field of force
(matter). Matter has no positive
existence but is simply the receptacle for the unfolding of the Soul in its
lowest aspect, which project three-dimensional space" (95). Therefore, the
use of Soul in Neo-Platonism refers to one of the levels of the
universe, and not to what resides inside humans.
As we can see, these three philosophies share some common threads of
thought, and greatly diverge on others. Though
modern technology has proven some of the ideas that held these structures
together as incorrect, some we still have yet to disprove.
As Hallie says, “Stoics compared their logic to the wall, their physics
to the tree, and their ethics to the fruit of a fertile field” (21).
This passage holds very true; many wonderful things and ideas have
sprouted out of these three philosophies, and many more will surely follow.
Armstrong, Hilary. “Epicureanism.”
Encyclopedia Americana. 1998.
Burkhardt, Fredrick. “Epicureanism.”
Clark, Gordon H. “Stoicism.” Collier’s Encyclopedia.
De Lacy, P.H. “Epicureanism.” Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Dillon, J.M. “Neoplatonism.” Encyclopedia Americana.
Hallie, Phillip. “Stoicism.” Encyclopedia of
Lamm, Robert C. The
Humanities in Western Culture. New
York: Random, 1996.
Reesor, Margaret E. “Stoicism.” Encyclopedia Americana.
Sandbach, F.H. The Stoics. New York: Norton &
Shapiro, Herman. Hellenistic
Philosophy. New York: Random, 1965.
Sweeney, Leo. “Neoplatonism.” Collier’s Encyclopedia.
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