The history of ethics represents a vast area of ​​knowledge, encompassing several millennia in its development. Already the oldest written sources that have come down to us since the time of the early civilizations, contain arguments about the appointment of a person and the purpose of his life. Since, as has already been said, a significant part of the problematic of ethics was formed in the writings of great thinkers, the history of ethical teachings is considered in the mainstream of the history of philosophy. However, ethics is not only interested in philosophical, but also religious, as well as secular spiritual teachings about morality. Attaching great importance to Eastern philosophy, the traditions of Indian, Chinese, Arab-Muslim ethics, we will be forced, based on the volume of this textbook, to focus only on the main trends in the history of Western European moral philosophy.


Ancient ethics was formed within the framework of ancient Greek and the ancient Roman philosophy that came to replace it: beginning with the emergence of the first schools of natural philosophers (the beginning of the 6th century BC), ending with intellectual currents of the late Roman Empire (VI century AD). ). Ethics was born in Antiquity, but before Aristotle gave it the status of an independent philosophical discipline, several centuries passed through the comprehension of the moral experience acquired by the ancient Greek civilization.


The word archaic means antiquity & quot ;. Ancient Greek philosophy goes back to its origins in legends and legends, where the foundations of the moral outlook of this civilization were laid. The main receptacle of the earliest notions of virtue and vice was the religious-mythological system of views, which had a huge impact on both the ancient spiritual culture and the strategy of educating young people.

The first systematizer of the mythological tradition (at least from the written sources that came down to us) was the legendary poet Homer. Until now, no years of his life have been established, nor has such a person actually existed. Perhaps the Homer Is the pseudonym of several poets. He is credited with creating two poems - the Iliad and "Odyssey", which tells of the events of the Trojan War and the long return of one of her heroes - Odysseus to his homeland. But the main plot is the complex relationship of the gods and people, the description of which best testifies to the moral ideal of the period of the Greek archaic. It is believed that Homer lived ns less than three hundred years after the events described, so his poetic narrative is a collection of folk traditions he has processed. The influence of Homer on the ancient Greek culture is enormous. Plato writes: "Homer is the first mentor and leader of all the magnificent tragedy poets"; "Homer ... brought up Hellas."

Iliad and Odyssey - this is a poem about the life of heroes who perform great feats. The world of Homer is a world of war and adventure, of intrepid and exceptional warriors wishing to gain fame and earning their eternal glory: the names of Achilles, Hector, Odysseus and their exploits are known to us three thousand years later. The hero in his poems is a descendant of an immortal celestial and human being, moreover, originating from the royal family. Achilles is the son of the sea goddess Thetis, Odysseus is the great-grandson of Hermes, Ajax is descended from Zeus and the nymph of Aegina, Diomedes is the son of Ares. All of them are under the protection of the gods, receive instructions from them, use their help, etc. But heroes are still not gods; The fact is that the gods are immortal, and the heroes are mortal. And even the god-parents can not free their children from the fate of death. Mortality is the absolute line between them. God can be wounded (like Diomedes to Aphrodite), but you can not kill. But if immortality as eternal life is impossible, then you can immortalize yourself with great deeds.

In addition, there is an absolute difference between heroes and ordinary people. It is expressed in the presence of special super-qualities that allow heroes to perform feats that are inaccessible to mere mortals. From the point of view of the hero, all ordinary people are mob, they serve him for accomplishing great deeds. In relation to them, everything is allowed: the poems of Homer are full of scenes of bloody massacres of commoners.

Does this mean that heroes do not have morals? No, they have their own, special, group morale, which is very demanding. But it concerns only the heroes themselves. Group morality is a remnant of the early tribal system, where relations with the world are built on the principle: "we are they", "ours are not ours". Relations with members of a kind are regulated by mandatory rules. To search for universal moral norms in the Homeric epic is still too early.

What qualities should a hero have? The main field of his activity is war. Here is their destiny: "From a tender youth until old age, Zeus decided to fight in brutal cruelties, until one perishes with a weapon". Contrary to popular belief, Homer does not glorify war, but considers it a great disaster. Therefore, the hero requires the presence of special qualities: courage, courage, fearlessness, willpower, which define the concept of "greatness", "valor" - the most important virtues. Heroes are great, because they do what ordinary people can not.

Belonging to a special, rather narrow group of heroes generates complex mutual obligations to each other. It's about the category of honor. Its most ancient meaning is in the visible material goods. It represents the honors rendered to the hero for the manifested valor, and it is expressed in the form of the booty awarded to him in the division of trophies taken from the defeated enemy. The status of the hero in the community, his recognition as the first among equals depends on the amount of these honors. Therefore, a great reward should correspond to a significant reward. To infringe on the hero in the extraction section is one of the most serious misconduct. Thus, the offense inflicted by Agamemnon Achilles on the division of trophies led to numerous failures of the Achaeans near the walls of Troy. Strangled honor led to the suicide of the great warrior Ajax, and Hector was forced to go to the deadly duel with Achilles. In addition, the victory of the hero over the enemy should receive appropriate publicity. Therefore, any significant event in the life of the hero is accompanied by loud and vivid representations, for example sacrifice, a feast, games.

Belonging to the elite obliges the heroes to remain faithful to the brotherhood, brought by the oath to protect each other. To break a word means to incur shame on yourself. Another major misconception is not to give a companion during a battle of help or not to give proper praise to the enemy. Finally, the most important virtue of the hero is the fulfillment of the will of the gods. The Olympian gods have their own complex relationships: rivalry, ambition, for the sake of which they help the heroes perform feats to glorify their greatness. We can say that among the gods, too, there is a struggle for honor. Zeus as the supreme deity protects the most powerful hero - Achilles. Until a certain moment, helping the Trojans win the battle, he shows the Achaeans that without his hero their cause will fail.

Heroes understand that they fulfill the will of the gods and know their intentions. Achilles and Hector are aware of their imminent death in the war, without which great glory would not be possible. It turns out that the heroes are puppets in the hands of the gods? Yes, but this is their essence and subject of special pride. If the category of honor determines the status of a hero among equals, then the patronage of God allows you to approach the status of a celestial. Moreover, the heroes explain their actions by the will of the gods: they performed one or another act, as this was acceptable to the patron god.

Moral consciousness of the period of the Greek archaic is reflected in the system of images of heroes - demigods-half-men, who fulfill the will of the immortal Olympians, in which there is still no clear idea of ​​personal responsibility for actions, nor moral requirements, mandatory for all. Moral norms are expressed here in images of perfection, which anyone who wishes to live virtuously should imitate.

However, Homer was not the only systematizer of the religious and moral experience of the Ancient Hellas. Another of her great teachers was no less legendary poet Hesiod, author of poems "Theogony" and "Proceedings and days". In the first, he tried to put together people's ideas about the genealogy of the gods, the second devoted to the doctrine of right living. It is believed that Hesiod lived in the late IX - early VIII century. BC. e., e.g. a few decades after Homer.

The heroic ideal is not the only one that existed in Greece during the archaic period. Otherwise it could not be, for life is diverse. The peasant Hesiod became the spokesman of a different worldview. At the center of his attention are not war and feats, but life on earth, the heavy daily work of a farmer. Note that for Homeric aristocrats, cultivation of the land was considered an insulting occupation, the lot of the mob they despised. But the peasant has his own world; it is complex, often ungrateful to its inhabitants, but the proximity to the land, to the very source of life, gives special labor to its cultivation.

Hesiod's views on life are very pessimistic. The main theme of the poem "Proceedings and Days" - the general fall of morals. Human history represents a regression: a happy age of gold people who knew neither need nor suffering nor old age was replaced by a century of silver people who, because of pride, did not want to worship the gods. Then Zeus created a generation of brass people who knew no other craft than military affairs, as a result of which they exterminated each other. The fourth era was the time of heroes, famous for Homer. But they were also ruined by war. Finally, Hesiod characterizes his epoch in this way:

The earth is now inhabited by iron people. Will not

They have no respite either at night or in the daytime from work and grief,

And from misfortunes. Heavy gods will give care to them.

All the troubles came from the fact that people stopped living in truth, forgetting conscience, shame, justice. People are driven by envy, greed, enmity. The force completely replaced the law, the children stopped honoring their parents, lying and slander became commonplace. In the world of violence, only naggers and villains prosper, decent people can not live safely. The moral catastrophe described by Hesiod is even more sinister when compared to the ethical ideal described by the author. It can be said that Hesiod was the first in the history of European ethics, who was so acutely aware of the discrepancy between what is and what is due.

Most of the poem "Proceedings and Days" is devoted to the instruction of virtue. The author pays special attention to the topic of diligence and condemns idleness and laziness. Labor is the guarantee of a happy and prosperous life. Only the toiler helps the gods. Hesiod leads a lot of advice on farming and household management. In addition to diligence, the peasant must be lean, modest, patient, truthful and benevolent in his relations with his neighbors. In the teachings of Hesiod, we first meet with the foundation of the most important for the ancient Greek ethic of the category of measure. In this case, it is understood as moderation in costs, needs, pleasures, benefits. The measure is much more valuable than any manifestation of luxury, no matter how beautiful it looks. The moral ideal of Hesiod is expressed in one sentence: "Keep everything in mind and do your deeds in time."

We see that in many aspects the ideas about life in Homer and Hesiod are opposite. The author of the Iliad glorified military virtue, author of "Labor and Days" - Peasant labor. Homer despises the mob, Hesiod - aristocrat-destroyers, "kings-gifted." Homer's legends are a cult of splendor, luxury, idle, free life, full of adventures; the reasoning of Hesiod - ode to work, thrift, moderation, non-interference in the affairs of the powerful. Homer's heroes dreamed of glorifying themselves and their homeland with great adventures, Hesiod - with hard work.

Two ideals of virtue, sung by these great ancient poets, is an expression of the moral outlook of European classical culture. Later we will meet with their various interpretations more than once.

Another example of the moral and ethical teachings of the period under consideration was the didactics Seven Wise Men , demonstrating the transition from pre-philosophical, epic to philosophical ethics. Seven wise men are a collective image of people who have emerged and become famous in various fields of human activity. According to different lists, each of which is limited to seven, on the whole, they include about 20 people. Undoubted among them, found in all lists, are: Thales, Solon, Biant, Pittak, Cleobel, Periander, Chilo. What they deserved the title of wise man? All of them had to do with political activities and made a serious contribution to the development of their city-states; secondly, people asked them to explain complex questions about the meaning of life and received answers in the form of gnomes - short aphorisms; finally, they placed virtue higher than personal use.

The instructions of the Seven Wise Men are addressed to all people, they are universal. They claim the highest value of their way of life - wisdom, which is the same for all people. Thales is credited with the following words:

a lot of it on your lips - is not yet a pledge of understanding


Wisdom is one know, search for one good ...

The highest good is for them in virtue. Here are three of its important components: the worship of the gods, the ability to control oneself and the right attitude towards other people. To own oneself means to live according to one's mind, to be able to control passions, to resist temptations and to be ready for the blows of fate. Attitudes toward other people are well illustrated by the statements of Thales: "Do not do what you judge in another and Pittaka: "It's good to do what you do." The sages condemn slander, lies, slander, cruelty, malevolence and, on the contrary, they teach helping friends, honoring parents, old age and laws, being truthful, loyal to the word, taking responsibility for their actions and bringing things to the end.

The Seven Sages still have a legend. One day, coming together, they after a long debate about the meaning of human life, wrote on the wall of the temple of Apollo in Delphi famous sayings: "Know thyself" and Nothing beyond measure & quot ;. These thoughts can be considered the shortest wording of the testament of the ancient Greek ethics of the times of the archaic.

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