Hellenistic Political Theory

Phillip Mitsis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191728365
ISBN (Print)9780199238804
StatePublished - Sep 2 2011


  • Epicureans
  • Hellenistic period
  • Isaiah berlin
  • Natural law
  • Political philosophy
  • Political thought
  • Social contract
  • Stoics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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