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From Epicurus to Maslow: Happiness Then and Now and the Place of the Human Being in Social Theory

Πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον άνθρωπος Πρωταγόρας
The human being is the measure of all things
– Protagoras


Protagoras said, “The human being is the measure of all things”. This implies, among other things, that language, science and religion are human inventions, as are economics, money, efficiency, race, conflict, etc. As symbol-using animals, we have created these concepts to serve our purposes. But as our societies have increased in size and our concepts have become more abstract, there is a danger that we will forget our authorship and reify these symbols. This inhibits change in the way we name things, so we are always in danger of misunderstanding the reality we are describing. We seem to be at such a stage now as we employ 18th and 19th century theories to describe and, more importantly, create 21st century reality. One such idea has to do with human needs. Influenced by the abstract (economic) concepts we use, we have lost our sense of what we truly need. Epicurus and Maslow may help to review and reassess those concepts. Epicurus, by suggesting that our material needs are quite simple but that emotional and spiritual need satisfaction requires a small scale loving community, free from fear, and Maslow, by suggesting that our emotional development is age-related, which, besides therapy, may help in suggesting revisions in socioeconomic theory that would ensure the social conditions that would allow this development to take place successfully. Read More