The Stoics: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed)
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Stoicism was a key philosophical movement in the Hellenistic period. Today, the stoics are central to the study of Ethics and Ancient Philosophy. In The Stoics: A Guide for the Perplexed, M. Andrew Holowchak sketches, from Zeno to Aurelius, a framework thatcaptures the tenor of stoic ethical thinking in its key terms. Drawing on the readily available works of Seneca, Epictetus and Aurelius, Holowchak makes ancient texts accessible to students unfamiliar with Stoic thought. Providing ancient and modern-day examples to illustrate Stoic principles, the author guides the reader through the main themes and ideas of Stoic thought: Stoic cosmology, epistemology, views of nature, selfknowledge, perfectionism and, in particular, ethics. Holowchak also endeavours to present Stoicism as an ethically viable way of life today through rejecting their notion of ethical perfectionism in favor of a type of ethical progressivism consistent with other key Stoic principles.
Table 4 is offered as an illustration. As Table 4 shows, only perfect appropriate acts, performed by sages, are virtuous acts, as mean appropriate acts are performed by persons aspiring to virtue. Thus, a mean appropriate act, to all intents and purposes for the Stoics, differs not at all from an inappropriate act performed by one who is wicked, as all acts that are not right are vicious acts. Moreover, there is no room here for what Diogenes Laertius labels 'acts that are neither appropriate nor inappropriate', as even picking up a twig for a sage would have to be a virtuous act, and the same act for someone who is not a sage would have to be vicious.
116 For Stoics, death is not to be dreaded, but only the fear of death. Seneca states that death is nothing to fear, as he has already experienced it. I myself have for a long time tested death. You ask, 'When? ' I tested it before I was born. Death is non-existence and I know already what that means. What was before me will happen again after me. If there is any suffering in that state, there must have been suffering also in the past, before we entered the light of day. Actually, we felt no discomfort then .
Even if one could attain invincibility through complete indifference to what fortune brings, why would anyone want to be completely indifferent? Fortune brings not only ills, but good things, and Stoicism seems to license no enjoyment of good fortune. Would not a father celebrate greatly the birth of a daughter? Would not he be exceptionally proud of her on her graduation from college? Great celebration and exceptional pride are not only socially expected here, but they seem to be the morally correct responses to such events.
For further discussion, see John Cooper, 'The Emotional Life of the Wise', The Southern Journal of Philosophy, XLIII (2005): 176-218. Seneca, Epistles, LIX. 2. Aurelius, Meditations, X. 8. Seneca, Epistles, CVIII, 23. D. L. ,VII. 125-5. See Matt Jackson-McCabe, T h e Stoic Theory of Implanted Perceptions', Phronesis, 49. 4 (2004), 323^7. Epictetus, Discourses, I. xxii. l. Epictetus, Discourses, I. xxii. 9-11 and II. xvii. 5-13. Epictetus, Discourses, III. x. 18. Epictetus, Discourses, III. xviii. 1. Seneca, Epistles, XCIV.
Thus, a mean appropriate act, to all intents and purposes for the Stoics, differs not at all from an inappropriate act performed by one who is wicked, as all acts that are not right are vicious acts. Moreover, there is no room here for what Diogenes Laertius labels 'acts that are neither appropriate nor inappropriate', as even picking up a twig for a sage would have to be a virtuous act, and the same act for someone who is not a sage would have to be vicious. If all of a progressor's actions are just as vicious as those of a wicked person, how then does progress toward virtue occur?