The Stoics

Stoic Philosophy of Mind
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True, the Epicureans regarded pleasure as the sole ultimate good and pain as the sole evil, and they did regard the more refined pleasures as superior, simply in terms of the quantity and durability of the pleasure they provided, to the coarser pleasures. To portray them as searching for these more refined pleasures by dining at the best restaurants and drinking the finest wines, however, is the reverse of the truth. By refined pleasures, Epicurus meant pleasures of the mind, as opposed to the coarse pleasures of the body. He taught that the highest pleasure obtainable is the pleasure of tranquillity, which is to be obtained by the removal of unsatisfied wants.

The way to do this is to eliminate all but the simplest wants; these are then easily satisfied even by those who are not wealthy. Epicurus developed his position systematically. To determine whether something is good, he would ask if it increased pleasure or reduced pain.

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If it did, it was good as a means; if it did not, it was not good at all. Thus, justice was good but merely as an expedient arrangement to prevent mutual harm.

The Wisdom of the Stoics: Selections from Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius

For German translation of the early Stoa, see Nickel Sources of our information on the Stoics 2. The Stoics argue that the original impulse of ensouled creatures is toward what is appropriate for them, or aids in their self-preservation, and not toward what is pleasurable, as the Epicureans contend. Middle Stoicism is the term used to encompass the work of later Stoic philosophers including Antipater of Tarsus d. Or is this what I was created for? Several hundred years before Christ, two post-Socratic schools of thought emerged as to the nature of the universe and how we should behave within it to live the optimum life.

Why not then commit injustice when we can get away with it? Only because, Epicurus says, the perpetual dread of discovery will cause painful anxiety. Epicurus also exalted friendship , and the Epicureans were famous for the warmth of their personal relationships; but, again, they proclaimed that friendship is good only because of its tendency to create pleasure. Both Stoic and Epicurean ethics were precursors of later trends in Western ethics: the Stoics of the modern belief in equality and the Epicureans of a utilitarian ethics based on pleasure see below Utilitarianism.

The development of these ethical positions, however, was dramatically affected by the spreading from the East of a new religion, Christianity, that was rooted in a Jewish conception of ethics as obedience to a divine authority. With the conversion of Emperor Constantine I c. The Apostle Matthew reports Jesus as having said, in the Sermon on the Mount , that he came not to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfill them.

Indeed, when Jesus is regarded as a teacher of ethics, it is clear that he was more a reformer of the Hebrew tradition than a radical innovator.

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But since he was not proposing that the old teachings be discarded, he saw no need to develop a comprehensive ethical system. Christianity thus never really broke with the Jewish conception of morality as a matter of divine law to be discovered by reading and interpreting the word of God as revealed in the Scriptures. This conception of morality had important consequences for the future development of Western ethics. The Greeks and Romans—and indeed thinkers such as Confucius—did not conceive of a distinctively moral realm of conduct.

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For them, everything that one did was a matter of practical reasoning, in which one could do either well or poorly. In the more legalistic Judeo-Christian view, however, falling short of what the moral law requires was a much more serious matter than, say, failing to do the household budgets correctly. This distinction between the moral and the nonmoral realms now affects every question in Western ethics, including the way the questions themselves are framed.

Another consequence of the retention of the basically legalistic stance of Jewish ethics was that from the beginning Christian ethics had to deal with the question of how to judge the person who breaks the law from good motives or keeps it from bad motives. The latter half of this question was particularly acute , because the Gospels describe Jesus as repeatedly warning of a coming resurrection of the dead at which time all would be judged and punished or rewarded according to their sins and virtues in this life see Last Judgment.

The punishments and rewards were weighty enough to motivate anyone who took this message seriously, and the warning was given added emphasis by the fact that the resurrection was not going to be long in coming. Jesus said that it would take place during the lifetime of some of those listening to him. This is therefore an ethics that invokes external sanctions as a reason for doing what is right. At the same time, it is an ethics that places love above mere literal compliance with the law. These two aspects do not sit easily together. Can one bring oneself to love God and neighbour in order to be rewarded with eternal happiness in another life?

The fact that Jesus and the Apostle Paul too believed in the imminence of the Second Coming led them to suggest ways of living that were scarcely feasible on any other assumption: taking no thought for the morrow, turning the other cheek, and giving away all one has. When the expected event did not occur and Christianity became the official religion of the vast and embattled Roman Empire, Christian leaders were faced with the awkward task of reinterpreting these injunctions in a manner more suited for a continuing society.

The new Christian ethical standards did lead to some changes in Roman morality. Perhaps the most vital change was a new sense of the equal moral status of all human beings.

The Wisdom of the Stoics: Selections from Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius

As mentioned earlier, the Stoics had been the first to elaborate this conception, grounding equality on the common capacity to reason. For Christians, humans are equal because they are all potentially immortal and equally precious in the sight of God. This caused Christians to condemn a wide variety of practices that had been accepted by both Greek and Roman moralists, including many related to the taking of innocent human life: from the earliest days Christian leaders condemned abortion, infanticide, and suicide.

Marcus Aurelius, Stoic Philosopher and the once Emporer of Rome, wrote a nice summary of this commonly practiced Stoic solution. He wrote:. Have you ever seen a Buddhist sit quietly and meditate as an observer of their own thoughts in an attempt to understand them better? The Stoics propose something extremely similar, but more proactive. We know adversity is going to hit us. We know little annoyances sting us all day long. If we know that some people are bad drivers, why do we still get angry when they inevitably cut us off on the freeway?

The Stoics recommend that every morning you should wake up, sit quietly and be incredibly pessimistic. Repeatedly tell yourself about how the person on the freeway is going to cut you off and that the referee is going to make a bad call and cost your team the game. By doing this, they thought you could retrain your mind to have more realistic expectations. As humans, we are survival oriented creatures. We like stability. We like predictability. This is why people typically have a fear of the unknown. We like to think that we are in complete control of things like our body or our bank account balance or our reputation, but the Stoics thought we should recognize how tremendously out of our control those things really are.

Someone could run a smear campaign against you and ruin your reputation.

What Is Stoicism? A Definition & 9 Stoic Exercises To Get You Started

Someone could steal your identity and take every penny in your bank account. Your body could have a brain aneurism at any second of the day, and basing our happiness on something that we ultimately have little control over is a recipe for failure. Epictetus said,. The only thing we can control is how we react to what happens.

The Stoics: Home

The ultimate goal is to acheive a state of complete mental tranquility and the key to acheiving it is virtue. The ultimate goal of Stoic virtue was to live in accordance with nature. The Stoics were a pantheistic philosophy. They believed that God is the universe. This idea of God is very different than what most modern readers will be familiar with; but they thought that God is nature and the reason that governs all things.

An early Stoic philosopher Chrysippus said,. Nature is God and the reason that governs nature is the way that God takes action. As humans who possess a unique abilily to reason, we can think of ourselves as miniscule fractions of the reason that governs all things that are occupying a body.

By using that reason to understand things the way they truly are, we are living in harmony with nature. They seperate qualities down into two types: preferred indifferents and unpreferred indifferents. Let me explain.

This idea goes back to an early Greek philosopher named Plato who said in his work Phaedo that for something to be truly good it could never even assist something that is bad. So to the Stoics, even something like good health was considered not intrinsically good because it is only as good as the person or thing it is making healthy. For example, the good health of Adolf Hitler in was not a very good thing.

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Because of this, all that a truly wise person can say about good health is that it is something that they are indifferent about, but they would prefer to have it because the outcome is typically good for them. They called these sets of qualities preferred indifferents. The significance of this is that very little is intrinsically good or bad and that our job is not to worry about making judgements about things, but to use our ability to reason, control how we react to situations and be in harmony with nature.

If there is one thing you can do right now that the Stoics are certain will instantly make you a happier person, it is to use your ability to reason. This word is an adaptation of the Greek word Oikos you might recognize as a type of Greek Yogurt in the supermarket, but the word itself means house or orientation. The Stoics were referring to the idea that each thing, whether it is an insect, a rock, an elephant or a human for that matter, all of these things have a certain thing it was put here to do assigned to it by Nature.

For humans, it was all of those things replace grass with pizza , but we were assigned more. The thing that seperates us from all the other animals in the animal kingdom, and what we were assigned by nature to do, was reason.

Whatever happens, happens.