|From my notes on Ancient Philosophy, Lecture 8..... [these were from lectures given in the 60's...]|
The next school was the Stoics. They comprised an enduring school, lasting for centuries in Greece, and then in Rome. The school started with Zeno [not the Zeno of the Paradoxes]. He lived from 340-265 BC. Other stoics included Cleantes, his pupil, and then Crysipas. In Rome, Cicero and Seneca were predominately stoics. There were also the slave Epictetus, the emperor Marcus Aurelius, in the first century AD. The latter two were the most famous stoics, and illustrated the wide appeal of this philosophy. Zeno lectured on a porch, or "stois" - hence the name. There were many variations of stoicism, so only their central tendencies can be discussed here. There were early, central, late, Roman, etc. versions.
Their goal was salvation, peace of mind and serenity for an individual in a torn world. The stoics said Epicurus wasn't independent enough. They said to stop valuing anything in the world outside or anything dependent on the world. Don't value pleasure, it's outside one's control, don't value friends, wealth, even life itself. Even here, suicide would be the only 100% consistent way. "Apathaia" or insensibislity was complete emotionlessness and the stoic goal. One story was that the slave Epictetus was being tortured by a master. He told his master that if he kept twisting his leg, the leg would break. The master continued, however, and the leg broke. Epictetus said, "See, I told you it would break." How could you achieve this state? If you're insensible, why will you act? All previous ethical philosophies said there was an advantage at the end of the road. But if we're insensible 100%, when we achieve this state, why would we act afterwards? We'd need the wisdom of the world first, to achieve apathy.
Stoic metaphysics: The stoics argued for the existence of god, using the argument from design. They were fundamentally religious. Their argument, which wasn't original, said to look around at the orderly, lawful, universe, the harmony of its acts, the design of the whole, everything obeying regular laws. Since the world wasn't wildly erratic and mixed up, they said this could only be accounted for by a cosmic designer, who's running the universe for some purpose. This cosmic intelligence, god, must exist. This assumed that if the universe, or existence, was left to its own devices it would run wild, the Law of Causality would be suspended, and the world would be in cpmplete chaos. They didn't understand that cuasality proceeds from identity, and that identity was inherent in existence, and was all that was needed for stability. A is A is enough to keep the universe orderly.
The stoics didn't believe that god was a being who existed separately in a separate reality. They took the relation of the soul to the body. The soul didn't determine the behavior of the body outside of it. Therefore, the world was a gigantic cosmic being. This was a naturalistic parallel to religion, god was suffused throughout the universe. This is called pantheism. The universe, as a whole, was matter, infused with a semi-personal soul, a guiding living mind or soul, which guides for a purpose. It's called god, nature, even Zeus, or reason. But it is the creator.
For the stoics, god's pantheistic attributes included 1] All the world had a purpose, it's teleological. All happened for the 'best', a purpose of god. This was inherent in the argument from design for god. The stoic teleology was cruder than Plato's, more anthropomorphic, not striving towards goodness. The purpose of the universe wasn't the welfare of man. Even diseases kept the population down, and served a useful purpose. Even bedbugs curbed laziness. 2] The stoics were rigid determinists. All that happened in the universe was inexorably destined. They said this was implied in the Law of Cause and Effect, which they accepted. Epicurus, on the other hand, had rejected the Law of Cause and Effect. Everything was fixed from all eternity. God has no choice either, which was a particular doctrine of their determinism. They believed in 'eternal occurrence'. The universe went on through repeated cycles, and every step in the cycle was the same as in the preceeding cycle. They thought the universe once was a fire, then it went through stages of inexorable, immutable development. Then the earth started to rarify again, as part of the eternal recurrence and became a hugh bonfire again. In between was the 'great year'. The universe was like a deck of cards. Any one arrangement of cards determined the arrangem,ent of the next deck, etc. These eternal cycles were going around, with every cycle identical. This eternal recurrence emphasized their rule of destiny. We all had this lecture an infinite number of times in the past, as we all will come to the same class an infinite number of times in the future. Peikoff says he wonders 'when will you ever get it?'
How could there be ethics at all under such determinism? This was the 'problem of freedom'. How could you prescribe praise and blame to people for what they do? All determinist philosophies were [are] faced with problem.
The stoic metaphysics was a materialist, teleological determinist pantheism. How could they identify man's nature? If god was the sum total of that which exists, man must be a part or piece of god. Man was a 'fragment torn from god'. His soul was a part of the world's soul. Man 's not to be viewed as an autonomous creature, in this view. He wasn't on his own, and didn't metaphysically own himself. He's part of the larger whole. He owed his allegiance to god, not himself. He had an assigned role and imposed obligations, due to this lack of metaphysical independence. Man had a duty that had to be obeyed, for his role in the cosmic scheme. This was to be done not for rewards, advantage, pleasure or gain, but because man was part of the whole. This was the first avowed morality of duty. Previous philosophies gave ma n some advantages that would accrue to them from following their philosophy and the virtues they put forth. To the stoics, morality was doing right qua right.
Marcus Aurelius said "when you have done well to another, and another has done well at your hands, why go on to seek a third thing besides, why seek more? It is like the eyes seeking a reward for their seeing." The eyes were made for their special function. Also, man, when acting in this way, had done that which he is built for. The whole could ask "what's in it for me?" but not its parts. Duty was an en d in itself, what's moral is whatever is one's duty.
In later Christianity, ethics was officially set up as obeying commandments, qua commandments. The stoics thought you could discover this morality of duty and its duties rationally, not by revelation. But for both philosophies, morality was, in all cases, separate from advantages, rewards, and self-interest. Stoicism was still Greek, but the groundwork was laid for Christianity.
The stoics said dut ies were 1] the virtue of acceptance -- take whatever happens as it is, never want things to be different. Never thirst for that which you don't have. Follow events, don't try to lead them, accept and adapt to what comes. Rebellion was impiety. If you are a begger, cripple, it's for the best. Whatever happens is for the best, the ultimate purpose. It's inevitable, and it's recurring anyway. It would make no sense to wish that things were or will be different. Epictetus said "remember, you are an actor in a play, of the sort that the director chooses, whether long or short, cripple , or ruler. Act the part assigned to you well." If you achieve this, you'll remain tranquil. The stoics said this constantly.
You must will down the passions and disciplin e yourself. Remind yourself of the metaphysical nature of reality. One day, you'll reach a sudden conversion and you'll become insensible and invulnerable to pain. Then you'll value only that which is in your power. Your only value was willing down your passions, and your only valued virtue as an end in itself. This was the source of 'virtue is its own reward'. It's the same Epicurean line, advocating withdrawal, but a greater withdrawal. The stoics withdrew into their own souls, not depending on a hostile world, or withdrawing into their own garden. This was a greater renunciation of life.
The Duty of Altruism - Up to now, only 100% passivity was needed to be a complete stoic. But some of them, especially the orient-minded, adopted altruism. It means to serve others, your duty was to the welfare of mankind, just like duties to god. We're related to other parts of god, just as other men are. Mankind was a much larger part of the whole than individual men. Also, it's hopeless to gain personal advantage in this world, because the good stoics were insensible. Therefore, so as not to vegetate, you must serve others. Especially for the latter Roman stoicism, altruism was a cardinal virtue. Epoctetus said "the character of a citizen should hold no private interest and deliberate of nothing as a separate individual, but like hands or feet that would never persue or desire anything but, with reference to the interest of the whole. Even deaths and mutilation are part of the grand scheme. The whole is superior to the part, and the city is superior to the citizen..... a foot should be clean but as a foot and as a thing that does not stand by itself. It must go in the mud or even be cut off for the good of the whole body". You should conceive of yourself in the same way. Why repine? You weren't a man, if detached from the city. These were overtones from Plato's organic therory of the ideal state, although Plato merely made suggestions. Also, Plato's goal was an individual healthy soul. Now, religious metaphysics and a sense of futility for any individual achievement led to altruism as the cardinal duty, not justified in terms of any self-interest.
Well, it there's nothing good in itself but virtue, why should we try to do things for others and gain these things for them? Why is this a virtue? Why give health, goods, wealth, and life to others, if these aren't of value? But if these things are of value, why should we, ourselves, be apethetic, insensible and indifferent to them? The stoics said it's true, these things such as health, etc. weren't good, but still weren't completely worthless. They said you should differentiate between those things which were 'good' and 'advantageous', and the 'bad' and the 'disadvantageous'. Only the 'good' was a virtue, only the 'bad' was a vice. They wobbled through in differentiating 'good' from 'advantageous', and made untenable distinctions..........
[Peikoff then goes on to the Skeptics]