Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 1b

The Philosophy of Stoicism

by Adam Smith
6 minutes  • 1157 words

19 Zeno was the founder of the Stoicism. According to him, every animal was by nature:

  • recommended to its own care, and
  • endowed with self-love

Nature causes every animal to preserve its existence as best as it can.

20 The self-love of man embraced his entire mind and body and desired their preservation. Whatever supported this state was naturally chosen. Whatever destroyed it, was rejected. These make us prefer health, strength, agility, and ease of body, and the eternal conveniences which promoted these. Examples are wealth, power, honours, the respect and the esteem of those we live with.

On the other hand, our self-love told us to avoid sickness, infirmity, pain of body, and all the eternal inconveniencies. Examples are poverty, lack of authority, and hatred of those we live with. Within these two opposite classes, some are more preferable.

In the first class:

  • health was preferable to strength
  • strength to agility
  • reputation to power
  • power to riches

In the second class:

  • sickness was more to be avoided than infirmity
  • disgrace than poverty
  • poverty than the loss of power

Virtue and the propriety of conduct was in choosing all objects that were naturally preferable, and rejecting those that were not. According to the Stoics, we maintained that perfect conduct by=

  • choosing and rejecting with this accurate discernment, and
  • bestowing on every object the precise attention it deserved, according to its place in this natural scale of things.

They called this:

  • to live consistently
  • to live according to nature
  • to obey those laws which the Author of nature prescribed for our conduct.

21 So far, the Stoical idea of propriety and virtue is not very different from that of Aristotle.

22 Nature recommended to us:

  • the prosperity of our family, relations, friends, country, mankind, and of the universe as primary objects
  • the prosperity of two entities as preferable to the prosperity of one entity

Therefore, the prosperity of all must be infinitely better as we ourselves were but one Consequently, wherever our prosperity was inconsistent with the prosperity of the whole, our prosperity should yield to the latter. All events are conducted by the providence of a wise, powerful, and good God.

Therefore, if we were in poverty, sickness, or any calamity, we should first try our best to rescue ourselves as allowed:

  • by justice and
  • our duty to others.

But if this is impossible, we should be satisfied that the universe required this to happen.

  • The world’s prosperity is preferable to our insignificant selves.
  • This then would be the perfection of our nature.

If any opportunity of extricating ourselves should arise, we should embrace it.

  • In that case, the universe no longer required our suffering.

Likewise, if we could prevent or end the calamity of our friends and relations without violating any sacred obligation, we should do so.

23 Epictetus says:

‘How are some things according to our nature, and other things are contrary to it? It is in how we consider ourselves as separated from all other things. The nature of the foot is always to be clean. But if you consider your foot to be part of your body, it must sometimes trample in the dirt, tread on thorns, be cut off for the sake of the whole body. If your foot refuses to do these, then it is no longer your foot. This is how we should think of ourselves.

If you consider yourself separated from humanity, it would be natural to live to old age, be rich, and healthy. But if you consider yourself as part of humanity, sometimes you must be sick, be exposed to the inconvenience of a sea voyage, be in want, and perhaps, die before your time. Why then do you complain? By complaining, the foot ceases to be a foot and so you cease to be a human?’

24 A wise man never complains of Providence’s destiny. He does not:

  • think that the universe is in confusion when he is out of order,
  • look on himself as separate from every part of nature, to be taken care of by itself and for itself.

He regards himself as how the divine Being regards him, as an atom of an immense and infinite system which must work to the convenience of the whole. He accepts whatever happens to him with joy. If he had known all the connections of the universe’s parts, then he would have wished the very lot himself.

  • If his destiny is life, he is contented to live.
  • If his destiny is death, he willingly goes where he is appointed since nature must not need his presence here.

A cynical Stoical philosopher said:

‘I accept with equal joy whatever fortune can befall me. Riches or poverty, pleasure or pain, health or sickness, all is alike. Nor would I desire that the Gods change my destination in any respect. If I should ask of them anything, I ask them what they wanted to do with me, so that I can demonstrate my cheerfulness in embracing their allotment

Epictetus says:

‘If I am going to sail, I choose the best ship and pilot and wait for the fairest weather possible. Prudence and propriety are the principles which the Gods have given me to direct me. They require that if a storm arises, I should not be troubled at the consequence. All that I had to do is done already. The directors of my conduct never command me to be miserable, anxious, desponding, or afraid. Whether we are to be drowned or stay safe, is the business of Jupiter, not mine. I leave it entirely to his determination.

25 To the Stoical wise man, all the events of human life must be indifferent, because of=

  • this perfect confidence in that benevolent wisdom which governs the universe,
  • this entire resignation to whatever order that wisdom might think proper to establish.

His happiness is in:

  • the contemplation of the perfection of the universe
  • the good government of=
    • the great republic of Gods and men
    • all rational and sensible beings

He preferred some events to others because morality required him to do so. This morality is the rule that the Gods had given him to direct his conduct. All his feelings were absorbed in two great feelings:

  • His feeling for this duty
  • His feeling for the greatest possible happiness of all rational and sensible beings

He trusted whatever happened to a superior power and wisdom, to promote that great end which he himself desired most.

26 This discernment was originally introduced and recommended to us by the things that we discern for their own sake. Yet when we became thoroughly used to discerning, the actual discernment necessarily appeared of much less value than=

  • the order, grace, beauty which we discerned in this conduct
  • the happiness which we felt from it.

From the observation of this propriety arose the happiness and the glory of human nature. From its neglect arose its misery and disgrace.

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