Stoicism and U.S. Immigration

One of the basic tenets of Stoicism is cosmopolitanism, the idea that all humans belong to a single community, based on shared morality.  So it only seem natural that Stoics would be the most compassionate towards the issue of immigration.

I’d imagine that if the United States was populated with a significant Stoic citizenry, we’d be a lot more relaxed on our borders.  Does that mean we’d let other nations take us over?  No, I don’t think that follows.  But we’d certainly be more willing to grant citizenship to people that were willing to embrace our culture by working for a living or who joined our military, police, firefighters, or other important civil careers.

We’d also be more willing to grant citizenship to refugees regardless of whether they were Christians, Jews, or Muslims.

What do you think?  Do you agree or disagree?

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Stoicism and Lab Grown Meat

I’ve posted enough vegan/vegetarian topics in the Stoicism Group (Stoic Philosophy) hosted by Donald Robertson on Facebook to know the answer to the vegan/vegetarian question.  I think I should be at least a vegetarian because of the bad conditions in factory farms.  Factory farms are bad for the workers, bad for the environment, and bad for animals we consume.  Is it anyone’s guess why they wouldn’t allow you to freely film what goes on in factory farms?  Usually people have to go undercover to film anything and what they discover is not for the faint of heart.

I described the question of whether Hierocles’s Circles applied to animals in order to establish whether Stoics should consume animals or not or whether it was acceptable to harm the environment.  But the problem is even if we don’t care about animals or the environment the way we care about other humans, we still have to prefer a good environment because if we harm the environment, then it will harm the human species, which we care about and should care about.  The Guardian wrote a story on this not too long ago here.

But what if we had Lab-Grown Meat?  Accroding to this article in the Atlantic, it will be so much better for the environment, less of a carbon footprint even, will be less costly in the long run, and have less incidents of food-poisoning.  So if world agriculture will have to feed 9 billion people by 2050, it will be extremely preferable to use lab-grown meat.  So if it means the survival of the human species, then lab-grown meat might be a necessary way of consuming meat soon.  As my high school civics teachers used to say, “we won’t kill the planet but the planet will probably kill us.”  So we have to care about the planet as a means to caring about ourselves.

What would the ancient Stoics think?  They’d probably be fine with lab-grown meat.  Especially since harvesting the meat wouldn’t require slaughter of animals that were sentient to begin with.  Since it could be mass produced in the future and be more efficiently produced and less expensive to produce than raising animals on a factory farm, it will be even cheaper.  The Stoics were cheap; they were willing to eat anything less costly and less extravagant than what the market produced in order to keep their desires in check.

So from a Stoic perspective, lab-grown meat is a win-win-win.  It’s a win for the animals, win for the environment, and, finally, a win for the humans.

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Pragmatism and Stoicism

Do our thoughts mirror reality?  Or are they just a tool for prediction, problem solving or action?  Well the pragmatists think it’s the latter.  In fact, pragmatists aren’t necessarily interested in whether they think ideas correspond to reality but more in whether they serve practical purposes in our daily life.

Does Stoicism, as a system of thought, mirror reality?  Or is it a narrative that helps us struggle in our daily lives against the worst?  It could mirror reality but I think it’s definitely a useful system as a whole.  In fact, it’s a system that bound up with other systems like Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  CBT is a good scientific therapy that produces results.

Stoicism as a whole is a useful system of thought.  It helps its practitioners view all externals without morally judging them.  This allows them to free their minds from the concerns of externals being either truly good or truly bad.  The practitioners of Stoicism instead believe virtue is the only good and vice the only bad.  So then they’re focused on things that are more manageable.  Their cognitive resources are freed up significantly by not having to worry about externals.

Stoicism is also very adaptable because it is willing to change its metaphysics wherever a scientific naturalist framework will take it.  As Marcus Aurelius once aptly stated, “whether providence or atoms” one could adjust to these circumstances by continuing to live by the maxim that virtue is the only good.  In fact, somewhat radically Marcus Aurelius has suggested that if something comes across his mind that is better than virtue, he’ll follow it, which makes Stoicism open to falsifiability.

From a pragmatist perspective, it doesn’t matter whether Stoicism truly corresponds to reality-with-a-capital-R but whether it works or not: Whether it produces scientific results through its sister-system CBT or whether it results in practical living.  That’s all that matters.  Stoicism as a system appears to work and is adaptable and somewhat falsifiable even.  To a pragmatist like me, it passes the test.

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Do you need to be vegan in this day and age to be a proper Stoic?

That’s a good question I’m not sure I know the answer to.  Factory farms are not exactly the best things we can do to our animals meant for consumption.  Europe has managed to make a lot of laws forbidding mistreatment of animals meant for consumption.  The United States actually doesn’t use laws as much but corporate pressure from places like McDonalds is changing the way we treat animals here in the US.  A lot of corporations that sell meat for consumption in the US are going free range with a lot of their meat so the point of making laws might be moot soon.

Some of the ancient Stoics were vegetarians or dabbled in it.  In the ancient Greco-Roman days meat was considered a luxury item so to live a simple life meant give up meat.  Ancient Stoics weren’t ethical vegans or vegetarians except for the sense that they were trying to live more moderately.  They weren’t concerned with maximizing pleasure or reducing suffering of animals per se.  Of course, ancient Stoics didn’t have factory farms to contend with.  Back then everything was free range.  Well, definitely more free range than now.

So should you, a Stoic, be an ethical vegetarian/vegan these days?  I guess it depends on where you think how far out Hierocles’s Concentric Circles go.  If you think they expand out to only to humanity, then the answer is no, you don’t need to be an ethical vegetarian/vegan.  If you think they do expand out to animals and the environment, then maybe you should be looking to become a vegetarian/vegan.

Personally, I’m just kind of a fence-sitter on the issue who hasn’t really made up his mind.  Maybe it’s why I’m not a Sage.  🙂

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Which is more Stoic, dogs or cats?

The correct answer is neither is more “Stoic” than the other.  For one thing, they do not follow the philosophy of Zeno of Citium.  However, they both live approximately in agreement with nature.  Also, living in agreement with nature for a cat is very different than living in agreement with nature for a dog.

The question is how much does your individual cat or dog live in agreement with nature?  For a human to live in agreement with nature, they have to mature emotionally and rationally to their full potential.  Essentially, no one really completes their full potentiality because if they did, they’d be a Sage.   So the same probably goes for cats and dogs.  Does a cat or a dog ever really mature fully into their full potential?  Maybe a few but they’d be rarer than a phoenix.

What does it mean for a cat to live up to its full potential as a cat?  Well, perhaps it would have to be very good apex predator.  It would need to be able to catch mice really well.  It would need to take plenty of catnaps.  It would need eat the right amount and clean its coat sufficiently.  It might need to produce the requisite amount of hairballs.  Perhaps if you saw that cat, you’d be like, “well, that’s definitely a cat!”

What does it mean for a dog to live up to its full potential as a dog?  Well, perhaps it would need to be appropriately loyal to its human.  If it was a feral dog, maybe it would need to be part of a pack and maybe even do the appropriate things as a pack animal.  Perhaps it would be really good at following the lead dog or if it was a lead dog of the pack it would be really good at leading.  Maybe if a human called it “a good boy” it would take that as an initiative to be a good boy.  A “good” dog certainly would be very trainable.

So that’s the definitive answer.  Cats and dogs are not really any better than the other with regard to Stoicism.  Cats will be cats and dogs will be dogs.  Some dogs are better at being dogs than others.  Just like some cats are better than other cats at being cats.  Can anything ever really live in agreement with nature?  Not when taken apart.  But when looking at the whole nature definitely lives in agreement with itself.

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Why is virtue the only good?

It’s kind of an axiom why virtue is the only good for any Stoic.  There’s not a perfect proof for why virtue is the chief good.  You usually bite the bullet when you commit to any particular universal ethical theory.  With Epicureanism, the chief good is pleasure.  In utilitarianism, it usually means maximizing the everyone’s preferences or happiness.  In Kantian deontology, it means not violating the categorical imperative.

But why choose virtue as the only good?  Well, there are a plethora of reasons to do so.  But first let’s say why you wouldn’t choose other ethical theories.  Utilitarianism and Kantian deontology imply all sorts of ethical decisions that we might not be comfortable making.  Utilitarianism is often thought of as as easily calculating the best decision for the most but it’s not always practical to know what’s the best for the most or even possible to know what’s the best for the most.  Could utilitarianism condone slavery if slaves are unhappy or not having their preferences met but everyone who benefits from slavery are very happy or are definitely having their preferences met?  That’s just one sort of problem with utilitarianism.  The problems with morality in the name of utility can’t even be summed up in a single book while some have tried.

What about Kantian deontology?  Immanuel Kant actually tried to sell his Metaphysics of Morals as rational foundation of morality that would actually be inline with our common sense.  But is it common sense to have to tell the truth always even if it means you can never lie even if it’s to selflessly help another soul?  That doesn’t strike anyone as common sense.  Also, there are many times in our life where it seems sensible to do the utilitarian thing over the dignity of one individual.  How many of us would pull the lever to save 5 lives over 1 life from a murderous Trolley?  Probably a significant amount.

And what about making pleasure as the chief good?  This seems sensible enough at first.  But most people know you should follow pleasure and avoid point within limits.  Limits of what?  Usually within certain moral guidelines?  So then pleasure isn’t the source of the good.  Pleasure is actually being limited by something people view to be a higher good than pleasure itself.  But we certainly want to allow for pleasure but only within certain constraints.  The Epicureans attempted this project but it’s not certain they ever really succeeded because even though they managed to practice virtue, they still did not set it up as the chief good but as a way to not feel guilty when one has erred morally.  Feeling guilty caused displeasure, so it’s best not to err morally.  But why feel guilty in the first place if one has erred morally or contradicted virtue if virtue isn’t the chief source of the good?  It really doesn’t seem to add up.

The Stoics didn’t actually care about feeling guilty if one had erred ethically.  In fact, they’d really rather have you just learn from your mistakes rather than feel guilty about them.  They knew that people make mistakes all the time, whether attempting to live the good life or being mistaken about what the good life was.  There’s a lot of humility in Stoicism.  We all make mistakes, so let’s try to fix them and then  move on.  No sense living in guilt or remorse.  Sure, we can feel a little remorseful at first but no sense in grieving over our prior faults.

What’s more is Stoicism makes plenty of room for pleasure.  It allows for pleasure, wealth, health, education, reputation, and many other preferred qualities in life we’d like to pursue so long as they don’t contradict the pursuit of the chief good virtue.  Since most of these things don’t all the time contradict virtue, then pursuing virtue as the chief good is going to make for a pretty normal life.  In fact, pursuing virtue for its own sake won’t make you stand dramatically out from the crowd of people you surround yourself in your daily life.  People may wonder what makes you seem a little different than them though and they may want to emulate your behavior but that’s about it.

Virtue is also a pretty morally popular idea when you get people to thinking about what it is and what it entails.  Most people, when you get them to think about it, would say that the soldier who jumps on the grenade to save the lives of other soldiers did something truly remarkably good.  Virtuous in fact.  Most people would also say that the person who risks their life drowning to save two other kids from drowning did something truly noble.  It’s because people have this moral sense in their minds that seems to confirm the importance of virtue.  That’s not to say that everyone is right about everything all of the time.  But when you get people to think about what’s truly important, they’ll usually think someone doing something virtuous rather than something expedient is the right course of action.

Why would people have this moral sense?  Perhaps it has to do with Hierocles’s Circles.  Hierocles was an ancient Stoic who presumed that all humans began their infancy in self-love.  And then as they grew and matured their self-love began to point outward towards their siblings and parents.  And then as they grew older they loved their friends.  And then they grew to love their community, and then love their society, and then finally humanity.  It’s true that not everyone matures fully or matures the same.  But there seems to be a general trend in humanity to go from self-love in infancy to love of everyone or philanthropy in adulthood.

What does this development of philanthropy have to do with virtue?  Well one of the main virtues of the four cardinal virtues is justice.  Justice has to do with fair dealings, equitability, and compassion.  The Stoics knew this.  They knew virtue was just an extension of love into the realm of universal love or justice.  And they knew that temperance, courage, and wisdom all assisted in this universal love.

So this is why it’s worth biting the bullet for the axiom that virtue is the only good.  There’s not a lot to lose like you do in all the other plethora of life philosophies out there and there’s plenty of things to gain from one philosophy: Stoicism.

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Stoicism and David Hume

David Hume held the belief that ethics couldn’t be derived from reason but only from sentiment.  Basically, morality is founded on non-rational emotional responses to experience.  Hume thought of reason like a dog tied to a cart going wherever passion/desire would take it and doing so quite willingly.

Stoicism’s views are similar to Hume’s in the early stages of human development; for example, young children are motivated by the sentiment of self-love.  However, when humans grow older they develop bonding relationships with people around them and eventually their rational faculties develop and they extend their self-love to love of others.  First they develop love for their family, then their friends, then their community, then eventually for humanity.

The difference between Hume and the Stoics is that the Stoics believe that as you mature, you’ll eventually overcome sentimental morality.  How does this come about?  Well, it has to do with taking a look in the mirror and getting to know ourselves.  Once we know ourselves we realize that our emotions are inflamed or defused by our cognitive/rational beliefs about the world.

Hume would say that our moral judgment comes from emotions/desires that are essentially beyond our control.  But the Stoics believed that our emotions/desires were based on rational judgments that are within our control.  In fact, the Stoics were clever enough to distinguish proto-passions from passions.  Proto-passions are the knee-jerk feelings you get instantly from stimuli but passions come about from how you reflectively/actively decide to feel about the initial stimuli in the long-run.

Stoicism is actually quite radical because it essentially says that all of your desires or aversions to the external events or things in the world are based on cognitive/rational values you hold about those events or things.  If you strongly desire ice cream, it’s because you believe ice cream to be good.  If you hate ice cream, it’s because you believe ice cream to be bad.  The Stoics were quite clever in how they dealt with desires/aversions because they replaced desires/aversions with preferences or dis-preferences because we should view the externals in our life as indifferent in light of our rational/cognitive moral judgment.  The only true thing we should desire is virtue which is the true good, so everything else external is indifferent.

So Stoicism agrees with Hume in the early development of human beings but as reason develops in human beings, it grows and contributes more to passion than passion contributes to it.  Stoicism, as a philosophy, amazingly kicks reason into high gear and allows us to really hone in on our passions, whether negative or positive, and learn how to manipulate them with reason.  It’s not that reason is abstract/universal in a Kantian sense, reason is actually very concrete/contextual and interacts very strongly with the passions/desires and every value-laden belief we hold.

Hume is good for helping us think about our sentiments such that we wonder if our reason is more based on sentiments than our sentiments are based on reason.  However, the Stoics are essentially right that reason prevails in our life.   Well, reason prevails in our life if we allow ourselves to mature.

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David Hume

Is any judgment that inflames our anger acceptable in Stoicism?

Most people understand that you don’t want to be angry most of the time.  Aristotle agrees but he thinks we should sometimes show show anger as long as it’s the right amount of anger at the right time at the right person in the right situation for the right reason.  The Stoics disagree.  But why?

The reason is largely that anger usually relies on the judgment that externals are bad, which is a misjudgment since externals are neither good nor bad.  But here’s a tough question:  what about people?  Aren’t people either good or bad according to Stoicism?  Well, we need to have the proper judgments about people as well.  But wouldn’t judging someone as a bad person make us mad?  No, because we know that someone who is bad is just ignorant and misguided.  If the bad person knew that the virtuous life led to eudaimonia and had that wisdom to guide them, they would no longer be bad because being bad never pays.  If being bad never pays, then obviously people only do bad things out of ignorance.

What about people who suffer from injustices?  Well, that’s a situation that is bad but even then it doesn’t call for anger but for action.  Yes, it’s understandable that people get angry at injustice but the Stoic knows that even anger as a proto-passion needn’t turn into an anger passion.  The Stoic knows that anger is a temporary form of madness and that it interferes with objective thought processes.  So the Stoic may feel anger at first but will let it pass.  Continuing to be angry after the initial anger at injustice is no longer necessary as it’s time to develop an action plan to help put an end to injustice.

So in conclusion I’d like to say most situations that piss people off aren’t even bad.  They’re just dispreferred indifferents.  And the situations (like an injustice) that do piss people off because they’re bad aren’t even reasons enough to stay mad but to act and plan and to act and plan.  So just remember if you start letting yourself get angry after an initial injury, just quickly let the anger blow over and carry on.  Don’t feed the anger, just let it pass.


Stoic ethics vs Objectivist ethics

Ayn Rand was somewhat of a virtue ethicist and believed her values were inspired by Aristotle.  Ayn Rand took a turn towards egoism though and explained her values as selfish but not the worst kind of selfishness but the best kind selfishness – known as enlightened selfishness.

From what I understand Objectivist virtues included rationality, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness, and pride.  This doesn’t seem bad but all of these virtues are defined within the realm of enlightened egoism, which is superior to regular egoism but still has many problems.  One problem is that Ayn Rand suggests that you should never live for another but only for yourself and another should only live for themselves and not for another.

Living for yourself and not for another seems great at first or maybe great in general but it’s actually problematic as an absolute philosophy to live by.  The problem is most people will find it highly ethical for a soldier to land on a grenade to save the lives of other soldiers from being killed by the shrapnel and explosion.  Or what about someone who selflessly gives up all their belongings to 20 people who absolutely need the belongings?  That is living for another before living for yourself.  But it seems absolutely ethical to do those things.  In fact, some instances of giving up one’s life for others is beyond the call of duty.

Ayn Rand was once asked if someone was drowning should you save the person?  She said that you should.  But she’s got a curious form of ethics that seems to undermine that idea.  It seems like following her ethical advice if saving someone meant some threat to your existence, you shouldn’t even bother.

The Stoic ethical virtues wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage are all within the mean between selfishness and selflessness.  Sometimes doing something good will require you to give up a lot of your free time and not rewarding some of your selfish desires.  But Stoicism doesn’t let you just treat yourself like a doormat to people.  Sometimes you will have to stand up for yourself and your principles.  But this is uniquely different than living only for yourself and not for another.  Sometimes it’s your Stoic duty to selflessly help others when their needs outweigh yours.  Being a Stoic doesn’t mean you always have to give up your life for others needs but it does mean giving up some of your time and some of your hard earned wealth to help others in need.  Just remember that before you think Stoicism and Objectivism are compatible philosophies.