What does Marcus Aurelius mean by “the best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury”?

Marcus Aurelius says, “the best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”  Does that mean we can’t act in retaliation if someone uses violence against us?  No.  Does that mean we can’t perform a similar act towards someone who just performed an aggressive act towards us?  No.

Marcus Aurelius was meaning that we shouldn’t have the same intention and negative passions that led someone to injure us.  It doesn’t mean that if a nation attacks another nation, the nation attacked shouldn’t respond in force.  If it meant that, then Marcus Aurelius would be a hypocrite responding in force against the barbarian threat against the Empire.

Stoicism is a virtue ethics, so it cares about the character and intent of the agent.  If someone attacks you violently, you might have to attack back but with a whole different intention than the one that the other person had.  Your intention is to neutralize the threat.  The intention of the person who caused the injury is to cause injury because they’re mad at you.  Very different from a virtue ethics stance.

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Stoicism and the Free Will Problem

Most people if you ask them if they believe that everything has a cause, they’ll likely say yes.  Most people you ask them if they believe that everyone is basically morally responsible, they’ll likely say yes.

The ancient Stoics believed everyone was morally responsible more or less and that everything including our own behaviors were causally determined.  The question of course is how can you be morally responsible and determined to do what you do?

Well, one clever Stoic by the name of Chrysippus believed he possessed the answer.  Chrysippus believed human action could be modeled by a cylinder rolling down an incline.  Basically, the cylinder’s shape represents your character and the incline’s angle represents fate (gravity being a given).  Your character, represented by the shape of the cylinder, had an effect on how the cylinder would roll down the incline.  Chryippus thought that your character is where you possessed some control over how your fate was determined.  Essentially, the idea was that everything was fated but we did co-fate our future to a limited extent.  The shape of our characters is where we possess some control and that’s where we find moral responsibility.

Something counter-intuitive that the Stoics would say though is, yes, we had limited freedom to coordinate our future given whether fate allowed for it or not.  But ultimately none of us were truly free except for the Sage.  It was believed that if you couldn’t truly be a master of all of your passions and desires, you were a slave to your passions/desires and ultimately not truly free.  So even though Stoicism does make room for soft determinism (the position that free will and determinism are compatible), it also seems to paradoxically hold a hard determinist position (that there is only determinism but not really any freedom) about everyone except for the Sage.

So we end with that paradox.  We all possess limited amount of freedoms that are compatible with a determinist universe.  But ultimately we’re not truly free like the Sage.  We’re only capable of being free but not truly so.  So we still have to live with the idea that each of us each bear responsibility even if truly the Sage only truly bears responsibility.  It’s almost like we’ve been backed into a position that none of like by the Stoics.  We’re living an illusion of freedom because we’re all still slaves to our desires/passions unless we become truly free from our desires/passions and become Sages.

What do you all think?  Are we free or not?

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Stoicism: How Might It Inform Your Politics?

How might Stoicism inform your politics?  Well, Stoicism in a democracy would want you to vote for who seemed to be the most virtuous person.  But what kind of policy would Stoicism want you to endorse?  Sometimes I think the answer might be in the preferred indifferents: wealth, education, and health just to name a few.  How would these preferred indifferents matter to Stoic public policy?  Well, preferred indifferents are useful means for performing virtue, so a Stoic would want all society to excel in preferred indifferents.

So the Stoic would be for policies that help create wealth and redistribute wealth to people in need.  The Stoic would be for educating the public by supporting public education.  The Stoic would be for people’s health so they would support some kind of system of healthcare available for everyone from the very poor to the rich.

Security might be another preferred indifferent so the Stoic would certainly support a military specifically for the purposes for protecting the nation from external threats.  Also the Stoic would support funding of police to handle internal threats.

How would Stoicism handle monopolies and concentration of wealth in the hands of the few? I’d imagine Stoics would have a problem with it if it meant that the poor were being deprived of basic requirements for health, wealth, education, and security.  The Stoics would vote for policy that would break up monopolies and concentration of wealth if it turned into a zero sum game.

One particular preferred indifferent would be having a job.  Most people desire a job not just for monetary reasons but for psychological reasons since having a job really helps them feel like they’re doing something productive.  The Stoic would be for a policy to help create job growth and give people job security.  The Stoic would also support policy to ensure everyone had a minimum fair wage.

So these are just a few areas where I imagine Stoicism would inform your politics.  I’m curious to know all your thoughts and opinions.

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Stoicism and Evil as a Function of Ignorance

One of the hardest parts of Stoicism for people to wrap their heads around is that evil people are vicious exactly because they’re ignorant.  This doesn’t mean they’re ignorant of society’s expectations, the law, or even a definition of what good behavior is.  They’re ignorant in the sense that they lack the wisdom necessary to understand that virtue leads truly to the good life (eudaimonia).

So when I hear people say, “well, murderers know exactly what they did was wrong but they did it anyway.”  But if they really understood the good life, virtue, and excellence, surely they wouldn’t have committed their crime because they’d be cheating themselves of something much greater.  Instead, murderers mistakenly believe they’re getting something good by murdering someone (perhaps a temporary satisfaction to their jealousy) but they’re absolutely mistaken.  Their need for their negative passion to be exemplified in action is transient and soon will be replaced with a new need to maybe seek vengeance on someone else or do harm in another way.

If you could take a criminal mind and show them truly what wisdom and knowledge of the good entails, they wouldn’t trade that knowledge of the good for their previous petty notions of “goods” for a second.  They would understand what the good life entailed and would act to be as virtuous as possible.  Socrates knew this, Plato knew this, and so did Zeno of Citium.

Am I mistaken that bad people do bad things out of ignorance?  Maybe so.  I’m always keeping and open mind about this position.  But let’s just entertain that people do bad things not because of lack of wisdom but because of lack of willpower.  I’m open to such a possibility but oddly enough it seems pretty compatible with Stoicism to hold this view as well.  People who lack willpower are just as hard to be angry at as people who lack knowledge of good and evil.  After all, if they lack willpower, they can’t help themselves.  But what about the third possibility that people completely 100% voluntarily do bad because they know it’s wrong but do it anyway?

Well, let’s just go down that road.  For these people who supposedly do bad voluntarily, it’s still difficult to be righteously indignant at those sorts of people because by not following virtue, they’re hurting themselves by feeding their negative passions.  They give into anger and hate and have an ill soul.  So even with that position, the Stoic will have difficulty being righteously mad at such a person because these bad people have irrationally chosen to go against the good even though they knew better (supposedly).

I still think that bad people do bad things out of ignorance/amathia.  But even with the slim possibility of incontinence/akrasia/weakness of will, people still seem to harm themselves and their actions seem almost beyond their control at times.

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5 Reasons Stoicism Is Better Than The Shadow Government

I have no real evidence of any shadow government operating behind the scenes of any actual legitimate governments in the world but there are some who swear they exist so I’ve decided to write 5 Reasons Why Stoicism Is Better Than The Shadow Government.

  1.  Shadow governments are illegitimate governments.  Stoicism is a legitimate philosophy.  If shadow governments exist, they are unaccountable and are ruled by a few global elites who are probably nefarious.  Stoicism is an accountable philosophy that isn’t interested in power.  Stoicism tells us that the only things in our power are our desires, opinions, goals, and judgments.
  2. If shadow governments existed as unlikely as it seems, it’s probably equally unlikely that they’re ruled by Reptilian aliens.  So if they exist, then they’re probably ruled by Reptilians or the Bilderbergs.  Reptilian aliens are pure evil, they intend to enslave all of humanity.  The Bilderbergs supposedly want to cull humanity to the point that only a few million remain.  Stoicism is a benevolent philosophy that doesn’t believe in enslaving humanity nor does it believe in mass homicide.  Stoicism just believes that we should follow virtue and be our brother’s keeper.
  3. The shadow government (if it exists) is amazingly terrible at keeping many people from calling our attention to it.  There are millions of conspiracy theorists out there that constantly tell us to look for all the patterns they see that prove the existence of the shadow government.  Oddly enough none of these conspiracy theorists end up dead.  Alex Jones still has his web show.  David Ickes is still at large.  Stoicism performs much better than a supposed shadow government.  Stoicism intends to help those who suffer from negative passions overcome those negative passions and achieve a state of tranquility.  So far many of the practitioners of Stoicism have only found good results.
  4. Shadow governments can only survive by remaining secret.  Once enough people wake up (WAKE UP SHEEPLE!) and realize they’re being governed by unaccountable extraterrestrial shape-shifting bureaucrats, people will rise up against the shadow government and it will be destroyed.  Stoicism can survive in secret or openness.  In fact, Stoicism thrives better in the open where people can practice it and become educated practitioners.
  5.  Shadow governments seem to recycle the same old unoriginal public policies.  Their public policy tends to be 1) distract people from the existence of the shadow government, 2) murder people who know the truth, 3) get ready to cull humanity, 4)  reuse the same crisis actors, and 5) stage false flag operations.  Stoicism doesn’t recycle the same old philosophical ideas.  Stoicism grows and adapts to new concepts.  Stoicism also is very creative.  If Stoicism has bad metaphysics, it will replace its own metaphysics with a new kind of updated metaphysics.

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Locke’s State of Nature and Stoicism

We’re all familiar with Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature.  Life was nasty, brutish, and short.  Not a very pleasant place.  Everyone had a really big insatiable ego and there was nothing but war and strife.  There was no concept of morality.  Just selfish insatiable desires pitted against other selfish insatiable desires.  So Hobbes proposed that we pretty much need a very strong centralized monarchic state to check everyone’s giant egos.

John Locke had a nicer view.  John Locke believed that in a state of nature we were pre-law but we weren’t pre-moral.  In fact, people tended to work together within their communities and divided the land privately.  People would put their work into their private property and would flourish.  Unfortunately, property disputes would happen and wars would happen now and again in the state of nature.  So people came together and made government.  According to Locke, government was to secure our pre-state of nature rights to life, liberty, and property.  If government ever began to erode these securities, it became incumbent upon the people to dissolve their government and start over.

Notice the contrast here.  Hobbes’ government, you don’t really have the option of dissolving because the idea of human nature is so depraved that it’s absolutely important to keep the state as powerful as it can be to prevent the nasty state of nature happening.  In Locke’s idea though, the state of nature isn’t so bad so it’s actually worth the risk to dissolve a state if it becomes too powerful.  Hobbes might argue that it would be better to live in North Korea than to live in a state of nature.  Locke would severely disagree.

Enter the Stoics:  the Stoics had a pretty positive view of human nature.  Maybe even more optimistic than Locke’s.  They believed that humans were definitely moral in a state of nature.  In fact, using Hierocles’s Circles, you get the idea that self-love was very easily transferable to love of the offspring and family to love of the community to love of the society and finally to love of humankind.

Do the Stoics value life, liberty, and private property like Locke?  I think they do.  The Stoics not only believed your health, pursuit of pleasures, reputation were preferred indifferents but they also viewed wealth as a preferred indifferent.  This means that they were fine with wealth creation and acquisition.  The Stoics were perfectly in line with Locke in terms of believing mixing your labor into your property made it yours.  The Stoics would’ve been fine with markets as they existed.

But I would like to mention that Zeno’s Republic does kind of deviate a little bit from private property and limited governments.  Zeno had an ideal society of virtuous Stoics that had no currency and courts of law.  It’s not clear though that Zeno thought this was possible or just an ideal that might never be realized.  And it seemed to be only a place designed for Stoics, not a whole society of people with different philosophies.

Now, even though John Locke was right about limiting our government, it’s not clear if he would be outraged by the mixed economies of the USA, UK, France, and Germany of today.  Locke might actually be pleased to see that many people are still secured of their private property and can generally live their life’s pretty much how they see fit.  John Locke might’ve had a government way more limited than we have now but he might be pleased to see that even though a lot of wealth is taken from the rich, people, rich and poor alike,  still have their plot of land that they put work into and own or rent.

Just remember that when the government begins to erode the protections of life, liberty, and private property it might be incumbent upon you to end the government and the Stoics have your back.

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Stoicism and the Art of Apathy? Not So Fast!

Stoicism has become fairly popular as a philosophy.  When you compare it to other philosophy schools on Facebook, Stoicism Facebook groups’s membership greatly outnumber other philosophical schools’s membership like Kantianism, Aristotelianism, Epicureanism, Schopenhauereanism, for example.   Unfortunately with large numbers in any group comes with members who have large misconceptions.

One major misconception of Stoicism is that it is about being apathetic and apolitical.  If you’ve read Donald Robertson’s Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, you’d know that Stoicism isn’t about being apathetic.  Some individuals are attracted to the Stoic groups because they see themselves as placated with careless apathy and think Stoicism is all about careless apathy.  But they couldn’t be anymore wrong! Stoicism isn’t about not giving a care, it’s about decreasing negative passions such as anger and sorrow, as a few examples.  When Stoicism talks about apatheia, it’s meaning that you’re free of negative passions.  But in place of the negative passion, it substitutes positive passions such as compassion and joy.

People misread the view that judgments should consider externals as indifferent as “judgments should consider externals as completely valueless.”  To Stoics indifferents are very important, they just don’t matter to our eudaimonia (the good life).  Some also misread indifferents as meaning we shouldn’t care about people either because they’re external to us.  But they forget that one of the virtues of Stoicism is justice.  Justice usually includes piety, fair dealings, being equitable, and compassion.

One thing that annoys the people who misunderstand Stoicism the most is when someone in the group posts something political related to Stoicism.  The people who misunderstand Stoicism complain that political posts are not “Stoic.”  Little to do they know that Stoicism is very political.  It’s difficult to decipher exactly what you should believe politically on any particular issue via Stoicism but Stoicism does stress the importance of being involved politically.  So all Stoics ought to be prepared to justify their political positions as Stoically or rationally as possible.

In conclusion, Stoicism may want you to achieve apatheia (freedom from negative passions) but it doesn’t want you to achieve apathy.  If you want apathy, you’re not really going to find a very developed school of philosophy for that.

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Stoicism and the Trolley Problem

We’re all familiar with the Trolley Problem.  A Trolley comes barreling down the tracks.  Do you let it run over 5 people or do you switch the track to make it run over 1 person.  The Utilitarian says to switch the track.  The Kantian says to let the Trolley run over the 5 people, at least you didn’t deliberately make it kill one person.

So what would the Stoic do?  Virtue ethics is less about the consequences or act itself and more about the intentions and character traits of the agent.  Honestly, the Stoic in my opinion is free to let Kantian or Utilitarian intuitions take over.  In the case just mentioned, I imagine that the Stoic Sage would switch the tracks to save the five people.  So I think Utilitarian intuitions would take over in that case.

Now would you push a fat man off a bridge in front of the Trolley to stop the Trolley from running over 5 people?  This situation seems intuitively different than merely switching the tracks.  So I think the Stoic Sage would err on the side of Kantian intuitions and not push the fat man to his death in order to save the 5.

Honestly, the Stoic in my opinion will just do what seems the most ethically intuitive when character traits traits are too vague to be useful in determining what to do in such ethical dilemmas.  Just do what you’re compassion tells you to do in each situation and you’re safe.

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The Stoics and Their Utopian Vision

The Stoics were realists.  They stressed the importance of living in the here and now and judging our impressions as objectively as we can.  Judging impressions objectively means that anything we perceive, we should perceive neither as bad nor good but indifferent.  Despite their realism, they did dream and hope for things to be a certain way.  The Stoics just knew better than to be attached to their wishes and hopes.  Zeno of Citium had an ideal Stoic Republic in mind.  Diogenes Laertius described Zeno’s Republic:

Some, indeed, among whom is Cassius the Skeptic, attack Zeno on many accounts, saying first of all that he denounced the general system of education in vogue at the time, as useless, which he did in the beginning of his Republic. And in the second place, that he used to call all who were not virtuous, adversaries, and enemies, and slaves, and unfriendly to one another, parents to their children, brethren to brethren. and kinsmen to kinsmen; and again, that in his Republic, he speaks of the virtuous as the only citizens, and friends, and relations, and free men, so that in the doctrine of the Stoic, even parents and their children are enemies; for they are not wise. Also, that he lays down the principle of the community of women in his Republic, and … teaches that neither temples nor courts of law, nor gymnasia, ought to be erected in a city; moreover, that he writes thus about money: that he does not think that people ought to coin money either for purposes of trade, or of travelling. Besides all this, he enjoins men and women to wear the same dress, and to leave no part of their person completely covered.

 

Zeno’s Republic seems to be a place full of virtuous people (which includes women) and there are no courts or currency.  Everyone lives in harmony in complete anarchy.  There are no religious places of worship erected in the Republic.

It’s not clear whether Zeno ever thought this would ever really happen but he did have an ideal in mind about how a society of virtuous people would be organized.  And it seemed that he had in mind some kind of virtuous anarchic commune of everyone who proved themselves good Stoics.

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Could Life Become So Unbearable That A Stoic Would Choose Death Over Virtue?

Sometimes life can take a turn for the worst.  Let’s say all these scenarios happen:  You lose your close family in an accident, your friends stab you in the back, you fall into a fire and melt your beautiful face, and you suffer from intense chronic pain throughout your body coupled with drug and therapy resistant depression.  If such a situation was to occur and you couldn’t bear the thought of living anymore, would it be acceptable if you wanted to take your life?  Would taking your life be forfeiting a virtuous life?

The Stoics didn’t believe taking your life would necessarily forfeit virtue.  If they saw your situation so dire and you had such crippling depression and intense chronic pain, they’d understand if you took the path of euthanasia.  Largely because chronic pain and crippling depression coupled with all these ill circumstances is going to make it difficult for you to be virtuous.  And without virtue, then there is no eudaimonia.  There is no praiseworthiness.  So the only thing virtuous left to do would be to take your life.

Zeno of Citium famously took his life because he broke his toe.  This may seem ridiculous to us moderns but a broken toe in the ancient days for an old man could’ve been difficult to treat.  Plus the pain associated with the broken toe would’ve made it difficult to live a life of virtue and excellence.

Another thing to bear in mind is that we’re only human.  None of us are Sages.  Remember that before judging anyone too harshly when they decide on euthanasia.

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