The Stoics believed in virtue and, in particular, the chief one among them, justice. The Stoics also believed in preferred indifferents, for example, health, wealth, reputation, pleasure, and education. What did they believe about autonomy though?
The Stoics believed that autonomy was something within our possession. In fact, if we worked hard at it, we would achieve freedom from everything. The only path to freedom was to focus on what was truly in our power: virtue.
Honestly though, virtue is only freedom if you are truly virtuous. Since none of us are truly free, like the Sage, we need a form of autonomy that is lesser in nobility but still carries some weight. We need a life of self-determination. We also need a life where we can pursue our preferred indifferents. Our natural preferences for health, wealth, education, pleasure, and reputation are where we derive our rights. We have a right to these preferred indifferents, so we ought to have a society that allows for that. Where does the lesser form of autonomy fit into this? The lesser form is being free to participate in health, wealth, education, pleasure, and reputation within reason. We’re free when we can do this. And these preferred indifferents give us a chance to find the true autonomy: virtue.
Where does a woman’s right to an abortion fit into this? She has autonomy over her own health. She can determine what is best for herself, even if that means terminating a pregnancy. People will debate this point because they feel “life” might begin at conception. I presume these people are wrong because zygotes hardly represent a person in the way we can conceive of them. In fact, babies hardly represent people. But, nonetheless, we can maybe agree as a society that we can terminate pregnancies up to 9 months. It’s kind of arbitrary to make this determination but we have some historical reasons for doing so. Many of the ancients, Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans seemed to believe that life began at first breath. With this conception in mind, we have some historical precedent to base our determination on what distinguishes infanticide from a mere abortion.
Of course, as a society, if we really want to do away with abortion, one way is to make all forms of contraception free for everyone. This also means educating people about sex and contraception as early as we can.
Not everyone can agree that abortion is a right but maybe we can all agree that contraception is a right. One thing is for sure, contraception is certainly worth talking about as often as the taboo topic of abortion arises.
As feminism has gone more mainstream, and has become more popular, a counterculture of young white men has arisen expressing their concern that men’s rights are being overshadowed. Angry that they no longer feel represented they have banded together to create what is called Men’s Rights Activism. The counterculture has unfortunately tried infiltrating Stoicism, hijacking it, and pretending Stoicism is all about being a man and manning up. I like to call their form of Stoicism, “Broicism.”
Stoicism was a philosophy progressive for its time because it saw all humans the same, capable of using reason and being capable of living a virtuous life. Zeno’s Republic actually mentions women as being members of his society of virtuous Stoics. The Stoics believed women were equal to men in their ability to use reason. Broicism tends to try to undo this history or has no interest in this history of Stoicism. Broicism tends to use quotes from Stoics selectively and ignores the cosmopolitan elements of Stoicism.
Stoicism is about trying to eliminate negative passions such as anger and sorrow and replace them with positive passions of joy and compassion. Unfortunately, Broicism tries to replace this with toxic masculinity, the belief that all emotions in men should be suppressed except for violent expressions of anger/outrage.
Stoicism emphasizes Hierocles’s Concentric Circles that there is self-love and out of self-love comes love for family, then love for community, then love for humanity. Broicism emphasizes self-love only and thinks that virtue means doing what’s in one’s best self
interest. The attitude is usually, “I got my virtue now screw you!”
On Facebook, when a question is asked why there are so few women in the Stoic Group, the first people to pop up and say, “it’s because Stoicism emphasizes rationality but women aren’t very rational and are more emotional” are Broics. They tend to think of Stoicism as a men’s only club and so subconsciously de-legitimize women from also being capable of being Stoics and using reason. Real Stoics understand that women have had a history of dealing with such stereotypes and it may take a while for the culture to
change its view of women in the Stoic group and outside.
Broics tend to be alt right or “cultural libertarians”. They tend to see any kind of liberalism as feminism run amok. Liberal values such as cosmopolitanism, diversity, open dialogue, even free expression that Stoics should embrace are a threat to their worldview. Stoicism is fine with feminism. It may not agree with all feminists on all issues but it’s perfectly fine with liberalism and feminism. In fact, Stoicism tolerates conservative views as well. It’s a very tolerant philosophy, whereas Broicism is not. Broicism usually expresses its intolerance through cheap jokes, trolling, and derailing charitable discussion.
Stoicism has really grown in popularity over the years. The Facebook group Stoicism Group (Stoic Philosophy), hosted by Donald Robertson, has grown to 40k members and is still growing. Stoicism is pretty much the largest growing philosophical school on the Internet. But as Stoicism grows so does making money off of Stoicism. Also Stoicism is being branded as a lifehack that will help you succeed in the business world. I call this kind of Stoicism, “$toicism”.
Stoicism is a philosophy that helps you be resilient in tough situations. $toicism uses this feature to try to sell you success. In fact, $toicism tells you if you try living by the wisdom of the Stoa, you’ll likely be very successful in the business world and you can have the Stoic insights to build your business from the ground up into a mega corporation. Stoicism doesn’t get your hopes up like this. Stoicism tells you that it’s ok to be poor and you’re not a loser for being poor, sometimes shit happens. Stoicism just teaches you how to deal with your circumstances and make the best of them.
$toicism tends to try to sell you Stoic merchandise with notable Stoic quotes. Real Stoicism only tries to sell you wisdom with the only price being that you try. If you try at achieving the virtues, you will have a more just, wise, and benevolent character.
$toics only seem to care about the preferred indifferent wealth. The $toics think that this means greed is a good passion to have in such circumstances. But greed is just another negative passion that grows from the wrong judgment that wealth is good. Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus clearly tell us that very little is required for happiness in this life and wealth doesn’t make you good, it just makes you wealthy.
Since $toics only seem to care about Stoicism in terms of a successful life, only for themselves and nobody else, they tend to downplay the virtue justice. Stoicism emphasizes the role of justice, in fact, Marcus Aurelius believed that justice was the chief virtue among the four virtues. It’s important to cooperate with others and not merely compete with others in the greater society.
$toics can’t seem to figure out why Ayn Rand is a bad guy. They think her philosophy of Objectivism is completely compatible with the philosophy of the Stoa. But little do they realize that Objectivism is a selfish philosophy. I’ve pointed this out to supposed $toics but they’re in denial. Finally, I pointed out that Ayn Rand specifically wrote a book called The Virtue of Selfishness and they were still in denial. That’s not particularly a very Stoic attitude for those people to have.
One of the contentious issues, whether you’re on the left or the right politically, is whether healthcare should be a right given to citizens by their government. The Stoics believed that everyone had a preference for health. Also, with this in mind, they had the idea that everyone had the right to be treated fairly and equitably. We all have a duty to treat each other fairly and equitably.
Since health is a preferred indifferent and we should all treat each other fairly and equitably, we should be ensuring that everyone has their fair share of health preferences met. Everyone deserves a right to healthcare. The Stoics couldn’t have imagined such a national healthcare system in place in their day because they didn’t have the technology, science, and knowledge of civil engineering we now possess. But now that such a system can be run via public taxation, it makes sense that, as a course of justice, we should be supplying everyone with healthcare.
One could argue that a free market system for healthcare would be better but so far it is subpar. People spend tremendous amounts of money if they don’t have the insurance or they spend tremendous amounts of money just to meet their astronomically-sized deductible. Some people live paycheck to paycheck and can barely meet their premiums. Healthcare is just tremendously expensive and unfortunately hospitals do have to make money even if they’re non-profit. If the money funding the hospital isn’t efficiently and equitably being taxed from everyone throughout the population, whether healthy or sick, the sick are the ones who have to pay the bill in a free market system.
The only alternative from a Stoic point of view is some kind of public system that covers the poor and wealthy, the young and the old by money that is collected evenly and efficiently through taxation of both the sick and healthy alike. This is how our preference for health is met in a just and fair Stoic society.
I use the following argument to support my conclusion. It’s kind of rough right now but I’ll work to make it better later.
1.Justice has a connection to a fair distribution of preferred indifferents.
2. One of these preferred indifferents is health.
3. Therefore in the name of justice health as a preference should be met for everyone throughout the society if it can be met.
4. It can met through efficient and fair taxation.
5. Therefore a public healthcare system should be established.
The War on Drugs is the name given to the campaign by the US Federal Government of prohibiting drugs and giving military aid and intervening to disrupt the illegal drug trade. Stoicism isn’t a philosophy that sells an effort that is ultimately futile. The War on Drugs is usually criticized because it doesn’t appear to be helping people stay off drugs. Instead it might be exacerbating the situation and is costing the US taxpayers $500 million dollars per year.
In the 1980s, while arrests for all crimes rose 28% , the number of arrests for drug offenses rose astronomically at 126%. The War on Drugs has significantly led to an effect of mass incarceration of people who simply enjoy drugs and like profiting from selling them. A Stoic approach wouldn’t be for mass incarceration of drug offenders; in fact, Stoicism would be for a therapy/rehabilitation that would free the soul of drug offenders from the externals (the drugs) they wrongly mis-perceive as good.
Stoicism says we all equally lack perfect virtue. In Stoicism, no one is truly
perfectly good except for the Sage. In the US War on Drugs, people who do or sell drugs are painted as evil compared to those who don’t. Stoicism judges people with greater equanimity than the War on Drugs does.
The US War on Drugs has disproportionately locked up the poor compared to wealthy and has disproportionately locked up hispanics and blacks compared to whites. The War on Drugs has a history shrouded in institutional racism. Stoicism is cosmopolitan in nature, believing that everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or creed is deserving of dignity.
Let’s do the Stoic thing and end the War on Drugs.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.