Philosophy 302: Ethics
Cynicism and Stoicism, Part I
Abstract: Cynicism and Stoicism are
ethical philosophies based on distinguishing between those things in your
control from those things not in your control. Both views stress
emotional detachment from the world and emphasize the development of
I. Cynicism: The end of life is virtue, not pleasure, and
it can only be obtained
by independence of all earthly possessions and
- Influence from the character of Socrates: Socrates pursued truth with distain for
economics or entertainment. This negative aspect was emphasized.
- The Cynics sought self-sufficiency and rejected the social and religious
values of civilization. Group thinking is thought of as herd-thinking.
The nature of what it is to be a human being is not a political or
social animal, as it was for Aristotle.
- Independence is shown through a flouting of convention. Obviously, a
philosophy that rejects the social nature of man cannot be the
basis for forming a consistent school of thought. Hence, Cynicism,
by its very nature, is not a popular philosophy.
- Three causes of human misery: desire are said to be desire, indulgence, and ignorance.
- The ascetic self-discipline and training achieved by "following nature"
leads to self-sufficiency. E.g., Suppose someone has
done you an injustice and tries to amend the wrongdoing by
offering you something of great value. The Cynic refuses in order to show
independence and self-sufficiency. "You need nothing
other than yourself."
- The Cynics eschew formal philosophy. Instead, their teaching
consists, in large measure, of
anecdotal quips, diatribes, and satire.
- Influential Cynics include...
Diogenes of Sinope--the founder, known for holding up a lantern "looking
for an authentic man."
Antisthenes--also credited with founding Cynicism.
Crates of Thebes--known as "the Door Opener" because of the
effects of his humanitarian
II. Stoicism: Philosophy is primarily concerned with
ethics. The end or
purpose of life is arete (excellence) or
virtue which is roughly identified with "happiness." The central
theme is " indifference to external circumstances."
- "Live life according to nature"—Our actions should agree with the
laws of nature.
- Stoics assumed the doctrine of
determinism. In the external world, every event has a cause; there
are no exceptions (e.g., miracles or outcomes of
actions), but we do have some control over our mental
- Since we are rational, we can know the laws of nature and can
consciously follow them—rather than seek to overcome them or wish
the laws were
- "Let go." Worry about events in the external world is unnecessary.
"Whatever is going to be, is what is to be" (not fatalism but determinism). "Don't carry
the boat, let the boat carry you."
- Be indifferent to external circumstances. Distinguish between
those things in your control and those things outside your
Give your attention only to those things you can control (i.e.,
- Freedom and independence can only be obtained by realizing that
external events (events in the material world or the world of
physical objects) need not affect
mental events (thoughts, emotions, intentions). In this way we see ourselves as we
truly are, not as we might imagine ourselves to be.
- The Stoic is faced with the following difficulty: consider for
yourself if the Stoic can avoid the psychological dilemma posed by
soft determinism. If every event has a cause, how can our will be
free unless mental events were somehow disassociated with physical
events? If mind and matter do not interact,
our souls (minds) would be disengaged from the external world of
everyday objects and events.
- The Stoic recommends a passive detachment from the world.
Nothing in the external world is good or bad; nothing
in the world is painful or pleasurable.
Things in the world simply are what they are. Our mind has
feelings and emotions in everyday experience, but these
are mental phenomena.
- Hence, for the Stoic, we can't change the world, we can only change our awareness of
the world. We feel centered not because the world is
right for us but because we choose to be right for the
world. If we were to hike in the mountains when
again when exhilarated, the scenery would the same in both
cases. Only our experience is different.
II. Moral evil pertains to human will and intention.
- No act is evil in itself; moral evil pertains to the intention, the moral condition
from which the acts proceeds.
- The act considered as a physical entity is indifferent. "As you are in your
heart..." rather than "Beauty is as beauty does."
- Nothing is good or bad in itself--only the mind has the ability to confer value
- C.L. Kleinke writes,
"Consider a young child who goes to the circus for the first time. Bombarded
with new sights, smells, and sounds, the child is in a state of general
physiological arousal, experiencing a faster-than-usual heartbeat, slight tremors,
accelerated breathing, and possible cold or sweaty hands. How does the child
interpret this arousal? What emotion does he or she feel? Let us look a bit
further. As the child walks by the lions' cage his or her
parent most likely
says, "Oh that lion is so big. I bet you're scared. Don't be
lion can't hurt you: later when the trapeze artists are performing the parent
helps the child interpret his or her arousal by exclaiming, "Isn't that
The clowns appear and the parent "instructs" the child by laughing and commenting
on how funny and happy they are. Before leaving the circus the child is likely
to confront the smell of animals and learn from the parent that arousal in this
context is a sign of unpleasantness and disgust. During all this time the child
has been in essentially the same arousal as different emotions according to the
particular stimuli or events in the immediate situation... What distinguishes
emotions such as anger, fear, love, elation, anxiety, and
disgust is not what is
going on inside the body but rather what is happening in the outside environment."
(C.L. Kleinke, Self-Perception (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1978), 2.)
- The Stoic would say that what distinguishes emotions is not the events happening
in the outside environment, nor is it what is going on
as mental phenomena, but it is
the mind's interpretation of the two.
- We are different from our emotions. Emotions are the result of the perception of an
external situation considered with the attendant bodily states. The dangers of the identification of
the ego with the emotions include loss of personal freedom.
- Indeed, avoid identification with anything, for you are sure to get
hurt: e.g., your job, your career, another person,
sports, and so on..
- "Mary is a CEO of a Fortune 500
corporation," but what is she when she loses her
job? Look at what happens if we were to identify
ourselves with our university grades.. What we would be then would
be not be within our control. (In a sense our lives
would be subject to the vicissitudes of our health,
the accuracy of evaluation, the conscientiousness of the
teacher, and so forth.)
- If we identify myself with our feelings, we "become"
little more than the feeling. (I.e.,
consider a child's tantrum where the child's
behavior is in a sense the sum of the child's
existence at that moment..) For example, when the feeling of
intense sadness arises. we need not be wholly subsumed
by the feeling—for the sake of health we need to separate the emotion from what
- If we use esteem, love, worldly success as a means of psychological
identity (picturing ourselves as important people),
we unnecessary distraction, e.g., we create anxiety.
For the Stoic, none of these behaviors or attitudes adds
to our internal, authentic lives.
- We can enjoy worldly activities regardless of what
we might think would be the results of our action. We can have a successful
love affair, a career, or a game of chess, but the
success or failure of the outcome are not be part of the essential
- Negative feelings (boredom, restlessness, sense of futility) are caused by
by exterior happenings. We don't have to have these feelings; we can choose
more appropriate or helpful interpretations of events.
- Character, truly virtuous conduct, and fulfillment of duty, are the points most stressed in
- Apatheia is the self-conquest achieved by training to overcome irrational and unnatural
feelings (e.g., pleasure, sorrow, depression, fear,
guilt, pride). Apatheia
is "freedom from morally wrong impulses or passions."
It is not living without feeling whatsoever; apatheia
is living without feelings that interfere with the exercise of
- From the Cynics the Stoics adopted techniques for the emotional independence from
the world. The Stoic uses many techniques to separate healthy from the unhealthy
- Passive self-examination as well as active awareness help us avoid the
dangers of identification of our psyche with anything.
- Verbal techniques help separate the way we feel from the way we truly
are. Thinking of yourself in the third-person enables
self-control. By seeing ourselves from a more objective
view as we think and act, we can become aware of why we do
what we do. E.g., as you read these notes,
you are aware of yourself reading the notes, not just
aware of the content of the notes, themselves. Your "overself,"
so to speak, take charge of your life through
- All desires need not be distinguished—apatheia
requires only separation of the healthy from the
unhealthy. Avoid those which are painful, compulsive, nervous, or angry.
Activate those which are for health or self-understanding.
- Distinguish between genuine wants (food, shelter) from false wants (needless
cravings). The self, itself, has all that it needs.
Cynicism: Entry from the
Dictionary of the History of Ideas from the University of
Virginia Library covers the origins, the authors, and philosophy, with a short bibliography by Ragnar Hüistad.
Outline of the history and major figures of Cynicism, with
references by Julie Piering in the Internet Encyclopedia of
Discourses and Enchiridion:
The classic works of Epictetus' philosophy, both translated by Elizabeth
Carter, also available as a text files for download by MIT's Internet
of Stoicism: Entry from the
Dictionary of the History of Ideas from the University of
Virginia Library covers the history and cultural background, with a
short bibliography by Anthony A. Long.
History of Cynicism: Donald R. Duley's book published by Methuen
(1937) provided online by Osmania University, covers Cynic
philosophy in Greek and Roman thought.
Meditations: Marcus Aurelius' classic work on how to live,
translation by George Long, also available as a text file for
download by MIT's Internet Classics Archive.
The history, philosophy, science, logic, and ethics of Stoicism are
discussed with bibliography in this excellent entry from the
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Dirk Baltzly.
Related Sources on
Part II: Part II of Stoicism
includes a discussion of Spinoza's notion of "active awareness"
and a list of objections to Stoicism.
of Determinism: The central philosophical doctrines relating to
the degrees of the freedom of the will are briefly outlined.