Philosophy 302: Ethics
Stoicism, Part II
Abstract: Part II of Stoicism
includes a discussion of Spinoza's notion of "active awareness"
and a list of objections to Stoicism.
I. Spinoza adds the notion of "active awareness" to clarify the Stoic's state of
mind. You impose your attitudes on the world by moving from passive emotions to
- Once we understand that people act from the necessity of nature (determinism), we can
overcome the hatred we feel because someone harms us. If we trip over a rock, we don't
blame the rock for being there.
- Freedom comes with understanding the order and necessity of the universe and acting
in accordance. Thought and thought alone gives freedom. E.g., What is the
difference between someone going back on his word and that person changing his
mind? The glass being half empty or being half full?
- We see some movies more than once even though we know in advance what is to happen.
The value of the movie is not in the outcome.
- Consider hearing the same music more than once. Our choice is to hear the beauty or
to react with "Oh no, not that again."
- With active awareness, we are no longer at the mercy of moods. E.g., how would we live
if we had no fear, if we saw that misfortune cannot affect our
happiness? The state of
the soul is independent of the external situation.
- In this manner we avoid compulsive desire and automatic anger which would make us
reactive to the forces acting upon us.
- Alfred Tennyson credits this active awareness as "absolute clearness of mind."
- Consider the failure to break an unwanted habit. We fail because of the very self
who is trying to break the habit is the same self who is subject to it. Hence, a
new sense of self is needed--one that goes beyond the limits of the "old" self.
- The single most important techniques is self-observation--you watch yourself just as
if things were happening to someone else. for the Stoic, "Awareness = Happiness."
- You can enjoy your worldly activities regardless of results. You are not at the mercy of
anything in the world--your sense of psychological survival does not depend upon this or
II. An Adaptation of
John Hosper's criticisms of Stoicism
- The Stoic solution is really negative in outlook--stoicism doesn't seek happiness;
it seeks to avoid unhappiness.
- The Stoic ethics misses some of the best things in life: love, reliance on others,
pride in external objects, and so forth.
- Some of the greatest things in life are achieved through emotional and mental
- Possible Stoic response: The objection is a question of emphasis--it's better
to be affirmistic than happily deluded. One can enjoy these things without investing
one's essential self.
- Our power extends farther than the stoic believes--we do have some control
over external events.
- It's contrary to human nature not to desire more than the Stoic recommends. "Your
reach should exceed your grasp."
- Maybe we don't have total control over other people and circumstances, but at least
we have some influence.
- As William James wrote
Our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between
propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided
on intellectual grounds; for to say, under such circumstances, "Do not decide,
but leave the question open,: is itself a passional decision,--just like deciding
yes or no,--and is attended with the same risk of losing the
truth. William James, The Will To Believe.
- Possible Stoic response: Beliefs like these make people unhappy; these
beliefs set you up for profound disappointement.
- A life of desire, even though not totally satisfied, is better than
- "It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."
- Possible Stoic response: Sure you can love, but don't invest your essential
self in it
- The world isn't as hostile to the fulfillment of desires as the
- His is an empirical claim and depends upon not only the culture, nations, and social
circumstances, but also the nature of the individual
- Possible Stoic response: The truth of this objection can only be found in
- The Stoic is an emotional weakling--the Stoic is trying to "play it safe."
- The Stoic is afraid to take risks; the Stoic fears loss more than possible gain.
- Possible Stoic response: This is an ad hominem
attack. Such a view
prevents persons from rooting out the real problems of their unhappiness.
- The fundamental flaw in Stoicism is that our "active awareness" does affect what we do
and what we do does affect the world. The mind-body dualism is ultimate untenable because
it leads to psychophysical parallelism
and Stoicism, Part I: 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
of Determinism: The central philosophical doctrines relating to the
degrees of the freedom of the will are outlines.