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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 independent character. 

I.  Cynicism: The end of life is virtue, not pleasure, and it can only beDiogenes of Sinope obtained by independence of all earthly possessions and pleasures.

  1. Influence of the Socratic character: Socrates pursued truth with distain for economics or entertainment. This negative aspect was emphasized. 


  2. The Cynics sought self-sufficiency and rejected the social and religious values of civilization.  Group thinking is herd-thinking.  The nature of what it is to be a human being is not a political or social animal.


    1. Independence was shown through a flouting of convention. Obviously, a philosophy that rejects the social nature of man would have a difficult time forming a consistent school of thought.


    2. Three causes of human misery: desire, indulgence and ignorance.


    3. 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 giving you something you wanted.  You refuse in order to show your independence and self-sufficiency.  "You need nothing other than yourself."


  3. The Cynics eschewed formal philosophy. Instead, their teaching consisted of anecdotal quips, diatribes, and satire.


  4. 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 works.

II. Stoicism:  Philosophy is primarily concerned with ethics.  The end or Marcus Aurelius--well known Stoic and Roman Emperor purpose of life is arete (excellence) or virtue which is identified with "happiness."  The central theme is" indifference to external circumstances."

  1. "Live life according to nature." Our actions should agree with the laws of nature.


    1. Stoics assumed the doctrine of (soft) determinism. In the external world, every event has a cause; there are no exceptions (e.g., miracles or outcomes of actions).


    2. Since we are rational, we can know the laws of nature and can consciously follow them--rather than fight them or wish they were different.


      1. "Let go." Worry about events in the external world is unnecessary. "What will be, will be" (not fatalism but determinism). "Don't carry the boat, let the boat carry you."


      2. Be indifferent to external circumstances. Distinguish between those things in your control and those things outside your control. Give your attention only to those things you can control (mental phenomena).


      3. Freedom and independence can only be obtained by realizing that external events (events in the material world, matter) need not affect mental events (thoughts, mind). In this way we see ourselves as we truly are, not as we might imagine ourselves to be.


    3. Consider if the Stoic can avoid the psychological dilemma of determinism. If every event has a cause, how can our will be free? Mind and matter cannot be completely disassociated because  we would be completely disengaged from the external world.


      1. In a sense, the Stoic recommends  a passive detachment from the world.  Nothing in the world is good or bad or even painful or pleasurable. Things in the world simply are what they are.


      2. You can't change the world, you can only change your awareness of the world.  You feel centered not because the world is right for you but because you choose to be right for the world.  If you hike in the mountains when ill and again when well, the scenery is the same in both cases.  Only you are different.

II. Moral evil pertains to human will and intention.

  1. No act is evil in itself; moral evil pertains to the intention, the moral condition from which the acts proceeds.


    1. The act considered as a physical entity is indifferent. "As you are in your heart..." rather than "Beauty is as beauty does."


    2. Nothing is good or bad in itself--only the mind has the ability to confer value on things.


    3. 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 scared, the 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 exciting!" 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.


    4. The Stoic would say that what distinguishes emotions is not the events happening in the outside environment, nor is it what is going on inside the body, but it is the mind's interpretation of the two.


  2. You are different from your emotions. Emotions are the result of the perception of an external situation considered with bodily states. The dangers of the identification of the ego with the emotions include loss of personal freedom.


    1. Avoid identification with anything, for you are sure to get hurt: e.g., your job, your career, another person, drugs.


      1. "I am a teacher," but what am I when I lose my job? Look at what happens when you identify yourself with your grades. What you would be then would be beyond your control. (Your life would be subject to the vicissitudes or the conscientiousness of the teacher.)


      2. If I identify myself with my feelings, I become the feeling. (I.e., consider a child's tantrum.) For example, the feeling of sadness arises. I are not the feeling--I need to separate the emotion from what I truly am..


      3. If I use esteem, love, worldly success as a means of psychological identity (picturing myself as an important person), I create anxiety.  None of these things add anything to my internal life.


      4. I can enjoy world activities regardless of results. I can have a successful love affair or a career, but these would not be part of the essential self.


    2. Negative feelings (boredom, restlessness, sense of futility) are caused by us-- not by exterior happenings. We don't have to have these feelings; we can choose our interpretations of events more appropriately.


  3. Character, truly virtuous conduct, fulfillment of duty, are the points most stressed in Stoic ethics.


    1. Apatheia is the self-conquest  achieved by training to overcome irrational and unnatural feelings (pleasure, sorrow, depression, fear). Apatheia is "freedom from morally wrong impulses or passions."


    2. 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 desires.


      1. Passive self-examination as well as active awareness help us avoid the dangers of identification of our psyche with anything.


      2. Verbal techniques help separate the way we feel from the way we truly are. Think of yourself in the third-person. (E.g., Siddhartha's techniques.)


      3. All desires need not be distinguished--only separate the healthy from the unhealthy. Avoid those which are painful, compulsive, nervous, or angry. Activate those which are for health or self-understanding.


      4. Distinguish between genuine wants (food, shelter) from false wants (needless cravings). The self, itself, has all that it needs.


    Recommended Sources

    Stoicism, Part IIPart II of Stoicism includes a discussion of Spinoza's notion of "active awareness" and a list of objections to Stoicism.

    Varieties of Determinism: The central philosophical doctrines relating to the degrees of the freedom of the will are outlines.

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