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 of the Socratic character: 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 herd-thinking.
The nature of what it is to be a human being is not a political or
- 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.
- Three causes of human misery: 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 giving
you something you wanted. You refuse in order to show your
independence and self-sufficiency. "You need nothing
other than yourself."
- The Cynics eschewed formal philosophy. Instead, their teaching consisted 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 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).
- Since we are rational, we can know the laws of nature and can
consciously follow them--rather than fight them or wish they were
- "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."
- 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 (mental
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 inside the body, but it is
the mind's interpretation of the two.
- 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.
- Avoid identification with anything, for you are sure to get
hurt: e.g., your job, your career, another person,
- "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.)
- 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..
- 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.
- 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
- Negative feelings (boredom, restlessness, sense of futility) are caused by
by exterior happenings. We don't have to have these feelings; we can choose our
interpretations of events more appropriately.
- Character, truly virtuous conduct, fulfillment of duty, are the points most stressed in
- 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
- 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. Think of yourself in the third-person. (E.g.,
- 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.
- Distinguish between genuine wants (food, shelter) from false wants (needless
cravings). The self, itself, has all that it needs.
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 outlines.