Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Stoics: Apathy as the First Step to Virtue

THE STOIC MORAL PROGRAM consisted of a negative and a positive content.  The first, negative concern was control of the passions, to achieve a state of apatheia or passionlessness.  Once the passions were controlled and replaced with their reason-based opposites (eupatheia), the soul could be channeled to conform within the guidance of the four cardinal virtues.  Subject the soul to the guidance of the virtues once the state of apatheia was achieved was the positive part of the Stoic program.

In analyzing the passions, the Stoics rejected the teachings of Plato and Aristotle as to the composition of the soul.  They rejected Plato's famous teaching (in his Republic) that the soul was the city or polis writ small, and that it was tripartite, composed of a spirited (θυμητικὸν), concupiscent (ἐπιθυμητικὸν), and rational nature (λογιστικόν): two stallions being guided by the driver of reason into virtue.  They rejected Aristotle's view that virtue was a sort of harmony or mean among the virtues, an interrelationship of various parts.  They saw the passions as competitors with reason, not as something needing to be controlled by reason.  For this reason, the passions had to be suppressed and replaced with good passions, one's entirely in accord with reason.

Plutarch outlines the Stoic view of things as it came to the soul (which had no real parts) and virtue (which was equivalent to reason):

All [the Stoics] commonly hold that virtue is a certain character (diathesin) and power of command in the soul, generated by reason, or rather, virtue is reason, consistent and firm and unchangeable. And they think that the passionate and irrational part is not distinguished by some distinction in nature from the rational part of the soul, but the same part of the soul, which they call the reasoning and commanding part, when as a whole it turns or changes during passions or changes in character or habit it becomes vice or virtue. It has nothing irrational in itself, but is called irrational when a strong and dominant excessive impulse has carried it off toward something wrong and contrary to reason.

Plutarch, De virtute morali, 441c-d* (quoted in Houser, 22-23).  The logos or reasonable part of man was the chief of virtue.  The objective was to have the whole soul act in common with reason, and to avoid its opposite: that the whole soul instead should be under the guidance of passion.  The Stoics, of course, are famous for their recipe of control over the passions.  The recipe for virtuous living was to live a passionless life, the famous apatheia.

Apatheia by Don Michael, Jr. 

In categorizing the passions (so as to try to overcome them), the Stoics developed a sophisticated taxonomy.  For example, Diogenes Laertius identifies twenty-six different species of passions, but they can be placed within four main categories or types: desire (epithymia), fear (phobos), pleasure (hēdonē), and pain (lupē). (See Diogenes Laertius, Vitae 7.111-14).  Interestingly, they viewed these passions as intellectual judgments, kriseis, and therefore controllable.  Virtue was achieved, not by controlling the passions or subjecting the to the guidance of reason, but by routing them out of the soul altogether.  Then, one expected to replace them with their good opposites.

The good opposites of the passions, the "good passions" or eupatheia, were identified as proper willing  or rational appetite (boulēsis) which was the counterpart to desire  (epithymia), caution or rational avoidance (eulabeia) which was the counterpart to fear (phobos), and joy or rational elation (charan), the opposite of pleasure (hēdonē).**  (See Diogenes Laertius, Vitae 7.117)

Replacing the irrational and therefore bad passions with the reason-inspired and therefore good passions was the goal of the negative project of the Stoics.

*κοινῶς δ᾽ ἅπαντες οὗτοι τὴν ἀρετὴν τοῦ ἡγεμονικοῦ τῆς ψυχῆς διάθεσίν τινα καὶ δύναμιν γεγενημένην ὑπὸ λόγου, μᾶλλον δὲ λόγον οὖσαν αὐτὴν ὁμολογούμενον καὶ βέβαιον καὶ ἀμετάπτωτον ὑποτίθενται: καὶ νομίζουσιν οὐκ εἶναι τὸ παθητικὸν καὶ ἄλογον διαφορᾷ τινι καὶ φύσει ψυχῆς τοῦ λογικοῦ διακεκριμένον, ἀλλὰ ταὐτὸ τῆς ψυχῆς μέρος, ὃ δὴ καλοῦσι διάνοιαν καὶ ἡγεμονικόν, δι᾽ ὅλου τρεπόμενον καὶ μεταβάλλον ἔν τε τοῖς πάθεσι καὶ ταῖς καθ᾽ ἕξιν ἢ διάθεσιν μεταβολαῖς κακίαν τε γίνεσθαι καὶ ἀρετήν, καὶ μηδὲν ἔχειν ἄλογον ἐν ἑαυτῷ.
**Diogenes Laertius does not give an account of the good passion associated with the bad passion of pain (lupē), but we might suppose that irrational pain would be replaced by some sort of rationally-inspired avoidance of what is harmful or vicious.  "Such an expansion [in avoiding the seeming good and acquiring the truly good] seems but another word for virtue."  Houser, 24.

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