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.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Stoics and Virtue: The Adiaphora

ALTHOUGH THE STOIC PHILOSOPHERS took their inspiration from Socrates, sidestepping the developments of Plato and Aristotle, their contribution to virtue theory was the addition of the notion of logos or reason underlying the entire virtue inquiry.  However, the Stoic thinkers did not disdain Plato or Aristotle in their entirety.

For example, the Stoic thinkers accepted the four-fold division of Plato, and thought it convenient to divide virtue into the four cardinal virtues that Plato had identified: fortitude, temperance, prudence, and justice.  They also followed the notion that these virtues were related to each other and mutually supported each other.  The Stoics found that the inter-relatedness of the virtues also applied to their corresponding vices.

The Stoics, however, rejected the Aristotelian moderation of virtue/vice distinction.  Whereas Aristotle saw vice and virtue as two extremes to a continuum, with most of mankind in between the two extremes, the Stoics saw virtue and vice as all-or-nothing qualities.  One either was virtuous in toto or not, and if not, one was vicious.  This led to a sort of moral rigorism for which the Stoics were famous.  As Diogenes Laertius put it in his work on the life of the philosophers (Vitae, 7.127), "'while the Peripatetics [Aristotelians] say that progress lies between virtue and vice,' the Stoics'believed there is nothing between virtue and vice.'"  Houser, 19 (quoting Laertius).

Cicero--himself a disciple of the Stoic moral school--described this Stoic position in his De finibus (3.14.48) thus:

For just as those who are submerged in the ocean cannot breath, whether they are so close to the surface that they are just about to emerge or they are down deep . . . so too whoever is making a little progress toward the habit of virtue is no less in misery than one who has progressed not at all.

(quoted in Houser, 19)

The Stoic Chrysippus

Another contribution of the Stoic school is that they did not adopt Plato's "philosopher king" (philosophos basileus) or Aristotle's "great-souled" man (spoudaios) as the exemplar of the virtuous soul.  These notions were too tied to the political life of the polis or were too practical in perspective.  Rather, consistent with their Socratic emphasis and their notion of the logos as the underlying standard, the Stoics looked toward the wise man or sage (sophos) as the paradigm of the virtuous human.
By putting a cosmic and cosmopolitan twist on Socrates' search for universal definitions, the Stoics thought [the sage's] single-minded devotion to the logos allowed [the sage] to submit with equanimity to death, seemingly the worse of evils . . . . The Stoic sages was conceived as a paragon of moral virtue.
Houser, 19.

It should be noted that the Stoic sage's equanimity before death in his devotion to the logos was a quality that was quite compatible with the martyr's devotion to the Logos made flesh, Jesus the Lord, which led him to spurn death and witness to the truth.  The heroism of the sage and the heroism of the martyrs were thus analogous.

The Stoics recognized that virtue was not only something that made a man extrinsically excellent (in his relations ad extra), but that virtue was something that pertained to the inner life and so made a man excellent in his interior life (ad intra).  Indeed, it was the inner aspect of virtue which was emphasized.  Thus virtue's intrinsic goodness is not necessarily measured by results, but rather by what is right and good.  The Stoics therefore came to see virtue as its own reward, irrespective of consequences or happiness.  The Stoic philosopher Zeno, for example, "concluded that virtues are not one among many things that are intrinsically good, they are the only things that are good intrinsically (agathon, kalon; honestum); and likewise th only thing intrinsically bad is vice (kakia; vitium)."  Houser, 20.

Diogenes Laertius (Vitae, 7.102-3) summarized the Stoics' view thus:

The virtues--prudence, justice, courage, temperance, and the others--are good (agatha); and their opposites--imprudence, injustice, and the others--are bad (kaka); neither good nor bad are those things which neither benefit nor harm, such as life, health, pleasure, beauty, strength, wealth, good, reputation, noble birth, and their opposites death, disease, pain, ugliness, weakness, poverty, bad reputation, low birth, and such things . . . . For these things are not good, but things indifferent (adiaphora) in the category of preferred things (proegmena).  For just as heating, not cooling, is a property of the hot, so benefiting, not harming, is a property of the good; but wealth and health do not benefit any more than they harm; therefore, neither wealth nor health is a good.

(quoted in Houser, 20).  The Stoics therefore saw a great many goods as pre-moral goods to which a sage ought to be indifferent; whereas Plato and especially Aristotle tended to see man and his good (happiness) as more a blend of extrinsic and intrinsic qualities.  The Stoic man could be "happy" lacking all things but virtue.  The Aristotelian man could not be "happy" even if virtuous, if he was lacking health and a certain level of wealth.

As we shall see in the next posting, this scheme of the Stoics--which labeled a whole host of things seen as intrinsically good in the Platonic-Aristotelian analysis as morally indifferent.  In order to explain which humans gravitated to such supposedly indifferent goods and avoided such supposedly indifferent evils, the Stoics had to develop some explanation.  They therefore developed a sort of dualistic moral theory that distinguished between animal impulse and desire tied to man's animal nature and the higher reason-based nature of rational man.

No comments:

Post a Comment