Adam Smith's Simplified Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 7, Section 2, Chapter 1b: Stoicism

Chapter 1b: Stoicism

19Zeno was the founder of the Stoicism.


The self-love of man embraced his:

Self-love desired their preservation and maintenance in their best condition.

21 So far, the Stoical idea of propriety and virtue is not very different from that of Aristotle and the ancient Peripatetics.

22 Among those primary objects recommended to us by nature as eligible, was the prosperity of our family, relations, friends, country, mankind, and of the universe in general.

  • Whatever happened tended to the perfection of the whole, since all events are conducted by the providence of a wise, powerful, and good God.
  • It was the same case with the adversity of our relations, our friends, our country.
  • But if it were out of our power to do either, we should consider this event as the most fortunate which could have happened.
  • 23 Epictetus says: 'How are some things according to our nature, and other things are contrary to it?

  • What are you?
  • Why then do you complain?
  • 24 A wise man never complains of Providence's destiny.

    A cynical Stoical philosopher said:

    Epictetus says:

    25 To the Stoical wise man, all the events of human life must be indifferent, because of:

    His happiness consisted altogether in:

    1. The contemplation of the happiness and perfection of:
      • the great system of the universe
      • the good government of:
        • the great republic of Gods and men
        • all rational and sensible beings
    2. Discharging his duty, in acting properly in the affairs of this great republic whatever little part that wisdom had assigned to him.
      • The propriety or impropriety of his endeavours might be of great consequence to him.
      • Their success or disappointment could be of none at all.
      • It could excite no passionate joy or sorrow, no passionate desire or aversion.
      • If he preferred some events to others, it was not because he:
        • regarded the one as better than the other, or
        • thought that his own happiness would be more complete in the fortunate than in the distressful situation
      • It was because the propriety of action required him to choose and reject in this way.
        • This propriety of action was the rule the Gods had given him to direct his conduct.

    26 This propriety of choosing and rejecting was originally introduced, recommended, and pointed out to us by the things chosen and rejected for their own sake.

    27 But to a wise man whose passions were perfectly subjected to the ruling principles of his nature, the exact observation of this propriety was equally always easy.

    Plato's system is based on Propriety (Part 2, Section 1), the Stoical system is based on the influence of chance (Part 2, Section 3)

    28 The Stoics appear to have considered human life as a game of great skill which had a mixture of chance.


    They said that human life itself can be the proper object of our choice or our rejection, according to different circumstances.

    30 In the few fragments of their philosophy which have come down to us, the Stoics sometimes talk of leaving life with a gaiety and even with a levity.

    31 It was on this account that it might be the duty of a wise man to remove out of life though he was perfectly happy.

    32 Sometimes, the propriety of voluntary death was perhaps more insisted on by the Stoics than by any other sect of ancient philosophers.


    33 Those philosophers tried to show that human life's greatest misfortunes could be supported more easily than commonly imagined.


    34 Milton says:

    In short, those philosophers prepared a death-song which the Greek patriots and heroes might use on the proper occasions.

    Next: Chapter 1c: Suicide