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.
According to him, every animal was by nature:
recommended to its own care
endowed with the principle of self-love
It causes every animal to preserve its existence and all the parts of its nature, in the best state they can.
The self-love of man embraced his:
body and all its parts, and
mind and all its powers
Self-love desired their preservation and maintenance in their best condition.
Therefore, whatever supported this state of existence was naturally fit to be chosen.
Whatever tended to destroy it, was fit to be rejected.
Health, strength, agility, and ease of body, and the eternal conveniences which promoted these, were naturally pointed out to us as:
things that we should prefer to have
Examples are wealth, power, honours, the respect and the esteem of those we live with.
On the other hand, sickness, infirmity, pain of body, and all the eternal inconveniencies were pointed out as things to be avoided.
Examples are poverty, lack of authority, and hatred of those we live with.
In each of those two opposite classes, some appeared more preferable than others in the same class.
In the first class:
health appeared preferable to strength
strength to agility
reputation to power
power to riches
In the second class:
sickness was more to be avoided than infirmity
disgrace than poverty
poverty than the loss of power
Virtue and the propriety of conduct was in choosing all objects that were naturally preferable, and rejecting those that were not.
According to the Stoics, we maintained that perfect conduct by:
choosing and rejecting with this accurate discernment, and
bestowing on every object the precise attention it deserved, according to its place in this natural scale of things.
This was what they called:
to live consistently
to live according to nature
to obey those laws which the Author of nature prescribed for our conduct.
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.
Nature also taught us that the prosperity of two entities was preferable to the prosperity of one entity
Therefore, the prosperity of all must be infinitely better.
We ourselves were but one
Consequently, wherever our prosperity was inconsistent with the prosperity of the whole, our prosperity should yield to the prosperity of the whole.
Whatever happened tended to the perfection of the whole, since all events are conducted by the providence of a wise, powerful, and good God.
Therefore, if we were in poverty, sickness, or any calamity, we should first try our best to rescue ourselves as allowed by justice and our duty to others.
But if we found this impossible, we should be satisfied that the universe's perfection required that we should continue in this situation in the meantime.
The prosperity of the whole should appear preferable to so insignificant a part as ourselves.
We should like our situation from that moment.
This would maintain our conduct's complete propriety.
This then makes up the perfection of our nature.
If any opportunity of extricating ourselves should arise, it became our duty to embrace it.
The order of the universe no longer required our continuance in this case.
The great Director plainly called on us to leave it, by clearly pointing out the road to follow.
It was the same case with the adversity of our relations, our friends, our country.
If we could prevent or end their calamity without violating any more sacred obligation, it was our duty to do so.
The propriety of action is the rule which Jupiter gave us to direct our conduct.
This rule required us to do this.
But if it were out of our power to do either, we should consider this event as the most fortunate which could have happened.
Because it tended most to the prosperity and order of the whole.
If we were wise and equitable, we should desire this order most of all.
It was our own final interest, considered as a part of that whole.
The prosperity of the whole should be the principal and sole object of our desire.
23 Epictetus says: 'How are some things according to our nature, and other things are contrary to it?
It is in how we consider ourselves as separated from all other things.
The nature of the foot is always to be clean.
But if you consider your foot to be part of your body, it must sometimes:
trample in the dirt,
tread on thorns,
be cut off for the sake of the whole body
If your foot refuses to do these, then it is no longer your foot.
This is how we should think of ourselves.
What are you?
If you consider yourself as something separated from humanity, it would be agreeable to your nature to:
live to old age,
But if you consider yourself as part of humanity, sometimes you must:
be exposed to the inconvenience of a sea voyage,
be in want, and
perhaps, die before your time.
Why then do you complain?
Do not you know that by complaining, as the foot ceases to be a foot, so you cease to be a human?'
24 A wise man never complains of Providence's destiny.
He does not
think that the universe is in confusion when he is out of order,
look on himself as separate from every part of nature, to be taken care of by itself and for itself.
He regards himself as how he imagines the great genius of human nature and the world regards him.
He enters into the feelings of that divine Being.
He considers himself as an atom of an immense and infinite system.
That system must work according to the convenience of the whole.
Assured of the wisdom which directs all the events in life, he accepts whatever lot befalls him with joy.
He is satisfied that, if he had known all the connections and dependencies of the parts of the universe, he would have wished the very lot himself.
If it is life, he is contented to live.
If it is death, he willingly goes where he is appointed.
Since nature must not need his presence here.
A cynical Stoical philosopher said:
'I accept, with equal joy and satisfaction, whatever fortune can befall me.
Riches or poverty, pleasure or pain, health or sickness, all is alike.
Nor would I desire that the Gods should change my destination in any respect.
If I should ask of them for anything more, I ask them to tell me what they wanted to do with me, so that I can voluntarily:
place myself in this situation
demonstrate my cheerfulness in embracing their allotment
'If I am going to sail, I choose the best ship and the best pilot.
I wait for the fairest weather possible.
Prudence and propriety are the principles which the Gods have given me to direct my conduct.
They require only this of me.
But if a storm arises, which the vessel nor the pilot could withstand, I give myself no trouble about the consequence.
All that I had to do is done already.
The directors of my conduct never command me to be miserable, anxious, desponding, or afraid.
Whether we are to be drowned or come to a harbour, is the business of Jupiter, not mine.
I leave it entirely to his determination, nor ever break my rest considering how he is likely to decide it.
I receive whatever comes with equal indifference and security.
25 To the Stoical wise man, all the events of human life must be indifferent, because of:
this perfect confidence in that benevolent wisdom which governs the universe
this entire resignation to whatever order that wisdom might think proper to establish.
His happiness consisted altogether in:
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
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.
All his affections were absorbed and swallowed up in two great affections:
His affection for the discharge of his own duty
His affection for the greatest possible happiness of all rational and sensible beings
For this gratification, he rested with the perfect security on the wisdom and power of the great Superintendant of the universe.
His sole anxiety was about:
the gratification of the discharge of his own duty.
the propriety of his own endeavours
He trusted whatever happened to a superior power and wisdom, to promote that great end which he himself desired most.
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.
Yet when we became thoroughly acquainted with choosing and rejecting, the actual obtaining of choice or the actual avoidance of rejection necessarily appeared of much less value than:
the order, grace, beauty which we discerned in this conduct
the happiness which we felt from it
From the observation of this propriety arose the happiness and the glory of human nature.
From its neglect arose its misery and disgrace.
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.
If he were in prosperity, he returned thanks to Jupiter for having joined him with circumstances which
were easily mastered
there was little temptation to do wrong
If he were in adversity, he equally returned thanks to the director of this spectacle of human life for giving him a vigorous athlete for an opponent.
It made the contest more violent, but the victory more glorious and equally certain.
Can there be any shame in that distress which:
is not of our fault
we behave with perfect propriety?
Therefore, there can be no evil.
On the contrary, there can be the greatest good and advantage.
A brave man exults in those dangers which his fortune has involved him, from no rashness of his own.
They afford an opportunity of exercising that heroic intrepidity.
Its exertion gives the exalted delight which flows from the consciousness of superior propriety and deserved admiration.
One who masters all his exercises is not afraid to measure his strength and activity with the strongest.
In the same manner, one who masters all his passions, does not dread any circumstance which the Superintendant of the universe places him in.
The bounty of that divine Being has provided him with virtues which render him superior to every situation.
If it is pleasure, he has temperance to refrain from it.
If it is pain, he has constancy to bear it.
If it is danger or death, he has the magnanimity and fortitude to despise it.
The events of human life can never find him unprepared or at a loss how to maintain that propriety of conduct.
Such propriety constitutes his glory and happiness.
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.
In such games, the stake is commonly a trifle.
The whole pleasure of the game arises from:
playing fairly, and
If despite all his skill, the good player loses by chance, the loss should be a matter of merriment than of serious sorrow.
made no false stroke
done nothing which he should be ashamed of
completely enjoyed the game's whole pleasure
If the bad player should win despite all his blunders, his success can give him little satisfaction.
He is mortified by the memory of all his faults.
Even during the play, he can enjoy none of the pleasure it brings.
Almost his every stroke is preceded by fear, doubt, and hesitation from ignorance of the rules of the game.
When he has played it, the mortification of finding it a gross blunder commonly completes the unpleasing circle of his sensations.
According to the Stoics, human life, with all the advantages which can possibly attend it, should be regarded as:
a mere two-penny stake, and
a matter too insignificant to merit any anxious concern.
Our only anxious concern should be about the proper method of playing and not about the stake.
If we placed our happiness in winning the stake, we placed it in what depended on causes beyond our power and out of our direction.
We necessarily exposed ourselves:
to perpetual fear and uneasiness
frequently to grievous and mortifying disappointments
If we placed it in the propriety of our conduct or by playing well, fairly, wisely and skilfully, we placed it in what might be altogether in our own power, through proper discipline, education, and attention.
Our happiness was perfectly secure and beyond the reach of fortune.
The event of our actions was equally out of our concern, if it was out of our power.
We could never:
feel fear or anxiety about it
suffer any grievous or serious disappointment.
They said that human life itself can be the proper object of our choice or our rejection, according to different circumstances.
Life was the proper object of choice if there were actually more circumstances agreeable to nature.
The propriety of conduct required that we stay alive.
On the other hand, if there were actually more circumstances contrary to nature, without any hope of amendment, life itself became the object of rejection.
He was free to remove himself out of life.
The propriety of conduct required him to do so.
This propriety was the rule the Gods gave him to direct his conduct.
'I am ordered not to dwell at Nicopolis.
I do not dwell there.
I am ordered not to dwell at Athens.
I do not dwell at Athens.
I am ordered not to dwell in Rome.
I do not dwell in Rome.
I am ordered to dwell in the little and rocky island of Gyarae.
I go and dwell there.
But the house smokes in Gyarae.
If the smoke is moderate, I will bear it, and stay there.
If it is excessive, I will go to a house from whence no tyrant can remove me.
I keep in mind always that:
the door is open
I can walk out when I please
I can retire to that hospitable house which is always open to all
For no man living has any power over me.
The Stoics said:
Walk forth by all means if:
your situation is disagreeable on the whole
your house smokes too much for you
But walk forth without fretting, murmuring, or complaining.
Walk forth calmly, contentedly, rejoicingly, returning thanks to the Gods.
The Gods from their infinite bounty, have opened the safe and quiet harbour of death.
At all times, it is ready to receive us from the stormy ocean of human life.
The Gods have prepared this sacred, inviolable, great asylum, always open, always accessible.
It is beyond the reach of human rage and injustice.
It is large enough to contain all those who wish and all those who do not wish to retire to it.
It is an asylum which takes away from every man every pretence of complaining or even of fancying that there can be any evil in human life, except that which he may suffer from his own folly and weakness.
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.
This might induce us to believe that they believed that we could morally leave life wantonly, on the slightest disgust or uneasiness.
'When you drink with such a person, you complain of his long stories about his Mysian wars.
"He says "Now my friend, having told you how I succeeded at such a place, I will tell you how I was besieged in another."
But if you do not want to be troubled with his long stories, do not accept of his supper.
If you accept his supper, you cannot complain of his long stories.
It is the same case with the evils of human life.
Never complain of something which is in your power at all times to get rid of.'
However, despite this gaiety and levity of expression, the alternative of leaving life or of remaining in it, was a most serious and important matter for the Stoics.
We should never leave it until we were distinctly called on to do so by that superintending power which originally placed us in it.
But we were to consider ourselves as called on to do so, not merely at the appointed and unavoidable term of human life.
Whenever that superintending Power rendered our life the proper object of rejection, the great rule which he had given us for the direction of our conduct required us to leave it.
We might then hear the awful and benevolent voice of that divine Being distinctly calling on us to do so.
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.
While, on the contrary, it might be the duty of a weak man to remain in it, though he was miserable.
If, in the wise man's situation, there were more circumstances of rejection, the whole situation became the object of rejection.
The rule which the Gods had given him for the direction of his conduct, required that he should remove out of it as fast as the circumstances rendered convenient.
However, he was perfectly happy even while he remained in it.
He had placed his happiness not in:
obtaining the objects of his choice, or
avoiding the objects of his rejection
He always placed his happiness in choosing and rejecting with exact propriety the fitness of his endeavours and exertions, not in its success.
If, in the weak man's situation, there were more circumstances of choice, his whole situation became the proper object of choice.
It was his duty to remain in it.
However, he was unhappy from not knowing how to use those circumstances.
Even if his cards were so good, he did not know how to play them.
He could get no real satisfaction on the progress of the game whatever way it turns out.
32 Sometimes, the propriety of voluntary death was perhaps more insisted on by the Stoics than by any other sect of ancient philosophers.
However, it was a doctrine common to them all, even to the peaceable and indolent Epicureans.
During that age,the founders of all the principal sects of ancient philosophy flourished.
During the Peloponnesian war and many years after it ended, all the Greek republics were almost always distracted by the most furious factions at home.
Abroad, they were involved in the most sanguinary wars.
Each faction sought superiority and the complete destruction of all its enemies, or
what was not less cruel, to:
reduce them into domestic slavery, the vilest of all states
to sell them, man, woman, and child, like herds of cattle, to the highest bidder in the market
The smallness of most of those states raised the possibility of them falling into that very calamity which they perhaps inflicted or attempted on their neighbours.
In this disorderly state of things, the most perfect innocence, joined to the highest rank and greatest public services, could not secure any man from being condemned to the most cruel punishment of some hostile faction.
Even if he was at home and among his own relations and fellow-citizens.
He was exposed to greater injuries and insults if:
he were taken prisoner in war, or
his city was conquered
But every man naturally familiarizes his imagination with the distresses he foresees frequently exposed to him.
It is impossible that a sailor should not frequently think of:
storms and shipwrecks
foundering at sea
how he will feel and act on such occasions
In the same way, it was impossible that a Greek patriot or hero should not familiarize his imagination with all the calamities he is constantly expose to.
An American savage:
prepares his death-song,
considers how to act when he has fallen into the hands of his enemies,
is put to death in the most lingering tortures amidst the insults and derision of all the spectators.
A Greek patriot or hero could not avoid considering what he should suffer and do:
in banishment and captivity,
when reduced to slavery,
when put to the torture,
when brought to the scaffold.
But the philosophers of all the sects very justly represented virtue or wise, just, firm, and temperate conduct as the most probable, certain and infallible road to happiness even in this life.
However, this conduct could not always exempt.
It might even sometimes expose the person to all the calamities during those unsettled times.
Therefore, they tried to show that happiness was independent of fortune.
The Stoics showed that happiness was independent altogether.
The Academic and Peripatetic philosophers showed that happiness was independent in a great measure.
Firstly, wise, prudent, and good conduct was the conduct most likely to ensure success in all undertakings.
Secondly, if it fails, the mind would not be left without consolation.
The virtuous man can still enjoy the complete approbation of his own breast.
He can still feel that, no matter how untoward things might have been, all was calm and peace and concord within.
He can also generally comfort himself with the assurance that he had the love and esteem of every intelligent and impartial spectator.
Those spectators could not fail to admire his conduct and regret his misfortune.
33 Those philosophers tried to show that human life's greatest misfortunes could be supported more easily than commonly imagined.
They tried to point out the comforts which a man might still enjoy when:
reduced to poverty
driven into banishment
exposed to the injustice of popular clamour
labouring under blindness, deafness, in old age, near death
They pointed out, too, the considerations which might support his constancy under the agonies of:
pain and even of torture
sorrow for the loss of children
the death of friends and relations, etc.
The ancient philosophers' writings on these subjects, form one of the most instructive and most interesting remains of antiquity.
The spirit and manhood of their doctrines make a wonderful contrast with the desponding, plaintive, and whining tone of some modern systems.
34 Milton says:
While those ancient philosophers suggested how to arm the hardened breast with stubborn patience, as with triple steel, they tried to convince their followers that:
there was no evil in death
if their situation became too hard, the could kill themselves without fear.
if there was no world beyond the present, death could be no evil
if there was another world, the Gods must likewise be there.
A just man could fear no evil while under their protection.
In short, those philosophers prepared a death-song which the Greek patriots and heroes might use on the proper occasions.
Of all the sects, I think the Stoics prepared the most animated and spirited song by far.