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Summary Of The Main Ideas Of Ethical Stoicism
Stoicism is a philosophical school, which emerged during the early Hellenistic and retained its influence until the end of the Ancient World. Its name is given to the title of the portico Stoa Poikile, where the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, the first appeared as a teacher. In the history of Stoicism there are three main periods: Ancient (Old) Stoa (end of the IV century BC - the middle of the II century BC), Average (Medium) Stoa (II-I century BC), New Stoa (Late) (I- III century BC) (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1997).
In modern times the best known philosophers of the ancient Stoa are Zeno of Citium, Cleanthes and Chrysippus. The prominent representatives of Stoicism in Ancient Rome were Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius (Graver, 2007).
The Stoics gives a great importance to the ethical section of philosophy. Stoic ideas had an impact on human culture all subsequent periods largely due to the social and personal circumstances that were not subjected to any rational understanding and no practical development. In such circumstances, a lot of people agreed with hostile environment and the blows of fate; thus, the adoption of Stoicism, on the contrary, made it possible for even the slaves to feel them absolutely free and happy (Sellars, 2006).
Stoics formed one of the independent philosophical schools. It had several achievements of world importance. Firstly, the concept of ‘single citizenship’ and cosmopolitanism paved the way for the emergence of the concept of natural law. Secondly, the combination of the ethics principles of freedom and necessity subsequently reflected in the philosophy of Hobbes and Spinoza. Finally, despite all the contradictions in this matter, the Stoics sought to assert the autonomy of morality in society towards the physiological and social needs. Seneca and Marcus Aurelius were the moralists and innovators; particularly, Seneca introduced the concept of ethics conscience, and Marcus Aurelius distincted the human soul and intellect (Stephens, 2007).
The main role in Stoicism is assigned to the Ethics, which is subordinate to the natural philosophy (philosophy of nature) and the logic. According to Stoicism, in the world there is a rigid, unambiguous, inexorable necessity, which has no exceptions. In this fatal predetermined flow of life it is included humans, therefore, arguments about their freedom are pointless, because the way of life of each person depends not on them. However, each person has mind, and therefore, can realize the inevitability of fate and reach the freedom, which is the source of inner calmness, serenity, fortitude of an individual. Thus, everyone should aspire and strive to live in harmony with nature, with its inexorable necessity (Sellars, 2006).
If the old ethical teachings have seen the main means of moral perfection of the individual in his involvement into the social whole, on the contrary, stoic philosophers believe that the condition of virtuous and happy life is liberation of a person from the power of the outside world, and above all - from the political and social spheres (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1997). The main idea of the Stoic ethics is the teleological and causal preset course of world events. The purpose of man is to live ‘in harmony with nature.’ This is the only way to achieve harmony (Irvine, 2009).
Stoics distinguish four kinds of affects: pleasure, disgust, fear and lust. They should be avoided by using good judgment. Stoics divide all things into Good (ethics), evil, indifference (Adiaphora). Only the things consistent with the nature should be preferred. Stoics argue for the similar differences between the actions. There are bad and good deeds, the average acts are called ‘befitting’ if they realize the natural predisposition (Stephens, 2007).
Stoics consider virtue as the basis for the achieving of happiness. The main virtue is the moral understanding of things; all the other virtues are formed through it. Virtue must be conscious, and then it becomes a part of the person. Proper understanding of the nature of things leads to harmony, which is true happiness (Stephens, 2007).
Ethical stoicism is addressed to the attributive features of the human soul, the human psyche. Stoic ethics in some sense is a constant of human culture; it is an anthropological concept which exists in humans, resulting in certain social and cultural life of the historical conditions, circumstances that are associated with great States, appearing in a history for thousands of years (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1997). Stoics preached renunciation of passions and external benefits as a condition of inner freedom; they take rationalist position in solving the problem of virtue (virtue is knowledge, evil is ignorance); also they determine their attitude toward death (Sellars, 2006).
As it has been already said, a distinctive feature of ethical stoicism is the theory of the passions. Stoics divided them into four types - pleasure, disgust, fear and lust. All of them are irrational and contrary to nature, and thus, the main target is not how to learn the way to reduce or manage them, but to get rid of them and achieve a state of apathy (dispassion). People must get rid of the passions, at least when they have already become habits. Therefore, Stoic ethics in practice is mainly a struggle against the passions in an attempt to gain the moral freedom and become the master of own life. However, some Stoics retreated from this extreme position, assuming that the wise man may experience some additional rational feelings - such as pleasure (Sellars, 2006).
Everything that happens in nature is the result of huge accumulated by the nature way of existence in the world. Everything that happens in nature is natural, therefore it is virtue.
Stoicism argues that it is impossible to do anything with the manifestations of nature, namely, with the events that occur around and effects humans. The only way is to accept things as they are, to take the blows of fate and events of the nature, to overcome the sensual and emotional attitude towards these events, as well as to become indifferent to them (Graver, 2007).
A man must follow nature, including own nature, and, thus, to find happiness. People should not be afraid of death, weighed down by the sweetness of life, fear of difficulties and hardships; a man has to be indifferent to everything. This is the highest virtue and happiness according to the Ethical Stoicism (Stephens, 2007).
At the heart of the Ethical Stoicism there is the assertion that it is no need to look for the causes of human problems in the outside world, as they are only the outward manifestation of what is happening in the human soul. A man is part of the great universe and is associated with all existing in it and lives according to its laws. Therefore, the problems and failures of man arise from the fact that he breaks away from the Nature, from the Divine world. A man needs to meet again with nature, with God, with himself. To meet God means to learn how to see around the manifestation of the Divine Providence. It should be remembered that many of the things in the world do not depend on the person, but people can change his attitude towards them (Stephens, 2007).
The main objectives of the Stoic ethics were the followings (Irvine, 2009):
education of internally free man, independent of external circumstances;
creating of internally strong man capable to survive in the chaos of the world;
upbringing of tolerance and love for people;
upbringing of a sense of humor;
ability to apply all this in practice.
The main idea of the Stoic ethics is the causally and teleologically preset course of world events. Since the external benefits are always available, internal position is the only thing in the power of man. External freedom of man consists solely in cooperation with destiny. Stoic ideal is apathy, freedom from all passions (Graver, 2007).
The ideal image of the virtuous philosopher, above all, has a feature of indifference towards the suffering and danger to the hustle and honors of the world that is the virtuous philosopher should have such a mood that is alien to compassion. Stoic ethics, thus, is summarized to as follows: some things in the ordinary sense are considered as good, but this is a mistake; the real good is the will to achieve these false goods for other people. This doctrine does not include logical contradictions, but it loses all credibility if to really believe that the fact that everything in the ordinary sense considered as good have no value, because in this case, the virtuous could be successfully aimed at the completely different purposes (Graver, 2007).
The main provision of the ethics of Stoicism is to ensure that everything is either good or evil, or neither one nor. The Good is considered as the virtues of understanding, justice, courage, prudence, etc. It is not external to the human phenomena; they express the inner self, being a virtuous act, virtuous man (Sellars, 2006).
Stoics believed that the main dignities are the understanding (wisdom), courage, common sense (temperance, prudence), and justice, which should be in unity, according to which the presence in a person of one of the virtues indicates the presence of all the others. They characterize not only a correct understanding, but also the proper man’s behavior (Irvine, 2009).
Having identified the areas of evil and wickedness and abandoned the conventional understanding of the benefits, the Stoics came to virtue as the only good, corresponding to the principle of ‘living in accordance with nature’ and giving happiness. Virtue is constituted of the prudence, temperance, justice (fulfillment of duty) and courage (Irvine, 2009). Stoic ethics is based on the understanding that a person can not influence the course of the external events and everything that is available is the improvement of the inner world. The purpose of man is the pursuit of happiness, which was considered by the Stoics as peace, freedom from the strong attraction (Stephens, 2007).
Thus, the Ethical Stoicism created an image of a man living reasonably, assuming the service to the people, as well as a men that can become higher than normal earthly pleasures and easily endure the difficulties and troubles.
"Stoicism." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford: Stanford U, 1997. Print.
Graver, Margaret. Stoicism & emotion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Print.
Irvine, William B. A guide to the good life the ancient art of Stoic joy. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
Sellars, John. Stoicism. Durham England: Acumen, 2006. Print.
Stephens, William O. Stoic ethics Epictetus and happiness as freedom. London New York: Continuum, 2007. Print.
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