Stoic Ethics and Politics


Stoic Ethics and Politics

Yesaya Sandang

“Hence Zeno was the first (in his Human Nature) to call our aim ‘living in agreement with nature’, which is the same as living in accordance with virtue,……” (Diogenes VII 85-88, in Morality of Happiness, J.Annas, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993, p 160)

“….living in accordance with virtue, again is equivalent to living in accordance with experience of what comes about by nature,……..For our natures are parts of the nature of universe….” (ibid)

Basic principle in Stoic Ethics is to live appropriate with the nature of universe (Julia Annas called it as cosmic nature). This kind of life for the Stoics is the same as living accordance with virtue. In the nature of universe prevail absolute determinism, and human can not detached from that such a thing. Because we can not be separated from the nature of universe, we can not refuse it.

The Stoics use the word “oikeiosis” which means “to take as possession, to posses,” which from here we can know how we can life in harmony with the nature. This is an adjustment process, step by step, to make our live accordance with the nature of universe, to make the nature of universe as our possession. The final goal of course we can truly realize, that at the end all our existence become one with the “cosmic nature.”

One of the Stoic Philosopher Seneca, said: “ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt” (Seneca, Epist, 107,11) , if you agree fate will guide you, if you don’t fate will force you. From here once again we find out that for the Stoics, no matter how we can not detached from fatum (fate), fate of the universe.

“ one aim they say, is being happy, for the sake of which everything is done, while it is not done for the sake of any thing further, and this consist in living according to virtue, in the living in agreement and further (it is the same thing) in living according to nature……..It is clear from this that the following have the same meaning: ‘living according to nature’, ‘living finely’, living well’, and again ‘the fine and the good’ and ‘virtue and what partakes of virtue’ ; and that every good is fine and similarly every foul thing is evil; hence the Stoic aim means the same as the life according to nature.” (Arius 77.16 – 78.6, as in Morality of Happiness, J.Annas, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993, p 163)

Like almost the entire tradition of Greek Philosophy, the Stoic ethics can be understand as an art of living which show the way to happiness. The Stoics expect happiness can be achieved from how we live properly with all the determinate aspect of cosmic nature. This is what makes the Stoic philosophy different from the others Greek philosophy. Happiness is an adjustment process with in our self with the order of nature of universe. Thus “the good” (happiness) can be reached (as the aim) if we “act good” (live agree with the nature of universe). And we “act bad” if we do not want to do that.

From here I understand that for the Stoics is, we can gain the ultimate happiness if we be cognizant of our existence in perfect harmony with the godly law/will which dissipate in the whole cosmic nature. We no longer in misery because if we reach that kind of stillness in our soul , there is nothing else can make us restless. Although we can not refuse the nature of universe and to be a happy person, we must live in harmony and properly with it, but for the Stoics that kind of life must be in apparel with life virtuously. Like Cicero said :

“when the Stoics say that the final good is living in agreement with [convenieter] nature, what this means is, I think, the following; always to be in accord with [congruere] virtue, and to choose the things which are in accordance with nature, if they are not in conflict with virtue” ( Off III 13, as in idem, p 173)

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