Friday, December 02, 2005

Who then is a Stoic? As we call a statue “Pheidian” that has
been formed in accordance with the precepts of Pheidias, so show me a man formed in accordance with the principles he professes. Show me a man who though ill is happy, though in danger is happy, though dying is happy, though exiled is happy, though maligned is happy. Show him to me, for by the gods, I long to see a Stoic.
But you cannot, you say, show me someone fully formed in this
fashion? Then just show me someone who is becoming so formed, who is on the road in that direction. Do me this favor, please. Do not begrudge an old man the sight of a spectacle that to this very day he has never seen. [Discourses II. 19. 23-24 ]
Indeed. Show me such a man/person, for I have never seen one either. Neither a sage nor an apprentice. Our living, breathing Stoics must all be like the black swans, hiding in Australia.
But think about the question raised here. What are we to make of the remarkable absence of practicing Stoics in our own day, and apparently in Epictetus’ day as well? Why aren't there more Stoics than Buddhists or Presbyterians? Is it possible that the Stoic view of what is good and evil is not one that anyone can actually live? Is it possible that we must learn to deal with death and sickness and all of our perils not by pretending that they are evils? I am not recommending fear or anger or sorrow, but something other than denial.
Observe your actions, Epictetus tells us, and you will out to what sect of the philosophers you belong. Well, apparently not to the Stoics. None of us.

4 Comments:

Blogger robfal said...

Is/was Epictetus a stoic by your line of reasoning? I suspect not since he often states the desirable attributes of a stoic in a specific situation while denying being capable of living up to them. no, I think we can either say there has never been and never can be a stoic in existence or we can say that there is an ideal and they who strive to that ideal, who try - no matter how miserably they may fail - to to live according to those ideal attributes, they are stoics. I also have a feeling that the stoa is so much common sense that it is actually an integral and yet invisible part of European and (N/S)American culture.

6:59 AM  
Blogger Henry Jones said...

>>>remarkable absence of practicing Stoics<<<

Your search has not been rigorous enough. I count myself as an apprentice to Stoicism, and there are others at the yahoo groups stoics forum. Stoicism may never have gone into decline if it were not for the rise of Christianity, and Christianity absorbed much of Stoic thought. Stoicism went into decline as a sort of prelude to the demise of Greco-Roman culture, and since it was within this culture that Stoicism had its origin and its practice, it seems an unfair criticism to suggest that its decline should be put down to some sort of internal flaw. There were Stoic adherents for 500 years prior to the end of Greco-Roman culture, and that fact should not be casually dismissed.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Macuquinas d' Oro said...

Dear Henry,

It was one of my purposes in launching this site to make contact with people who trying to live according to Stoic principles. You have noticed perhaps that my comments are largely about the practical problems ( as I see them ) of embracing a living Stoicism. This is not a site devoted to Epictetean scholarship beyond some necessary clarifications of meaning.

Please do not mistake my questions & criticisms for a basic hostility to Epictetus & his message. If I thought Epictetus' message was wrong-headed and useless, I would not be posting daily on it. But neither do I approach Epictetus with the fervor of a would-be convert to the Stoic religion. Epictetus lived 1900 years ago, and were he alive today, I do not imagine his message would be unchanged. Gone is the benevolent, rational universe suffused with fiery pneuma!

Let me hear about your experience in managing things that lie beyond the sphere of choice. How do you fulfill the roles and duties of a man while declining to chase after externals? Give me the benefit of your experience in these matters and do not be offended if I seem to be insufficiently respectful of Epictetus'dicta. I do not pretend to be wise.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Henry Jones said...

>>>Epictetus lived 1900 years ago, and were he alive today, I do not imagine his message would be unchanged.<<<

I think he was challenged in his own day! The Sceptics were rigorous opponents of the Stoics, in particular...

>>>How do you fulfill the roles and duties of a man while declining to chase after externals?<<<

I do not decline to ‘chase after externals’, tho I would myself use a different verb — ‘pursue’ or just ‘use’ are more agreeable. I cannot fulfil my roles and duties without making use of externals, pretty much as non-Stoics do. But I do not desire external things (or at least I am trying to make progress tempering my desire), either desiring to have them, or have them in certain preferred conditions. My well-being, my enjoying a ‘good flow of life’ (to the extent that I can enjoying such a thing having made probably little more than a start on ‘making progress’) does not depend upon my obtaining the external things that I pursue. I pursue them ‘with reservation’, saying that I will get such-and-such unless something intervenes. And my wish to obtain external things is framed in terms of why, and how, they would further my undertakings. And my undertakings are selected on the basis of which would best satisfy the requirements of my duties, and which would best promote my life as one that is lived in accordance with nature.

I do all this striving to maintain a mindfulness of my relationship to God, that the world is the manifestation of God, and that my consciousness is a fragment of God’s consciousness.

6:16 PM  

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