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A few quick notes on committing injustice vs suffering it

Let's suppose that person A is entitled to, say, one piece of cake. If person B knowingly causes person A to not have that piece of cake without the consent of person A, then person B has done person A wrong - which is what the Stoics mean by committing an injury. But it doesn't follow from this that person A has suffered an injury. If person A doesn't mind that his or her piece of cake was given to someone else or was eaten by person B, then person A hasn't suffered an injury - even though person B have commited an injury.

Now, let's imagine that person A is completely wise. This would mean that he or she is completely indifferent to things like bodily harm, poverty, sickness, reputation, insults, abuse and whatever else life or other human beings can throw at us. Obviously, it would still be possible to commit an injury in relation to a person like that - since this would simply require having the intention to harm that person. However, it would be impossible to actually harm that person. Which means that a wise person can't possibly suffer an injury.

Head of a Roman Patrician from Otricoli, c. 75-50 BCE, marble (Palazzo Torlonia, Rome)

A person who is not wise, could certainly suffer an injury, though. Any person who cares a lot about avoiding pain, poverty, sickness, a bad reputation, insults, abuse etc can be harmed severely by life or by other people.

Since Stoicism wants to teach us all how to endure everything life and other people could possibly throw at us, it has often been accused of not caring enough about reducing the amount of injustice done in the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Stoicism aims to make everybody wise and, thus, to prevent them from both doing injustice and from suffering it. But it's probably true that a Stoic would say that the best way to rescue a people from an evil ruler is not to kill the ruler - a new one will likely take over - but to either make people wise enough to endure whatever the ruler will do to them or to make the ruler wise enough to stop treating other people unfairly. Or both.


  1. *Addendum*: injustice is, of course, even for Stoics always a bad thing and should be stopped regardless of our chances to improve the degree of wisdom of either the person or persons committing the injustice or the person or persons suffering the injustice. It's unjust to deprive anyone of whatever they are entitled to regardless of whether they care about it or not and it's downright cruel to cause other people to suffer - even if they wouldn't suffer if they were wise. To this extent, Stoicism does align with our basics intuitions about injustice. But it also offers additional insights.

  2. Would a completely wise person procreate?

    Another thing: It seems that to change things, one must care about how they are. What is the specific formulation for the stoic intention to stop injustice? How is it formulated, without a desire or a driving motivation born of care?

    1. An entertaining and interesting answer to your question is given by Diotima as retold by Socrates in his speech in Plato's Symposium. In short, the answer given there is that the "children" of wise people is whatever interesting ideas they "give birth" to. But why would a wise person it procreate, in your opinion?

    2. Regarding caring about how things are, a Stoic cares deeply about the things he or she loves - such as friends, family and the brotherhood of man. "A Stoic" does not mean "someone who doesn't care". A Stoic loves every manifestation of Logos.

  3. In summary, for Socrates and the Stoics it's much, much worse to commit an act of injustice than to suffer it. So, from this perspective, preventing wrong really means preventing people from doing wrong rather than preventing people from suffering wrong. In other words, the best way to fight for justice is to do our best to make the world a wiser place where fewer people feel tempted to act unjustly. One step toward that goal is to stop seeing the world as consisting of victims and aggressors - good people and bad people. We are all fools and we all act unjustly all the time.


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