Skip to main content

More on Self-sufficiency

The Stoics often say that there is only one true good and that is virtue. This has often been understood as saying that all we should care about is our own mental health - and everything else is either "preferred indifferents" or "dispreferred indifferents" (according to orthodox Stoic terminology). It's true that they generally agree that virtue is all that is necessary for happiness - and that virtue in that sense is "the only true good". But there are other kinds of good. In the sources for Greek Stoicism virtue is considered an "internal good" - meaning that it is in our "soul". But there are also "external goods" - meaning that they are still related to us even though they are not a requirement for our happiness. Examples are living in a good country and having good and happy friends. In Roman Stoicism, the explicit concept "external goods" seems to have been lost and so it's extremely easy to get the impression that the roman Stoics think that having good friends and living in a good country are so-called preferred indifferents. However, that interpretation is horribly wrong and misguided. A stoic obviously loves his or her friends. And you can't love something you don't care about.

Still life with glass bowl of fruit and vases. Roman painting from the House of Julia Felix in Pompeii, 63-79 CE

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Aristotle on happiness and external goods

According to popular opinion both in ancient Greece and today, happiness requires things such as wealth, good health, good looks, friends, family and good reputation. In Plato's dialogue Euthydemus Socrates challenges those beliefs by claiming that none of those things are good, if they are not used wisely. In fact, Socrates claims that a person who has wisdom doesn't need any of those things at all since he or she can turn any situation into something beneficial for him- or herself.

"If wisdom is present, the one for whom it is present has no need of good fortune".

- Socrates in Euthydemus, 279E

In other words, Socrates claims that wisdom is a sufficient requirement for happiness (and a necessary requirement too, of course). Aristotle famously challenges that claim. But what exactly does he say? Let's have a look.

"we suppose happiness is enduring and definitely not prone to fluctuate, but the same person’s fortunes often turn to and fro. For clearly, if we t…

Stoicism and Evil Governments

This article claims that a Stoic has no reason to get depressed by bad political conditions since an evil government is not really a bad thing for a Stoic - since nothing can be bad for a Stoic except his own bad choices. Even so, the article claims, a Stoic acknowledges that an evil government is capable of doing "terrible things" to people.

To make this line of thinking work we have to think of ourselves as Stoics who can't be harmed by an evil government - since nothing can be bad for us as Stoics except our own bad choices - and other people as non-Stoics who will suffer terribly if they are oppressed by the evil government.
In my opinion, this interpretation of Stoicism is flat out wrong.
First of all, an evil government is indeed a bad thing. The Stoics distinguish between internal good/bad things such as our own good or bad choices and external good/bad things such as other people's happiness or unhappiness:
"some bad things are in the soul, i.e., vices a…

A documentary about the relationship between Seneca and Nero

A few years ago PBS did a series in four episodes called "The Roman Empire in the First Century"

Episode 3 is about Nero's reign but they tell the story by focusing on the relationship between Seneca and Nero. They do a fairly decent job and mostly present Seneca as a Stoic who tries to play the part assigned to him by fate as well as possible. The text is very pompous, though (to say nothing about the music!). Sigourney Weaver is narrating and sounds like she's quite uncomfortable about the whole thing. Every time a person is mentioned or quoted they show a bust of that person - if one is available - and every single time Seneca is mentioned, they show the "pseudo-Seneca" bust from Herculaneum even though everyone now agree that it is not a representation of Seneca.

All in all a pretty strange experience. It's incredibly rare that anyone mentions Seneca in anything about Rome produced for television so they deserve lots of credit for that - and also fo…