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Self-sufficiency

The Stoic idea of self-sufficiency has been widely misunderstood. The most basic claim made by the Stoics is that we can learn to be happy at any moment under any condition because our happiness does not depend on anything outside ourselves. But it doesn't follow from this that a Stoic doesn't care about anything apart from his or her own happiness. As we human beings grow we naturally extend our idea of what "belongs" to us and of what we belong to - of who we are. This is the Stoic theory of oikeiosis. Unless we get sidetracked by bad influence and/or bad choices we end up seeing ourselves as part of all of humanity and seeing our own happiness as a small part of the happiness of the brotherhood of man.

This does not mean that our happiness depends on the happiness of others. In theory, a Stoic can be happy even if the rest of humanity is deeply miserable. But in that scenario, the Stoic would see it as his or her task to try to make the world a better place for the rest of humanity and find his or her happiness in working for that goal. At one level the Stoic sees him- or herself as an individual entity with the capacity to always be happy. But, at another level, the Stoic sees him- or herself as just one member of the community for which all members have a responsibility. You could say that a Stoic always has two basic goals: his or her own happiness and the happiness of the community. The first goal depends on the second in the sense that it is our duty to work for the common good and in that we can't possibly be happy if we ignore our duty. But it does not dependent on the second goal in the sense that we can't be happy, if we can't reach the goal of making all other members of the community happy. As long as we do the very best we can, we are acting virtously - and that's all that is needed for happiness.


Comments

  1. Thanks! Another excellent piece. I've long wondered about how much a Stoic would care about others and still remain happy. In the past I was of the opinion that pretty much everything was indifference except for virtues. However, I think that argument of mine was rather shallow since virtues have again and again been misused in history. I now believe that a Stoic would care very deeply about his/her community and would be very involved in all the social and political affairs. However, the happiness of a Stoic does not depend on how good/bad his/her community is, but it is dependent on how much the Stoic has tried to make it better.

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    1. Yes - exactly 😊 The very thing which makes justice a virtue - and which makes it the specific virtue justice - is that we understand how other people "belong" to us and see them as other selves.

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