A New Stoicism

A New Stoicism

Lawrence C. Becker
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    A New Stoicism
    Book Description:

    What would stoic ethics be like today if stoicism had survived as a systematic approach to ethical theory, if it had coped successfully with the challenges of modern philosophy and experimental science?A New Stoicismproposes an answer to that question, offered from within the stoic tradition but without the metaphysical and psychological assumptions that modern philosophy and science have abandoned. Lawrence Becker argues that a secular version of the stoic ethical project, based on contemporary cosmology and developmental psychology, provides the basis for a sophisticated form of ethical naturalism, in which virtually all the hard doctrines of the ancient Stoics can be clearly restated and defended.

    Becker argues, in keeping with the ancients, that virtue is one thing, not many; that it, and not happiness, is the proper end of all activity; that it alone is good, all other things being merely rank-ordered relative to each other for the sake of the good; and that virtue is sufficient for happiness. Moreover, he rejects the popular caricature of the stoic as a grave figure, emotionally detached and capable mainly of endurance, resignation, and coping with pain. To the contrary, he holds that while stoic sages are able to endure the extremes of human suffering, they do not have to sacrifice joy to have that ability, and he seeks to turn our attention from the familiar, therapeutic part of stoic moral training to a reconsideration of its theoretical foundations.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2244-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    • 1 The Conceit
      (pp. 3-4)

      After five hundred years of prominence in Greek and Roman antiquity, stoic ethics was pillaged by theology and effaced by evangelical and imperial Christianity. A few stoic philosophers survived, most of them by providing analgesics for use in pastoral counseling, the military, and what then passed for medicine and psychotherapy. Only those shards of our doctrines were widely seen during the Middle Ages, and the term stoic came to be applied merely to people who used our remedies. This confusion persists.

      In the Italian Renaissance there was a brief effusion of interest in our historical roots, and some of us...

    • 2 A New Agenda for Stoic Ethics
      (pp. 5-7)

      In academic philosophy, stoicism has long been identified with a discredited form of naturalistic ethics—one in which the supreme principle is “follow nature.” The ancient stoics apparently believed that nature was a teleological system—a vast goal-oriented entity. They apparently believed that within this vast entity, and with respect to its goal or end, humans had a discoverable role, both as a species and as individuals. And they apparently believed that following out one’s natural role, immunized so as to be able to live contentedly whatever one’s circumstances, was demonstrably the right way to conduct one’s life.

      These beliefs...

    • 3 The Ruins of Doctrine
      (pp. 8-32)

      To many of our critics, it seems that what is defensible in stoic ethics is not unique to it, but merely a reprise of various ideas drawn from other ancient sources. What is uniquely stoic, they say, is only a collection of very peculiar and ultimately indefensible doctrines. We continue to hold most of those peculiar doctrines. We hold, for example, that the final end of all rational activity is virtue, not happiness; that virtue does not admit of degrees, and among people who fall short of it, none is any more virtuous than another; that sages are happy just...

    • 4 Normative Logic
      (pp. 35-42)

      This short chapter, together with its somewhat more elaborate appendix and commentary at the end of the book, lays out in a formal way the practical logic sketched informally in Part One. It tests that sketch for hidden assumptions and consistency, and is a further explanation of how stoics propose to get from “is” to “ought.” Readers with limited patience for formal logic will need only the informal exposition given here. The calculus itself is confined to the Appendix, and since the commentary that would normally follow this chapter deals mostly with technical matters related to the calculus, it is...

    • 5 Following the Facts
      (pp. 43-80)

      Slogans oversimplify, and in a contentious intellectual environment they invite misunderstanding. The environment for stoics has always been a contentious one, fostered in antiquity by vigorous disputes within the tradition, and it was clear even then that stoic ethics would be much better off without its “follow nature” slogan. We are, however, too deeply branded with it to renounce it now. The best we can do is reinterpret it.

      Following nature means following the facts. It means getting the facts about the physical and social world we inhabit, and the facts about our situation in it—our own powers, relationships,...

    • 6 Virtue
      (pp. 81-137)

      In antiquity, stoics were notorious for their hard doctrines about virtue: that it was one thing, not many; that it, and not happiness, was the proper end of all activity; that it alone was good, all other things being merely rank-ordered relative to each other (as “preferred” or not) for the sake of the good; that virtue was sufficient for happiness even on the rack; and that it did not admit of degrees. Such slogans are treasures for publicists and caricaturists, and distractions for philosophers. Nonetheless, in a cool intellectual climate we can harmlessly connect them to the account of...

    • 7 Happiness
      (pp. 138-158)

      Stoics put the discussion of happiness at the end of their ethical concerns, and are impatient with protracted discussions of it. Even children rarely seek happiness directly, in the sense of directly seeking pleasant mental states. And when that narrow sense of happiness (as pleasant affect) is replaced with one constructed by fit or virtuosic agents, stoic doctrines about it seem obvious consequences of our account of virtue. We hold that happiness as understood by mature and fit agents is a property of whole lives, not of transient mental states. We hold that it is achievable only through a proper...

  6. Appendix A Calculus for Normative Logic
    (pp. 159-192)
  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-200)
  8. Index
    (pp. 201-216)