“We believe that no man or woman can be moral (or Happy) unless they work tirelessly for the benefit of all humanity. Justice and Benevolence must be a guide to all of our actions.”
I’m not the only one who’s been talking about Stoicism and activism, however. Over the past couple weeks in particular, the Stoic community has seen quite a bit of discussion over what a Stoic relationship to activism and injustice could/should look like.
Greg Sadler, who led a rich conversation on anger and Justice during the last 15 minutes of his Stoicon 2016 workshop on “Struggling with Anger? Useful Stoic Perspectives and Practices,” 15 October, 2016.
Needless to say, the authors of these articles & talks don’t all agree on the specifics of how to put social engagement into practice! I think the conversation itself is much-needed, however.
Some of us are trying to build a dedicated space for taking this conversation further. If you’re interested in the topic of Stoicism and Justice/Benevolence, please join us in our new Facebook group, “Stoics for Justice!”
I have no particular reason for bringing this up today, but it can never hurt to be too clear about this:
Let’s just add Cicero’s glorification of honor killing—complete with stigmatizing rape victims and suggesting that they are better off dead, and that people who kill them are moral heroes of the highest order—to the list of places where I am not just willing, but EAGER to disagree and absolutely repudiate ancient thinking on morality an virtue ethics:
As of mañana I will have completed Level 1 of the Pimsleur Spanish audio course—and I just thought I’d share a few thoughts on how pleased I am with it!
Now, since this is a philosophy blog, let me mention that it’s not hard at all to see learning a language as a Stoic exercise. According to Quintilian, in fact, the ancient Stoics made large contributions to the study of grammar, and were the first Westerners to give names to things like “articles,” “prepositions,” “pronouns,” and “adverbs” (Institutio Oratoria, 1.4).
Those of us who have fallen in love with a canon of ancient texts, moreover, are always tantalized by the far-off possibility of reading them in their original language. Especially dedicated contemporary Stoics, for instance, sometimes take to learning Koine Greek. Personally, I have a few Loeb editions of Cicero, and the Latin facing me on the left-hand side always taunts me! I dream of someday being able to read Seneca and Cicero in the original—especially since I expect to be using them to inform my daily practice for years to come.
On a simpler level, though, becoming a polyglot is just one of those things that pretty much everybody would like to accomplish, but which we rarely find the time or resolve to actually pursue. Like exercising and eating healthy, then, learning a language is one of those aspects of human excellence that we often aspire to, but rarely flourish at (Stoic virtue, anyone?).
Two. And a half. Days. Two and a half days of almost completely neglecting all of my duties, goals, and commitments—as a student, employee, husband, and God knows what else. A failure of monumental proportions, when you compare it to the high standard of Stoic principles at least, hidden away in secret during the hours that no one sees. All the traits were there: “to what level have we sunk? To that of sheep” (Discourses, 2.9.4); full-fledged indulgence in rationalization and “infirmity,” that “persistent judgment in a corrupted person that certain things are very much worth pursuing that in fact are only slightly worth pursuing” (Letters, 75.11).
I won’t beat myself up for it—I should “be free from self-reproach, and inner conflict, and instability of mind, and self-torment” (Discourses, 2.22.35), nor should I “be disgusted, or lose heart, or give up if I am not successful in accomplishing every action according to correct principles,” but rather “when you are thwarted, return to the struggle” (Meditations, 5.9). I can however, benefit from the humility such failures teach me—so that when I am tempted to be upset with others, I will remember that “you yourself still hold the same opinion about what is good as he does, or another not unlike it; and you are thus obliged to forgive him” (Meditations, 7.26). “Don’t claim to be a philosopher,” says Epictetus sharply, “and don’t fail to recognize who your masters are” (Discourses, 2.13.23).
The first conclusion we drew is that Stoicism does not teach us to suppress our natural emotions, it strongly encourages to work hard to bring about beneficial outcomes in the world, and it allows us to enjoy the goods and pleasures life has to offer (as long as we are disciplined enough to put virtue first).
In this post, let’s run a little bit with this picture of moderate Stoicism and see where it takes us.