Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Re: [stoics] Is the pursuit of virtue a moral obligation?

Expand Messages
  • Dave Kelly
    ... I only have time to answer the first part of your message now. I choose to define moral obligation in the _Stoic_ sense, and so don t oppose it to the
    Message 1 of 15 , Jul 1, 2013
    • 0 Attachment
      On Sun, Jun 30, 2013 at 1:41 PM, Steve Marquis <stevemarquis@...> wrote:
      >
      >
      >
      >
      > Dave-
      >
      > I’ll cut straight to the chase and answer your question in the thread title. Of course it is our duty to follow our own nature. But it is not a ‘moral obligation’ in the modern sense of putting aside the assumed mutually exclusive quest for personal happiness.

      I only have time to answer the first part of your message now. I
      choose to define "moral obligation" in the _Stoic_ sense, and so don't
      oppose it to the quest for personal happiness. I take "moral" in the
      Stoic sense to mean what is right and wrong, and what is good or bad
      for me. Fulfilling a true moral obligation then would be good for me,
      in the Stoic sense, and makes my happiness more possible; but not
      fulfilling a moral obligation is bad for me, and makes happiness that
      much less possible.

      Best wishes,
      Dave

      --
      It's not events that trouble us, but our judgments about events.
      The universe is change; life is judgment.
    • Dave Kelly
      ... [snip] I m afraid I don t have much new in response to your message. ... We usually know what we ought to do; so the problem we have is not that we can t
      Message 2 of 15 , Jul 1, 2013
      • 0 Attachment
        On Sun, Jun 30, 2013 at 1:41 PM, Steve Marquis <stevemarquis@...> wrote:
        >
        >
        >
        [snip]


        I'm afraid I don't have much new in response to your message.


        > Us moderns tend to look at ‘moral obligation’ as a very serious duty that
        > is a major struggle to accomplish and is almost always something we dislike
        > doing, maybe to an extreme. But arête for the Stoics seems no more than
        > doing or being as befits our nature in the same way that a tiger hunts or a
        > cow eats grass. IOW Stoic ‘moral obligation’ is not ‘serious’ in that it is
        > at odds with our natural inclinations. We simply do not understand what our
        > nature or objective inclinations are.

        We usually know what we ought to do; so the problem we have is not
        that we can't figure out what we ought to do, but that we desire to do
        something different - Grant.

        For a self aware rational agent that
        > can choose this leads to mistakes. A creature with just an animal soul
        > (granting a clear division between animal and rational souls for the sake of
        > argument) does not have the burden of choice but instead follows instinct
        > correctly all the time.
        >
        > In modern ethics the moral life and the happy life are more often at odds
        > than not.

        But the stoics say that that the moral life _is_ the happy life.

        Even utilitarianism will focus on the group and not individual
        > well being. Let me put it this way: there are two lifestyles to aspire to;
        > the first we envy, the second we admire; the first we want to live, the
        > second maybe not. That Long has to use two words, advantageous _and_ right,
        > clearly is an indicator of this modern dichotomy _that did not exist_ for
        > the ancients.
        >
        > When we use the word ‘moral’ we are speaking of only half of the program.
        > The other half, the perhaps egoistic but certainly natural from the point of
        > view of self preservation, pursuit of a happy life is ignored for the most
        > part on this list.

        The Stoics didn't and don't dichotomize into black and white
        categories the 'moral' and the 'egoistic'. To be egoistic is to be
        most concerned with what benefits me. For Stoics only what is moral,
        what is good and right, truly benefits me.

        We hear of morality, duty, ethics, obligation, what is
        > right, what is correct, appropriate action, on and on to the point that I
        > think I am in church. I want to redress the balance a little bit and say
        > that Stoicism is most assuredly aimed at personal well being, a revised
        > sense of happiness to be sure, but happiness nevertheless. In fact personal
        > well being is the _only thing_ within our power. It is a lifestyle to be
        > both admired _AND_ envied.
        >
        > Live well,
        > Steve

        Best wishes,
        Dave

        --
        It's not events that trouble us, but our judgments about events.
        The universe is change; life is judgment.
      • Richard
        Dave Kelly «But the stoics say that that the moral life _is_ the happy life.» Good Point. I find Virtue to be an attractive aspect of Stoicism. Thinking out
        Message 3 of 15 , Jul 1, 2013
        • 0 Attachment
          Dave Kelly
          «But the stoics say that that the moral life _is_ the happy life.»

          Good Point. I find Virtue to be an attractive aspect of Stoicism.

          Thinking out loud:
          Does choosing Morality for the sake of the "Good Life" relate to a form of "Enlightened Hedonism"?

          --- Meaning that in order to lead a joyous [pleasurable] life, therefore I choose to lead a Moral/Virtuous Life [enlightened pleasure].

          I'm guessing that Stoicism might reverse the polarity and say:

          I lead a Moral/Virtuous life because it is in Harmony with Nature, and thereby [as a by product] I would experience a Joyous "Good Life".
          Regards, Richard
          ---------------------- 
          A vulgar man, in any ill that happens to him, blames others; a novice in philosophy blames himself; and a philosopher blames neither the one nor the other.
          ~ Epictetus
        • Dave
          ... There is a fine point here, and I need to consult the scholars to try to understand it. Rather than say that happiness is produced by virtue, they say that
          Message 4 of 15 , Jul 2, 2013
          • 0 Attachment
            --- In stoics@yahoogroups.com, "Richard" <pmsrxw@...> wrote:
            >
            >
            > Dave Kelly
            > «But the stoics say that that the moral life _is_ the happy life.»
            >
            > Good Point. I find Virtue to be an attractive aspect of Stoicism.
            >
            > Thinking out loud:
            > Does choosing Morality for the sake of the "Good Life" relate to a form of "Enlightened Hedonism"?
            >
            > --- Meaning that in order to lead a joyous [pleasurable] life, therefore I choose to lead a Moral/Virtuous Life [enlightened pleasure].
            >
            > I'm guessing that Stoicism might reverse the polarity and say:
            >
            > I lead a Moral/Virtuous life because it is in Harmony with Nature, and thereby [as a by product] I would experience a Joyous "Good Life".


            There is a fine point here, and I need to consult the scholars to try to understand it.

            Rather than say that happiness is produced by virtue, they say that happiness consists of virtue, or is found exclusively in virtue.


            > Regards, Richard


            Best wishes,
            Dave
          • Grant Sterling
            This has been an interesting thread.... Let me begin with some clarifications. In this post I will use happy NOT as a translation of Greek terms related to
            Message 5 of 15 , Jul 2, 2013
            • 0 Attachment
              This has been an interesting thread....

              Let me begin with some clarifications.
              In this post I will use "happy" NOT as a translation
              of Greek terms related to eudaimonia, but in the
              ordinary contemporary English sense--a "happy"
              life is simply one that the person gets pleasure from
              most of the time. I will use "good" to mean "beneficial",
              where that means "contributing to a happy life"....

              The average non-Stoic regards the objects
              of their desires as good. Hence, they believe
              that to lead a happy life, one must attain the
              object of one's desires most of the time. (In
              theory, one could lead a perfectly happy life,
              but that would require always getting what one
              wants. Most people recognize that this is unattainable
              in practice, although they often dream that if their
              lives were just a little different, they could
              come very close. This leads to the phenomenon that
              Aristotle recognized (how little human nature changes
              over the centuries!)--when we don't get what we want
              because we don't have the money, we regard happiness
              as wealth. When we're sick, we think we'd be happy
              with health. Colleagues don't respect me? I'd
              be happy with honor. Sick of my wife? I'd be happy
              if I were married to that woman over there. Etc.)

              Now everyone (except perhaps the criminally
              insane) also recognizes that there are moral requirements
              one should follow. I have already been quoted on this
              thread--I don't think that in 99.99% of cases people
              have any trouble figuring out what they ought to do,
              if they're willing to be honest. But, of course, the
              most efficient path to getting what I desire to obtain
              may conflict with morality. {Often, probably most of
              the time, there is no conflict. But people don't realize
              this because they simply don't think too much about
              morality when it corresponds to their desires. I don't
              lie to my students when I'm teaching them. Not lying to them
              is the right thing to do...but since I don't have any desire
              to lie to them, I don't usually notice that morality and
              happiness coincide here.}

              As a result, when we think of morality we
              automatically think of it as conflicting with happiness.
              Morality involves _sacrifice_. {Again, the vast majority
              of the time morality require no sacrifice even without
              reforming our desires, but we don't notice this.} We
              must choose whether to be moral or be happy, and inevitably
              we all end up choosing one way sometimes and then other
              way at other times. (The percentages aren't the same for
              each of us, of course.) We often try to _rationalize_ that
              our pursuit of happiness is right after all. "The company's
              so rich they'll never even miss this." "It can't be wrong to
              have sex with that woman because I really love her." Etc.
              In almost all "moral controversies" what you will find is
              a fairly obvious moral requirement in conflict with a pervasive
              and strong desire.

              Now for the Greek philosophers (not necessarily the
              ordinary people!) no such conflict existed. Eudaimonia was
              conceived as an _essentially_ moral concept. Anyone acting
              viciously _was not experiencing eudaimonia_ regardless of
              whether or not they were enjoying themselves. I know a man
              who experiences a rush of glee when he cheats his opponent
              and gets away with it. The non-philosopher would say that
              he is happy with his life when he's acting immorally. The
              Stoic (or Platonist, or Aristotlelian--they agree on this)
              would say that he is _farther away_ from eudaimonia.

              For the Stoic, however, this loops back around. If
              I have purged my desires, so that I have only the desire to
              will (and believe and desire) correctly remaining, then by
              definition all moral actions will give me happiness, which
              they call "joy". And with no desire for things outside my
              control, there is nothing left that should leave me unhappy.
              So when I lead a life in which I consistently pursue Virtue,
              I necessarily lead a life which is happy--indeed, I lead the
              only life in which it is possible to be happy all the time.

              So the Joy which is at the heart of Stoic happiness
              come only to those who pursue Virtue _for its own sake_.
              I cannot pursue Virtue _for the sake of the Joy_, because
              Joy is by definition the good feeling that comes when I
              desire Virtue and see it exemplified in my choices. (I.e.,
              without the desire for virtue itself, the joy can't come.
              This is a familiar paradox at the heart of hedonism. For
              example, I get pleasure from winning at bridge, because I
              have a desire to win. But that means that the pleasure
              comes from pursuing the desire to win, not the desire to
              have pleasure.)

              So, for the Stoics, the only life which is truly
              happy (in the English sense) is the life in which we
              pursue Virtue for its own sake. And it is this life which
              they call "eudaimonia". By translating this as "happiness",
              modern translators get this backwards, and think that
              Stoicism is all about pursuing the good feeling itself.

              Regards,
              Grant
            • Richard
              . (I.e., without the desire for virtue itself, the joy can t come.» Agreed. Let s say: I am willing to put 10% of my income into a retirement account in
              Message 6 of 15 , Jul 2, 2013
              • 0 Attachment
                . (I.e.,
                without the desire for virtue itself, the joy can't come.»

                Agreed.

                Let's say:
                "I am willing to put 10% of my income into a retirement account in order to have a more prosperous retirement"

                So then can we say:
                "I am willing to choose living a virtuous life in order to obtain a Joyous byproduct at the end of the day"?


                Regards, Richard
                ---------------------- 
                A vulgar man, in any ill that happens to him, blames others; a novice in philosophy blames himself; and a philosopher blames neither the one nor the other.
                ~ Epictetus
              • Steve Marquis
                Richard-   This was to be part of my response to Grant.  I agree with him in that eudaimonia is not _directly_ in our power.  It is a consequence of
                Message 7 of 15 , Jul 2, 2013
                • 0 Attachment
                  Richard-
                   
                  This was to be part of my response to Grant.  I agree with him in that eudaimonia is not _directly_ in our power.  It is a consequence of consistently assenting to true impressions (which is what arête is).  So arête is in our power directly through our power of assent and eudaimonia is _indirectly_ in our power since choosing arête is both necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia.
                   
                  The problem with ‘desiring’ eudaimonia is that to have it one must desire arête instead.  Desire for eudaimonia is likely to be a desire that is a pathos.  I think this is why Epictetus recommends that as beginners we should avoid desire for anything, even what appears to be the good.
                   
                  I see eudaimonia as Nature’s indicator that the ration agent is making correct choices just like physical pleasure is nature’s indicator that we are probably (though not always) doing something biologically beneficial for the body.  All these positive / negative feelings are indicators of a thing, not the thing itself.  The Epicureans mistake the indicator for the end to aim at like mistaking the finger that’s pointing at the moon for the moon.
                   
                  Live well,
                  Steve

                  From: Richard <pmsrxw@...>
                  To: Stoics <stoics@yahoogroups.com>
                  Sent: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 11:39 AM
                  Subject: Re: [stoics] Re: Is the pursuit of virtue a moral obligation?

                  . (I.e.,
                  without the desire for virtue itself, the joy can't come.»

                  Agreed.

                  Let's say:
                  "I am willing to put 10% of my income into a retirement account in order to have a more prosperous retirement"

                  So then can we say:
                  "I am willing to  choose living a virtuous life in order to obtain a Joyous byproduct at the end of the day"?


                  Regards, Richard
                  ---------------------- 
                  A vulgar man, in any ill that happens to him, blames others; a novice in philosophy blames himself; and a philosopher blames neither the one nor the other.
                  ~ Epictetus

                  ------------------------------------

                  Yahoo! Groups Links

                  <*> To visit your group on the web, go to:
                      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stoics/

                  <*> Your email settings:
                      Individual Email | Traditional

                  <*> To change settings online go to:
                      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stoics/join
                      (Yahoo! ID required)

                  <*> To change settings via email:
                      stoics-digest@yahoogroups.com
                      stoics-fullfeatured@yahoogroups.com

                  <*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
                      stoics-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com

                  <*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:
                      http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/



                • Richard
                  Steve Marquis: «The problem with ‘desiring’ eudaimonia is that to have it one must desire arête instead.  Desire for eudaimonia is likely to be a desire
                  Message 8 of 15 , Jul 2, 2013
                  • 0 Attachment
                    Steve Marquis:

                    «The problem with ‘desiring’ eudaimonia is that to have it one must desire arête instead.  Desire for eudaimonia is likely to be a desire that is a pathos.  I think this is why Epictetus recommends that as beginners we should avoid desire for anything, even what appears to be the good.»


                    Indeed. That is perhaps why the termed "enlightened" is implied. A person who has "enlightened" self-interest might see that the best of all socieities has ethical, moral, mutually supportive people, and might work towards a "win-win" situation because ultimately it's in his self-interest to do so
                     
                    Take an honest village wherein locking one's front door is unnecessary. These people may feel secure about their environment, people may have less possessions, but enjoy them more because the need not worry about being robbed or cheated.


                    Regards, Richard
                    ---------------------- 
                    A vulgar man, in any ill that happens to him, blames others; a novice in philosophy blames himself; and a philosopher blames neither the one nor the other.
                    ~ Epictetus
                  • Richard
                    Correction That is perhaps why the termed enlightened is *APplied*. Sorry. Regards, Richard ... A vulgar man, in any ill that happens to him, blames
                    Message 9 of 15 , Jul 2, 2013
                    • 0 Attachment
                      Correction
                      That is perhaps why the termed "enlightened" is *APplied*. Sorry.
                      Regards, Richard
                      ---------------------- 
                      A vulgar man, in any ill that happens to him, blames others; a novice in philosophy blames himself; and a philosopher blames neither the one nor the other.
                      ~ Epictetus
                    • Steve Marquis
                      Grant-   I do not disagree with your argument of course.  But we use the word virtue a lot.  And we use the word moral a lot.  As before I am concerned
                      Message 10 of 15 , Jul 2, 2013
                      • 0 Attachment
                        Grant-
                         
                        I do not disagree with your argument of course.  But we use the word virtue a lot.  And we use the word moral a lot.  As before I am concerned that using these common English words for ancient philosophical concepts leads us astray.  I do not believe arête is synonymous with what we non-reflectively consider moral.  Moral choices are usually separated from the more common mundane choices we make most of the time.
                         
                        For the ancients there is only truth or falsehood.  There aren’t trivial ‘mundane’ truths and serious moral dilemma type truths.  There is truth period.  As a rather crude example choosing when to break wind is a choice about which I assent to or withhold assent from like any other impression.  If I assent to a true proposition for this simple biological function then I have broken wind with arête.  IOW in the Stoic world this isn’t any amoral group of assents that avoid the truth false dichotomy.  The word ‘moral’ then must be expanded to cover every single choice we make down to the most trivial.  And in doing that it loses a lot of the _moral_ authority (ha) it is supposed to have.
                         
                        So I want to know what everyone means when they use the terms virtue and morality (and ethical for that matter).  Why does arête translated as ‘excellence’ have to be qualified with ‘moral’ in front of it? Arête I understand.  Assent to the truth – subject matter to be filled in with anything.
                         
                        Live well,
                        Steve
                        From: Grant Sterling <gcsterling@...>
                        To: stoics@yahoogroups.com
                        Sent: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 11:04 AM
                        Subject: Re: [stoics] Re: Is the pursuit of virtue a moral obligation?

                        This has been an interesting thread....

                            Let me begin with some clarifications.
                        In this post I will use "happy" NOT as a translation
                        of Greek terms related to eudaimonia, but in the
                        ordinary contemporary English sense--a "happy"
                        life is simply one that the person gets pleasure from
                        most of the time.  I will use "good" to mean "beneficial",
                        where that means "contributing to a happy life"....

                            The average non-Stoic regards the objects
                        of their desires as good.  Hence, they believe
                        that to lead a happy life, one must attain the
                        object of one's desires most of the time.  (In
                        theory, one could lead a perfectly happy life,
                        but that would require always getting what one
                        wants.  Most people recognize that this is unattainable
                        in practice, although they often dream that if their
                        lives were just a little different, they could
                        come very close.  This leads to the phenomenon that
                        Aristotle recognized (how little human nature changes
                        over the centuries!)--when we don't get what we want
                        because we don't have the money, we regard happiness
                        as wealth.  When we're sick, we think we'd be happy
                        with health.  Colleagues don't respect me?  I'd
                        be happy with honor.  Sick of my wife?  I'd be happy
                        if I were married to that woman over there.  Etc.)

                            Now everyone (except perhaps the criminally
                        insane) also recognizes that there are moral requirements
                        one should follow.  I have already been quoted on this
                        thread--I don't think that in 99.99% of cases people
                        have any trouble figuring out what they ought to do,
                        if they're willing to be honest.  But, of course, the
                        most efficient path to getting what I desire to obtain
                        may conflict with morality.  {Often, probably most of
                        the time, there is no conflict.  But people don't realize
                        this because they simply don't think too much about
                        morality when it corresponds to their desires.  I don't
                        lie to my students when I'm teaching them.  Not lying to them
                        is the right thing to do...but since I don't have any desire
                        to lie to them, I don't usually notice that morality and
                        happiness coincide here.}

                            As a result, when we think of morality we
                        automatically think of it as conflicting with happiness.
                        Morality involves _sacrifice_.  {Again, the vast majority
                        of the time morality require no sacrifice even without
                        reforming our desires, but we don't notice this.}  We
                        must choose whether to be moral or be happy, and inevitably
                        we all end up choosing one way sometimes and then other
                        way at other times.  (The percentages aren't the same for
                        each of us, of course.)  We often try to _rationalize_ that
                        our pursuit of happiness is right after all.  "The company's
                        so rich they'll never even miss this."  "It can't be wrong to
                        have sex with that woman because I really love her."  Etc.
                        In almost all "moral controversies" what you will find is
                        a fairly obvious moral requirement in conflict with a pervasive
                        and strong desire.

                            Now for the Greek philosophers (not necessarily the
                        ordinary people!) no such conflict existed.  Eudaimonia was
                        conceived as an _essentially_ moral concept.  Anyone acting
                        viciously _was not experiencing eudaimonia_ regardless of
                        whether or not they were enjoying themselves.  I know a man
                        who experiences a rush of glee when he cheats his opponent
                        and gets away with it.  The non-philosopher would say that
                        he is happy with his life when he's acting immorally.  The
                        Stoic (or Platonist, or Aristotlelian--they agree on this)
                        would say that he is _farther away_ from eudaimonia.

                            For the Stoic, however, this loops back around.  If
                        I have purged my desires, so that I have only the desire to
                        will (and believe and desire) correctly remaining, then by
                        definition all moral actions will give me happiness, which
                        they call "joy".  And with no desire for things outside my
                        control, there is nothing left that should leave me unhappy.
                        So when I lead a life in which I consistently pursue Virtue,
                        I necessarily lead a life which is happy--indeed, I lead the
                        only life in which it is possible to be happy all the time.

                            So the Joy which is at the heart of Stoic happiness
                        come only to those who pursue Virtue _for its own sake_.
                        I cannot pursue Virtue _for the sake of the Joy_, because
                        Joy is by definition the good feeling that comes when I
                        desire Virtue and see it exemplified in my choices.  (I.e.,
                        without the desire for virtue itself, the joy can't come.
                        This is a familiar paradox at the heart of hedonism.  For
                        example, I get pleasure from winning at bridge, because I
                        have a desire to win.  But that means that the pleasure
                        comes from pursuing the desire to win, not the desire to
                        have pleasure.)

                            So, for the Stoics, the only life which is truly
                        happy (in the English sense) is the life in which we
                        pursue Virtue for its own sake.  And it is this life which
                        they call "eudaimonia".  By translating this as "happiness",
                        modern translators get this backwards, and think that
                        Stoicism is all about pursuing the good feeling itself.

                            Regards,
                                Grant



                        ------------------------------------

                        Yahoo! Groups Links

                        <*> To visit your group on the web, go to:
                            http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stoics/

                        <*> Your email settings:
                            Individual Email | Traditional

                        <*> To change settings online go to:
                            http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stoics/join
                            (Yahoo! ID required)

                        <*> To change settings via email:
                            stoics-digest@yahoogroups.com
                            stoics-fullfeatured@yahoogroups.com

                        <*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
                            stoics-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com

                        <*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:
                            http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/



                      Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.