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

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  • 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 1 of 15 , Jul 2, 2013
      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,
      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.



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