Without what Steve calls goals or ends (requiring a certain degree of
attachment to projects of the sort that others are engaged in), Stoics
would not be engaged in the world at all. The important thing, I think, is
that Stoics judge all these projects at a second level. This requires a
continuous sort of monitoring of the first-level involvements that we share
with others. Is this or that project or action of mine compatible with
wisdom and virtue all things considered?
Jan, If I remember right you posted an essay way back at the beginning of
this forum (2+ years ago) concerning paying attention and critical thinking
in day-to-day living. That would fit nicely with what you are saying here,
but I can't find it.
I certainly agree with Daniel that a major part of our task is habit
control. Virtue is habituated through practice, and character is the
summation of our habits, for good or ill.
I still think the distinction between goals and process has value. Maybe
replacing 'goals' with 'outcomes' will help. The Stoic distinction between
virtue and indifferents is a difference in kind, not just importance. No
amount of preferred indifferents equals even the smallest amount of virtue.
Outcomes are indifferents, and giving them value in the same manner as
others do would be a false judgement. This follows from the fact that no
outcome is completely within our control, though things 'going our way' for
a long time may seduce us into believing we are 'in control'. Complete
detachment from outcome seems to me to be the classical Stoic position.
The Stoic's commitment is to process. To an observer this would appear as
'full' engagement in whatever activity the Stoic agent is undertaking, even
to the point of (oh no;)) being labeled passionate. To an outside
observer, a commitment to process or outcome is indistinguishable.
One of my favorite illustrations is that of an artist who discards each
painting as she finishes it. Her 'passion' is in the activity of painting,
the product of the activity is trivial.
In the classical philosophical literature, the term end (telos, finis) was
understood broadly enough that it could include the actualized condition of
the wise/virtuous/happy person.
True. But this 'end' is an activity, not an outcome. Or, in other words,
it is a verb, not a noun. Living is a verb. It is not possible to
withdraw from life. Nor is it possible to be 'passive' in the strict
sense. As long as we are alive we continue to make choices, which is the
process of rational life. We can choose to go along with the cart
(accepting our fate as rational beings), or we can be dragged (the false
judgement that we can withdraw).
My main purpose in raising this issue was to address the appearance that
Stoicism is 'passive'. With accepting things as they are, detachment from
externals, cultivating apatheia, and the assumption that all is good from
the universal viewpoint, one could naïvely build a case that Stoics plainly
intend to be detached from life. The question was raised on this forum not
too long ago. I heard it again in the new Teaching Co course 'Practical
Philosophy: The Greco-Roman Moralists'.
The same criticism has been used against Taoism. A friend of a friend
would argue for his lethargy and to continue his depression by appealing to
wu wei, or 'no action'. He did not what to entertain other interpretations
such as 'no (wasted) action', or, in a positive sense, 'efficient action'.
I would argue that the layperson, full of passion and desensitized to the
point of noticing only gross changes in her environment, would see both the
Taoist and Stoic sage as passive and withdrawn. The effectiveness of both
would go completely unnoticed. Assent to the appearance of passivity is
within the perceivers power. The thing perceived is what it is, not what
it appears to be based on false judgement.
The Stoic's emotive energy is consciously directed into full engagement in
whatever activity the agent is currently involved in. If the external
situation changes, the agent redirects her energy. This 'full engagement'
is duty. There is no try, half measures, resentment, or desiring to be
elsewhere. The ability to redirect one's focus with grace can only be
accomplished by seeing specific outcomes as indifferents. This harmony
with reality requires that we be light on our feet. Our virtue is not
dependent on any single outcome.
A 'smooth flow of life' does say it well.