“One should either be or imitate a good man.” – Democritus.
Last time I introduced the subject of acquaintances in the purpose-filled life. Today we examine the perspective of the Stoic school – especially in the writings of Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. Remembering that Stoic metaphysics is founded on a belief in an orderliness and benevolence of the universe, it comes as no surprise that the Stoics urge order and goodness of the self, manifested as apatheia (spiritual peace) and euthymia (well-being).1 In addition to an ethic focused on virtue, the Stoics produced a kind of psychology intended to induce and sustain inner tranquility which permeates their writings. This includes guidance for one’s interactions with others in daily life.
Stoic virtue has four components (1) intelligence – especially the ability to distinguish good from bad, (2) courage – knowing what is worthy of fear, (3) justice – giving each their proper due, and (4) self-control – particularly of the passions.2 Stoic success is predicated on studying the physical world and ethics and on replicating the behavior of a wise or undisturbed man.3 But, unlike Epicureanism, Stoicism requires individuals to remain engaged with human society in order to fulfill their roles and duties, an expectation from which springs their psychological strategies in dealing with others. In short they seek to preserve their inner tranquility while interacting with others who may disturb them.
To this end the Stoic thinkers offer a list of practical strategies which include: (1) prepare to deal with others beforehand, (2) exercise selection on acquaintances to the extent possible – especially avoiding unvirtuous persons and those who are frequently disturbed, (3) be circumspect in conversations with others, (4) resist internal criticism of others’ faults by recalling one’s own in order to permit empathy and prevent cross contamination, (5) limit unnecessary internal reflections on others, (6) accept the need for others and the predictability of their inevitable imperfections, (7) maintain a charitable opinion of others despite their deficiencies, and (8) put unsettling interactions with others into a cosmic context (“what does it matter in the larger picture of time, our mortality, and the universe?”).4 The self-disciplined philosopher we see can remain tranquil even in the face of troublesome people.
(continued next post)
1Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 8, page 21.
2Ibid., page 22.
3Ibid. Note: The wise man may be real or internally conceived.
4Irvine, William B., A Guide to the Good Life. Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-537461-2, pages 135-138