Our four Stoic philosophers are all from the period of the Roman Empire and we will examine their thoughts in chronological order, starting with Cicero (106-43 BCE). He argues that humans are social by nature and thus need others. “Nature with the aid of reason likewise binds man to man, unites them by the bond of language and social life…and impels them to multiply the occasions of meeting and consorting with their fellows.”5 Cicero proves this is not a pure material interdependence using a thought experiment noting that “if everything essential to a life of comfort were supplied to us as if by a magic wand, every man of intellect …would shrink from isolation and look for someone to join in his pursuits…”6 So on the one hand, the purpose of acquaintance is to fulfill our natural need for interaction with others.
On the other hand, Cicero identifies a second purpose of acquaintance as the arena of moral duty or as he writes, “All our affairs, public or private, civil or domestic, our personal conduct, inevitably fall within the province of duty.”7 Since the basis of duty for Cicero is honor, acquaintance offers the opportunity for the display of honor – the site where inner virtue is distilled into external conduct. Honorable conduct includes respect for the rights of others, good faith in observance of promise and contracts, refraining from violence except in the case of self-defense, being content with one’s share of property, forgiveness of the remorseful, proportioned beneficence considering the character of the recipient, and gratitude for others’ kindness. Purpose driven honor also depends on the avoidance of two kinds of wrongs – wrongful attack or treatment and failure to defend others from wrong.
Cicero adds one other key element of the Stoic understanding of purpose and others – decorum or in Greek prepon. He describes this as “considerate feeling and the virtue of self-command or moderation, which lends a sort of luster to our life, subdues our passions, and regulates our conduct.”8 It is coextensive with honor manifested as courage and fortitude, speaking wisely, acting deliberately and justly, and upholding the truth. Behaviorally it requires us to “keep our emotions in their natural state of repose.”9
In brief, inner virtue and the quest for externalized purpose are directed to the interdependence of our need of harmonious society and our self-perfection in filling the role of an honorable member thereof. Next we will look at the thoughts of our other three Stoics: Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.
5Hadas, Moses, The Basic Works of Cicero. The Modern Library, 1951, page 9.
6Ibid., page 59.
7Ibid., page 6.
8Ibid., page 37.
9Ibid., page 49.