Friday, July 12, 2013

On the Motivations of the Stoic

 As to the question of how a Stoic is motivated, there are several layers to consider.

The first, of course, is Virtue. We must remember that virtue is not something that one merely has, it is something that must be DONE. In order to have virtue, we must BE virtuous; we must be courageous in the face of challenges, we must be just in the distribution of goods and rights, we must be temperate in our dealings as well as our acquisitions, and most of all we must be wise in our choices of action.

Second, we need to remember that when the Stoics speak of 'indifferents', we mean things that, in their nature, have no MORAL value. Nevertheless, they have other kinds of value. Good food and clothing, shelter and safety, these things have great PHYSICAL value. Relationships, friends, art, music, these things have great EMOTIONAL value. Books, education, conversation, these things have a great INTELLECTUAL value. And while Virtue alone is in my control, these other things are to be pursued and managed by virtuous means.

Third (and I apologize for being long winded!) while I must remember that as a Stoic I am in control only of my own action, I am also part of a family, a community, a country. I am human, and being human means that all ideas of individuality are an illusion. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the very language we speak and that forms the framework of our thinking are inheritances of the culture and species and we are bound to support it return. As humans, we require basic needs to function. We can speak of being 'rational', but in reality, we require a functioning body to think clearly. To borrow from Maslow, we need to have our physical, safety, social and importance needs met before we can even consider attempting the so-called 'self-actualization' of the rational mind.

So what is it that motivates us? It is just this. Remembering all three things together is the key. We must not only care for our selves, but see to it that those who are in our care and our responsibility are provided with the same level of care. We must do so for all of us. That is what Hierocles meant by his illustration of the circles. We cannot speak of being Stoic, without being just, courageous, temperate and wise. And we cannot be those things if we stand idly by while our brothers and sisters are unable to even reach for the so called lofty rational heights we dream of for ourselves.

Now I realize that this is an unpopular view amongst those who see in Stoicism only the opportunity to justify cutting themselves off from the rest of humanity or worse, from their own emotional life.

Stoicism is about Joy, Serenity, Meaning and Purpose. It is about being a useful and important member of society. In short, it is is about being an excellent human being, and part of a race of beings that has the potential for greatness.