Stoicism and how politics should be to ethics like biology is to physics

I admit I’m little frustrated.  Not with politics.  But mostly with how people treat it.  People can’t just talk about it with each other without attacking the person either indirectly or directly.  More frustrating is that Stoics can’t seem to be above the personal attacks.  The Stoic Facebook Groups are just filled with people hiding their political prejudices that they then project on others who are questioning them.  They have agendas but when someone talks about anything political, no, it’s not them who have the agenda, it’s the other person talking about the political situation that has the agenda.  I’m just going to go ahead and call out the elephant in the room: if you think you’re not actually political you’re just rationalizing your comfort with the political status quo.

Let me make it really easy for people who don’t understand how politics relates to Stoicism.  Think of physics.  Physics is the bedrock of science.  You can then build chemistry on top of physics.  Further still you can build biology on top of chemistry.  And you can build up higher and higher until you get to sociology.  So this analogy works the same way with ethics.  Ethics is kind of the foundation of all ought claims.  All prescriptive claims.  You can go a little lower into the basement and give a meta-ethical description if you want.  But ethics is basically the bedrock.   What can you put on top of ethics?  Public ethics.  Otherwise known as politics.

So did the Stoics end at just furnishing an ethical theory?  No, in fact, we have evidence of Zeno’s Republic.  Most importantly though, we have an excerpt from Diogenes Laertius that the Stoics were proponents of a Republic with a combination of a Democracy, Aristocracy, and Kingship.  It’s a very small fragment but it’s very telling.  Basically in the contemporary world, we have hundreds of governments throughout it that the Stoics would’ve approved of.  The United States, the UK, Canada, the rest of Western Europe, there are Republics all with a balance of Democracy, Kingship, and Aristocracy.  Exactly what the Stoics would’ve wanted.

So that’s what we want as Stoics, ancient and modern.  We want a society that is Democratic vs Aristocratic vs Monarchical.  We want there to be that kind of balance.  Whether it’s Parliamentary with a Prime Minister or American with a President.  Is there anything else that can be added to this?  Well, we probably want leaders that are cosmopolitan.  We don’t want to elect leaders that are against liberal and tolerant values.  If you don’t agree with any of this then you might just find yourself siding against Stoicism.

I don’t know how else to make this any clearer.  If you’re interested in living a life of Stoic virtue, then you’re going to have to be political.  Don’t act so naive or mean spirited about it.  Just embrace the political nature that we all have.  Aristotle was not a Stoic but he was definitely right when he said, “man is a political animal.”

All I ask is stop with the whole, “ugh, politics” mentality when anyone in the group mentions their political beliefs and is attempting to justify it using Stoicism.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  Where people might be going wrong is when they try to change Stoic principles to meet their politics.  And even then, just correct them where they’re going wrong and explain to them where they’re bending the principles.  Don’t say, “don’t bend Stoicism for your politics!”  Think past that and just explain to them where they’re wrong.  Use reason.  Stop with the cynicism.  Stop it and learn.

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Stoic ethics vs Objectivist ethics

Ayn Rand was somewhat of a virtue ethicist and believed her values were inspired by Aristotle.  Ayn Rand took a turn towards egoism though and explained her values as selfish but not the worst kind of selfishness but the best kind selfishness – known as enlightened selfishness.

From what I understand Objectivist virtues included rationality, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness, and pride.  This doesn’t seem bad but all of these virtues are defined within the realm of enlightened egoism, which is superior to regular egoism but still has many problems.  One problem is that Ayn Rand suggests that you should never live for another but only for yourself and another should only live for themselves and not for another.

Living for yourself and not for another seems great at first or maybe great in general but it’s actually problematic as an absolute philosophy to live by.  The problem is most people will find it highly ethical for a soldier to land on a grenade to save the lives of other soldiers from being killed by the shrapnel and explosion.  Or what about someone who selflessly gives up all their belongings to 20 people who absolutely need the belongings?  That is living for another before living for yourself.  But it seems absolutely ethical to do those things.  In fact, some instances of giving up one’s life for others is beyond the call of duty.

Ayn Rand was once asked if someone was drowning should you save the person?  She said that you should.  But she’s got a curious form of ethics that seems to undermine that idea.  It seems like following her ethical advice if saving someone meant some threat to your existence, you shouldn’t even bother.

The Stoic ethical virtues wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage are all within the mean between selfishness and selflessness.  Sometimes doing something good will require you to give up a lot of your free time and not rewarding some of your selfish desires.  But Stoicism doesn’t let you just treat yourself like a doormat to people.  Sometimes you will have to stand up for yourself and your principles.  But this is uniquely different than living only for yourself and not for another.  Sometimes it’s your Stoic duty to selflessly help others when their needs outweigh yours.  Being a Stoic doesn’t mean you always have to give up your life for others needs but it does mean giving up some of your time and some of your hard earned wealth to help others in need.  Just remember that before you think Stoicism and Objectivism are compatible philosophies.