Thinking about living in agreement with nature like one thinks about Newtonian physics

I was thinking about what the Stoics were going on about when they said to live in agreement with nature or follow nature.  Many people sum it up as, “live rationally and virtuously.”  I mean that’s pretty good.  But there’s something else going on.  The foundation of Stoic morality isn’t just reason but it’s a particular kind of sentiment called love.

Basically, Stoics were moral sentimentalists in some respects and moral rationalists in other respects.  Let me explain, when you go back to the Stoic Hierocles, he made the observation that in the course of our development, if everything goes right, we start from self-love, learn to love family, then learn to love our tribes, then our community of tribes, then ultimately all of humanity.  Humans start with moral sentiment when they’re young and then develop philanthropy, a form of rational love and respect for all rational beings.  So we kind of have a rationally guided system of moral development.

But why follow nature if this is just how nature goes?  Shouldn’t we just go with the flow?  We’re going to become philanthropists in the end right?  Unfortunately, nature isn’t that simple.  To follow nature in the Stoic sense, you have to combat some external forces that halt this natural development.

This is where Newtonian physics enters the picture.  Newton was able to describe falling bodies and the dynamics of forces by removing complicated features of nature like air resistance.  In a vacuum, everything will fall to Earth, despite varying masses at exactly 9.8 meters per second per second.  When a cannon ball is shot from a cannon, you can pretty much ignore air resistance and predict where it will fall based on angle of trajectory.  Only if you drop a feather is it difficult to ignore air resistance.

I think this is what the Stoics meant by following nature.  They meant to imagine how humans would develop if you assume things just go well.  So conceptually removing things like abuse from parents or society, removing things like terminal cancer, removing things like being born mentally handicapped, removing certain resistances, you create a situation where humans can easily grow from self love to love of family to love of community to ultimately love of humanity.  The problem is though that you can’t remove a lot of these resistances, so the Stoics had to create all kinds of mental strategies to get humans back on track.  Let’s face it, someone will try to abuse us, we might get cancer, and some of us might not have a good brain.

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Which is more Stoic, dogs or cats?

The correct answer is neither is more “Stoic” than the other.  For one thing, they do not follow the philosophy of Zeno of Citium.  However, they both live approximately in agreement with nature.  Also, living in agreement with nature for a cat is very different than living in agreement with nature for a dog.

The question is how much does your individual cat or dog live in agreement with nature?  For a human to live in agreement with nature, they have to mature emotionally and rationally to their full potential.  Essentially, no one really completes their full potentiality because if they did, they’d be a Sage.   So the same probably goes for cats and dogs.  Does a cat or a dog ever really mature fully into their full potential?  Maybe a few but they’d be rarer than a phoenix.

What does it mean for a cat to live up to its full potential as a cat?  Well, perhaps it would have to be very good apex predator.  It would need to be able to catch mice really well.  It would need to take plenty of catnaps.  It would need eat the right amount and clean its coat sufficiently.  It might need to produce the requisite amount of hairballs.  Perhaps if you saw that cat, you’d be like, “well, that’s definitely a cat!”

What does it mean for a dog to live up to its full potential as a dog?  Well, perhaps it would need to be appropriately loyal to its human.  If it was a feral dog, maybe it would need to be part of a pack and maybe even do the appropriate things as a pack animal.  Perhaps it would be really good at following the lead dog or if it was a lead dog of the pack it would be really good at leading.  Maybe if a human called it “a good boy” it would take that as an initiative to be a good boy.  A “good” dog certainly would be very trainable.

So that’s the definitive answer.  Cats and dogs are not really any better than the other with regard to Stoicism.  Cats will be cats and dogs will be dogs.  Some dogs are better at being dogs than others.  Just like some cats are better than other cats at being cats.  Can anything ever really live in agreement with nature?  Not when taken apart.  But when looking at the whole nature definitely lives in agreement with itself.

orange tabby cat beside fawn short coated puppy
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