Why Stoicism helps me with everything!

Stoicism is the best philosophy ever designed by the natural world.  It’s our little blue print to doing what we should be doing.  Are you angry?  Stoicism says, it’s ok to be initially angry as a result of a stimulus but after a few seconds of thinking about it, cut that shit out.  Relax man.  Turn down your angry passion.  It’s silly to be that way.   Same thing with fear.  It’s ok to be startled, to even shake a little bit when delivering a speech in front of a crowd, but on the inside, get things right, be calm.  Stoicism also throws in helpful tips on how to make that happen.

I’m kind of a hot mess.  My desires are pulling me in millions of directions.  My mind won’t shut up about anything.  Just won’t turn off.  Keeps calculating, speculating, creating, feeling, absorbing, entertaining, and laterally thinking.  This is where Stoicism comes in handy.  It tells me, focus on virtue.  Take all the energy of these desires and focus it into a laser beam aimed at virtue.  Harness all the energy in my brain to focus on one important thing in life:  virtue.  A brain with goals is awesome.  It’s what makes humans fundamentally human.  Having a goal keeps you from being pulled into every single direction by millions of desires just trying to get what they want.  Having a goal is one thing though.  We usually focus on one goal at a time.  But virtue is the ultimate goal.  Everyone should have some ultimate goal in life.  And it should be a good goal.  So what’s gooder than good itself?  That’s what Stoicism says it is.  Stoicism says virtue is the only good.

Life is often easier than we make it.   I mean, life can be hard sometimes but do we really want to compound that by thinking of it as a terrible thing that it’s hard?  Wouldn’t it be a better way of thinking about hardships as things to learn from and to even overcome?   What’s life without learning some kind of lesson?  When Darwin dreamed of his evolutionary theory, he imagined that life adapts.  Isn’t that the thing that we should be doing in our own minds?  Adapt!  Follow evolution, try a new idea, test it, see if it works and if it survives the test of logic, go with it.  That’s Stoicism.  Stoicism has been shaped by a long tradition of philosophers that go back to Heraclitus, tinkering with ideas, trying to figure out the ones that survive critical thinking.

I get momentarily sad sometimes.  Because I think about my mind and it’s too fast.  Too fast.  It’s also very impulsive and very unfocused.  But then I remember the ultimate goal.  The real objective goal:  Live simply in agreement with Nature.  Be virtuous.  If I can just follow that narrow dirt path, I can get through the day.  From thinking about doing what’s virtuous, I can also derive all my preferred indifferents that I need to focus on to get me there.  I know I have to do physics homework because at some point I have to be a physics teacher so I can enjoy my career and make money at it so I can support my wife and daughter.

It brings peace to me when I can just forget all the desires, thoughts, and feelings that all run way too fast and think about virtue.  I wouldn’t wish the tragedy of my own mind on anyone.  But I can definitely learn to deal with my mind.  My warped brain doesn’t totally own me, I get some say too.  I got that ability to detach myself from the situation and rationally evaluate and make my own decision after I’ve stepped back and breathed a little.  I have to remember, remember, remember that I can be rational.  That I can think critically.  I can assert my own final say about my own thoughts and ideas.  I can judge things as good or bad.  I can judge things as preferred or dispreferred.  I can judge things and even prescribe what I should be doing.  And finally, I can follow my own prescription.  I can do this.  I just have to do it.  I have to stop, slow down, pause, reflect, think about the important things, the real important things, and just subsume all of my being to accomplishing those real important things.

Thank you for reading.  🙂

road sky clouds cloudy
Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com
Advertisements

Why is virtue the only good?

It’s kind of an axiom why virtue is the only good for any Stoic.  There’s not a perfect proof for why virtue is the chief good.  You usually bite the bullet when you commit to any particular universal ethical theory.  With Epicureanism, the chief good is pleasure.  In utilitarianism, it usually means maximizing the everyone’s preferences or happiness.  In Kantian deontology, it means not violating the categorical imperative.

But why choose virtue as the only good?  Well, there are a plethora of reasons to do so.  But first let’s say why you wouldn’t choose other ethical theories.  Utilitarianism and Kantian deontology imply all sorts of ethical decisions that we might not be comfortable making.  Utilitarianism is often thought of as as easily calculating the best decision for the most but it’s not always practical to know what’s the best for the most or even possible to know what’s the best for the most.  Could utilitarianism condone slavery if slaves are unhappy or not having their preferences met but everyone who benefits from slavery are very happy or are definitely having their preferences met?  That’s just one sort of problem with utilitarianism.  The problems with morality in the name of utility can’t even be summed up in a single book while some have tried.

What about Kantian deontology?  Immanuel Kant actually tried to sell his Metaphysics of Morals as rational foundation of morality that would actually be inline with our common sense.  But is it common sense to have to tell the truth always even if it means you can never lie even if it’s to selflessly help another soul?  That doesn’t strike anyone as common sense.  Also, there are many times in our life where it seems sensible to do the utilitarian thing over the dignity of one individual.  How many of us would pull the lever to save 5 lives over 1 life from a murderous Trolley?  Probably a significant amount.

And what about making pleasure as the chief good?  This seems sensible enough at first.  But most people know you should follow pleasure and avoid point within limits.  Limits of what?  Usually within certain moral guidelines?  So then pleasure isn’t the source of the good.  Pleasure is actually being limited by something people view to be a higher good than pleasure itself.  But we certainly want to allow for pleasure but only within certain constraints.  The Epicureans attempted this project but it’s not certain they ever really succeeded because even though they managed to practice virtue, they still did not set it up as the chief good but as a way to not feel guilty when one has erred morally.  Feeling guilty caused displeasure, so it’s best not to err morally.  But why feel guilty in the first place if one has erred morally or contradicted virtue if virtue isn’t the chief source of the good?  It really doesn’t seem to add up.

The Stoics didn’t actually care about feeling guilty if one had erred ethically.  In fact, they’d really rather have you just learn from your mistakes rather than feel guilty about them.  They knew that people make mistakes all the time, whether attempting to live the good life or being mistaken about what the good life was.  There’s a lot of humility in Stoicism.  We all make mistakes, so let’s try to fix them and then  move on.  No sense living in guilt or remorse.  Sure, we can feel a little remorseful at first but no sense in grieving over our prior faults.

What’s more is Stoicism makes plenty of room for pleasure.  It allows for pleasure, wealth, health, education, reputation, and many other preferred qualities in life we’d like to pursue so long as they don’t contradict the pursuit of the chief good virtue.  Since most of these things don’t all the time contradict virtue, then pursuing virtue as the chief good is going to make for a pretty normal life.  In fact, pursuing virtue for its own sake won’t make you stand dramatically out from the crowd of people you surround yourself in your daily life.  People may wonder what makes you seem a little different than them though and they may want to emulate your behavior but that’s about it.

Virtue is also a pretty morally popular idea when you get people to thinking about what it is and what it entails.  Most people, when you get them to think about it, would say that the soldier who jumps on the grenade to save the lives of other soldiers did something truly remarkably good.  Virtuous in fact.  Most people would also say that the person who risks their life drowning to save two other kids from drowning did something truly noble.  It’s because people have this moral sense in their minds that seems to confirm the importance of virtue.  That’s not to say that everyone is right about everything all of the time.  But when you get people to think about what’s truly important, they’ll usually think someone doing something virtuous rather than something expedient is the right course of action.

Why would people have this moral sense?  Perhaps it has to do with Hierocles’s Circles.  Hierocles was an ancient Stoic who presumed that all humans began their infancy in self-love.  And then as they grew and matured their self-love began to point outward towards their siblings and parents.  And then as they grew older they loved their friends.  And then they grew to love their community, and then love their society, and then finally humanity.  It’s true that not everyone matures fully or matures the same.  But there seems to be a general trend in humanity to go from self-love in infancy to love of everyone or philanthropy in adulthood.

What does this development of philanthropy have to do with virtue?  Well one of the main virtues of the four cardinal virtues is justice.  Justice has to do with fair dealings, equitability, and compassion.  The Stoics knew this.  They knew virtue was just an extension of love into the realm of universal love or justice.  And they knew that temperance, courage, and wisdom all assisted in this universal love.

So this is why it’s worth biting the bullet for the axiom that virtue is the only good.  There’s not a lot to lose like you do in all the other plethora of life philosophies out there and there’s plenty of things to gain from one philosophy: Stoicism.

art beach beautiful clouds
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com