Roman Calendar

Saturday, June 16, 2012

On Pity for Those Who Do Wrong

     In Pierre Hadot's "The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, he observes that many Stoics followed the logic which Plato attributes to Socrates, in which it is reasoned that all wrongdoing is really through error - that one who does wrong, even intentionally, can be said to be in error, because they have made incorrect value-judgments (which, from a Stoic perspective, means valuing anything - anything at all - as good which is not The Good, i.e. Virtue. Epictetus quotes (really, paraphrases) Plato as saying, "Every soul is deprived of the truth against its will." Marcus Aurelius quotes the same version of this in his Meditations, showing that he is following Epictetus.
     Therefore, whenever anyone does any wrong, it is because they are submerged in ignorance - as everyone but the sage is, for our entire lives. "'This ignorance of genuine values in which people are submerged,' says Marcus, is, 'in a sense, worthy of pity.' (II.13, 3) . . . 'In a sense, worthy of pity': this qualification is an allusion to the traditional Stoic critique of pity, which the Stoics considered a passion. 'Pity,' said Seneca, 'is an illness of the soul produced by the sight of the suffering of others, or a state of sadness caused by the misfortunes of others. But no illness affects the mind of the sage, who always remains serene.'
      Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus remain faithful to Stoic doctrine, insofar as what they call 'pity' is not a passion or an illness of the soul, but is instead defined negatively as the lack of anger and hatred toward those who are ignorant of genuine values. It is not enough, moreover, to have pity on people or to be indulgent to them. We must above all try to help them, by informing them about their error, and teaching them genuine letters (IX, 42, 6):

     'In general, it is within your power to instruct the mistaken person so as to make him change his mind, for whoever commits a misdeed is a person who misses what he was aiming at, and goes astray.'

     We must, then, try to reason with the mistaken person (V, 28, 3; VI, 27, 3; VI, 50, 1; IX, 11). If we fail in our efforts, then it will be time to practice patience, forgiveness, and benevolence."

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