Roman Calendar

Saturday, September 29, 2012

From "The Roman Mind" on judging good and evil in life

     "[The Stoic] belief in a beneficent providence was not without its difficulties. In the time of Lucretius men had pointed to those features in nature which seemed to contradict it. Now it was rather the difficulties of the individual which hindered assent to the doctrine. Apart from the ordinary annoyances and discomforts of life which some made complain against providence, there was the problem presented by the spectacle of the good man suffering. If the gods cared for man, as Ennius put it, bene bonis sit, male malis, quod nunc abest [it would be well for the good, ill for the evil, which is nowhere the case now]. The correct Stoic answer was that the ills which afflicted the good were not ills at all. As Tacitus put it: 'Good and ill are not what the common people suppose them to be; many who appear to battle against adversity are blessed, many amid great wealth are utterly miserable, if the former bear their hard lot firmly and the latter make foolish use of their prosperity.' This view, however, was not easy to accept, for it might well be supposed that if the physical world was so ordered as to serve the needs of mankind, human society likewise would in some degree reflect the divine providence." (Clarke, The Roman Mind, p. 117) Of course, the traditional Stoic view on the last item is that while beneficent divine providence created nature, human beings have free will to order themselves, precisely because of their shared divinity - the divine spark within each human soul. As a result, human society is the product of human beings exercising their divinely-bestowed free will, with good or evil intent as they choose, whereas nature is what it is. Through neither nature not human activity, however, can the sage suffer evil in this world, since he cannot judge anything that befalls him to be evil, whether sickness, injustice, old age, death, or any other thing commonly but wrongly supposed to be "evils suffered" by the good.

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