Roman Calendar

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Genuinely Good vs. Preferred Indifferent

     From Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion on what is genuinely good and what is merely an indifferent thing that one would often prefer:

     "In general, the 'proper characteristic' (idion) of a qualified thing is that which it must do if it has that property at all. If a thing is genuinely good, the reasoning goes, it must benefit us every time, not only on some occasions. So anything which harms us at all, even very infrequently, is not good in the requisite sense. Wealth, comfort, power, reputation, and other objects external to our control may be beneficial (in the ordinary sense) on some occasions, but there will always be cases in which each of these things turns out to be harmful. Not even health is beneficial all the time. If a brutal dictator is seeking to conscript you to become part of a death squad, then it is preferable not to be physically fit (Seneca, who had some experience of dictators, recommends suicide in such instances). For this reason, the Stoics argue, neither health nor wealth nor any other external object is truly beneficial at all, and neither are their opposites harmful. Genuine value does not come and go with the occasion."

      This illustrates one of the most difficult aspects of Stoic thought to fully grasp: a Stoic realigns his or her thinking about all things, and judges most things to be indifferent, even if the average person who is not a Stoic would generally believe these same things to be good or bad.

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