Roman Calendar

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Freedom in Stoic Thought

Concerning "Freedom" in Stoic thought, from Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion:

"The principle that is at stake can also be expressed in terms of human freedom. The word `freedom' is used in modern and some ancient discussions in conjunction with will or choice, to assert that our actions are self-determined. Stoic usage is different: while autonomy or self-determination is certainly a characteristic of human action, the word `free' (eleutheros) does not occur in this context.53 When Stoics speak of freedom it is on analogy with the social stratification that was a familiar part of life in the ancient Mediterranean. Being free means not being a slave; that is, doing what you want, and not having to do what you do not want. Among the paradoxes or counterintuitive teachings characteristic of the school is a claim that "only the wise person is free." As Susanne Bobzien observes, the Stoics certainly did not mean by this that the actions of the wise are autonomous while those of ordinary persons are not! The point is rather that the person of perfect understanding does exactly what he or she wishes to do. The ordinary person has not yet achieved such self-command but can and should aspire to it.

. . . [W]e have seen one important way the ordinary person is not free: we are liable to be carried away by our own affective responses, so that we sometimes act contrary to what we otherwise mean to do. The assertion that the ideal human life is a life of freedom therefore raises a question about the nature of those `eupathic' responses that constitute the Stoic ideal for human affectivity. Are these responses, too, of such a vigorous nature that they override other judgments the wise person might form? Is being "carried away" a feature of the normative experience of affect, or only of the perversion of affect?

The uncompromising nature of emotional impulses must be directly related to their being caused by ascriptions of genuine value. This feature is shared by the eupatheiai. The wise do not believe that externals have genuine value, but they do believe that human conditions and activities have that sort of value, and it is toward these that normative affect is directed. Thus we have every reason to think that the Stoics' wise person can experience very powerful feelings when the occasion calls for them. An awareness of having done the right thing should evoke not just a mild satisfaction but real, deep joy. The thought of abusing a child should be met with more than unwillingness: aversion should go off like an air-raid siren that arrests one's very being. The principle is recognized by Lawrence Becker, writing as a modern-day Stoic in response to yet another point raised by Posidonius. Posidonius inquired why it is that the wise, who recognize `all things honorable' as unsurpassable goods, do not also find themselves deeply moved by those things. The Stoic response, argues Becker, is that they do. Those who perceive virtue to be surpassingly valuable should in fact be surpassingly passionate about it."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 81-82). Kindle Edition.

No comments:

Post a Comment