Roman Calendar

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Objects Mistakenly Regarded As Good or Evil (from "Stoicism and Emotion")

     From Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion, in which the author explores Cicero's explanations of how we come to regard objects (mistakenly) as good or evil:

     " Cicero names six objects which people mistakenly regard as goods and evils: pleasure and pain, death and life, honor and disrepute. Each of these is closely associated with an object for which we have some natural affinity or disaffinity: on the positive side health, the preservation of one's natural state, and moral excellence; on the negative side bodily harm, the dissolution of one's nature, and (by implication) moral turpitude. Our errors arise from our tendency to confuse objects in the first group with the corresponding objects in the second group. We fail to make distinctions between things that are in fact distinct.

     But why should we make such mistakes? Cicero twice speaks of the confusion in terms of a resemblance between one thing and another. Pleasure, he says, 'has something similar' to what is good by nature and so is 'an imitator of the good.' Glory, also, is said to resemble moral excellence (honestas). However, the language of resemblance is not entirely transparent. Ordinarily we think of resemblance as a sharing of properties: to perceive a resemblance is to observe the same properties in two distinct objects, each of which is already fully conceptualized. That is not quite what is happening in this case, where the relevant concepts are still in the process of formation. Here as in Calcidius, the salient epistemic challenge must be that of sorting out experiences which regularly occur together. The difficulty that confronts the developing mind is that of recognizing that the objects in question are in fact different, making distinctions it has not previously made, so as to form the boundaries of its concepts correctly."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (p. 160). Kindle Edition.

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