Roman Calendar

Thursday, January 30, 2014

On Stoic Love (From "Stoicism and Emotion")

     Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion tackles the difficult issue of the complex idea we call "love" in the context of Stoicism. As she writes, there is reason to wonder whether it counts as an affective response at all:

"Given that wise erōs is not a form of desire, there is some temptation to try to classify it with action tendencies of the calm `selective' type and to conclude that the wise person is devoted to erotic activities only as preferred indifferents, in about the same way as he might be devoted to studying literature or hunting with dogs. Against this it should be noted that the object toward which this love is directed-that is, the forming of a friendship-is an object the wise person recognizes as a good, albeit a good which is to be realized at some time in the future. This is the primary mark of a specifically affective response, as opposed to a merely `selective' impulse, that it depends on an evaluation of the unconditional sort. For this reason alone we should not hesitate to interpret Stoic erōs as having a place among the eupatheiai. As a future-directed eupatheia, it can be classified as a subspecies of wish (boulēsis), alongside the friendly responses of good intent, goodwill, welcoming, and cherishing."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 187-188). Kindle Edition.

     In other words, love in its purest sense is not a passion, involving an incorrect judgment about another person or a situation. If it turns into an irrational over-valuing of another person or relationship, than it becomes a passion we suffer. But if it is a rational judgment followed by rational and friends responses of well-wishing, that is not a passion, and can be - nay, must be - indulged by the sage.

     Some more thoughts on the positive purpose and outcomes of love follow. According to one analysis, the Stoics, especially Zeno, conceived of  "eupathic love as having an educational purpose; that is, that the wise lover's wish is not only to form a friendship with a young person seen as potentially wise but also to supply whatever teaching is required to realize that potential. That eupathic love should foster educational endeavor is an attractive hypothesis, especially in view of the age difference between the lover and the beloveds' In view of the Platonic parallel-for Diotima in Symposium 2o6c-2o7a is similarly concerned with intellectual reproduction-we are probably justified in finding this thought in the remark in Stobaeus that erōs is "a protreptic toward virtuous matters." If Zeno thought that love relations between the wise and younger persons who are not yet wise would encourage the latter to study moral philosophy, then it is easy to see why he would have held that love "contributes to the security of the polis." The `security' would then mean sure continuance over time, as each wise person is moved to train one or more younger persons to replace him.

     But we should be careful not to conclude that the educative dimension of the love relationship is what justifies wise erōs in the eyes of Stoics. Erōs does not require justification; it is a good thing in its own right, as are all the eupatheiai. The wise fall in love for no other reason than that it is their nature to want to be intimate with those whom they see as beautiful. A wish to impart wisdom might be part of their endeavor; how could they not want the beloved to acquire what they value for themselves? But it is the intimacy itself that is their object."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 188-189). Kindle Edition.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On Friendship and Self-Sufficiency (From Stoicism and Emotion)

     To us, it seems that human relationships require emotional investment in another person. If you have a friend, or someone whom you love, you grow to feel you "need" them, and feel an acute sense of loss when you "lose" them in some way. The ancient Stoics, as Margaret R. Graver shows in Stoicism and Emotion, had a very different take on the issue:

     "Perhaps the most radical element in the Stoic theory of friendship is the claim that relations among good people can be warm and genuine without also compromising the self-sufficiency of the individual. An important feature of the normative human in all ancient accounts is that he or she has the resources to live happily in any and all circumstances. Real happiness should be such as cannot be destroyed by any possible kind of loss. It follows that the wise person should be unalarmed by the mortal illness of a friend and should not grieve when friends die. While there might be some tears and a certain amount of pain-for these can come on involuntarily, as a `biting and small contraction'-there is no possibility that the wise will enter fully into grief.

     The claim that friendship is compatible with self-sufficiency could be defended in two ways. One could argue, first, that the ability to rise above the loss of friends comes of the wise person's accurate understanding of what it is for a thing to be good. The value of the commonality between friends is in its harmonious nature, and this is not dependent on numbers or diminished by the removal of one person. Alternatively, one might argue that while the wise value friendship in general, they are unconcerned about the identity of any one particular friend. A wise friend of one who is gone will turn immediately to other friends or potential friends, finding in them the same source of satisfaction as existed before."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 182-183). Kindle Edition.

Friday, January 3, 2014

On Stoic Friendship (from "Stoicism and Emotion")

     The concept of friendship in Stoicism is explored in Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion. The ideal sort of friendship discussed in the philosophy does not necessarily reflect any real relationships that actually exist or have existed, as this is an ideal:

     "One should keep in mind that this friendship claim, like all Stoic claims about the righteous or wise person, is made at a normative and theoretical level; it is not a description of historically instantiated relationships. If even the individual wise person is as rare as the phoenix, it is hardly to be expected that two such people would ever exist at the same moment in history. But the claim made here does not concern what has happened or might happen but only what ought to happen. Relationship entails plurality; in order to treat the idealized form of human relationship, Stoics must take plurality as a given and proceed from there."

     What, then, would relationships among the wise be like if they were to come together, as in theory they might? The above passages sound several important themes: that there is a likeness or similarity among all wise persons; that wise friendship is in essence a `sharing' or commonality (koinōnia) which involves treating the other as oneself; and that there is concord (homonoia), defined as a recognition that goods are held in common. To these points may be added further statements made in the same context by the Stobaean witness. These indicate that wise friendship includes a level of affective engagement.

'The righteous person is companionable, tactful, encouraging, and in companionship is liable to seek after good intent and friendship.... And they also say that cherishing, welcoming, and being friends belong only to the righteous.'

     Of significance here are the terms `good intent' (eunoein), `cherishing' (agapān), and `welcoming' (aspazesthai). For eunoia, agapēsis, and aspasmos are all terms known to us in the context of Stoic affective theory, where they are named as species of eupathic response, the type of affective response found in the wise; specifically, they are all species of the eupathic genus boulēsis or `wish.' Their occurrence here suggests that the ideal form of human relationship is conceived not only as a mutual disposition to act in one another's best interests but also as a disposition to respond affectively to one another. We are to imagine the wise interacting with one another in daily life and, in the context of those interactions, experiencing feelings of warmth and affection.

     A very early Stoic claim was that all the wise are automatically friends to one another, even sight unseen. In the Stobaean account, however, that view is replaced by one which allows friendship to be more clearly a personal relationship. Proper civic relations between people who are not personally acquainted do not have to be considered friendships, although it is still true that all wise persons, wherever they happen to live, regard one another as fellow citizens and regulate their actions accordingly. Friendships arise when people who are wise also come into contact with one another and acquire knowledge of each other's character as individuals."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 178-180). Kindle Edition.