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Monday, March 10, 2014

Apatheia Revisited (from "Stoicism and Emotion")

From Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion:

Apatheia revisited

     "The material we have seen here on remorse and shame gives rise to further reflections on the old ideal of apatheia or the disappearance of the pathē. Getting a more precise understanding of that ideal has been a major enterprise of this book. I have argued that while the pathē Stoics sought to eliminate are indeed cases of emotion in our sense, not everything we now call an `emotion' was considered by Stoics to be a pathos and subject to elimination. The pathē are affective responses toward externals, but there are other affect-laden responses that are not pathē. Such are the eupatheiai of the wise: their joy, their eagerness for what is good, their goodwill, friendship, and love. Thus Jerome is only half right when he complains against the Stoics that achieving apatheia would mean becoming "either god or a stone." Being wise and thus free of the pathē does mean that one is godlike, for knowledge is a harmonious condition that resembles the harmony of the god-infused cosmos as a whole. But it does not mean that one becomes like a stone, for there are genuine objects to which the wise may respond affectively. Indeed the Stoic understanding of human nature and of the causes of our feelings implies not only that such responses may occur in the normative person but even that they must.

     We should remember that the attainment of apatheia is not in itself the goal of personal development. For the founding Stoics the endpoint of progress was simply that one should come to understand the world correctly. The disappearance of the pathē comes with that changed intellectual condition: one who is in a state of knowledge does not assent to anything false, and the evaluations upon which the pathē depend really are false. Thus it seems to me philosophically perverse to think of using Stoic arguments to rid oneself of undesired emotions merely because of the way they feel, without coming to grips with Stoic axiology. That approach may be justifiable on a temporary basis, because of the disruptive nature of emotional judgments. But it misses the central and indispensable point of the Stoics' contribution in ethics and psychology: that no rational being wants to believe what is false.

     This chapter has added the observation that even those who are not wise will sometimes respond affectively to integral objects-that is, to features of our own character or conduct. When we do this, it certainly seems possible within Stoic theory that our responses are at least sometimes generated on the basis of true beliefs. These would then have the same status as our other actions have when premised on true beliefs about appropriateness; that is, the status of kathekonta, the ordinary person's 'appropriate actions,' as distinct from the `fully correct actions' (katorthomata) of the wise. Stoic reasons for believing that the pathē would be eliminated in a perfected mind would not apply to them."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 210-211). Kindle Edition.

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