Roman Calendar

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Morality and Self-Respect" (from "Everything Has Two Handles"

From Chapter 3 of Pies' Everything Has Two Handles:

"Morality and Self-Respect

'Never value anything as profitable to yourself which shall compel you to break your promise, to lose your self-respect, to hate anyone, to suspect, to curse, [or] to act the hypocrite.'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 42-3)

'The Stoic believe that right is the only good . . . advantage can never conflict with right . . . Besides, the Stoics' ideal is to live consistently with nature. I suppose what they mean is this: throughout our lives, we ought invariably to aim at morally right courses of action, and . . . must select only those which do not clash with such courses.'
~ Cicero, On Duties (162-63)"

     This chapter addresses some of the most difficult aspects of Stoicism for the beginner - the concept that what is right and good is the only true advantage, and that any "advantage" gained in life by doing wrong is no true advantage at all. Pies acknowledges a frequent formulation of concern with this perspective: "The concept of Nature and 'natural law' may seem strange in our age of cultural relativism - when every moral value is reduced to some special interest group's 'narrative' or 'agenda'." Yet, as he points out, just such a concept is implicit in Jefferson's formulation of self-evident natural rights at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, and is a strong thread running through the Western liberal tradition.
     The approach here is not necessarily to prove the truth that only the Good is true advantage, but to analyze the concept that the self-respect that comes from pursuing only the Good is the one true possession a human being may have.

"'I do my duty. Other things trouble me not.'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 115)

. . .

Marcus Aurelius tells us that if we have done our duty, that is all we can rightly expect. Similarly, Epictetus tells us, 'If you fulfill your duties, you have what belongs to you' (Bonforte, 73). What does he mean by this? I think Epictetus is telling us that the only real possession to which we may lay claim is our own moral integrity. Everything else in life either belongs to someone else, or is beyond our control."

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