What does ‘living in accordance with nature’ actually mean? By Michel Daw

The Stoic aim, to live in accordance with nature, sounds good, but is often perplexing. What exactly did the Stoics mean by it? Michel Daw, who blogs at Living the Stoic Life, tackles this question.

What does ‘live according to Nature’ actually mean?

The Stoics have consistently stated that the core of their philosophy is to ‘Live according to Nature.’ This phrase has caused a great deal of discussion and misunderstanding over the millennia and no less so today. In this post, I am going to dig into what this actually means.

The word that is conventionally translated as ‘Nature’ is actually began as the Greek term ‘physis.’ Physis isn’t merely an object, as in the Natural world, nor is it a State, as in it’s a leaf’s natural color. Physis is a process, it describes the way in which things are intended by nature to change and grow. So our first clarification would rephrase the statement to ‘Live according to the way things are meant to change and grow.’

The phrase ‘live according to Nature’ is obviously directed at humans (you don’t have to tell a plant to live according to Nature, it will change and grow on its own.) Nor does the instruction mean to tell us to eat, breathe, bathe etc, as these are all ‘natural’ functions shared with other animals. By using the phrase, Stoics mean ‘live according to the way human nature is meant to change and grow.’ So what do we mean by ‘human nature’?

There are acutally two senses in which we can understand ‘human nature.’ First, each of us has a genetic structure that has been determined by evolution, a legacy of time and adaptation, and in a way of speaking we are ‘designed’ to fulfill determinate ends, to survive and flourish in our environments. We also exist at a precise time and place in history, and surrounded by cultural influences.

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Musings of a Stoic Woman: Part Two

Pamela Daw, who blogs at Musings of a Stoic Woman, explores a heartfelt response to grief.

At the Journey’s End

Today’s reading from Words of the Ancient Wise was:

HOW do we act in a voyage? What is in my power? To choose the pilot, the sailors, the day, the time of day. Afterwards comes a storm. What have I to care for? My part is performed. The subject belongs to another, to the pilot. But the ship is sinking: what then have I to do? That which alone I can do; I am drowned, without fear, without clamour, or accusing God; but as one who knows that what is born must likewise die. For I am not eternity, but a man; a part of the whole, as an hour is of the day. I must come like an hour, and like an hour must pass away. What signifies it whether by drowning or by a fever? For, in some way or other, pass I must. -

EPICTETUS. DISCOURSES. Book ii. §5. ¶2.”

My response to this was “Have courage to face the inevitable with reason and peace. Do what you can to influence or change your circumstances, but when you have done all that you can, act with dignity.”

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I have recently experienced a momentous loss in my own personal life.  My mother passed away from a terminal form of cancer within four months of diagnosis.  The example that mother gave me of “grace under extreme adversity”, “peace when the storm of life is raging”, will stay with me for the rest of my life and with anyone who witnessed her incredible dignity and fortitude.    Upon her initial diagnosis she spoke with her doctors and specialists discovered that there was little medical intervention that would prolong her life considerably and made the choice to accept the inevitable and to spend what little time she had left with family and friends around her.  She chose not to rail at the circumstances or to fight the inevitability of death, but to accept things with serenity.  Her moments, although tinged with regret that she would not experience the future with those that she loved, were filled with important words, love and friendship.

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Stoicism: I’m Feeling it! by Michel Daw

In this guest post Michel Daw, who blogs at Living the Stoic Life, discusses the (often unfairly stereotyped) view of Stoic emotions, and explores what is really going on.

Stoicism – I’m Feelin’ It!

One of the perennial challenges faced by modern Stoics is the question of the proper place of emotions. The very word ‘Stoic’ has come to mean a Vulcan like denial or suppression of human emotion. What follows is merely the beginning of a discussion in an attempt to correct, or at least modify, this view. 

The tale is told of one Stilpo, a wise man held up by the Stoics as an example of how a person should behave. One translations tells his tale in the following way:

Stilbo, after his country was captured and his children and his wife lost, as he emerged from the general desolation alone and yet happy, spoke as follows to Demetrius, called Sacker of Cities because of the destruction he brought upon them, in answer to the question whether he had lost anything: “I have all my goods with me!” There is a brave and stout-hearted man for you! The enemy conquered, but Stilbo conquered his conqueror. “I have lost nothing!” Aye, he forced Demetrius to wonder whether he himself had conquered after all. “My goods are all with me!” In other words, he deemed nothing that might be taken from him to be a good.

This might lead some to think that this man was some kind of monster, and those who admired him fools at best. The blame lies in the translation.. Stilpo was not ‘happy,’ in our modern emotional sense, at the destruction of his city and family. The Latin word translated as ‘happy’ (beatus) can also mean ‘blessed’, and it is Seneca’s translation of the Greek word ευδαιμωνια (eudaimonia), which also translates (roughly) as flourishing, prosperous, blessed. You see Stilpo wasn’t cheerfully chatting away with his conquerors, he understood that those things that we truly his, his riches, his virtues, were always with him. Though he lose country and family and position, it has not made him a vicious man.

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