On the Motivations of the Stoic by Michel Daw

What makes a Stoic get up in the morning? Michel Daw, who blogs at Living the Stoic Life, explores what it is that motivates a Stoic.

On the Motivations of the Stoic

 As to the question of how a Stoic is motivated, there are several layers to consider.

The first, of course, is Virtue. We must remember that virtue is not something that one merely has, it is something that must be DONE. In order to have virtue, we must BE virtuous; we must be courageous in the face of challenges, we must be just in the distribution of goods and rights, we must be temperate in our dealings as well as our acquisitions, and most of all we must be wise in our choices of action.

Second, we need to remember that when the Stoics speak of ‘indifferents’, we mean things that, in their nature, have no MORAL value. Nevertheless, they have other kinds of value. Good food and clothing, shelter and safety, these things have great PHYSICAL value. Relationships, friends, art, music, these things have great EMOTIONAL value. Books, education, conversation, these things have a great INTELLECTUAL value. And while Virtue alone is in my control, these other things are to be pursued and managed by virtuous means.

Third, while I must remember that as a Stoic I am in control only of my own action, I am also part of a family, a community, a country. I am human, and being human means that all ideas of individuality are an illusion. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the very language we speak and that forms the framework of our thinking are inheritances of the culture and species and we are bound to support it return. As humans, we require basic needs to function. We can speak of being ‘rational’, but in reality, we require a functioning body to think clearly. To borrow from Maslow, we need to have our physical, safety, social and importance needs met before we can even consider attempting the so-called ‘self-actualization’ of the rational mind.

Continue reading

Musings of a Stoic Woman: Part Three

Pamela Daw, who blogs at Musings of a Stoic Woman, explores how we can still try to live a good life in the face of a world which has overbearing inequalities at play.

Peace

EITHER teach them better if it be in thy power; or if it be not, remember that for this use, to bear with them patiently, was mildness and goodness granted unto thee. The gods themselves are good unto such; yea and in some things, (as in matter of health, of wealth, of honour), are content often to further their endeavours: so good and gracious are they. And mightest thou not be so too? or, tell me, what doth hinder thee?

MARCUS AURELIUS. MEDITATIONS. Book ix. 9

So often in this life we are disconcerted by the spectacle of our less than stellar fellow humans prospering in life when other more “worthy” fellow travelers do not.  In trying to wrestle and deal with this reality in my own life the practice of determining what is “in my control” and what “is not in my control” has granted me a tool for reclaiming my balance and peace in the face of what appears to be rampant inequality and the capriciousness of Fate.

We have no control of outcomes in this life, nor do we have control over other humans.  When we relinquish these foolish attempts to control outcomes and others around us we are left with only ourselves to try to school.

Success, i.e. wealth, material things, stature, etc., is totally out of our control.  Like the athlete, all we can do is train ourselves towards our goals, becoming a worthy person in the process.  Winning the trophy is totally out of our control as there are many circumstances that may arise during the course of a race to cause the athlete to fall short of their goal.  We may never achieve the career goals that we have set for ourselves, have the family we hoped for, or the health that we wished for in our old age.  No matter how we live our lives these things are out of our control.  The only thing that we can do is to learn and live our lives in such a way as to make our goals possible with the understanding that the actual accomplishment of our goal is out of our control.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading