Stoic virtue vs Objectivist virtue

Ayn Rand could be characterized as a virtue ethicist. Rand claimed her virtue theory was inspired by Aristotle.  Ayn Rand reinterpreted Aristotle’s eudaimonic virtue theory as rational egoism. Rand explained her virtue theory as selfish and she had in mind an enlightened selfishness. So let’s consider Rand’s selfish virtue theory.

Ayn Rand’s whole philosophy is called Objectivism. She said her philosophy Objectivism asserts the importance of human rationality and affirms objective reality. Rand highly valued the preservation of an individual’s existence both physically and rationally. She said she would’ve called her philosophy Existentialism because of her concern with existence but the name was already taken. In the area of ethics, Objectivist virtue includes rationality, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness, and pride.  These virtues might fit well with enlightened egoism if one defines justice outside its definition within mainstream philosophy. One wonders if productiveness is a virtue since it requires a lot of externals outside of one’s control. Rand seems to have in mind an artist or businessperson making goals and completing them. It seems like she had a certain personality in mind that not everyone can fit. With productiveness being a virtue, one can easily understand why some individuals are attracted to her philosophy. Rand made it clear that her egoism is categorically opposed to altruism. Ayn Rand suggests that one should never live for another but only for oneself and another should only live for themselves and not for another.

Living for oneself sounds alluring. Wouldn’t one want to be their own person, taking control of one’s life, and not allowing other people to determine one’s fate? It’s all incomplete. Objectivism is incomplete because sometimes a person must sacrifice one’s time for another. Sometimes a person must sacrifice a great deal of their time and even life for others. Sure, it’s reasonable to want time to oneself and to have one’s own projects. But don’t we care about others? Don’t we wish to help advance other people’s lives or projects just as well as ours? Never living for another but oneself as a categorical principle is simply uncaring of other’s needs and experiences. Selfishness as a virtue, even if enlightened, doesn’t agree with people’s notions of what a highly virtuous act would look like. Many find it virtuous for a soldier to jump on an enemy grenade to save the lives of other soldiers from being killed by the shrapnel and explosion.  That kind of virtue is not consistent with enlightened egoism. How about someone who gives up all their belongings to 20 people who absolutely need the belongings? Many of us could not conceive of ourselves acting so charitably but it would be an act of virtue. It would not be a virtue concordant with Objectivism.

Ayn Rand was once asked if one should save a drowning person and she replied affirmatively.  Rand’s own ethics undermine her reply.  Living for only oneself means that one should never sacrifice oneself for another. Clearly, by Rand’s philosophy, one shouldn’t save a person drowning. It’s because following Rand’s ethical advice means if saving someone’s life is a threat to one’s own, then one shouldn’t bother.

The Stoic virtues wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage are concerned with acting in one’s own interest and the interests of others.  Sometimes doing good will require a person to give up a significant amount of time to her own interests.  Helping others doesn’t mean the helper becomes a doormat. It’s important to stand up for oneself and one’s interests and principles. Acting courageous doesn’t mean a person should act selfish without fear of consequence. Acting courageous is doing what’s good for everyone and oneself despite the fear one might feel while doing so.   It’s often a Stoic duty to help others when their needs outweigh one’s own needs.  Being Stoic doesn’t mean always having to give up one’s life for others needs but it does mean giving up some private time. Ancient Stoics believed in philanthropy, which means love of humanity.  Remember what the Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius said:

For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away (Meditations II, 1).


Stoicism and how politics should be to ethics like biology is to physics

I admit I’m little frustrated.  Not with politics.  But mostly with how people treat it.  People can’t just talk about it with each other without attacking the person either indirectly or directly.  More frustrating is that Stoics can’t seem to be above the personal attacks.  The Stoic Facebook Groups are just filled with people hiding their political prejudices that they then project on others who are questioning them.  They have agendas but when someone talks about anything political, no, it’s not them who have the agenda, it’s the other person talking about the political situation that has the agenda.  I’m just going to go ahead and call out the elephant in the room: if you think you’re not actually political you’re just rationalizing your comfort with the political status quo.

Let me make it really easy for people who don’t understand how politics relates to Stoicism.  Think of physics.  Physics is the bedrock of science.  You can then build chemistry on top of physics.  Further still you can build biology on top of chemistry.  And you can build up higher and higher until you get to sociology.  So this analogy works the same way with ethics.  Ethics is kind of the foundation of all ought claims.  All prescriptive claims.  You can go a little lower into the basement and give a meta-ethical description if you want.  But ethics is basically the bedrock.   What can you put on top of ethics?  Public ethics.  Otherwise known as politics.

So did the Stoics end at just furnishing an ethical theory?  No, in fact, we have evidence of Zeno’s Republic.  Most importantly though, we have an excerpt from Diogenes Laertius that the Stoics were proponents of a Republic with a combination of a Democracy, Aristocracy, and Kingship.  It’s a very small fragment but it’s very telling.  Basically in the contemporary world, we have hundreds of governments throughout it that the Stoics would’ve approved of.  The United States, the UK, Canada, the rest of Western Europe, there are Republics all with a balance of Democracy, Kingship, and Aristocracy.  Exactly what the Stoics would’ve wanted.

So that’s what we want as Stoics, ancient and modern.  We want a society that is Democratic vs Aristocratic vs Monarchical.  We want there to be that kind of balance.  Whether it’s Parliamentary with a Prime Minister or American with a President.  Is there anything else that can be added to this?  Well, we probably want leaders that are cosmopolitan.  We don’t want to elect leaders that are against liberal and tolerant values.  If you don’t agree with any of this then you might just find yourself siding against Stoicism.

I don’t know how else to make this any clearer.  If you’re interested in living a life of Stoic virtue, then you’re going to have to be political.  Don’t act so naive or mean spirited about it.  Just embrace the political nature that we all have.  Aristotle was not a Stoic but he was definitely right when he said, “man is a political animal.”

All I ask is stop with the whole, “ugh, politics” mentality when anyone in the group mentions their political beliefs and is attempting to justify it using Stoicism.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  Where people might be going wrong is when they try to change Stoic principles to meet their politics.  And even then, just correct them where they’re going wrong and explain to them where they’re bending the principles.  Don’t say, “don’t bend Stoicism for your politics!”  Think past that and just explain to them where they’re wrong.  Use reason.  Stop with the cynicism.  Stop it and learn.

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Stoicism, Virtue Signaling, and Vice Signaling

In this article, I specifically redefine virtue signaling to make a point.  I give virtue signaling a positive meaning since in my experience people accused of virtue signaling are likely intending to do the right thing.

Often we hear people complain about others who virtue signal.  But what is virtue signaling?  Virtue signaling is usually a form of argumentation and rhetoric that defends the dignity or rights of classes of people considered underprivileged, whether they are people of color, women, homosexuals, trans, or non-binary.  When individuals signal their virtue they’re educating people about an unjust power imbalance between those who are privileged and those who are underprivileged. After all, virtue isn’t just something that should be important to one person, it should be important to everyone.

I contrast virtue signaling with what I consider to be vice signaling. Vice signaling is a rhetorical strategy that attacks virtue signalers merely on the basis that virtue signalers are virtue signalers.  In fact, vice signalers define virtue signaling as an attempt of a person who virtue signals to score social points, pat themselves on the back, or advance their status in their in-group. In fact, painting someone as a virtue signaler is an ad hominem attack that does not address the issue of justice the virtue signaler is concerned about.

Why call it vice signaling?  It’s vice signaling because by only attacking virtue signalers as individuals, but not a virtue signaler’s arguments, vice signalers defy the virtues of wisdom and intellectual honesty.  Since the strategies of the vice signaler are against virtue, then they are participating in vice. The vice signaling strategy doesn’t add to the dialogue, it subtracts from the dialogue.  Vice signalers might have a point that some virtue signalers out there are just pretending to care but whether a virtue signaler pretends to care is besides the point.  The vice signaler still needs to address the virtue signaler’s arguments rather than attack the virtue signaler him/herself.

Vice signaling is not merely a problem because the vice signaler is being vicious but also because of immediate negative consequences.  Vice signaling derails discussion, it poisons the dialogue, it even harms the underprivileged because it stifles dialogue meant to address unjust power imbalances in society.

Musonious Rufus, Epictetus, Cato the Younger, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca were virtue signalers during their time.  Musonius Rufus believed that everyone regardless of gender were endowed with reason during a time when women were regarded as nothing more than property. Cato put his virtue on full display when he vowed never to live under Julius Caesar as dictator. We don’t indubitably know all the ancient Stoics’ true intentions.  Maybe Epictetus really did virtue signal because he wanted to increase his social approval and increase turnout at his school.  But we’ll never know and it is counterproductive to speculate.  We should be thinking about what we know about Epictetus, his arguments, and his sound conclusions.

One pernicious quality of a vice signaler is their anger and disgust.  Vice signalers attempt to conceal their anger and disgust but it’s easy to spot their hatred spilling over in the form of snide remarks, ad hominems, vitriol, and trolling.   One way to respond to vice signalers is to help them see wisdom by discussing the issues with them objectively and without bias all the while without counter-attacking their character.  If the attempt is fruitless, then there is no choice but to ignore them.

5 Reasons Stoicism is Better than Jordan B Peterson

Jordan Peterson is the psychology professor from the University of Toronto who has become something of a celebrity intellectual. Men’s Rights Activists and Alt Righters everywhere are absolutely happy to flock to this guy. He’s popular because he opposed a Canadian law that will supposedly destroy your career as a professor for not using gendered pronouns that go beyond two. Oddly, even though he’s opposed this law, his career is perfectly safe and he benefits greatly for his opposition to this law. Here are 5 Reasons Stoicism Is Greater than Him.

1. Jordan Peterson famously compared human beings to lobsters. As bizarre as this might sound it’s particularly pernicious. Jordan Peterson is saying that human beings have hierarchies like the lobster and that these hierarchies are not artificially created by global capitalism but just the natural order of things. Jordan Peterson is essentially saying that the terrible ways our system is is because we’re just designed that way and it’s not just that we’re designed that way but it’s good. So you should be happy being at the bottom. Stoicism just observes humans the way they are. There have been hierarchies throughout all time but they’re never exactly the same hierarchies. There used to be master-slave hierarchies, feudal hierarchies, and now we have capitalist hierarchies. Nothing is static. The Stoics knew the universe was change. The Stoics also believed everyone ultimately deserved equal status in the world of things. No one was a Sage, so everyone was in the same boat. No one was really any better than anyone else.

2. Jordan Peterson uses the theory of evolution in a way to justify his Jungian archetypal theory. Unfortunately he engages in evolutionary psychology, which most forms of it are pseudoscientific since we have no idea what were in the heads of our distant ancestors. It’s speculation at best, pseudoscience at worst. And Jordan Peterson should know better than to consider Carl Jung an important psychologist. Stoicism is always updating closely with the current science. Stoicism used techniques back in its ancient days that were a lot like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In fact, CBT owes quite a bit of its development to Stoicism, which is pretty much Stoic psychological techniques being tested in the lab.

3. Jordan Peterson may have won that interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News but he can’t win an argument against a Stoic. Why is that? A true Stoic is adept at logic and rhetoric and knows when someone is using rhetoric as opposed to logic. Jordan Peterson is an excellent rhetorician but if challenged by an actual professional philosopher or psychologist like Massimo Pigliucci or Donald Robertson, he’d have to eat his hat. The problem is Jordan Peterson is used to being interviewed by people who don’t have expertise. But how would he do with an expert in his same field or in his crossover field: philosophy?

4. Jordan Peterson Lobster Lobster Jordan Peterson. Stoicism doesn’t use lobsters to justify its philosophy. Any questions?

5. Finally, Jordan Peterson doesn’t calm down his rabid followers. Zeno of Citium is known for reprimanding his followers whenever they became too uncontrollable. Jordan Peterson seems to make a killing out off having a fervent crowd of young pissed off white males. Stoicism has no place for any amount of fervent followers, even if a few.

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Stoicism, Brexit, Cosmopolitanism, and Possibly Dissolving the United States for the Public Good

Why did Brexit happen?  God only knows all the reasons but a lot of it had to do with fear of open immigration and fear of the EU as an anti-democratic nightmare issuing bureaucratic decrees on its member nations.  I honestly don’t know a whole lot about the European Union and its politics but I definitely know the UK politician Nigel Farage liked to yell about the EU being an anti-democratic nightmare.  Also, I know German Chancellor Angela Merkel is very controversial for letting so many refugees into Germany.

Brexit is a nightmare for liberal cosmopolitans everywhere because it means dream of cosmopolitanism, unity, and social justice is being dismantled forcefully by reactionary forces built on distrust, xenophobia, and tribalism.  Despite this, I believe everything has a grain of truth to it so what if the reactionaries have some important thoughts?

What if the dream of cosmopolitanism that is the European Union is an artificial, naive, and unrealistic form of cosmopolitanism that modern Stoics might not agree to?  What if dividing states rather than unifying them is actually paradoxically the best way to get to cosmopolitanism?

Before I go into detail about why this might be let’s focus on the United States for a bit.  In the United States political cynicism has grown exponentially since Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook!” speech.  If you look into the growing trend, partisan divides keep growing and growing and they’re expected to keep growing.  This is problematic because if Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on anything, then the US Congress won’t be able to accomplish anything useful for anyone.  This will lead to gridlock and it has led to gridlock.  As a result, anti-democratic agents like the President (put into office by electors in a college) and anti-democratic institutions like the US Federal Courts will become agents of fiat.  Issuing their executive decrees on all of us.  The Courts will make new laws and the President will either enforce or not enforce laws arbitrarily.

Honestly, the whole system looks hopeless.  The system is nothing more than two gears grinding against each other with absolutely excruciating pressure but neither gear will move.  It’s a stopped clock of doom.  Doom doom doom.

So how might a modern Stoic approach this?  What if the Stoic sees the failed cosmopolitanism of Europe and begins to wonder if the United States is also a kind of failed cosmopolitanism.  What if “one out of many” is the wrong way to go about things at this point in history?  What if “the many out of one” is the right way to go?

What if true cosmopolitanism has nothing to do at all with nation states, how they arrange themselves, and how they unify or divide?  What if true cosmopolitanism is about viewing each other as brothers and sisters and has less to do with trying to create an artificial one world government.  After all, aren’t the liberal cosmopolitans of today just trying to take Plato’s Republic and apply it to the world?  What if we took Zeno’s Republic and applied it to the world?  Plato’s Republic was top-down authoritarian.  Zeno’s Republic was bottom-up anarchy.

Perhaps, as Stoic cosmopolitans, we shouldn’t be trying to unify states but continue to dissolve them into atoms.  Keep dissolving them until they’re closer and closer to city states.  And if we possibly can dissolve them into 7 billion individual states, that would be super!  What if that’s the right way to be cosmopolitan?  What if the right way to be a cosmopolitan is to try to approximate Zeno’s form of anarchism as close as we possibly can.  Sure, we’ll probably always need a little bit of top-down control over our lives but the more control we have over ourselves, the better we shall be.

So, as a student of Stoicism, I propose that we should dissolve the United States into red states and blue states.  This will immediately end the gridlock.  Red states will get to create their political agendas and blue states will get to create their political agendas.  If any future problems begin to assert themselves in the form of gridlock, then the states could dissolve even further.

Without unified states, how will people unify?  They’ll unify much more on a voluntary basis like they do on Facebook.  Perhaps the Internet is now the true cosmopolis.  As physical political geographies begin to dissolve down into tribes, the Internet may be where we can find unity or an attempt at real unity.  Let’s face it, large republics made up of 300+ million people don’t look sustainable.  I don’t exactly know why but it’s looking pretty bleak.

Sorry globalists but your cosmopolitanism is all style and no substance!

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Stoicism, 2nd Amendment, and Right to Bear Arms

In the United States, the 2nd Amendment is here to stay.  I couldn’t imagine anyone taking that amendment away any time soon.  In fact, it’s hard to to imagine the 2nd Amendment being infringed much either.

The 2nd Amendment reads,

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Legal scholars have spent a lot of time interpreting exactly what that amendment says and what the US Founding Father’s meant but it’s basically been interpreted to allow people to own firearms.

So how do modern Stoics deal with the issue?  I think wisdom would tell them that the 2nd Amendment is here to stay, unless unlikely repealed, and we have a Constitution to follow so we might as well as make the best of the right.

One could argue that Stoicism provides a framework for self-defense.  If a home invader tries to take your life (a preferred indifferent), as a matter of justice, you have a right to pull out your AR-15 Rifle and defend your life.  Police are a preferred indifferent but sometimes they take a while to get to your house which would be a total dispreferred indifferent.

One particular preferred indifferent is having a country free from government tyranny.  The US Federal Government will have a significant greater difficulty disarming people and seizing their property through Martial Law with the 2nd Amendment fully protected and not infringed.  Also, the United States would be harder to invade with a well armed citizenry.

The only issue with right to self-defense is it’s not applied fairly throughout the United States.  A modern Stoic might think it’s time that the government issues some kind of gun welfare system, where guns are given to impoverished communities at super low prices or for free.  Also, the black and hispanic community deserve to protect themselves just as much as the white community and many of our social attitudes have to change.  After all, everyone deserves a right to the preferred indifferents, security and life.

A modern Stoic would be free to consider what kind of sensible gun laws might need to be implemented to stop mass shootings.  One of the things they might consider is limitations on magazines and clip sizes.  We already have a ban on fully automatic weapons, so it might be prudent to ban bump stocks on semi-automatic rifles.  Also, criminal and mental background checks should be enforced.  Some consideration might also be given to the “gun show loophole.”  Also the Center for Disease Control needs to be able to study gun related deaths, so that we know how to better prevent unnecessary deaths from gun-related violence.

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Stoicism, Temperance, and the Role of the Paternalistic State

Libertarians often complain about the role of a paternalistic state, whether it’s seatbelt laws, limits on the size of soft drinks, higher taxes on beer and cigarettes, gun control, and many other laws the state will enforce to protect us.  Libertarians do have some reason to fear a protective state because some free choices will have to go.  But are free choices inviolable?

I can’t help wonder what the ancient Stoics might think.  Perhaps they would agree strongly with some protections and regulations on our behavior.  After all, they valued temperance for individuals, so why not temperance on a societal level?  This is all speculation but the ancient Greeks often liked to think of the self as a microcosm that reflected the larger macrocosm.  So maybe our own self-regulated behavior should reflect a self-regulating society.

In the name of the virtue of temperance we shouldn’t out-right ban everything.  We shouldn’t outright ban externals because that would be treating externals as bad.  Instead, maybe we should be lawfully limiting the extreme behavior with regard to externals.  For example,  we can drive cars fast but there has to be a speed limit that keeps vehicles from driving too fast.  We can drink caffeine but our drinks will have an upper limit of caffeine in them.  Heck, maybe all drugs could be legalized since drugs aren’t evil in themselves but they can be regulated and taxed more than other things that are preferred for our health and safety.

In the name of temperance, the amount of greed on Wallstreet would certainly need to be regulated.  Too much greed and concentration of wealth can’t be good for the health of the state.  We saw what Wallstreet speculation did to the economy during the housing and lending crisis of 2008.  Perhaps, this idea of a paternalistic state is beginning to sound more like Plato’s Republic than Zeno’s Republic.  But one must remember, Zeno’s Republic might’ve only been limited to the role of an anarchy for well-seasoned Stoics.  If people in your society are all Stoics, then there wouldn’t need to be courts, currency, and temples.  But in the case of a civilization made up of only an insignificant amount of Stoics, perhaps Stoic principles would need to be more lawfully enforced.  Also, Plato’s Republic was far far more authoritarian than what’s being proposed so far.

What’s more, laws are just a mean to keeping society self-regulated but individuals need to educated to be self-regulated as well.  After all, laws aren’t always there to keep ourselves in check.  So, we’d have a national curriculum applied to all our schools and universities to teach Stoic temperance from kindergarten to secondary school and beyond.  The schools would not only teach self-discipline but practical wisdom, justice, and courage.

In the Stoic state, there would be no outright prohibition on goods and services but there would be limits on excess.

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Stoicism and U.S. Immigration

One of the basic tenets of Stoicism is cosmopolitanism, the idea that all humans belong to a single community, based on shared morality.  So it only seem natural that Stoics would be the most compassionate towards the issue of immigration.

I’d imagine that if the United States was populated with a significant Stoic citizenry, we’d be a lot more relaxed on our borders.  Does that mean we’d let other nations take us over?  No, I don’t think that follows.  But we’d certainly be more willing to grant citizenship to people that were willing to embrace our culture by working for a living or who joined our military, police, firefighters, or other important civil careers.

We’d also be more willing to grant citizenship to refugees regardless of whether they were Christians, Jews, or Muslims.

What do you think?  Do you agree or disagree?

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Stoicism: How Might It Inform Your Politics?

How might Stoicism inform your politics?  Well, Stoicism in a democracy would want you to vote for who seemed to be the most virtuous person.  But what kind of policy would Stoicism want you to endorse?  Sometimes I think the answer might be in the preferred indifferents: wealth, education, and health just to name a few.  How would these preferred indifferents matter to Stoic public policy?  Well, preferred indifferents are useful means for performing virtue, so a Stoic would want all society to excel in preferred indifferents.

So the Stoic would be for policies that help create wealth and redistribute wealth to people in need.  The Stoic would be for educating the public by supporting public education.  The Stoic would be for people’s health so they would support some kind of system of healthcare available for everyone from the very poor to the rich.

Security might be another preferred indifferent so the Stoic would certainly support a military specifically for the purposes for protecting the nation from external threats.  Also the Stoic would support funding of police to handle internal threats.

How would Stoicism handle monopolies and concentration of wealth in the hands of the few? I’d imagine Stoics would have a problem with it if it meant that the poor were being deprived of basic requirements for health, wealth, education, and security.  The Stoics would vote for policy that would break up monopolies and concentration of wealth if it turned into a zero sum game.

One particular preferred indifferent would be having a job.  Most people desire a job not just for monetary reasons but for psychological reasons since having a job really helps them feel like they’re doing something productive.  The Stoic would be for a policy to help create job growth and give people job security.  The Stoic would also support policy to ensure everyone had a minimum fair wage.

So these are just a few areas where I imagine Stoicism would inform your politics.  I’m curious to know all your thoughts and opinions.


The Stoics and Their Utopian Vision

The Stoics were realists.  They stressed the importance of living in the here and now and judging our impressions as objectively as we can.  Judging impressions objectively means that anything we perceive, we should perceive neither as bad nor good but indifferent.  Despite their realism, they did dream and hope for things to be a certain way.  The Stoics just knew better than to be attached to their wishes and hopes.  Zeno of Citium had an ideal Stoic Republic in mind.  Diogenes Laertius described Zeno’s Republic:

Some, indeed, among whom is Cassius the Skeptic, attack Zeno on many accounts, saying first of all that he denounced the general system of education in vogue at the time, as useless, which he did in the beginning of his Republic. And in the second place, that he used to call all who were not virtuous, adversaries, and enemies, and slaves, and unfriendly to one another, parents to their children, brethren to brethren. and kinsmen to kinsmen; and again, that in his Republic, he speaks of the virtuous as the only citizens, and friends, and relations, and free men, so that in the doctrine of the Stoic, even parents and their children are enemies; for they are not wise. Also, that he lays down the principle of the community of women in his Republic, and … teaches that neither temples nor courts of law, nor gymnasia, ought to be erected in a city; moreover, that he writes thus about money: that he does not think that people ought to coin money either for purposes of trade, or of travelling. Besides all this, he enjoins men and women to wear the same dress, and to leave no part of their person completely covered.


Zeno’s Republic seems to be a place full of virtuous people (which includes women) and there are no courts or currency.  Everyone lives in harmony in complete anarchy.  There are no religious places of worship erected in the Republic.

It’s not clear whether Zeno ever thought this would ever really happen but he did have an ideal in mind about how a society of virtuous people would be organized.  And it seemed that he had in mind some kind of virtuous anarchic commune of everyone who proved themselves good Stoics.