How Stoically living in agreement with nature is Newtonian physics without friction

The Stoic motto is to live in agreement with nature.  It’s common to sum up the motto as, “live rationally and virtuously.”  That’s basically what it means.  But there’s more to it.  The foundation of Stoic morality isn’t mere reason but reason and love, a form of rational love. In fact that is what virtue is, a love taken to its logical conclusion, philanthropy (love of man).

One could argue the Stoics were both moral sentimentalists and moral rationalists.  Think back to the Stoic Hierocles. Hierocles made the observation that in the course of our development, if everything goes right, we begin with self-love, then we love our family, then we love our community, and finally we love all of humanity.  Humans begin with moral sentiment when they’re in infancy and then develop philanthropy later in life. Philanthropy is what virtue basically is. Living in agreement with nature is to love everyone. We have a rationally guided system of moral development.

If this is nature and it progresses in this fashion, shouldn’t we just go with the flow? Doesn’t sound like one needs to put much effort into life if one will become virtuous eventually.  Nature just ain’t that simple.  To follow nature in the Stoic sense, one must combat some external forces that halt this natural development.

This is where Newtonian physics enters the picture.  Sir Isaac Newton was able to describe falling bodies under influence of a net force by removing combative features in nature such as air resistance.  In a vacuum, everything will fall to Earth, despite varying masses, at exactly 9.8 meters per second per second.  When a cannon ball is shot from a cannon, one can pretty much ignore air resistance and predict where it will fall based on angle of trajectory.  Only if one drops a feather is it difficult to ignore air resistance.

I think the whole principle of ignoring external factors is what the ancient Stoics meant by following nature.  The Stoics meant to imagine how humans would develop if one were to assume things go well.  Similar to how in Newtonian mechanics, one would remove resistance, in Stoicism one conceptually removes abuse from parents, removes influence from a materialistic society, and removes all the resistances of the world that can and will halt development. By conceptually removing these “resistances,” one can focus on the physics (nature) of how humans can grow from self-love to love of humanity.  The problem is one has to deal with these resistances, just as physicists have to deal with air resistance, so the ancient Stoics created mental strategies to get humans back on track.  NASA deals with many of the complications with space but NASA does have the luck that space is a vacuum. In a vacuum, Newton’s laws work perfectly. In air, not so much. The Stoics knew that to follow nature, meant to create a vacuum in one’s passions. A vacuum in one’s passions meant to be free from the influence of externals. If one could minimize the influence of external events on one’s well-being, then one could truly follow nature. One can truly follow nature just as NASA can easily predict where probes will go in a vacuum.

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Which is more Stoic, dogs or cats?

The correct answer is neither is more “Stoic” than the other.  For one thing, they do not follow the philosophy of Zeno of Citium.  However, they both live approximately in agreement with nature.  Also, living in agreement with nature for a cat is very different than living in agreement with nature for a dog.

The question is how much does your individual cat or dog live in agreement with nature?  For a human to live in agreement with nature, they have to mature emotionally and rationally to their full potential.  Essentially, no one really completes their full potentiality because if they did, they’d be a Sage.   So the same probably goes for cats and dogs.  Does a cat or a dog ever really mature fully into their full potential?  Maybe a few but they’d be rarer than a phoenix.

What does it mean for a cat to live up to its full potential as a cat?  Well, perhaps it would have to be very good apex predator.  It would need to be able to catch mice really well.  It would need to take plenty of catnaps.  It would need eat the right amount and clean its coat sufficiently.  It might need to produce the requisite amount of hairballs.  Perhaps if you saw that cat, you’d be like, “well, that’s definitely a cat!”

What does it mean for a dog to live up to its full potential as a dog?  Well, perhaps it would need to be appropriately loyal to its human.  If it was a feral dog, maybe it would need to be part of a pack and maybe even do the appropriate things as a pack animal.  Perhaps it would be really good at following the lead dog or if it was a lead dog of the pack it would be really good at leading.  Maybe if a human called it “a good boy” it would take that as an initiative to be a good boy.  A “good” dog certainly would be very trainable.

So that’s the definitive answer.  Cats and dogs are not really any better than the other with regard to Stoicism.  Cats will be cats and dogs will be dogs.  Some dogs are better at being dogs than others.  Just like some cats are better than other cats at being cats.  Can anything ever really live in agreement with nature?  Not when taken apart.  But when looking at the whole nature definitely lives in agreement with itself.

orange tabby cat beside fawn short coated puppy
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