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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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.

Who was right about the Cosmos? Epicureans or Stoics?

Out of the Epicureans and Stoics, who was right about the Cosmos?  Both!  Marcus Aurelius said he’d follow Stoic ethics whether or not the universe was random or providential (specifically deterministic).  Well, it turns out they were both right.

The Epicureans believed that the universe was composed of atoms that swerve randomly/chaotically.  We were just an assortment of atoms and the void.  Well, they were basically right.  Only atoms as we now know them are actually divisible (as opposed to what atom actually means in the Greek “indivisible).  The real “atoms” of today are like quarks and leptons.  On the quantum level, quarks and leptons and even atoms behave randomly.  We can only probabilistically determine what their momentum or position will be.  Quantum mechanics agrees very strongly with Epicureans.

What about the Stoics and their notion of the Logos?  Well, Logos is just a law of the universe.  It turns out that today there are many laws.  Physicists hope to unify all the laws of the universe into one fundamental laws that we can derive all the lawlike equations from.  The Stoics were definitely right to believe there was something lawlike to how matter proceeded through time.  There are lots of patterns in nature that science has now revealed to us.  There’s a rhyme and reason to almost everything today.  We just need sophisticated computers to spit out equations that let us know the rhyme and reason.

What’s more?  The idea of Logos as a fiery animate matter organizing inanimate matter may seem far fetched.  But what if we replaced fiery animate matter with energy?  Energy is the ability of matter to do work on other matter.  It’s not clear exactly what the Stoics had in mind but it sounds kind of like energy when they talk about the fiery Logos.  Not just the lawlike behavior of it but its input of energy.