Stoicism, Autonomy, and a Right to an Abortion

The Stoics believed in virtue and, in particular, the chief one among them, justice.  The Stoics also believed in preferred indifferents, for example, health, wealth, reputation, pleasure, and education.  What did they believe about autonomy though?

The Stoics believed that autonomy was something within our possession.  In fact, if we worked hard at it, we would achieve freedom from everything.  The only path to freedom was to focus on what was truly in our power:  virtue.

In all honesty, virtue is only freedom if you are truly virtuous.  Since none of us are truly free, like the Sage, we need a form of autonomy that is lesser in nobility but still carries weight.  We need a life of self-determination.  We also need a life where we can pursue our preferred indifferents in order to help us work our way to virtue.  Our natural preferences for health, wealth, education, pleasure, and reputation are where we derive our rights.  We have a right of pursuit of preferred indifferents, so we ought to have a society that allows for our ability to obtain them.  Where does this lesser form of autonomy fit?  The lesser form is being free to participate in health, wealth, education, pleasure, and reputation within reason.  We’re free when we can do this.  And these preferred indifferents give us a chance to find the true autonomy:  virtue.

Where does a woman’s right to an abortion fit into this?  She has autonomy over her own health.  She can determine what is best for herself, even if that means terminating a pregnancy.  People will debate this point because they feel “life” might begin at conception.  I presume these people are wrong because zygotes hardly represent a person in the way we can conceive of them.  It becomes almost pointless to discuss pain and pleasure that the fetus would experience because the Stoics would just say, “they don’t have proper use of impressions.”  We can maybe agree as a society of Stoics that we can terminate pregnancies up to 9 months.  It’s kind of arbitrary to make this determination but we have some historical reasons for doing so.  Many of the ancients, Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans believed abortion was permissible and that human life began at first breath.  The ancient Stoics in general believed that the fetus was plant-like and became an animal at birth as it took its first breath (pneuma) and so they generally regarded abortion as morally permissible (Sellares, 2003).  There were exceptions to this rule, Musonius Rufus did oppose abortion (Lecture XV) but for population reasons not necessarily having to do with respect to the fetus and its interests.  With this conception in mind, we have some historical precedent to base our determination on what distinguishes infanticide from a mere abortion.  There’s never going to be some perfect philosophical argument for why people have the right to an abortion.

Of course, as a society, if we really want to do away with abortion, one way is to make all forms of contraception free for everyone.  This also means educating people about sex and contraception as early as we can.

Not every follower of Stoicism will agree that abortion is a right but maybe we can all agree that access to contraception is a right.  One thing is for sure, contraception is certainly worth talking about as often as the taboo topic of abortion arises.


Sallares, J. Robert (2003), “abortion”, in Hornblower, Simon;
Spawforth, Anthony, The Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed.), Oxford:
OxfordUP, p. 1, ISBN978-0-19-860641-3


Why Stoicism helps me with everything!

Stoicism is the best philosophy ever designed by the natural world.  It’s our little blue print to doing what we should be doing.  Are you angry?  Stoicism says, it’s ok to be initially angry as a result of a stimulus but after a few seconds of thinking about it, cut that shit out.  Relax man.  Turn down your angry passion.  It’s silly to be that way.   Same thing with fear.  It’s ok to be startled, to even shake a little bit when delivering a speech in front of a crowd, but on the inside, get things right, be calm.  Stoicism also throws in helpful tips on how to make that happen.

I’m kind of a hot mess.  My desires are pulling me in millions of directions.  My mind won’t shut up about anything.  Just won’t turn off.  Keeps calculating, speculating, creating, feeling, absorbing, entertaining, and laterally thinking.  This is where Stoicism comes in handy.  It tells me, focus on virtue.  Take all the energy of these desires and focus it into a laser beam aimed at virtue.  Harness all the energy in my brain to focus on one important thing in life:  virtue.  A brain with goals is awesome.  It’s what makes humans fundamentally human.  Having a goal keeps you from being pulled into every single direction by millions of desires just trying to get what they want.  Having a goal is one thing though.  We usually focus on one goal at a time.  But virtue is the ultimate goal.  Everyone should have some ultimate goal in life.  And it should be a good goal.  So what’s gooder than good itself?  That’s what Stoicism says it is.  Stoicism says virtue is the only good.

Life is often easier than we make it.   I mean, life can be hard sometimes but do we really want to compound that by thinking of it as a terrible thing that it’s hard?  Wouldn’t it be a better way of thinking about hardships as things to learn from and to even overcome?   What’s life without learning some kind of lesson?  When Darwin dreamed of his evolutionary theory, he imagined that life adapts.  Isn’t that the thing that we should be doing in our own minds?  Adapt!  Follow evolution, try a new idea, test it, see if it works and if it survives the test of logic, go with it.  That’s Stoicism.  Stoicism has been shaped by a long tradition of philosophers that go back to Heraclitus, tinkering with ideas, trying to figure out the ones that survive critical thinking.

I get momentarily sad sometimes.  Because I think about my mind and it’s too fast.  Too fast.  It’s also very impulsive and very unfocused.  But then I remember the ultimate goal.  The real objective goal:  Live simply in agreement with Nature.  Be virtuous.  If I can just follow that narrow dirt path, I can get through the day.  From thinking about doing what’s virtuous, I can also derive all my preferred indifferents that I need to focus on to get me there.  I know I have to do physics homework because at some point I have to be a physics teacher so I can enjoy my career and make money at it so I can support my wife and daughter.

It brings peace to me when I can just forget all the desires, thoughts, and feelings that all run way too fast and think about virtue.  I wouldn’t wish the tragedy of my own mind on anyone.  But I can definitely learn to deal with my mind.  My warped brain doesn’t totally own me, I get some say too.  I got that ability to detach myself from the situation and rationally evaluate and make my own decision after I’ve stepped back and breathed a little.  I have to remember, remember, remember that I can be rational.  That I can think critically.  I can assert my own final say about my own thoughts and ideas.  I can judge things as good or bad.  I can judge things as preferred or dispreferred.  I can judge things and even prescribe what I should be doing.  And finally, I can follow my own prescription.  I can do this.  I just have to do it.  I have to stop, slow down, pause, reflect, think about the important things, the real important things, and just subsume all of my being to accomplishing those real important things.

Thank you for reading.  🙂

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.

black rifle
Photo by Specna Arms on

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.


Stoicism and the Art of Apathy? Not So Fast!

Stoicism has become fairly popular as a philosophy.  When you compare it to other philosophy schools on Facebook, Stoicism Facebook groups’s membership greatly outnumber other philosophical schools’s membership like Kantianism, Aristotelianism, Epicureanism, Schopenhauereanism, for example.   Unfortunately with large numbers in any group comes with members who have large misconceptions.

One major misconception of Stoicism is that it is about being apathetic and apolitical.  If you’ve read Donald Robertson’s Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, you’d know that Stoicism isn’t about being apathetic.  Some individuals are attracted to the Stoic groups because they see themselves as placated with careless apathy and think Stoicism is all about careless apathy.  But they couldn’t be anymore wrong! Stoicism isn’t about not giving a care, it’s about decreasing negative passions such as anger and sorrow, as a few examples.  When Stoicism talks about apatheia, it’s meaning that you’re free of negative passions.  But in place of the negative passion, it substitutes positive passions such as compassion and joy.

People misread the view that judgments should consider externals as indifferent as “judgments should consider externals as completely valueless.”  To Stoics indifferents are very important, they just don’t matter to our eudaimonia (the good life).  Some also misread indifferents as meaning we shouldn’t care about people either because they’re external to us.  But they forget that one of the virtues of Stoicism is justice.  Justice usually includes piety, fair dealings, being equitable, and compassion.

One thing that annoys the people who misunderstand Stoicism the most is when someone in the group posts something political related to Stoicism.  The people who misunderstand Stoicism complain that political posts are not “Stoic.”  Little to do they know that Stoicism is very political.  It’s difficult to decipher exactly what you should believe politically on any particular issue via Stoicism but Stoicism does stress the importance of being involved politically.  So all Stoics ought to be prepared to justify their political positions as Stoically or rationally as possible.

In conclusion, Stoicism may want you to achieve apatheia (freedom from negative passions) but it doesn’t want you to achieve apathy.  If you want apathy, you’re not really going to find a very developed school of philosophy for that.


Is pleasure an absolute indifferent or a preferred indifferent?

Sometimes there’s a debate over whether pleasure is a preferred or merely an absolute indifferent.

I think pleasure is a preferred indifferent, largely because pleasure is important for your body to function well and perform well in order to help you carry out virtue.  It’s important to please oneself and take pleasure in others’ pleasure.

If pleasure was an absolute indifferent, you could biologically function completely fine without it.  Your body would be in perfect health.  But living a life in pain or lack of pleasures takes it toll on anyone’s health.

It’s really important to find pleasure in a joke and laugh because this helps increase endorphins and endorphins are necessary for bodily health.  Not only that but they do affect the brain, which will affect the mind.

Sure, a Stoic will learn with practice to live without preferred indifferents but even though they may still live a life of eudaimonia, the lack of health, pleasure, wealth, reputation will inevitably take toll on their existence and they’ll slowly waste away.

Preferred indifferents are for our bodily existence.  Virtue is for our eudaimonic existence.  It’s true that virtue is the only good but it will be difficult to practice virtue without taking care of our bodily needs.  It’s not that bodily needs are good, they’re just a requisite means to the end of pursuing virtue, which is the ultimate importance for living a eudamonic life.

So enjoy pleasure.  You should enjoy it. Just don’t let it steal virtue away from you.


Are there any Stoic utilitarians and what would that mean?

Some people believe in having good characters for the sake of creating good consequences.  But what if we reversed that and cared about promoting the best consequences because to do so would be virtuous.  Could one be simultaneously a Stoic and a utilitarian?  Also can one be a utilitarian for the sake of virtue?

Well, I think it would all depend on how you define virtue.  One of the key virtues that helps you morally interact with the rest of humanity is justice.  I suppose that a Stoic could just forego the word justice, as a virtue, and replace it with utilitarianism.  So instead of having a good justice virtue, you’d have a good utilitarian virtue.

It’s kind of hard to understand all what is entailed in Stoic justice.  Usually an act of compassion, empathy, fairness, equal distribution of resources.  But suppose we replaced that with the virtue utilitarianism?  What would that entail?  Well, what things would a Stoic want to promote for individuals?  Perhaps preferred indifferents!

A Stoic utilitarian might want to maximize the greatest amount of preferred indifferents for the most amount of people.  What are some preferred indifferents?  Wealth, health, reputation, pleasure, and education.  So a Stoic would try to help a person maximize these particular preferred indifferents.  So to increase people’s health, you should donate blood.  To increase people’s reputation, you’d want to say good things about them to others if they’re behaving well.

Would a Stoic utilitarian try to maximize the greatest amount of virtue in others?  Only if people will listen.  Education in virtue requires not only you to teach it but the other person to learn it.  If there is a lot of unwillingness of the other person to learn, then it’s going to be difficult to teach virtue to another person.  So it’s probably more realistic in everyday life to focus on helping people maximize their preferred indifferents.

So let’s review.  What would a Stoic utilitarian be?  A Stoic who tries to increase their own virtues such as  wisdom, courage, temperance, and utilitarianism (instead of justice).  How does a Stoic utilitarian act on their utilitarian virtue?  By helping others maximize their preferred indifferents, also help them maximize their virtue if possible.

Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham