CLAS 196/PHIL 196
Prof. Jacques Bailly
As usual, these lecture notes are based upon a reading of Tad
Brennan's The Stoic Life.
would be tedious to list every point of indebtedness: let this
suffice as notice that Brennan's book is the basis of these
Some things are changed, expanded, condensed, reorganized, and
material is from elsewhere.
Marcus Aurelius 5.19 struck me:
Things themselves touch not
not in the least degree; nor have they admission to the soul,
they turn or move the soul: but the soul turns and moves
and whatever judgments it may think proper to make, such it
itself the things which present themselves to it.
OIKEIOSIS: the Stoic view about the place of other people in
life, ethically speaking
- Oikeiosis is a word
has no fully satisfactory translation. It's a technical word in
- Etymologically, it is from oikos
- The idea of oikeiosis
is, roughly, that one should work to collapse distinctions
one's family members, one's larger circle of friends, the
of fellow Vermonters/New Englanders, the larger circle of US
the larger circle of Westerners, the larger circle of the
ultimately, the largest circle of all intelligent beings.
- Diogenes Laertius 7.85
- They say that the first
inclination (i.e. impulse)
which an animal has is to protect itself, as nature brings
take an interest in it from the beginning, as Chrysippus
affirms in the
first book of his treatise on Ends; where he says, that
the first and
dearest object (i.e. oikeion thing) to every animal is its own
its consciousness of that existence. For that it
is not natural
for any animal to be alienated from itself, or even to
be brought into
such a state as to be indifferent to itself, being
from nor interested in itself. It remains, therefore,
that we must
assert that nature has bound the animal to itself by the
unanimity and affection for by that means it repels all
injurious, and attracts all that is akin to it and
desirable. But as
for what some people say, that the first inclination of
animals is to
pleasure, they say what is false. For they say that
pleasure, if there
be any such thing at all, is an accessory only, which,
sought it out by itself, as well as these things which
are adapted to
its constitution, receives incidentally in the same
manner as animals
are pleased, and plants made to flourish.
Moreover, say they,
makes no difference between [291>] animals and
plants, when she
regulates them, so as to leave them without voluntary
motion or sense;
and some things too take place in ourselves in the same
manner as in
plants. But, as inclination in animals tends chiefly to
the point of
making them pursue what is appropriate (i.e.
to them, we may say that their inclinations are
regulated by nature.
And as reason is given to rational animals according to
a more perfect
principle, it follows, that to live correctly according
to reason, is
properly predicated of those who live according to
nature. For nature
is as it were the artist who produces the inclination.
- Seneca CXXI: a use of the word "oikeiosis"
- The periods of infancy,
boyhood, youth, and old age, are different; but I, who
infant, boy, and youth, am still the same. Thus,
has at different times a different constitution, the
adaptation of each
to its constitution (i.e. oikeiosis) is the same. For nature
consign boyhood or youth, or old age, to me; it consigns
me to them.
Therefore, the child is adapted to that constitution which
is his at
the present moment of childhood, not to that which will be
youth. For even if there is in store for him any
into which he must be changed, the state in which he is
born is also
according to nature. First of all, the living being
is adapted to
- Hierocles (a Stoic from around 100 CE: quoted in Stobaeus
- Each one of us is as
were entirely encompassed by many circles, some smaller,
the latter enclosing the former on the basis of their
unequal dispositions relative to each other. The first
circle is the one which a person has drawn as though
around a center,
his own mind. This circle encloses the body and anything
taken for the
sake of the body. For it is virtually the smallest
circle, and almost
touches the center itself. Next, the second one further
the center but enclosing the first circle; this contains
siblings, wife, and children. The third one has in it
uncles and aunts,
grandparents, nephews, nieces, and cousins. The next
the other relatives, and this is followed by the circle
residents, then the circle of fellow tribesmen, next
that of fellow
citizens, and then in the same way the circle of people
neighboring towns, and then the circle of
outermost and largest circle, which encompasses all the
rest, is that
of the whole human race. Once these have all been
surveyed, it is the
task of a well-tempered man, in his proper treatment of
each group, to
draw the circles together somehow towards the center,
and to keep
zealously transferring those from the enclosing circles
enclosed ones. It is incumbent on us to respect people
from the third
circle as if they were those from the second, and again
to respect our
other relatives as if they were those from the third
- Cicero de Finibus
- They think it is
to understand that it comes about by nature that
children are loved by
their parents, and that it is from this beginning that
we pursue the
completed universal community of the human race.
- Anonymous Commentator on Plato's Theaetetus 5
- As for those who
justice on the basis of oikeiosis, if they say that it
is equal for
oneself and for the furthest Mysian, then justice is
preserved, but it
will be ... contrary to the evidence.
- So, humans develop:
- plantlike nature as fetus
- animal as child
- rational agent after age of 14 (or 7)
- Marcus Aurelius 5.11
- About what am I now
employing my own soul? On every occasion I must ask
question, and inquire, what have I now in this part of
me which they
call the ruling principle? and whose soul have I now?
that of a child,
or of a young man, or of a feeble woman, or of a
tyrant, or of a
domestic animal, or of a wild beast?
- Each stage has its oikeiosis:
proper relation with itself and surroundings
- as child, our impulses are arranged for
- food, health, etc. might well be its goal
- as adult, we are rational beings
- reason is our goal
- reason is the only thing fully under our own control
- reason is at the very center of who we are
- even in a badly organized mind, the mind's own
are the primary thing at the center of what that thing
- our reason is the primary thing that is oikeion to us:
the thing that should be preserved
- we are capable of altering our oikeiosis
- we can alter the scope of what we consider closer and
farther from us and thus alter our impulses towards them
- evidently, somehow, our impulses are affected by the
background of how we see ourselves vis-a-vis others: a
- Stoics are said to derive justice from oikeiosis: how?
- Primary instincts are to self and offspring
- surely this is not meant to say that we can only be just
after we have reproduced
- it must mean that the sort of relation one is capable of
naturally having with one's offspring (whether one has
them or not) is
at the root of justice
- logical, not temporal
- saying that one's primary attachments are to self and
offspring means that one's impulses are affected by those
- i.e. they form the background of action and determine
impulsive impressions we assent to
- the pull diminishes as we get into larger and larger
- our impulse to benefit humanity is less strong than
to benefit ourself?
- It is not so much a matter of what the summum bonum (Greatest
Good) is, as
it is a matter of cui
(For Whose Good?)
- Perhaps it is appropriate to think of it this way:
- we think of ourselves as having a nucleus: a center
is really us
- then a bit further out, but close enough to still
it "ourself" is our body
- a bit further, no longer close enough to be
but nonetheless "part of who we are" is our family,
our close friends
- a bit further, less palpably "part of who we are"
nonetheless "part of who we are" are larger groups:
country, university, geographical region, race, etc.
- and way out there on the edge of "who we are" is the
human race: who we are includes somehow the whole
human race for every
one of us
- Our Good is Virtue, but whom does it benefit? our self,
which is, at its center, our reason, but includes (with
attachment) the other shells around us
- we can come to regard other's welfare as important to us
- what is welfare, however?
- their virtue?
- their indifferents?
- surely virtue, since it is good, whereas
indifferents are neither good nor bad.
- Stoic is not supposed to value his/her own life: why
- It just makes sense that a Stoic would value
another's virtue/welfare/agreement with nature.
- Our idea of what is oikeion
is plastic: it can be shaped, directed, altered
- The Stoics advocate breaking down the barriers between
the shells around us so that the outer shell is pulled
closer, the next one is
pulled closer, etc.
- The ideal is to be able to see that "what happens to the
most distant human is important to me" or at least "more
important than I used to think (before I broke down the
- Everyone should approach everyone in their city as they
would a family member (we're talking a healthy loving
family, not a
Talk Show family)
- Just as we share the pleasures and pains of our
family, so we should teach ourselves to do with the next
- It's a matter of expanding our sense of "me"
- In Zeno's Republic,
he says we should not dwell in cities with local systems
but rather we should think of all fellow humans as fellow
be ruled by a common law (remember this is an ideal: the
this Republic are sages!)
- Some things to note about oikeion
- this is not about treating the world impartially
- it is about treating the world partially, but expanding
notion of what "me" and "mine" refer to
- the outcome, however, will be similar to treating
- this is also not the claim that we should treat
proportion to our attachment to them
- it is not the reason why the Stoics believe that we
should do that
- rather, it is the Stoics' way of explaining why it is
plausible and possible that we, as humans pursuing our
nature, can treat others in a
fashion that approaches impartiality (or at least more
fairly than we
- A shift of gears
- Are Stoics Egotistical?
- YES, emphatically so.
- Epictetus Enchiridion 12
- If you want to improve,
reject such reasonings as these: "If I neglect my affairs,
I'll have no
income; if I don't correct my servant, he will be bad."
For it is
better to die with hunger, exempt from grief and fear,
than to live in
affluence with perturbation; and it is better your servant
bad, than you unhappy.
- A Strong Reading: care only for your own virtue, and no
- Weaker readings are possible
- Brennan favors the strong reading
- Hence he believes that Stoics are Egotistical about the
most important thing, goodness, virtue, happiness
- We should favor our own virtue over every one else's
- Stoics are completely egotistical is the claim, but only
- Each person has an immediate vociferous goal of pursuing his
her own good (even at the expense of others? yes!)
- But that does not have too many bad consequences, because
virtue, one's own good, turns out to be knowledge, and is
internal to a person (and is never incompatible with other
people pursuing their virtue?)
- Marcus Aurelius 5.14
- Reason and the
reasoning art [philosophy] are powers which are
themselves and for their own works. They move then
from a first
principle which is their own, and they make their way
to the end which
is proposed to them; and this is the reason why such
acts are named
Catorthoseis or right acts, which word signifies that
they proceed by
the right road.
- The Stoic sage is not at all egotistical about indifferents
however: they don't matter!
- Only virtue matters,
- and about things that matter, each
person has a vital immediate desire that should be
- But things like food, wealth distribution, etc.? They are
indifferents and so the Sage is free to pursue the promoted
- Feeding and clothing strangers is no more nor less
than feeding or clothing oneself.
Brennan's "Good News Bad News" Jokes:
- Back to oikeiosis!
- Now we can see that by collapsing the circles of oikeiosis
around us, we actually create a situation where the sage will
- Why is that?
- Because the Stoics obviously think it is at the very least
promoted/preferred to be charitable, to help others, etc.
- Perhaps they believe it is more than that (we'll see in
- But they have basically conventional ideas about what sort
things the Sage does: the Sage would be what we call a good
- Because the Sage cares for all of humanity as much as him-
The only Desire we simply can never tame is our Desire for the good:
pursue it with selfish intensity.
- Here's the Bad News: people are irredeemably selfish and
self-centered about any value that they think really matters.
- Here's the Good News: people can come to see that not much
matters--nothing at all, except virtue.
- Here's the Good News: people can come to act with perfect
impartiality about the distribution of food, wealth, and the
the so-called 'goods.'
- Here's the Bad News: they are capable of such selfless
only on the condition that they think none of those things are