Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings

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Part of 2014/2 PHI110 Stoic Ethics. Content is copied from the library in fair dealing for purpose of research or study. There are other books.

Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings

Translated, with Introduction and Notes, by Brad Inwood and L. P. Gerson.

Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis / Cambridge

Available from Amazon and Booktopia.


Also available in PDF.

B 81: Sextus M 11.200-201, 207 (SVF 3.516)

200. In reply to this they say that all men have the same functions, thought it makes a difference whether they are carried out from a craftsmanlike disposition or an uncraftsmanlike one. For taking care of one's parents and otherwise honouring them is not the special function of a virtuous man, but doing so from prudence is. 201. And just as healing is common to the doctor and the layman, but doing so medically is the special function of the craftsman, in the same way too honouring one's parents is common to the virtuous man and the non-virtuous man; but honouring one's parents from prudence is the special function of the wise man; consequently he has a craft of the life whose special function it is to do each of the things which are done from a virtuous disposition... 207. Just as in the intermediate crafts it is the special function of a craftsman to do things regularly and to produce the same results consistently (for even a layman could carry out the function of a craftsman, but rarely and not all the time, and certainly not consistently in the same manner), so too it is the function of a prudent man, they say, to be consistent in his [morally] perfect actions, and just the opposite for the imprudent man.

B 82: Stobaeus Anthology 4.39.22 vol. 5 p. 906.18-907.5 W-H (SVF 3.510)

Chrysippus says: "he who makes [moral] progress to the highest degree performs all the appropriate actions in all circumstances and omits none." And he says that his life is not yet happy, but that happiness supervenes on him when these intermediate actions become secure and conditioned and acquire a special sort of fixity.

B 83: Epictetus Discourses 2.6.6-10

6. "Go and salute Mr. So-and-so." "All right, I salute him." "How?" "Not in an abject fashion." "But you were shut out." "That's because I haven't learned how to enter through the window. And when I find the door shut [against me] , I must either go away or enter through the window." 7. "But speak with the man too!" "I do so." "How?" "Not in an abject fashion." 8. "But you did not succeed." -- Now surely that was not your business, but his. So why do you encroach on what concerns someone else? If you always remember what is yours and what concerns someone else, you will never be disturbed. 9. That's why Chrysippus was right to say, "As long as what comes next is non-evident to me, I always cling to what is better suited to getting what is in accordance with nature. For god himself made me such as to select those things. 10. But if I knew for sure that it was fated for me now to be ill, I would even seek [illness]. For my foot, if it had brains, would seek to be muddied."

B 84: Cicero On Goals 5.16-21

16. Since there is so much disagreement about this [the goal of life] we should employ the division of Carneades, which our friend Antiochus is so fond of using. Carneades discerned not only all the views which philosophers had yet held about the highest good, but also all the views which are possible. So he claimed that no craft took its starting point from itself, since there is always something external which is the object of the craft. We need not prolong this point with examples; for it is obvious that no craft is concerned with itself, but the craft is distinct from its object. So just as medicine is the craft of health and helmsmanship is the craft of navigation, in the same way prudence is the craft of living; therefore it too must be constituted by and take its principle from something else. 17. It is a matter of general agreement that the concern of prudence and its goal must be what is adapted and accommodated to nature and such as to stimulate and stir up, all by itself, an impulse in the mind (which the Greeks call horme). But there is no agreement about what it is which thus moves us and which nature seeks from the moment of birth -- and that is the source of all the disagreement among philosophers when they are considering what the highest good is. For the source of the entire debate about the limits of good and bad, when they investigate the extreme limits of each, is to be found in the primary natural affiliations; and when that is found, the whole debate about the highest good and [worst] bad [thing] is derived from it as from a source.

18. Some philosophers think that our first impulse is to pleasure and that our first avoidance is of pain. Others think that freedom from pain is what we first welcome and that pain is the first object of avoidance. Others again take their start from the things which they call primary according to nature -- a class in which they include the integrity and preservation of all of our parts, health, sound sense organs, freedom from pain, strength, good looks, and other things of this kind; similar to these are the primary natural things in the soul, which are as it were the sparks and seeds of the virtues. Since it is some one of these three which first stirs nature into action, either to pursue something or to avoid it, and since there can be no additional possibility beyond these three, it follows necessarily that the tasks of pursuit and avoidance are to be referred to one of these. Consequently, that prudence which we called the craft of living is concerned with some one of those three things and takes from it the basic principle for all of life.

19. One's theory of what is right and honourable is derived from whichever of these three which one has decided is the thing which stimulates nature into action, and this theory can correspond with any one of the three. As a result, honourableness is either a matter of doing everything for the sake of pleasure, even if you do not achieve it; or for the sake of avoiding pain, even if you cannot manage this; or for the sake of acquiring primary natural things even if you succeed in getting none of them. So it is that disagreements about the starting points of nature exactly correspond to disagreements about the limits of good and bad things. Others again will start from the same principles and refer every [question about] appropriate action either to [the actual attainment of] pleasure or freedom from pain, or to the acquisition of the primary natural things.

20. So six views about the highest good have now been set forth, and the chief spokesman for the last three are: for pleasure, Aristippus, for freedom from pain, Hieronymus; and for the enjoyment of those things which we have termed primary natural things it is Carneades himself -- not indeed that he believes in the view, but he does defend it for the sake of argument. The other three were views which could be held, although only of them has even been defended, but it has been defended with great vigour. For no one has said that the plan of acting in such a way that one does everything for the sake of pleasure, even if we do not achieve anything is nevertheless worth choosing for its sake and honourable and the only good things. Nor has anyone held that the very act of trying to avoid pain was something worth choosing, unless one could actually escape it. But that doing everything in order to acquire the primary natural things, even if we do not succeed, is honourable and the only thing worth choosing and the only good thing -- that is what the Stoics say.

21. These are the six simple views about the greatest good and bad things; two without spokesman, four which have actually been defended. There has been a total of three composite or double accounts of the highest good, and if you consider the nature of things carefully you will see that there could not have been any more. For either pleasure can be coupled with the honourable, as Callipho and Dinomachus held; or freedom from pain, as Diodorus held; and so can the primary natural things, which is the view of the ancients, as we call the Academics and Peripatetics.

B 85: Cicero On Goals 3.16-34

16. The school whose views I follow [a Stoic speaks] holds that every animal, as soon as it is born (for this should be our starting point), is congenial to itself and inclined to preserve itself and its constitution, and to like those things which preserve that constitution; but it finds uncongenial its own death and those things which seem to threaten it. They confirm this by [noting] that before pleasure or pain can affect them, babies seek what is salutary and spurn what is not, and this would not happen unless they loved their constitution and feared death. They could not, however, desire anything unless they had a perception of themselves and consequently loved themselves. From this one ought to see that the principle [of human action] is derived from self-love. 17. Most Stoics do not think that pleasure should be classed among the primary natural things; and I strongly agree with them, for fear that, if nature seemed to have classed pleasure among the primary objects of impulse, then many shameful consequences would follow. It seems, however, to be a sufficient argument as to why we love those things which were first accepted because of nature [to say] that there is no one (when he has a choice) who would not prefer to have all the parts of his body in a sound condition to having them dwarfed or twisted, though equally useful.

They think, moreover, that acts of cognition (which we may calls grasps or perceptions or, if these terms are either displeasing or harder to understand, katalepseis) are, then, to be accepted for their own sake, since they have in themselves something which as it were includes and contains the truth. And this can be seen in babies, who, we see, are delighted it they figure something our for themselves, even if it does not do them any good. 18. We also think that the crafts are to be taken for their own sake, both because there is in them something worth taking and also because they consist of acts of cognition and contain something which is rational and methodical. They think, though, that we find false assent more uncongenial that anything else which is contrary to nature...

20. Let us move on, then, since we began from these natural principles and what follows should be consistent with them. There follows this primary division: that say that what has value (we are to call it that, I think) is that which is either itself in accordance with nature or productive of it, so that it is worthy of selection because it has a certain 'weight' which is worth valuing (and this [value] they call axia); by contrast, what is opposite to the above is disvalued. The starting point being, then, so constituted that what is natural is to be taken for its own sake and what is unnatural is to be rejected, the first appropriate action (for that is what I call kathekon) is that it should preserve itself in its natural constitution; and then that it should retain what is according to nature and reject what is contrary to nature. After this [pattern of] selection and rejection is discovered, there then follows appropriate selection, and then constant [appropriate] selection, and finally [selection] which is stable and in agreement with nature; and here for the first time we begin to have and to understand something which can truly be called good. 21. For man's first sense of congeniality is to what is according to nature; but as soon as he gets an understanding, or rather a conception (which they call an ennoia) and sees the ordering and, I might say, concord of things which are to be done, he then values that more highly than all those things which he loved in the beginning and he comes to a conclusion by intelligence and reasoning, with the result that he decides that this is what the highest good for man consists in, which is to be praised and chosen for its own sake. And since it is placed in what the Stoics call homologia, let us call it agreement, if you please. Since, therefore, this constitutes the good, to which all things are to be referred, honourable actions and the honourable itself -- which is considered to be the only good -- although it arises later [in our lives], nevertheless it is the only thing which is to be chosen in virtue of its own character and value; but none of the primary natural things is to be chosen for its own sake. 22. Since, however, those things which I called appropriate actions proceed from the starting points [established] by nature, it is necessary that they be referred to them; so it is right to say all appropriate actions are referred to acquisition of the natural principles, not however in the sense that this is the highest good, since honourable action is not among the primarily and naturally congenial things. That, as I said, is posterior and arises later. But [such action] is natural and encourages us to choose it much more than all the earlier mentioned things.

But here one must first remove a misunderstanding, so that no one might think that there are two highest goods. For just as, if it is someone's purpose to direct a spear or arrow at something, we say that his highest goal is to do everything he can in order to direct it at [the target], though, is as it were to be selected and not to be chosen.

23. Since all appropriate actions proceed from the natural principles, it is necessary that wisdom itself proceed from them as well. But just as it often happens that he who is introduced to someone puts a higher value on the man to whom he is introduced than on the man by whom he was introduced, just so it is in no way surprising that we are first introduced to wisdom by the starting points [established] by nature, but that later on wisdom itself becomes dearer to us than the things which brought us to wisdom. And just as our limbs were given us in such a way that they seem to have been given for the sake of a certain way of life, similarly the impulse in our soul, which is called horme in Greek, seems not to have been given for the sake of any old type of life but for a certain kind of living; and similarly for reason and perfected reason. 24. Just as an actor or dancer has not been assigned just any old [type of] delivery or movement but rather a certain definite [type]; so too life is to be lived in a certain definite manner, not in any old [manner]. And we call that manner 'in agreement' and consonant. And we do not think that wisdom is like navigation or medicine, but rather like the craft of acting or dancing which I just mentioned; thus its goal, i.e., the [proper] execution of the draft, depends on itself and is not sought outside itself. There is also another point of dissimilarity between wisdom and these crafts, viz. that in them proper actions do not contain all the components [lit. parts] which constitute the art; but things called 'right' or 'rightly done', if I may call them that, though the Greeks call them katorthomata [morally perfect actions], contain all the features of virtue. Only wisdom is totally self-contained, and this is not the case with the other crafts. 25. But it is misguided to compare the highest goal of medicine or navigation with that of wisdom; for wisdom embraces magnanimity and justice and an ability to judge that everything which happens to a [mere] human being is beneath it -- and this does not apply to the rest of the crafts. But no one can possess the very virtues which I just mentioned unless he has firmly decided that there is nothing except what is honourable or shameful which makes a difference or distinguishes one [thing or situation] from another.

26. Let us now see how splendidly these further points follow from what I have already expounded... So, since the goal is to live consistently and in agreement with nature, it follows necessarily that all wise men always live happy, perfect and fortunate lives, that they are impeded by nothing, hindered by nothing and in need of nothing. The key not only to the doctrines of which I am speaking, but also to our life and fortune, is that we should judge that only what is honourable is good. This point can be elaborated and developed fully and copiously, with all the choicest words and profoundest sentiments which rhetorical art can produce; but I prefer the short and pointed syllogisms of the Stoics.

27. Their arguments go like this: everything which is good is praiseworthy; but everything which is praiseworthy is honourable; therefore, that which is good is honourable. Does this argument seem valid enough? Surely it does; for as you see the argument concludes with a point which is proven by the two premises. Generally speaking, people attack the former of the two premises and claim that it is not the case that everything which is good is praiseworthy; for they concede that what is praiseworthy is honourable. But it is totally absurd [to claim] that something is good but not worth choosing, or worth choosing but not pleasing, or pleasing but not also to be loved; and so it is also to be approved of; so it is also praiseworthy; but that is [the same as] honourable. So it turns out that what is good is also honourable.

28. Next, I ask who can boast of a life if it is wretched or even just not happy. So we boast only of a happy life. From this it results that the happy life is, if I may put it so, worth boasting about; and this cannot properly [be said to] happen to any life but one which is honourable. So it turns out that an honourable life is a happy life. Moreover, since someone who is justly praised must have about him something remarkable, either in point of honour or glory, so that he can justly be called happy on account of these very valuable attributes, the same thing can be said most properly about the life of such a man. So if the honourable is a criterion for a happy life, one must hold that what is honourable is also good.

29. What? Could anyone deny that we could never have a man who is of steadfast and reliable spirit, a man you could call brave, unless it is firmly established that pain is not a bad thing? For just as someone who regards death as a bad thing cannot help but fear it, in the same way no one can be indifferent to and despise something which he regards as bad. Once this point is established and assented to, our next premise is that magnanimous and strong-hearted men are able to despise and ignore everything which fortune can bring to bear against man. Consequently, it is proven that there is nothing bad which is not also shameful. But the man we refer to is lofty and superior, magnanimous, truly brave, looks down on all merely human concerns; the man, I say, whom we wish to produce, whom we are looking for, should certainly have faith in himself and his life, both past and future, and should think well of himself, believing that nothing bad can happen to a wise man. And from this one can again prove the same old point, that only the honourable is good, i.e., that to live happily is to live honourably, i.e., virtuously.

30. I am not unaware that there is a variety of views held by philosophers, by which I mean those who place the highest good, which I call the goal, in the mind. Even though some of them have gone wrong, still I prefer them, whatever their views, who locate the highest good in the mind and virtue, to those three who have separated the highest good from virtue by placing either pleasure or freedom from pain or the primary natural things among the highest goods; I even prefer them to the other three who thought that virtue would be deficient without some addition and so added to it one or other of the three things mentioned above. 31. But those who think that the highest good is to live with knowledge and who claim that things are absolutely indifferent and that this was why the wise man would be happy, because he did not prefer one thing to any other in even the slightest degree -- they are particularly absurd; so too are those who, as certain Academics are said to heave held, believe that the highest good and greatest duty of the wise man is to resist his presentations and steadfastly to withhold his assent. Normally one gives a full answer to each of these views separately. But there is no need to prolong what is perfectly clear; and what is more obvious than that the very prudence which we are seeking and praising would be utterly destroyed if there were no grounds for choosing between those which are contrary to nature and those which are according to nature? When we eliminate, therefore, those views I have mentioned and those which are similar to them, all that is left is [the view] that the highest good is to live by making use of a knowledge of what happens naturally, selecting what is according to nature and rejecting what is contrary to nature, i.e., to live consistently and in agreement with nature.

32. When in the other crafts something is said to be craftsmanlike, one must suppose that what is meant is something which is, in a way, posterior and consequent, which they [the Greeks] call epigennematikon [supervenient]; but when we say that something is done wisely we mean that it is from the outset thoroughly right. For whatever is undertaken by a wise man must immediately be complete in all its parts; for it is in this that we find what we call that which is worth choosing. For just as it is a [moral] mistake to betray one's country, to attack one's parents, to rob temples (and these are [moral] mistakes because of the outcome [of the action]), so too it is a [moral] mistake to fear, to grieve, and to suffer desire, even quite independently of their outcome. Rather, just as the latter are not dependent on their posterior consequences, but are [moral] mistakes from the outset, similarly the actions which proceed from virtue are to be judged to be right from the outset and not by their ultimate completion.

33. 'Good', which has been used so frequently in this discussion, is also explained with a definition. The definitions offered by [the Stoics] do differ from each other, but only very slightly; for all that, they are getting at the same point. I agree with Diogenes who defined good as that which is perfect in its nature. He followed this up by defining the beneficial (let us use this term for ophelema) as a motion or condition which is in accord with that is perfect in its nature. And since we acquire conceptions of things if we learn something either by direct experience or by combination or by similarity or by rational inference, the conception of good is created by the last method mentioned. For the mind attains a conception of the good when it ascends by rational inference from those things which are according to nature. 34. But the good itself is not perceived to be good or called good because of some addition or increase or comparison with other things, but in virtue of its own special character. For honey, although it is the sweetest thing, is nevertheless perceived to be sweet not because of a comparison with other things, but because of its own distinctive flavour; in the same way the good, which is the subject of our discussion, is indeed most valuable, but that value derives meaning from its distinctive type and not from its magnitude. For value (which is called axia) is not counted as either good or bad; consequently, however much you might increase it, it will still remain in the same general category. Therefore, there is one kind of value which applies to virtue, and it derives its meaning from its distinctive type and not from its magnitude.

B 86: Cicero On Goals 3.62-70 (selections)

62. Again, they think it important to understand that nature has brought it about that children are loved by their parents. For from this starting point we can follow the development of the shared society which unites the human race. One ought to see this first of all from the form and organs of the body which show that nature has a rational scheme for reproduction; but it would be inconsistent for nature to want offspring to be born and yet not to see to it that they are loved once they are born. The power of nature can be seen even in the beasts; when we see the effort they go to in bearing and rearing their offspring, we seem to be listening to the voice of nature herself. So, just as it is obvious that we naturally shrink from pain, so too it is apparent that we are driven by nature herself to love those whom we bear. 63. From this it develops naturally that there is among men a common and natural congeniality of men with each other, with the result that it is right for them to feel that other men, just because they are men, are not alien to them. So we are naturally suited to [living in] gatherings, groups and states.

64. They also hold that the cosmos is ruled by the will of the gods, that it is like a city or state shared by gods and men, and that each and every one of us is a part of this cosmos. From which it naturally follows that we put the common advantage ahead of our own. For just as the laws put the well-being of all ahead of the well-being of individuals, so too the good and wise man, who is obedient to the laws and not unaware of his civic duty, looks out for the advantage of all more than for that of any one person or his own.

67. But just as they think that the bonds of justice unite men with each other, so too they deny that there is any bond of justice between man and beast. Chrysippus expressed it well, saying that everything else was born for the sake of men and gods, but they were born for the sake of their own community and society, with the result that men can use beasts for their own advantage without injustice...

70. They also think that friendship should be cultivated because it falls into the class of beneficial things. Although some [Stoics] say that in a friendship a friend's reason is just as dear to the wise man as is his own, while others say that each man's reason is dearer to himself, even this latter group admits that to deprive someone of something in order to appropriate it for oneself is inconsistent with justice, which is a virtue we are naturally committed to. So the school I am speaking of does not at all approve of because of its advantages. For the very same advantages could just as well undermine and overthrow them. Indeed, neither justice nor friendship can exist at all unless there are chosen for their own sakes.

B 87: Plutarch On Common Conceptions 1069e (SVF 3.491)

[Chrysippus] says, "So where shall I start from? And what am I to take as the principle of appropriate action and the raw material for virtue, if I give up nature and what is according to nature?"

B 88: Plutarch On Stoic Self-Contradictions 1035a-d (SVF 2.42, 30; 3.326, 68)

(1035a) Chrysippus thinks that young men ought to study logic first, ethics second and then physics, and theology last of all as the culmination of the others. He says this in many places, but it will suffice to cite literally what is said in book four of On Lives: "First of all I think, following the correct account given by the ancients, that there are three kinds of theorems to be studied by a philosopher, those of logic, those of ethics and those of physics; and then that we must put the logical first, the ethical second, and the physical third. And theology is last in physics. (1035b) That is why the teaching of theology has been called a 'final revelation'." But in practice he usually puts this topic, which he says ought to put last, as the beginning of every ethical enquiry. For manifestly he never utters a word on any topic -- the goal of life, justice, good and bad things, marriage, child-rearing, law, citizenship -- without prefacing his remarks (just as those who introduce decrees in public assemblies preface their remarks with invocations of Good Fortune) with references to Zeus, fate, providence, and stating that the cosmos is one and finite, being held together by a single power. And none of this can be believed, (1053c) except by someone who is thoroughly immersed in physics. So listen to what he says about these matters in book three of On Gods: "for one can find no other starting point or origin for justice except the one derived from Zeus and that derived from the common nature; for..."