• schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    For many of the people on this forum, Stoicism is a stock answer to how people handle life faced with conditions that a Philosophical Pessimist might enumerate upon. Since Stoicism keeps coming up, I'd like to know what some users on here think of Stoicism in regards to it being an answer to the problems posed by the Philosophical Pessimist.

    1) Does the Stoic ethic provide an answer to the existential boredom/instrumentality/annoyances/negative experiences/desire/flux/becoming-and-never-being, etc. that the Philosophical Pessimist poses?

    2) Is Stoicism a kind of Philosophical Pessimism or at least close cousins? If it is not a kind of Philosophical Pessimism, how might they differ?

    3) How might a Philosophical Pessimist's answer to solving life's sufferings be different than a Stoic's?

    For the purposes of this thread, the definitions of Philosophical Pessimism is this:
    Either existence:

    -contains much suffering (empirical), and thus not good. (negative contingent pain, negative experiences in general, etc. (pace Benatar and partly Schopenhauer)

    -The world is suffering (metaphysical) and thus not good (the ceaseless striving and emptiness of the self-reflecting human animal). (pace Schopenhauer and some Eastern philosophies).


    The definition of Stoicism is: an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

    Also included in the definition is anything related to these definitions that are not included but are implied. Clearly, one can write a thesis just on the definitions and specifications of thought on each school of philosophy, but obviously I just needed it as short as possible.

    @Sapentia @Benkei @180 Proof @darthbarracuda @Thorongil @Agustino
  • _db
    3.6k
    For many of the people on this forum, Stoicism is a stock answer to how people handle life faced with conditions that a Philosophical Pessimist might enumerate upon. Since Stoicism keeps coming up, I'd like to know what some users on here think of Stoicism in regards to it being an answer to the problems posed by the Philosophical Pessimist.schopenhauer1

    Is it? I'm not aware that any non-pessimists on here are self-described stoics. I don't remember seeing any major discussions over stoicism here in the past, either (although I could be wrong and if you have links then I will look at them). Unless they are specifically saying they are stoics, then all they are showing is a tendencies towards stoic-like beliefs. Generalizations may be harmful in discussions.

    1) Does the Stoic ethic provide an answer to the existential boredom/instrumentality/annoyances/negative experiences/desire/flux/becoming-and-never-being, etc. that the Philosophical Pessimist poses?schopenhauer1

    If it didn't have an answer then it would be a flawed philosophy. Presumably followers of Stoicism would not think these problems pose much of an issue. But I'm not exactly a stoic myself.

    2) Is Stoicism a kind of Philosophical Pessimism or at least close cousins? If it is not a kind of Philosophical Pessimism, how might they differ?schopenhauer1

    It is a common thing to hear Buddhism and Stoicism as the perfect couple. They are very similar. Buddhist philosophy is pessimistic in that it realizes that life is suffering. But it is not defeatist. It offers a solution to this unsavory condition. Stoicism does the same thing, and is oftentimes extremely compatible with Buddhist philosophy.

    Also, as I'm sure you already know, philosophical pessimism is a family resemblance term. So someone's pessimism may not be the same pessimism as another person's. This makes it difficult to separate people's beliefs into strict categories.

    3) How might a Philosophical Pessimist's answer to solving life's sufferings be different than a Stoic's?schopenhauer1

    I would need to know what the solution of your flavor of pessimism is before answering this question.
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    Is it? I'm not aware that any non-pessimists on here are self-described stoics. I don't remember seeing any major discussions over stoicism here in the past, either (although I could be wrong and if you have links then I will look at them). Unless they are specifically saying they are stoics, then all they are showing is a tendencies towards stoic-like beliefs. Generalizations may be harmful in discussions.darthbarracuda

    @Sapientia said: I don't deny these things; and I'll readily admit that I've personally experienced them at times. I view these things as things to be accepted and overcome or set aside. I think that my outlook is stoical.

    @Agustino said: I have found pyrrhonism, epicureanism and stoicism in particular to be quite strong from a rational point of view. Epicureanism and stoicism, are for example, in practice, not even that far from each other; just different theoretical frameworks.

    @Benkei said: Which in a sense is what, for instance, Stoicism is about in my view, I can't control my existence to such an extent that any ideal is ever attainable because existence is flux so I let go of (absolute) ideals.

    These are just examples I have seen in the forums or in discussions I have seen. In this regard, I kind of conflate Spinoza's idea of Intellectual Love of God and overcoming the lower passions as a kind of Stoicism as well. The other philosopher thrown around a lot is Nietzsche because he apparently embraced the suffering.
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    If it didn't have an answer then it would be a flawed philosophy. Presumably followers of Stoicism would not think these problems pose much of an issue. But I'm not exactly a stoic myself.darthbarracuda

    They do think that life has suffering at the least, and their answer, if I was to boil it down to a slogan is "be indifferent to situations one cannot control".
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    Also, as I'm sure you already know, philosophical pessimism is a family resemblance term. So someone's pessimism may not be the same pessimism as another person's. This makes it difficult to separate people's beliefs into strict categories.darthbarracuda

    I am using it in the philosophical pessimistic sense, not the common sense.
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    I would need to know what the pessimist's solution is before answering this question.darthbarracuda

    Generally speaking, this would be something of the following:
    1) Not procreating or creating a new generation that will suffer.
    2) Asceticism to deny the world/will/will-to-live so as to achieve a metaphysical state of calm.
    3) Seeing everyone as fellow-sufferers who deserve compassion.
  • _db
    3.6k
    These are just examples I have seen in the forums or in discussions I have seen.schopenhauer1

    I see. Thank you for the examples, I was not aware of the influence Stoicism has on this forum.

    The other philosopher thrown around a lot is Nietzsche because he apparently embraced the suffering.schopenhauer1

    Yes, amor fati.

    The do think that life has suffering at the least, and their answer, if I was to boil it down to a slogan is "be indifferent to situations one cannot control".schopenhauer1

    Hence the adjective "stoic", meaning enduring hardship.

    I think you are right about the general slogan of Stoicism. Buddhism would posit that it is important to let go of your desires as well. In this way, the two philosophies can be paired together as the ultimate secular philosophy of life. You have Stoicism's teachings of how to deal with the suffering you cannot avoid, and you have Buddhism's teachings of how to avoid the other type of suffering, the self-caused suffering. Stoicism would say that a natural disaster is not itself a "bad thing", but rather your reaction to the natural disaster is a bad thing. Buddhism would say that your desires (tanha), or Schopenhauer's Will, is the cause of every other type of suffering. That's my take on it anyway. Someone whoop me into shape if I butchered it.

    Generally speaking, this would be something of the following:
    1) Not procreating or creating a new generation that will suffer
    2) Asceticism to deny the world/will/will-to-live so as to achieve a metaphysical state of calm
    3) Seeing everyone as fellow-sufferers who deserve compassion
    schopenhauer1

    I don't honestly have any problems with this position, as it's basically what I uphold today. This doesn't mean you can't additionally be a stoic or a buddhist. But that wasn't your original question, was it?

    To which I suggest a topic I made a while back about the clarity of pessimism as a worldview.
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    To which I suggest a topic I made a while back about the clarity of pessimism as a worldview.darthbarracuda

    Yes, I've seen it. I made a post a few years ago about the difference between common and philosophical pessimism and Thorongil also had some good posts clarifying something similar though he uses "temperamental pessimist" vs. "philosophical pessimist".

    I also think that the pessimists have an aesthetic that the world has an underlying suffering that cannot be avoided whereas Stoics seem to have this optimism that as long as they strengthen their capacity for indifference, this can be largely avoided or overcome. Stoicism goes well with therapy and self-help practices because it provides a solution-based outcome. Stoicism tries to mitigate the fact that life presents itself as a problem (problems) to overcome, and pessimists are quick to point out that life has problems to overcome in the first place and this is not a good thing. Why should people have to cope with the problem? Why be given the problem?
  • _db
    3.6k
    To expand on my previous reply to you in this thread, I think many people (including myself) swing around like a pendulum during their lives. Sometimes we are able to deal with the crap in life, and sometimes we can't. I don't think there is a single, winner-takes-all philosophy that will solve all of life's problems. There are simply some guidelines that apply depending on how the subject sees fit. It's absurd and kind of funny to think about.

    Do you think your conception of the pessimist's position is sufficient?

    I think it serves as a bare-minimum position. Like I said above, we are all pendulums swinging around. Sometimes Buddhism works really, really well for me. Other times not so much. But no matter what, the idea that everyone is a fellow suffering that should be treated with respect and compassion rings true to me. It's pure and simple. But it is also lacking some of the structure and meaning that so many of us are so deeply pursuing.
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    Do you think your conception of the pessimist's position is sufficient?

    I think it serves as a bare-minimum position. Like I said above, we are all pendulums swinging around. Sometimes Buddhism works really, really well for me. Other times not so much. But no matter what, the idea that everyone is a fellow suffering that should be treated with respect and compassion rings true to me. It's pure and simple. But it is also lacking some of the structure and meaning that so many of us are so deeply pursuing.
    darthbarracuda

    I personally don't think any position is sufficient. I guess another position of some pessimists is that nothing will really work, there are only many attempts at coping with the problems, as your post suggests. There is no Nirvana-like state, and though it is good to be compassionate if we are all suffering together and feel pity for people like us, it doesn't substantially do much to overcome the problem altogether. We can simply alleviate some things at some times for some people.

    A pessimist might see the responsibilities and burdens as something one would not want to deal with, and that stoicism, though a way to try to mitigate emotional distress, does not resolve the fact that we are given a problem to have to overcome in the first place. Also, just like the possibility of no Nirvana-like state, the "indifferent" state of the stoic could be more rhetoric and posturing than anything else. Who can out-indifferent the other guy..who has less emotional reaction to situations. Anyways, the fact that one needs to go through the toughening-up program of the indifferent stoic is just more evidence of the fact that people are faced with challenges and responsibilities in the first place. People have to deal with life.

    Philosophical Pessimism might be summed up well in this quote:

    Human life must be some kind of mistake. The truth of this will be sufficiently obvious if we only remember that man is a compound of needs and necessities hard to satisfy; and that even when they are satisfied, all he obtains is a state of painlessness, where nothing remains to him but abandonment to boredom. This is direct proof that existence has no real value in itself; for what is boredom but the feeling of the emptiness of life? If life — the craving for which is the very essence of our being — were possessed of any positive intrinsic value, there would be no such thing as boredom at all: mere existence would satisfy us in itself, and we should want for nothing. But as it is, we take no delight in existence except when we are struggling for something; and then distance and difficulties to be overcome make our goal look as though it would satisfy us — an illusion which vanishes when we reach it; or else when we are occupied with some purely intellectual interest — when in reality we have stepped forth from life to look upon it from the outside, much after the manner of spectators at a play. And even sensual pleasure itself means nothing but a struggle and aspiration, ceasing the moment its aim is attained. Whenever we are not occupied in one of these ways, but cast upon existence itself, its vain and worthless nature is brought home to us; and this is what we mean by boredom. The hankering after what is strange and uncommon — an innate and ineradicable tendency of human nature — shows how glad we are at any interruption of that natural course of affairs which is so very tedious. — Schopenhauer
  • _db
    3.6k
    I don't have much that I disagree with you on, except that maybe it is impossible to assume how other people perceive the world. In which case we need more input, from other users.
  • Pneumenon
    448
    It helps to think of Stoicism as existentialism, but for grownups.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    My own opinion...

    1) Does the Stoic ethic provide an answer to the existential boredom/instrumentality/annoyances/negative experiences/desire/flux/becoming-and-never-being, etc. that the Philosophical Pessimist poses?schopenhauer1

    No. I pretty much agree with Hegel that Stoicism ultimately is empty posturing. It gives itself a kind of ideal to reflect on that makes one think these things are answered, but when the rubber hits the road, it's ultimately impotent.

    2) Is Stoicism a kind of Philosophical Pessimism or at least close cousins? If it is not a kind of Philosophical Pessimism, how might they differ?schopenhauer1

    No. Stoicism seems to claim that if you behave the right way, bad things literally cannot happen to you.

    3) How might a Philosophical Pessimist's answer to solving life's sufferings be different than a Stoic's?schopenhauer1

    I think the pessimist ultimately takes the problems of the world seriously in a way that Stoic does not.

    -contains much suffering (empirical), and thus not good. (negative contingent pain, negative experiences in general, etc. (pace Benatar and partly Schopenhauer)schopenhauer1

    Stoicism doesn't consider suffering a bad.

    It helps to think of Stoicism as existentialism, but for grownups.Pneumenon

    Stoicism is anti-existentialist in a lot of ways. It claims that man has an essence, that good is a kind of eudaimonic goal, and that this can be achieved by living in harmony with a pre-established ideal.
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    It helps to think of Stoicism as existentialism, but for grownups.Pneumenon

    You'd have to unpack that statement as it is riddled with assumptions.
  • Pneumenon
    448
    I was being inflammatory.

    In all seriousness, Stoicism works for me, at least, because its ideal state (that of the sage) is more or less impossible, which is good for me, because then I have something to strive for at all times. Additionally, I like Stoicism because it's anti-hedonistic. This is possibly because I'm rather anhedonic most of the time, but also because hedonistic philosophies just look like a recipe for slavishness and misery to me. I also like Buddhism a lot, if that tells you anything.

    I suppose that Stoicism may be a form of negative hedonism, but in all honesty, I think that "negative hedonism" is a misnomer. It should be called anti-hedonism.

    The emphasis on controlling the emotions is important for me because I'm a grotesquely intense person, so I gravitate toward philosophies whose message can be interpreted as "reign it in ya fuckin' lunatic." I'm also really self-indulgent when left to my own devices, and it can lead to problems, so keeping a mindset of moderation is probably a good prescription for my ills.

    I don't consider Stoicism to be good for everyone (is there such a thing as a life philosophy that works for everybody?), but when I read the Stoic texts, they just... resonate somehow.
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    I don't consider Stoicism to be good for everyone (is there such a thing as a life philosophy that works for everybody?), but when I read the Stoic texts, they just... Resonate somehow.Pneumenon

    Fair enough, and I think you made a good point that not all philosophies are going to resonate with everyone. I guess part of my post was to ask whether following Stoic principles justifies or solves the evils of life and thus supposedly renders the pessimist's evaluation moot (if one were to follow the program).

    I agree with much of TGW's sentiments. I have a couple follow up questions for TGW:

    I think the pessimist ultimately takes the problems of the world seriously in a way that Stoic does not.The Great Whatever

    Can you elaborate on this or give an example?

    Stoicism doesn't consider suffering a bad.The Great Whatever

    Can you elaborate on this or give an example?
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    Can you elaborate on this or give an example?schopenhauer1

    Nobody disputes that the world is full of suffering. Stoicism seeks to heroically stand against that fact by declaring that nonetheless, this is irrelevant to the world, or really one's life, being good. Even in the worst of worlds the Stoic sage stands strong and is totally unharmed by it. He is unbreakable. There is, on the one hand, the suffering that actually occurs; but then, at a remove from this, there is the way you respond to it, and only what you rationally choose, or fail to choose, can make your life good or bad.

    The Stoic thus provides a kind of loophole with which to paper over the 'badness' of the world by redefining badness such that suffering is indifferent as far as it is concerned. The solution is therefore a kind of denial that there is really at bottom a problem, as the pessimist might. It may be hard to live as a sage, but ultimately it is your fault if you don't live a good life, and in principle nothing can make your life bad, and the world itself can't be bad of its own accord.

    It seems to me that the pessimist by contrast admits that the world is actually bad. And that admission is important for recovery. Heroic platitudes won't improve the world.

    Can you elaborate on this or give an example?schopenhauer1

    It's just a core tenet of Stoicism. Pleasure and pain may be choice-worthy or avoidance-worthy in some respect, but they're not 'good' and 'bad.' Only living in accordance with a certain ideal is. So a person who's tortured, if he sticks to his Stoic guns, might endure extreme pains, but his life would be no worse on that score. Bad things cannot happen to good people.
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k


    I very much agree with your characterization of Stoicism. If you can elaborate on a couple more things:

    It seems to me that the pessimist by contrast admits that the world is actually bad. And that admission is important for recovery. Heroic platitudes won't improve the world.The Great Whatever

    How would you suppose that the pessimist's admission that the world is actually bad is important for recovery versus the heroic platitudes of the Stoic? What makes this admission essential?
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    I can take a stab at a criticism of Stoicism. Stoicism seems:

    a) inaccessible in practice for some
    b) wrong due to its emphasis on being disconnected with emotions.


    a) It seems inaccessible in practice because there are some who have preconditions that might make it much harder to follow than others. People with mental disorders come to mind. These people might have an extreme uphill climb compared with someone who might not have these conditions in terms of accessing a state of equanimity in terms of emotional detachment or emotional purging. Taking this into consideration, luck and fortune has more to do with becoming a Sage than the Stoic-advocate might like to admit.

    b) It seems wrong to purge emotional response as emotions are the first responders to what is wrong with the world. It is telling us something. Our feelings of despair if we see existential emptiness at the end of our endeavors, our feelings of annoyance, our feelings of social unease, physical pain, etc. are giving us a good indication that the world contains forms and elements of suffering. That we need to enter an austere program of purging to rid oneself of something very human, seems a bit off. If we have to become less human to be the best human, than that in itself seems a source for pessimism. Humans, the fallen, overemotional animal that must correct their dispositions. The fact that humans even have to enter such a program is suffering as the process of purging emotion and becoming the indifferent Sage in the face of suffering, is difficult (if it can be achieved at all).

    Also, and most importantly, the goal of Stoicism seems akin to a form of sociopathy. Schopenhauer emphasized that true ethical impulse comes from compassion- seeing the suffering in others and wanting to alleviate it. Stoicism, seems to emphasize ethics in terms of virtue. The indifferent Sage does his duty to perhaps be moral, but it is not out of compassion. Emotion seems to be a true component of real ethical impulse. Stoicism seems to rid this element in place of a third-party directive which is to say virtue or Reason, which again, seems oddly enough like a sociopath who happens to be ethical. I don't mean a literal sociopath, but rather someone with similar characteristics- detached, remote, lacking in any emotion. Someone who is literally a sociopath, by definition, would likely act on their lack of emotion or attachment.

    Philosophical Pessimism, on the other hand, relies very much on emotion- specifically the emotion of compassion. PP's, out of a sense of compassion for individuals or future potential individuals, recognize the suffering for what it is, without trying to deny what is a given in the world. [It is a given even for the stoic, because clearly, if one has to enter an austere stoic program, the suffering existed in the first place to prompt people to enter the program]. Out of a sense that we are all fellow-sufferers, there is a prompting to want to alleviate it. At best, it is a call for humanity to recognize the suffering and to confront it. There seems to be a two part aspect here. First is the recognition that we are fellow-sufferers (which some conflate to just "complaining"). The second is to try to alleviate it, mitigate future suffering or future sufferers, etc.

    @The Great Whatever @Benkei @Thorongil @Pneumenon @Sapentia @darthbarracuda @Bitter Crank @180 Proof @Agustino
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    How would you suppose that the pessimist's admission that the world is actually bad is important for recovery versus the heroic platitudes of the Stoic? What makes this admission essential?schopenhauer1

    Admitting you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery.
  • S
    11.8k
    Stoicism tries to mitigate the fact that life presents itself as a problem (problems) to overcome, and pessimists are quick to point out that life has problems to overcome in the first place and this is not a good thing.schopenhauer1

    There is an important distinction between good and bad on the one hand, and pleasant and unpleasant on the other. That these problems are unpleasant is not necessarily that they're bad or not good. Would life without any such problems really be better? I doubt it. Reducing suffering makes sense to me, but scrapping it altogether isn't worth it in my case, and in others. And the only realistic means of doing so without having to wait a natural lifetime is suicide - which I wouldn't advocate except in exceptional circumstances.

    Why should people have to cope with the problem? Why be given the problem?schopenhauer1

    Because it's worth it in most cases. It has been in my case to the present date. Things might go down hill for me to such an extent that in hindsight, I could think that it would have been better to have ceased to continue to live from that point onwards, but, even if so, I still think that it's better to gamble than to fold. Things might remain to be as good as they are, or get better, or get worse; but I don't have a crystal ball.

    As an aside, I might directly address your opening post and your key points and questions at a later time, but the quotes that I've addressed above caught my attention enough to make me want to respond immediately.
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    There is an important distinction between good and bad on the one hand, and pleasant and unpleasant on the other. That these problems are unpleasant is not necessarily that they're bad or not good. Would life without any such problems really be better? I doubt it. Reducing suffering makes sense to me, but scrapping it altogether isn't worth it in my case, and in others. And the only realistic means of doing so without having to wait a natural lifetime is suicide - which I wouldn't advocate except in exceptional circumstances.Sapientia

    Is this about Stoicism? Please explain how it connects. But, to answer your position more directly, why is unpleasant not bad? No one can scrap suffering, that is true. Reducing suffering is always good, no one is disputing that. But does reducing suffering via Stoicism justify life's goodness even despite suffering's existence? Is it really a "stock" reply to how life is still good with suffering as it seems to be used on this forum by some members? Does the fact that we even have to have something called "Stoicism" provide evidence that even the solution to reducing suffering is a struggle?
  • S
    11.8k
    Is this about Stoicism? Please explain how it connects.schopenhauer1

    It's about my view contrary to yours. It might or might not reflect stoicism, but I'm not exactly a stoic, or a rigid adherent to stoicism. Hence, for example, I'm not committed to the following:

    The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.schopenhauer1

    Rather, I'd say that my views tend to be stoical, or stoic-like, in certain respects. Which is to say that they coincide with the typical connotations of stoicism. The last part is close to my view, but I don't think in terms of a divine Reason, Fate, or Providence that governs nature. It's the indifference to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain which I think has merit.

    But, to answer your position more directly, why is unpleasant not bad? No one can scrap suffering, that is true. Reducing suffering is always good, no one is disputing that. But does reducing suffering via Stoicism justify life's goodness even despite suffering's existence? Is it really a "stock" reply to how life is still good with suffering as it seems to be used on this forum by some members? Does the fact that we even have to have something called "Stoicism" provide evidence that even the solution to reducing suffering is a struggle?schopenhauer1

    Well, unpleasantness is not bad if without it life would be worse off, and/or if it's necessary in order to live a good enough - or even potentially good enough - life. Since a good enough life is achievable in countless cases, it's a worthwhile pursuit for those people.

    Reducing suffering via stoicism doesn't need to justify life's goodness. Life's goodness is justification in itself. (N.b. I don't mean to imply that life in itself is good; rather, I'm talking about the goodness in life. I acknowledge that there's both good and bad in life, and that there are varying degrees of each). Stoicism is, or at least can be, a good way of dealing with life's problems. They cease to be problems if dealt with successfully. And yes, life is worth living in many cases, including my own, despite the existence of suffering.

    Whether or not it's a stock reply seems beside the point. What's important is the position itself.

    Lastly, as to whether the fact that we even have something called "stoicism" counts as evidence that even the solution to reducing suffering is a struggle: yes, it seems so. What of it? It's a struggle worth taking, is it not?
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    Well, unpleasantness is not bad if without it life would be worse off,Sapientia

    How is life better off with unpleasantness? If you are going to do the "exercise makes us feel better even if it hurts.." routine, just don't. You know what I am talking about with unpleasantness- real suffering- emotional, physical, mental, social, situational, or otherwise. If people must live for a principle outside their own well-being, I'd like to hear it. But, I can see it now, here comes the Nietzschesque "suffering makes us better" schtick :-} . Better as compared to what, of course, does not matter.. some ideal which apparently is the "human-as-sufferer-who-makes-it-out-a-better-person". (But what a cynical reply that would be though.)

    Stoicism is, or at least can be, a good way of dealing with life's problems. They cease to be problems if dealt with successfully. And yes, life is worth living in many cases, including my own, despite the existence of suffering.Sapientia

    But the problem is people have to "deal" in the first place, and keep dealing, and on and on. We are already alive and have instincts to not die- defending the idea that we must keep going and cope with the situation is not all that hard, and even pessimists will defend it too. However, seeing the fact that we have unwanted responsibilities and suffering is not evaluated as good by pessimists and thus life containing this is suspect.
  • Benkei
    6.2k
    1) Does the Stoic ethic provide an answer to the existential boredom/instrumentality/annoyances/negative experiences/desire/flux/becoming-and-never-being, etc. that the Philosophical Pessimist poses?

    2) Is Stoicism a kind of Philosophical Pessimism or at least close cousins? If it is not a kind of Philosophical Pessimism, how might they differ?

    3) How might a Philosophical Pessimist's answer to solving life's sufferings be different than a Stoic's?
    schopenhauer1

    First off, I'm not a Stoic but I do borrow from them. My take on stoicism (but really, Ciceronianus is the expert on this, you should ask him to reply to this thread) in regards your questions is as follows:

    1. No, I would say Stoicism is purely pragmatic so it won't have much to say about existential issues. If it isn't within your ability to control, you let it go. Part of these existential questions can therefore be ignored as arising from a wish to control what cannot be controlled to meet a certain ideal. You either let go of the wish (emotion) or the ideal - the latter appears a more humane answer to existential issues - which is where my earlier comment came from.

    2. As far as I know Stoicism has not made an ethical judgment on existence. It does recognise the existence of suffering of course.

    3. I don't think the Philosophical Pessimist solves life's sufferings except for the compassionate agent. The rest are trying to retreat from it through ascetism or art and the antinatalist wants to end life altogether.

    The compassionate agent though, can be exactly like a Stoic (as I see him), having established suffering exists he goes out to alleviate it by his own power.
  • S
    11.8k
    How is life better off with unpleasantness? If you are going to do the "exercise makes us feel better even if it hurts.." routine, just don't. You know what I am talking about with unpleasantness- real suffering- emotional, physical, mental, social, situational, or otherwise. If people must live for a principle outside their own well-being, I'd like to hear it. But, I can see it now, here comes the Nietzschesque "suffering makes us better" schtick :-} . Better as compared to what, of course, does not matter.. some ideal which apparently is the "human-as-sufferer-who-makes-it-out-a-better-person". (But what a cynical reply that would be though.)schopenhauer1

    Well, since you didn't specify, I was talking about unpleasantness in general. But given your qualification, perhaps you're right that such suffering is bad. Fortunately for both of us, I can indeed save you the "schtick" of arguing otherwise, since it's not essential to my position. I need only argue that there are cases in which suffering is worth putting up with, and there are plenty of those.

    But the problem is people have to "deal" in the first place, and keep dealing, and on and on. We are already alive and have instincts to not die- defending the idea that we must keep going and cope with the situation is not all that hard, and even pessimists will defend it too. However, seeing the fact that we have unwanted responsibilities and suffering is not evaluated as good by pessimists and thus life containing this is suspect.schopenhauer1

    As a pessimist, do you defend it ("the idea that we must keep going and cope with the situation")? I do regarding many cases, so if you do too, then we agree. Where we might disagree is if you conclude that life is bad merely from the fact that suffering exists. To do so, you'd have to disregard very strong evidence to the contrary. It's far too simple and one-sided to say that life is bad.
  • WhiskeyWhiskers
    155


    1) Does the Stoic ethic provide an answer to the existential boredom/instrumentality/annoyances/negative experiences/desire/flux/becoming-and-never-being, etc. that the Philosophical Pessimist poses?

    I think it does provide an answer to all of these. But, for some of them it’s not an answer that directly addresses (some of the) the pessimist’s problems, rather, the assumptions and principles of stoicism are constructed in such a way that these problems are simply not applicable to stoicism. It’s up to each person to decide whether this is a weakness or a strength. Existential boredom is one of the issues that simply doesn’t arise for a stoic, but rather it side steps the issue altogether by each person having an intrinsic purpose to their life that provides the meaning necessary to avoid existential boredom. One of the strengths of stoicism is that its three disciplines (of desire and aversion, impulse to action, and assent to judgement) are intricately related to stoic physics, ethics, and logic, respectively. “Insofar as we are parts of the human race, we must act in the service to the whole,” (Hadot 1998). So long as one fulfils this purpose, this purpose fulfils them. We must “act the part” that is assigned to us in life by nature. We are parts of the human race and must live according to nature, therefore we must act our roles as parts of the whole. This provides obligation and duty to each person regardless of their social status. There is no way a stoic can, in theory, undergo an existential crisis, because there is always purpose to their life by way of service to mankind.
    As for negative experiences, there’s a lot that can be said about the stoic perspective on this. The easiest place to start is with Epictetus, who said that there are things which are under our control; our value judgements (of external events in this example), impulses to action, and desires and aversions – in other words, everything that is within our will. The things not under our control are the body, wealth, reputation, social status, in other words, anything that is not within our will. These things are determined by nature, and have been determined since the beginning of time, and have been a long time coming; they are forces outside our control. One would have to change the initial conditions of the beginning of the universe if one wishes to change what these conditions caused later on. Which is, of course, absurd.
    “Whatever may happen to you was prepared for you in advance from the beginning of time. In the woven tapestry of causation, the thread of your being had been intertwined from all time with that particular incident.” (Meditations, book 10, 5).
    These things are to be accepted with equanimity. Precisely because these things are not within our control it is unreasonable to wish for them to be otherwise, it’s futile. Easier to conform your will to the world than the world to your will. Furthermore, another stoic principle is that good and evil cannot exist anywhere except in our will, in our hearts. Good and evil are in our intentions when we act towards each other. Things that are not within our will therefore cannot be good or evil. Anything that is not in our control, we have to accept as an indifferent. A thing is neither inherently good nor evil, only thought makes it so. Because of the divine providence the stoics see within the workings of nature, there is nothing that can happen to us that nature has not fitted us to endure. Stoicism does not deny the testing nature of the world, but it is fundamentally opposed in this regard to pessimism, which says (as per your post) that the world is suffering. Nature has endowed us with the virtues of courage, equanimity, self-discipline, and wisdom. All of these we can employ to allow us to love our fate. Nature gives us death, disease, and suffering. But at the same time it also gives us the capacity for the strength to endure these things.
    One thing the stoics and pessimists do have in common is their view on the flux of the universe. Marcus Aurelius talks about this at length in his meditations, “perceive the swiftness with which all things vanish away; their bodies in the world of space, and their remembrance in the world of time … how quickly fading and dead.” Or, “what is it that worries you? … Think of all the worries that have now vanished with the dust and ashes of the men who knew them.” “All material objects swiftly change; either by sublimation, or else by dispersion.” I could go on and on, but I hope this suffices.

    2) Is Stoicism a kind of Philosophical Pessimism or at least close cousins? If it is not a kind of Philosophical Pessimism, how might they differ?

    There are some similarities, but not enough to consider them cousins. Stoicism denies the existence of evil in most of the places pessimism affirms them, i.e. in the world and in our suffering. Stoicism denies a meaningless universe and affirms divine providence, which is why we should love our fate (a stoic does not love his fate because it is a good, but because nature prescribed it just for him). Stoicism purposes an intrinsic value to each human being, as well as duties and obligations to each of them, while pessimism denies all of these. One similarity I can think of is Flux (if by flux you mean constant and unpredictable change, inherited from Heraclitus). The stoics and pessimists also have a somewhat similar view on time. The main thesis of Joshua Foa Dienstag’s book Pessimism is that one of the causes of suffering unique to humans is our consciousness under time; we have the ability to look far ahead and behind in time which in turn causes fear of the future and regret of the past, among other things. While the stoics don’t necessarily make this same claim, they do recommend that we limit our consciousness to the present moment, which is something a pessimist might also recommend, albeit for slightly different reasons. The stoics say that we shouldn’t worry about the past or the future because no one can lose or keep what is already gone in the past, nor what is yet to come in the future – all we have is the here and now. What is in the past and in the future are beyond our control. Seneca says, "cease to hope and you will cease to fear ... Fear keeps pace with hope .. both belong to a mind in suspense, to a mind in a state of anxiety through looking into the future. Both are mainly due to projecting our thoughts far ahead of us instead of adapting ourselves to the present. Thus it is that foresight, the greatest blessing humanity has been given, is transformed into a curse.. A number of our blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely."

    3) How might a Philosophical Pessimist's answer to solving life's sufferings be different than a Stoic's?

    I think I already covered the basics in my answer to #1, so I won’t bore anyone and belabour the point. There is also so much written by the stoics about death that I don't even know where to start.
  • _db
    3.6k


    I've been thinking about this more and would like to share some thoughts to further the discussion.

    From a Buddhist perspective, most suffering is caused by tanha. There are three types of tanha (sensual, being, and not-being). This is the type of suffering that I assume you are most familiar with, as it is strikingly similar to Schopenhauer's posited metaphysical Will. However, this does not cover the suffering caused from external influences, such as a natural disaster. Typically a religious Buddhist would say that this evil was caused by karma.

    Karma could, I suppose, be stretched to become a secular idea. By simply looking at karma as the description of causality, one can see how evil arises.

    Which leads to the connection to Stoicism. If you can't control something, don't fret about it. The source of non-tanhanic suffering is from conflict with what you cannot control. How you deal with a situation is how you experience a situation.

    From this perspective, it seems like there really aren't any problems, related to existence, left. Ideally, if you expunge desire and mitigate conflict, life becomes a quite peaceful and manageable affair.

    Buddhism teaches that internal suffering, tanha, is caused by ignorance, attachment, and aversion (to coincide with each of the three types of tanha). Think about war. Think about how much conflict could be avoided if everyone seriously looked at their lives and got rid of these three poisons and therefore tanha and therefore suffering. Would there be war? Would we have conflict?

    I think Buddhism diagnosis and prescription usually works, and leads not only to non-suffering but flourishing. And Stoicism is simply how you deal with the remaining suffering, which, incidentally, is what I am now beginning to see as the only type of suffering that makes childbirth harmful. Ebola, for example, is reason enough for a woman to not have a child in Africa. The potential for nuclear war is reason enough to abstain from having children. But abstaining from having children because they might feel bored or feel unsatisfied with something seems very decadent.
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    1. No, I would say Stoicism is purely pragmatic so it won't have much to say about existential issues. If it isn't within your ability to control, you let it go. Part of these existential questions can therefore be ignored as arising from a wish to control what cannot be controlled to meet a certain ideal. You either let go of the wish (emotion) or the ideal - the latter appears a more humane answer to existential issues - which is where my earlier comment came from.Benkei

    This just doesn't ring true to how life works though. We are always going to be annoyed or disappointed at something. As TGW said, it seems more a rhetorical stance than reality. There is no way "pragmatically speaking" people are whistling their way through life's turmoil and annoyances great and small. There might be "times" when someone is able to handle their shit better than others, but that is all. It is no big mitigation. There are just too many contingent factors of uncertainty, annoyances and the like to be so all pervasive a solution. It seems like something to say when there is an audience and people are looking at outward behavior. But, hey, this is a philosophy forum- give me all the anecdotes you want, I can't prove a thing but nor can you in this oblique online forum setting. I am fine with that though. It just means anecdotal evidence is always suspect.

    3. I don't think the Philosophical Pessimist solves life's sufferings except for the compassionate agent. The rest are trying to retreat from it through ascetism or art and the antinatalist wants to end life altogether.

    The compassionate agent though, can be exactly like a Stoic (as I see him), having established suffering exists he goes out to alleviate it by his own power.
    Benkei

    I think that is twisting the rhetoric. A pessimist would say that they are preventing the actuality of future suffering. Life ending might be a consequence, but it is passive and in recognition that there was nothing to be deprived in the first place (just our possible present sadness our projections of no future humans).

    The compassionate agent definitely has a ring of appeal to it. What ethical agent wouldn't want to get on board with compassion (besides sado-masochists and Nietzscheans apparently)?

    I do have a slightly different take than perhaps a pure Schopenhauerean pessimist on this. I think a large part of the compassion should come from mutual recognition of the suffering. @The Great Whatever was alluding to this I believe in his latest post. Instead of posturing about how much you can overcome suffering, perhaps recognize its inevitable affect on us. Then letting in the aesthetic sensibility that comes with recognizing this inevitable suffering. Once one cultivates an aesthetic sense of the tragedy of the suffering, let this aesthetic sense manifest in the social world. Talk about the suffering, commiserate, bitch.

    I'll call this Rebellious Pessimism. You know you can't actually do anything, and you are pretty much stuck, but you are not going to let delusions that it can be overcome or the idea that we must keep producing for producing's sake or the idea that we should try to forget what is pretty much an inevitable reality that pervades life from keeping us from recognizing this tragic aesthetic. You don't rebel by Nietzschean embrace. He had it all wrong. He increased the delusion more. He set a template for many other thinkers and followers to posture and fantasize about embracing (read overcoming) suffering. No, you rebel by recognizing that the suffering that is contained or is existence simply sucks, and that it is not good and recognizing it for what it is. No delusions of trying to twist it into rhetorical flourishes of "goodness" or by accepting it, or by embracing it. No, you have every right to dislike it and you should. The sooner we can rid ourselves of the delusions and recognize the existential dilemmas and contingent sufferings, put it on the table and see the pendulum of survival/goals and boredom, contingent painful experiences, annoyances as real- the instrumentality of all things of the world, then I think we can live with more verity.
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    Where we might disagree is if you conclude that life is bad merely from the fact that suffering exists. To do so, you'd have to disregard very strong evidence to the contrary. It's far too simple and one-sided to say that life is bad.Sapientia

    It is nihilistic to not recognize the instrumentality of things and deem it as bad. If everything is radical contingency (I don't necessarily believe that), then why not just focus on the hyper-micro feelings of working on a project (and let's forget the instrumentality right?). The project is life as it goes smoothly- the person absorbed in his music/art/work/game/trance. Don't fall into the cracks though, and see the instrumentality that is there in the background, when your mind is not occupied.
  • schopenhauer1
    8.3k
    We are parts of the human race and must live according to nature, therefore we must act our roles as parts of the whole. This provides obligation and duty to each person regardless of their social status. There is no way a stoic can, in theory, undergo an existential crisis, because there is always purpose to their life by way of service to mankind.WhiskeyWhiskers

    Yes, I worried about this because it is out of some Providence and Reason that the ethical actor does their moral deeds, not out of compassion, which arguably might be more of a moral impulse or sense than due to duty or some principle of logic.

    These things are to be accepted with equanimity. Precisely because these things are not within our control it is unreasonable to wish for them to be otherwise, it’s futile. Easier to conform your will to the world than the world to your will.WhiskeyWhiskers

    This is the opposite of my idea of Rebellious Pessimism. It is not good to accept suffering. Complaining is fine.. Bitch to your hearts content and be discontent with it because it is always there and unrealistic to think it can be otherwise.

    The stoics say that we shouldn’t worry about the past or the future because no one can lose or keep what is already gone in the past, nor what is yet to come in the future – all we have is the here and now. What is in the past and in the future are beyond our control. Seneca says, "cease to hope and you will cease to fear ... Fear keeps pace with hope .. both belong to a mind in suspense, to a mind in a state of anxiety through looking into the future. Both are mainly due to projecting our thoughts far ahead of us instead of adapting ourselves to the present. Thus it is that foresight, the greatest blessing humanity has been given, is transformed into a curse.. A number of our blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely."WhiskeyWhiskers

    And the present can be pretty crappy too.
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