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Characteristics of Good and Bad People (Part 3) – Episode 29


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In the last episode of Stoicism On Fire, I focused on the Stoic doctrine of an excellent human life and the fact that such a life requires agreement with both human nature and cosmic Nature. The corollary of that doctrine is that human reason alone is not enough to lead us toward an excellent moral character; we must bring our human reason (logos) into agreement with universal Reason (Logos). As I pointed out, the concept of human reason as a fragment of the Logos permeating the cosmos relates to the inner guardian the Stoics referred to as a daimon. With those concepts in mind, we are ready to continue with Marcus’ list of characteristics of a good person. When Marcus reminds himself not to defile his daimon, he notes the good person will exhibit the characteristic of: following God in an orderly fashion, never uttering a word that is contrary to the truth nor performing an action that is contrary to justice. We see three related characteristics here; they are: following god, speaking truth, and acting justly. Following God in an Orderly Fashion First, what does it mean to follow God in Stoic practice? The instruction to “Follow God” may inspire curiosity or provoke resistance among secular moderns. This is not equivalent to following the commands of a sacred text; the Stoics had no such texts. Recall that God is equivalent to Nature in Stoicism. Therefore, to follow God is to follow Nature. However, we misrepresent this aspect of Stoic practice if we remove the divine and providential characteristics of Nature the Stoics attributed to her. Nature devoid of providence is not the cosmic Nature with which the ancient Stoics tried to live in agreement. Absent providence, some version of a chance universe like that of the Epicureans remains. The Stoics opposed this model and found it inadequate as a guide for ethical human life. That is the reason they emphasized the relationship between us and a purposeful (providential) cosmos. Throughout the Meditations, we see Marcus seeking a relationship with cosmic Nature and attempting to align his life with its universal Law. In several passages, Marcus expresses this as following God: Hearten yourself with simplicity and self-respect and indifference towards all that lies between virtue and vice. Love the human race. Follow God. (Meditations 7.31) And he has put aside every distraction and care, and has no other desire than to hold to the straight path according to the law, and by holding to it, to follow God. (Meditations 10.11) In the final passages of his Meditations, Marcus instructs himself to constantly consider, those who have been greatly aggrieved at something that came to pass, and those who have achieved the heights of fame, or affliction, or enmity, or any other kind of fortune; and then ask yourself, ‘What has become of all that?’ Smoke and ashes and merely a tale, or not even so much as a tale. (Meditations 12.27) Then, he reminds himself how “cheap” those things are we strive for and reminds himself of those things that are worthy of our pursuit such as wisdom, justice, temperance, and obedience to the gods. Marcus then imagines a dialog with those who doubt or deny the existence of the gods. He writes: To those who ask, ‘Where have you seen the gods, or what evidence do you have of their existence, that you worship them so devoutly?’, I reply first of all that they are in fact visible to our eyes, and secondly, that I have not seen my own soul, and yet I pay it due honour. So likewise with the gods; from what I experience of their power at every moment of my life, I ascertain that they exist and I pay them due reverence. (Meditations 12.28) Finally, he asks himself a deeply probing question and provides himself with an answer. What is it that you seek? The mere continuation of your life? To experience sensation, then, and impulse? To grow, and cease from growing? To make use of your tongue, and your mind?

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