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What Is Important in Life? Day 3 – Episode 19


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Love of Fate (Amor Fati) What is most important? Being able to endure adversity with a glad mind, to experience whatever happens as though you wanted it to happen to you. For you ought to have wanted it to, if you had known that everything happens according to god’s decree. Crying, complaining, and moaning are rebellion. (Seneca, Natural Questions III, praef. 12) From the perspective provided by the cosmic viewpoint (Day 2), we can learn to love what happens in our lives. The Stoics propose that we should love all events, even those that appear tragic from our human perspective. Why? Because to do otherwise is “rebellion” according to Seneca. It is an act of rebellion against the cosmos because we are claiming more power than we truly have. If we act virtuously with the intent to have result “A” happen but “B” happens instead, “crying, complaining, and moaning” about it indicates we think we have more power than we actually have. As Epictetus repeatedly teaches, it is a psychologically damaging mistake to assume we have the power necessary to bring about the end we seek. Our intention to act is “up to us” but our ability to complete the act and the result are beyond our control. This is the primary lesson of the dichotomy of control. The truth is that neither “A” nor “B” are completely “up to us.” Only our thoughts and intentions toward “A” and ‘B’ are “up to us.” Therefore, when a Stoic intends result “A” and engages in actions to bring that about, they must do so with a “reserve clause” that acknowledges fate may not cooperate. Obviously, love of fate and the cosmic viewpoint are interdependent. Together, they allow us to aim at an appropriate goal “A” and intend to bring about that goal with the attitude that we will accept and love outcome “B” if that is what happens. That is love of fate. Keep in mind that loving “B” does not preclude appropriate actions to bring about “A” a second, third, fourth, or thousandth time. There might be a reason it took numerous attempts at “A” to bring it about. Likewise, “A” may never happen. Marcus Aurelius accepted and loved fate because he trusted the cosmos was providentially ordered. He wrote: Providence permeates the works of the gods; and the works of fortune are not dissociated from nature, but intertwined and interwoven by all that is ordered by providence. Everything flows from there; but necessity is implicated too, and the benefit of the whole universe of which you are a part. (Meditations 2.3) In Meditations 12.24, Marcus tells us how to act in accordance with fate: Always act with a “definite aim” in accordance with Justice. Remember that “whatever happens to you from outside is due either to chance or to providence.” In other words, the result is “not up to us.” We “should neither blame chance nor bring accusations against providence.” Interestingly, this attitude toward fate does not result in a fatalistic pessimism among the Stoics. The popular caricature of the stoic as someone who grins and bears the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is an unfortunate mischaracterization. Seneca pointed out the difference between the grin and bear it attitude of “grudging obedience” and “willing obedience” to providence: No matter which is true, Lucilius, or even if they all are, we must still practice philosophy. Perhaps the inexorable law of fate constrains us; perhaps God, the universal arbiter, governs all events; perhaps it is chance that drives human affairs, and disrupts them: all the same, it is philosophy that must preserve us. Philosophy will urge us to give willing obedience to God, and but a grudging obedience to fortune. It will teach you to follow God; to cope with chance. (Seneca, Letters 16.5) Grudging obedience to fate is a philosophical attitude; however, it is not the Stoic attitude. Marcus Aurelius provides a beautiful expression of the Stoic attitude that comes from willing obedience to a providential cosmos,

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