I love reading the writings of Greco-Roman Moralists or sometimes referred to as Stoics. The best know are Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus. They are the ancient masters of practical philosophy. The language they use is not sublime and their theories are not complex, but it is fresh with brilliant insights; so they are worth reading.
Love seems to be everywhere today, since it’s Valentine’s day. However, there are lots of people feeling sad as well. Those that don’t have that special Valentine. I was inspired by the prospect of trying to open up the love for everyone , so I thought I will write about loving mankind instead of Valentines day.
Other people can be the source of the greatest delights life has to offer; with a smile, a touch, a hug, a kiss, full body embrace, as well as with love and friendship. People can also be a source of negative emotions we often experience, a boss may insult us, lover may forget valentine’s card, a friend may forget to invite us to a party. Even when other people don’t do anything to us, we worry that they may not think well of us , so we spend a lot of energy behaving and trying to look good in their eyes. This disrupts our tranquility.
The Stoics valued tranquility and they also appreciated the power people have to disrupt it ; even so they thought that man is by nature a social animal and therefore that we have a duty to form and maintain relationships with other people, despite the trouble they might cause us. Marcus think we should do this because God created us to be rational and if we use our rational ability we will discover that we were designed to live among other people and interact with them in a manner that is mutually advantageous; we will discover, says Musonius, that ” human nature is very much like that of bees. a bee is not able to live alone: it perishes when isolated.”
To fulfill our social duty – to do our duty to our kind – we must feel a concern for all mankind. We must remember that we humans were created for one another, that we were born, says Marcus, to work together the way our hands or eyelids do. Therefore, in all we do , we must have as our goal ” the service and harmony of all.” More precisely, ” I am bound to do good to my fellow creatures and bear with them.” Marcus thought when God created us, he made sure that if we fulfill our duty, we would experience tranquility and have all things to our liking. Indeed, if we do the things we were made for, says Marcus, we will enjoy ” a man’s true delight .” But an important part of our function, as we have seen , is to work with and for our fellow-men. Marcus therefore concludes that doing his social duty will give us the best chance of having a good life. This, for Marcus, is the reward for doing one’s duty: a good life.
We, in the present day are so used to thinking that duty is the enemy of happiness and we should be doing things that we want to do rather than any kind of duty we have to do. But throughout the millennia and across the culture, those who have thought carefully about desire , have drawn the conclusion that spending our days working to get whatever it is we find ourselves wanting is unlikely to bring us either happiness or tranquility.
So let’s live to our full potential, let fellowship be our purpose and compassion be our guide. Tranquility will be its reward.
1. A Guide to the Good Life
by William B. Irvine.
2. Practical Philosophy : The Greco- Roman Moralists
taught by : Prof. Luke Timothy Johnson
The Teaching Company