The Stoics recommend we take a fatalistic attitude towards life. To go against fate is to go against nature and in particular Marcus says if we reject the decrees of fate we are likely to experience tranquility-disrupting grief, anger, or fear. To avoid this, we must learn to adapt ourselves to the environment into which fate has placed us and do our best to love the people with whom fate has surrounded us. We must learn to welcome whatever falls to our lot and persuade ourselves that whatever happens to us is for the best. According to Marcus, a good man will welcome ” every experience the loom of fate may weave for him.”
In modern times this view of fatalism may not be very popular because we like to be in charge and create our own future. Fatalism to us would be “giving up” and not striving for a better future. However, if we look at their view of fatalism closely it doesn’t advocate “giving up” on the future. Some scholars think they advocated fatalism only with regards to the past and the present. So they are advocating we accept the events that has already come to pass, we can’t do anything about them anyway.
How can fatalism with regards to past and present help in leading a good life? The Stoics argued that the best way to be satisfied in life is not always to work for whatever desires you may happen to have but to learn to be satisfied with your life as it is, be happy with what you have. We can spend our days wishing our life was different but this will bring us further dissatisfaction. Alternatively we can learn to want whatever we already have. This way we won’t have to work to satisfy our desires because they would have already been fulfilled.
We only have the present moment, the past is gone and the future is to come. We can spend that moment wishing it could be different, or we can embrace that moment. If we habitually choose to wish things were different we will be in a state of dissatisfaction, but if we habitually choose to embrace the moment we will enjoy our life.
The Stoics who recommended and practiced the doctrine of fatalism, would they have been thought to enjoy a good life ? Seneca , Marcus, Musonius and Epictetus did not “give up” on life. They strived to cultivate the best possible life for themselves and for others. Indeed, they would have been considered successful men in their times and maybe for all times.
It is interesting that long before the Stoics, Lord Buddha give similar advice that we should try to live in the moment.
1. A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine.
- Why I’d Sooner Be a Stoic than an academic (drgbh.wordpress.com)
- What Do Stoics Believe? (stoiclawyer.wordpress.com)
- The Art of Manliness (or the Latest Self-Help Program) (bigthink.com)