Through all of our readings, Stoicethical doctrines have touched upon harsh criticisms and inspired enthusiastic allies.The Stoics defined the goal of life to be living in agreement with nature.
Humans are constituted by nature to develop reasoning as adults, which formstheir understanding of themselves and their own true good and desire. Contraryto Aristotle, the Stoics believed that although virtue is in fact good and isboth necessary and sufficient for happiness; it is not in any way based onluck. The virtuous life is free of all passions, which are intrinsicallydisturbing and harmful to our souls, but includes appropriate natural responsesconditioned by rational understanding and the fulfillment of all one’spersonal, social, professional, and civic duties. The Stoics believed that theperson who has achieved perfect wellbeing without flaw, the “wiseman,” is extremely rare, yet serves as a prescriptive model for all tostrive for. Epicurus insists that courage andthe other virtues are needed in order to attain everlasting happiness. However,the virtues for Epicureans are all purely instrumental goods. These goods arevaluable only for the sake of the happiness that they can bring someone interms of what they have a passion or desire for.
Epicurus says that all of thevirtues are ultimately forms of wisdom and good judgement. Its contemplatingwhat is in one’s own best interest. In this, Epicurus goes against the majorityof Greek ethical theorists, such as the Stoics, who relatehappiness with virtue, and Aristotle,who relates happiness with a life of virtuous activity. Epicurus believes thatnatural science and philosophy itself are also instrumental goods.
On the otherhand, philosophy helps to show us the natural limits of our desires and to minimizethe fear of death. Epicurus rejected the existence of Platonic forms and animmaterial soul and stated that the gods have no influence on each of ourlives. Epicurus also thought skepticism was untenable, and that we could gatherknowledge of the world relying upon the senses. He taught that the essence ofour actions was simply to attain pleasure for oneself. Aristotle conceives of ethicaltheory as a field different from the theoretical sciences. Its methods mustmatch its subject matter and must respect the fact that in this field manygeneralizations hold only for a set amount of time. We study ethics in order toimprove our lives, and therefore its most important concern is the nature of human’swell-being.
Aristotle follows Socrates and Plato in taking the virtues to be thefocal point of a well-lived life. Like Plato, he regards the ethical virtues asemotional and social skills. But he declines Plato’s idea that a training inthe sciences is a necessary prerequisite for a full understanding of our mostgood.
What we need, in order to live what we consider well, is the properappreciation of the way in which such goods as friendship, virtue, and wealth combineas a whole. In order to apply that basic understanding to individual cases, wemust acquire, through proper habits, the ability to see, on each occasion,which course of action is most supported by reasoning. Therefore, practicalwisdom, as he makes of it, cannot be acquired only by being taught generalrules. We must also acquire, through practice, emotional, and social skillsthat enable us to put our general understanding of well-being into practice thatare suitable to each possible occasion.
Epicureanism considers pleasure asthe highest good, but it is more than just hedonism disguised as philosophy.Pleasure is divided into two categories. “Kinetic pleasure” whichconsists of sexual activity, fulfilling meals, and other things we normallyconsider pleasurable, whereas “static pleasure” consists of contentment,tranquility, freedom from care and pain. Static pleasure is considered the Epicureans’greatest good.
This keeps their philosophy from being based on unbridledpleasure-seeking.Moreover, wisdom is attained in therecognition that “desire is insatiable”. Once we have a small amountof pleasure, we will want more and more; as no man can be happy when he is inwant, kinetic pleasure cannot be the greatest good. Desire for so-calledvirtues, for example, is foolhardy.
Pursuing courage or bravery will lead torecklessness, which will invariably bring unhappiness. It is only throughknowing that true happiness comes through satiety that one can findpeace. Cicero,however, is unconvinced. The first and most serious criticism he levies againstTorquatus is that Epicureans are needlessly unclear about what”pleasure” means. It’s all well and good to divide the common notionof pleasure into kinetic and static, but if we are, as Torquatus claims, topursue only static pleasure, then why does Epicurus famously claim that anEpicurean on the rack would be untroubled because he knew true pleasure?Torture is as far from freedom and pain as physically possible. When Torquatusrebuts with Epicurus’s claim that great pain is short in duration and only mildpain lasts long, Cicero scoffs. “It is a pithy saying.” he says, but it isutterly untrue.
Freedom from pain is also inhuman. Aristotle said that manis made to think and act, but even a sheep grazing in a field can be free frompain. Surely, we are meant for more than a farm animal is. Furthermore,Epicureanism is too calculating. True philosophy, Cicero claims, isspontaneous.
Finally, freedom from pain is capricious; once attained, it iseasily lost. How can true happiness and true philosophy be so ephemeral?Happiness is therefore dependent on the whims of chance, and yet Epicurusclaims that chance does not affect the wise.