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Monday, March 20, 2006

To Act or Not?

Recently on the International Stoic Forum a new member Matt asked this question of Stoicism. My response follows:

The basis for this philosophy seems to beliving in "agreement with nature" seeing all that happens as necessary. From what I gathered from Eptictetus, it's important to watch what we assent to, or simply assent to what happens, then we will never be foiled in our actions. What guide/impetus to action does this leave, more than indifferently accepting what we now have?
This seems to be a common question, and its an understandable one on first glance. If you'll allow me a somewhat silly caveat I think it might help a little...

I was recently having a discussion with someone about the Jedi notion of violence in Star Wars, and how this jives (or doesn't) with their otherwise Buddhist/Stoic/Taoist/respect-for-life inspired views as portrayed in the films.

I said that, according to what I've read, their take on violence is that it is neither good nor bad. To them, all that matters is that some things are "the will of the Force" and some aren't (this is much like "in accordance with Nature" in Stoicism). If a Jedi senses that it is the will of the Force that person x be killed, then they will do so. But the important thing is that the action is not taken out with aggression or ill feelings. Rather, the goal is to carry out the action (violent or not) without passion.

Strangely, I attended a Buddhist Temple celebration just this week where someone reported asking a monk if there was a problem with rampant fire ants across a region, would it be ok to exterminate them (keeping in mind the Buddhist ideal of not taking any life of any sort)? The monk said that it would be ok as long as it was done without negative feelings.

What I'm getting at here, in Stoic terms, is that many things are in accordance with Nature, and it is important to accept all of them "as they are" without the passion that arises from believing them to be truly good or evil. But these things also often include facts about the virtuous course of action (the preferred indifferent) and furthering this will often require action on our part. If this is the case then so be it. If virtue dictates that a Stoic do (or not do) x, then it must be done (or not done) without passion.

This is how the notions of "accepting what is" and "moving to action" are consistent with one another in Stoicism, I believe.

Matt was referring to this summary of Stoicism by Jan Garrett HERE.

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