A primary tenet of the philosophy of Stoicism is the idea of viewing things in an objective manner, as opposed to subjective. The goal is to see things as they are instead of seeing things and then applying a value to them that is mostly based on personal biases and judgments. For example, to view a homeless person in an objective manner would be to view him or her as a person in old clothes on the street. To view said homeless person in a subjective manner would be to assume that he or she is a mentally disturbed drug addict who has resorted to begging for change instead of working for a living. In that latter example, we applied an unfair judgment against the person when the truth is we know nothing about them or their situation. Stoics discourage this.
The Stoic philosophy also revolves around a set of virtues. To explain the Stoic virtues, let’s discuss another ancient Greek school of thought called Epicureanism. This philosophy maintains that the prime directive in life is to achieve pleasure, whatever that may be. The Stoic aim is to take that concept a step further with virtues. Stoics believe that pleasure is great but virtue is greater. Pleasure is earthly and selfish, and virtue is divine. Pleasure is certainly subjective. Different people like different things. Your idea of fun may differ a great deal from mine. Stoics believe that virtue, however, is objective. They believe that there is a set of established virtues that are considered to be great by everyone and everything in the world, no questions asked.
I think that virtues can be subjective. I think virtues can vary from person to person. I would define a virtue as something that is a step above pleasure, a greater good. What exactly that is, though, is up to the individual. For example, consider someone who just does not like to work. To this person, to be well off enough so that he or she does not have to work for a living may be a virtue. Yet, another person may derive pleasure from working at a certain trade. To this person, it may be a virtue to have the privilege of working at this trade.
However varied virtues may be across different people, I think a common theme among them is the wellbeing of ourselves and our peers. Things that seem virtuous to me are personal growth, self-reliance, love, affection, resilience and altruism. All of these properties align with the aforementioned theme. Things that do not seem virtuous to me are malice, corruption, antisocial behavior and violence. What do these properties have in common? They promote damage to people and things and discourage progress in general.
It was Socrates’ idea that there was no such thing as good or evil; there was only knowledge and ignorance. This makes sense in the Stoic system as “good” and “evil are subjective qualities. Moreover, knowledge is objective because facts are facts and things in general just kind of…are. When it becomes subjective is when you learn facts and give them value. Anyway, Socrates also believed that as one acquires more knowledge, he or she will be more inclined to do things that are considered to be “good.” One will then know better than to do “bad” things. So, according to Socrates, the more that one knows, the more his or her virtues will gravitate towards the theme of general well-being for humankind.
I agree with this. It makes sense to me that good people are simply smart and bad people are ignorant. People who do bad things do not know any better; they have not yet gathered enough information to realize that their acts harm others and themselves in the long run. Whether or not they are willing to gather that information is an interesting variable. For example, Adolf Hitler is a person who is widely regarded as an evil man. I do not think he was evil; I think he was ingorant. He was certainly not stupid, but he lacked the open mind to learn that mass genocide is not an effective way to rule a country.
In conclusion, I will restate my thesis – I think that virtues are subjective, but the smarter and more open-minded you are, the more your virtues will align with a theme of well-being towards your fellow man.
Let me hear from you
What are your pleasures? What are your virtues? How subjective do you think virtues can be? What do you think about good and evil?
Leave your answers in a Reply below. Thanks for reading.