Stoic Radicalism

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Halfway There: Stoic Radicalism and Inaction Stoicism’s primary differentiating feature from other varieties of Greco-Roman philosophy is its assertion that the individual has absolute control over some aspects of their life and absolute powerlessness to affect others. The thinking that follows is that the only concern for humans should be that which we individually can control – the rest can be regarded as up to chance and therefore irrelevant to ideal human behavior. Stoicism therefore dismisses, even rejects, the ideas of natural superiority and inferiority, constructs that defined much of the Roman social-political system. However, despite this egalitarian premise, the Stoic emphasis on individual agency irrespective of individual circumstance…show more content…
As something not “up to us”, social position does not reflect any true qualities of the supposed superiors and inferiors. Seneca’s writing on slavery makes this feeling explicit. His condemnation of cruelty toward slaves relies on a denial of the Aristotelian premise of natural slavery. In Seneca’s view, slaves are slaves by “accident” (Seneca 194), not fault. Accordingly, they should be treated as “comrades” or “humble friends” (Seneca 191), as is moral. He reiterates this belief toward the end of the essay noting that a slave may be “a free man in spirit”, and therefore should be treated no worse than a free man (Seneca 194). Similarly, Epictetus instructs “Do not be joyful about any superiority that is not your own” (Epictetus 6), which recalls his earlier statement that “our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices” fall into this category. In application of this view, he draws a distinction between the statements: “I am richer than you; therefore, I am superior to you" and “I am richer than you; therefore, my property is superior to yours” (Epictetus 44), the former being invalid and the latter being evidently true. Contained within this view Is necessarily that property or wealth do not, and cannot make one person better than another, and, as Epictetus asks earlier in his handbook, “What does [wealth and luxury] amount to?” (Epictetus 24), indicating a similar rejection of material hierarchy. Moreover, he places wealth at odds with “preserving your trustworthiness and self-respect” giving these internal traits preference over external wealth. This evidences Stoic belief in the capacitive equivalency of all people. The implication of the statement is that the truly valuable traits are just as accessible to the poor as to the rich, and potentially more so because the
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