Friday, October 9, 2020

 496. Stoicism and hope

Stoicism, originating with Zeno in the 3rd century BC and  influential until the 3rd century AD, with Marcus Aurelius. Seneca and Epictetus, has had considerable influence. It pleaded for invulnerability, in autarky, i.e. self-sufficiency, in a simple life, and not letting oneself  be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, accepting the moment as it occurs, using one's mind to understand the world and to do one's part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.

There is much to be said for it it for weathering the present storm of the Corona virus, in being thrown back on oneself or one’s family, lack of recreation, in sports or entertainment, social distancing, with few social contacts, no services with bodily contact, and so on.

One can object that it is a philosophy of distrust, no hope, no room for improving the challenges and risks of life, no thymos, the urge to manifest oneself and engage with the world, and even smacks of cowardice. It disables entrepreneurship.

The literature on trust renders confidence as surrender to the inevitable, such as laws of nature or policy measures of the state, on which one has no or little influence, and where one cannot feel sorry afterwards for submitting to it. This in contrast to trust, where one could have avoided risk, and creates risk voluntarily, and can regret it afterwards.

Stoicism accepts confidence, pleads for resilience and robustness to inevitable disappointments, and discourages trust. An example would be Schopenhauer, who preached distrust and suspicion.

As indicated, with Corona we can now benefit from the prudence, autarky and resilience of stoicism, but can we do without trust and hope?

The future is uncertain, and can harbour both threat and promise. Now, one can look at it in despair, but loss of hope yields loss of strength and initiative. Here confidence, faith in nature, can breed defeatism and deepen the crisis. Hope is needed to take action and survive. One can try to see opportunity and what good remains, appreciate what formerly one took for granted.

So, what to do? The wisdom of stoicism lies not in inaction but in engagement with what is within the scope of one’s possibilities, and to achieve invulnerability or resilience or disregard to what lies beyond them. Could you safely support care for the sick and the vulnerable, such as vagrants, the  elderly, and the indigent?


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