Thursday, April 7, 2011

Stoicism. From the book ¨Ethics. What We Still Know After a Skeptical Age¨

A shot from Dogville. When Vera challenges Grace.

Two days ago, I was watching Dogville, the film directed and written by Lars Von Trier -boring but with an interesting plot- where in chapter 7, the main character, Grace (Nicole Kidman) is challenged by Vera to be ¨stoic¨ and do not cry while she drops her porcelain figurines, the ones that Grace has bought with her savings and meant her emotional links to the town, Dogville.
In chapter 9, the situation reverses and once back with the gangsters, Grace asks them to kill Vera´s children, and to stop the killings only if Vera could be ¨stoic¨ and hold back her tears.

Shot from the movie Dogville. Women leave Grace alone, crying without stoicism.

Very hard indeed. The word ¨stoic¨ is related to ¨stoicism¨, let us see what it is in the words of Charles Siegel, chapter ¨Stoicism¨, from his book ¨Ethics. What We Still Know After a Skeptical Age¨:

¨Aristotle believed that natural goods are an important part of the good life: to devote your life successfully to intellectual and moral activity, you must have health, intelligence, education, some wealth, and the like. This means that living a good life is in part a matter of good fortune. If you are extremely poor, unhealthy, or uneducated, you cannot live a fully good life.
The stoics believed, like Aristotle, that the virtues are means to natural goods, such as life, health, and strength. As in the ethical theory we sketched in Chapter 2, the moral goods (or virtues) aim at the natural goods. However, the stoics’ main goal was to achieve tranquility by proving that people have complete control over their ability to live a good life.
Therefore, they claimed that virtue was the only good, and the wise man who was completely virtuous was living a supremely good life whatever his external circumstances. Even as he watched his family being murdered, or even as he was being tortured on the rack, a wise man who was completely virtuous was living a supremely good life. Unlike Aristotle, the stoics were determined to believe that good fortune was not needed to live a good life, and this distorted their ethical theory. Because they could not admit that any good was outside of our own control, they claimed that only the virtues were good, and they called the natural goods “preferred indifferents.” They are “preferred” because they are the goals that the virtues aim at, but they are “indifferents” rather than goods, because you can live a supremely good life without them.
The term “preferred indifferents” seems self-contradictory, and there is a real contradiction involved. The goal of the virtues is to attain these natural goods, but the stoics’ theory implies that it is just as good to fail at your goal as it is to achieve your goal, as long as you remain virtuous. For example, if you exercise the virtue of temperance in order to protect your health, but through no fault of your own, you catch a contagious disease that makes you an invalid, you are doing just as well as if you had successfully protected your health. If you exercise virtue by bringing food to people who are starving but you are too late and they die before youarrive, you are doing just as well as someone who gets there with food on time and saves their lives.¨
Download Ethics, by Charles Siegel:

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