Jacques Maritain Center

Moral Philosophy


Ethics Triumphant

Stoics and Epicureans

In search of Effectiveness
1. I have just spoken of the defeats of Aristotle's eminently reasonable and balanced moral philosophy. These defeats, this incapacity of philosophical wisdom to serve as guide and mistress of human conduct, were what the thinkers who followed Aristotle could not accept. They are doctors of the happy life; what they seek above all else is effectiveness. The supreme End and the sovereign Good must be within the grasp of every individual, if only he is sufficiently determined (and if he listens to the new doctors).

But the price of this rush toward moral efficiency was to be a narrowing of the field of vision, total domination by an idée fixe, fascination with a single aspect of ethical reality to the exclusion of others and carried to its ultimate extreme.

This tendency constituted a return in the direction of Socrates, but it was accompanied by the passionate fervor for immediate effectiveness which I just mentioned, and it operated within the hardened confines of a system which aspired to exhaustiveness: the supreme good coincides with the ruling quality in human conduct, and Happiness coincides with Wisdom, that is, with the rational organization of life according to the absolute rule of that unique dominating quality -- Virtue, or Pleasure.{1}

For "the Porch" only Virtue is Good
2. The Stoics identified Virtue (moral Force) and the Good. Aristotle distinguished between the virtuous act, which is worthy of praise, and the final Good, or Happiness, to which the epithet "worthy of praise" is not applicable. But Chrysippus taught that the Good itself is worthy of praise, because the only Good is the Noble and the Beautiful (the bonum honestum), in other words virtue and the virtuous act. Virtue does not tend toward any external end, it suffices to itself, is desirable in and for itself, in se tota conversa, is entirely turned in upon itself, and is perfect as soon as it exists.

For the Stoics it is no longer contemplation, but action, which is at the summit of human life -- action, that is, moral virtue. The sage as conceived by the Stoics is a superman, not, as in the Platonic tradition (or even in the Aristotelian tradition), because he participates in the supra-human life of the intellect and of philosophical contemplation (which by the very fact of being supra-human is, as we have noted, eminently human and desirable for man), but he is a superman of Virtue, of moral Action and moral Force. The supreme end of life, the highest good, is virtue. Only virtue is good in the full sense of the word, and virtue consists in the immutable conformity of man with reason and with himself. Virtue is therefore at the same time a completely consistent rational (practical) knowledge, and a supreme force and tension. It signifies that man has become fully master of himself by living in conformity with nature, homologoumenôs tê phusei. By the word "nature" here is not to be understood, certainly, the simple facts and natural events observable by the senses, nor, on the other hand, the essence of the human being, the to ti einai in Aristotle's sense, but rather the intelligible and rational influx hidden beneath sensible appearances, which at the same time governs the universe and the human being. It is in this connection that the idea of natural law came to be elucidated with particular force by the Stoics. To live in conformity with nature is to live in conformity with the royal law of nature, with the divine will immanent in the cosmos. This in itself implies that one knows that all things happen in virtue of universal Reason, of the immutable Intention which is consubstantial with things and is active in the world, in short, that all things happen through Destiny. That being true, the essential thing is the interior disposition of the will, the supreme voluntary acceptance, fully conscious and completely invulnerable, of the world as it is, of every event as it happens, and of every misfortune as it is meted out to us, since all this is an expression of the perfectly inevitable, perfectly rational and perfectly good designs of nature and its God.

The Super-human in moral Virtue
3. Stoicism thus seeks the super-human in that which is in itself most strictly centered upon the human, in moral virtue, moral action, the force and power of the human subject -- not in some transcendent and supra-human object to which man is to unite himself. The result was to be an inflation or hypertrophy of the human subject, and a kind of moral athleticism or human spiritual athleticism, a deification of human virtue, hand in hand with a monist or pantheist conception of the universe.

As far as external things are concerned, some are indifferent, and some are to be preferred, not because they are goods but because they correspond to tendencies which in fact exist in our nature. These preferable things are not goods -- only virtue is a good. In other words, the good is entirely confined within the sphere of the voluntary. Consequently, nothing external to man is necessary to man's perfection, and the sage needs nothing but his internal voluntary power, or his Virtue. Virtue suffices for happiness, and is happiness. This does not mean that it renders the sage insensible to pain, but that it makes him superior to pain.

Now this sage, enclosed in his virtue and sovereignly dominating himself and all things, is he superior and indifferent in respect to no matter what line of conduct, as he is superior and indifferent in respect to no matter what event? The Stoics did not fall into quietism, because they admitted, as we noted a moment ago, that certain things are to be preferred as distinguished from certain others; as a result there existed for them a multitude of officia, or advisable actions (kathêkonta), which have to do with the ordinary course of life, and which are equally "things to be done" for the sage and for others. These are not precepts or duties in the categorical sense of that word, they are rather reasonable directions in the art of right living, counsels. Thus there developed a whole Moral System of counsels, with an appropriate casuistry, which covered the whole field of what is ordinarily called Morality, but which for the Stoics was only a secondary or external Morality, an appearance of Morality, the only authentic Morality having to do with saintly virtue, with the voluntary super-power of the sage.

As for the sage, he not only does what is advisable (kathêkon), he does it with the internal superabundance proper to his Virtue as a superman, to the perfect and indestructible harmony between his will and the fixed will of Nature or God. For it is essential to perfect moral rectitude, or to intrinsically just and right conduct (katorthôma), that all one does be done with the right internal disposition, or through the possession and power of all the virtues concentrated into one, since it is only he who unites in himself all the virtues who can truly be said to possess virtue.

4. The philosophers of the Porch not only conceived that all the virtues are "connected" or related to one another (which is quite true), and that I cannot exercise justice without also being courageous, nor have the virtue of courage if I do not have the virtue of making right practical decisions ("prudence"), nor have prudence if I do not have temperance; but for the Stoics it was necessary to have all the virtues in a state of full development, the sage being perfect from the very beginning, thanks to the kind of transmutation which makes of the whole man a personification of Reason.{1} As we have already remarked, virtue consisted essentially for them in a certain interior disposition of the will, constant, immutable, adamantine, in a super-virtue which is seen as prudence, courage or justice in its different aspects; and so in the end, at least in the case of Zeno, it is the unity of virtue rather than the interconnectedness of the virtues that they taught.

As for the passions and emotions, they result from a failure to bring right judgment to bear upon the problem of what is good and what is bad. No emotion is profitable, or in conformity with the order of nature. The sage has attained the state of apatheia; he is without passion, though he is not insensible. He makes room in his soul only for that which is thoroughly rational, he never commits an error, the least of his acts contains as much wisdom as his conduct as a whole, he knows neither fear nor regret nor sadness -- he lives in perfect happiness. No delays, no half-measures! Stoic ethics leads us straight away into a state of blessedness. Only the sage is free. He is king and lord; he is not inferior in his internal dignity to any other being, not even to Jupiter. He is the equal of God.

From such a notion of wisdom and virtue, the early Stoics concluded that virtue is something indivisible, in which no distinction of more or less is possible. There is no mean between virtue and vice. A man may be tending toward virtue, approaching it -- in reality he is as denuded of virtue as the vicious man. Is not the person who drowns in a bucket of water just as drowned as the one who drowns in the depths of the sea? Both are in a similar state of vice or folly. Consequently, Zeno divided mankind purely and simply into two categories: sages or perfect men, and the bad or foolish -- that is, all the others. Such extremism derived, we believe, from the thirst for effectiveness which we pointed out at the beginning. Totally intransigeant, simplist, absolute exigencies have a stronger appeal than a reasonable and moderate ideal (and one which is long-term and seen at once to be difficult of attainment because of its complexity, like the Aristotelian ideal). At least this is true at the beginning, and for those who are persuaded that they fit into Zeno's first category, the other category being rightly reserved for my neighbor, not for myself.

But disappointment comes nevertheless, with time. One perceives that it is no joke to make the first category. One wonders if, after all, Stoic perfection is not entirely too rare (considering that I myself may be straining for it in vain). What's more, is it even possible? In the end, the last Stoics were to admit that no one fulfilled the conditions of true virtue, and they despaired of the very existence of the sage, of that superman in whom Zeno and Chrysippus had placed all their hope, and the hope of human life.

Emphasis on Value and the aspiration to a heroic moral life
5. Stoicism made a considerable contribution to moral philosophy, not by bringing to light some fundamental new element, but by showing forth at once the grandeur and the harsh demands of the authentically moral life, by insisting on the interior character of virtue, and especially by clearly emphasizing that aspect of the good (the beautiful-and-good, bonum honestum) which is value. Stoic ethics is an ethics of pure value, doubtless not excluding happiness and beatitude from the proper realm of morality as Kant was to do, but making them immediately coincide with value. Moral value, being itself the supreme end in this ethical view, brings with it a kind of "salvation" -- such as a naturalistic system was able to conceive it: not to be swallowed up in the sea of folly, in which life is wasted, and where it would be better for man not to have been born.

But this whole process depends upon my own effort and my own force. It points towards a complete self-sufficiency, in which the whole energy of the cosmos is concentrated in the energy of the sage. Salvation, and divine autonomy, are to be acquired through my own power as a man, in communion with universal reason. I make myself a member of the family of the gods.

At the root of the Stoic illusion is the absolutisation, or rather the deification of moral virtue. As we have already remarked, this amounted to seeking superman in that which by its essence is on a scale with human reason and relates to human action as such, and qualifies the human subject as such; it amounted to seeking the super-human in that which is of itself centered upon the human. Ethics itself is in reality something humbly human, laborious, patient, prudent, which carries the golden rule of reason into the midst of human relativities, and weighs great and little actions in the scales of a diamond-cutter. The Stoics endeavored to make of it something sublime -- the high-priest of the deification of man, charged with separating the elect from the damned and pronouncing the condemnation of the mass of fools.

Stoicism was a great attempt at heroic moral living. With Seneca, especially with Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, and through its insistence on the interior life, its pointing up of the natural law, its idea of the caritas humani generis, it was able, in spite of the paganism which animated it and its pantheistic worship of a God who was only Emperor of the world,{1} to manifest a kind of kinship with Christian themes. Many particular insights of Stoic philosophy were to be taken up and utilized by the Christian writers of the first centuries of the Christian era. This fact can only be understood as a result of one of those encounters which occurs between radically opposed perspectives, and one of those fundamental equivocations in which history delights. In this case the equivocation was in a sense a fecund one, providing a fund of conceptual material which Christian thought made use of; but at the same time this very conceptualization was to bear the mark of certain misapprehensions which for a time obscured profounder truths or hindered their expression.

Natural Law

6. We said above that the idea of natural law was stressed with particular force by the Stoics. It might be useful to make a few remarks here about the conception of natural law held by antiquity.

The celebrated fragment 114 of Heraclitus{2} refers both to natural law and to eternal law: ". . . All human laws are nourished by the single divine law: deploying its power as it will, equal to anything and everywhere victorious." An aristocrat and a conservative, Heraclitus concluded from this that the laws of the city are sacred. "The people must fight for their law as well as for their ramparts."{3}

Later Sophocles, in Antigone, was also to invoke natural law, but in an entirely different context: natural law is higher than human law, and the law of the prince has no force when it violates the unwritten laws, the unchangeable laws of heaven.

". . . nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven. For their life is not of to-day or yesterday, but from all time, and no man knows when they were first put forth. Not through dread of any human pride could I answer to the gods for breaking these."{4}

The views of the Sophists on natural law came up in our first chapter. For them it was a question of opposing the individual to custom and convention. In the same spirit Euripides wrote:

For Plato as for Heraclitus it was above all to be a question of making firm the law of the city on an unshakeable foundation. Although neither Plato nor Aristotle treated explicitly of natural law, it was with them that the real philosophical meaning of the natural law took form. In the case of Plato this philosophical meaning is linked with the world of archetypal ideas; a physician is not a real physician, nor a judge a real judge, unless he embodies in some way the idea of Judge or of Physician. Moreover Plato does not hesitate to use the expression "according to nature", kata phusin to designate the conformity of a thing with its idea or type.{1} Thus the notion of normality is brought out.

But it is with Aristotle that this notion is put sharply in relief. With him it is linked not with the archetypal idea, but with the essence or intelligible nature which is within things as the primary "form" by which they exist and act. This essence is within things but it is grasped separately and in its universality by the mind, and it implies ideal exigencies; and things act normally only if they respond effectively to these exigencies of their essence and tend straightly to the end it implies. For in Aristotle's dynamic conception all essence is the assignment of an end, a telos -- which beings endowed with reason pursue freely, not by necessity. Become in your action what you are in your essence -- here is the primordial rule of ethics.

From this it follows that one must distinguish between natural justice and legal justice. The latter has its origin in the reason and will of the legislator, the former in what man is. It is defined in terms of what is unalterably demanded by human nature, and it gives authenticity and force of law to human law, brought to bear in such and such circumstances and for the common good of such and such a particular city.

7. By very reason of its intelligible structure the idea of natural law comprises, if I may put it thus, two different and complementary fundamental themes. One of these themes is: obedience in conscience to human law, because natural law itself requires that man live in society, and that what it leaves undetermined be determined by human reason. Plato and Aristotle clung to this theme above all, because it was above all the city which they had in view; if they did not elaborate an explicit theory of natural law (though they laid its philosophical foundations) it was because once the law of the city had been justified in reason, the rest, for them, was secondary.

The other theme is a contrary one: resistance to human law if it is unjust -- this is Antigone's theme; or again, and with a universally positive bearing: recognition of the natural dignity of the individual, in the very bosom of the social whole (henceforth to be vaster than the city-state) of which he is a member -- this is the theme of the Stoics. George Sabine insists with reason on the decisively important effect on the development of the Stoic doctrine of natural law which resulted from the historical failure of the city-state after the death of Alexander the Great and of Aristotle.{1} Once the bonds of the city had been broken, and the various monarchies where Greeks and "barbarians" were subject to the same power had risen out of Alexander's empire, individuals found themselves isolated, each alone in the great "inhabited world" and "had to learn to live together in a new form of social union much larger and much more impersonal than the city-state".{2} Owing to this new historical situation, Hellenistic man was obliged to take stock of himself as a human being, equal, as such, to the other members of the human race. Thus the equality among co-citizens which Aristotle strongly emphasized -- but which for him was limited to the privileged few who were members of the city -- extended now to all, even to the slave, to the foreigner, to the barbarian; they were co-citizens of the whole civilized world.

The founder of the Stoic school, Zeno of Citium, was a Phoenician; Chrysippus, the second founder, came from Cilicia; and Panaetius, who carried Stoicism to Rome, was a native of Rhodes. More cosmopolitan than Greek, Stoicism was especially adapted to the new aspirations we just mentioned.

Already Cleanthes, in the earliest epoch of Stoicism, cried out:

With Chrysippus, in the last quarter of the third century, the idea of the city of the world and of a law valid for all was to come to the fore. A spark of the divine fire which animates the world animates every human being. As Epictetus was to say later: "If a man could only take to heart this judgment, as he ought, that we are all, before anything else, children of God and that God is the Father of gods and men, I think that he will never harbour a mean or ignoble thought about himself. Why, if Caesar adopts you, your arrogance will be past all bearing; but if you realize that you are a son of Zeus, will you feel no elation?"{1} Chrysippus taught that there is no slave by nature, that a slave is a servant who has been engaged for life. Greeks and barbarians, nobles and commoners, rich and poor, slaves and free men -- all are equal. The only real difference is that which separates the wise and the foolish. Gods and men are citizens of the great city of the world, and this city is ruled by right reason alone; its law is the same for all, irrespective of the political power to which they are subject. In order to conciliate the idea that each individual must consider himself proudly as a son of God with the traditional idea, to which the Stoics were faithful, of the major importance of the social whole, to which the individual is essentially subordinate, the Stoic school came more and more to consider the various kingdoms of the earth (and finally the Roman empire) as rough sketches of that divine city of the world, or as roads leading to it. (And henceforth for centuries two notions were to intermingle -- the ethical notion of the natural law proper to the human race, and the socio-political notion of the juridical order proper to a universal and truly rational human political community.)

Thus there was interaction between the development of Stoic ethics and the progressive broadening of juridical concepts. The latter were to appeal more and more to the universality of legislative reason, and to a sort of "common law" (imposed by the monarch irrespective of the diversity of customs or resulting from arbitration procedures between cities), and were finally to issue forth in the Roman law of nations (jus gentium), produced, like a precious fruit of civilization, from what was originally only laws concerning strangers.

This is why natural law and the jus gentium, in Cicero's time, definitely began to cross together the threshold of commonly accepted ideas. Let us say that it was under the protective covering of the juridical idea of jus gentium that the philosophical idea of natural law succeeded in imposing itself explicitly on the common consciousness: a phenomenon which was made easier by the pantheist confusion between human reason and divine reason, and which involved fairly damaging confusions between the two ideas themselves of natural law and jus gentium.{2}

8. Whatever may be said about this last point, it is to the Stoics that we owe the major theory of natural law elaborated by antiquity, and the explicitly developed philosophical theme of two laws: on the one hand the human law which varies from city to city, and on the other hand the universal and unchangeable law of nature (non scripta, sed nata lex) which is innate in the human soul and whose prescriptions we are compelled to recognize. This idea was to remain fundamental to the Romanized and more or less syncretic Stoicism in which Panaetius of Rhodes, prodded by the criticisms of Carneades, tried to absorb the classical tradition of Plato and Aristotle. It was from Panaetius that Cicero received this idea in order to popularize it (the amplifications of an orator were enough for this) throughout the civilized orbis.

"There is in fact a true law," he wrote in the Republic, " -- namely, right reason -- which is in accordance with nature, applies to all men, and is unchangeable and eternal. By its commands this law summons men to the performance of their duties; by its prohibitions it restrains them from doing wrong. Its commands and prohibitions always influence good men, but are without effect upon the bad. To invalidate this law by human legislation is never morally right, nor is it permissible ever to restrict its operation, and to annul it is wholly impossible. Neither the senate nor the people can absolve us from our obligation to obey this law, and it requires no Sextus Aelius to expound and interpret it. It will not lay down one rule at Rome and another at Athens, nor will it be one rule to-day and another to-morrow. But there will be one law, eternal and unchangeable, binding at all times upon all peoples; and there will be, as it were, one common master and ruler of men, namely God, who is the author of this law, its interpreter, and its sponsor. The man who will not obey it will abandon his better self, and, in denying the true nature of a man, will thereby suffer the severest of penalties, though he has escaped all the other consequences which men call punishments."{1}

And again, in the Laws: "Out of all the material of the philosophers' discussions, surely there comes nothing more valuable than the full realization that we are born for Justice, and that right is based, not upon man's opinions, but upon Nature"{2} . . .

"If the principles of Justice were founded on the decrees of peoples, the edicts of princes, or the decisions of judges, then Justice would sanction robbery and adultery and forgery by the votes or decrees of the populace. But if so great a power belongs to the decisions and decrees of fools that the laws of Nature can be changed by their votes, then why do they not ordain that what is bad and baneful shall be considered good and salutary? Or, if a law can make Justice out of Injustice, can it not also make good out of bad? But in fact we can perceive the difference between good laws and bad by referring them to no other standard than Nature: indeed, it is not merely Justice and Injustice which are distinguished by Nature, but also and without exception things which are honourable and dishonourable. For since an intelligence common to us all makes things known to us and formulates them in our minds, honourable actions are ascribed by us to virtue, and dishonourable actions to vice; and only a madman would conclude that these judgments are matters of opinion, and not fixed by Nature."{1}

Later Epictetus was to condemn in the name of natural law those "laws of the dead" which upheld slavery. Marcus Aurelius was to echo Seneca's homo sacra res homini,{2} saying: "My city and country, so far as I am Antoninus, is Rome; but so far as I am a man, it is the world."{3}

But for all of them, natural law (where God instructs the conscience concerning its first norms by means of the essential inclinations of human nature) was also the law of the civitas maxima (in other words the juridical order proper to a city of the world founded on the jus gentium). Doubtless this was because the instinct of the ancient world led them irresistibly to exteriorize the notion of the norms of conduct recognized by the conscience in the notion of the constitutive norms of the political order, and, more profoundly, because in speaking of conformity to reason they had in mind divine reason and human reason pantheistically identified.

It took many centuries to make the necessary distinctions which the Stoics and Cicero had neglected, and to decant the basic truths which they had recognized but at the same time compromised by the simplistic and absolutist nature of their formulations. The Church Fathers took up their doctrine of natural law, purifying it of its original pantheism, and incorporated it into the Christian heritage; in the thirteenth century Thomas Aquinas was to give it a decisive formulation, though some trouble in the expression still remained (as a result of his respect for the juridical tradition, and of the evolution of his own vocabulary).

In the midst of all sorts of vicissitudes, of unwarranted interpretations and tendentious utilizations, the idea of natural law was to persevere in history with singular tenacity.{4} Grotius was for it -- in the climate of an increasingly secularized Christianity -- what Cicero had been in the climate of stoic pantheism. In the rationalism of the eighteenth century it underwent a dogmatic inflation comparable to the Stoic one, but without serious philosophical content, and destined to end in the completely arbitrary. There followed for this notion an almost total eclipse before it reappeared in our time and once again affirmed its vitality. But there can be no true renascence of the idea of natural law without a vast labor of elucidation and philosophical reformulation, as regards in particular the historical perspective in which it must be placed. There the diversity of moral codes in which its "dynamic schemes" have been expressed through the ages will become clear, and, at the same time, the progressive manner in which mankind is bound to learn of its exigencies.{1}

II The Technique of Pleasure -- An Ethic of Pure Finality

Epicurean Asceticism

9. Epicurus did not have the cosmopolitan background of a Zeno or a Chrysippus. He was a pure Athenian, of refined culture and delicate sensibility. His health was bad. Afflicted by maladies which became more and more painful as he grew older, he held Pleasure, as the Stoics had held Virtue, to be Happiness -- a happiness which elevated man to the rank of the gods. But this happiness was essentially an escape or a deliverance from suffering, an internal state of unawareness of suffering, unawareness of fear, unawareness of illness, attained by a free and artistic intelligence. Happiness-as-pleasure was therefore conceived in a supra-emotional, even ascetic perspective. Only sensible pleasure exists, but it is in some way spiritualized by the intelligence, the imagination and the memory.

Pleasure can result either from movement or from rest, but the pleasure of rest is intrinsically superior to the pleasure of movement, more exempt from pain, more stable, that is. There is no other true and authentic pleasure, so that finally, the suppression of pain is the highest degree of pleasure. No longer to be hungry is better than to enjoy tasty foods. Consequently, a state of perfect repose of spirit and perfect indifference, perfect absence of any agitation -- an egotistical and sensualist version of the Aristotelian life of contemplation -- must be considered as the supreme fulfillment of human life and placed above any kind of action.

Moreover, if this state of abolition of all agitation -- without any shows of virtue, without that odor of human sweat exhaled by the Stoic Force -- if this calm and serenity in which the soul is empty of all anxiety of desire and of every kind of fear, whether it come from men, from nature or from the gods, if this ataraxia is the supreme fulfillment of human life, it is not by virtue of its own merits as an intrinsic good (there is no intrinsic good for hedonism), it is because only in that state is there no more suffering or pain, and therefore supreme pleasure.

The Epicurean distinguishes, moreover, three categories of desires: (1) natural and necessary desires (like eating and drinking); (2) natural but not necessary desires (like enjoying a particular dish); (3) desires which are neither natural nor necessary (like having a crown or a monument); and knowing that for the life of supreme pleasure one needs only to satisfy the natural and necessary desires and renounce the satisfaction of the other two categories, he is very nearly independent of external circumstances: "with a little bread and water he rivals Jupiter in happiness".

Epicureanism was thus a kind of asceticism of relaxation and repose, as Stoicism was an asceticism of tension and of action. On the other hand, while Stoicism insisted upon the value of society, and subordinated the individual person to the social and cosmic whole, Epicureanism, on the contrary, was a system fundamentally centered on the self, measuring all things with the advantage of the individual in mind and refusing to any social element any superiority over the individual -- although in fact, but always with a view to assuring the maximum of pleasure to the individual, the Epicureans cultivated the social virtues of friendship, hospitality, gentleness and benevolence to a high degree, and according to Plutarch Epicurus himself declared that "there is more pleasure in doing good than in receiving it" (a Christian thinks at once of the saying of Christ reported by St. Paul,{1} "It is more blessed to give than to receive" -- there is a world of difference between these two sayings, and yet the former, on the level of egotistical hedonism, resembles the latter, on the level of charity). The disciples of Epicurus also thought, rightly but for reasons of an inferior order, that the most virtuous life is the hidden life, and that it was a good thing, with a view to attaining ataraxia, to practise justice, which they regarded, however, as a matter of convention. "Absolute justice has never existed, only conventions arrived at by mutual agreement, according to the country and the times, to provide protection against damage and suffering."{2} As Carneades was to do later, the Epicureans amply exploited in this connection the argument, already put forward by the Sophists, of the diversity of moral codes and customs: a lazy argument, which relies heavily on people's desire to avoid the tiring business of distinguishing and getting to the core of the matter.

The illusion of Pleasure as the supreme End
10 The Epicureans' technique of pleasure was a morality of pure finality, in which everything was judged as a means toward the end, which is pleasure, and at the same time the notion of good was entirely absorbed in that of happiness, which was itself absorbed in the notion of supreme pleasure. It is not that the idea of value was completely rejected; but it was emptied of its proper substance. There is no longer any good in itself and for itself, and value is entirely relativized, and cut down to the status of the means to the end; it is but the quality of means insofar as they lead to the end. There exists thus an Epicurean notion of virtue; but virtue is defined as the sure way through which the state of supreme pleasure is attained. The virtuous man is the one who firmly and securely possesses the art or technique of pleasure, and who alone, thanks to an accurate calculation and an appropriate practice, is capable of arriving at the maximum of pleasure along with a minimum of pain. Physical suffering? He escapes from it by remembering past pleasures and imagining pleasures to come. He nurses his serenity by a careful and delicate process of auto-suggestion. Death? He knows that at the moment of death the atoms of the soul are dispersed, dissolve into the universe; at that moment sensation ends -- death consists precisely in that cessation. Ceasing to be and to feel, we are not affected by death, it does not exist for us. Death is nothing for the sage; he has done away with it. He makes it disappear by a kind of sleight of hand. He has arranged his concepts so as to act as if it did not exist. A flight of the intelligence, an artificial and deliberate act of cowardice in the face of the fact of death, is the only possible issue for an ethics of pure pleasure, which is the extreme limit of an ethics of pure subjective happiness.

At the root of the illusion of Epicureanism lies the misunderstanding which substitutes pleasure for moral good, or, to adopt the kind of comparison employed by Epicurus himself, which substitutes the aroma for the roast.

Pleasure is a species of good, but a good by superaddition. We can adopt it as an end in many situations, but then there is always another good, a "substantial" good enveloped in that end, a good to which we customarily refer when we want to justify the pleasure to which we give ourselves over. We go for a nice walk for the pleasure of taking the air; but at the same time the pure air and the relaxation are required for the health of the body. In other words, pleasure can never be the primary and essential aim of our life, nor of any of our powers. There is a pleasure in knowledge; but if in the exercise of intelligence we sought only the pleasure of feeling intelligent, and not truth, we would be perverting within ourselves the function of knowing.

No one can live without delectation
11. Nevertheless, Epicureanism also made a valuable contribution to moral philosophy. It gave the lie to Stoic pride. Above all -- and precisely because pleasure is a good by superaddition, a luxury -- it preserved better than Stoicism did the element of luxury and artistic superabundance which is indispensable to human life and culture.

Let us note here that pleasure or joy is a sign, and that ordinarily the greatest joy is the sign of the possession of the greatest good (I do not say necessarily of the greatest moral good). And the more noble and spiritual the nature of the plenitude of being or the fulfillment that the joy presupposes, and which it echoes in the sensible or intellectual consciousness, the more closely is the joy in question attached to that plenitude of being and fulfillment. A fruit is aliquid ultimum et delectabile, "something which is ultimate in fulfillment and which is also delectable". And if we can define contemplation as the fruition of the absolute, it is because union with the absolute and the joy which comes from this union are consubstantial in it (however masked that joy sometimes may be by suffering and aridity).

These remarks will help us to understand how St. Thomas could say,{1} following Aristotle:{2} "Nobody can do without delectation for long. That is why he who is deprived of spiritual delectations goes over to the carnal." They also make us understand the fact that without a proper appreciation of the value of pleasure, of sensible pleasure and spiritual joy, and of the role of fruition in human existence, a civilization can only with difficulty appreciate those "useless" activities -- more necessary to man than the necessaries -- which are disinterested knowledge, art, poetry, contemplation.

But these are not the "natural and necessary" pleasures to which the hedonistic asceticism of Epicurus reduced the needs of the sage. Such fruits require a more generous soil than the orchard of Epicurus. They are produced in pain and suffering, and a civilization in which the ideal of ataraxia, of the abolition of all agitation, reigned would be unacquainted with them.

III The Ideal of the Sage

Haste to arrive at the supreme End
12. Although fundamentally opposed in their philosophical principles and their inspiration, Stoicism and Epicureanism present us with remarkably similar charts of "advisable actions" in the conduct of the ordinary man -- there is nothing astonishing in this, since we know that moral philosophy works on the basis of norms and values previously recognized by the common conscience. But what really interested the Stoics and Epicureans, and what made for the power of attraction of their message, was not the tracing of rules of conduct for ordinary life, but establishing the ideal of the sage. That is what had an immediate appeal for man, mobilized his passion for happiness with a practical efficiency unknown to the morality of Aristotle.

In both cases a certain haste to arrive at the ultimate end seems to me significant. The two systems are the work of philosophers equally in a hurry to attain the end, to bring man to happiness. But in identifying the supreme Good with Happiness, the Stoics (like Aristotle before them) declared identical in re two notions which remained distinct in themselves (as if, to make a comparison, I said: the end toward which the activity of knowing tends is "philosophic truth", in which "the complete fulfillment of the intellect" is attained). In this way the Good -- which for them was Virtue -- was indeed confused with its resonance in the subject, with Happiness, but was not effaced or eclipsed by the notion of Happiness. Though the Stoics did not distinguish Happiness clearly from the Good, and though they were not explicitly conscious of the fact (and therein lay the equivocation and the shortcoming), the morality of Happiness was for them a morality of the Good also. This was the case with all of the great Greek schools, except that of Epicurus. For the latter, as we have already remarked, the Good in itself (the properly moral or "honest" good, as well as the supreme Good or Value supremely good in and for itself) was simply done away with, eclipsed by Happiness, because the Epicureans definitely thought only in terms of happiness, and happiness for them was pleasure (as if I said, no longer concerning myself with philosophic truth: the end toward which the activity of knowing tends is "the complete fulfillment of the intellect", which consists in "the pleasure of reasoning"). The morality of Happiness was not for them, even implicitly, a morality of the Good, but simply the morality of the perfect state of Pleasure, or of Ataraxia.

The fact remains that, in a quite different way than fearless and invincible Force of soul, the state of supreme Relaxation or Indifference also required a kind of heroic asceticism. In both cases the ideal of the sage was a heroic ideal. This was the price of the effectiveness of their appeal to the human soul. But by an unfortunate paradox, the effectiveness of the appeal was to be paid for in its turn by ultimate disappointment in terms of realization. The heroic requirement of perfect virtue ended up in the disabused recognition that Wisdom is too high for man. The heroic requirement of perfect indifference terminated in a dream of evasion of the most profound realities of life, thanks to tetrapharmakon, to the quadruple drug of illusion: "God is not to be feared, death is not formidable, good is easily acquired, danger is easy to endure."{1}

Pragmatic displacement of the notion of Wisdom
13. However disappointing it was to appear in the end, the search for pragmatic effectiveness remains the fundamental trait of Stoicism and Epicureanism. We find a very remarkable sign and effect of this in the displacement undergone by the notion of Wisdom. The sage is no longer the man who knows and contemplates, but the one who acts, and in such a way as to grasp happiness, either through perfection or through the complete absence of disturbance. For Aristotle the moral life was centered on prudence; now the art of living well is called wisdom. For Aristotle, as later for St. Thomas, moral virtues were in the service of wisdom; now it is either virtue or the accurate calculation of pleasures which is wisdom itself.

In both Stoic and Epicurean morality the "cosmic" character of Hellenic ethics in general is not only manifest, it is carried to its extreme point (while taking decidedly the aberrant form of cosmic-without-the-beyond or the closed cosmic -- pantheist or atheist). Morality presupposes not only a system of Logic and a Philosophy of Nature, but also that this Logic or Canonics and this Cosmology are identical with Morality. There is no authentic moral life without the dogmas which they teach us. If I do not adhere to the rationalist - immanentist notion or to the atomistic notion of the world, I cannot put the Stoic morality or the Epicurean morality into practice. But if the knowledge of nature and of the laws of discourse have became so indispensable to the moral life, and so arrogant at the same time, it is because thenceforward they are pointed toward action, they are the necessary instruments for right living. Stoic physics and Epicurean physics are thus marred from the very beginning, because they are no longer a disinterested search for the truth of things but an explanation of nature incorporated in a system of happiness dogmatically imposed, and ordered to the primacy of praxis.

Stoic Physics
14. Stoic physics presented itself, in its absolute intellectualism, as an integrally rational knowledge of the world and of its perpetual alternations between birth and dissolution which constitute the very life of the divine Reason: it rendered the force of soul of the sage unshakeable. Identifying the Reason moving through all things with the dynamism of matter in evolution, looking upon movement as "being, at each of its moments, not a passage from potency to act, but an act",{1} this was not a dialectical materialism concerned with the becoming of history, but a materialist rationalism concerned with the cycles of evolution of the world. Moreover, it professed a fervent belief in a God who, immanent in the world as a "forming fire", bound up with nature and the world, charged with the supreme justification of the world and of the evil as well as the good operative in it, was indeed the God of naturalism par excellence, the Emperor of the world but not the true God.{2} In his service the Stoics employed any kind of popular theology whatsoever, and a profusion of shameless finalist explanations -- the final cause of the existence of flies was to keep us from sleeping too long, that of lice to make us good housekeepers.

It is not my purpose here to examine Stoic theology and cosmology. I should like simply to note that Stoic rationalism ended up in a complete and systematic deification of the world, and that the Stoic notion of Destiny, which linked things to one another much more tightly than the so-called "scientific determinism" of our nineteenth century, absolutely excluded any kind of contingency or chance. Let us add that, as has been remarked,{1} Stoic providentialism seems to point to a Semitic contribution mixed with Greek conceptions, while on the other hand, as we have already noted, the supranational universalism of the Porch was not without relation to the new current of thought provoked by the imperial universalism of the Macedonian kings.

Epicurean Physics
15. In Epicurean cosmology we have to do with an empirical knowledge of nature which cared little about rigorous consistency, which trusted in immediate evidence and was suspicious of rational constructions. Epicurean physics sought neither necessary reasons nor an exact explanation of the detail of things, but was satisfied with no matter what general explanation of a kind that would deliver us from ideas and beliefs engendering fear in us -- the fear of meteors, the fear of destiny, the fear of death, the fear of the fate of the soul beyond the grave, the fear of divination and prodigies. The gods existed, but they in no way acted on the world. Made of purified matter, they led a tranquil life in interstellar space, sheltered from atomic collisions, and quite incapable of causing any trouble in human affairs. Felix qui potuit . . . . Even the fervor of the poet of The Nature of Things is really oriented less toward science as such than toward the state of mind -- superior serenity and disdain of vulgar fears -- which science is credited with producing in us. And what preoccupied Epicurus above all was to furnish us with an image of the world which rendered a mind free from agitation and oppression by things and by the dangers hidden in things. He was completely at ease in affirming the freedom of the will, which caused the Stoics so many headaches: it is explained quite easily by the clinamen (paregklesis). Do we not know that all atoms fall vertically downward at the same speed, but that at certain moments and in certain entirely undetermined places, certain atoms deviate from the vertical without cause or reason, and so produce the shocks and collisions which engender worlds? Similarly, free will is simply the result of a causeless deviation in the movement of the atoms of the soul.

Epicurus was thus the first to make the indetermination of matter the foundation of the freedom of the will. As far as we are concerned, we believe in freedom of the will, and we have the highest respect for the indeterminist theories of modern physics. But we do not think that the attempts one can make to draw from these scientific theories a metaphysics of free will have any more philosophical value than the Epicurean clinamen.

A supra-philosophical ambition and need -- curing the human Soul
16. Let us point out, to bring this chapter to a close, one last trait common to both of the schools of which we are speaking, which in our opinion is highly significant: in reality their moral philosophy is not an ethics, but a superethics. The aim is not to determine the guiding principles of an upright human life, but in a single leap to reach the supreme end and supreme happiness, a superhuman state of perfect Virtue or unalterable Pleasure in which the sage leads a divine life (for Epicurus was also a god, according to Lucretius: ". . . a god he was, a god, most noble Memmius, who first found out that plan of life which is now termed wisdom . . .").{1} It is from the heights of this divine life, possessed and experienced, from this state of sublime concentration or sublime indifference, that the Stoic or Epicurean sage descends to the plains of human conduct, that is, to ethics properly so called.

In other words, neither Stoicism nor Epicureanism was a simple system of moral philosophy. We understand nothing of their true significance if we take them for philosophical theories in the ordinary sense of these words. They were practical schools of wisdom and spiritual direction: fundamentally dogmatic schools whose masters and founders were inspired supermen who employed philosophical equipment and works of reason (in one case a supremely intellectualist reason, in the other a sensualist and empiricist reason) to assuage a thirst for deliverance, to appease a deep and burning anguish concerning human destiny, and to satisfy a more or less conscious nostalgia for the blissful life. Some centuries later, and in a quite different intellectual context, the same kind of curers of the human soul were to produce the gnostic sects, already announced in the middle Platonism of Maximus of Tyre and the neo-Pythagorean initiatory rites. If we looked for modern analogies, we should, in order to find them, however degenerated they may be, think of the teachers of a debased Yoga or dhikr who have no trouble collecting disciples to-day, or of certain salesmen of happiness and founders of religions who prosper in California.

It is profitable for our inquiry to keep in mind the characteristic of the Stoic ethics and the Epicurean ethics which I have just pointed out. What it seems to us to suggest is that when moral philosophy wants to have an effective hold on the human being, and wants to deal not only with an abstract and simply possible man but with the real man, and with human conduct considered in its real condition of existence, it cannot remain pure moral philosophy and must enter into communication with a world of human data and aspirations more existential than that of philosophy isolated within itself.

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