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14: The Traditions of Moderation and Eradication

PART II: Value of the Emotions Cognitive Therapy and the Role of Philosophy
14: The Traditions of Moderation and Eradication
If we look at the history of the traditions we find that the debate on whether the emotions (pathē) should only be moderated (metriopatheia) or actually eradicated (apatheia) was already under way before the Stoics in Aristotle's time and there were models for eradication even as early as the Presocratics.
Aristotle: moderation and the mean

The leading proponent of moderate emotion was Aristotle with his famous doctrine of each virtue lying in a mean position between two vicious extremes. What is required for good temper courage temperance or self-esteem is the right amount timing and direction of anger fear pleasure or pride.1

Aristotle's advocacy of the mean position is commonly attacked as meaningless or tautological2 but the opposite is the case. It is a controversial and substantive move in a debate which had already started. It is rejected as totally false not only by the Stoics a generation or two after his death but also by his pre-Stoic contemporaries. For he himself draws attention to the rival view that virtue consists in freedom from emotion (apatheia).3 There have been varied conjectures as to who his opponents are.4 But in Eudemian Ethics he says everyone takes this view which suggests it was widespread at least within the Platonic Academy to which he originally belonged. Within the Academy the most obvious influence is Speusippus Plato's successor whom Aristotle twice names as holding that pleasure and distress are both bad.5 What good men aim at according to Speusippus is aokhlēsia freedom from disturbance.6 Outside the Academy but in the Socratic tradition Antisthenes is recorded as saying that he would rather go mad than feel pleasure7 and the opponents of pleasure are already discussed in Plato's Philebus.8
Aristotle's advocacy of a middle position should not be understood in purely quantitative terms as Lactantius’ criticism of the Aristotelian school brings out. Lactantius objects that you should not rejoice at all at seeing your enemy harmed but should rejoice greatly at seeing a country liberated from a dictator. Again you should feel no lust for unlawful objects but for lawful ones extreme lust may be perfectly legitimate. What needs to be considered is the time circumstance and place.9 But in fact Aristotle already intended this. For he says that what counts as too much or too little depends on who we are on the occasion on what and whom our emotion is directed at on the likely outcome and the manner of reacting.10 Moreover he points out some emotions like Schadenfreude and envy have the idea of badness built into them so that there is no room for the idea of moderation in exercising them.11
Stoic eradication of emotion
The Stoics were not then the first nor were they the last to advocate apatheia the eradication of emotion. Rather they were the most important influence. But apatheia meant different things in different Stoics. I argued in Chapter 2 that for Chrysippus it was freedom from all emotion except a small range of eupatheiai enjoyed only by the sage if there ever were any sages. And this became the canonical Stoic view. In Zeno by contrast—so I claimed in Chapter 3—apatheia was something narrower: freedom from the kind of emotional disobedience to reason exemplified by Medea. Posidonius was different again I maintained in Chapter 6. He is against emotion as defined by Zeno or Chrysippus: examples of disobedience to reason or of misevaluation of indifferents. But he does not accept that view of what emotion is. In his view humans have an emotional part of the soul as described by Plato and what matters is its conforming with the rational part.
The tradition of moderation
The majority view among post-Aristotelian philosophers favours Aristotle's ideal of metriopatheia rather than the Stoic apatheia although the picture is not clear-cut. Metriopatheia is advocated not only by members of Aristotle's own school the Peripatetics but also in the early Platonist Academy e.g. by Crantor12 and by many Middle Platonists13 although not by the Stoicizing Antiochus14 and there is some wavering in Plutarch and Apuleius.15 Metriopatheia may perhaps be accepted by the Pythagorean Sotion16 and the Epicureans sometimes incline in that direction17 although we shall see they are better classified as selective in relation to emotions. Christian views on the issue were different again and will be discussed in Chapter 25.18
The acceptance of both ideals
A further refinement to be discussed further in Chapter 25 was to view the two as ideals for different people. This idea is found in the Jewish philosophers Philo of Alexandria and Maimonides. Similarly some of the Church Fathers we shall see reserve freedom from emotion at least during this life for monks although it may be achieved by others after the resurrection and may have been the state of Adam and Eve before the Fall. According to another tradition that of the Neoplatonists Plotinus and Porphyry as I shall explain below apatheia and metriopatheia correspond to different stages of the philosopher's progress and to different levels of virtue attained. Themistius however whose allegiance to Platonism or to Aristotelianism has been a matter of controversy firmly backs Aristotle on this issue. Apatheia is impossible and also undesirable since God implanted the emotions for our preservation.19
The tradition of eradication
An early model for freedom from emotion (apatheia) was the fifth—century Presocratic philosopher Anaxagoras. On hearing his son was dead he said ‘I knew I had begotten a mortal.’20 Socrates is portrayed as another model21 and we have already noticed the advocacy of Plato's successor Speusippus and of a later Platonist Antiochus. One source describes the tradition as passing through the Socratic—Cynic line (Socrates Antisthenes Diogenes Crates) to the founder of Stoicism Zeno although the words apatheia apathes are here replaced in the case of Crates and Zeno by enkrateia and karteria (endurance).22 The Stoics were the most prominent exponents of the ideal of freedom from all emotion. Some Church Fathers as we shall see in Chapter 20 were worried at hearing that ‘Jesus wept’ since they wanted to model him on a Stoic sage.
The Pyrrhonian sceptics also believed in the eradication of emotion. This is implied by their claiming to be altogether free of feeling (apathēs)23 when disturbance (tarakhē tarattesthai okhlēma) depends on belief. But they add something new. With inevitable sensations like pain which do not depend on belief they can only achieve moderation of feeling (metriopathein metriopathōs).24 But at least they do not make things worse by adding emotional distress to the sensation. The Stoic view was not so different although they do not use the term metriopatheia. Seneca says that with physical pain all rests on opinion and if you say to yourself the pain is small (exiguus) then it will indeed be slight (levis).25 We have a vignette of Posidonius visited by Pompey during an attack of gout saying ‘It is no use pain: although you are troublesome (molestus) I will never admit you are evil (mains).’26 The Pyrrhonian texts which move to talk of metriopatheia need a little interpretation to bring their message out.27
Pyrrhonian sceptics: eradication of emotion is moderation of physical pain
The disturbances which depend wholly on belief28 are specified as being concerned with wealth reputation friendship good looks strength fitness courage justice wisdom virtue in general and their opposites poverty and so on.29 The second group which depends wholly on sensation30 not on reason31 includes hunger thirst cold heat acute pain requiring analgesics the pains of chronic illness the pain of surgery and opposite pleasures.32 The Pyrrhonians suspend judgement even on such apparently indisputable questions as whether the virtues are good and vices bad or as the Stoics would say are good or bad by nature. To make such judgements is to subject yourself to disturbing emotions as you try to get or keep or avoid the things in question.33 It is an anti-Stoic move to make such beliefs about the virtues disturbing in just the same way as beliefs about other things. It is often the judgement of naturalness that is eschewed but at one point it is explicitly said that to judge something merely (motion) bad i.e. without adding that it is so by nature already creates distress.34
There is a third class of disturbances which depends not only on having sensations but also on believing or imagining in addition (prosdoxazein prosanaplassein)35 that the sensation is bad. Pyrrhonian sceptics avoid this belief too. And this bears on the extent to which they can achieve their goal of living without disturbance (atarakhōs).36 They cannot avoid the disturbances which depend wholly on sensation. These occur of necessity (katēnangkasmenos kat’ anangkēn anangkēn parekhei)37 as the result of involuntary (akousios)38 processes. It is not feasible (amēkhanon) to be freed of them by sceptical reasoning.39 Disturbance from pain is not up to the victim (par’ auton) but must happen of necessity whether he wants it or not (ean te thelēi ean te kai mē).40 This is quite unlike disturbance based on one's own suppositions for which one must be held responsible (aitiateon).41
None the less there is something the sceptic can do. He can avoid adding to the sensation of pain the further belief that the pain is bad. By doing this he presumably avoids adding emotional distress to the sensation. The result is that although he cannot avoid feeling in such a case his feeling is at least moderate (metriopathein metriopathōs)42 consisting as it does in mere sensation not emotion: I use the elastic term ‘feeling’ to cover both. As regards emotion he is free of feeling altogether (apathēs).43 This distinction of sensation from emotional distress has been endorsed in some modern studies of pain which very like Sextus in the second passage below contrast pre-operative and post-operative pain.44 The point about freedom from emotion moderating pain is expressed in the following two passages.
So the sceptic seeing such great anomalies in things suspends judgement about anything being by nature good or bad or to be done or left undone. In that he stands aside from the rashness of dogmatism (dogmatikos) and without belief (adoxastōs) follows the ordinary observances of life. But that means he remains free of feeling (apathēs) in things which depend on beliefs and his feeling is moderate (metriopathein) in things which happen of necessity. As a human being with sensation (aisthētikos) he is subjected to various things but since he does not add the belief (prosdoxazein) that what he is subjected to is by nature bad his feeling is moderate (metriopathei). For adding a belief of that kind is even worse than being subjected just as sometimes people bear undergoing surgery or being subjected to something else of that kind but the bystanders faint because of their belief (doxa) that what is happening is bad. A person is disturbed (tarassesthai) in many ways if he postulates that something is by nature good or bad or in general to be done or left undone. For he thinks he is being pursued by the Furies when the things he thinks by nature bad are upon him. And when he gets control of what appears (phainesthai) to him good he falls into no mean disturbance (tarakhē) because of his self-satisfaction and his fear of losing them and through guarding against reverting to what he thinks of as by nature bad.45
He who adds no belief (prosdoxazein) about the pain being bad is caught by the necessary processes of the pain. But he who imagines in addition (prosanaplassein) so much as (motion)46 that the pain is alien (anoikeion) or bad doubles by this belief the disturbance (okhlēma) which attends on the pain. For do we not observe that often in the case of people undergoing surgery the patient bears the test of cutting manfully even while being cut neither ‘growing pale in his fine complexion nor wiping tears from his cheeks’? For he is subject only to the processes of cutting. But the bystander no sooner sees a small flow of blood than he grows pale trembles sweats feels faint and finally falls down speechless. This is not because of the pain because that is not his but because of his belief that the pain is bad. In the same way the disturbance (tarakhē) arising through the belief that some bad thing is bad is sometimes greater than the disturbance that arises through the very thing that is said to be bad. Hence the man who suspends judgement about all matters of belief enjoys the fullest happiness. He does suffer disturbance (tarattesthai) in involuntary processes of a non-rational kind. ‘For he is not made from the legendary oak nor from rock but his is the race of men.’ Still he is disposed so as to feel moderately (metriopathōs).47
Shifting emphases in Plato
We have seen much variety of opinion in the Platonist tradition and this was possible because Plato did not give a firm decision in favour of one ideal rather than the other. Several earlier dialogues for example the Phaedo condemn certain emotions yet the pleasures of learning are celebrated as against the pleasures of the body48 and different pleasures are still being differently evaluated in as late a work as the Philebus. The Republic condemns the tearful emotions49 but finds an essential purpose and value in spirit and appetite.50 The Symposium and Phaedrus contain speeches both for and against love but the speeches for are the ones that stay in everybody's mind.
Epicureans: from selective emotions to compromise with Stoics
The Epicureans will not side exclusively with the advocates of moderate emotion nor with those of freedom from emotion. It is better to think of them as believing in selective emotion. Pleasure understood in the right way as a static freedom from distress which cannot be increased but only varied is actually made the end or goal of life.51 On the other hand we shall encounter in Chapters 16 and 18 Epicurus’ campaign against the fear of death which removes pleasure and his warnings against falling in love. There is a text in which as emended by Bignone Epicurus says that the wise person will be more gripped by certain (tisi) emotions.52 The same passage ascribes to the wise pity and distress but dissociates them from hatred envy and contempt.53 Certainly Epicurus makes a distinction whose antecedents are in Plato and whose sequel (Chapter 25) is in the Church Fathers between desires that are natural and necessary desires that are only natural and desires that are neither natural nor necessary.54 The Epicurean Philodemus distinguishes between anger based on empty beliefs which he rejects and natural anger which he accepts.55 But with Philodemus we find Epicureanism moving much closer to Stoicism. Admittedly in On Anger he explicitly confronts the Stoics. Admittedly too in On Death he can offer no more than moderating one's agitation (metriōs enokhleisthai).56 But several things have happened: first that he shares quite generally the Stoics’ way of putting things. One example is the idea of a bite (dēgmos) or poke (nuttein)57 as natural and hard to avoid. Another is the idea that certain things are indifferent (adiaphoron)—not of course the full range of indifferents recognized by the Stoics but falling on acknowledged evils that are not too many or continuous.58 Philodemus shares too the Stoic terminology of psychological expansion and contraction (exairein sustellein).59
What is more significant however is that in On Anger the attitude which Philodemus advocates and which he calls natural anger seems virtually indistinguishable from the wise state which the Stoics deny to be anger. He accuses Nicasicrates who is probably a fellow Epicurean of viewing all emotion as bad like the Stoics.60 But at least Nicasicrates differs from the Stoics in thinking that not even the wise person can ever be free from anger. Philodemus seems to differ from the Stoics on this point only in name. In his natural anger one need not expect any ill to befall oneself. It may be a friend who is harmed and either by others or by himself.61 The difference from Stoicism is that this would be considered a genuine ill. But for the rest Philodemus is like the Stoics. What is sought is described as punishment (kolasis) not retaliation. And it is sought not as something pleasant. It is seen as very necessary but very unpleasant like a drink of medicinal wormwood or surgery.62 The punishment is not thought of as worth choosing for its own sake (di’ hauto haireton)63 By contrast the man with an appetite for punishment (kolasis) comes to vengeance (timōrid) as though it (vengeance) were to be chosen for its own sake.64
Plotinus on metriopatheia and apatheia
I have already said that the Neoplatonists think of metriopatheia and apatheia as corresponding to two different stages of progress. Plotinus distinguishes between ordinary civic virtue (politikē) such as Plato describes in Republic Book 4 and the purified virtue (katharsis) which Plato hints at elsewhere.65 At the stage of civic virtue one merely moderates emotion (metreiri).66 But in the purified state the soul is free of emotion (apatheēs).67
On the soul's apatheia three successive discussions by Plotinus have been distinguished by others. First he suggests that the whole soul can reach apatheia through purification so that it scarcely suffers emotion and even for the body shocks will be reduced. Slightly later he appeals to Aristotle's idea in On the Soul 2. 5 that the soul is in any case never affected but only activated though shocks in the body can result from the opinions and appearances involved in emotion. But he sees this raises a problem: if the soul is already apathēs why should it need purification? His final statement is that it is only part of the soul that is apathēs namely that part which never descended in his view from the intelligible world but is uninterruptedly contemplating the Platonic Forms without our normally being conscious of it.68
Neoplatonist borrowings from the Stoics: shocks and eupatheiai
The Neoplatonists exploit two Stoic ideas that of shocks (plēgai ekplēxis) in the body and that of eupatheiai in order to describe how states that might be thought emotional none the less leave the soul free from emotion apathēs. Bodily shocks feature in both of the first two Plotinian discussions of apatheia and in the earliest of them I believe the reference is to something like Stoic first movements. Plotinus here thinks it is only the body that suffers once the soul is purified. The body still suffers pains (algēdones) a word used by Chrysippus along with ‘bites’ for sensations of movement in the chest.69 The body may still get angry (orgizesthai is connected with organ ‘to swell’). There are unwilled reactions (to aproaireton a term frequently used by Epictetus) in the body and the body may receive shocks (plēgai plēttesthai: this corresponds to Seneca's ictus in Chapter 4 above). But the soul will not now share in these things. On the contrary it will reduce the shocks in the body and will sometimes free the body of pain fear or anger.
Perhaps we must say that the soul is collected to a sort of place away from the body into itself in a state entirely free of emotion (apathōs) and gives itself only such awareness of pleasures as is necessary and remedies and relief from stress so as not to be disturbed and removes pains (algēdones) or if it cannot bears them calmly and makes them less by not suffering along with the body. Rage (thumos) as far as it can it removes if possible altogether; if not then at least it does not share the body's anger (sunorgizesthai). The unwilled (aproaireton) belongs to something other than it and is small and weak. Fear it removes altogether since it will not be afraid of anything except as a warning though the unwilled occurs here too. As for appetite it clearly will not have that for anything bad. A gentle (pros anesin; cf. Stoic aneimenōs) appetite for food and drink will belong not to it itself. Nor will an appetite for sex. If there is any appetite it will be for natural things I think which import nothing unwilled or if they do only insofar as the soul is involved with imagination which pre-figures things. In general the soul will be pure from all these things and will want to make the irrational part pure too so that it does not even receive a shock (plēttesthai)—or if it does not a strong one. Its shocks (plēgai) will rather be few and promptly dissolved by the soul's proximity.70
Plotinus’ shocks (plēgai) recur in the entirely different context of mystical experience because this too must be distinguished from merely emotional states. In mystical experience beauty strikes you with a blow (ekplēttesthai ekplēxis) but a blow without harm (ablabos).71 Both ideas are repeated by Saint Augustine. Mystical experience involves an ictus72 and there is such a thing as striking without harm (percutit sine laesione) although the context in which it is mentioned is not that of mystical experience but rather of the light of God's Wisdom striking him.73
It has been pointed out that Damascius seeking to escape from Plato's idea that pleasure is a process of restoration presupposing a lack prefers Aristotle's definition of pleasure and argues that pleasures of the intellect are free from shocks (aplēktoi not plēktikai).74
The Neoplatonists also deploy the Stoic notion of eupatheia in these last contexts although they may have taken the term from Plato Phaedrus 247 D 4; Rep. 615 A 3. Mystical experience for Plotinus is a eupatheia75 and so is intellectual pleasure for Proclus and Damascius.76
Three Neoplatonist controversies on apatheia
There were at least three major Neoplatonist controversies on apatheia. The most interesting of all will be reserved for Chapter 18. Iamblichus attacks Porphyry's desire to avoid all temptations including obscene language so as to achieve apatheia. Speaking of ordinary people and their phallic festivals with obscene words he commends them as achieving metriopatheia.
The second disagreement concerns Plotinus’ view that we have an undescended soul. Iamblichus rejects this and the corollary that purification (katharsis) is needed not for it but only for the irrational soul and for the lower doxastic type of reason (doxastikos logos)77 although it has recently been argued that he makes one concession to Plotinus. He allows that there are some exceptional souls which never break their connection with the higher intelligible world.78 Proclus supplies three arguments against Plotinus which may or may not come from Iamblichus. First the whole soul must sin if proairesis a power of the rational soul sins. Secondly we should be totally happy if the most important thing in us (kratiston) is always thinking with the gods.79 Thirdly Plato declares the soul to be self-moving so none of it can be exempt from change.80
The third controversy concerns Proclus. Although he rejects Plotinus’ undescended soul affected by nothing he does not like the opposite view of Galen to be discussed in Chapter 17 that mental functions depend on the state of the body. So he has to discuss apparent evidence to that effect which Galen cites from Plato's Timaeus.81 Proclus takes a third way: admittedly the activities of the soul can be disturbed but its substance which is non-temporal cannot be.82 Damascius replies that the substance of the soul is affected by emotions83 drawing so it has been argued84 on Iamblichus.
Is the dispute on apatheia merely verbal?
It has often been said that the dispute on apatheia and the other disputes we have been looking at in the preceding chapters are merely verbal. On the whole I believe the opposite is the case. The disagreements are usually substantive but verbal devices are often used in the presentation of them sometimes in order to disguise the substantive nature of the disagreements.
Claims that controversy with the Stoics was merely verbal have often centred on the concept of freedom from emotion (apatheia). We saw in Chapters 3 and 6 that for Zeno Panaetius and Posidonius that may have been something closer to merely moderating emotion. Augustine drew attention to the ambiguity of freedom from emotion as between a mere stupor as he puts it and a freedom from disturbing emotions that oppose reason like fear and grief as opposed to love and gladness.85 Many have suggested that the debate on freedom from pathos turned on an ambiguity in pathos.86 But it was Chrysippus not Zeno Panaetius or Posidonius who established the main Stoic view on this question and I think it would be wrong to say that he differs from his opponents only in withholding the name ‘emotion’ from moderate emotion or only in the amount of anger or fear to be tolerated or that extirpation of emotion is only a repression of excess.87 It may be true that there would have been no disagreement if the Stoics had not seen emotion or rather the ingrained disposition to emotion as disease.88 But their seeing emotion in terms of disease represents a substantive disagreement.
I shall make a similar point in Chapter 25 about Gregory of Nyssa. I believe his treatise On the Resurrection advocates apatheia in a full-Hooded sense. It does not undo this when the case for metriopatheia is treated as being after all a case for apatheia in a secondary sense of the word.
Sometimes the idea that the dispute is merely verbal rests I believe on misunderstanding the distinctions that I have been analysing. Authors both ancient and modern have held that when the Stoics permit first movements89 or eupatheiai90 or Platonic homosexual love91 or the selection of indifferents92 they are really permitting emotions under another name just like their opponents. I have tried to show in Chapter 4 how first movements being movements felt in the chest and physiological symptoms are altogether different from emotions which are judgements or impulses. The impression that they are not different may come from the mistaken idea that first movements are impulses or alternatively that emotions are movements of expansion and contraction. The last was indeed the view of Zeno but I argued in Chapter 3 that Chrysippus superseded it.
As for the eupatheiai it was argued in Chapter 2 that they include only a very select and rare set of emotions—by no means all the moderate emotions allowed by the Stoics’ opponents.
The endorsement of Platonic homosexual love is something I hope to explain in Chapter 18. It too is not a pathos and that is connected with its ignoring sex as a mere indifferent and its making friends solely for the purpose of inculcating virtue.
Finally the advocacy of selecting certain indifferents has to be understood in terms of the analogy of the archer who is more interested in aiming right than in hitting93 which I explained in Chapter 12. The Stoic sage will not be upset if through no fault of his he ‘misses’ and fails to secure the selected indifferent. That leaves the indifferents just that—indifferent—and does not allow them to serve as grounds for emotional concern.
The confrontation between apatheia and metriopatheia was blurred not only by qualifications on the Stoic side. The supporters of metriopatheia also conceded that certain emotions were to be avoided altogether. Aristotle cited envy and Schadenfreude94 Augustine as will be seen in Chapters 25 and 26 pride and lust.95
Damage to clarity about Stoicism was however done I think by Cicero's decision to translate the Stoic word for emotion ‘pathos’ as perturbatio or ‘perturbation’.96 It is a substantive thesis on the part of the Stoics that emotions in the ordinary meaning of the word or most of them are perturbing. If the substantive thesis is misguidedly made part of the meaning it invites the reaction ‘If you are only against perturbing emotions you don't differ from us.’ Conversely if the controversy is only about perturbing emotions it becomes unintelligible how anybody can be in favour of them in moderation or even consider them like the Epicureans compatible with freedom from disturbance (ataraxia).
This type of misunderstanding was in fact exploited.97 Cicero though identifying himself with the Platonic Academy takes the Stoic side and characterizes the Peripatetic belief in moderate emotion as a belief in moderate perturbation (moderatae perturbationes) moderate evils (mediocritas malorum) or moderate vice (modum vitio).98 Seneca does the same. The Peripatetics are said to believe in moderation in disease (mediocritas morbi).99 And in the modern literature the Stoics have been defended as merely opposing disease.100 Seneca further says against the advocates of moderate emotion that anything subjected to moderation (modus) is not anger at all.101 This last may not be mere verbal legislation for Seneca may be offering it as a substantive thesis that the judgements which constitute the second movement in anger will turn into an immoderate third movement.102 But verbal legislation is attempted by a fourteenth-century source Barlaam of Seminaria against the Peripatetic Theophrastus in the name of Stoicism. Theophrastus is wrong it is said to call anything by the Latin name perturbatio (in fact Theophrastus was writing Greek) if it is not contrary to any equable state (constantia the Latin for eupatheia). So when he favours those emotions which are not so contrary he is really agreeing with the Stoic belief in having no emotion.103 It may have been similar misinterpretations which led to confusion in our sources about whether Theophrastus believed in moderate emotion (as he did) or in freedom from emotion.104
The wittiest verbal legislation along these lines is that of Galen who says:
It is no longer so clear whether being moderately disturbed in mind at a great loss of money or esteem belongs to the class of pathē and similarly for being rather out of control in eating cakes.105
What is going on here I think is not a verbal dispute at all (although I do not deny there are some examples of this) but an attempt to disguise a substantive dispute as if it were merely verbal. Something similar happens when it is suggested that the Aristotelians’ acceptance of moderate emotion is an acceptance of the rabidity or cruelty of anger. Such a charge is made against ‘most people’ by Plutarch106 even though in this passage (unlike some others)107 he claims to favour emotion in moderation (metriopatheia).108 Similarly the Epicurean Philodemus in defending his own concept of natural anger represents the Aristotelians as supporting unbridled anger.109