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Lecture Eighteenth: The Stoic Conception of the Chief Good

I HAVE already spoken of the way in which the Stoic psychology emphasises the unity of the soul, both in its intellectual and in its moral life, in opposition to the dualistic views of Plato and Aristotle. According to the Stoics the conscious self occupies the place in man's nature which the divine reason holds in the universe. It is represented as a central power which, from one point of view, may be distinguished from the senses, but which, when so distinguished, must be taken as absolutely dominating over them. In fact, the distinction is for the Stoics only a relative one, nor is there any real separation between the principle that dominates and the powers and tendencies that are controlled by it. They belong to the same self, and are described as emanations from the ruling power, or as only that power itself under a special modification. Nor, again, do the Stoics admit any separation between the reason and the will, except as different aspects of the same faculty. The will is, as with Kant, simply the reason in its practical exercise. We may ideally distinguish the reason that seeks to discover the nature of the objective world from the reason that seeks to realise itself in that world; but, as the world can be nothing but the realisation of reason, there is no real separation between the two. The first truth of psychology for the Stoic is, therefore, this: that it is the same soul or self that thinks and wills, perceives and desires; and that, though for some purposes it may be convenient to distinguish these different powers, though indeed the difference of the organs of sense to a certain extent forces this distinction upon us, yet it must never be supposed that they are like different beings which are, so to speak, enclosed in one skin, and which act and react externally upon each other.

Now, in our ordinary descriptions of the inner life, we are too apt to assume or suggest such externality of its elements to each other, and to forget the unity of the soul in the diversity of its manifestations. We are apt to think of the mind as a kind of arena in which intellect and will, sense and passion, and all the other faculties which we personify, play out their game, now conflicting and now co-operating with each other, without interference from any power that lies beyond their divided life. And in the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, as we have seen, there is something that favours this misconception. The opposition of form and matter introduces itself into the conception of the relations of reason and passion, and the intuitive intelligence seems in its pure nature to be regarded as independent of that connexion with the other elements of man's being, into which it is brought in our experience. This division especially troubles the psychology of the will, and its supreme act of choice is described by Aristotle as a combination of the two elements of desire and deliberation, without any clear indication of a principle of unity beyond their difference.1 But the Stoic at once sets aside all such dualistic ways of describing the life of the soul. To him the dominating self is at once reason and will. And though, as we shall see, he lays great stress upon the division and conflict of the moral life, yet he will not for a moment allow that desire and passion are other than forms of the life of the one self, or expressions of its self-determined activity. This point is apt to be misconceived, because we frequently find Stoics speaking of the passions as unnatural or irrational. Such language might seem to involve a similar point of view to that of Plato, when he distinguishes the rational and the irrational elements in our being, or to that of Aristotle when he says that the desires are partly irrational, though so far participating in reason as to be capable of submitting to its law. Now the Stoics allow, as of course everyone must allow, that man does not always act in accordance with the dictates of reason, which yet they regard as constituting his nature. Nay, they conceive that the passions are irrational in an even deeper sense than is admitted by Plato and Aristotle, as being not only indifferent to reason, but directly opposed to it. But they do not conceive of this as due to the existence in men of any separate element which is indifferent or recalcitrant to reason. No Stoic who was faithful to the fundamental ideas of his philosophy could admit that any feeling or desire is irrational in the sense of being independent of reason, or as, even in its utmost perversion, capable of exhibiting the characteristics which would exist in a creature altogether devoid of reason. The passions, irrational as they are in one sense, as perversions of our rational nature, are yet quite rational as being the determinations of a rational self and the manifestations of its characteristic power of judging and choosing. The folly, or, as the Stoics often designated it, the madness of man, in which he rebels against the rational principle of his being, is still in another sense quite rational. It is not the corruption or perversion of his nature by a foreign principle, but the division of that nature against itself. Hence we can never explain away intellectual error or moral guilt by attributing it to the influence of an irrational part of our being upon that which is rational. We must explain it as a failure of man to be faithful to his true self, as a revolt of the rational being, as such, against reason. If man be said to be misled by sense, this only means that he has not properly tested the images through which he apprehends the objects without him; if he be said to be carried away by passion, this only means that he has failed to make clear to himself the conception of the supreme good which is bound up with his rational nature.2

Now I think that from one point of view this doctrine marks a distinct advance upon the psychology of Plato and Aristotle. It is true, as I have already indicated, that it leaves out of account the process of development by which the implicit unity of man's nature becomes explicit; in other words, it forgets that, though reason makes man what he is, he is ever becoming, and has never become completely rational and self-conscious. But it forces us to realise that the germinal reason is in him from the first, that it is the distinctive principle which constitutes his selfhood, and that, if there were not, even in his most undeveloped stage such an expression of the unity of the self, there would be in him no self, and, strictly speaking, no humanity at all. Even in the consciousness of an animal there is such a universal unity, that it would be absurd to treat its different appetites as isolated or standing in merely external relations to each other. The animal at least feels itself in all it feels, and this gives an individual unity to its life through all its changes. Yet as this unity in the animal is not self-conscious, the animal might still be said to live wholly in the present, and to pass from one impression or impulse to another, not relating or connecting them, but identifying itself wholly with each in turn.

But a self-conscious being cannot live thus, just because it is self-conscious, or, in other words, because it refers all its action and passion to one ego. To forget, in considering him, this essential reference, is to leave out the unity which gives its distinctive character to his life, and then to treat the whole as if it were the sum of the parts, or the result of their action and reaction upon each other. On the other hand, if we do take account of this unity at all, we must realise its presence in all forms and changes of the soul's life. Perhaps we may put the truth more exactly by saying that the life that is self-conscious has in it both a new kind of unity and a new kind of division; for in such a life the self is necessarily set against the not-self—at once distinguished from it and essentially related to it—and this division, as well as this unity, is carried out in all its conscious states. But this means that in it sensation becomes perception, and appetite desire. Hence, if in one sense we may be said to start with the feelings and impulses of animals, yet the very dawn of our rational life carries us beyond them, so that we never are simply sensitive or simply appetitive. In other words, our sensations and appetites are never what they are in the animal; they may be better or worse, higher or lower, but they are never the same thing. Our sensations may often be less keen in themselves than those of some animals; but they are subject from the earliest dawn of consciousness to a new interpretation, being referred to objects which are conceived as standing in definite relations to each other in the one world of experience which exists for one self. And they have become capable, because of the new meaning which is thus put into them, on the one hand, of conveying to us general truths which are beyond the reach of animal capacity, and, on the other hand, of deceiving and misleading us in a way and to a degree in which the comparatively simple nature of the animal can never be deceived or misled.

It is difficult, indeed, to describe the intelligible world as it exists for the inchoate self-consciousness without seeming to attribute too much to it; for in describing it we necessarily analyse it as it cannot analyse itself. Still, even allowing for the way in which, in the slow process of evolution, a change of kind hides itself under the appearance of a mere change of degree, we can see that the dawn of self-consciousness brings with it the transformation of a sensitive continuity of life into the apprehension of a diversity of objects, which, as they are related to one self, form one world of experience. And in this we have already all the elements of a rational consciousness, a consciousness which is guided by general principles, however little the subject of it may as yet be capable of reflecting on such principles. Such a being can scarcely be said to have sensations at all, in the sense in which a being not self-conscious could have them. It is not that something has been externally added to the sensitive consciousness, but that development has brought with it a new differentiation and a new integration which have essentially transformed its whole nature.

And the same is true of the appetites of the animal. We have them in us, yet in another sense we have them not. For in us, as I have said, they become better or worse than animal impulses, just because they are referred to definite objects and ends, and because these objects and ends are not isolated from each other, but form elements in the life of one self, and so constitute parts of the good or happiness which it necessarily seeks. The self-conscious being, as I have said in a previous lecture, cannot seek merely to satisfy its desires; it must seek to satisfy itself, that is, it must seek the particular end or object as part of a general good. And, though it is possible that for the moment these two things may seem to be identical, and the soul may throw itself with all the energy of passion into one pursuit, such a concentration must in the long run lead to a recoil. For it is impossible that a rational being should permanently identify the good with one element in it, or that he should live wholly, like the animal, in each impulse as it arises. There may be an approximation to this in a low stage of humanity; but, even then, there is a restlessness and dissatisfaction which indicates that the universal good, the end which a self-conscious being as such must seek, is separating itself from the particular objects in which it has been sought. A self-conscious being, as such, necessarily has the consciousness of itself in relation to a world, and its complete satisfaction cannot be less than to have its world for itself. This limitless self-seeking is the background of all the desires of a self, and it infuses into them all an element which may either exalt or degrade them, but which in any case cannot let them be like the simple and direct impulses which come with a definite physical need and pass away immediately with its satisfaction. The appetites of man, if we may call them so, are capable of being overstrained and perverted in a way that is not possible in the animal life, just because in them he seeks the satisfaction of a self, and tries, as it were, to expand a finite into an infinite good. And, on the other hand, they are capable of being purified and idealised by being made the natural basis of a higher spiritual satisfaction, elements in that comprehensive good which alone can be regarded as adequate to the self.

It was, therefore, a very imperfect psychology which led Hume, as it has led many, to speak of the passions as if they had an independent nature of their own, which reason could not alter. On the contrary, we have to realise that, from the beginning, reason enters into the constitution of the desires, giving even to the simplest of our appetites a character which they could not have except in a rational being, and continuously transforming them by the idea of the good as the realisation and satisfaction of the self. For, as Plato declares, man necessarily seeks the good, “having an anticipative consciousness of its nature,” which gradually becomes clearer and more comprehensive with every step in the widening of his experience and the development of his powers. Hence, whatever may be the explanation of that division in man's life which we ordinarily speak of as the conflict of reason and passion, we must recognise that it is a conflict within our rational nature, between different expressions of reason, and not between reason and something else. In insisting upon this point, therefore, the Stoics hit upon a truth which was obscured or neglected in the Platonic and Aristotelian philosophies. For it is the essential problem of human life that we can thus be divided against ourselves, in spite of the identity of the self of which we are conscious. The division and conflict of the soul, indeed, would not be so deep and deadly, if it could be explained by the opposition of matter to form, of sensuous passion to an ideal principle, and if it were not that the ideal principle in us is turned against itself. That the passions of men mislead them is the superficial aspect of the fact, but the deeper aspect of it is that we mislead ourselves; for the passion that misleads us is a manifestation of the same ego, the same self-conscious reason which is misled by it: and thus, as Burns puts it, it is the very “light from heaven” that leads us astray.

The great question, therefore, is how such self-contradiction is possible, or, in other words, how a being whose nature is reason, can act irrationally. This question is one to which the Stoics directed much attention; and their answer to it is well worth consideration, though it is made incomplete and unsatisfactory by the fact that, like Socrates, they are unable to think of reason except as conscious and reflective, so that for them unconscious reason is no reason at all. Hence they always treat conduct as the result of definite acts of judgment and reasoning. Their view may be summarised thus. We always seek the good, but frequently we mistake something else for it, and, when this happens, we commonly say that our passions mislead us. But such passions are really the result of false judgments, in which we subsume under the idea of good actions or objects that are not good. And this again implies one of two things; either we make a mistake as to the idea of good itself, or we make a mistake as to the nature of the things which we subsume under it. In other words, either we do not clearly realise what we mean when we call a thing good, or we do not clearly perceive what the particular thing in question is, and, therefore, we suppose it to have a character which it has not.

But both kinds of knowledge are, in the opinion of the Stoics, within our reach. The idea of good is within our reach, for it is bound up with our rational nature; and if we do not attain to a definite understanding of it, it is because we do not undergo the labour of reflexion which is necessary to make it clear and distinct. And the knowledge of particular things, at least so far as is necessary to determine their value, is also within our reach, if we rightly use and carefully interpret the images which we receive from sense. To use an Aristotelian mode of expression, the rightness of our conduct depends upon the way in which we develop the practical syllogism, whose major premise is the definition of the good, and whose minor premise brings under that definition the distinct image of the object we have to choose or reject. And both premises may be made definite and certain by anyone who rightly uses the faculties he has and the opportunities which experience brings him. We have, therefore, to examine the way in which the Stoics carry out this view in both cases, as regards the idea of good and as regards the objects brought under it.

The idea of good, according to the Stoics, is derived from within, from certain presuppositions or presumptions which are bound up with our rational nature, and which experience only calls into activity. They are called by the Stoics ἔμϕντοι προλήΨεις, ἔννοιαι ϕυσικαi τοῦ καθόλου, and they are entirely confined—this at least seems to be the general view of the Stoics—to the sphere of morals and religion. There is some controversy, indeed, as to the force of these expressions; and some accounts would suggest that these so-called ‘innate ideas’ are regarded as the results of the natural and inevitable action of the mind upon the data supplied by sense, while other accounts make them to be pure a priori principles directly involved in the nature of reason and independent of experience. It is this last view which seems to be supported by the most authentic expressions of Stoic doctrine.3 At the same time we are not to think of them as innate ideas in the sense which Locke attached to the name, that is, as fully developed conceptions which the mind has before it from the first, and which from the first it is clearly conscious of possessing. On the contrary, the Stoics frequently speak of the mind as only gradually coming to the knowledge of its own contents, and they even try to define the exact age at which it attains to a realisation of its innate ideas. They are innate, therefore, only in the sense that they are bound up with self-consciousness, so that no man can have reason developed in him without the apprehension of them. All men who are sane and who have come to maturity in the development of their faculties, have an idea of good and evil: an idea of good as that which is useful to the self and helps it to self-realisation, and of evil as that which prevents or obstructs such self-realisation. And the ultimate spring of all our activity is just the effort to attain the former and avoid the latter. In fact, every creature, as we have already seen, has in it the conatus in suo esse perseverandi, the effort to maintain and realise itself, as the fundamental impulse of its being. And man only differs from the rest in so far as he is self-conscious, and therefore conscious of the good he seeks as distinct from the particular objects in which he seeks it. And this he shows even in his use of such words as good and evil, right and wrong, in his judgments as to particular objects and acts.

At the same time, the mere use of such terms, as Socrates showed, is far from implying a clear consciousness of what they mean, and is therefore consistent with the most erroneous use of them in our practical judgments. Hence the Stoic insists, almost as earnestly as Socrates or Plato, on the shallowness of mere opinion, and on the necessity of defining our general terms, and so rising to a clear consciousness of ourselves. Thus Epictetus speaks of a rhetorician, who attacked Plato because he sought to define such terms as goodness and justice, the meaning of which everybody knows.4 Epictetus answers that Plato cannot be supposed to deny that we have by nature ideas or preconceptions of such virtues, but only that it is impossible to make an accurate use of them till we have analysed and defined them. How, for instance, can we know whether anything, say, pleasure or wealth, is really a good, if we have not realised exactly what we mean by good? We know generally that the good is that which alone is useful to us, and we go on at once to apply the term to any object that produces a pleasing impression. But the one thing necessary, before any such vaguely apprehended idea can help us, is a reflective analysis which shall sift out all other ideas that have got confused with the idea of good, and shall clearly distinguish all the elements contained in it. In like manner Cicero,5 speaking for the Stoics, frequently insists upon the idea that it is the business of philosophy to disentangle and explicate the obscure and complex notions of virtue that nature has given us. It is only such a process which can enable us to rise above popular opinion, and can deliver us from the vague associations of the common consciousness, which attaches the predicate ‘good’ to many things that are evil or indifferent, just because it has never asked itself what it means by that predicate.

If, however, we ask how the Stoics carried out this process of analysing our innate notions of good, we find that the result is rather negative than positive. In other words, the process of analysis is for them mainly a process of elimination, in which the universal good of reason is emptied of all particular content. As rational beings, they tell us, we transcend in consciousness our own particular existence, as well as the particular existence of all the objects we know. We are, in Plato's language, “spectators of all time and existence,” and therefore not limited in our knowledge to any particular object or class of objects. And, in like manner, in our practical life we are not confined to any special end; for the good is the realisation of the self and not of any special tendency or desire. The good has thus to be distinguished from all particular objects of desire. So far we may admit the force of the Stoic reasoning. But if this be all that we can say, shall we not end by opposing the general idea of good to every particular form which that good can take? To this the Stoic's answer is, that there is a motive or end derived from our nature as rational beings: for it is the characteristic of reason to look at all things from a general point of view, from the point of view of the whole; and this originates in us a love of law or order for its own sake. Further, as this motive springs from our inmost self, so it may become supreme over all other motives and even take the place of them all. Nay, they contend, it must do so, in every one who is fully conscious of himself.

This conception is well illustrated by the Stoic account of the development of man's moral consciousness, which is reproduced by Cicero in the treatise De Finibus.6 According to the view there stated, the primitive consciousness of man is a consciousness of himself, and his primitive motive is to realise himself. But what self? Cicero's Stoic answers that man begins with the consciousness of his particular self, and his desire is therefore for objects that are useful towards its preservation and well-being. These objects are therefore called the first aims of nature (τὰ πρῶτα κατὰ ϕύσιν, prima naturae). They are objects such as health, wealth, honour, and the like, which are primarily sought for themselves, and not for the pleasure which is the result of their attainment. For we do not seek them because they give us pleasure, but they give us pleasure because we seek them; and it is a great error of the Epicureans to suppose that pleasure is the primary object of desire. Still at this stage we seek only such particular ends, vaguely recognising them as good. But reason as it awakes within us, carries us beyond the particular to the universal, and makes us think of life as a whole. We become conscious that as rational beings we carry within us a principle of order and unity, or, as it may otherwise be expressed, a principle of ὁμολογία or self-consistency, and that it is just this principle which makes us selves. As, therefore, we become conscious of what we are, we recognise that we can realise ourselves only as we maintain order and self-consistency in our lives. The conatus in suo esse perseverandi, which at first took the form of desires for particular objects or for the furtherance of the individual life, now takes the form of an exclusive impulse to realise the law of reason, and all the special ends of desire are regarded as indifferent. Only he who thus acts with a single eye to the general end can be regarded as performing a moral action in the highest sense of the word, or, as the Stoics call it, a κατόρθωμα. In Kantian phrase, duty must be done for duty's sake alone, and not for the sake of the particular ends to be attained by it; and if any other consideration enters into our action, it drags it down to a lower, and so to speak, a non-moral level, even if it does not make it positively immoral.

Now there may be elements in the view set before us by Cicero which did not belong to the original form of Stoicism. But the conception of morality as resting upon the idea of ὁμολογία, or self-consistency, seems to be derived from the founder of the school, Stobaeus7 tells us that Zeno declared the end to be simply to live consistently (τὸ ὁμολογουμένως ζῆν), i.e. to live according to a law of reason which agrees with itself in all its applications (καθ' ἕνα λόγον καὶ σύμφωνον). But the Stoics who followed him introduced a further qualification of this idea, and declared the end to be living in consistency with nature. Cleanthes, who succeeded Zeno as head of the school, was the first who made this addition; and we are told that he specially referred to the nature of the universe as that with which the virtuous man must be in harmony; while Chrysippus, who was his successor, though not rejecting the conception of Cleanthes, yet dwelt more upon the harmony of man with his own nature.

Now, if we take the account of Stobaeus as authentic, the first statement of the Stoic principle of morals coincides in a remarkable way with the ideas of Kant. Zeno said: “Act consistently on one principle”: Kant said, “Act so that you can will that the maxim of your action should become a universal law.” Both views go upon the idea that the reason which makes us men is an impartial faculty, a faculty in us that abstracts from our own individual case, and, indeed, from every individual case; and both views imply that we cannot act consistently on one law or principle and yet act wrongly. Immoral action is simply a case of using double weights and measures, and it is impossible to do evil consistently. Just as error and untruth are always partial, and a lie must break down somewhere by its own self-contradiction, if worked out logically to all its consequences; so an evil act is always an act which implies the very principle which it denies, and we cannot turn it into a universal law without bringing it into conflict with itself.

And this shows how easy was the transition by which the idea of self-consistency was translated by Zeno's followers into the idea of consistency with nature. Kant also translated his principle into the form: “Act as if by your action the maxim of it were to be turned into a law of nature.” It is easily shown, and has often been shown by critics of Kant, that nothing can be made of the idea of formal self-consistency. Any idea, if we keep it in its abstraction, may seem to be consistent with itself: it is only when we work it out in the concrete, and bring it into relation with other elements of experience, that it can be shown to be inconsistent. Or, to put it more exactly, an idea can be shown to be inconsistent only so far as it is shown to imply other ideas and yet to be at variance with them. To universalise the maxim of an act, therefore, must mean, if it means anything, to conceive it as an element in the system of things, which can be realised consistently with the realisation of all the other elements that make up that system. Thus the idea of self-consistency, the moment we try to give it a definite meaning, turns into the idea of consistency with the whole system of the universe: and this in the Stoic idea is the same thing as consistency with our own nature; for the nature of man corresponds to the nature of the universe as the microcosm to the macrocosm. Indeed, we have to remember that the demand for consistency comes ex hypothesi from our own nature which, as rational, is compelled to think and act on universal principles. “The end,” says Diogenes Laertius, speaking of the Stoic doctrine, “is to act in conformity with nature, that is, at once with the nature which is in us, and with the nature of the universe, doing nothing which is forbidden by that common law which is the right reason that pervades all things, and which is, indeed, one with the Divine Being who administers the universal system of things. Thus the life according to nature is that virtuous and blessed flow of existence, which is enjoyed only by one who always acts so as to maintain the harmony between the God within and the will of the power that orders the universe.”8

There is, however, in all this a certain ambiguity, which we meet with also in the philosophy of Kant, and which neither the Stoics nor Kant ever cleared up. All the different formulae in which the moral idea is expressed—self-consistency, consistency with nature, consistency with the nature of man—are abstract phrases. If they carry us away from the particular to the universal, from the part to the whole, from the ideas of special objects and ends to the general principle which realises itself in the whole system of things within and without us, yet they do not tell us anything definite about that principle except that it is not realised in any particular object or end. It is realised, according to the Stoics, in the system of the whole, and it is realised in the individual man, so far as he can repeat that system in himself: and they are ready to maintain that that system is organic, that all nature is but the environment of a world-community of spirits, and that we are all members one of another in so far as we are organs of it. But when we ask what is behind these brave words, their meaning seems to melt away from us, and that, whether we look to the universe or to the individual soul. As regards the latter, acting by reason seems to be opposed to acting by any particular passion, by any passion that points to a special end or attaches us to an individual person; but if, in order that reason may rule, all such impulses have to be driven out, reason will rule in an empty house. Hence it is not easy to answer the charge brought against the Stoics that, after all, they were merely ascetics; in other words, that their morality not only begins with the mortification of the passions, but ends there. They may not, and do not, intend this result; for they are possessed with the idea of a systematic ordering of the whole nature of man, which is to be attained by this negation of the passions; but in excluding under that name all particular desires and affections as such, they have deprived themselves of all the elements out of which such a system of life might be constructed, and put the bare idea of system in place of its actuality. It might, indeed, be answered that they only break the links that bind man to particular beings and things without him in order to bind him closer to the whole of which he and they are parts; that they withdraw him from the special affections of kindred and race, only in order to unite him as man to all mankind. But this, again, raises the question as to the possibility of realising such a union, a union of men that takes no account of time or circumstance, or of individual or national character. What is meant by a ϕιλανθρωπία that is not fertile in special affections to individual human beings, affections which adapt themselves to their special character and the special relations into which they are brought? And what is meant by an organic unity of mankind in a πολιτεία τοῦ κόσμου, if the reason that is to bind them together be taken merely as a common element in the nature of each, which connects them in spite of their differences in other respects? A real community cannot be constituted except between those whose common nature shows itself just in their differences, and makes these very differences the means of binding them together, by fitting each for a special office in the common life. But the logic of the Stoics will not carry them to this farther step. Hence the idea of the organic unity of mankind remains abstract, or turns into a mere ideal which never can be realised. For, as a mere ideal, it remains something purely subjective, something which exists only in the soul of the individual, and cannot be found or produced in the world without. As subjective, however, it loses all its content, or finds its content merely in the negation of the particular passions. Thus the wise man of the Stoics becomes a mere bundle of negations; for when we have said that he is free from all particular influences, whether from within or from without, we have left nothing but the formal self-consistency of a will of which nothing can be said, except that it is ever at one with itself.

If, again, we look to the Stoic theory of the nature of the universe we arrive at a similar result. The Stoic is prepared to say that all things are the manifestation of reason, and that even by their defects, as particular things, they must contribute to the realisation of reason; but he is not able to take a single step towards the recognition of any particular thing as so contributing. Still less is he prepared to show how any special interest of human life may become an embodiment of the good, or how any endeavour of man will help to realise it.

Now it may be admitted that it is just here that we find the crucial difficulty of any idealistic view of the world such as the Stoics profess—a difficulty which Mr. Bradley puts vividly and epigrammatically when he says that “The world is the best of all possible worlds, and everything in it is a necessary evil.” In other words, it is hard to combine a consciousness of the evil or imperfection of each part of the world with a perception of its value as an element in a perfect whole. Yet it is obvious that just this is the task which must be undertaken by any philosophical system that bases itself, as Stoicism based itself, upon the idea that the world is a rational or intelligible system. Otherwise, the doctrine that ‘the real is the rational’ will remain a bare presupposition, an assertion in regard to the whole which is not in any way proved in relation to the parts. Now this seems just the position reached by the Stoics; nor would it be unfair to say that Mr. Bradley's epigram, taken literally, represents their view of the universe. For if Stoicism be an optimism in one aspect of it, it is a pessimism in another. It is pessimistic and hopeless, when it looks at the particular things in the world, at the particular phases of its history, at the particular interests of human life: but when it turns to the universe and its law, it is optimistic even to the extent of an absolute disbelief in the reality of evil. And it leaves these two aspects of things in unrelieved antagonism, sometimes even putting them side by side in startling paradox. This is true of all the Stoics; but it is specially characteristic of the noble, but sad-hearted Marcus Aurelius, who is constantly declaring to us his faith in the perfection of a universe, in which nevertheless he can hardly find anything but disappointment. He has no doubt of the existence of the world-community of spirits, yet he is continually exhorting himself to expect nothing but misunderstanding and malevolence in those with whom he has to do. He presents to us the pathetic figure of a great Roman Emperor, struggling to maintain the order of the imperial system against the disintegrating forces that are attacking it from without and from within, and supporting himself by a conviction of the eternal reality of an ideal which everything outward seems to contradict, and which he can find nowhere realised except in his own soul. The Stoic could not get beyond this noble hopelessness: he could not see how by losing his life he might save it, or how the idea of the rationality of the world-system could blossom into a personal hope for himself or for any of his fellows, in whom reason for the time had found its embodiment. He was essentially a soldier left to hold a fort surrounded by overpowering hosts of the enemy. He could not conquer or drive them away, but he could hold out to the last and die at his post.

  • 1. Vol. I, p. 316 seq.
  • 2. See Bonhöffer, p. 93.
  • 3. Bonhöffer, p 188 seq.
  • 4. Epict. Dissert., II, 17.
  • 5. Cic. De Officiis, III, 81: cf. Bonhöffer, p. 208 seq.
  • 6. De Finibus, III, 5 seq.
  • 7. Ecl., II, 134.
  • 8. Diog. Laert, VII., 1, 53.