I just finished the very early draft of a sample chapter of a book I’ll be working on after the summer, tentatively entitled “How to Be a Stoic” (yup, just like this blog…). The chapter is a general introduction to what I call “the most important question of them all,” that is, the source of meaning in life.
It presents three frameworks for answering that question, which I claim has been at the center of all religions, much philosophy, and even some science. The first framework is nihilism (i.e., there is no meaning, period); the second one is the idea that meaning comes from the outside, in the form of a transcendental god or gods; the third option is a non-arbitrary construction of meaning from within, taking into consideration the nature of the human animal.
That third section of the chapter, then, describes five different versions of eudaemonism, the sort of philosophy to which of course Stoicism belongs as well. Below I reproduce a summary table that currently concludes the chapter, as a handy guide to the five major eudaemonic schools and how they differed from each other.
[the figure at the top left represents the three Kharites, from left to right: Eudaimonia (Happiness), Harmonia (Harmony) and Paidia (Play). Together, they were the retinue of the goddess Aphrodite. The painting dates from ca 450-400 BCE, and it’s found at the Museo Archeologico Etrusco, Florence, Italy]
|School of Thought||Concept of Eudaimonia|
|Socratic||Virtue is both necessary and sufficient for a eudaimonic life. Lack of virtue makes the person literally sick in his soul.|
|Platonic (“Academic”)||Virtue is necessary though not sufficient for the eudaimonic life: one also needs to fulfill a number of other human desires (“appetites” of the soul), but happiness cannot be achieved without reason and virtue, because the soul would be unbalanced without it.|
|Aristotelian (“Peripatetic”)||Virtue is necessary though not sufficient for the eudaimonic life: only people who are lucky enough to be educated, somewhat wealthy, healthy, and even reasonably good looking can pursue eudaimonia. The essence of being human is the ability to reason, and the eudaimonic life is the pursuit of excellence in reason (which leads to virtue).|
|Epicurean||Virtue is not an intrinsic component of eudaimonia, but only instrumental to achieving it. The goal of life is to maximize pleasure (in the long run) and minimize pain (also in the long run). The pursuit of virtue brings pleasure and reduces pain, so it is one of the tools to become eudaimon.|
|Stoic||Virtue is both necessary and sufficient for a eudaimonic life. Its practice leads to a good flow in life (Zeno), and to tranquillity of mind (Epictetus). External goods are “indifferent” (to moral character), but can be “preferred” (health, wealth, education) or “dispreferred” (sickness, poverty, ignorance).|