Massimo Pigliucci has a new blog about his experience of following a “stoic” philosophy.
My goal in following Massimo is not to become a Stoic but just to get a better understanding of what it means, and in particular how the attribution to Stoics of faith in the Logos squares with the often expressed idea that they didn’t hold to an objective moral law.
As one who strives to live “according to positive values” but “reject the idea of an objective, universal and unchanging moral law”, I don’t see any contradiction there. But given how often people claim to see one, I will be interested in leaning more about how the classical responses to that perception compare to my own.
In the ongoing struggle between different desires within each of us, it often happens that one which is less immediately pressing can be seen, on reflection, to lead to greater long-term satisfaction. Such a pattern of “higher” values can often be communicated and shared with others but the fact that it may be common to most humans does not make it either “universal” or “unchanging” or “objective”.
For me, behaviour is virtuous if it leaves me undisturbed by pangs of conscience – which generally seem to outlast the immediate pleasure obtained by ignoring them, and which I presume I feel due to an evolved mechanism for promoting eusociality in humans. The fact that I can be influenced by and have influence on others does not imply that there is any particular hierarchy of virtues that is common to all humans, let alone genuinely universal. Indeed, sometimes the best efforts of one community lead to widespread agreement on a hierarchy of virtues that differs from that reached in another, so it does not seem wise to always just defer to the apparent majority.
It is true that for many the adoption of a religion seems to enable a strong sense of virtue which may lead to healthy happiness, but my view of history is that in the long run the faith of a religious community always ends up getting co-opted by defectors in the population who take advantage of the delegation of moral authority either for personal advantage or in the interests of a distorted sense of what is good, and so that it is better to place one’s trust in the workings of individual judgement and conscience rather than faith in some external authority.