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Stoicism and the Demands of Justice

Autor:   •  May 27, 2019  •  Essay  •  2,201 Words (9 Pages)  •  233 Views

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Stoicism and the Demands of Justice

Stoicism is attractive because it gives people a sense of control over their lives. If one is able to adhere strictly to admonitions of a philosopher such as Epictetus, then it is quite plausible that one might be able to find happiness, regardless of any dire or painful situation which one might experience. Epictetus implores us to focus only on that which we can control, which are our thoughts and reactions to events, and to not worry about that which we cannot control, which are the external events which impinge upon us. While many might take comfort in this philosophy, it is ultimately unsatisfying because it cannot meet the demands of justice. I argue that Stoicism works more as a how-to-guide in dealing with particular events, which can be helpful as a palliative measure, but it cannot deal with the human demand for justice.

I carry out this examination of Epictetus’s stoic philosophy by first outlining the more important elements of his thought. There will be those who object to my stance that Stoicism cannot sufficiently satisfy the demands of justice by claiming that happiness is the ultimate aim of life. The so-called demands of justice, which I say require action, do not necessarily lead to happiness. Therefore, the purported need that I find in seeking out justice does not invalidate Stoicism as a philosophy nor does my claim lead to happiness. I will then address this objection. I do not claim Stoicism is invalid in helping suffering at the moment, just that its weakness lies in being unable address larger issues such as justice in a satisfactory way. Lastly, I examine the works of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Primo Levi to show how it is the case that Stoicism might be able to help the individual through the horrible conditions these two writers describe, but it is insufficient to meet the demands of justice that would seemingly be irrational not to pursue.

For the purposes of this paper, I define justice as access to equal political and social opportunities irrespective of individual differences that individuals might have. In order for this type of justice to mean anything, it has to be universally applied, meaning that the standards which we establish must be applied to all people. In the instances where justice is violated, meaning that people are not given fair and equal treatment, then the perpetrators of the injustice must be stopped and, perhaps, punished. Typically, if a person is committing an injustice it acts as an external event on the recipient. For example, if I am at my workplace and my boss harasses me by insulting my looks, by sexual orientation, or the color of my skin, these are not events that I brought upon myself. The cause of the trouble I am experiencing is external. It will be important to remember this when I examine the basic tenets of Epictetus’s philosophy and his advice for living a life of happiness and freedom.


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