The Emotional Life of the Wise

Southern Journal of Philosophy 43 (S1):176-218 (2005)
Abstract
The ancient Stoics notoriously argued, with thoroughness and force, that all ordinary “emotions” (passions, mental affections: in Greek, pãyh) are thoroughly bad states of mind, not to be indulged in by anyone, under any circumstances: anger, resentment, gloating; pity, sympathy, grief; delight, glee, pleasure; impassioned love (i.e. ¶rvw), agitated desires of any kind, fear; disappointment, regret, all sorts of sorrow; hatred, contempt, schadenfreude. Early on in the history of Stoicism, however, apparently in order to avoid the objection that human nature itself demands and indeed justifies—under certain circumstances at any rate—emotional attachments to or aversions from, and reactions to, some persons, things, and happenings, they introduced a theory of what came to be called eÈpãyeiai, good and acceptable ways of feeling or being affected. For short I will render these in English by “good feelings.”1 They divided these into three generic kinds, which they dubbed “joy” (xarã), “wish” (boÊlhsiw) and “caution” (eÈlãbeia). They ranged these alongside, and set them in sharp contrast to, three of the four highest genera into which they divided the normal human emotions: “pleasure” (≤donÆ), i.e., being pleased about something,2 “appetitive desire” (§piyuµ€a), and “fear” (fÒbow), respectively. The Stoics maintained that, though ordinary, familiar human emotions such as these last-named ones were always bad, the three sorts of “good feeling,” and their more specific variations (since these three are only the basic genera into which lots of other good ways of feeling will fall), were not merely free from the grounds of criticism on which ordinary emotions were rejected, and so were perfectly acceptable. The fully perfected human being (the “wise person”) would indeed regularly be subject to them.3 Their theory of the perfect human life did not, then, they could claim, require any outrageously unnatural demand, presumably unrealizable in any case, for a life completely without all feelings of involvement in the sweep and flow of life..
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