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Resource A Stoic Defense Against Pro-Life Rhetoric (and Other Stoic Quotes on Death and Suicide!)

GoodPersonEffed

GoodPersonEffed

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I thought this would be a good place to gather Stoic quotes about suicide and/or death, and I hope others will contribute!

Stoic philosophy is often discussed on the forum because the Stoics considered suicide to be a rational choice in many situations, after having been taken into calm consideration along with other things such as personal responsibilities, and, when possible, to be acted on calmly as well.

Stoics also strove to overcome the fear of death and treat it rather as a friend, teacher, and even rescuer. Death was so important to the Stoics that the philosophy deemed a person's life could not be judged until s/he had experienced death, as a death met with virtues such as courage was counted with great weight against the total sum of a life that may have been lived with somewhat questionable character. (One philosopher, when asked to compare three influential men to one another, replied, Ask me after their deaths.)

I thought I'd start off with a quote by Seneca that directly speaks to pro-life rhetoric. Interestingly, some historians have claimed that in Roman times there was a cult of suicide, while others have argued that it was nothing so drastic, and in fact the Stoic literature that has survived reflects that it was a decision made with great cautious consideration and not revered. It comes as no surprise to me that in those times, as today, there would have also been arguments in support of maintaining life, but I didn't know they existed until I read the following quote.

Stoics valued above all wisdom, virtue, and "nature" (a now outdated spiritual understanding of the natural order, fate, and the unproven but potential divine). From this quote by Seneca, it seems he's shooting down those who claimed a Stoic pro-life stance.



You can find men who have gone so far as to profess wisdom and yet maintain that one should not offer violence to one’s own life, and hold it accursed for a man to be the means of his own destruction; we should wait, say they, for the end decreed by nature. But one who says this does not see that he is shutting off the path to freedom. The best thing which eternal law ever ordained was that it allowed to us one entrance into life, but many exits. Must I await the cruelty either of disease or of man, when I can depart through the midst of torture, and shake off my troubles? This is the one reason why we cannot complain of life; it keeps no one against his will.

From Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca, Letter 70



Please add your Stoic quotes!



NB: The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said that one goes to philosophy like one goes to the hospital when they are ill. I think religion and philosophy overlap and serve the same purposes, both seeking a higher wisdom, much as the Stoics had the unattainable but ideal Wise Man as both guide and comfort. For those of us here who don't have religion (and even for some who do), many schools of philosophy are salves for our wounds and guidance for how to consider our problems. I'd love to see other folks, if they're interested, start threads with other philosophical commentaries on death and suicide, such as, say, Nihilism or Nietzsche. In fact, independent philosopher Albert Camus thought considerarion of suicide was crucial in philosophical inquiry:

There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy.
 
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FreddieQuell

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Not really a suicide quote but worth sharing nonetheless:

"Instead of averting your eyes from the painful events of life, look at them squarely and contemplate them often. By facing the realities of death, infirmities, loss and disappointment, you free yourself from illusions and false hopes"

Epictetus
 
GoodPersonEffed

GoodPersonEffed

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Not really a suicide quote but worth sharing nonetheless:

"Instead of averting your eyes from the painful events of life, look at them squarely and contemplate them often. By facing the realities of death, infirmities, loss and disappointment, you free yourself from illusions and false hopes"

Epictetus
As long as it has some relevance to death and is Stoic (including those influenced by Stoicism such as Montaigne, Melville, Johnson, etc.), it's fitting for the thread.

Thank you for sharing!
 
D

Darksektori

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"Crap.
It's all crap.
Living is crap.
Life has no meaning.
None. Nowhere to be found.
Crap.
Why doesn't anybody realize this?" -K-Ske Hasegawa

"Nothing in my life has ever made me want to commit suicide more than people's reaction to my trying to commit suicide."
-Emily Autumn

"Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy"
-Kay Redfield Jamison
 
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GoodPersonEffed

GoodPersonEffed

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@Darksektori

This thread is a resource for death/suicide quotes from Stoic philosophy. Do you have any that you could replace the quotes with? A quick Google search will reveal tons if you don't. :)
 
a.n.kirillov

a.n.kirillov

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"Death is nothing to us. When we exist, death is not; and when death exists, we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fear of death arises from the belief that in death, there is awareness."

—Epicurus ftw :tongue:
 
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GoodPersonEffed

GoodPersonEffed

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This is not a quote but a Stoic resource I highly value...

The Stoics likened life to a party, and determined there were five reasons to rationally exit the party (suicide):

1. In service of one's country, i.e., an old friend shows up to the party and requires your services.

2. The arrival of rowdy revelers, i.e., tyrants who force us against our will to say or do disgraceful things at the party.

3. Protracted illness that prevents the soul from the use of its tool, the body, i.e., spoilage of provisions for the party.

4. Poverty, i.e., scarceness of party provisions.

5. Madness, i.e., drunkenness at the party. In Buddhist terms, intoxicants lower one's inhibitions against doing no harm to others and, by default, to the self. In Stoic terms, this equates to lowering the inhibitions put in place by practicing virtue. According to Epictetus, the purpose of practicing virtue is for life to flow more smoothly, and as social animals, virtues directly impact our interactions with others. This agrees with the purpose of the Five Precepts of Buddhism, considered gifts to others for the good of social order (no killing, no stealing, no lying, no sexual misconduct, no intoxicants).



Source: Griffin, Miriam. “Philosophy, Cato, and Roman Suicide I," Greece and Rome, vol. 33, no. 1, 1986, pp. 64-77. Original source cited by Griffin, Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, a 1903-1905 collection by Hans von Arnim of fragments and testimony of the earlier Stoics. The Buddhist/Stoic commentary under madness is mine.

The source article and article II by Griffin are available for free online viewing at JSTOR.
 
a.n.kirillov

a.n.kirillov

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2. check
3. check
4. check
5. check

Damn GPF are you encouraging me?!
 
TimeToBiteTheDust

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For me if you've been thinking of suicide for a long time (let's say months or in some cases years) it's rational and you should be at peace with the decision. I know my life won't improve so there is no need on going on I am just doing time.
 
GoodPersonEffed

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The most voluntary death is the finest. Our life depends on the will of others; our death depends on our own. In nothing should we defer to our own feelings as much as in this. What others think has nothing to do with this business; it is madness to even consider it. Living is slavery if the freedom to die is lacking.

Montaigne, A Custom of the Isle of Cea (1580)



Here are the words of the law on this subject: If chance delivers some great misfortune that you cannot remedy, a haven is always nearby. You can swim away from your body as you would from a leaking boat. Only fools are attached to their bodies by a fear of death rather than a love of life.

Montaigne, An Apology for Raymond Sebond (1580)
 
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AcornUnderground

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An basic article on the subject:

An excerpt:

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus provides a more direct answer. Suicide is ethically acceptable, but only under extreme circumstances. He uses a famous analogy, with a house on fire, full of smoke: “Don’t believe your situation is genuinely bad – no one can make you do that. Is there smoke in the house? If it’s not suffocating, I will stay indoors; if it proves too much, I’ll leave. Always remember – the door is open.”[4] The choice is up to you: if you truly think the situation is unbearable, the door is open. But if you stay, you accept the responsibility of doing whatever it takes to live a life worth living.


Another article. I like the overarching theme in this one. Basically, if you don’t like the party (life), leave. If you stay, don’t complain.


An except:
Remember that the door is open. Don’t be more cowardly than children, but just as they say, when the game is no longer fun for them, ‘I won’t play any more,’ you too, when things seem that way to you, say, ‘I won’t play any more,’ and leave, but if you remain, don’t complain.” (Discourses I.24.20)
 
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LastRide

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This agrees with the purpose of the Five Precepts of Buddhism, considered gifts to others for the good of social order (no killing, no stealing, no lying, no sexual misconduct, no intoxicants).
Ok about the first three but without the occasional sexual misconduct and the use of intoxicants I think I would have wanted to leave the party a lot earlier already...sounds like being at a monks’ gathering rather than an actual party....:hihi:
 
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Jean Améry

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There are literally hundreds of passages like that in the works of Seneca alone. Seneca has been nicknamed 'the philosopher of suicide' for a reason since he mentions and discusses it often (even when there was no apparant reason or occasion to) and was seemingly obsessed by it.

While I applaud any philosophical discussion of suicide and it's absolutely necessary to look into stoicism's stance (as well as other Greek and Roman schools) I would caution against a fragmentary understanding of his thoughts and arguments which is the danger of random quotations. Off the top of my hat:

1) Seneca and the stoics in general certainly did not approve of suicide under all circumstances: in his works he names several situations in which he soundly condemns it. From memory: being love sick, to avoid court proceedings, to avoid have to deal with a grumpy boss. Generally speaking the stoics only approved of truly rational suicide: the taking of one's life after duly investigating the matter and thinking it through. Much more can and needs to be said about this of course but that's the gist of it.

2) Seneca also remarked that sometimes staying alive is an act of supreme courage. He himself relates that in his youth he seriously considered offing himself (due to respitory difficulties if I remember correctly) yet he opted not to because he was afraid it would adversly affect his father whom he loved dearly.

3) Seneca did take his own life but he essentially had no choice in the matter as he was ordered to by the mad emperor Nero as a consequence of his implication in what became known as the 'Pisonian conspiracy': a plot against Nero in which he most likely took no part in at all. It was essentially a death sentence he had to carry out himself.

During the imperial era it was customary to allow noblemen who were suspected of committing a grave crime (usually conspiracy against the emperor) to commit suicide rather than suffering the humiliation of being killed by someone-else. It also had the legal consequence of avoiding forfeiture of one's estate.
 
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Lethe

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Very insightful thread. I've been wanting a "philosophy of suicide" thread for some time, so I appreciate you lot sharing your knowledge. Unfortunately I'm not educated in this area so I have nothing to add, just posting to subscribe.
 
A

AcornUnderground

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There are literally hundreds of passages like that in the works of Seneca alone. Seneca has been nicknamed 'the philosopher of suicide' for a reason since he mentions and discusses it often (even when there was no apparant reason or occasion to) and was seemingly obsessed by it.

While I applaud any philosophical discussion of suicide and it's absolutely necessary to look into stoicism's stance (as well as other Greek and Roman schools) I would caution against a fragmentary understanding of his thoughts and arguments which is the danger of random quotations. Off the top of my hat:

1) Seneca and the stoics in general certainly did not approve of suicide under all circumstances: in his works he names several situations in which he soundly condemns it. From memory: being love sick, to avoid court proceedings, to avoid have to deal with a grumpy boss. Generally speaking the stoics only approved of truly rational suicide: the taking of one's life after duly investigating the matter and thinking it through. Much more can and needs to be said about this of course but that's the gist of it.

2) Seneca also remarked that sometimes staying alive is an act of supreme courage. He himself relates that in his youth he seriously considered offing himself (due to respitory difficulties if I remember correctly) yet he opted not to because he was afraid it would adversly affect his father whom he loved dearly.

3) Seneca did take his own life but he essentially had no choice in the matter as he was ordered to by the mad emperor Nero as a consequence of his implication in what became known as the 'Pisonian conspiracy': a plot against Nero in which he most likely took no part in at all. It was essentially a death sentence he had to carry out himself.

During the imperial era it was customary to allow noblemen who were suspected of committing a grave crime (usually conspiracy against the emperor) to commit suicide rather than suffering the humiliation of being killed by someone-else. It also had the legal consequence of avoiding forfeiture of one's estate.
This article talks a lot about Seneca encouraging trying to live and learning from challenges:

 
Soul

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to avoid have to deal with a grumpy boss
I admire that no-no in particular. It's quite cheerful to ponder the mess I would've had to make in order to consider suicide to avoid my boss, but I guess it was a thing if Seneca felt compelled to include a prohibitory clause. x

Oh and to abide by the thread rulez:
"Choose to die well while you can; wait too long, and it might become impossible to do so."
— Musonius Rufus, who would've fit in here on SanSui
 
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J

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This article talks a lot about Seneca encouraging trying to live and learning from challenges:
Seneca's position on this subject was indeed quite nuanced and he certainly didn't advise suicide at the first sign of trouble. While it's certainly true he fully accepted and advocated for the position of suicide as the supreme freedom (the subject of quote in the original post) he also cautioned against rushing into death for the wrong reasons.

As with any philosopher one should read all of his works carefully in order to avoid wrong or unreasonable, one-sided interpretations. In stoicism (of which Seneca was one of the chief proponents) everything depends on the precise nature of the circumstances: suicide can be the greatest heroism (e.g. Cato Uticensis dying because he did not want to survive the death of the republic) or a vile and unnatural thing.

In of his moral letters Seneca writes that the stupidest thing one can do is to flee into death for fear of death and he condemns lack of fortitude in the face of fortune. In others he counsels to die voluntarily when one's health, dignity or reason are corrupted.

In classical Antiquity the tone and mood of the debate surrounding suicide is completely different from our time: the Romans especially held that dying at the right time, for the right reasons and in the proper manner is the height of a noble life and they revered men and women who died thus.

Even early christianity didn't condemn suicide as a sin, only with the sophistry of Augustine was it made into one.

I have great admiration for Seneca and highly recommend both his moral lettres and the dialogues.
 
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GoodPersonEffed

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I am loving this conversation! @AcornUnderground, @Jean Améry, and @Soul, I've particularly enjoyed your contributions. I love that there is a broader understanding of the philosophy and philosophers being taken into consideration.
 
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Jean Améry

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I admire that no-no in particular. It's quite cheerful to ponder the mess I would've had to make in order to consider suicide to avoid my boss, but I guess it was a thing if Seneca felt compelled to include a prohibitory clause. x
He may have exaggerated a little but it's certainly conceivable people killed and kill themselves for exactly that reason. The main idea is to stand above the trivialities that often disturb one's peace of mind and face the vivisectudes of life with a stout heart.

Stoicism is like an armor worn to shield the mind against the passions and stand up to the evil and hardship life has to offer as a soldier taking his place in the battle line.

Obviously certain things make it impossible to live an honourable life: in those instances wisdom dictates death as the way out.

In the words of Nietzsche: "One should die honourably when it's no longer possible to live honourably". He was a classisist so it's clear where the inspiration for that maxim came from. I've never understood why he never took his own advice and allowed himself to end up like that. Surely he must have known his body and mind were deteriorating?
 
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GoodPersonEffed

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Seneca's position on this subject was indeed quite nuanced and he certainly didn't advise suicide at the first sign of trouble. While it's certainly true he fully accepted and advocated for the position of suicide as the supreme freedom (the subject of quote in the original post) he also cautioned against rushing into death for the wrong reasons.
I've shared one such quote elsewhere on the forum, with the intention at the time of cautioning against impulse.

We need to be warned and strengthened in both directions – not to love or to hate life overmuch. Even when reason advises us to make an end of it, the impulse is not to be adopted without reflection or at headlong speed. The brave and wise man should not flee from life but withdraw from it.

- Seneca


Stoicism is like an armor worn to shield the mind against the passions and stand up to the evil and hardship life has to offer as a soldier taking his place in the battle line.

Obviously certain things make it impossible to live an honourable life: in those instances wisdom dictates death as the way out.
Love this. This is why Stocism has served me, the armor, the honor, and the wisdom.

As Epictetus said, the point of virtue is for life to go more smoothly. Life is hard. The armor of Stoic philosophy has provided a good shield and guide for me, and life's hits don't enter quite so deeply nor cause as much imbalance as they otherwise would.
 
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Jean Améry

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Unfortunately I'm not educated in this area so I have nothing to add, just posting to subscribe.
Formal education in this subject is absolutely unnecessary. The writings of the Roman stoics are freely available and what they write about is very practical and down to earth, unlike much of the later academic philosophy. It's a grave misconception that philosophy is only for those trained in philosophy: the wisdom of the ages is for everyone and all that is needed is a desire to learn and willingness to think.

I think it would go a long way towards acceptance of suicide as a legitimate moral, personal choice if those who die that way would in writing state their reasons clearly and coherently, especially if they could point to traditional wisdom such as Seneca to strengthen their case.

The suicide prohibition that is the hallmark of our society is complete and utter nonsens: why would you willingly suffer gravely when it serves no end and it simply won't go away and there's nothing to be done about it? Why would anyone want to live in abject, utterly humiliating circumstances?

In my opinion christianity poisoned and mutilated the culture of the ancient world of Greece and Rome. It's clear the current absolute condamnation of suicide is deeply rooted in christian dogma and religious insanity.
 
GoodPersonEffed

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The suicide prohibition that is the hallmark of our society is complete and utter nonsens: why would you willingly suffer gravely when it serves no end and it simply won't go away and there's nothing to be done about it? Why would anyone want to live in abject, utterly humiliating circumstances?

In my opinion christianity poisoned and mutilated the culture of the ancient world of Greece and Rome. It's clear the current absolute condamnation of suicide is deeply rooted in christian dogma and religious insanity.
What is interesting to me, and please forgive that I don't recall the source where I read this, but it's my understanding that Stoicism not only predated Christianity, but that it was very influential in the time of Christ and the apostles, and that Paul, the post-crucifixion, highly influential Roman apostle, practiced Stoic ethics and wisdom. If I recall correctly, scholars pointed out Stoic foundations in his epistles that were much stronger than Jewish doctrine, as he was a convert to following Christ the Jew in adulthood, not a convert to Judaism.

There is nothing in the Bible nor the New Testament epistles that says "Thou shalt not suicide." In hesitant support of your claim that it is a result of dogma, I would point out that Christ said, "No one comes to the father except through me"; it is the Church which created intercession by Mary, saints, and clergy. Not sure if this happened before the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches split, but they both revere saints and Mary, so I would assume so. So yes it seems dogma is strongly at play.

Anyhow, not trying to derail my own thread, but point out that there is a connection to Stoicism (and suicide) in what you said, and historical evidence that dogma and doctrine led society astray from the influence of Stoic (and perhaps other) philosophical ethics, as well as from even the Bible and the (ostensibly) authoritative words of Christ.
 
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ManWithNoName

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"But if you feel yourself falling away and losing control, retire in good heart to some corner where you will regain control—or else make a complete exit from life, not in anger, but simply, freely, with integrity, making this leaving of it at least one achievement in your life."
—Marcus Arelius from "Meditations"
I've shared one such quote elsewhere on the forum, with the intention at the time of cautioning against impulse.

We need to be warned and strengthened in both directions – not to love or to hate life overmuch. Even when reason advises us to make an end of it, the impulse is not to be adopted without reflection or at headlong speed. The brave and wise man should not flee from life but withdraw from it.

- Seneca




Love this. This is why Stocism has served me, the armor, the honor, and the wisdom.

As Epictetus said, the point of virtue is for life to go more smoothly. Life is hard. The armor of Stoic philosophy has provided a good shield and guide for me, and life's hits don't enter quite so deeply nor cause as much imbalance as they otherwise would.
There are of course some great short presentations out there:

 
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J

Jean Améry

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As Epictetus said, the point of virtue is for life to go more smoothly. Life is hard. The armor of Stoic philosophy has provided a good shield and guide for me, and life's hits don't enter quite so deeply nor cause as much imbalance as they otherwise would.
It seems you're an ardent student of stoicism. May it serve you well.

I'm not an expert on the subject and (more importantly) I really ought to practice what I preach more but I do think we all need a moral code for dealing with life (and death). For me I simply cannot accept religious assertations as true and since their moral teachings are usually based on divine authority it simply won't do as a guide to life.

What is interesting to me, and please forgive that I don't recall the source where I read this, but it's my understanding that Stoicism not only predated Christianity, but that it was very influential in the time of Christ and the apostles, and that Paul, the post-crucifixion and highly influential apostle, practiced Stoic ethics. If I recall correctly, scholars pointed out Stoic foundations in his epistles that were much stronger than Jewish doctrine, as he was a convert to following Christ the Jew in adulthood, not a convert to Judaism.
I don't cite my sources either so why should you? This isn't academia, luckily.

Stoicism most certainly predates christianity: stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3d century BC in Athens. It was the leading philosphical and ethical system among Roman nobility and excerted its influence throughtout the Roman empire.

I'll admit I don't know much about Paul but I read he was a Roman citizen and as an intellectual I'm sure he must have been familiair with philosophy including stoicism.

There is nothing in the Bible nor the New Testament epistles that says "Thou shalt not suicide."
I agree. However the church father Augustine declared suicide a mortal sin (a position which was confirmed again and again by church counsils) and as such it is catholic dogma to this day. Even protestantism and orthodox christianity retain the same stance. That was the meaning behind my statement.

Ironically Jezus himself was a suicide: he knew perfectly well he was going to be killed yet he willingly submitted to his prosecutors.
 
GoodPersonEffed

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Ironically Jezus himself was a suicide: he knew perfectly well he was going to be killed yet he willingly submitted to his prosecutors.
Hmm. I'd have to disagree with that. Not running and submitting does not equate the choice to end one's own life. Otherwise, it would be more akin to suicide by cop/soldier.

As evidence of his ethic and motivation in this regard, when he said to turn the other cheek and offer it when having been struck, it was actually both self-protection as well as a subtle fuck you to the Romans. Jews were often assaulted by Roman military as means of provocation in order to arrest them. He advised fellow Jews to remain calm, and in fact offer the other cheek as well. It took a lot of strength to resist the urge to fight back, and I think that is potentially reflected in how Jesus managed his impending and actual arrest.

There is also the idea that he had a calling and was doing his father's work. He turned over the money changing tables in the temple in rage on behalf of his father, and the blatant disregard for the Torah's stance on the practice right there at his father's house.

The man was a rebel.

Running from the soldiers may have been in contradiction to believing he was doing his father's work, rather than submitting to hopelessness and using the Roman government as a passive means to complete his suicide.

(Edit: I went to a Lutheran grade school, and later was Baptist and then Methodist. I stopped being a Christian in my mid-twenties when I realized there was a lot I didn't believe and couldn't accept. My reason won out over Christianity's last hold on me, the logical fallacy of the fear of hell if I didn't override my sense and continue to try to believe, lest hell really did exist.)
 
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a.n.kirillov

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Stoics are basically educated dads. They say what your dad would say in more sophisticated language.

They always strike me as lifeless hypocrites. As if Seneca's death wasn't cosmetically enhanced over the centuries. I bet he cried like a baby when he nearly suffocated to death.

And anyway, who actually wants to live such a passionless and detached life? to be this smirk robotic person who is always reasonable and never desires anything that is out of reach for him? who has no vices that lead to his downfall? Where's the tragedy and the lifeblood in stoicism?

So my question is this: why live at all as a stoic? What are virtue and moderation and health and peace of mind good for?
 
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AcornUnderground

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So my question is this: why live at all as a stoic? What are virtue and moderation and health and peace of mind good for?

I have a hard time understanding this. These are all things that, within a reasonably comfortable life, would be very much assets.
 
a.n.kirillov

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So my question is this: why live at all as a stoic? What are virtue and moderation and health and peace of mind good for?

I have a hard time understanding this. These are all things that, within a reasonably comfortable life, would be very much assets.
Right, but what do you live for?

A stoic would scorn a mountaineer for example. But the mountaineer has a great goal or value or passion he instrumentalizes his virtue, peace of mind, moderation etc, for. He needs peace of mind to focus on climbing, he needs virtue to be safe in climbing, he needs moderation to be fit enough for climbing.

What is virtue good for? Isn't stoicism simply hedonism in the end?
 
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AcornUnderground

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Right, but what do you live for?

A stoic would scorn a mountaineer for example. But the mountaineer has a great goal or value or passion he instrumentalizes his virtue, peace of mind, moderation etc, for. He needs peace of mind to focus on climbing, he needs virtue to be safe in climbing, he needs moderation to be fit enough for climbing.

What is virtue good for? Isn't stoicism simply hedonism in the end?
Why would they scold a mountaineer?
 

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