Teach yourself Stoicism: Love & Friendship in Stoicism

Brief excerpt from the chapter on love and friendship in Stoicism from the forthcoming book “Teach yourself Stoicism”, due for publicaiton in 2013 by Hodder.

Teach Yourself Stoicism

Love & Friendship in Stoicism

Copyright (c) Donald Robertson 2012.  All rights reserved.

New book, due out next year from Hodder…  Sneak preview of the contents of the chapter on love and friendship in Stoicism…

In this chapter you will learn:

  • That, far from being completely unemotional, Stoicism can be viewed as a philosophy that emphasises the concept of love or “natural affection”.
  • That the Stoics were apparently one of the first major Western philosophical schools to encourage women to become philosophers as well as men and that they taught both men and women how to maintain a philosophical attitude toward their family and children.
  • That they encourage us to develop our own natural instinct for self-preservation into a more profound love of flourishing, in terms of our essential nature as rational animals, “love of wisdom” being the original meaning of the word “philosophy”.
  • That they also encourage us to expand our natural affection for ourselves into a kind of family affection and affinity or kinship with all mankind, aspiring to be true “philanthropists”, or lovers of mankind.
  • That Stoicism involves learning to love Nature as a whole – or God, if you’re religiously inclined – by serenely accepting events outside our control as causally determined by Nature, or fated by the Will of God.
  • That the Stoics taught one can only truly love others, rather than being irrationally and unnaturally attached to them, by accepting the fact that everyone and everything we love is inevitably transient and subject to changes beyond our control.
  • That, according to this view, to love others is more valuable than to be loved ourselves; and to show friendship is better than to receive it, because the strength and wisdom that resides in our own character is more intrinsically important than how other people happen to treat us.

The Stoic loves other people in a very free, giving way.  His love is not at all conditional upon its being reciprocated by the person loved.  The Stoic does not compromise his own moral integrity or mental serenity in his love for others, nor is his love impaired by his knowledge of the mortality of his loved ones.  Rather, the Stoic’s love and natural affection are tempered by reason.  His love and affection serve only to enrich his humanity, never to subject him to psychic torment.  (Stephens, 1996)

How, then, shall I become loving and affectionate? – As a man who is noble and fortunate; for it is against all reason to be abject, or broken in spirit, or to depend on something other than yourself, or even to blame either God or man.  I would have you become affectionate in such a way as to maintain at the same time all these rules [of Stoicism]; if, however, by virtue of this natural affection [philostorgos], whatever it is you call by that name, you are going to be a slave and miserable, it does not profit you to be affectionate.  And what keeps you from loving someone as mortal, as one who may leave you?  Did not Socrates love his own children?  Yes, but as a free man, as one who remembers that it was necessary first to be a friend to [or love] the gods. (Epictetus, Discourses, 3.24)

In what way, therefore, shall I love my children or relations?  As strongly and affectionately as is possible for me to love them, but so as that nature may [not] be accused; so as that whatever happens, I may still adhere to nature and accept and embrace whatsoever nature sends.  This is the foundation.  This is all.  Consider this and it will be easy to find the true measure of all affection, and what discipline and rules must be followed to reduce our affection to nature and to affect [i.e., to love] as becomes a rational creature. (Shaftesbury, The Philosophical Regimen)