Stoicism and Christianity
In an earlier conversation, when someone said Nihilism leads to Hedonism, I made this comment:
What I do not understand is why philosophical growth does not work the other way:
Nihilism leads to Hedonism, and then, once a man is a hedonist, he realizes that short term pleasure leads to long term pain, so he becomes an Epicurean, and attempts to moderate his passions and govern them by reason.
Once he attempts to govern his passions by his reason, he realizes that he has control only over his judgment about and reaction to outside things, and that outside things are forever beyond the control of his will. True happiness, therefore, consists of nothing but iron self-control, and the limitation of the objects of desire toward one’s own mind: and this is the doctrine of the Stoics.
Once he becomes a Stoic, he realizes that no man can live up to this exacting doctrine, and would lose his humanity if he tried, whereupon he deduces that the human heart cannot be happy absent a transcendent cause to believe in.
After piddling with various political causes as a source of transcendent meaning, he realizes that these political causes are vanity […] If he looks at the roots of modern political movements, he finds, lo and behold, his old enemy, the Church spreading all the seeds from which modern ideologies grow: Marx was, after all, indistinguishable from a prophetic heresiarch: a Jeremiah of Evil.
If our man turns from false prophets from true ones, what started as a nihilistic pursuit of pleasure end with him seeking the eternal and inexpressible joys of the Beatific Vision, or, if he is oriental, the unruffled freedom from reincarnation of Nirvana.
(But a true nihilist would never become a hedonist because a nihilist thinks the pleasure principle, along with all other principles, is meaningless.)
I am not describing a process I think is inevitable. I am indeed asking a question–what is it about Nihilism that makes it a dead end rather than a starting point toward real moral growth? It is an infantile doctrine, and it is a condemnation of the corruption and folly of the post-Christian 20th Century that such doctrines are taken seriously among us.
(quoting me) “Once he becomes a Stoic, he realizes that no man can live up to this exacting doctrine, and would lose his humanity if he tried, whereupon he deduces that the human heart cannot be happy absent a transcendent cause to believe in.”
I don’t see the connection between finding the Stoic philosophy too hard to live by and jumping to a transcendent cause. How does the one (impossibility of being a true Stoic) lead to the other (needing a transcendent cause)?
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Originally published at John C. Wright's Journal. Please leave any comments there.