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A persistent attack on the Stoics has been the claim that really existing Stoics did not live

up to their
stringent theoretical demands. Schopenhauer inherits this criticism when he charges the Stoics with
hypocrisy over their willingness to indulgence in so-called preferred indifferents such as the food
and wine of a Roman banquet, all the while denying their value. Nietzsche also criticises the Stoics
for conduct incompatible with the theory of indifference but, strikingly, does not depend solely on
an appeal to the Stoics intellectual conscience. Instead, Nietzsche criticism is that the life which a
Stoic actually leads is more bitter, harsh, and hurtful than the theory of indifference suggests. Today,
I am going to explain Nietzsches novel objection through an analysis of Stoicism as an art of living
and chart the attenuation of his Stoic sympathies as he progresses through his middle period.

Schopenhauers attack on Stoicism proceeds along two lines of argument. Firstly, he attacks the
Stoic telos, the blissful life, free from emotional disturbance, as unattainable, even for those purely
rational characters, the Stoics.1 This is because, on his account, the blissful life contains an inner
contradiction. According to Schopenhauer, life on earth is a narrow, paltry, and ephemeral
experience and a state or condition of suffering.2 One can find deliverance from suffering in a
better existence only by means of moral effort, sever renunciation, and the denial of our own
self.3 The blessedness which the Stoics strive for, then, is not achievable within the constraints of
earthly life: life and suffering are inextricably linked and the quest for perfect tranquillity is
inevitably frustrated. Schopenhauer thinks that this contradiction is exposed by the, admittedly
mild, approbation the Stoics give suicide. Seneca sanctions the wise man to quickly take leave of
life and cease being a trouble to himself should the utmost pinch of need arrive.4 In Ciceros On
the Ends, Cato counsels that it on occasion appropriate for the Wise Man to quit life although he is
happy.5 This advice is of a kind with the more famous Cynic dictum, criticised by Schopenhauer,
that we must procure either understanding or a rope [for hanging ourselves].6 That is, the
progression of our practical reason will either grant us tranquillity or indicate that death is
preferable to the continued tribulations of life. But Stoicism professes to cure us of these
tribulations, that nothing in life correctly understood is an evil, and that therefore, nothing should

WWR I 90

WWR II 627

WWR II 628

Sen. Ep. 17.9

Cicero De Fin 3.60

Plu. De Stoic. 14 in WWR I 87


compel us to suicide. Stoicism is supposed to lead to a blissful life but instead philosophises away
life or if this proves too great a task, recommends its cessation. Suicide remains a tonic of last resort
for the Stoic, and this reveals, according to Schopenhauer, that Stoicism is more sedative than
curative and that the living Stoic cannot attain the Stoic ideal.

Schopenhauer believes that the Stoic project not only fails, but fails necessarily, because of his
pessimistic metaphysics of the will. The will is the foundational metaphysical principle in
Schopenhauers system. Objects, animals, and individuals are all manifestations of will in different
stages of development. Existence as a whole is (capital W) Will, undifferentiated and aimless,
characterised by an all-pervasive, blind striving. The will is the driving force which lurks beneath
all modes of life, whether the flower growing towards light, the animal looking for food, or the
human engaged in worldly projects. While the striving of Will-in-itself can never be satedbecause
it is aimless, there is nothing the attainment of which would satisfy itWill in its phenomenal
instantiations, most importantly in the form of human life, does strive for particular ends. We might
think that this gives rise to the possibility of happiness, that while each willing involves the painful
lack of the willed end, the attainment of ends would free us from such pain, and a happy or at least
blissful state would follow. Such a hope is, according to Schopenhauer, in vain. As soon as we
satisfy the demands of one act of willsay we eat to sate our hungerwe are either immediately
struck by another and the associated painful lack, or with nothing left to will, we are reduced to
boredom: a painful state because it exposes the vanity of existence. So Schopenhauer presents us
with a dilemma: either we seek a goal, and suffer because our desire is unfulfilled, or to the extent
that we are able to satisfy the immediate goals of the will, we are afflicted by the vanity of
existence. Neither tranquillity nor happiness is possible in this life. Importantly, this dilemma has its
root in Schopenhauers metaphysics: If his metaphysics of the will to life is correct, desire or will is
unceasing and ineradicable and the Stoic project is in vain.

In addition to attacking the Stoic ideal as unattainable, Schopenhauer attacks the Stoics themselves
as hypocrites, for leading a voluptuous Roman life while denying the value of external goods. To
quote Schopenhauer:

when they are offered to [the Stoic], he will accept [external goods]; yet he is always ready
to give them up again with the greatest indifference, if chance, to which they belong,
demands them back, since they are not in his power .... Thus the Stoics perfected the theory

of equanimity and independence at the cost of practice, by reducing everything to a mental

process; and by arguments like those presented in the first chapter of Epictetus, they
sophisticated themselves into all the amenities of life7

The particular target of Schopenhauers criticism is the doctrine of indifference. According to the
doctrine of indifference, a Stoic may take part in a luxurious Roman banquet, all the while
protesting that the fine food and wine are merely preferred indifferents, and not real goods.
Schopenhauer claims that the Stoic who behaves in this manner is simply self-deluding in boldly
asserting that they gained nothing whatever from the whole feast.8 Schopenhauer argues that
Stoicism should be understood as a theoretical translation of the practical spirit of Cynicism, that
life in its simplest and most naked form, with the hardships that naturally belong to it, is the most
tolerable, and is therefore to be chosen.9 The Stoics accept the Cynics claim that desirous and
passionate attachments cause more suffering than the possession of the desired object can assuage.
Rather than renouncing the enjoyment of external objects, the Stoic is satisfied in the conviction
that this renunciation is possible, if demanded by fate. By this theoretical move, in which
everything is reduced [...] to a mental process, Schopenhauer concludes that the Stoics have
sophisticated themselves into all the amenities of life.10 Furthermore, in doing so the Stoics grow
accustomed to the presence of such amenities and cannot avoid according them positive value.

The will cannot be trifled with, and cannot enjoy pleasures without becoming fond of them;
[...] a dog [Stoic as trained Cynic/trained dog] does not remain indifferent when we draw
through his mouth a piece of roast meat, or a sage when he is hungry; and [...] between
desiring and renouncing there is no mean

Thus the charge of hypocrisy is a practical one: the Stoics are incapable of living up to their
theoretical ideals on account of their navely cognitive theory of value. My claim is that
Schopenhauer misreads the Stoics at this point. While Schopenhauer accounts for two dimensions
of Stoic thought, the theoretical and the practical, recent work by Sellars conceives of Stoicism as
having a tripartite structure. According to Sellars, Stoic philosophy aims at a distinctively rational

WWR II 156

WWR II 156

WWR II 153


WWR II 156

way of life (bos), underpinned by rational discourse (logos) and achieved through the use of
philosophical exercise and training (sksis).11 Schopenhauer claims that there is an inappropriate
divergence between the first and second of these parts: the Stoic way of life does not accord with
Stoic theoretical discourse. But in ignoring how philosophical exercises mediate between the
philosophical life and discourse, Schopenhauer fails to see the Stoics solution to his problem.

sksis constitutes the means through which philosophical ideas are translated into philosophical
actions, and Sellars has brought to light a number of such exercises. Marcus Aurelius counsels, in
an exercise aimed at purifying the souls concern for earthy indifferents, as follows:

Observe the courses of the stars as if revolving with them and reflect upon the continuous
changes of the elements into one another; for impressions such as these are for cleansing the
filth of earth-bound life.12
Epictetus, too, recommends the only way to freedom from the emotions is to despise the things
which are not in our power.13 The Stoic avoids the attachment engendered by the enjoyment of
external goods by associating this enjoyment with a strongly negative exercise.

Yet, if things outside of ones control and the goings-on of earth-bound life are indifferents, the
Stoic lacks the grounds to despise them, or decry their filth, since these dispositions imply strongly
negative valuations. The incongruity in this case is the reverse of that which Schopenhauer
identifies. Whereas the Stoics actions, according to Schopenhauer, betray the positive regard in
which they hold external goods, Stoic exercises suggest an equally inappropriate negative regard,
given their supposed indifference. The contemptuous attitude towards externals that Marcus
Aurelius and Epictetus recommend one adopts solves the practical problem Schopenhauer
identifies, it counteracts the growth of desires for luxuries to which one might become accustomed,
yet it achieves this at the cost of multiplying Stoicisms theoretical difficulties. The Stoic who
adopts this attitude of contempt for externals tacitly admits that self-mastery is a struggle between
drives, in this case ones appetite, fed by regular gratification, and the pride in self-control that his
appetite threatens.

Sellars, The Art of Living, 7


Marcus Aurelius 7.47


Ench. 19

This is exactly Nietzsches developing criticism of Stoicism through his middle period: that it is a
bitter pride arising out of the need to renounce and combat ones dependence on externals. This
need is itself a condition of sickness, so it is the Stoic temperamentthe kind of life manifested in
Stoicismthat is the object of Nietzsches critique. In this manner, Nietzsche reads the Stoic theory
of indifference as a projection of the Stoic temperament:

Whatever has value in our world now does not have value in itself, according to its nature
nature is always value-less, but have been given value at some time, as a presentand it
was we who gave and bestowed it.14
That indifference has been bestowed upon external objects is a consequence of the Stoic desire for
as little pain as possible, which they achieve in return for as enjoying as little pleasure as possible.15
In this, according to Nietzsche, the Stoics agree that pleasure and pain are intimately related such
that large or small quantities of one necessarily imply the same of the other. By dulling their
sensitivity to both pleasure and pain, the Stoics ensure that knowledge of the (therefore) indifferent
external world contributes to the sages tranquillity.

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche condemns Stoicism, amongst other past philosophies of
happiness, as offering merely recipes against [the] passions.16 In this passage Nietzsche attacks
Stoicism for cautioning against the danger of the passions. In the language of the preface to GS,
such moralities only lead towards the sun, stillness, mildness, patience, medicine, balm in some
sense.17 As far as the Stoic directs his energies towards the elimination of the passions and treats
the external world with indifference he is, according to Nietzsche, leading an impoverished life.
This is why Nietzsche describes the Stoics as petrified18 and statuesque.19


GS 301


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BGE 198


GS P 2


GS 326


GS 12

Stoicisms petrification is due to the Stoics minimisation of both pleasure and pain. The clear
implication is that Nietzsche would rather as much pain as possible, in order to open the possibility
for new galaxies of joy.20 The means to cultivating both pleasure and pain, according to
Nietzsche, is, at least in his middle period, a science which will risk the greatest pains for the
possibility of a maximisation of joy.

What is the significance of ditching Schopenhauers objection against the Stoics in favour of
Nietzsches? It may appear that the philosophical payoff of this paper is merely to fine-tune the
reason for Stoicisms failure. If were not Stoics either way, who cares? But Nietzsches case
against Stoicism leaves open the possibility of developing an alternative practical philosophy,
which Schopenhauers metaphysical pessimism explicitly rules out. According to Schopenhauer,
happiness is impossible in this life. To the contrary, Nietzsche adopts Stoic philosophys
eudaimonistic orientation (shared with the broader Classical and Hellenistic tradition)that human
flourishing ought to be philosophys goal. Nietzsche does however reject the end to which the
Stoics claim philosophy ought to strive. Rather than the elimination of the passions, Nietzsches
goal is the proliferation and control of passionate engagements. Although he rejects the Stoic ideal,
Nietzsche uses the Stoic conception of philosophy and indeed many Stoic exercises to further his
own eudaimonistic philosophical project.

In 1881 Nietzsche conceives of the Hellenistic schools as experimental laboratories21 for the
development of practical wisdom. The results of these experiments rightly belong to us, in that
we are entitled to practice Stoic, as well as Epicurean and Skeptical, techniques of living according
to our own needs. In particular, Nietzsche reports that he has learnt from Stoicism to ask, in the
midst of storm and strife, What does it matter?22 That Nietzsche believes we can help ourselves to
Stoic practices without a commitment to the broader Stoic system explains his continued use of
Stoic exercises after his shift away from Stoicism itself in the early 1880s. And so to conclude Ill
show how Nietzsche repurposes a particular Stoic exercise to his own ends: Marcus Aurelius
technique of ascending to the point of view of the cosmos. In section 380 of The Gay Science,
Nietzsche describes the manner in which one might confront the question of the value of morality.
One must rise, climb, or fly to a height outside of morality:

GS 12


KSA 9:15[59]


KSA 9:15[59]

One has to be very light to drive ones will to knowledge into such a distance and, as it were,
beyond ones time, to create for oneself eyes to survey millennia and, moreover, clear skies
in these eyes.23
The eyes with which Nietzsche seeks to survey millennia of moral history are a result of
transcending the limited first-person view of the individual. Unlike Marcus, however, Nietzsche has
no ready-made cosmic perspective or Gods-eye view to which he can aspire. Nietzsche, like
Marcus Aurelius, rejects any conception of the self as separated from or opposed to the world.24
However, Nietzsches anti-Stoic ideal, as propounded in book five of The Gay Science, is
predicated not on an identification with the cosmic God, but the greatest recent eventthat God
is dead.25 The therapeutic success of adopting a cosmic point of view on the worldfor the Stoics
hinges upon the Stoic conception of the cosmos and its capacity to ground correct judgements
regarding nature. In the absence of the regulative cosmic power of God, Nietzsche conceives of and
practices a philosophical exercise which expands his perspective beyond the narrow individual
point of view. This may still carry a sedative effect in that it expose the folly in our conventional
first person valuations, but it cannot guarantee happiness in the same way as for the Stoics. Indeed,
given that Nietzsches emerging view on nature is of something that causes doubts for us and that
has become a problem,26 it is not at all obvious that bringing more perspectives to bear on nature
will not harm our happiness and cause us distress. Nietzsche seeks a solution to this problem in a
daring, adventurous engagement with the world27 and as far as he goes along these lines he leaves
Stoicism behind.

Marcus Aurelius uses the cosmic perspective to quiet the soul and diminish the perceived
importance of worldly affairs: the earth as a whole is but a point in the universe.28 Nietzsche
draws precisely the opposite conclusion from adopting the point of view of the cosmos:


GS 380


Elveton, Nietzsches Stoicism: The Depths Are Inside, 195.


GS 343




GS 343


Marcus Aurelius 8.21


Whoever looks into himself as into vast space and carries galaxies in himself, also knows
how irregular all galaxies are; they lead into the chaos and labyrinth of existence.29
Rather than indifference towards the infinitesimally small, Nietzsche deduces a cosmic grandness
and profundity from the cosmic perspective. The cosmic perspective grants Nietzsche a dance
floor for divine accident:30 the cosmic platform gives Zarathustras life a profundity opposed to the
lives of the last human beings who [make] everything small.31 Nietzsche does not seek the cosmic
perspective to remind himself of his own smallness, but to identify with something on a cosmic
scale and in doing so revalue life within the (natural) cosmos.

By 1882 Nietzsche saw the Stoic need to ground happiness in universal reason as indicative of an
impoverished and unpredictable life. The Stoics exchange, by which she forgoes worldly pleasures
in order to avoid worldly pains, is defensible only in a world so hostile, dangerous, and painful as to
make worldly engagements unbearable. But, according to Nietzsche, such an exchange gives up the
new galaxies of joy that would make this life worth living.32


GS 322


Z 3 Before Sunrise


Z 1 Zarathustras Prologue 5


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