Title page for ETD etd-06192007-092746

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Schoeman, Werner
URN etd-06192007-092746
Document Title Stoïsynse terapie en lewenskuns (Afrikaans)
Degree MA (Philosophy)
Department Philosophy
Advisor Name Title
Prof M J Schoeman
  • virtue ethics
  • spiritual exercises
  • a life in accordance with nature
  • Stoïsisme
  • Marcus Aurelius
  • Epictetus
  • Sokrates
  • die lewenskuns
  • Stoïsynse terapie
  • ʼn lewe in ooreenstemming met die natuur
  • spirituele oefeninge
  • deugde-etiek
  • Stoic therapy
  • the art of living
  • Socrates
  • Epictetus
  • Marcus Aurelius
  • Stoicism
Date 2006-01-21
Availability unrestricted
Contemporary debates in ethics are characterised by opposing views that appear to be irreconcilable. Rational debates seem to be making no headway due to the fact that the incompatibilities of the different views seem to lie within the very premises of the different arguments. These debates acquire an interminable character, because representatives of the different standpoints refuse to accept each others’ premises.

MacIntyre attributes this state of affairs to the failure of the Enlightenment project. In their attempt to create a universally valid moral system the Enlightenment philosophers discredited the ethical traditions and emphasized reason as the only authority on these matters. The supposedly “universal” rational arguments are built on premises the Enlightenment thinkers inherited from the exact same ethical traditions whose authority they consciously undermined. The irony of the Enlightenment project is therefore that it caused its own failure.

MacIntyre believes that the Enlightenment thinkers were mistaken in undermining the authority of all the ethical traditions. He argues that the authority of the critical traditions is legitimate. A critical tradition is a moral tradition where some form of rational enquiry is embodied in the tradition itself. MacIntyre defends the authority of the Aristotelian tradition as the critical tradition per se. In my own enquiry I defend the authority of the Stoic tradition. I attempt to point out the flaws in MacIntyre’s understanding of the Stoics and argue that in some respects the Stoic tradition is a better alternative to the Aristotelian one.

After having justified the authority of the Stoic tradition I take a closer look at what their ethics entail. The Stoics have what Cottingham refers to as a “synoptic” conception of philosophy. This means that they tried to integrate all the aspects of human understanding into a single system. Therefore, if one wishes to give a comprehensive picture of their ethics it is necessary to explain their philosophical work on physics and logic as well. I do so by comparing their understanding of physics to the contemporary understanding thereof.

The Stoics believed that philosophy is not an abstract theoretical discipline, but rather a way of life. Theoretical arguments play an important role in so far as it helps us to comprehend the nature of the good, but ultimately philosophy is about helping us to live a good life. In light of this understanding I argue that they conceived of ethics as the art of living. The Stoics also believed that one could practice ethics as a form of therapy for our emotions. They believed that emotions such as anger and depression are caused by misguided ways of thinking and that ultimately the good life would cultivate our spirit and enable us to become more resistant to these types of emotions. Simultaneously it will enable us to experience more rational emotions such as joy.

The ultimate aim of my research project is to highlight the important contributions the Stoics can make to the crisis we are currently experiencing in ethical discourse.

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