3 August 2013

Become A Good Man!

No longer discuss only what kind of man the Good Man must be, but become one!
                                                 - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 10:16

     It is all too easy for a would be Stoic (or adherent of any philosophical/religious school, for that matter) to become embroiled in debates, both with others and with his own self, about the precise nature of the idealized Good Man at the expense of working to become good himself. In our current age - where philosophy, in many circles, has been reduced to an intellectual competition of wit instead of a humble pursuit of wisdom and good living - this folly is, unfortunately, normative. 
     The Stoic school has very clear and distinct ideas about what makes for a Good Man. Seneca's De Constantia ("On Firmness") perhaps provides some of the best extant orthodox Stoic descriptions of this kind of man. But neither Seneca, nor Epictetus, nor, obviously, Marcus Aurelius, would have given prominence to the discussion of what constitutes the Good Man over the exercise of becoming that man.
     What individual Virtues were was not a matter of debate for the various schools of virtue ethics in antiquity. The basics - such as bravery, temperance, justice, etc - were common to all schools. These are, in fact, universally accepted as values in just about every society that has every existed. An intellectual defence of such Virtues is certainly a welcome contribution, but the consensus of the human race itself should be evidence enough of their intrinsic value.
     Virtue will become a habit before it becomes a trait (of this the Stoics were in agreement with most every classical school). Let us develop good habits, then become good men, and only then engage in arguments about good men!