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Value and Indifference


From Diogenes Laertius: Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, translated by R.D. Hicks:

"And they say that only the morally beautiful is good. So Hecato in his treatise On Goods, book iii., and Chrysippus in his work On the Morally Beautiful. They hold, that is, that virtue and whatever partakes of virtue consists in this: which is equivalent to saying that all that is good is beautiful, or that the term "good" has equal force with the term "beautiful," which comes to the same thing. "Since a thing is good, it is beautiful; now it is beautiful, therefore it is good." They hold that all goods are equal and that all good is desirable in the highest degree and admits of no lowering or heightening of intensity.

"Of things that are, some, they say, are good, some are evil, and some neither good nor evil (that is, morally indifferent). Goods comprise the virtues of prudence, justice, courage, temperance, and the rest; while the opposites of these are evils, namely, folly, injustice, and the rest. Neutral (neither good nor evil, that is) are all those things which neither benefit nor harm a man: such as life, health, pleasure, beauty, strength, wealth, fair fame and noble birth, and their opposites, death, disease, pain, ugliness, weakness, poverty, ignominy, low birth, and the like.  This Hecato affirms in his De fine, book vii., and also Apollodorus in his Ethics, and Chrysippus. For, say they, such things (as life, health, and pleasure) are not in themselves goods, but are morally indifferent, though falling under the species or subdivision "things preferred." For as the property of hot is to warm, not to cool, so the property of good is to benefit, not to injure; but wealth and health do no more benefit than injury, therefore neither wealth nor health is good.  Further, they say that that is not good of which both good and bad use can be made; but of wealth and health both good and bad use can be made; therefore wealth and health are not goods. On the other hand, Posidonius maintains that these things too are among goods.  Hecato in the ninth book of his treatise On Goods, and Chrysippus in his work On Pleasure, deny that pleasure is a good either; for some pleasures are disgraceful, and nothing disgraceful is good. To benefit is to set in motion or sustain in accordance with virtue; whereas to harm is to set in motion or sustain in accordance with vice.

"The term "indifferent" has two meanings: in the first it denotes the things which do not contribute either to happiness or to misery, as wealth, fame, health, strength, and the like; for it is possible to be happy without having these, although, if they are used in a certain way, such use of them tends to happiness or misery. In quite another sense those things are said to be indifferent which are without the power of stirring inclination or aversion; e.g. the fact that the number of hairs on one's head is odd or even or whether you hold out your finger straight or bent. But it was not in this sense that the things mentioned above were termed indifferent, they being quite capable of exciting inclination or aversion. Hence of these latter some are taken by preference, others are rejected, whereas indifference in the other sense affords no ground for either choosing or avoiding." (7.101-5, trans. Hicks).

Diogenes Laertius


Long and Sedley comment:

"The bastion of Stoic ethics is the thesis that virtue and vice respectively are the sole constituents of happiness and unhappiness. These states do not in the least depend, they insisted, on the possession or absence of things conventionally regarded as good or bad - health, reputation, wealth etc: 'It is possible to be happy even without these'. They expressed this thesis by restricting 'good' to what is morally excellent and 'bad' to the opposite of this, and termed everything which makes no difference to happiness or unhappiness 'indifferent'..." (pg. 357).


Values in Classical Stoicism - Dr. Jan E. Garrett

Fragments



Diogenes Laertius. Lives of eminent philosophers, with an English translation by R. D. Hicks. (1925) Vol. 2. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Long, A. A., Sedley, D. N. (1987). The Hellenistic Philosophers: vol. 1. translations of the principle sources with philosophical commentary. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.





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