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The Old Stoic Theory of Emotions

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TADBRENNAN
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS 1
Socrates: Weil then, said I, do you use the words "terror" or "fear"? And do you use them
in the way I do? I say this for your benefit, Prodicus. I mean by them - whether you use
the word "fear" or "terror" - a sort of expectation of evil. PI. Prt. 358d
The theory of the emotions in the Old Stoa is the subject of unusual
agreement among scholars. While some points of detail remain tobe cleared
up, the general outlines of the theory are fairly well settled. Given this state
of affairs in the literature, the present chapter will fall into two parts.
The first part is expository. In it, I shall present the scholarly consensus,
adhering to common ground and generally avoiding the areas where
opinions diverge. I intend this part to be an independent and self-sufficient
introduction to the Old Stoic theory of emotions, that will be of use to nonspecialists.
The second part is controversial. In it, I focus on a few areas of disagreement between scholars, attempt to adjudicate between current interpretations, and in a few cases offer my own interpretations. I intend this
part to be a guide to the current Iiterature and the locations of remaining
disagreements, for those who may wish to read more widely in the topic, or
for specialists who wish a more detailed treatment.
FIRST PART: AN EXPOSITION OF THE THEORY
Students of Stoicism have always stressed the degree to which individual
Stoic theses are connected to one another. This connectedness will seem a
good thing, to the extent that it implies that the theory is consistent, and that
its separate parts tend to ratify one another. But it carries with it a difficulty, namely that individual theses will often only make sense when
understood in light of the other parts to which they are connected. This is
particularly important in those cases in which the Stoics developed extensive
and sometimes counter-intuitive scientific theories, and then chose to express
them in familiar but potentially misleading terms from ordinary language.
Such is the case with the Stoic theory of emotions. lt can only be
understood by reference to their broader theories of psychology, ethics,
epistemology and physics; and once understood in these terms it is no
Juha Sihvola and Troels Engberg-Pedersen (eds.), The Emotions in Hellenistic Philosophy,
21-70.
© 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers.
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Ionger obvious that it is a theory of "emotions" in the ordinary senseofthat
word. The degree to which the finished theory does explain or capture our
ordinary intuitions about emotions can only be assessed after the theory is
clear before the eyes; in what follows, I shall use the term "emotion" as a
translation of convenience for the Stoic term pathos. 2
The Broader Philosophical Background
According to the Stoics, rationality permeates the cosmos. Divine Reason,
which is also Nature, which is also God, pervades every volume of stuff,
and controls every event in the past, present, and future. Every event is
caused, and every event is determined; but this, far from interfering with
God's control, is instead simply another expression of it. For God is also
the active agent in all things. And God works for the best, so that the
cosmos and the events that take place in it are all good. Anything contrary
to God's plan is ipso facto evil, and irrational, and contrary to nature.
Human beings, too, are rational. This much is common to many ancient
schools; but the Stoic way of developing this thought is characteristic. In
particular, its significance within the school is determined by the fact that
the noun "reason" and adjective "rational" are ambiguous:
1) In one sense ofthe word "rational", human beings are only potentially
rational, and none of us is actually rational. For our godlike reason fusts in
us unused; none of us, at least none alive today or in the time of the Stoics,
has developed our mind to its fullest extent. So developed, our minds would
contain a huge store of knowledge, including all of the knowledge necessary
for perfectly virtuous behavior, and no false beliefs or ill-founded desires at
all. Our beliefs would never contradict one another, and our desires never
conflict; not only would we know what is virtuous and what is vicious, we
uniformly and without exception would desire the one and disdain the other.
Someone in this state of perfected rationality is a Stoic Sage; unfortunately,
Sages are rather rare, and the best attested candidate for Sagehood is
Hercules. And this is not wholly surprising, since someone whose reason is
perfected in this way will have a view of things very similar to the view of
things that God has (although perhaps lacking God's divine foreknowledge
of future events). 3 So the maximally rational view that the Sage has will be
largely identical to, and nowhere in conflict with, the divine view of things.
What is in accordance with that view is rational in the first sense. 4
2) In another sense of the word, all adult humans are rational, necessarily. This is because upon reaching maturity (at age fourteen) all of our
thoughts, perceptions, beliefs, preferences, memories, dreams, and so on-
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
23
all of our mental contents of any kind- are essentially propositional. And
this is the second meaning of "rational", namely involving propositions.
There may be more to my impression that I am awake than is expressed in
the proposition "that I am awake," but every impression, and every other
mental item, will contain some sort of "that" -clause. No adult has a brute
striving, or a raw sense-datum; seeing is always seeing that something is the
case, and wanting is always wanting something tobe the case. Nor is this
propositional content somehow added into, or on top of, raw feels, hunches,
or urges; in adults, mental contents are intrinsically propositional from the
very start.
Corresponding to these two senses of rationality, there are two senses of
irrationality as weil. Contrary to the first sense above is any behavior or
mental activity that is inconsistent with the maximally rational view of
things that a Sage would take, or is contrary to the divine view of things, or
is contrary to nature.
Contrary to the second sense are the mental states and activities of
children and beasts, which do not involve propositions. This contrary might
better be called "a-rationality" or "non-rationality", to signal that it indicates the complete absence of something, rather than an imperfection. 5 In
this sense, it is actually impossible for an adult human being tobe irrational;
my belief that I can swallow the ocean, or my desire to do it, no matter how
peculiar or pathological they may otherwise be, still each makes reference
to propositions.
The Stoics also claimed, in opposition to Platonists and Aristotelians, that
humans arerational in thesensethat they are only rational; the human soul
is uniformly and monolithically rational, and does not contain, as their
opponents claimed, irrational parts.
There are two denials here: the denial of parts, and the denial of
irrational parts. Postponing the question of irrationality, we should first note
that it is essential to the psychic parts posited by Platonists and Aristotelians, that they are each of them independently capable of generating
intentional action. So in the Republic there are three separate origins of
action, each of them capable (ceteris paribus) of causing me to raise my
arm. As a result they are also capable of coming into conflict, if the actions
that they originate somehow conflict (as for instance, if appetite seeks to
move my arm, while spirit holds it back).
It is central to Stoic psychic monism - their denial of psychic parts that this kind of conflict cannot arise. There is only one origin of action,
called the hegemonikon or "goveming principle", or in David Furley's
suggestive translation, the "command center". We shalllater consider how
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the Stoics would explain the apparent instances of psychic conflict that had
originally motivated Plato to posit his plurality of parts.
But in addition to denying that there are multiple parts, the Stoics
specifically denied that there are any irrational parts. And in understanding
this point, it is important first of all to see that the term "irrational" is not
here being used in either of the senses outlined above. In part, this is not
surprising, since the idea of irrational psychic elements is the creation of
other schools, who would not be bound by Stoic terminology. But the Stoics
must have had some notion of what it would mean for a psychic element to
be "irrational" in this sense, if only to deny the existence of such a thing,
just as the theist and atheist must agree on a rough conception of God in
order to disagree over God's actuality.
Now the force and point of their denial of irrationality cannot have been
to insist that the human soul is rational in the second sense, namely that its
contents are intrinsically propositional. For, first of all, the terminology of
propositions (or rather, axiomata)6 is very specific to the Stoics, and none
of their opponents advocated in so many words the view that there are
psychic parts that do not deal in propositions. And second of all, the
irrational psychic parts that the Stoics rejected - for example Plato's
appetite and spirit - would have been no more acceptable even had they
been altered so as to deal in propositions. This would not have been a
difficult modification to conceive of; simply give appetite the conceptual
vocabulary that it needs to formulate the propositions relevant to it (for
example" ... is a pleasure" and the like), and it will be "rational" in this
minimal sense. But this merely shows that this second sense of rationality is
not the heart of the issue between Stoics and pluralists.
But then the first sense of rationality cannot be exactly to the point either.
When the Stoics denied that any part of our soul is irrational, they cannot
have meant "irrational" in the sense of failing to conform to or possess the
perfected rationality of the Sage or of God. For in that sense, the Stoics will
be happy to agree that your soul and my soul are already irrational, since
neither of us conforms to or posseses the Sage's or God's rationality.
So what notion of irrationality was at stake in the Stoic rejection of
irrational parts? I take it that there are two main features at issue. The first
is that irrational psychic parts, on the typical pluralist conception, embody
specific value-orientations; appetite is intrinsically directed towards pleasure,
and spirit towards honor and esteem. Appetite does not value anything
except pleasure (or what can provide it), and no other considerations can
make pleasure seem less valuable or desirable in its assessment. It is locked
on to pleasure as its object, cannot deviate from it, and will not be kept
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
25
from pursuing it except by force majeure.
The second feature is subsidiary, but still of some importance. Irrational
parts are conceived to have cognitive limitations when compared to human
abilities as a whole. lt is not that they are incapable of recognizing things
(their objects, for example) or even performing something like inferences.
But they are typically thought by pluralists to be incapable of the highest
Ievels of abstract thought.
So the core of the Stoic position is two-fold. First of all, that human
beings pursue the good and whatever they conceive to be good with their
entire soul, unopposed by any renegade portion of the soul that might
intrinsically pursue pleasure, honor, or something other than the good.
Second of all, that our cognitive powers are neither limited nor localized; at
least potentially, we can understand the workings of the world in a maximally rational and nearly divine way, and this understanding will then
characterize the entire soul. This does not make our souls rational in the
richer sense, but rather potentially rational in that sense. Accordingly, the
second idea being denied, in the Stoic denial of irrational parts, isthat there
are parts of us that by their very nature necessarily could not attain the
overall, fully rational picture of the world.
These two points interact with one another, as weil. The pluralists'
appetite, when presented with an argument that some pleasure should not be
pursued, may be unable to follow the argument if complex, and will be
unswayed by its conclusion in any case; the pleasure will continue to Iook
desirable to it, no matter what reasons may be alleged to the contrary. But
part of what the Stoics mean in saying that our souls are wholly rational, is
that they are wholly responsive to reasons in just this way, so that our
assessment of what is good and what should be pursued can be altered by
reflection and argumentation. And because there is no division, this
alteration takes place without remainder; the whole soul takes on the new
view, unanimously. To this extent, the minimal rationality of propositional
content is indirectly relevant, for the Stoic theory of argument and inference
makes it a matter of juggling propositions; a being that could not work with
propositions could not perform inferences.
The Stoic soul, then, has this centrat resemblance to the reasoning part of
a Platonic or Aristotelian soul: it is characterized not merely by its calculative capabilities, but also and with equal emphasis by its orientation towards
one particular object of desire and pursuit, namely the good or apparent
good. 7 But it differs from a reasoning part, exactly by not being apart, that
is, one part among many; the Stoic soul is unitary and undivided, without
even the possibility of internal conflict.
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This once again gives a new and stronger significance to the platitude that
humans are rational. For it is also a commonplace of antiquity that each of
us is most essentially a soul, so that our good and welfare as a human being
are most accurately identified with the good and welfare of our soul. And
given that, according to the Stoics, this is not merely rational (among other
things) but only and solely rational, it tums out that our good as humans is
most accurately identified with the good of this unitary reason; in its
perfection lies our end.
Accordingly, the Stoics argued that the only thing that has any real value
is the perfection of our reason in this way. This is sometimes summarized,
both now and in antiquity, by saying that only virtue is good, or worthy of
pursuit, and that only vice is evil, and that everything eise is indifferent.
And this is an accurate summary, so long as it is kept in mind that "virtue"
here refers to a double perfection, since reason has this double aspect. Our
desires must be correct, and our knowledge must be extensive and untainted
by falsehood. But it would be an inaccurate summary, if it were taken to
mean, for instance, that the only thing that is good is a good will, orthat
our end lies in purifying our intentions. This cannot be the Stoic view, for
it would make virtue, in this sense, compatible with the possession of false
belief. And such a state of the soul, if even possible or coherent, would not
be the perfected state of reason that is our true good.
The Stoics were aware, of course, that this view conflicted with many of
our ordinary beliefs, as for instance the beliefthat money or pleasure is
good, orthebelief that life is tobe pursued and death is tobe avoided; but
this conflict did not trouble them. Nor did their complacency consist merely
in the reiteration that these ordinary beliefs are false, although they did
think this. Rather, they were content to maintain these views in opposition
to many ordinary beliefs, because they thought that these very views are
also supported by, and to be found among, the ordinary beliefs that each of
us holds. The same person who thinks that pleasure is the only good, also
thinks that pleasure is not good at all, and that virtue and wisdom are the
only good. So the ordinary, non-Stoic view of ethics is not merely false, it
is also inconsistent; true conceptions of the good jostle with the false ones
in every non-Stoic's mind.
1t is these false beliefs, and the tumultuous, unstable state of mind they
produce, that are the source of all error, vice, and crime. To see how this
can be so, we should look briefly at Stoic psychology and theory of action.
The Stoic theory has two main components, impressions and assents. Any
occurrent8 thought or belief that I may have, and any occurrent inclination
or desire, will be some combination of these two. In Stoic epistemology we
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
27
leam that there are two main kinds of impressions, the true and the false,
with an important subspecies of the true being the kataleptic or comprehensive, whose truth is somehow guaranteed. 9 Assents can be strong or weak,
but these terms do not seem to indicate strength of conviction; they are not
synonymous with "obstinate" and "hesitant" .10 Rather, a strong assent is
one that is not merely firm and certain, but is also irreversible by argument;
no rational considerations, no extended dialectical enquiry, would Iead to the
withdrawal or reversal of strong assent. 11
We may portray the Stoic account of these things most simply in a chart,
which displays how two kinds of assent, to three kinds of impression, can
produce six kinds of mental action:
Impression
false
true
strong
kataleptic
merely true
knowledge
opinion
opinion
opinion
opinion
(katatepsis)
Assent
weak
opinion
(katalepsis)
The Stoics teil us that in knowledge (epistem€) the assent must be strong and
the impression must be kataleptic, whereas opinion (doxa) involves weak
assent, or assent to what is not kataleptic. Given that the definition of
knowledge is conjunctive, and that knowledge and opinion between them
exhaust the options, DeMorgan's laws confirm that opinion's definition
should be disjunctive in this way. Notice that "opinion" in Stoicism is not
like "belief' in modern epistemology; we may think that knowledge is a
kind of belief (true, justified, and so on) but the Stoics use "opinion" only
of what fails to be genuine knowledge. I shall follow Stoic usage in this
regard, but reserve the term "belief' as a covering term for both knowledge
and opinion. There is one other term often used, katalepsis or comprehension, which is defined as assent (of any kind) to a kataleptic impression.
Some instances of this are also knowledge, and some are also opinion;
katalepsis occupies the entire left-most column of the graph above.
Since knowledge requires this strong, dialectically irreversible assent, it
can only be found in the Sage, whose perfected reason contains no inconsis-
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tencies, and whose perfected dialectical skills are prey to no sophisms. All
beliefs found in non-Sages, even if true, even if kataleptically true, are
considered mere opinions; none of them is any more stable than the faulty
and inconsistent mental state of its possessor.
Now among the impressions to which we may assent, some are called
hormetic or impulsive. 12 Unlike the impression that, for instance, no prime
number is composite, these impressions include some evaluative content
about the goodness or badness, the value or Iack of value, of a state of
affairs, and so seem to suggest or indicate a course of action to be undertaken or avoided. If we assent to them we will have some sort of belief,
either knowledge or opinion, depending on the character of the impression
and the assent as indicated above. But since these impressions have this
special evaluative and practical character, we will also have something eise,
namely an impulse (horm€). When I have the impression that this cake is to
be eaten by me, and I assent to it, then my assent is an opinion. My assent
is also an impulse, namely the impulse to eat this cake. All occurrent
practical attitudes - all desires, intentions, pursuits, flights, and so on are impulses on the Stoic theory, and as such are assents to impulsive
impressions. These impulsesarenot merely inclinations, or expressions of
long-term preference; rather, the impulse itself immediately results in the
action of eating the cake, unless some external force intervenes.
What we might describe as having, but also checking or restraining, the
impulse to eat the cake, would not count in Stoicism as having an impulse.
lf the impulse is there, it results in action, and there can be no internal
checking or restraining of it. Instead they might argue that we had first had
an impulse to eat the cake, and this had caused us to move towards the
cake, when the sudden recollection of the doctor's prohibitionbad caused us
to withdraw our assent. Changing our assent, we thereby extinguished the
initial impulse. But unless canceled in this way, the impulse always results
in action, and in some sense is identical with the action itself; having the
impulse to eat the cake is trying to or striving to eat the cake, which trying
or striving, when successful and unhindered, simply is eating the cake. 13
This was also how the Stoics analyzed cases of weakness of will; there
can be no conflicting impulses, only vacillation, an alternation of impulses
so fast that it is not perceptible even to the agent. 14 So when I describe my
action as a case of eating the cake against my better judgement, what
actually happens is that I first have the belief that I should not eat the cake,
and then for a period have the belief that I should - and having this belief
even for a second, I try to eat the cake, and perhaps succeed. Then I later
may feel regrets about this, and retum to my earlier belief that eating the
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
29
cak:e was not the thingforme to do. And I may even say that I knew all
along that I should not eat it, or that I ate it against my better judgement;
but both of these claims falsify the real sequence of events. At the time I
was eating it, I believed that I should eat it, and my better judgement was
that I should eat it - for if I did not believe that, the Stoics argue, where
could the impulse have come from?
How a single assent to a single impression can be at the same time both
a belief and an impulse is not easy to see. It is made more difficult to
understand by the explicit elaboration, that beliefs are assents to full
propositions (for example, "this cak:e is to be eaten by me"), whereas
impulses are assents only to the predicates that are contained somehow in
the propositions (for example, "to eat the cak:e"). 15 It would seem from
this much alone that the assent that is a belief must be distinct from the
assent that is an impulse. But presumably the Stoics would specify that these
are two aspects of one assent which, qua belief, is given to a proposition,
and qua impulse is given to a predicate; or that the full assent is given to the
proposition, but that the portion of that assent which is directed to the
predicate is an impulse, so that the impulse is contained in the belief
somehow. The state of our sources may forever deny us further insight into
the details. For our purposes it is sufficient to understand that impulses and
beliefs are both assents, and that impulses are correlated with beliefs in such
a way that the impulse to eat the cak:e and the belief that the cak:e is to be
eaten by me always entail one another. This alone will explain why the
Stoics might say both that every intentional action is caused by an impulse,
and also that the cause of a certain action was a belief, namely the belief
that this was the thing to do. They will also speak at a further distance of
actions caused not merely by beliefs about actions (for example, that eating
this cak:e is the thingforme to do), but by beliefs about things, when those
beliefs contain some sort of evaluative predicate. So the impulse to eat this
cake is in some sense the same as the belief that the thing for me to do is to
eat this cak:e; but it may also be the same as the belief that this cak:e is
good, or that this cak:e has value. Bither of those beliefs may be accompanied by the impulse to eat this cak:e; and this shows how liberally we must
understand the qualifier "somehow", in the claim that our impulse is an
assent to a predicate that is contained in the proposition somehow. For the
belief that this cak:e is a good thing does not explicitly contain in it any
mention of the predicate "to eat"; but the Stoics will still want to say that
our impulse to eat it is the result of, and in some sense identical to, our
believing that it is a good thing, or seeing it as a good thing. 16
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The Definition of Emotions
We are now in a position to understand what an emotion or pathos is in
Stoicism. Since we are non-Sages, our beliefs about the world, and in
particular our beliefs about what is really good and bad, are nothing like the
Sage's uniformly true, consistent, unshakable knowledge. And this is
reflected in the fact that almost all of us believe that indifferent things like
money, or health, or life, are actually goods, whereas in fact nothing is
really good other than the perfection of our own reason, which is virtue. At
least on some occasions, our belief about the value of something which is
actually indifferent, as for instance money, will present it to us as something
which is good, and whose goodness is of such a sort that we ought to
pursue its acquisition. This belief, that the money is good and that the thing
to do is to acquire it, will be identical to or at least correlated with an
impulse, namely the impulse to acquire the money. This belief and its
attendant impulse are an emotion, in this case desire.
The Stoics thought that there were four generic emotions: desire
(epithumia), fear (phobos), pleasure (hedone), and pain (Iupe). They defined
them as follows: 17
Desire is the opinion that some future thing is a good of such a sort that
we should reach out for it.
Fear is the opinion that some future thing is an evil of such a sort that we
should avoid it.
Pleasure is the opinion that some present thing is a good of such a sort
that we should be elated about it.
Pain is the opinion that some present thing is an evil of such a sort that
we should be downcast about it.
It is easy to see that these four emotions are the product of two dichotomies,
between present and future, and good and evil. So we may arrange them
graphically as follows:
Value
good
evil
future
desire
fear
present
pleasure
pain
Time
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
31
Now each of these definitions mentions a belief, namely the opinion, and an
impulse, namely the reaching out, avoiding, being elated or downcast. 18
This makes sense, given that beliefs of this sort, namely evaluative and
practical beliefs, are identical in some way with impulses. This is why we
find, alongside of the full definitions just quoted, two sorts of abridgments. 19 Sometimes the emotions are defined solely in terms of opinion
(with the impulse implied) and other times in terms of impulse (with the
opinion implied):
Abbreviated formulations in terms of opinion:
Desire is the opinion of a future good (or, the expectation of good)
Fear is the opinion of a future evil (or, the expectation of evil)
Pleasure is the opinion (or, the fresh opinion) of a present good
Pain is the opinion (or, the fresh opinion) of a present evil.
Abbreviated definitions in terms of impulse:
Desire is irrational reaching out
Fear is irrational avoidance
Pleasure is irrational elation
Pain is irrational contraction (or, being downcast)
Other emotions were also defined, but only as species of these four (for
instance anger, following Aristotle, was defined as a species of desire,
namely desire for retaliation). The Stoics did distinguish emotions from
mere physical feelings, as for example whatever it feels like to stub one's
toe, or the signals sent from one's starnach to indicate the need for food or
drink. The feeling of pain at stubbing one's toe, or the feeling of hunger or
thirst, are not in themselves instances of the pains and desires that are
emotions, for emotions require assent to propositionally articulated impressions. And indeed, since children and animals do not have such impressions,
the Stoics explicitly denied that they have emotions, while naturally agreeing
that they have physical reactions to injury and the like.
Given these definitions of emotions, it is easy to see why the Stoics
would have thought that the Sage never has them, and that it is always
wrong to have them. For they are all mistaken opinions about what is truly
valuable; they all involve taking something which is indifferent to be
actually good or evil. And so they are also inconsistent with the Sage's or
with God 's fully rational view of things; this is the sense in which they are
said tobe irrational or contrary to nature.20 As false beliefs, then, they are
all imperfections of our reason, and so directly deleterious to our end as the
Stoics conceive it. But it is actually worse than that, because they are also
practical beliefs, and so in some way equivalent to impulses, and so directly
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productive of actions. Thus an emotion is not an idle and innocuous false
belief, but a false belief taking effect in the agent's behavior; and this may
weil strike us as undesirable even if we do not share the Stoic view of the
end.
But the Stoic view is not merely that having opinions of this kind will
cause us to act wrongly. They also think that this is the only and sole cause
of wrong action. For there are no other sources of intentional action than
our unitary, rational soul; no irrational parts capable of moving our limbs
in a way contrary to our beliefs about what we should do. If we did not
have the belief that something was the thing to do, we would not do it; and
if we did not have false beliefs, we would not do wrong things.
Keeping this in mind will help us see why the Stoics are not open to
many of the objections sometimes lodged against them. For instance, the
Stoics do not teil us very much about the "elations" or "depressions" that
are the impulsive component in the emotion. They seem to be some sort of
physical alteration around the heart (where the soul is located), of which the
agent is directly conscious. 21 And this combination of internal tightening
or expansion, along with our awareness of it, might seem like exactly what
we meant, pre-theoreticaily, by "emotion" - feeling upset, or anguished,
or in turmoil. But then it seems that the Stoics have defined emotions as
certain kinds of beliefs, accompanied by emotions; and this will seem less
than illuminating .22 The Stoics also granted that even the Sage, who does
not feel emotions, will have physical reactions 23 such as falling pale or
turning red, and will have internal elations; and it may seem that this
concession gives away the whole point of the claim that the Sage has no
emotions. Or opponents may attack head on the claim that emotions are
beliefs, by pointing to the way that music can affect our emotions without
itself containing any propositional content. 24
Objections of this sort overlook the essence of Stoic psychic monism,
which is that no action can proceed from anything but belief. From this
point of view, the phenomenology of physical reactions - how it feels to
stub one's toe, be in need of food, or be tossed about at sea - are ail
ethicaily irrelevant, because they are all causally impotent. No number of
shocks, bites, andfrissons, no amount of internal thrilling and chilling, will
have any effect on the movement of my limbs, unless I add to it the belief
that I ought to take some action. But having said this, I am not thereby
restricted in my account of what stimuli and what impressions can have
effects on my beliefs. The Stoics have no need to deny, and do not deny,
that the application of thumbscrews will tend to produce in their victim the
impression that something bad is occurring, and so make it more likely that
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
33
the average victim will actually believe that something bad is happening. So
too, there is no reason for them to deny that music may have an effect on
our behavior - exactly because it affects our beliefs. 25 True, it has no
propositional content; but then, neither do the thumbscrews. Neither do
most of the extemal objects that give rise to our impressions. And yet, they
all are capable of having some effect on our behavior - if, and only if, we
assent to the impressions and so change our beliefs.
But then this also accounts for their relative Iack of interest in the
phenomena that we think of as emotions - the laughter and tears and
whatever may underlie them. They do not wholly neglect them, but the
Stoic theory does not have their explanatio.n as its primary focus. That focus
is on ethics, not on psychology.
The Stoic, then, is not committed to implausible claims about what sorts
of stimuli will tend to have an effect on behavior, and so is not refuted by
alleged counter-examples like music. Whatever extemal influences other
theorists think can Iead to action, the Stoic too can accommodate. The
difference is that the Stoic insists that the connection is always mediated by
belief. No impression, no physical sensation, no external stimuli of any
kind, can ever Iead to an action on the agent's part, except by passing
through the bottleneck of belief. It was not the pain in the thumbs, in the
sense ofthat physical reaction, which caused me to betray my friends; at
most, that could only give rise to the impression that something bad was
happening. Rather, what caused me to betray my friends was my assent to
this impression; we may say that pain produced the action, but only in the
other, Stoic, sense of pain, namely, a belief that something bad was present
to me. For an action, like uttering my friends' names or pointing to them,
could only proceed from a belief. I bad previously believed that betraying
my friends was not the thing to do, and that torture was no evil. But the
thumbscrews are now attempting to persuade me to the contrary; they are
making it Iook as though torture is really, genuinely bad for me, and indeed
they are making it Iook as though tuming over my friends is exactly the
thing to do. And so if I lose my grasp on my initial beliefs, I will betray my
friends, exactly because of my new beliefs.
And this is why the Stoic analysis is not a mere matter of terminology,
or a trivial re-writing of the pluralists' analysis; for the Stoic analysis means
that it is possible, in the case of the Sage, for knowledge to make a stand,
fully in control of the agent's action, successfully resisting the blandishments and threats of contrary appearances. And this Thermopylae cannot be
turned. Unless there is false belief, there is no wrong action; so if knowledge can block the one, it can block the other. Someone whose beliefs about
34
TADBRENNAN
good and evil are not merely true, and not merely uniformly true, but are
actually in principle immune from any revision - someone who will never
waver in his or her beliefs, no matter how these may come under attackwill never do what is wrong.
This also explains why the Stoics divided beliefs into knowledge and
opinion. From the standpoint of modern epistemology, it may seem very
obtuse to lump tagether false beliefs, true beliefs, and true beliefs whose
truth is even somehow guaranteed, and treat them all as a uniform class
called "opinion". But from the Standpoint of ethics, it makes perfect sense;
only knowledge can guarantee right action. Even when the non-Sage does
the right things, and for the right reasons, he does them only because he
escaped, as it were by accident, being confronted by a slightly different
situation that would have brought out his viciousness. 26
This seems to me the most enlightening context in which to assess the
Stoic theory of emotions; emotion provides a sort of middle term, which
elucidates the causal pathway underlying the Socratic dieturn that knowledge
is virtue. Given that this is the theory's purpose, it is not surprising that its
subject seems to be at some remove from the range of phenomena usually
indicated by the term "emotions", as these are studied by modern psychologists. If anything, a more accurate translation27 for the Stoic term might
perhaps be "vicious motivations"; the theory of pathe is a theory of the
motivations of vicious behavior.
Accordingly, the fact that the Stoics were opposed to emotions (that is,
pathe) teils us nothing, in itself, about whether the Stoics were opposed to
emotions in the more familiar sense. And so the Sage, who is free from
pathe, might still have emotions.
And in fact the Stoics did at least say that the Sage had other conditions,
called "good emotions" or eupatheiai, ofwhich there are three: joy (chara),
volition (boulesis), and caution (eulabeia). Their definitions and structure
are largely parallel to those of pleasure, desire, and fear, but they differ
from emotions in being accurate, veridical attributions of goodness and
badness- the Sage has knowledge, and never opines. Where the non-Sage
routinely mistakes indifferents for goods, the Sage never attributes goodness
or badness to anything but genuine goods and evils, which is to say, virtue
and vice. Wehave well-attested definitions of the eupatheiai that mirrar the
impulse-formulations for the emotions given above (to wit, joy is rational
elation, volition is rational pursuit, caution is rational fear), but we must
reconstruct the full forms. 28 Presumably they would go as follows:
Volition is the knowledge that some future thing is a good of such a sort
that we should reach out for it.
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
35
Caution is the knowledge that some future thing is an evil of such a sort
that we should avoid it.
Joy is the knowledge that some present thing is a good of such a sort that
we should be elated about it.
Opinion has been replaced by knowledge, indifferents have been rejected in
place of genuine goods and evils; it is for this reason that the impulses in
each case are said to be rational. These states also can be put into a two-bytwo grid as follows:
Value
good
evil
future
volition
caution
present
joy
---
Time
The absence of a fourth eupatheia is not due to any lacuna in our sources,
but rather follows organically from their definition. The corollary of pain
would have to be the knowledge that some present thing is an evil. Now
knowledge entails truth; so some evil thing would have tobe present to the
Sage. But vice and folly are the only evil things there are, and the Sage by
definition is free from them. So, by definition, the Sage could never have
the knowledge that some evil was present to him: thus there can be no
fourth eupatheia. 29
This leaves us with the question, what attitude will the Sage take towards
indifferents, and what shall we call it? lt cannot be a eupatheia, since those
are directed only towards genuine goods and evils, but then neither can it be
an emotion, since these are all false and vicious. What is it?
One way to approach this question is by reflecting on the inaccuracy of
the common characterization of the eupatheiai as "the opposites of emotions". Since emotions are each mistakes, that is, incorrectly taking an
indifferenttobe a genuine good or evil, it is not clear what it means to talk
about the "opposite of an emotion". What is the opposite of putting a round
peg in a square hole? Presumably, if we can make sense of the idea at all,
it has two opposites: putting a round peg into a round hole, and putting a
square peg into a square hole. So too, it seems that the emotions just from
36
TADBRENNAN
tbeir nature have two intrinsic Counterparts: correctly taking the good (evil)
to be the good (evil), wbicb is a eupatheia, and correctly taking the
indifferent to be an indifferent. Tbis is the attitude that the Sage will display
towards indifferents; be will bave the knowledge that these indifferent tbing
in tbe present or future are indifferent.
If wbat is at issue is a future thing, tben be will bave rational impulses
towards taking the ones that it is rational for bim to take, and not taking tbe
ones tbat it is not rational for bim to take, and towards none of them will be
feel tbe emotions of desire or fear. Tbe name for this kind of impulse is
"selection" (eklog€). 30 Selection is not confined to the Sage; rather, it is
common to tbe Sage and non-Sage, in exactly tbe same way that katalepsis
and tbe proper functions (kathfkonta) are. Botb the Sage's and the nonSage's selection are correctly aimed at indifferents qua indifferents, but tbe
non-Sage's selection fails all of the counterfactual tests; be has tbe true
belief tbat they are indifferent but does not know it. So bis attitude towards
tbem may at any time go astray; be may start to think of tbem as genuine
goods, relapsing from selection into the emotion of desire. Still, the gradual
replacement of emotions by selections will have been an important component of etbical progress; wbere I used to desire food, and feel pleasure at
its consumption, I now select it wben it is rational for me to eat, and
consume it with indifference. 31
Tbe doctrine of selection is an important complement to the doctrine of
emotions, for it tells us two tbings that migbt otherwise not be clear. Critics
sometimes write as thougb all of tbe non-Sage's impulses are emotions, and
all of tbe Sage's impulses are eupatheiai; 32 but it sbould now be clear tbat
neitber of tbese claims is true.
If tbe indifferent at issue is a present one, as for instance bis current state
of bealth or wealtb, then the Sage will bave the knowledge tbat it is
indifferent, but tbat it is rational that be sbould have it, since all events are
fated and are tbe work of God, wbo is nature and reason. He will feel
neitber elation nor contraction at it, for elation and contraction are never
rational responses to indifferents. 33
But tbis stillleaves the Sage with a fairly wide scope for having emotions
in tbe subjective or pbenomenological sense. If there are internal feelings
consistent witb the veridical, knowledgeable assessment of tbe values of tbe
goods and indifferents around bim, tben the probibition on emotions (in the
Stoic sense) will not stand in the way of bis feeling them. It may be that,
still within tbe scope of tbat probibition, be can have a very rieb and
complicated emotionallife, in the modern sense.
And tbis outcome sbould not surprise us, for it sbould be clear by now
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
37
that the Stoics did not advocate the elimination of emotions for the reasons
sometimes alleged, namely that our experience of them is subjectively
unpleasant or disturbing. What is wrong with emotions is not that they feel
this way orthat- dizzying or devastating, savage or sublime- but rather
that each of them is, per se, an imperfection of rationality. It is a false
belief, and inconsistent with other beliefs we have. And it is just in virtue
of its being a false and inconsistent belief that it stands as an impediment to
our perfection, and so to our virtue and happiness; for we are, by our
nature, most essentially rational souls, creatures whose perfection is reached
in the possession of truth and consistency, and in a godlike and scientific
understanding of the universe.
Now, since the world is providentially ordered, it so happens that when
we have attained this state of rational perfection we will also feel tranquil,
and not be prey to the violent moods and feelings that are central to our
conception, though not to the Stoics' conception, of emotions. But this
outcome, no matter how agreeably it may strike us, is aceidentat to the
Stoics' conception of the end, and of how the avoidance of emotions
contributes to it. The avoidance of subjective feelings is not the end, and if,
per impossibile, such feelings were entailed by the end, then I am inclined
to think that the Stoics would have bad no objection to our feeling them.
The connection between subjective emotional feelings and our rational
perfection is slightly closer than the connection between bodily pleasure or
pain and our rational perfection, but the same counterfactual considerations
apply. The Stoics thought that the life of a Sage would, by and large, be
one of good health and comfortable physical sensation. But if the Stoics bad
thought that rational perfection entailed physical aches and pains, they
would have advocated it none the less. For all of those things are indifferent; it is no part of our essence to be creatures that are physically
comfortable, and so the perfection of our nature does not require our
physical comfort.
The same, I think, applies to the feeling-tones and qualia that we
associate with emotions. If thingsbad been otherwise, so that the perfection
of our rational souls and their possession of truth and consistency entailed
that we should have some subjective feeling-tone, as for instance gloominess
or angst, then the Stoics would have advocated that we should perfect our
rationality, and feel gloominess or angst. So long as these subjective states
were not associated with any falsehood or inconsistency (since then they
would be emotions in the Stoic sense), there is no reason why the experience of them should be detrimental to the attainment of our end. What
matters is that our minds should be as perfect, as close to divinity, as
38
TADBRENNAN
possible; what that happens to feel like is really neither here nor there, any
more than physical pains or pleasures are.
I am inclined to think, then, that the Sensations with which we associate
emotions are also, like physical pains and pleasures, indifferent. Now to say
this goes beyond the evidence of our sources, and for a good reason; the
Stoics never entertained, as I have, the counterfactual detachment of false
belief from feeling-tone. They did entertain the possibility that perfect
rationality should be contained in a body wracked with physical pain, and
their answer about that sort of case is unequivocal. But because the
connection between false-belief and feeling-tone in emotions is closer, the
possibility in which they come apart is at a much greater and less easily
contemplated remove. So I shall borrow from Aristotle the terminology
needed; I am inclined tothinkthat it was not qua emotions (i.e. subjective
experience) that the Stoics condemned emotions, but rather qua false
beliefs. 34
This feature of the Stoic attitude towards emotions is obscured in part by
two things. The firstisthat the Stoics will have claimed that their scientifically refined, highly theoretical account of what an emotion is, namely a
sort of false belief which is at the same time an impulse, is not at all a
deviation from the normal sense of the term. Instead, they will claim that it
is a refinement or systematization of it, which exactly captures the causal
substructure of what we normally, pre-theoretically mean by "emotion".
The charge of linguistic legislation was a common one in the Hellenistic
era, 35 and always provoked vehement denials; 36 and in this case, too, the
Stoics spent a Iot of time trying to show that there is no real distance
between their definition of the pathe in terms of beliefs, and the ordinary
picture of emotion as involving characteristic feelings. This ongoing polemic
on behalf of the adequacy of their definition will recur prominently in the
chapters of this book that explore the later Stoic discussions of emotions. 37
Given this position, the Stoics will not have been inclined to entertain the
counterfactual detachment that I considered on their behalf.
Secondly, our view of the Stoic theory is obscured by the fact that much
of what remains to us is popular exhortation, addressed to non-Stoics whose
beliefs about values are necessarily at variance with the Stoic view. In
attempting the conversion of such people, the Stoics follow the normal
rhetorical course of trying to show that Stoicism is the best and most
efficacious means to the ends that the audience already espouses. lf this end
is wealth, the Stoics will argue that the Stoic Sage is the only person who is
truly wealthy; if it is physical attractiveness, then they will argue that he
alone is handsome. 38 But no serious student of Stoicism would be deceived
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
39
by these claims into supposing that wealth and beauty and so on were
anything but indifferents. The same interpretive response ought to govern
our reading of the Stoic fragments on emotion. When a Stoic speaks to
someone who is suffering intense grief or mourning, and who wishes to
replace a painful and turbulent feeling-tone by a neutral or tranquil feelingtone, the Stoic will promise that very benefit; you will lose the subjective
experiences you dislike, and acquire the subjective experiences that now
attract you. But this too gives us no evidence that the Stoics themselves
placed any importance on the feeling-tone itself.
These last comments have strayed beyond the stated confines of critical
unanimity, and so I should caution the non-specialist reader that they are
controversial. There are other scholars who take it that the avoidance of
feelings was central to the Stoic prohibition on pathe, and not incidental in
the way that I have suggested. This issue then takes us up to, and slightly
beyond, the boundaries of critical consensus. It thus serves as a suitable
transition to the second part of this chapter, in which I focus on other topics
that remain undecided in the literature.
SECOND PART: SOME ISSUES OF CURRENT CONTROVERSY
Do Emotions Involve Attributions of Substantial Value?
There is some controversy about the judgements of goodness and badness
made in emotions. Some scholars have claimed that these judgements must
involve a "serious or very high value (or disvalue). "39 So, for instance,
the belief "this money in front of me is a good thing" would not, on this
account, be an emotion. Only some more emphatic version of it, as for
instance "this money in front of me is a very good thing," "a wonderful
thing," or the like, would count as an emotion in the Stoic theory.
Of course, the definitions of emotions say nothing of the sort, but
proponents find support for their view in several other passages. One of
them talks about "supposing that what should not be pursued is intensely
worth pursuing, " 40 where the evidential value lies in the adverb "intensely" _41 Another, even more suggestively, seems to say that in an emotion
we must believe that something is the greatest good, not merely a good of
some lesser degree. Hereis Long and Sedley's translation of it: 42
The passions are called ailments not just in virtue of their judging each of these things to be
good, but also with regard to their running towards them in excess of what is natural ....
One might take him [Chrysippus] to say ... that the opinion that possessionsare a good is not
yet an ailment, but becomes so when someone takes them to be the greatest good . . . .
40
TADBRENNAN
However, the problern with both of these passages is that they are not
discussions of emotions. Rather, these passages are each discussions of the
underlying, dispositional states that incline someone to have an emotion.
Now an emotion is an assent to an impression, and so a punctual event, like
an occurrent belief or desire. 43 But there are also correlative dispositional
states, like the disposition to fear spiders or to love money or to desire
sweet foods. These are the items being discussed, and they are called
"diseases" (nosemata), or "ailments" (arrostemata) or "pronenesses to
falling" (euemptosiai).
The point being made in these passages is that we do not characterize a
person as suffering from a disposition to have a certain kind of emotion,
unless their beliefs about the object involved have a certain intensity, as
manifested by the intensity and frequency with which they experience the
particular emotional incidents. For instance, someone may on some occasion
feel pain at having his reputation slighted. He is then having an emotion, to
wit the beliefthat humiliation is a bad thing. However, if this happens to
him only once in his whole life, we would not say that he is easily humiliated, or that he is very touchy about his reputation, or that he is
prideful. We would only characterize as constitutionally vain or prideful
those who put a very high value on their reputation, as evidenced by their
frequently falling into the emotional states of desiring praise, feeling pained
by humiliation, and so on. So the point being made in these two passages
does not show that any individual emotion must involve an attribution of
high value, or the belief that something is the greatest good or bad. Rather,
it is sufficient for the having of an emotion that the agent merely think that
something is good or bad, as the definition suggests. Doing that, one has an
emotion. But merely doing that once, or sporadically, does not mean that
one has a weakness for that sort of emotion, or an ailment, or a disease; for
those, one must place a very high and intense value on the object in
question.
The first passage, cited in full, makes clear how pronenesses, diseases,
and ailments are related:
Proneness is a tendency towards passion, or towards one of the actions contrary to nature.
For instance, depression, irascibility, malevolence, irritability, and the like .... Disease is
an opinion about desire which has flowed into a state and hardened, according to which those
who have it suppose that what is not worthy of pursuit is intensely worth pursuing. For
instance, women-loving, wine-loving, or money-loving .... When they occur along with
weakness, diseases are called "ailments".
The last sentences shows that every ailment is a disease; a certain sort of
more intense disease, where the sufferer's soul is weakened. Cicero twice
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
41
teils us that ailments cannot be separated from diseases, except conceptually;
in fact, whoever has an ailment also has a disease. 44 And I believe that the
relation between pronenesses and diseases is the same; every disease (and so
every ailment) is a proneness, although not vice versa. Proneness may be a
slight inclination or disposition, a tendency to be depressed or angry. A
disease is a more intense version of this, and an ailment a still more intense
version. And that it is more intense is confirmed by the continuation of the
first passage, in which Chrysippus says of those who have ailments, "it is
not unreasonable that [they] are called 'women-mad' or 'bird-mad'".
Believing, on some occasion, that sexual gratification is a good means that
you have an emotion, a desire, but it does not ipso facto mean that you are
prone to it. If in addition you are prone to think that sexual gratification is
a good, then you have a proneness, while you may not yet think that it is
intensely good. If, however, you do think that it is "intensely worthy of
being pursued," then you have a disease (philogunia), and are a "womenlover", while if in addition you have a weakness for it, so that you think it
is the greatest good, then you are reasonably called "women-mad" (gunaikomanes).
Now all of this seems like a sensible view to hold about the grounds on
which we typify someone's character by the emotions they tend to fall into.
But none of it entails that the emotions themselves - those individual
episodes - necessarily involve the ascription of any high positive value, or
any intensity. What is at issue in these passages arenot occurrent opinions,
but dispositional ones- "an opinion that has flowed into a state (hexis) and
hardened". The pathological money-lover holds the fixed beliefthat money
is the greatest of all goods, and hisindividual desires for it may reflect this.
But when someone else desires money without this intensity, thinking it a
good though not a great good, they are still having an emotion.
Two points need to be addressed to make this claim good. First, it should
be noted that Long and Sedley have added the word "passions" into the
second passage, where the Greek only speaks of "these things" (tauta).
What these things were is unclear; they may have been certain ailments
under discussion, as for instance the women-madness or bird-madness next
cited, or they may simply have been the dass of diseases that are severe
enough to be called ailments. So, what Chrysippus is saying is that if we
think about why we call a particular sort of state or disposition an "ailment", then we should note that we do not call it this merely because it
involves some sort of dispositionalbelief that certain objects are good. That
might suffice to make the condition a proneness, or a disease, but not an
ailment.
42
TADBRENNAN
Secondly, there is a verb ekpiptein, which Long and Sedley translate by
"running toward" .45 So translated, it Iooks like a reference to the excessive and irrational impulse that composes one aspect of an emotion, and thus
the entire sentence seems to contrast two analyses of the occurrent belief in
an emotion, one in which mere goodness is ascribed to something, and
another in which some excessive goodness is ascribed to it. However, that
is not what the sentence means, because that is not what ekpiptein means.
Chrysippus uses this word several other places, andin each case it describes
not a single episode of emotional belief, but the gradual acquisition of a bad
state of character. Here are the passag es:
SVF 3.708 [In Homer, the heroes arenot ashamed to take an active role in the preparation
of their own meals]: "They made a practice of being their own serving-men," Chrysippus
says, "and even prided themselves on their dexterity in this [he cites examples from Homer]
. . . . But now, we have become so debased that we dine lying down. (epi tosouton
ekpeptokamen, hOs katakeisthai dainumenot)."
SVF 3. p. 195, App. 2, Peri ton me di' hauta Haireton fr. 2
As the noble Chrysippus describes in the work 'On Things That Are Not Per Se Worthy of
Pursuit', "Certain people become so debased in relation to money (epi tosouton tines
ekpiptousi pros to argurion) that it is related that at the end of bis life one of them swallowed
a great deal of gold before he died, and that another bad gold sewn into a sort of cloak, and
then put it on, enjoining bis intimates to bury him just so, without cremation or other
preparation."
SVF 3. p. 200, App. 2, Peri tou Kalou kai tes Hedones pros Aristokreonta fr. 10
Conceming which Chrysippus says, "I know a glutton who has become so debased with
respect to feeling shame before bis neighbors when things happen (epi tosouton ekpeptokota
tou me entrepesthai tous plesion epi tois ginomenois), that publicly, in the bath-houses, he
habituates bis band to heat by putting it into bot water, and gargles with bot water in bis
mouth, in orderthat they will be resistant to heat. For, they say, he has bribed the cooks to
serve foods as bot as possible, and then he alone consumes them, since bis companions are
unable to follow him."
These three, with the original passage concerning ailments, are the only
places in the surviving corpus where Chrysippus uses ekpiptein of a
person. 46 In each of them, what is described cannot involve an individual
excessive impulse, but rather the gradual acquisition of a vicious state of the
character. And at least in the second two cases, the state of character is
really most extreme; we all tend to think of money and food, mistakenly, as
goods, but few of us are so far gone that we swallow gold on our deathbeds, or scald our throats in order to monopolize the hors d'oeuvres. So in
the original passage about ailments, we should not translate ekpiptein by
"running towards" certain objects, or "being attracted to" them, but rather,
for instance, "becoming decadent about" them, or "becoming debased in
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
43
relation to" them, or "acquiring an unnatural inclination towards" them. So,
what Chrysippus says is:
[when we refer to certain vicious states of character, e.g. pathological dispositional
inclinations to women or birds, as "ailments", then] these things are not called "ailments"
because of the judgement that each of these things is good [that is, merely good, simpliciter],
but rather because of having become debased in relation to them, to a degree beyond what
is natural.
The phrase "to become debased in relation to" (pros) also occurs in the
second parallel citation (in relation to money), which is drawn, significantly,
from a treatise on "On Things That Are Not Per Se Worthy of Pursuit".
This should remind us of the phrase used in the definition of diseases:
"Disease is an opinion about desire which has flowed into a state and
hardened, according to which those who have it suppose that what is not
worth of pursuit is intensely worth pursuing." So the discussion of the
pathological Iove of gold in that treatise will have been part of a discussion
of how one acquires a vicious disposition towards something that is not
worthy of pursuit, namely money, by coming to have the (dispositional)
opinion that it is intensely worthy of pursuit. This sort of state or disposition
is a disease. And if this becomes so intense that one comes tothink it is the
greatest good, and worth doing anything to acquire, then one will have
become so debased that one will have an ailment.
The important point here, however, is that none of these texts in any way
requires us to think that an individual emotion must involve the belief that
an object has substantial goodness or badness. Of course, those who do have
a pathological Iove of money may weil, in their individual episodes of
greed, have the occurrent belief that the money in front of them is an
intensely desirable thing. Butthat does not show that the same must be true
for all emotions.
A last objection to be considered. I distinguish between the occurrent
value-judgements constitutive of an emotion, and the long-terrn dispositions
of those who are pathologically disposed towards something so as to be
actually diseased or even mad about it. But how can I make that distinction,
given that, as we know, the Stoics claimed that all non-Sages are literally
insanef47 We are all cowardly, unjust, hateful, lustful, and so on, and we
are all mad. So we must all suffer from all of these diseases and ailments.
And in that case, all non-Sages do have the disposition to attribute intense
value, even the greatest value, to the objects of their emotions. Thus all
emotions do involve these attributions of intense goodness or badness, not
merely any degree of goodness or badness. 48
However, exactly this objection was anticipated and answered by the
44
TADBRENNAN
Stoics, in both Cicero and Seneca. Seneca distinguishes between two senses
in which we may say that someone is "ungrateful"; in the first, it may be
said of every non-Sage, exactly because he isanon-Sage (quia stultus est),
whereas in the second it may only be said of the person who has a tendency
towards displaying this vice. So too, in one sense we say that every nonSage, even Achilles, is cowardly, but in another sense it is said only of the
person whose nature is such that he takes fright even at unmeaning
sounds. 49
All the vices are present in all people, but not all of them stand out in each person. Nature
inclines this one to greed, that one is given over to wine or Iust, or if not yet given over to
it, is yet so formed that bis character Ieads him in that direction.50
Cicero's testimony is equally useful: 51
It is one thing to be irascible (iracundum), another to be angry (iratum), just as being
temperamentally anxious differs from feeling anxiety. For neither is everyone who sometimes
feels anxiety (anguntur aliquando) thereby temperamentally anxious (anxil), nor are the
temperamentally anxious always feeling anxiety.
This fits with Seneca; in one sense all non-Sages are irascible, but in
another sense only some are, namely those who become angry often (saepe).
And even becoming angry now and then (aliquando) would not make one
irascible in this sense. Now, this is the sense in which irascibility and love
of money are said tobe diseases or ailments. So it is clear that not all nonSages do have these ailments, even if all non-Sages can, in another sense,
be said to be lustful, greedy, and irascible, by the very fact that they are
non-Sages.
Accordingly, the distinction stands; the diseases, by definition, involve
the (dispositional) attribution of substantial or intense goodness or badness
to indifferents. The emotions do not.
Frede on the Propositional Content of Emotions
While not all scholars have thought that the emotion must involve substantial
or high value, most have assumed that the belief in an emotion must
explicitly predicate at least some goodness or badness of the item in
question. It is not entirely clear from the evidence whether the belief must
explicitly use the predicates "good" and "bad", or whether there are other
ways of predicating the evaluative content.52 But, on this view, the
evaluation must be part of the propositional content correlated with the
belief.
However, there is another view, taken by Michael Frede, 53 which has
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
45
gained some adherents. Frede pointsout that there is more to the content of
an impression, and so more to a belief, than its propositional content; there
is also a "way of thinking", such that the same propositional content can
appear in different beliefs, being thought in different ways. There is very
good evidence for this in Stoicism from the theory of kataleptic impressions;
the expert chicken-farmer and I may both believe that there is an egg on the
table, but the farmer's impression and belief about this will be vastly richer,
more detailed, more clearly articulated, than mine.54 Both of our impressions have the propositional content "that there is an egg on the table", but
our way of thinking it is very different. Frede offers the similar example of
a blind person and a sighted person having the belief that a traffic light is
red.
Given this extra, non-propositional content to beliefs, there is an
additional location for evaluative content in an emotion; and so it may be
that the proposition is completely non-evaluative, but that the belief is still
indirectly evaluative, because the proposition is "thought in a way" that
involves evaluation. This seems tobe Frede's view. So, two people might
have beliefs with the same propositional content, for instance "that Socrates
is pale", but one will have, and the other will not have, an emotion.
Describing the person who has the fear, Frede writes: 55
He . . . knows from experience that this kind of paleness is the symptom of a fatal disease
. . . . He thinks of a fatal disease as something bad, because he thinks of death as something
bad. All this enters into his thought that Socrates is pale by modifying the way he thinks that
Socrates is pale, without though affecting the propositional content.
If we follow Frede, then the proposition correlated with the belief need no
Ionger have any evaluative content whatsoever. So long as the "way of
thinking" is evaluative, the proposition may display a great variety of
contents- for if "Socrates is pale" may be thought of in such a way as to
be a fearful belief, then so too may "the Sacred Ship has retumed from
Delos", or even, presumably, any random arithmetical proposition (for
instance "560 is greater than 440", supposing this to have been the tally of
votes at Socrates' trial).
This proposal has not gained universal assent, 56 but no arguments have
been brought against it. I think that Frede has not made his position fully
determinate, and so it is at least in need of some clarification. 57 Suppose,
following his proposal, that Socrates is pale, and that someone has a fearful
belief whose propositional content is "Socrates is pale", thought of as a bad
thing. The following theses about the belief are inconsistent, but it is not
clear which of them Frede wants to maintain, and which he would be
willing to reject:
TAD BRENNAN
46
1)
2)
3)
4)
5)
This belief is an emotion
This belief (like all emotions) is false and mistaken
The "way of thinking" does not affect the propositional content of
the belief
The propositional content of this belief, "Socrates is pale", is true
A belief is false if and only if the proposition correlated with it is
false
These cannot all be true. The source of the conflict is that they require us
to imagine that two people can have beliefs that share the same propositional
content, but differ in truth-value; when the non-Sage is afraid that Socrates
is pale, and the Sage notes with equanimity that Socrates is pale, Frede
seems to say both that the propositional contents of their beliefs are the
same, and that one belief is false and mistaken (since it is an emotion) and
the other true (since Socrates is pale - and since a Sage knows it). But
there is very good evidence that it is the propositional content of an
impression (and so belief), and this alone, that determines its truth-value. 58
In fact it seems to me wrang in general, whether it is a question of
emotions or not, to think that the difference between two impressions with
the same propositional content can ever result in a difference of truth-value.
The discussions in which this difference of non-propositional content is
emphasized most clearly are those concerning the difference between the
kataleptic, technical impressions of the expert and the vague and nonkataleptic impressions of the non-expert. But in none of these is there a
difference of truth-value. When two people have beliefs whose content is
"there is an egg on the table" (or, in Frede's example, "the light is red")
their impressions may differ in many ways, as for instance when one is
kataleptic and the other is not. But if the egg is on the table, then the
proposition that occurs in both impressions is true, and so the beliefs
themselves are both true, no matter how they may differ otherwise. I don't
believe that there is any evidence in Stoicism to the contrary.
Now of the inconsistent set, premise 4) is true by Stipulation and by
standard Stoic truth-conditions.59 Premise 5) is weB supported, and the
only uncertainty in it would be of little help to Frede's overall case. 60
Rejecting premise 3) would leave us with a minor variation on the standard
position; if the "way of thinking" does affect the propositional content of
the belief whose content had been "Socrates is pale", then presumably the
evaluation is added into the proposition, as another conjunct. So it would no
Ionger be true to say that the emotion and the unemotional belief have the
same propositional content, namely "Socrates is pale". Rather, the emotion
might have as its propositional content a lang conjunction, as for instance
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
47
"Socrates is pale and this means that he will die and his dying is a very bad
thing". But this is not an option that is likely to attract any champions; it
Iacks the advantages both of the standard view and of Frede's view.
We are left, it seems to me, with only two plausible options; either we
must reject 1), Frede's suggestion that emotions can have non-evaluative
propositional contents, or we must reject 2), the assumption that emotions
are false.
Reject 1). This would be to follow the majority of critics, and suppose
that a proposition like "Socrates is pale" cannot be the content of a fear.
The false evaluation must be part of the propositional content of the belief,
not just part of the "way of thinking". Thus emotions make an explicit,
propositionally-expressed, claim about value, for instance "this money in
front of me is a good thing," or "Socrates' impending death is a bad thing,"
and their falsehood consists exactly in the falsehood of this proposition.
In Frede's favor, it must be admitted that such propositions as "Socrates
is pale" do frequently appear inside of contexts like "I am afraid that ... "
and the like. So the proposal to countenance emotions with non-evaluative
propositional contents allows for greater fidelity to usage, as well as greater
flexibility in general. Whereas, if the Stoics had chosen to analyze such
cases by saying that the fear really had the propositional content "Socrates'
impending death is a bad thing," then according to their analysis the
person's thoughts would not have been very well reflected by their utterances. But they seem to have been comfortable with this kind of move in
other cases; they say, for instance, that weakness of will involves a rapid
altemation of beliefs, so swift as to be unnoticeable even to the agent having
them. 61 And this analysis involves postulating beliefs that diverge quite
broadly from the agent's utterances, perhaps even more broadly than
supposing that the fear "Socrates' impending death isabad thing" underlies
the utterance "I am afraid that Socrates is pale." So this kind of fidelity may
not be a very strong reason to accept Frede's proposal.
Reject 2). If we follow Frede in supposing that emotions can have nonevaluative propositional content, then we shall have to reject the normal
assumption that emotions are false, and indeed we shall have to suppose that
emotions are quite generally true. For on his view, emotions typically will
be beliefs like "my child is dead," "I am eating some chocolate cake," and
so on, thought in a certain, emotional way so as tobe pains or pleasures,
desires or fears. And there is no reason why these should be false- it may
well be the case that my child is dead, or that I am eating cake, in which
case my beliefs will be true. It is evaluative beliefs, after all, that the nonSage tends to get wrong; the Stoics did not claim that he was especially bad
48
TADBRENNAN
at telling whether children are dead or cake is cake. 62 Of course, desires
and fears refer to the future, and so are more likely to involve false nonevaluative beliefs (since I may not win the lottery as I had desired). But the
vast majority of pains and pleasures would turn out to be true, not false, as
most critics have thought and as Frede hirnself at least sometimes says. 63
Thus the refutation of the Frede's proposal can be most easily accomplished by demonstrating that, according to the Stoics, all emotions are
false. However, this is not at all easy to demonstrate, and in fact it seems to
me quite likely that it was not their position at all. A full consideration of
the evidence would require more space than this chapter may conveniently
occupy, but a few pointswill show the location of the difficulties.
The evidence for supposing that all emotions are false in fact seems to
me very weak. To begin with, it should be noted that the falsehood of the
belief is no part of the definition, although it would have been very easy for
the Stoics to say, for instance, that pain is the false opinion of a present
evil. But not only do the Stoics decline to specify that the opinion in an
emotion is always false, they actually specify something suggestive of the
contrary; at two different passages, we are told that by "opinion" in the
definition of emotions, what is meant is "weak assent" .64 Now weak
assent covers at least three kinds of opinion, namely weak assent to the
false, weak assent to the true, and weak assent to the kataleptic (and
according to the account of opinion I favor, it actually covers all cases of
opinion). 65 So here it seems that, even when taking extra pains to show
what kind of opinion is involved in emotions, the Stoics do not say that they
are false opinions, but rather any kind of opinion, false, true or even
kataleptic. Because of the care with which the Stoics crafted their definitions, this ought to have a great deal of weight with us, and one easy way
of explaining it would be to suppose that they, like Frede, wanted to countenance emotions with propositional contents like "Socrates is pale." Later,
I shall suggest a rival explanation. 66
Still, there are some passages in which false opinions are mentioned in
the context of emotions, and it is these, I suspect, that have persuaded
scholars to suppose that all emotions are false beliefs, even though the
definition does not require it. One of these has been considered in the last
section, namely the passage in which it is said that those who suffer from a
disease "suppose that what is not worth of pursuit is intensely worth
pursuing." This is certainly a false opinion. But it is a dispositional opinion,
betonging to a pathological person. So it cannot be used to show the falsity
of all emotions without showing the legitimacy of two independent moves,
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
49
first from pathological people to people at large, and then from dispositional
beliefs to occurrent beliefs at large.
Now it seems to me that, on the Stoic view, a dispositionalbelief must be
a disposition to assent to certain impressions; it is an alteration of the soul,
which increases the likelihood that it will respond to new impressions one
way rather than another. 67 And so, if someone has a dispositional belief
that money is good, then they will have the disposition to assent to the
impression that this money in front of them is good, when such an impression arises. 68 So I am content that the evidence about dispositions does
show that those who have the disease of money-loving will have beliefs of
the form "this money is a (very) good thing," and that these beliefs will be
emotions, and that they are false. But, again, this cannot be directly
generalized to all emotions. Furthermore, it does not show us that this very
disposition could not also have an indirect effect on the way in which its
possessor assents to the impression "here is some money in front of me."
And if this is possible, then one disambiguation of Frede's proposal still
Iooks viable.
Namely, we would say that, while some emotions do make explicit valuejudgements, others do not, but instead consist in non-evaluative propositions
which are thought in a certain way. And, we would continue, it is exactly
this disposition to assent to false evaluative beliefs which affects the way in
which the true non-evaluative belief is thought; it is exactly because of my
readiness to assent to the impression that Socrates' impending death is a bad
thing, that in assenting to the impression that Socrates is pale, I think of his
paleness in an emotional and fearful way, and thus have an emotion. Given
this, we could also show why, even though some emotions are true beliefs,
there would still be passages that suggested that emotions are false beliefs.
For on this proposal, all emotions would at least be indirectly false, or have
their origins in other, false beliefs, since even those emotions whose
propositional contents were true ("Socrates is pale") would still become
emotions because of the way in which they were thought, and this would be
the result of false dispositional beliefs ("Death is a bad thing"), which,
while not themselves emotions, are false beliefs, or at least dispositions to
assent to false impressions. 69 As a result, far from refuting it, these texts
might fit very nicely with one way of understanding Frede's proposal.
And so even texts which discuss emotions instead of emotional dispositions, and say that false beliefs are somehow involved in them, will still
need to be treated with great caution. For instance, Galen tells us that Stoics
of his day said that "mistaken reason and false opinion (ton hemartemenon
logon kai ten doxan ten pseude) are the causes of the motions attendant on
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TADBRENNAN
the emotions. " 70 But this does not tell us that the false opinions that cause
certain motions are actually identical with the opinions in the emotions; it is
still consistent with the proposal being considered. Similarly, when Plutarch
teils us that "an emotion is bad and licentious reason, arising from a
worthless and mistaken judgement (ek phaules kai diemartemenes kriseos)
when it gains force and strength," we still do not have the crucial passage
that would identify the emotion with the mistaken judgement. 71 This
merely says that the emotion somehow arises from false judgement, and we
have just seen how a true non-evaluative emotion might be said to arise
from a false evaluative disposition.
There will also be another interpretive problem, namely that the emotions
in which the belief is evaluative and directly false may well have been taken
tobe typical, and have received the greatest attention. So we may find some
writers who are less familiar with Stoicism, writing as though this false
evaluation was a feature of all emotions - this may be the case with
Themistius in SVF 1.208. Furthermore, Galen suggests that people sometimes use the ward "emotion" catachrestically, for "emotional disposition" ,72 so that Statements that emotions are false may merely reflect the
fact that all emotional dispositions, that is, diseases and ailments and so on,
are dispositions to assent to false impressions. And while it might seem
unlikely that anyone could confuse such things, it happens that Diagenes
Laertius (or his source) does exactly this, when he explains the doctrine that
emotions are judgements (pathe kriseis einai) by saying "for Iove of money
(philarguria) is the supposition that money is good, and likewise with
drunkenness (methe) and licentiousness (akolasia) and the like .•m Four
other passages tell us that Iove of money was not an emotion, but rather a
disease, that is an emotional disposition; 74 and it would be natural to
suppose the same of drunkenness and licentiousness.75 Now it may have
been that such terms as "Iove of money" and "licentiousness" were
themselves used catachrestically to refer to the individual beliefs, emotions,
and impulses that arose from the dispositions properly so called. But it is
more likely that Diagenes has found a passage about emotional dispositions,
and is misapplying it to a statement about emotions proper, exactly because
he thinks that the pathe referred to are emotional dispositions instead of
emotions.
These sorts of considerations do not in any sense prove Frede's case, but
only go to show how difficult it would be to disprove it. And one further
piece of evidence will show that it simply cannot be disproved in the way
currently envisioned, namely by confronting it with a demonstration that all
emotions are false. This is a passage of Cicero in which Cicero's source,
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
51
who is almost certainly Chrysippus, countenances emotions that contain true
beliefs.
I have in mind the story of Alcibiades in Cicero's Tusc. 3.77-78, who
was distressed by his own vice when Socrates demonstrated it to him, and
begged Socrates to mak:e him a better man. Cicero comments "what shall
we say, Cleanthes? that there was no evil in the cause which made Alcibiades feel distress?"76 For Alcibiades had an emotion; but it was directed
at a genuine evil, namely his own vice, not an indifferent. And this is a
problern for the assumption that every emotion is constituted by or depends
on the false belief that an indifferent is a good or evil. Indeed, the anecdote
very neatly falsifies the assumption for three emotions at once; for Cicero
teils us that Alcibiades also feit an emotional desire for his future virtue,
and an emotional fear for his future vice. 77 So none of these - neither
pain, desire, or fear - necessarily involves tak:ing an indifferent to be a
good. They can also involve tak:ing a good to be a good, or an evil to be an
evil. The anecdote does not show us a veridical pleasure, but this is exactly
as it should be: the assumption still holds in this fourth case. The emotion
of pleasure cannot be veridically oriented, as the other three can be, for the
same sort of reason that there can be no fourth, pain-like eupatheia; if
someone is elated by the true belief that the good is present to them, then
the good must be present to them, and so they must be a Sage, and so they
cannot be having any sort of emotion.
However, a full discussion of such veridical emotions, and the role they
played in Chrysippus' therapeutic method, would tak:e us too far afield. I
introduce them here only to suggest one reason why Chrysippus might have
intentionally omitted falsehood from his definition of the emotions, and why
we will Iook in vain for definitive, unambiguous evidence that all emotions
are false beliefs. But notice that even this exceptional case, in which the
propositional content of the emotion is for once true, does seem to suggest
(though it does not require it) that Alcibiades' emotions had the content "my
present viciousness is an evil", "my future viciousness is an evil," and "my
future virtue is a good." And if this is the case, then it only gives us more
evidence that the typical emotion had the form "this x in front of me is an
evil" and so on, where in the typical case the subject is an indifferent. I
grant that this is not the only way of reading the definitions. An "opinion of
the presence of a good" might describe the miser's true and non-evaluative
opinion "here is some money," which would then be emotional only
because of his other beliefs about the goodness of money. But that is
certainly not the natural way to read it.
In summary, it seems to me that the evidence is sufficiently ambiguous
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TADBRENNAN
that Frede's proposal, or some modification of it, cannot be ruled out. But
at the same time, I find little attraction in it. On balance, it seems to methat
we should suppose that all emotions did contain explicitly evaluative
propositions.
Nussbaum on the Justijication of the Analysis of Emotions as Beliefs
In attempting to see why Chrysippus made emotions a type of judgement,
most authors point to the coherence of this view with Stoic psychic monism.
Nussbaum calls this answer "superficial" and "quite inadequate." Their
monism "was not an item of unargued dogma ... , " since they could have
chosen a complex model of the soul, such as the tripartite Platonic soul;
instead it was "a conclusion of arguments . . . prominently including
arguments about the passions." And so we should not invoke their monism
in order to explain their cognitive theory of emotions, because "what needs
explaining is precisely the fact that is being invoked as an explanation. " 78
Why then did the old Stoics treat emotions or passions as activities of the
rational soul? In one article, 79 Nussbaum has suggested that it
derive[s] from Platonic sources ... as a reading of the passionate part of the soul, as Plato
presents it in Republic IV. For Plato insists on that part's responsiveness to belief and
judgement, calling it an "ally of the reasoning part" (441a) and a "partner of judgement"
(440b) ....
This idea works better in English than in Greek; Nussbaum has used
"passion" to translate both the Platonic "thumos" and the Stoic "pathos".
For Plato does not say that the pathe are specially connected to reason, or
that any pathetikon part is, but rather that thumos or the thumoeides part is;
and this has only an incidental connection to the Stoic pathe. Furthermore,
Plato' s comments about the affinity of the thumoeides part are intended to
cantrast it with the epithumetikon part, whereas the Stoic theory treats
epithumia as a centrat case of an emotion (indeed thumos in their system is
a subspecies of epithumia). There is this much truth in the suggestion,
namely that Plato does not deprive the irrational parts of all cognitive
abilities. But otherwise the attempt to connect Stoic "passions" with the
Platonic "passionate" part of the soul does not seem a promising avenue.
Elsewhere, Nussbaum has argued that the cognitive features of the
emotions are so complicated that they could not be realized by anything but
reason: "The point is, once we make the emotions as cognitive and selective
as Chrysippus . . . argued that they must be, Reason Iooks like just the place
to house them. "80
Emotions are complicated cognitive activities; only Reason can perform
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
53
such complicated cognitive activities, therefore the emotions must be
activities of Reason. And this argument, in Nussbaum's view, avoids the
circularity of relying on Stoic psychic monism as a datum; it gives completely independent reasons, acceptable either to monists or pluralists, for
viewing the emotions as activities of Reason.
This strategy, too, does not seem wholly satisfactory. For, even accepting
the first premise - which receives the bulk of Nussbaum's discussion and
illustrations 81 - we may still doubt the second premise. Why couldn't
non-rational parts of the soul be capable of sufficiently complicated
cognitions? In the views of pluralists such as Plato and Aristotle, the nonrational parts have quite extensive and intricate cognitive capacities. When
Odysseus' spirited part is aroused (Resp. 441b), it presumably sees that the
housemaids are leaving the hall with the suitors, calculates their intentions
in so doing, infers that they are behaving shamefully, reflects on how this
shame will rebound upon his own honor, hits on a plan of revenge,
conceived of as a means of reestablishing his reputation, and so on. These
are the sorts of refined cognitive abilities that Nussbaum, too, thinks the
emotions require; but a pluralist will not agree that -Reason alone can have
cognitions of this complexity. In fact, Plato might well deny that his
reasoning part has anything so crude. For the kinds of cognitive activities
that Nussbaum gives the emotions include, among others, "conceiving ofthe
beloved person in all his beauty and specialness. "82 This has a suggestive
Platonic parallel; it Iooks like the behavior of a sight-lover, who can
recognize particular instances of beauty but will not countenance any Form
of beauty. And this is not the highest types of cognitive activity, available
only to Reason; on the contrary, it is one of the lower types. The really
complicated cognitions, the ones that only reason can perform, involve
abstract, quasi-mathematical reflections on the structure ofthe Forms, which
would not deal in "specialness". Merely liking the way that your Iover
looked, and recognizing that he is dead, are cognitions well within the
capabilities of irrational psychic parts.
The details of Platonic exegesis are controversial and not wholly relevant;
my point is that Nussbaum's argument works by trading on a particular
conception of non-rational parts, namely that their cognitive capacities are
"more brutish" and "less discriminating" 83 than the emotions require. But
there is no reason why a psychic pluralist should hold this, and typically
they will deny it, if they place the emotions in a non-rational part; Plato's
spirit and appetite are not mindless drives, vaunting pride and grunting Iust.
So if we accept Nussbaum's argument, then we still need to explain why the
Stoics had this impoverished conception of non-rational parts - and of
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TADBRENNAN
course Nussbaum will not want to say that it is because they reject psychic
pluralism.
My own inclination is to agree with Nussbaum that psychic monism does
not independently explain or justify the claim that emotions are judgements,
as though the Stoics had just found themselves being monists, and then
concluded that emotions must be judgements. But I do not think that
Nussbaum's arguments do any better at providing an independent explanation of it, for they rely on a conception of non-rational parts that is denied
by psychic pluralists. Rather, I am inclined tothinkthat each of these things
- psychic monism, the view that emotions are judgements, and the
conception of non-rational parts as brute and uncognitive - tend to go band
in band, as do their contraries. They consist; and we understand each better
by seeing its Connections to the other. That may be as much as we can
achieve sometimes.
Nussbaum and Inwood on Eupatheiai
Nussbaum concludes her treatment of the emotions with a brief discussion
of the eupatheiai. Unfortunately, her comments about the eupatheiai are
incorrect. She rightly says that they "are not passions and are not identified
with any high evaluation of externals." But she takes them instead to be
correct, non-excessive, impulses to external indifferents:
They are motivations that ... steer [their possessor] ... among things indifferent .... A
response of prudent caution (eulabeia) is approved towards future negative possibilities ...
[so that] one can still appropriately be motivated to avoid death and other dispreferred
indifferents .. . . Toward their future opposites one can move under the guidance of ...
boulesis. And, finally, if good externals should arrive ... [the Sage feels] a certain sort of joy
(chara). 84
That this is not correct can be seen in several different ways. First of all,
the list of specific eupatheiai given to us by Andronicus, although very
deficient, does in a few cases specify the objects of the impulse. 85 In no
case is a eupatheia directed towards an indifferent, andin several cases it is
directed towards a genuine good.
Before we look at the entries on Andronicus' list, we should briefly recall
what Sextus tells us of the Stoic definition of the good:86
The good is either benefit, or not other than benefit. By "benefit" they mean virtue and
virtuous action (praxis); while by "not other than benefit" they mean "the virtuous human
being" and "the virtuous friend".
The items on Andronicus list that specify an object are as follows:
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
55
Eunoia is bou/esis of goods (agathOn) <for another> for the sake of
that other hirnself
Terpsis is chara that is appropriate to the benefits one has (tais perl auton
opheleiais)
Euphrosune is chara at the deeds of the temperate person (tois tou
sophronos ergois)
Euthumia is chara at the progress and self-sufficiency of the universe87
Aidos is eulabeia at true blame (orthou psogou)
Hagneia is eulabeia about making mistakes (hamartemata) concerning the
<Gods>.
Of these six items, the first three very clearly mention goods, or benefit,
or the wise man's actions. 88 None of these could be construed as attitudes
or impulses directed at indifferents. The definition of euthumia is obscure;
my translation may be wrong, but it would be difficult to translate it so as
to make it refer to indifferents. The last two refer first to true blame (not
using the normal word for reputation, doxa, which is an indifferent), and to
mistakes, vicious actions, in relation to the Gods. This last certainly is a
genuinely bad thing, which must be avoided if the Sageis to retain virtue.
The evidence of Cicero on the eupatheiai also supports the claim that
they are only directed to genuine goods and evils, and not to indifferents. 89 Cicero introduces the eupatheiai by pairing them off with
emotions; here, for instance, is his treatment of boulesis:
By nature everyone pursues what seems good to them (ea quae bona videntur) and avoids the
contrary . . . . Where this takes place in an even and temperate way, the Stoics call this kind
of impulse "boulesis" .... They say it takes place only in the Sage, and they define it by
saying "boulesis is that which desires anything along with reason (quae quid cum ratione
desiderat)" .... Where, however, it has turned its back on reason and is excessive, there it
is desire and unbridled Iust, which is found in all of the Foolish.90
The same pattern of exposition is taken with the other eupatheiai. We are
given two contrasting scenarios, one in which something seems good or bad
to the Sage, and one in which something seems good or bad to the nonSage, and told that the first results in some eupatheia, and the second in
some emotion. Now the non-Sage gets things wrong all of the time, and so
will respond to the presence of wealth, food, disease, death, and so on as
though these were goods and bads, when in fact they are not. The Sage, on
the other hand, never has opinions; so if something seems good to him, then
indeed it really is good. Andin that case, it must be virtue, benefit, and so
on- one of the genuine goods, not an indifferent.
Finally, there is an indirect but substantial reason to take the eupatheiai
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TADBRENNAN
as aimed at genuine goods and evils rather than indifferents. Doing so
allowed us to explain the absence of the fourth eupatheia that would
correspond to pain. Nussbaum writes, "[t]here is no good affective form
corresponding to distress: in other words, no good way to register negatively the presence of a bad state of affairs. "91 But she offers no explanation
of this fact, perhaps thinking it obvious that the central aim of Stoicism is
to avoid unpleasant feelings. But this begs the question; surely there is a
way of responding to dispreferred indifferents that is wise, rational, and not
"negative" - why is this not the fourth eupatheia? On Nussbaum's view,
the Sage will have a boulesis for food and feel chara when he or she gets it.
Supposing that on some other occasion their bou/esis is unrewarded, what
state will they be in? Surely they will in some sense "register the presence
of the state of affairs", and they will do it wisely and temperately and so on
- why is there no name for that reaction? Granted that they will not feel
downcast, there still is an appropriate, wise, temperate response to frustrated boulesis, and this would be a natural candidate to receive the name
of the fourth eupatheia. Its absence remains unexplained.
On my account, its absencewas very easily explained (see above, Part I).
It is logically impossible for there to be a fourth eupatheia, because it would
require the Sage to be vicious.92
Nussbaum credits her views on the eupatheiai to Inwood, 93 but in fact
she makes the very mistake that he explicitly wams against, of supposing
that the Sage can have eupatheiai towards indifferents so long as they are
accompanied by reservation. Here is bis discussion:
Nothing in Seneca's discussion rules out the possibility that the joy [i.e., the eupatheia of
chara] of a sage might include a reserved impulse to expansion for the presence of something
which is merely preferred. Such a reserved impulse could easily be stopped if god wills that
subsequent events bring unfortunate results. lt is tempting to think of this kind of reserved
response to something indifferent as a form of joy. But even this should not qualify [as
chara], unless there is in the preferred thing some genuine good. Joy is a re~onse to
genuine goods, and so can only be feit for virtue orthat which partakes of virtue. 4
Inwood correctly draws the line; the eupatheia is only for genuine goods.
An impulse towards an indifferent, whether accompanied by reservation or
not, cannot be a eupatheia. Nussbaum succumbs to temptation.
Inwood's discussion, however, is not as clear as it could be. For he
seems to think that the Sage will have expansions of the soul (although not
eupatheiai) towards preferred indifferents: "when [the Sage] has an
expansion in bis soul for something which is merely preferred, he does so
with the proper reservation ... ". 95 But he also claims that "no impulse to
contraction can be correct, not even a reserved impulse to contraction on
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
57
account of something rejected [dispreferred]. " 96 But this is not supported
by the text to which he refers, 97 which teils us only that the Sage is not
subject to the presence of evil (since by definition he is exempt from vice).
This, as we have seen, explains why there can be no fourth eupatheia, but
it does not rule out one of Inwood's hypothetical reserved contractions. And
bis decision to attribute reserved expansions to the Sage makes it now
completely obscure why the Sage should not feel reserved contractions at the
presence of dispreferred indifferents. The Iack of reserved contraction,
given Inwood's reserved expansions, is just as arbitrary as was the Iack of
a eupatheia directed at dispreferred indifferents, given Nussbaum's eupatheia directed at preferred indifferents. But once again, ail of this is a
mistake; for the Sage will not feel expansions of any kind, with or without
reservation, to the presence of preferred indifferents. Cicero teils us that the
Sage will feel a smooth and consistent expansion at the presence of what
seems to him good. But this must be what reaily is good, for a Sage would
not be in error about such a thing. Accordingly, there is no evidence that
the Sage feels expansions, reserved or otherwise, at the presence of
indifferents.
The eupatheiai are thus ail directed at genuine goods and evils. 98 As a
sage, one feels a sort of calm pleasure at the good state of the cosmos, at
one's own virtue and virtuous deeds, and at those of one's wise friends. One
has calm volitions, for the continued virtue of oneself and one's friends.
And one calmly disinclines from future vice and foily. 99
Yale University
NOTES
1 In preparing this chapter, I derived great benefit from recent critical discussions of the
topic. The two best brief treatments are Lloyd 1978 and Frede 1986. The two most extensive
treatments, both of great value, are Inwood 1985 and Engberg-Pedersen 1990. Naturally,
much of use is also to be found in Long and Sedley 1987.
2 I also quote other scholars who employ the terms "passion" or "affection", but all of
these are translations of pathos.
3 See Kerferd 1978.
4 In sketching out this notion of rationality, it is possible to emphasize the canonical rote
of God's reason, or of an ideally rational but nevertheless human agent. The first route,
towards which I am inclined, is advocated by Long and Sedley 1987, 352, 374 and by
lnwood 1985, 156-160; Engberg-Pedersen in generat deprecates this sort of appeal to
divinity, and prefers to ground this and other issues in Stoic ethics in "consideration[s] of
human practical thought" Engberg-Pedersen 1990, 49.
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TADBRENNAN
s An impression is not rational unless it is the impression of a rational animal (D.L. 7.51
[SVF 2.61; LS 39A]). A human animal is not rational until it has reason (SVF 2.83; LS
39E]. Reason is not acquired until age fourteen (SVF 1.149; D.L. 7.55 [SVF 3.DB17; LS
33H; SVF 2.83; LS 39E]). So, it seems, the impressions of children below fourteen arenot
rational (in the sense of employing conceptions and having propositional content). But is the
absence of propositional content in children absolute, so that the transformation at age
fourteen takes them from having no rational impressions to having all rational impressions
overnight, or is it rather that their impressions are slowly acquiring propositional content
throughout the years, so that there is no such abrupt transformation? The evidence is unclear;
scholars generally assume the radically discontinuous view, but Engberg-Pedersen 1990, 147
suggests reasons for the continuous view. lt might seem that the best argument against the
discontinuous view is its obvious implausibility (from complete irrationality to complete
rationality in one step?), but in fact the Stoics seem comfortable with analogaus views about
the acquisition of knowledge and virtue. If that parallel does support the discontinuous view,
then it should probably be understood as an indication of the high Standards involved in
"having the conception of F" on the Stoic view. The Stoics refuse to classify as "virtue" or
"knowledge" states of mind or character that most people would be perfectly happy so to
classify, because those states Iack the firmness and fixity - the immunity from any
imaginable dissuasive force - that alone can justify saying that someone "has virtue" or
"has knowledge". I suspect that this is the right way to understand their views about
children; we would naturally say that the thirteen year-old "has the concept of dog," but it
may be that without a !arge stock of other conceptions, and some practice in seeing their
interrelation, the thirteen year-old will not be able to pass all of the counterfactual tests
required by the stronger Stoic standard. It is only after all of their proto- or quasi-conceptions have taken on the requisite fixity and defmition that we can then say that any one of
them actually is, finally, a conception. And the Stoics would have good reason for such
scruples, since they hold that these conceptions are then criteria of the truth, on a par with
kataleptic impressions (D.L. 7.54 [SVF 2.105; LS 40A]). Not every mental state that we
might casually call "having the concept" (e.g. being able to recognize typical cases, or use
the term in standard contexts), will be sufficient for the possession of a criterion.
6
Stoic axiomata differ from propositions in several important and fundamental ways, best
discussed in Bobzien 1986. However, the differences arenot relevant to this chapter.
7 See Frede 1986, and also Cooper 1984.
8 Impressions and assents are both event-like entities, typically of brief duration. So when
people who tend to suffer from the fear of spiders are not having any impressions of spiders,
or assenting to any impressions concerning spiders, they cannot be said at that time to be
having the fear in the Stoic sense in which a fear is said to be a belief. What we might call
dispositional beliefs and desires were classified as states (hexeis) or dispositions (diatheseis)
of the soul, which incline the person who has them to assent in a certain way when the
impression arises. See the careful distinction of the occurrent and dispositional sense of
"knowledge" (episteme) in [SVF 3.112; LS 41H], and the similar clarification that an
emotion is an activity, not a potentiality [SVF 1.206], consistent with its also being called a
movement (kinesis, D.L. 7.110 [SVF 1.206; SVF3.377, 3.462]). When the beliefat issue is
an emotional one, then the disposition to have such beliefs is called a "disease" or
"weakness" (nosema or arrostema), not an emotion or passion; see [SVF 3.421; LS 65F;
SVF 3.422], and my discussion later in this chapter. This distinction also helps us to see how
the Stoics can say that every emotion is also a practical impulse that immediately issues in
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
59
action (ceteris paribus). The (dispositional) fear of spiders does not per se produce action,
or it would have to be doing so all of the time; rather, it is the occurrent fear, only present
when I am assenting to an impression, that causes me to draw back my band.
9 The Iiterature on this question is very large; the reader should consult Long and Sedley
1987, chaps. 39-41; Frede 1983, and Engberg-Pedersen 1990, eh. 7.
10 I am glad to fmd the objective reading of "strength" supported by Engberg-Pedersen
1990, 161-169.
11 So I take it that strong assents can only be given to what is true, and perhaps only to
what is kataleptically true; the two species of opinion on the top row of the accompanying
diagram will never have instances. This fits with what was said above about the connection
between falsehood and inconsistency; whenever someone assents to a false impression, it will
also be the case that they have some true beliefs whose discovery through dialectic would
Iead them to reject their initial commitment to the false. So no assent to the false, no matter
how vehement, could every be strong in the relevant sense. However, the evidence is not
clear enough to permit certainty.
12 Stob. 2.86.17 [SVF 3.169; LS 53Q].
13 Lloyd 1978, 237; Engberg-Pedersen 1990, 175 favors Lloyd's account, and talks of a
"conscious moving so as to get".
14 Plut. De virt. mor. 446F-447A [SVF 3.459; LS 65G].
15 Stob. 2.88.2 [SVF 3.171; LS 331].
16 Presumably if pressed they would have said, very reasonably, that when we predicate
goodness of something like cake, we have it in mind that its goodness consists in its being
good to eat, rather than good to read or apply to wounds. Whether they would have followed
Aristotle into the further step of saying that the predicate was thereby actually ambiguous in
this respect, I do not know.
17 For the defmitions see SVF 3.377-420. I retain the standard translations of their names,
but agree with those scholars who warn about their ambiguity. "Pleasure", or hedone in
Greek, is the name both of an emotion, and of a physical reaction which is not an emotion.
"Desire" too, or epithumia, is different from a mere physical sensation of Iack; the Stoics
tellusthat the Sage, who has no emotions, still thirsts (dipsen) PHP 5.7.30 [De Lacy 342;
SVF 3.441].
18 Engberg-Pedersen 1990, 179-181 presents a more complicated account ofthe predicates
"to be avoided" and the like, but I am not convinced of the distinctions he discovers.
19 However, I think that historically the formulations in terms of impulse alone came first,
and are thus not in the chronological sense abridgments or abbreviations of the full
definitions. The question is much debated Inwood 1985, 143; Nussbaum 1994, 372, but it
seems to me that there is good reason to attribute to Zeno only two kinds of characterizations, in terms of irrational psychic movement (D.L. 7.110 [SVF 1.205]), andin terms of
excessive impulse [SVF 1.205, 206]. We also hear the phrase "fluttering of the soul" [SVF
1.206], but this seems less like a defmition than like a sketch or outline (hupographe). A late
Aristotelian says that emotions were defmed as "perversions and mistaken judgements of
reason" (Themistius in de Anima 197 [SVF 1.208]) by "those around Zeno", but this
probably means nothing more than Stoics in general, as Von Arnim seems to have thought,
including this text both among Zeno's and Chrysippus' fragments [SVF 3.382]. Posidonius
(PHP 4.7 [De Lacy 280; SVF 1.212]) teils us that the full defmition ofpain as "a fresh belief
that an evil is present" was "spoken by Zeno, and written down by Chrysippus". But this
cuts both ways; it also indicates that the defmition did not appear in any of Zeno's writings.
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TADBRENNAN
And since "spoken" (eiremenol) is used as the past tense of "lego", which very frequently
means "meant, intended", I suspect that what this passage shows us is that Chrysippus
hirnself formulated the defmitions in terms of opinion, and represented them (whether fairly
or not) as an accurate account of what Zeno had meant or intended. This makes better sense
of two other things that Galen teils us. First of all, he says (PHP D.238 [SVF 3.463]) that
when Chrysippus defined pain as "a fresh opinion of the presence of evil" he "completely
abandoned the opinions of his predecessors". But this makes no sense, if Zeno hirnself had
already used that definition. Second of all, in another passage (PHP 4.2 [De Lacy 240]), he
quotes Chrysippus providing an exegesis of what is meant by saying (pos eiretm) that a
passion is an "irrational movement contrary to nature" (of the soul, that is), or an "excessive
impulse". Chrysippus in this passage is trying to show that these definitions are consistent
with the defmitions in terms of opinion. And he only considers these two. This is important,
because these are also the only two that we had reason to attribute to Zeno on independent
grounds. Thus in referring to defmitions "spoken by Zeno and written down by Chrysippus",
Posidonius is referring to Chrysippus' attempt to show the equivalence of his own definitions
with what Zeno "really meant". So I conclude that Zeno only used the impulse and
movement-formulations, and that the defmitions in terms of opinion belong to Chrysippus.
In particular, I do not put any trust in the Statement of Cicero (Tusc. 3.75 [SVF 1.212]) that
Zeno added the characterization "fresh" to the definition in terms of an opinion of a false
evil; it simply does not fit with any other evidence. It may be that there is a confusion here
with Zeno of Tarsus, Chrysippus' successor, to whom he dedicated several ethical treatises.
20 They are of course still rational in the sense of being propositional. More importantly,
they are still rational in the sense in which the Stoics rejected irrational parts; they still
pursue or avoid their objects qua goods and evils, not qua pleasures, pains, honors,
humiliations or the like.
21 PHP 3.7 [De Lacy 212; SVF2.900].
22 I owe this objection to Anthony Savile of King's College, London.
23 Plut. De virt. mor. 449A [SVF 3.439]; for elations Cic. Tusc. 4.12 [SVF 3.438].
24 As Galen in PHP 5.6 [De Lacy 330; EK 168].
25 Nussbaum 1993, 113 gets this exactly wrong, arguing on behalf of Chrysippus that the
music will affect certain non-propositional bodily feelings, but will not affect our emotions.
Butthis is a hopeless strategy for him to adopt, because the point of Galen's anecdote isthat
the music wrought a change in the boys' behavior, i.e. their actions (diaprattein). On
Nussbaum's line, Chrysippus would be saying that mere bodily feelings, without any beliefs,
are sufficient for the production of action - and this would be to abandon the sufficiency of
knowledge for virtue, along with the core of Stoic psychology.
26 Cf. Arr. Epict. Diss. 1.18; 2.22. Proclus quotes a similar Stoic adage, "grant the
circumstance and take the man" [SVF 3.206].
27 I am grateful for this suggestion to the Sixth-Form Philosophy Club of the South
Hampstead High School for Girls.
28 This reconstruction is somewhat controversial; a justification of it may be found in the
last section of Part II of the present chapter.
29 I am grateful to Juha Sihvola for the following objection. Doesn't the impossibility of a
fourth eupatheia make caution impossible for the same reason? How can there be knowledge
that some future thing would be an evil, if there can never be a true belief, at some time in
the future, that some present thing is an evil? Like the question why the healthy person is
right to take precautions against being ill, even though, qua healthy, no healthy person can
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
61
be ill, this puzzle trades on an ambiguity of scope. The individual who is a Sage now would
cease to be a Sage in the future, if his actions and beliefs were to deviate even once from the
path of rectitude; if you invite the Sage on a drunken debauch, he will decline, cautiously but
without fear, lest he should become vicious and cease to be a Sage. So there is still sensible
work for caution to do, even though there is no fourth eupatheia.
But notice that the existence of caution does not entail a positive answer to the question
whether virtue can be lost. According to D.L. 7.127 [SVF 3.237; LS 611], Chrysippus said
virtue could be lost, while Cleanthes claimed it was inalienable because of the firm
comprehensions (anapobleton dia bebaious katalepseis). If Chrysippus thought that becoming
vicious was a live option, then it is easy to see why the Sage would exercise caution in
avoiding that outcome. But Cleanthes too could agree that the Sage feels caution in avoiding
future vicious behavior, and simply go on to say that his caution is also inalienable; indeed,
it would be precisely because of the Sage's continuously feeling and acting on it that he
would continue not to lose his virtue. But in fact, I am skeptical in general about whether
there is a real debate here. For surely Chrysippus would agree that, if the Sage can retain the
comprehensions, he will retain the virtue; and surely Cleanthes would agree that, if the Sage
lost his firm comprehensions (or abandoned caution), he would lose bis virtue. So the debate,
if there was one, cannot have turned on the point emphasized in Diogenes. The tradition that
there was dissension on this point [SVF 3.237-244] may simply reflect different answers
given to different counterfactual hypotheses.
30 See D.L. 7.104 [SVF 3.119; LS 58B, and SVF 3.190-196]. I use "selection" Ioosely;
strictly it is the analogue only of desire, while for the analogue of fear, i.e. rationally not
taking or avoiding some indifferent, the Stoics coined the term "disselection" (apekloge). I
am grateful to Amber Carpenter of the Yale Philosophy Department for discussion of these
issues.
31 This process of replacement, which we might call the domestication of desire, may help
explain why sexual Iust posed a singular problern for later thinkers such as Augustine, who
were influenced by the Stoics. It is possible to masticate without relish, and to flagellate
without wrath, should eating or chastising be the actions rationally required of me. But male
human beings suffer from a curious frailty in this regard, being unable to copulate without
arousal. The female Sage may be able to follow Victoria's adage and think about the cosmos,
but the male, it seems, simply must feel pleasure. And if so, then no Sage he; on this view,
only female Sages can reproduce, while the males must remain childless.
Now on the original Stoic view, there is really no problern here. There is nothing wrong
with the Sage's enjoying bis food; what he must not do while dining is to have a certain kind
of belief, e.g. that bis food is a good. There is no reason why he should not have any sort
of gustatory sensation imaginable, so long as he does not have false beliefs of this sort, and
so long as whatever Sensations he does have play no roJe in motivating this or other actions
(and since they could only play that roJe via beliefs, these two conditions are one). The Sage
begins to eat, and continues eating, simply from bis knowledge that it is the rational thing for
him to do; whatever pleasant sensations he may have do not provide any motivation. But
shorn of their motivational and belief-altering force, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with
the sensations, either.
Similarly, it may be that the copulating male must feel certain sensations, popularly
termed "pleasures". But there is no reason to think that these commit the Sage to the vicious
beliefs that are pleasures in the Stoic sense. So for all that is said about emotions, the male
Sage may still engage in copulation, first selecting it as a future indifferent and then
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TADBRENNAN
experiencing it as a present indifferent (though not an anaesthetic one). And that this was
their view is confirmed by the explicit testimony that the (male) Sage will get children
(paidopoiesesthai, D.L. 7 .121, Stob. in SVF 3.686), as weil as by Seneca's statement that the
Sage will experience sexual arousal (inritationem umoris obsceni, De ira 2.3).
However, when Stoicism is misunderstood in the common and vulgar way, so that it
seems to prohibit what are commonly and vulgarly called emotions and pleasures and pains,
then it will seem that the Sage must feel no relish in his dinner; he must eat entirely
mechanically, without sensation. And if rational selection requires this utter absence of
sensation, while copulation (for the male) requires sensations of arousal, then it will be
impossible to select sexual activity. Rather, Iust will demand pleasure, and this will demand
irrationality and error; Iust will defy domestication, even when all other desires have been
replaced by their correlative selections. Thus Iust will be uniquely and irredeemably
irrational, necessarily inconsistent with rationality, and so supremely sinful. Something Iike
this confusion, I think, may have intluenced Iater attitudes.
32 For instance, Inwood 1985, 173 writes that "an eupatheia is simply the impulse of a fully
rational man". Long and Sedley 1987, vol. 2, 407 argue that since the Sage's impulses are
all phronimai they must all be eupatheiai; but there is no reason why the Sage's rational
selections (i.e. impulses towards indifferents) should not be phronimai even though they are
not eupatheiai - the same passage (Stob. 2.69) characterizes the Sage's ambulation
(peripatesis) as phronime, too.
33 And contra Inwood 1985, 174, this goes for elations or contractions "with reservation",
if such there be. But in fact I think they are an artefact of his analysis, and argue so below
in the last section.
34 Posidonius (PHP 5.6 [De Lacy 328; SVF 3.12; LS 641]) brought a parallel criticism
against Antipater's definition of the end as "doing everything possible for the sake of the
primary natural things." This gets the order of things wrong, because it makes it Iook as
though the primary natural things or our acquisition of them actually matter, whereas in fact
what is important is a sort of psychic state. Granted, once we have attained that, then we will
consistently and reliably "do everything possible etc." as in Antipater's formula. But that
outcome "follows of necessity on the end, but is not itself the end," as Posidonius says. And
there are lots of other necessary but incidental outcomes of psychic perfection that are not
themselves the end; it might be that, of necessity, all and only Sages have an even number
of hairs on their head, but this would not mean that the Stoic end was to have an even
number of hairs. So too, a kind of tranquillity will ensue on our successful elimination of all
false beliefs about what is good and bad, but that tranquillity is not the point of their
elimination. I do not mean to invoke Posidonius' authority for my criticism, or to take a
stand on what his reference to "tranquillity" (aochlesia) involved - it may be that he
thought that pleasure (of some non-emotional kind?- cf. [SVF 3.441]) and tranquillity were
other necessary but incidental concomitants of the end, but it is not at all clear. But I do find
the parallel enlightening, both because it shows how the criticism can be put in Stoic terms,
and because it shows how dialectical pressure from non-Stoics could result in a change of
emphasis in the expression of Stoic views.
35 Usually put in terms of the violation of "preconceptions" (prolepseis) or "common
conceptions" (koinai ennoiat). But the actual metaphor of linguistic Iegislation (nomothetein)
is used against the Stoics by Sextus at Math. 8.125, and Alexander of Aphrodisias at SVF
2.329.
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
63
36 See, for instance, the title of a work by Chrysippus, whose significance Michael Frede
pointed out to me: "Concerning the fact that Zeno did make use of words in their proper
sense" (peri tou kurios kechresthai zenona tois onomasin, D.L. 7.122 [SVF 3.617]).
37 See especially the chapters on Posidonius, Galen, and Seneca.
38 For claims of this sort see Cicero's Paradoxa Stoicorum, and SVF 3.589-603.
39 The quote is from Nussbaum 1994, 377, but the view is more widely held. Lloyd 1978,
242 similarly approves of the view of Pohlenz according to which emotions must make some
reference to the magnitude of the good or evil.
40 Stobaeus 2.93 [SVF 3.421; LS 65S]; Tusc. 4.26 is very similar.
41 sphodra, valde.
42 PHP 4.5.21 [De Lacy 262; SVF 3.480; LS 65L].
43 Or at least a datable activity, generally of brief duration. What is important is not so
much the length of time involved, as the distinction between the activity of assenting, and the
state of being disposed to assent.
44 Tusc. 4.24 and 4.29. The first passage suggests that the two always appear together: haec
... cogitatione inter se differunt, re quidem copulata sunt. The second Iooks asymmetrical,
as the defmitions would suggest: tantummodo cogitatione possumus morbum ab aegrotatione
seiungere. In which case, it would be possible for someone to have a disease without also
having an ailment, if the weakness was not present. But the evidence is ambiguous, and it
might be that diseases and ailments really were inter-entailing, and perhaps even coextensive,
in which case the definition of "ailment" would mean something like "diseases are called
'ailments' when we want to emphasize the weakness involved in them" (consistent with the
etymology of arrostema). If this were so, it might explain why Cicero says that mulierositas
( = philogunia) is both a disease (as Stobaeus) and also an ailment (Tusc. 4.25-26).
45 Inwood 1985, 155 translates "is attracted to". His entire discussion of these passages is
flawed by a curious confusion: "the error ... which is the root cause of all the passions is not
an error about the degree of goodness or badness which certain things have. For the
orthodox Stoic view on the nature of good (and of bad) is that it is an absolute, not admitting
of any variation in degree" (lnwood 1985, 154). So far so good, but he then uses this to
condemn as unorthodox passages that countenance beliefs that some goods are greater than
others. But this does not follow, since all of the beliefs in question are explicitly intended to
be false beliefs. If I can have the false beliefthat an indifferent is a good, then there is no
reason why I cannot have the false belief that indifferent A is better than indifferent B, and
no reason why an orthodox Stoic should not discuss false beliefs of this sort. I agree with
him that one already has a false belief, merely by thinking that an indifferent is a good, and
I agree with him that this is sufficient to make it an emotion, but he is wrong to use this to
rule out as unorthodox any passages that refer to false beliefs that some goods are greater
than others.
46 The use of ekpiptei in SVF 3.482 involves neither a person (the subject is an impression)
nor Chrysippus - the words belong to Posidonius.
47 SVF3.651-610.
48 This objection has another flaw beside the one next considered. It supposes that everyone
has the dispositions to attribute intense value, and from this it does follow, I think, that
everyone would, when the relevant impressions arose, assent to Statements of the form "x is
intensely goodlbad" and so on. Butthat still would not show that they could not also assent
to unqualified impressions of the form "x is good", or that these would not constitute
emotions.
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Ben. 4.27. Curiously, Seneca in each case says that the sense which applies only to the
pathological case, and does not include all non-Sages, is the strict sense (proprie dicitur,
proprie appellatur). This is a good report of common usage, but seems to conflict with the
view of Chrysippus (D.L. 7.122 [SVF 3.617]) that when the Stoics say, for instance that all
and only Sages are kings, it is their use ofthe word "king", and not the common application
of it to non-Sages wearing crowns, that is the strict sense (kurißs kechresthat). By this
standard, it would seem that "coward" in the strict sense should apply to every non-Sage,
even Achilles.
50 Ben. 4.27. The repeated emphasis on natural inclination is remarkable, and possibly
unorthodox; would the Stoics really want to say that an inclination to think that money is
good could be natural? If they did, then this would give us a further way of distinguishing
mere pronenesses from diseases and ailments; the proneness would be a natural inclination
to think something good, whereas the ailment would be an inclination that had hardened and
been intensified even beyond this natural state (epi pleon ... tou kata phusin). But this takes
us into uncharted waters.
51 Tusc. 4.27. Since this material derives from earlier sources, probably Chrysippean, it
shows that there is nothing unorthodox in Seneca's saying that not all people have all vicious
dispositions.
52 Thus Lloyd 1978, 237-238 talks of "pleasant, painful ... shameful, fearful .... "
Nussbaum 1994, 377 suggests that the belief might instead be "a very horrible thing is here
at band", or even more indirectly "the person that I Iove most is dead," where the evaluative
element comes in by "attributing high positive value to the Iover who is said in the
proposition to be irretrievably lost." There is overwhelming evidence that the official
definitions referred to "a belief conceming a present or future good or evil"; what is less
clear is how strictly this was interpreted.
53 Frede 1986, 104-107.
54 Cicero, Acad. 2.57; Delian chicken farmers were said tobe able to tell, by looking at an
egg, which of their hens bad laid it!
55 Frede 1986, 105. He writes similarly in Frede 1983, 155: "the way these thoughts [which
are emotions] are thought is entirely a matter of certain further beliefs that we have - in
particular, beliefs about what is good and what is bad . . . . "
56 Engberg-Pedersen 1990, 258 n. 30 "I am not convinced by Frede's [view] ... ";
Nussbaum 1994, 381 claims that "the textual evidence ... supports the [opposite] view .... "
But all of the evidence that she cites is deeply ambiguous. I agree with her about its
tendency, but cannot agree that it is decisive.
57 I am grateful to Michael Frede for his comments on a draft of this discussion, and agree
with him that we may never be able to reconstruct the Stoic position on the canonical form
of the propositions in emotions with any confidence. I sympathize with his reluctance to
advance a position that is more determinate than the evidence will allow, and I hope that he
will understand the present discussion as merely an attempt to determine at least where the
indeterminacy lies. He is not responsible for the modification of his position that I consider
below.
58 Sext. Emp. Math. 8.10, 7.244.
59 Sext. Emp. Math. 8.93-100 [SVF 2.205].
60 Premise 5 speaks of "the proposition" correlated with the belief. Does each belief have
only one proposition correlated with it? In the other direction, the answer is uncontroversial;
one and the same proposition may be the content of different impressions (see the egg and
49
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
65
stop-light cases mentioned above). But it is quite generally assumed that each impression has
only one proposition as its propositional contents - possibly a complex, molecular
proposition, but still only one. However, there is one passage (Sext. Emp. Math. 7.244) that
gives evidence that one and the same impression can be correlated with or have as its
contents two different propositions that differ in truth value, in which case the impression is
said to be both true and false. And the rules for assigning truth-values articulated in this
passage are consistent with this possibility, since they say that for truth or falsity it is
sufficient merely to "be able to make a true [or false] assertion in accordance with the
impression (hOn estin alethe I pseude kategorian poiesasthar)." This obviously Ieaves it open
that it might be possible to make a variety of assertions of the same impression, some false
and some true. Now if one and the same impression may contain multiple propositions, and
so be both true and false, then Frede could say that one and the same belief is the nonevaluative beliefthat Socrates is pale (and thus true}, and also, qua emotion, is a false belief
(in sofaras it is also the beliefthat Socrates' death is a bad thing).
The passage that countenances multiple propositions seems to conflict with other evidence
that each impression has only one proposition, and has other curious features that might
cause us to reject it (see below). However, even if we were to accept it, it would not help
Frede's case. For here too, there will be a difference of propositional content between the
Sage's calm beliefthat Socrates is pale (and that Socrates' death is notabad thing) and the
non-Sage's fearful belief that Socrates is pale (and that Socrates' death is a bad thing).
Although they have one proposition in common, they still differ in respect of others. And if
this is so, we still must reject Frede's claim that the "way of thinking" tums the belief into
an emotion, but has no effect on its propositional content.
Reasons for rejecting the passage outright include its use of the term "kategoria" for
assertion, not elsewhere a Stoic term. Furthermore, it seems to me that it would sit very
uneasily with the Stoic truth-table for conjunctions, according to which a conjunction formed
from one true and one false conjunct is simply false. So if I have an impression whose sole
propositional content is that 6 is odd, then I have a false impression. If I have an impression
one of whose propositions is that 6 is odd, and another is that 6 is even, then my impression
is both true and false. If I have an impression whose sole propositional content is the
conjunction that 6 is odd and 6 is even, then it is back to being simply and only false again.
But what distinguishes cases in which the content of one impression is given by two
propositions (in which case the impression is both true and false) from cases in which the
content of one impression is given by a conjunction (in which case it is simply false)? I don't
claim that this view is inconsistent or impossible, but it is surely very awkward, and not
what we expect from the usually careful Stoics. It would also be strange, if this had been
their view, that Sextus should not have seized on it in his attack on the truth-table for
conjunctions, in which he advocates (dialectically) the view that a TF conjunction should not
get the truth-value false, but rather should turn out no more false than true (Math. 8.124).
Long and Sedley 1987,2.243 think the whole passagederives from Antiochus, and he is not
always an orthodox source; I would be inclined to demote it from orthodoxy.
61 Plut. De virt. mor. 446F-447A [SVF 3.459; LS 65G].
62 Yes, the non-Sage will occasionally assent to the non-kataleptic impression that something
is cake, or even to the false impression that it is cake, where the Sage will never so assent.
But the Stoics also seem to suppose that the vast majority of our sensory impressions are not
merely true but even kataleptic, whereas the vast majority of our evaluative judgements are
wrong.
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TADBRENNAN
Frede 1986, 98 "irrational affections ... are nothing but the mistaken judgements which
take the place of true judgements .... " But more carefully at Frede 1986, 100 "they claim
that the affections have their origins in a judgement of reason, or even that they themselves
are judgements of reason, namely misjudgements to the effect that something is good or bad
when, in fact, it is neither .... " And at Frede 1986, 107 "All affections ultimately involve
a wrong evaluation of things." These last two claims, because they are phrased in terms of
origination or involvement rather than identity, are consistent with saying that the beliefthat
is the emotion itself (for instance "Socrates is pale") is neither evaluative nor false.
64 Tusc. 4.15 opinationem autem, quam in omnis dejinitiones superiores [of the einotions]
inclusimus, volunt esse imbecillam adsensionem. Stob. 2.88.10 [SVF 3.378] [in the
definitions of the emotions] paralambanesthai ten doxan anti tes asthenous hupolepse6s. But
"weak supposal" must mean "supposal, i.e. opinion, in which the assent is weak", since
weakness is directly a feature only of assent.
65 As noted above, I agree with Engberg-Pedersen that the definition of strong assent makes
it not a matter of subjective conviction (i.e. stubborn or obstinate assent), but rather a matter
of objective irrefutability and immunity from revision. Accordingly, it can only be had by
the Sage, and only be directed towards kataleptic impressions. The non-Sage's assents, no
matter whether given to false, true, or kataleptic impressions, are never irrefutable in this
way, because of the non-Sage's own inconsistent and patchy system of beliefs. So all of the
non-Sage's assents are weak, no matter how vehemently they may be expressed. But this
means that in fact there are no strong assents to the false or to the merely true, since a Sage
would never assent to what is not kataleptic. And this means that all opinions are weak
assents, and vice versa.
66 However, I see little to recommend Nussbaum's suggestion that the specification of
falsehood was omitted from the definition because it would have been a "strategic error" that
would have interfered with the Stoic program of persuading people "who start with another
conception of the good", Nussbaum 1994, 378. If the Stoics had really believed that false
belief was an essential definiens of every emotion, does Nussbaum suppose that they would
have suppressed this in their official school definition, merely to avoid offending potential
converts? This seems implausible on many counts, not least of which is the fact that the
Stoics were comfortable publicizing many views that were even more paradoxical than this
- making emotions beliefs of any kind, false or otherwise, already puts them at odds with
the pre-theoretical view of things. And even if the attempt to start from uncontroversial
premises should cause them to set the issue of falsity in abeyance while talking to non-Stoics,
why should it prevent them from declaring their own beliefs about the matter in their own
technical treatises? This line of thought seems to me a distortion of the way that philosophy
was practiced in the era, and it certainly does not explain why the falsehood of the belief was
not specified in the definition of the emotion.
Since I suggest above that the dialectical requirements of speaking with popular audiences
may have left a mark on the evidence we have, I should clarify how my appeal to dialectic
differs from Nussbaum's. The avoidance of unpleasant feelings, I claim, was for the Stoics
only an incidental outcome of the elimination of emotions, not its focus. lt was no part of
their end, either their overall end, or the local end they pursued in eliminating emotions.
However, it was still a consequence that could be expected to ensue on the rational
perfection that was their end; if you do all of the important work of getting your reason in
order, then, as it happens, tranquillity will also result. And, as it happens, this is an outcome
that will seem per se attractive to some non-Stoics. In emphasizing this result when talking
63
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
67
to non-Stoics, the Stoics in no way falsify or conceal their own views. But they do suggest
a different emphasis. My claim was that if the popular presentation suggests an emphasis that
is different from the emphasis suggested by the official school doctrine, then we should take
the official doctrine as authoritative, and interpret the popular pronouncements in light of
their audience. This seems to me very different from saying, as Nussbaum seems to say, that
we should interpret the official defmition (i.e. explain its silence about falsehood) by
referring to its potential reception by a non-Stoic audience.
67 See, for instance, the definition of dispositional knowledge at Stobaeus 2.74 [SVF 3.112;
LS 41H]: one sense of episteme is "a state (hexis) that is receptive of impressions and is
unchangeable by reason, which [state] they say lies in [the soul's] tenor and in potential
[dunamez]". That the last word does mean this, and not "power" as Long and Sedley 1987,
vol. 1, 256, translate, may be seen by comparing Stobaeus' report on the emotions [SVF
1.206] in which he contrasts potential and actual senses of "being in excess".
68 How it arises, and whether the disposition also increases the frequency with which it
arises, are questions that take us immediately into the issue of one's own responsibility for
one's character. And the Stoic view on this is notoriously vexed; see Fat. 43 [SVF 2.974; LS
62C].
69 Is the dispositionalbelief "death isabad thing" itself an emotion? No, since emotions are
occurrent beliefs which are also practical impulses; this is instead a proneness, disease or
ailment. Is it false? That is more difficult. It seems to me that as a state or disposition, it
does not itself have any truth-value, in the way that an impression does. lnstead, it can only
be called "true" or "false" indirectly, as the disposition to assent to impressions that are
themselves true or false. And even the impressions, one passage (Sext. Emp. Math. 8.10)
suggests, have truth values only indirectly, by virtue of the propositions correlated with
them, which are the primary and non-derivative bearers of truth-values. Still, the Stoics also
talk more loosely about true and false impressions, and they may weil have talked of true or
false dispositional beliefs.
70 PHP 4.5.1 [De Lacy 258].
71 SVF 3.459.
72 De Locis Affectis 1.3 Kühn 8.32 [SVF 3.429].
73 SVF 3.456.
74 SVF3.104, 421,424,427.
15 At SVF 3.713 the definition of drunkenness as "minor insanity" (mikra mania) is
attributed to Chrysippus. This seems to defme it as a state, only temporary perhaps, that
affects all particular assents, rather than as a particular assent itself.
76 Tusc. 3.77- I quote the Loeb translation.
77 Tusc. 3.77: Alcibiades adjlictaret /acrimansque Socrati supplex esset, ut sibi virtutem
traderet, turpitudinemque depelleret . .. .
Nussbaum 1994, 373.
Nussbaum 1993, 106.
80 Nussbaum 1994, 379.
81 Her illustrations are vividly and emotionally drawn. Some of them are also misleading to
the Greekless reader, Nussbaum 1994b, 380:
78
79
Sophocles' Creon, confronted by the death of bis only son, says, "I accept this
knowledge and am shaken in my reason" (Ant. 1095). What Chrysippus wants us to see
is that this can happen; reason is capable of that. But if this is so, why push off the affect
into some comer of the soul more brutish, less discriminating, less closely connected with
68
TADBRENNAN
the cognitive and receptive processes that we have seen to be involved in grieving? "I
recognize this and (incidentally) I am shaken in my gut." Here we lose the close
connection between the recognition and the being shaken that Chrysippus' analysis and
Creon's speech give us.
While it is not clear what relevance Sophocles has to the question at hand, it is even less
clear what an inaccurate translation of Sophocles can contribute. If Nussbaum wants to claim
that reason can do a job that the gut simply cannot, she should fmd a text which uses a word
for reason. This one uses a word for the gut. An equally accurate translation would read "I
myself know [there is nothing about acceptance] and I am disturbed in my midriff'. The
word that Nussbaum translates by "reason" (phrenas) is a word that begins its career as a
term for the area of the trunk lower than the heart, around the liver or so, and even in
Aristotle's time is a recognized term for the diaphragmatic muscle separating the thoracic
from the abdominal cavity. I don't deny that it has a range of cognitive and affective
connotations as weil - but then so does our "I have the gut feeling that .... " And the word
will not have stopped bearing its strong abdominal sense to a Sophoclean audience; they may
have heard something a Iot like "I know it, and it hits me right in the gut." Which
translation is closer? Which did Sophocles intend? The fact that these questions need to be
asked shows that the passage will not do the work that Nussbaum requires of it. The
appearance that it lends support to her thesis is merely due to tendentious translation.
82 Nussbaum 1994, 379.
83 Nussbaum 1994, 380.
84 Nussbaum 1994, 399. By "good" externals she doubtless means "preferred indifferents".
85 SVF 3.432.
86 Sext. Emp. Math. 11.22.
87 This definition contains a hapax legomenon anepizetesia, whose meaning cannot be
ascertained with any certainty. LSJ gives the definition "absence of inquiry", but then
defines the adjectival form of the word (anepizetetos) as "leaving nothing to be desired". I
am inclined to interpret it as part of the Stoic view that the cosmos is a whole, self-sufficient,
and in need of nothing, for which see Plut. Stoic. rep. 1052D (Autarkes d'einai legetai
monos ho kosmos, dia to monos en hautoi panta echein hon deitm). Note also that to pan is
sometimes used for ho kosmos (SVF 4 s.vv.) Now the cosmos is also god, and is also wise,
so that it, too, is not other than benefit, and so is a good.
88 I take the erga of the temperate to be the same as the praxeis of the spoudaioi in Sextus.
89 However, I grant that it could be construed otherwise, to mean that the same thing, as for
instance some food, is present to both the Sage and the non-Sage, and the first selects it in
a temperate and virtuous way, as an indifferent, while the second desires it as a good. If
there were good reason to take it this way, I might accuse Cicero of carelessness in setting
out the example. But in fact there is no good reason to read it in this way; the natural way
is also the one that makes sense of the testimony of Andronicus.
90 Tusc. 4.12-13 [SVF 3.438].
91 Nussbaum 1994, 399. And note that again by "bad" she clearly means "dispreferred", as
the sequel shows.
92 Inwood 1985, 306 argues for this briefly in note 225, but I do not think that his argument
is consistent with his overall view about the impulses of the Sage.
93 Nussbaum 1994, 399.
94 Inwood 1985, 175.
THE OLD STOIC THEORY OF EMOTIONS
69
9s
Inwood 1985, 174. The passage from p. 175 quoted in extenso above mentions this as a
possibility, but does not obviously commit Inwood to the view. This earlier passage from p.
174 seems to be spoken fully in propria persona.
96 Inwood 1985, 169.
rn Tusc. 4.14.
98 Troels Engberg-Pedersen and R.W. Sharples each independently proposed the following
objection to me. Grant that I am right, and that the objects of the eupatheiai are genuine
goods and evils, and so virtue and vice. Does it then follow that Nussbaum is wrong? For
virtuous action will involve a certain relation to indifferents; for instance, it is virtuous for
me to take care of my health, even though my health is an indifferent. So my boulesis for
future virtuous action will also, in this case, be a boulesis to take care of my health, and so
directed at an indifferent, namely my health. Thus my view and Nussbaum's view turn out
to be compatible after all, and the establishment of mine does not refute hers.
But this does not seem very satisfactory to me. For we are dealing throughout with
intensional attitudes and their objects, so that we cannot simply hand along the object from
a nested attitude to the nesting attitude. True, boulesis is directed at virtuous behavior, and
virtuous behavior does involve the correct attitude towards indifferents; this attitude, as
explained earlier, is called selection. But although the indifferent is the object of the
selection, and the selection is the object of the boulesis, one cannot conclude that the
indifferent is the object of the boulesis.
Furthermore, if I am right at all, then the object of a eupatheia is the object of the Sage's
true belief, "this thing is a present or future good or evil." And that belief can never be
directed at an indifferent and still be true. It may be that my position is wrong and
Nussbaum's is right, but in neither case are they compatible.
99 I should like to dedicate this chapter to the memory of John Procope, a contributor to this
volume whose untimely death during its preparation brought sorrow to everyone in the world
of Ancient Philosophy. He was unfailingly generous, both with his friendship and with his
astanishing knowledge of antiquity; I am grateful to have known him, and shall miss him.
For help in writing this chapter I have many debts. Richard Sorabji encouraged me to
attempt it, and acted as Springboard and stimulus for thinking about emotions. Because of his
interest in the topic, the entire London philosophical community was in an emotional ferment
for several years; I am especially happy to remernher our discussions in Neal's Yard. Among
written discussions, I find by far the most value in Frede's piece, follow it in most respects,
and diverge from it meth' hupexaireseös. Among unwritten discussions, John Cooper's
seminars and lectures at Princeton shaped my understanding of ancient intellectualism, and
Stoicism in particular. The editors of this volume both made helpful suggestions that
improved the piece. And as always, my deepest thanks go to Liz Karns.
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