Virtue and the Indifferents in Aristotle and the Stoics

The ethical views of Aristotle and the Stoics are similar in many respects. Both hold intellectual contemplation as their highest happiness, or eudaimonia. Both views hold that the way to achieve that eudaimonia is to act in life according to the virtues. Both views also hold that the virtues are, in essence, moderate, although Aristotle tends to use moderation as a defining quality of virtue, while Stoics like Seneca seem to hold that the virtues just are moderate, and do not consider that to be a defining quality of virtue. Yet despite these similarities, there are some critical differences between the two views that can raise serious issues and have a major impact on their ethical views.

One of the most interesting differences is in how they treat what the Stoics loosely call “indifferents”. These are things like wealth, health, food, friendship, etc that are not themselves virtues, but are generally considered to be desirable things. Since both Aristotle and the Stoics consider that all intrinsically good things are virtues, if these things are not intrinsically good then they are not virtues . Both views also argue that most people mistake things that are not virtues for virtues, and that much trouble comes from such mistakes. So where is the place for these indifferents? Are they good? Desirable in any way? What is their relation to the virtues, and to the ultimate good, eudaimonia?

Here is where Aristotle and the Stoics part ways. The Stoics insist that these indifferents are totally irrelevant to eudaimonia. The only thing that one requires in order to achieve eudaimonia is virtue, which is acting according to proper reason. So these things that are not themselves intrinsically good are in no way required for eudaimonia, and so their complete lack should not in any way prohibit anyone from achieving eudaimonia. Aristotle, on the other hand, seems to acknowledge that one could not achieve eudaimonia without having these basics, thus seemingly making them a precondition of eudaimonia. So while these things are still not virtues, and still not intrinsically good, he argues that at least a basic amount of these things are required for eudaimonia, thus making at least that level of them desirable intrinsically (since eudaimonia, it must be assumed, is at least intrinsically desirable as the ultimate good). So, at some level, virtue alone will not be able to achieve eudaimonia if the basic levels of these indifferents are not met, according to Aristotle.

Why did they worry about this issue at all? It seems clear that these stances are an attempt to address a problem that they are both vulnerable to: if virtue is all that is required for eudaimonia, how can you claim that someone who has no food, or no shelter, or is horribly sick will have eudaimonia, which is similar to the ultimate happiness or contentment? It seems that someone in such a condition could not possibly achieve any sort of eudaimonia, and if that could be the case it seems that most people would reject a eudaimonic life where they were sick, hungry, and cold. So how does one reconcile the idea that virtue are those things that are intrinsically good and thus will lead to eudaimonia with the idea that a life without certain indifferents will not seem very eudaimonic to any person? For the Stoics, the answer is that eudaimonia is really achieved only through virtue, and that to assert that the lack of the indifferents – which are not intrinsically good – would mean that one did not have eudaimonia is simply placing far too much value on the indifferents. For Aristotle, the answer is that it is true that a certain basic amount of certain indifferents are required for eudaimonia, but that that is the only value that an indifferent could have.

As might be expected, this has a major impact on their ethics as a whole, but it most obviously impacts the Stoic ethics. After all, they end up positing an utterly counter-intuitive proposition: that someone who had no food, and no shelter, and poor health would still be “happy” if they only lived according to virtue. So how can they do this? Their first move is to insist that people place too much value on certain things that should not have that much value, and that this is what leads most people to trouble. Virtue, being the only thing that is intrinsically good, is the only thing that is intrinsically valuable. Vice is the only thing that is intrinsically without value – or, perhaps, that has a negative value, depending on how vice is perceived. Whether or not the indifferents have any value for the Stoics is debatable. The early Stoics seemed to consider them to be things that did not have any real value (which would mean that vice would have to have a negative value) but later Stoics – Seneca and Chrysippus particularly – seem to have recognized the problem with giving these things absolutely no value and seem willing to grant them some limited value, at least in the conditions where they are, in fact, actually good. At this point, it would be possible to consider vices to have no value as opposed to a negative value since it would imply that they would be the only things that would never have any value and, thus, should never be chosen. However, it is abundantly clear that to the Stoics the indifferents are less valuable than virtue, and so are always – even in the instances where they are good – less valuable than virtue, meaning that one could not sacrifice virtue in order to achieve an indifferent. So if someone finds that they have made their choices according to virtue but do not have eudaimonia because they are lacking indifferents, it is merely because they are placing too much value on the indifferents and not enough on virtue. So it is not that something is lacking from virtue which leaves the person short of eudaimonia, but something lacking in the person that stops them from achieving eudaimonia even though they act according to virtue.

This is because too much value is placed on things that are not virtues. For the Stoic wise man, it would not be an impediment to eudaimonia to be lacking the indifferents, and if it was it would merely be because the person was allowing themselves to be too upset by the lack of those indifferents. As Seneca says: “… the happy man is content with his present lot, no matter what it is, and is reconciled to his circumstances; the happy man is he who allows reason to fix the value of every condition of existence.” [On the Happy Life, vi, 2]. So if someone was lacking in certain of the indifferents, according to the Stoics he would be a happy man not if he had those indifferents, but if he only placed the proper amount of value on those indifferents and thus would see that he merely should be content with what he has, and not lament the loss of such things of little value as indifferents – even to the extent of food and friendship.

This has, of course, a huge impact on Stoic ethics. Since the Stoics also insist that the happiness of a person should not depend on the whims of Fortune, and since all of the indifferents ultimately depend on an outcome (a person has food, a person has friends, and so on) which is therefore determined and impacted greatly by Fortune, they end up having to hold an idea that the happy man’s contentment is totally achievable inside his own capabilities and the things that are under his own control. So, for any person to achieve Stoic eudaimonia, it will have to be the case that Fortune and all of the things that can be denied a person by Fortune will have to be utterly irrelevant to the achievement of eudaimonia. So what the Stoics require is a method that is totally under the control of the potential wise person to achieve eudaimonia. And that is the wise person placing all the value of things under the control of reason, and so anything – even emotional attachment – that might lead one to feel unhappy because they lack it is to be eliminated. So the Stoics have to insist that, ultimately, happiness consists in nothing more than recognizing the value of the right things – the virtues – and that everything else is irrelevant. So while indifferents can be nice, and even striven for, they are not to be chosen either as means to virtue, or as something that is as valuable as virtue. Virtue is to be chosen first, and while Stoics like Seneca seem to think that “pleasure” and the indifferents will follow from virtue, even if they do not virtue is still to be preferred over the indifferents. Thus, it seems clear that a lack of even food and friendship is not enough to challenge the true Stoic wise man’s happiness.

Now, what about Aristotle? Aristotle’s take on the issue does not seem to impact his view all that much, but it does indeed seem to cause him more problems. It seems that there are two reasons that he takes the stand he does. The first is because Aristotle has a very pragmatic take on ethics, and so even if he wanted to insist that virtue was all one needed in order to achieve eudaimonia, he would have to concede that it would seem impossible to do so without basic needs such as food and shelter. And so it is only reasonable for him to conclude that virtue is not sufficient for eudaimonia if one of these basic needs are not met. However, there is another line of argumentation that he would use to justify the value of the so-called indifferents which does not rely on the argument that these things are required for eudaimonia. He also argues that these indifferents are the things that we can use and require in order to do virtuous acts. If we had no wealth, we could not do generous acts. If we had no friends, we could not participate in the virtuous actions associated with having friends. If we were not healthy, we would find our possible actions in the world – including our possible virtuous actions – severely curtailed. As Aristotle himself says: “… it needs the external goods as well; for it is impossible, or not easy, to do noble acts without the proper equipment.” [Nicomachean Ethics I, viii, 30]. So these indifferents do not merely have value because a certain minimum level of them are required to achieve eudaimonia, but also because they allow us to do virtuous actions in the first place.

The first immediate objection to Aristotle’s choice is one that the Stoics would certainly level at him, since it is the objection that forces them to reject that choice in the first place. It seems inconsistent to insist that the virtues are the only thing that are intrinsically good, the indifferents are not necessarily good, and that eudaimonia is simply the ultimate good or good state while then arguing that you cannot achieve that ultimate good without possessing some of the things that are not, in fact, intrinsically good. This argument, therefore, seems to raise the indifferents at least to the level of the virtues in value, or perhaps even higher than the virtues. After all, even if one possesses all of the virtues, and practices all of them, one will not be able to achieve eudaimonia. Does this not make the indifferents a more important factor in eudaimonia than the virtues?

The objection that it places the indifferents on a higher level than the virtues seems obviously false. After all, while one could not achieve eudaimonia without a minimum level of the indifferents, it is not the case that one could achieve eudaimonia only with the indifferents. And while we only need to partially possess the indifferents, we certainly need full possession of the virtues in order to achieve eudaimonia. So it seems that the claim that Aristotle makes the indifferents more valuable than the virtues seems to have little merit. However, even claiming that they are as valuable as the virtues would certainly raise the hackles of the Stoics. How can the things that are not intrinsically good be as valuable as those that are?

Aristotle need not claim that the indifferents are indeed as valuable as the virtues. After all, those things that are intrinsically good are always going to be considered good. However, even the Stoics admit that the indifferents can be good and valuable in some circumstances – after all, they are not vices – but that they simply are not good in all cases. So it does not seem to be that unreasonable an argument to claim that when the indifferents are good, they are as valuable or as reasonable a choice as a virtue, which is intrinsically good. So there seems no reason to insist that the indifferents never have any value, which seems to be at the heart of the Stoic objection. If the indifferents can be valuable – and it seems that at least the later Stoics do grant that they can be valuable – then it certainly seems reasonable that they should be chosen in those cases where they have value and are good. So to claim that Aristotle’s view gives the indifferents too much value seems to imply that they should never have value, and that argument seems patently absurd.

The test of whether the indifferents are being given too much value is to actually deal with how Aristotle’s view would have a situation where you can either choose to perform a virtuous action or perform an action that will lead to achieving or maintaining a minimum level of an indifferent. One of the immediate objections to Aristotle’s view is that it seems plausible that one might have to choose between taking a virtuous action that may lead to a loss of one of the indifferents that Aristotle claims is required for achieving eudaimonia. For example, it seems that one might have to perform a virtuous action based on information that only the person is privy to, but without that information looks like a very vicious action. This could easily cause someone to lose all of their friends, one of the indifferents that Aristotle claims is required for eudaimonia. So here the person is forced into making a choice: either do the virtuous action and “lose” eudaimonia, or forgo the virtuous action and retain the indifferent. For the Stoics, this is an easy choice: you choose virtue, since that is all that is required for eudaimonia. But for Aristotle, this is a very difficult decision indeed, and a decision that is crucial for determining if he gives too much value to the indifferents.

A clear statement of how Aristotle looks at this is given in “Politics”: “Certainly no one will dispute the propriety of the partition of goods which separates them into three classes, viz external goods, goods of the body, and goods of the soul, or deny that the happy man must have all three.”[Politics, VII, 1] This clearly illustrates that Aristotle believes that indifferents – ie external goods – are required for eudaimonia. But it is also clear that such external goods come after the goods of the soul, or the excellences: “Again, it is for the sake of the soul that goods external and goods of the body are desirable at all, and all wise men ought to choose them for the sake of the soul, and not the soul for the sake of them” [Politics, VII, 1].

While the above quote is more directly a comment that one does not choose virtue because it gives you the external or bodily goods, it seems reasonable to derive from it that the virtues are therefore more important – and contribute more to happiness – than the external goods. And so it seems like if Aristotle was offered a choice between achieving his base level of external goods or taking a virtuous action, he would choose to do the virtuous action, since we only desire external goods for the sake of the virtues. The problem remains, however, that taking such an action would then risk his losing eudaimonia or making it unattainable, and he clearly comments that the external goods are part of eudaimonia. So while Aristotle has given himself a way to reply to critics like the Stoics by insisting that he does not place a higher value on the indifferents than on the virtues, he is still open to a criticism over what that might mean to eudaimonia.

The criticism would go something like this. The virtues and excellences are goods. Moreover, they are intrinsically good, and always good. Eudaimonia – it is maintained on all sides – is the highest state of good. Well, then a) does that not mean that we should strive to achieve it, thus under Aristotle’s view we would have to sacrifice virtues to the indifferents if it would cause us to lose eudaimonia? And b) what does that say about the virtues themselves? If they are intrinsically good, how could we ever face such a choice? Should they not themselves just lead to the highest state of good, eudaimonia? And for the Stoics, this is exactly what they propose: if you have virtue, you have eudaimonia. If you do not have eudaimonia or become unhappy from choosing virtue, then you have a mistaken sense of value and importance on these issues and it is your mindset that must change, not your actions. How can Aristotle defend himself from this attack?

Aristotle’s defence against the charge that if you had to choose between eudaimonia and virtue you should choose eudaimonia might be that he – in the same manner as the Stoics – insists that virtues are indeed intrinsically good. Virtues are valuable not merely as a means to some other end, but also as an end in themselves. So, since virtues are ends in themselves, we do not choose virtue because it is a means to the end of eudaimonia, but because of themselves in their own right. And so it is ludicrous to suggest that we should place achieving eudaimonia over choosing the virtues, since what we would be doing would be choosing things that are merely means to an end over things that are good as ends in themselves, which is an idea that Aristotle would clearly reject. From the above quote from “Politics”, we can clearly see that Aristotle would likely only have us choose indifferents over virtues when having the indifferent would give us the means to have or exercise the virtues. So we can choose the indifferents over the virtues but only when it gets us the virtues, which are always superior to the indifferents. However, it is not acceptable to choose them merely as an end to eudaimonia, because that would be placing means to ends above ends, which is not acceptable to Aristotle.

The second criticism, however, is a bit more daunting. Why is it the case that the virtues do not, in themselves, grant us eudaimonia? Why is it the case that lacking indifferents makes us unhappy for a reason other than our own blind attitudes? Aristotle here would insist that in order to possess eudaimonia, we must be able to participate in the full range of virtues that we, as human beings, can participate in. Since he already accepts that the indifferents are means to virtue, and that they should be chosen as means to virtue, it seems clear that he would hold that the lack of our minimum standards of indifferents will cause us to not be able to act according to the virtues. It does seem that someone who is starving to death will not be able to practice many of the appropriate virtues in any meaningful way, and that even Aristotle himself discusses how we simply cannot act on and demonstrate certain virtues without friendship. So if we do not choose some of these indifferents, then we will not be able to perform the virtues; if we cannot perform the virtues, we cannot achieve eudaimonia. Therefore, the lack of a certain minimum standard of the indifferents leads to not being able to achieve eudaimonia because of the lack of them, but because the lack of those indifferents stops us from being able to practice the virtues that would therefore get us eudaimonia. Thus, in the end it is a lack of virtue that is the issue, not a lack of external goods or indifferents. And so it remains the case that virtue does indeed lead to eudaimonia inherently, but that a lack of certain indifferents causes us to not achieve virtue and thus to lose eudaimonia.

This leads to a potential criticism of the Stoics. If the indifferents are – in at least some cases – the means to achieving virtue, then it seems like the Stoics have an issue where we will not be able to achieve some virtues if we are forced to choose virtues ahead of indifferents. After all, by doing so we limit ourselves in the virtues that we could obtain later because of the lack of the indifferents. So how can the Stoics reply to the fact that they might end up hamstringing the virtues by denying the indifferents?

For the Stoics, this is an easy criticism to counter. Stoicism insists that one should act according to nature, which means for them acting according to Reason. Reason would insist that one not attempt to take an action that one cannot actually achieve if one is aware that the action is beyond their capacity. As Seneca says when discussing someone entering a political life or retreating into comtemplation: “If he is lacking in influence or power and the state is unwilling to accept his services, if he is hampered by ill-health, he will not enter upon a course for which he knows he is unfitted.” [On Leisure, iii, 4]. But they are still bound to attempt to be virtuous: “It is of course required of a man that he should benefit his fellow-men – many if he can, if not, a few; if not a few, those who are nearest; if not these, himself.” [On Leisure, iii, 5]. Therefore, if a person is lacking an indifferent, and that lacks stops them from acting on a virtue, then that is no issue to the person themselves. They are equally as virtuous as they would be if they had the indifferent and therefore could act on the virtue. This is because they would be being prevented from acting on that virtue by something that is beyond their control, or by Fate itself, and any circumstance determined by the whims of Fate is not something that should bother the Stoic wise man. They should be no more concerned that the lack of friends, for example, does not allow them to be generous towards their friends than they would be about the fact that a crippled leg, for example, would not allow them to climb Mount Everest. The only obligations that one has under the Stoic system are to do what it is totally in your control to do; in short, one is only obligated to do what they can do, and no more.

We can still lay the charge that many constantly lay against the Stoic ethics: it is not practically achievable. The only things for the Stoics that are important are the virtues. Indifferents could be good, but they are to be sacrificed to the virtues – since the virtues are intrinsically good – which means that someone who is starving to death should still choose to remain hungry and not obtain even some small amount of food if the only way they could get that food would be to act in a vicious way. This seems like something that few of us could do in such extreme circumstances. And since no Stoic author has ever been able to provide us with an example of an actual Stoic wise man to model ourselves on – unlike Aristotle, who provides us with several paragons of his ethical system – it seems like the Stoics have a real problem coming up with a practical ethical system if they want to insist on virtue above all else.

Note, first, however, that this is not a criticism that Aristotle can make against the Stoics, since his own view should lead him to similar problems. After all, he also insists that indifferents – goods of the body, for example – are only to be chosen for the sake for virtue, as a means to virtue. One should only desire the indifferents so that they can participate in all of the appropriate virtues that the world has to offer. That being said, it still remains possible that the indifferents must be sacrificed to virtue, and it would seem at the very least impotent to act in a vicious manner to achieve an indifferent that then allows one to act in a virtuous manner in another area. Would it not be better to simply have not acted in the vicious manner in the first place? And if we allow people to act viciously in order to be able to act virtuously later, at what point will we be able to draw the line and say that this amount of vicious behaviour is not justified? Aristotle therefore runs into his own problems of denying the indifferents, but to a more limited degree, since he could easily claim at the extreme ends that the indifferent is as important as a virtue – although perhaps not important enough to justify acting viciously – because such an extreme lack of an indifferent would so devastatingly cripple our potentially virtuous person that no real virtue could ever be achieved without it. The Stoics, on the other hand, would not even have that way out.

So, how to defend this extreme view of the Stoics? The first thing to note is that their impracticality need not come from any attempt to force everyone to completely avoid the indifferents. While some of the earlier Stoics might have argued that, it seems that Chryssipus and particularly Seneca did not feel that way. Since the indifferents can, at times, be good, it follows that they can be desirable. Seneca justifies his being wealthy in this manner: “ [the wise man] does not love riches, but he would rather have them.” [On the Happy Life, 21, 4]. He also discusses things like health in the same manner: “If his health is bad he will endure it, but he will wish for good health” [On the Happy Life, 22, 2].. For Seneca, then, the indifferents are in fact things that are desirable, that we can indeed wish for. People would like to have them, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to have them. And a person can have them to whatever degree they want as long as for every single piece of that indifference they possess they achieved it by acting virtuously. So if Seneca’s Stoic view is followed, then a person can have wealth, a person can have as much food as they want, and a person can have as many friends as they want, as long as they have been virtuously achieved. To put this closer to a current-day perspective, one might say that, for Seneca, someone could get as many material possessions as they want as long as they did it legally (according to the laws of reason, in this case).

Note that there is also a strain here of the same sort that admits that the indifferents can and should be desired for the fact that they allow the wise person to act virtuously, just as we saw in Aristotle. As Seneca himself comments: “… he does not reject the riches that he has, but he keeps them and wishes them to supply ampler material for exercising his virtue.” [On the Happy Life, 21, 4]. This is the same sort of justification that Aristotle uses to justify placing value on the indifferents, but the Stoics definitely consider this value to be much lower than Aristotle does. Thus, it seems that the Stoics insist that the indifferents will allow a person to do more virtuous actions, but that lacking these indifferents will not in any way stop one from being virtuous as a person.

However, there still seems to be a legitimate challenge to the Stoic ethics based on the practicality of their insistence on virtue above all. And there is, but it is not in the area of what a wise person should choose to do. Instead, it is in the attitude that the wise person is supposed to hold towards these indifferents. As Seneca says: “Place me in the midst of sumptuous furnishings and the trappings of luxury; I shall not think myself one whit happier because I have a soft mantle, because my quests recline on purple.”[On the Happy Life, XXV, 2]. One does not get any closer or further away from Stoic eudaimonia the more or less indifferents the person possesses. These things simply do not matter to eudaimonia. And so it should not be a difficult choice to choose to not pursue an indifferent because the means presented for achieving that indifferent are all vicious. Yet, this is a difficult choice for many people. More importantly, it should not be a difficult choice to give up an indifferent because doing so will be a virtuous action. Yet, this is also a difficult choice for many people. And the Stoics would claim that this is simply because too much value has been placed on an indifferent. It has been elevated to the status of a virtue as it has been considered to be as desirable – or even more desirable – than virtue. Why should the indifferents be considered as desirable as virtue, even in the extreme cases? If it is the case that the indifferents can be considered more desirable than virtue, then what justification do we have for insisting that virtue – being intrinsically good – is what we should desire and act on most of all in our ethics, and should form our path to the highest good? One can maintain that the indifferents may be good and therefore may be as desirable as the intrinsic goods, but then one cannot maintain that virtue is the ultimate path to the highest good. The Stoics insist that virtue is the ultimate path to the highest good.

It also seems slightly hypocritical for the Stoics to insist that the indifferents have no value and are to be sacrificed in order to achieve virtue, and yet not hold a stronger view that we should then give up all indifferents in order to help others. If it is ever virtuous to provide indifferents to someone, then it should seem like a Stoic wise person should be practising those virtues constantly by providing that indifferent to as many people as that person possibly can. If this is the case, then in the case of indifferents like wealth – those that are of a limited quantity – the Stoic wise person should never have a great quantity of them because the Stoic wise person will be constantly giving them away to those who have less.

The solution to this issue highlights the Stoic view of the indifferents. No one ever requires an indifferent; a person merely desires it. So it could never be vicious to hold on to an indifferent when someone else lacks the same quantity of that indifferent. Since it would never be vicious to hold on to it, reason and virtue may still demand – at times – that a person give the indifferent to someone else, but it will not insist that that should be the case all the time or merely because someone lacks the same quantity of the indifferent that the Stoic wise person holds. So one might give wealth or food to someone who was starving to death because it was felt that allowing them to continue exercising virtue and reason in the world was good for nature. However, one need not give wealth or food to someone simply because they had less than the Stoic wise person had, and therefore the Stoic wise person will be able to maintain rather large quantities of indifferents without tarnishing their virtuous attitude.

The interesting thing is that Aristotle would have less trouble replying to a challenge about an extreme lack of indifferents because, to him, the indifferents are required in order to achieve greater goods – the virtues. So if you completely lack an indifferent in such a way that it prevents you from achieving the greater virtues, then you are justified in seeking out and striving for the virtues since you are underprivileged with respect to the virtues. For the Stoics, on the other hand, if you lack indifferents to a degree that mean that you might not be able to act according to virtue, it does not justify seeking out indifferents to the extent that you act viciously in order to get them. They do not take precedence over virtue.

So is it ever desirable to seek out indifferents, or should we avoid these indifferents? Seneca faced this challenge, and pointed out that indifferents – in themselves – can be desirable, and that only a fool would cast them all aside, especially since they can provide the means to virtuous action. As long as someone has obtained these indifferents in a virtuous manner, it is quite all right to enjoy them. These things appeal to us, and appeal to our natures. However, they must not be placed above virtue in desirability. Not only that, we must not choose virtue for the sake of achieving these indifferents, even though Seneca clearly believes that if we are virtuous, these things will follow. So the indifferents are desirable, and may have value – but never as much value as virtue, and one cannot justify being vicious in order to achieve the indifferents. So for the Stoics – at least, for Seneca – the indifferents are not a problem and are not to be avoided. They merely are not to be strived for at the expense of virtue.

Examining how Aristotle and the Stoics looked at virtue seems to reveal more similarities than differences. Even their seeming disagreement over the relationship between the virtues and the indifferents does not reveal any striking difference. It is certainly the case that Aristotle believes that the indifferents are required for eudaimonia while the Stoics believe that they are not required. Yet Aristotle only holds this view because he believes that the indifferents are required in order to be able to practice certain virtues, and thus he subordinates the indifferents to reason in a similar manner to that insisted upon by the Stoics. Meanwhile, the Stoic ethics insists that we should not expect people to do what they are not capable of doing, and therefore if a person lacks indifferents to such a huge degree that they cannot practice the virtues – as Aristotle would like them to – that is not a reflection on them and is not something that should produce the mental anguish that would cause them to lose eudaimonia. They also recognize that the indifferents are also desirable and can also be the practical means to being able to act in a virtuous manner. The main difference seems to be in the importance each side places on virtuous action. Being unable to act virtuous because of a lack of indifferents seems to eliminate one from achieving eudaimonia for Aristotle, but for the Stoics it has little impact at all as long as the lack is caused by Fortune and not the actions of the person. Generally speaking, the ethics seem to be nearly identical in this area, and thus seem to promote very similar ideas of ethics and virtue, hinting at their attitudes reflecting more of a general view in ancient Greek society or, perhaps, a stronger derivation from Socrates than many would suspect.


Aristotle. The Complete Works of Aristotle, Volume II. Ed Jonathon Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Long, A.A. and D. N. Sedley. The Hellenistic Philosophers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Rist, J.M. Stoic Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Seneca. Moral Essays. Ed John W. Basore. Cambridge: Cambridge Univesity Press, 1951.

2 Responses to “Virtue and the Indifferents in Aristotle and the Stoics”

  1. The Professors Who Most Influenced Me Philosophically. | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Introduced me to Greek philosophy and consciousness, and also was instrumental in my examining the similarities and differences between the Virtue Theories of Aristotle and the Stoics, which has not only greatly informed my views of Stoicism, but of Virtue Theory as […]

  2. Stoicism and Christianity | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] find these because it is believed that early Christianity was heavily influenced by Aristotle, and Aristotle and the Stoics are similar in a number of ways. However, there are a few things that are more properly Stoic than […]

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