I’ve always been a sucker for the Stoics. I envy their ability to encounter disaster without showing any kind of emotional distress. The Stoics emphasize the maintenance of one’s will in accordance with nature, and disregard external goods such as wealth, fame, beauty, etc.
They feel as if these are not sufficient goods – which find happiness in themselves – but rather they are means to an end, which we find through desire (the end being a life full of good virtues).
I wholeheartedly agree with Stoicism in that we don’t need external goods to be happy, and that we should focus on that we have the power to change.
If we continue to worry about external goods that are out of our hands, we are digging our own graves.
The Stoics make a telling commentary on how society gets caught up in material things rather than realizing all that we can control is within ourselves.
One of my favorite Stoics, Epictetus, believes that life should exclusively be about internal goods, such as being just and honorable while living in moderation.
Epictetus finds that life is functionally worthless when we focus on things that give us short-term pleasure, for these external goods facilitate our ability to get caught up in extraneous things that have no intrinsic value. This is not to say that external goods are inherently bad, but rather that they play no role in reaching eudaimonia, or happiness. In a more literal example, Epictetus talks about how one should not focus on appearances, but rather on our internal opinions and perspectives, for this is what we have the power to do.
I really do appreciate Greek thinkers such as Socrates and Aristotle, but they never mastered the meaning of living a good life. Both philosophers find external goods as a necessary component to living a virtuous life. Aristotle, more so than Socrates, discusses the importance of external goods in the context of attaining the good life.
To live virtuously means exercising the part of the mind that practices reason and excellence; this life of excellence is what should be attained in accordance with reason. Aristotle’s interpretation of the good life makes it seem as if people who are more privileged deserve the happiness that has fallen into their lap.
For example, those who are born into wealth, according to Aristotle, are more likely to be happy than those who are not. Aristotle would think that someone who is born into a family that is in the lower class could never truly reach eudaimonia, for they do not have sufficient external goods.
This is absolutely preposterous, because external goods are not a prerequisite to being happy or virtuous; no one is automatically granted a fulfilled life; such an attainment takes introspection and contemplation, hence the superiority of Stoicism.
Epictetus’ view on the role of external goods is sufficient, for he believes that the morally virtuous life is one made up of things that are equally attainable for all people (i.e. courage, honor, being just).
One does not need external goods to be happy, because in the long-term they become obsolete.
Great power and endless wealth sound nice, but at the end of your life, what will matter more: a modest friend, or all of the power and money in the world?
Asst. Editorials Editor Priyanka Krishnamurthy is a College sophomore from Coppell, Texas.