That the difference between virtue and vice is non-gradational.


One of the difficult positions in Stoic philosophy for new students is the idea that there are no successive steps between virtue and vice.  This means that we prokoptontes are not in any better state than the layman.  Vice is vice, 100%.  Virtue is virtue, 100%.  There is no material benefit to being “part way” between the two, and it may not even be possible to be part way between them.drowning

To take some liberties with Plutarch’s example, a man who drowns in the bath tub is no less drowned than the man who drowns fifty feet below the surface in the sea.  Both are the same amount of dead.  In this way, the amount of failing which constitutes our own vicious intent is no less severe.  All vices are equal to the Stoic philosopher.

This flies in the face of the common conception, but it’s important to remember here, that we’re talking about our own internal thought-models for aligning our moral intent with the universal perspective.  We’re not discussing laws, courts, and organizations.  We’re not saying what this person’s or that person’s punishment should be for an act prohibited by the civil law.  No, indeed we are only discussing our own internal state, the universal perspective, and the inclination towards virtuous intent.

With that in mind, the fact that our little failings are just as severe per se as our large ones is easier to grok.  The drowning analogy, again.  We’re just as drowned in the tub as the sea.  This means that there is a sense of urgency in our practice.  While we might, and others might see in us, progress as we practice, we’re still drowning.

The Sage is not drowning.  Her perspective is aligned with the universe, with God (as it were).  The Sage is free from the little failings of intent.  While she is by no means omniscient, her moral will is a sharp and incisive tool, and her disinterest in the common, worldly baggage allows her to share the divine perspective.

It is this state, this alignment which Stoic philosophers are practicing towards, and this is the light which calls us from the depths, whether we’re drowning in the tub or the sea.

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