“Doing” philosophy: orthodoxy implies orthopraxy.


If we’re discussing the tenets of Stoicism we can bring up a variety of topics.  Katalepsis (Gr: κατάληψις) separates the Stoics from the several stripes of Skeptics.  That virtue is the only good separates the Stoics from the Epicureans.  That some indifferents might be rightly preferred by their utility to virtue separates the Stoics from the earlier Cynics.  That only those things exist which have a body and extend in three dimensions separates the Stoics from the Platonists.

We can continue on, building a list of doctrinal positions which allow us with some certainty to say, “these are Stoics positions, and these are not.”

These positions, however, are not mere brain candy.  They are not something merely to mull over as a hobby.  If you read the Stoics, and then go about your life unchanged, you’re like a person who has gone to the doctor and disregarded the advice.  You stand in front of a mirror, and ignore what it tells you about yourself.

That is not philosophy.

If there are “right beliefs” of Stoicism, a Stoic orthodoxy, and Stoicism is a philosophy as a way of life, then the implication is that there is also an orthopraxy, or “right actions.”

We can look at Epictetus’ three topoi, and see Disciplines of Assent, Desire, and Action.  Action then is in part practicing the two others.  It means actually doing things.  Things motivated by virtue.

While material things are clearly indifferents, how we handle them certainly is not.

Musonius lays out clear positions for those training to be philosophers.  It’s explicit, and there’s no twisting out from under it saying “it’s a metaphor.”  He says, “do this, don’t do that.”

If we assent to correct Stoic positions on doctrine, we must then also look at the positions on action.  Many modern Stoics set aside the ‘doing,’ however this is inappropriate.  Rather than seeing what must be pared away from the philosophy to make it palatable for the modern person; we should instead see how much we can keep.

That may mean taking certain doctrines and positions for a test a drive, giving the ancients the benefit of the doubt, but testing it with our own reason.  But this, then, is philosophy.

When we actually are doing the things suggested (or maybe discarding the ones after a full examination), we’re putting the doctrine into practice.

One thought on ““Doing” philosophy: orthodoxy implies orthopraxy.

  1. I think that it is a Stoic tenet that philosophy is medicine of the soul to cure it of irrational passions. However, it is ethics which is the basis for this since ethics says “act justly etc.” and it would be a contradiction to say this while not acting justly since the belief implied in that action would be “don’t act justly”. So one could study logic and it would have a minimal effect on behavior but ethics as a theory of practise necessarily contains action in addition to words.

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