“Good Passions”


I came across this taxonomy of the εὐπάθεια.  Stoics often have to refute the emotionless stereotype of the little-S stoic, and especially of the Sage.  Some modern writers have noted the three core healthy or innocent emotions, but they can be broken down a little further.

After speaking with some other Stoics, it’s worth noting that the feelings we’re discussing here aren’t virtues, they’re the result of good judgments, the natural feelings of the behavior of one living according to nature, i.e. as a rational and social critter.

It’s worth noting, that some modern writers on Stoicism have discussed the εὐπάθεια as well, and you’ll notice a difference in translation for some of them*.  I’ve used LSJ, Middle, and Strong’s dictionaries, as well as discussions with experts in all periods of Greek language.


* I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Jean Efpraxiadis for correcting my translations, and working with me through a seemingly never ending slew of questions.  Thank you, Yannos!

So let’s look at the fruits of our work.

  • εὐπάθεια (eupatheia) – Good passions, healthy emotions, innocent emotions.
    • βούλησις (boulesis) – Wishing, aspiration, looking forward to doing well.
      • εὔνοια (eunoia) – Goodwill, being reasonably well disposed towards people situations
      • εὐμένεια (eumenia) – Goodwill, having feelings of kindness and solidarity with people.
      • ἀσπασμός (aspasmos) – Having feelings corresponding to acceptance, kind welcoming and embracing people and situations.
      • ἀγάπησις (agapesis) – Affection.
    • χαρά (chara) – Joy.
      • τέρψις (terpsis) – Delight.
      • εὐφροσύνη (eufrosune) – Mirth.
      • εὐθυμία (euthumia) – Cheerfulness.
    • εὐλάβεια (eulabeia) – Reverence, piety, caution.
      • αἰδώς (aidos) – Shamefast, modesty, moral self-respect.
      • ἁγνεία (hagneia) – Purity, chastity.

So, in contradiction to the “emotionless Stoic,”  the practicing Stoic progressing towards virtue has many healthy emotions/feelings awaiting her on the way.  When looking at the variety and depth of the good feelings which are in accordance with nature, it’s surprising how prevalent the ‘stiff upper lip’ stereotype actually is.

ἀπάθεια, then, isn’t to be cold and without affect, but to have properly used impressions and judgment which results in healthy feelings.  This brings the Sage down into the realm of real-world possibility.  Rather than trying to overcome human nature and eliminate all emotions a la Spock, we have a concept of a fully human being, living in accordance with nature feeling and experiencing what humans rightly ought to do.

Image result for diogenes lampWhen the Sage is viewed in this light, she’s a more comforting role model to my way of thinking.  Not a superman, but a *real* one.  Precisely the one Diogenes goes to look for with his lamp.  Sometimes that passage gets translated as real man, sometimes as honest man, but either way.

It’s important to note how the concept of the Sage changed during the lifetime of the Stoa, as it morphed from an achievable ideal to theoretic ideal with a pit stop at the virtue of the every-man.

The idea of an achievable virtue, however, is much more motivating to me.  Maybe the already virtuous can strive for something unachievable, but many of us down here in the streets find that a tough pill to swallow.

So be sure to cast aside the idea of the unfeeling Stoic, we have a whole taxonomy chart to prove otherwise.

Stoicism and the war against (some) desires.


The tagline of this blog for the past few months has been ἀνέχου καί ἀπέχου.  This can be translated (more poetically to my mind, and carrying some of the symmetry present in the Greek) as “bear and forebear,” or in a more approachable fashion as “endure and renounce.”

epictetus-6A pretty stern admonition it seems.  This is often reported as the slogan of Epictetus (seen on the book on which he’s lounging), and its Latin counterpart (sustine et abstine) can be seen often in other venues as well.  So the assumption that Stoicism is about quashing all desire seems just a quick step away.  But, we’d be missing an important issue.  Epictetus does tell us to abandon somethings, and postpone others for the present, but the issue is more complex.

There’s an interesting issue here which gets lost in the English translation.

There’s more than one word for desire used in the Stoic sources. One (ὄρεξις) which is used in the context of desire for virtue, or good things. And a second word for desire (ἐπιθυμία) which is inordinate desire for vicious things or pleasures, lust.

ὄρεξις is one of the things listed as “up to us” in the Enchiridion 1, by the way.  So it clearly can’t be one of those things we’re supposed to abandon or postpone, right?  It’s what we’re training with and for.  Here is why the English “desire” as a catch-all for both Greek terms is a problem for we English speakers.  We might end up making a (reasonable mistake in this case) misapprehension because we’re using the same word for two different lexemes in the Greek.  We may not even know this is occurring, if we don’t read Greek or have it pointed out to us.

So, when we are trying to switch our focus from lusting-desire (for pleasures) to grasping-desire (for virtue), we’re not trying to quash “desire” per se, but we’re trying to quash this yearning or hankering for vicious things.

We should have a grasping-desire for progress, for virtue, for wisdom.  We should grasp for courage, justice, wisdom, and self-control.

We should avoid lusting after body-pleasure, social-rank, intellectual-pride, etc.

Using our ὄρεξις is an entirely acceptable place to be, while we avoid the dangers of ἐπιθυμία.

**cue shooting start**



Perseus, ὄρεξις
Perseus, ἐπιθυμία
Strong’s, ὄρεξις
Strong’s, ἐπιθυμία