Free Will in Ancient Thought
Frede. Chapter Three: "The Emergence of a Notion of Will in Stoicism," 27-36
*** These lecture notes are works in progress ***
LECTURE NOTES 3
Stoicism is difficult, but here are the main points we need to grasp for Frede's argument.
The Main Points in the Chapter
• Frede argues that the Stoics reject Plato and Aristotle's versions of Tripartite Theory of the Soul. The Stoics think that the soul of the human adult is reason and that it does not have nonrational parts.
• This puts the Stoics much closer to having a notion of the will than Plato and Aristotle.
• Frede, though, argues that the early Stoics do not have a notion of the will because they do not understand assenting as choosing. This means that the early Stoics do not think that "what happens in one's mind which makes one do what one does is that one chooses or decides to act in this way" (15 in lecture 1).
• Frede argues that the notion of a will first appears in in late Stoicism in the work of Epictetus.
Frede's Lecture (27-36)
1. As we have seen, for Aristotle to have had a notion of the will, he would have had to have the appropriate notion of a choice. Although he did have a notion of a choice, he did not have the kind of notion which would allow him to say that whenever we do something of our own accord (hekontes), ἑκόντες, hekontes, adjective, plural form of ἑκών we do so because we choose or decide to act in this way. Aristotle did not have such a notion of choice since he assumed that we sometimes just act on a nonrational desire (i.e., a desire which has its origin in a nonrational part of the soul) without choosing to act in this way and in fact sometimes against our choice. He could assume this, since he supposed that there are nonrational parts of the soul which generate such nonrational desires and that these by themselves suffice to motivate us to act. The crucial assumption is that being hungry may be enough to make you have something to eat and that being angry may be enough to make you take out your anger on the person who made you angry or on someone else.
Aristotle did not have a notion of the will.
He did not have "the appropriate notion of choice" and thus did not make reason appear in two roles.
2. The underlying conception of the soul as bi- or tripartite, which we
find in Plato and in Aristotle, was rejected by the Stoics. Plato and
Aristotle had developed their conception of the soul in part in response
to Socrates' denial of akrasia and his view that,
ἀκρασία, akrasia, noun, alternate spelling of ἀκράτεια.
ἀκράτεια, akrateia, "want of power, incontinence," in what we are doing, we are entirely guided by our beliefs. The Stoics took themselves to be reverting to Socrates' view, as they saw it represented in Plato's earlier dialogues, in particular, Plato's Protagoras. There is no indication in these dialogues, down to and including the Phaedo, of a division of the soul. Even in the Phaedo the soul in its entirety seems to be an embodied reason. So the Stoics took the soul to be a reason. They also called it, borrowing a term from Plato's Protagoras 352b, to hegemonikon, "The opinion generally held of knowledge is something of this sort—that it is no strong or governing or leading thing (οὐκ ἰσχυρὸν οὐδ᾽ ἡγεμονικὸν οὐδ᾽ ἀρχικὸν); it is not regarded as anything of that kind, but people think that, while a man often has knowledge in him, he is not led by it, but by something else—now by passion, now by pleasure, now by pain, at times by love, and often by fear; their feeling about knowledge is just what they have about a slave, that it may be dragged about by any other force" (Protagoras 352b).
τὸ ἡγεμονικόν, to hēgemonikon.
ἡγεμονικόν, hēgemonikon, adjective, "of a leader" the governing part of us. It is reason which governs us and our entire life. There is no nonrational part of our soul to generate nonrational desires which would constitute a motivation for us to act quite independent of any beliefs we have and could even over power reason and make us act against our beliefs. The way we behave is completely determined by our beliefs. If we act utterly irrationally, this is not because we are driven by nonrational desires but because we have utterly unreasonable beliefs.
Aristotle, following Plato, thought the soul was tripartite. In this, Plato and Aristotle took themselves to correct Socrates. Socrates thought the soul was reason and that nonrational desires do not exist.
(Remember that "nonrational desires" are desires of the nonrational parts of the soul. So Socrates can think there are unreasonable desires even though he denies there are nonrational desires.)
The Stoics took themselves to revert to the Socratic view.
What does that mean?
The Stoics thought that in the adult there are no nonrational desires because the soul of the adult has no nonrational parts. (This does not mean that they thought that no desires in the adult are unreasonable.)
3. To understand fully why the Stoics reject the partition of the soul, we have to take into account that the opposing view, that the soul has a nonrational part, naturally brings with it two further views: (1) that since it is by nature that the soul is divided, it is also by nature that we have these nonrational desires, and hence it is perfectly natural and acceptable to have such desires, and (2) that these desires, at least if properly conditioned and channeled, aim at the attainment of certain genuine goods, like the food and the drink we need, or at the avoidance of certain genuine evils, like death, mutilation, or illness. This is why we have these desires by nature.
Why do the Stoics reject the tripartite theory of the soul in Plato and Aristotle?
On the tripartite theory in Plato and Aristotle, nonrational desires (desires from appetite and spirit), when they are "properly conditioned and channeled, aim at the attainment of certain genuine goods, like the food and the drink we need, or at the avoidance of certain genuine evils, like death, mutilation, or illness."
The Stoics reject this understanding of what is good and what is bad.
4. Against this the Stoics argue that these supposedly natural desires, and quite generally all our emotions like anger or fear, are by no means natural. For it is not the case that they naturally aim at the attainment of certain goods and the avoidance of certain evils. According to the Stoics, it is not true that the things the supposedly natural desires and emotions aim to attain or to avoid are genuine goods or evils: the only good is wisdom or virtue, and the only evil is folly or vice. Everything else is indifferent. So it cannot be the case that by nature we have a nonrational part of the soul, so as to be motivated by its appetites and fears to attain certain goods and avoid certain evils. The cause of these appetites and fears is not to be looked for in a supposedly nonrational part of the soul, whose natural emotions they are, but rather in beliefs of reason, namely, in the beliefs that these things are good and hence desirable and that those things are evil and hence repulsive, when, in truth, they are all neither good nor evil but indifferent.
Contrary to Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics think that "the only good is wisdom or virtue."
We will need to consider this Stoic view in more detail.
5. According to the Stoics, the division of the soul threatens the unity
of the person and obscures the responsibility we have for our supposedly
How does the the Tripartite Theory
"threaten the unity
of the person and obscure the responsibility we have for our ... nonrational
Frede says that "[i]t invites the thought that what we are essentially is only the rational part of the soul."
How does theory invite this thought? It invites the thought that what we are essentially is only the rational part of the soul, which nevertheless cohabits in the body with an unruly, nonrational animal soul and its animal desires. It invites the thought that it is our responsibility to tame this unruly animal, establish the rule of reason in ourselves, and thus create a unified person. It is not our responsibility, but a mere fact of life, that we are confronted and have to deal with this often very strong and beastly animal soul and its crude desires. Against this the Stoics argue that this supposedly nonrational, animal part of our soul with its supposedly nonrational, animal desires is the creation of our mind in the following sense. It is not that we have these desires naturally, because we have a nonrational part of the soul. It is our mind which produces these irrational and often monstrous desires. It is a sheer piece of rationalization to invent a nonrational part of the soul and to devolve on it the responsibility for such desires. They are actually of our own making, because it is our mind or reason which produces them as a result of its beliefs and attitudes.
The Stoics think the tripartite theory is based on a misunderstanding of "irrational and often monstrous desires." (Irrational desires are unreasonable desires.) These desires do not belong to a nonrational and animal part of the soul. They are products of reason and our false beliefs about what is and is not good.
6. Aristotle, unlike Plato, had believed that we are not born with reason but with a nonrational soul of the kind other animals have, except that (1) this nonrational soul has an extraordinary capacity to store and process perceptual information and thus to accumulate experience to a degree no other animal can, and that (2) it can not only discriminate recurrent features but also come to recognize them as such. Because of this ability, human beings in the course of their natural development also develop concepts and thus become rational. Reason, as it were, grows out of the nonrational soul with which we are born, to constitute together with this nonrational soul a bi- or tripartite soul. Our upbringing has already involved a conditioning and habituation of this nonrational soul, ideally in such a way as to make it have reasonable desires. Once we have reason, this will greatly affect the way our nonrational soul operates. For now, by having reason ourselves, we can bring it about that the nonrational part of the soul generates only desires which are reasonable. Or we can at least bring it about that when the nonrational part generates desires which are not reasonable, we do not act on these desires. But, however much our nonrational desires may be in line with reason, they in themselves remain the desires of the animal we were born, though now shaped and molded by upbringing and by our own reason. And so long as reason has not acquired perfect control over the nonrational part of the soul, we shall also sometimes continue to act as the animals we were born, namely, to act on mere impulse or on a nonrational desire, instead of a desire of reason.
Aristotle departs from Plato on the soul in some ways. He is in agreement with Plato that the soul in the adult has nonrational parts. Both Plato and Aristotle stand against Socrates on this point. Aristotle, however, unlike Plato, does not think that reason is inborn. He thinks that human beings develop reason as they become adults.
During this process, there is "a conditioning and habituation of" the nonrational parts.
This "conditioning and habituation" can be proper or improper.
If it is proper, the nonrational parts of the soul have "reasonable desires."
"[W]e can bring it about that the nonrational part of the soul generates only desires which are reasonable. Or we can at least bring it about that when the nonrational part generates desires which are not reasonable, we do not act on these desires." If, however, we not acquire "perfect control," then "we shall also sometimes continue to act as the animals we were born, namely, to act on mere impulse or on a nonrational desire, instead of a desire of reason."
7. In contrast, the Stoics believe that in the course of our natural development, we undergo a much more radical metamorphosis. When we are conceived and in our embryonic state, we are plantlike. Our behavior is governed by a nature (physis), φύσις, physis, noun, "nature" as the behavior of plants is. When the embryo is sufficiently developed, the shock of birth transforms this nature into a nonrational soul. We become like animals, acting on the prompting of nonrational desires, on nonrational impulse. But, as we grow up, we develop reason. We come to have concepts and begin to understand how we function and why we behave the way we do. But this reason is not, as in Aristotle and in Plato, a further, additional part of the soul. It is the product of a complete transformation of our innate and nonrational soul into a rational soul, a reason or a mind. This transformation also turns the nonrational desires, with which we grew up and which motivated us as children, into desires of reason. Once we are rational beings, there are no nonrational desires left. They have all become something quite different.
The Stoics too think that reason develops as children become adults, but they think the nonrational soul in children is transformed into a soul with reason that has no nonrational parts.
When reason develops in the Aristotelian soul, it coexists with the nonrational parts.
The Stoics reject this conception.
They think the nonrational parts are transformed so that there is only reason in the adult.
What happens in this transformation?
"We come to have concepts and begin to understand how we function and why we behave the way we do." In addition, "the nonrational desires, with which we grew up and which motivated us as children, [turn] into desires of reason" when we become adults.
We will need to get a clearer understanding of this.
8. To say that these nonrational desires have become something quite
different in becoming desires of reason is to acknowledge that there is
some continuity. To see what the continuity is, we have to look briefly at
how the Stoics understand the desires or impulses of other animals. They
view them very much as Aristotle does. Animals perceive things. This
perception involves their having an impression (phantasia) of the
ὁρμητικός, hormētikos, adjective, "impetuous, impulsive"
φαντασία, phantasia, noun, "appearing, appearance"
"impulsive impression" (φαντασία ὁρμητική) Now, animals also perceive things as pleasant, satisfying, and conducive to their maintaining themselves in their natural state or as unpleasant, unsatisfying, or detrimental to their maintenance. And so they develop a liking for some things and a dislike of other things. This has an effect on the impressions an animal has. If the animal now perceives something it likes or dislikes, the impression it has takes on a certain coloring. In one case it is an agreeable impression, in the other it is a disagreeable impression. Depending on the complexity of the animal, an agreeable or disagreeable impression may produce memories of past encounters with this sort of thing and expectations about the future. But, whether or not it does so, in the appropriate circumstances the impression in itself, given its coloring, will constitute an impulse either to go after the thing perceived or to avoid it. If a carnivorous animal like a lion feels depleted or hungry, and it has the agreeable impression of a nice piece of meat in reach, this impression in itself will suffice to make it go after the meat. If the little animal to whom the piece of meat belongs in its turn has the disagreeable impression of a lion it is in easy reach of, this disagreeable impression in itself will suffice to impel the little animal to avoid the lion and runaway. Such impressions are called "impulsive" (hormêtikai), since they impel the animal to act. It is these impressions which constitute the desire of an animal or a child to get something or to avoid something.
To make clearer what the Stoics think happens when children acquire reason and thus become adults, Frede considers how the Stoics understand desire in animals and children.
The Stoics think animals and children have impressions of things, that some of these impressions are "impulsive," and that these impressions impel animals and children to act.
What is an impression?
We can think of impressions as appearances. They are how things appear. So, for example, when I am looking at the color of something, I might get the impression that it is red.
What makes an impression "impulsive" in animals and children and thus constitute an "impulse"?
The answer is not easy to see clearly.
Consider the lion example in terms of the AI model from the previous lecture. The initial
MG and KB is
MG: If I am hungry, I find food and eat it
This AI model makes no use of "coloring." For every perception, the corresponding belief is entered in the KB. A computation is run to determine if an antecedent in the set of maintenance goals, MG, is a logical consequence of the KB. If it is, the impression is passed to the MG. This, in turn, issues in an achievement goal.
Presumably what happens in the lion's mind is different.
The "coloring" somehow plays a role.
The lion is flooded with perceptions. Only some are important. If an impression has no coloring, nothing happens. If an impression has coloring, something happens.
What happens? The lion gets a specific desire.
"So [for Aristotle, given On the soul II.3.414b,] to be an animal is to be a living being capable of perceiving, and to be a living being capable of perceiving is to be capable of feeling pleasure or pain--typically in encounter with things that are conducive or detrimental to the preservation and well-being of the animal--and to be capable of feeling pleasure and pain is in turn to be capable of having appetite for pleasant things and revulsion towards painful ones" (Klaus Corcilius and Pavel Gregoric, "Aristotle's Model of Animal Motion," 62).
"The 'whenever' (ὅταν) [at On the soul III.7.431a9] indicates regularity, i.e. it signifies that pleasant or painful perception is necessary and sufficient for the occurrence of the corresponding desire. And given that the animal has pleasant or painful perception depending on its bodily state, it is reasonable to suppose that what we get here is a mechanism of maintaining the body in the natural state--a homeostatic regulation mechanism, to put it in modern terms" (Corcilius and Gregoric, 63).
"[P]erceptions are themselves alterations (in one way or another). These alterations can affect the body in different ways, depending on the objects that caused them and on the current state of the animal's body. Namely, if the perceived object is conducive or detrimental to the bodily state which is in accordance with the animal's nature, perceptual alterations will produce heatings or chillings. These bodily reactions to what is perceived are in fact feelings of pleasure and pain... This heating and chilling is a means of preserving the body in the natural state, since they make the animal drawn to the pleasurable object and repelled from the painful object. The point here is that desire, in its simplest form, is a motion--that is a thermic alteration--in the animal body, and it comes about whenever the animal perceives an object which is conducive or detrimental to the bodily state in accordance with the animal's nature. Such a desire has no intentional content distinct from what is available to the animal through the senses" (Corcilius and Gregoric, 64-65). I find Frede's talk of "perceiving as" difficult to understand, but his idea seems to be that nature makes animals and children so that the "coloring" (as pleasant or unpleasant) of their impressions is part of a mechanism that impels them to maintain themselves in their natural state. Impressions with "coloring" are impulsive and thus impel animals and children to behave in ways that nature determines.
What is the mechanism?
Frede talks about "develop[ing] a liking for some things and a dislik[ing] of other things."
These likings and dislikings seem to be psychological states that can guide behavior. Some likings and disliking, it seems, are innate. Others animals and children develop from their experiences of pleasure and pain. When human beings, for example, have experiences of eating different foods, they naturally develop likings for the ones they take pleasure in eating and dislikings for the ones they find unpleasant to eat.
These likings and dislikings function like beliefs about what is good and what is bad.
So Frede's idea, it seems, is that nature makes animals so that because of their likings and dislikings, they have impulsive impressions that contribute to maintaining their natural state.
Nature, for example, makes animals and children so that they dislike being hungry. Because they have this disliking, the impression that they are hungry is impulsive for them. This impression constitutes an impulse in them, and nature makes them so that this impulse is to find food and eat it.
(Corcilius and Gregoric, in the side note, do not talk about likings and dislikings, but they give an interesting interpretation of how Aristotle understands the process. On their interpretation, as I understand it, nature makes animals and children so that when they have the impression they are hungry, the process that constitutes the unpleasantness of this impression puts their bodies in motion to find food.)
“[T]he grownup, the animal soul having disappeared, does not have any instinctive impulses…. The only way for him to be moved is by assent to impulsive impressions. But impulsive impressions presuppose an evaluation of the objects of our impulses. And at this point ordinary human beings in ordinary human societies can hardly fail to make the mistake which even philosophers like the Platonists and the Peripatetics make. They think that since nature from birth has endowed us with certain natural inclinations and disinclinations the objects of these natural impulses must be goods and evils. Hence their behavior comes to be motivated, not by instinctive impulses, but by affections of the soul, namely their assent to impulsive impressions in which the objects of the natural inclinations with which we are born are represented as good or bad” (Michael Frede, "The Stoic Doctrine of the Affections of the Soul," 109. The Norms of Nature (edited by Malcolm Schofield and Gisela Striker), 93-110. Cambridge University Press, 1986).
"The transformation of our animal soul into human reason would render us inactive, if, as part of reason, we did not also acquire a notion of the good. It is only because we now judge certain things to be good that we are motivated to act" Michael Frede, "On the Stoic Conception of the Good," 75. Topics in Stoic Philosophy (edited by Katerina Ierodiakonou), 71-94. Oxford University Press, 1999). 9. According to the Stoics, there is this much continuity between being a child and being a mature human being—that as grownup human beings we continue to have impulsive impressions. The discontinuity lies in the twofold fact that these impulsive impressions now have a completely different character and that in themselves they no longer constitute an impulse sufficient to impel us to do something. To move us they require an assent of, or acceptance by, reason. It is only if reason accedes to the impulsive impression that it will constitute an actual impulse. So a human impulse, a rational impulse, will have two elements: a certain kind of impulsive impression and an assent of reason to that.
Impulsive impressions in animals and children constitute impulses to act.
Adults (humans with reason) have impulsive impressions too, but these impressions do not constitute impulses to act. In adults, impulse requires assent to an impulsive impression.
What is assent?
It is an ability that belongs to reason.
So animals and children cannot assent to impulsive impressions because they do not have reason. They, however, do not need to assent. Nature in its providence constructs animals and children so that they naturally have the right impulsive impressions and thus impulses to maintain themselves.
10. Let us look at these two elements more closely and, to begin with, at the
impulsive impressions. According to the Stoics, all human impressions, whether
impulsive or not, differ from animal impressions in that they are rational.
Animal impressions, being formed in and by a nonrational soul, lack a certain
distinctive character which all mature human impressions have, given that they
are formed in and by reason: mature human impressions do not just represent
something in some way or other but are articulated in such a way as to have a
propositional content. They are impressions to the effect that something is
the case. Hence they are true or false. Their formation involves the use of
concepts, ways of conceiving of things. Thus the Stoics also call such rational
impressions “thoughts” (noeseis).
νοήσεις (noēseis) is a plural form of νόησις.
νόησις, noēsis, noun, "intelligence, understanding" Even the perceptual impressions we have when we see something, according to the Stoics, are such thoughts, albeit thoughts produced in a certain way, namely, through the senses.
Impressions in adults, as these are impressions in reason, "do not just represent something in some way or other but are articulated in such a way as to have a propositional content."
What does this mean?
When we say "I have the impression that ....," the impression we ascribe to ourselves has a content. We can say, following Frede, that its content is a proposition. The nominalized sentence "that ..." names the proposition.
Unlike in the human adult, t1he impressions in animals and children do not have propositions as their contents. Their impressions are representations of things in another way. This difference is puzzling to understand, but we do not have to worry much about it for Frede's argument about the will and free will.
11. There is a point here which needs to be emphasized. Clearly, the Stoic
idea is that a rational impulse is a compound which has a passive element,
namely, the impression, and an active element, the assent. An impression is
something you find yourself with. The question is what you do with the
impression you find yourself with, for instance, whether you give assent to
it. To mark this passive, receptive character of an impression, Zeno, the
founder of Stoicism, characterized it as a typosis, an imprint or
impression. Hence, Cicero sometimes translates
Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 - 43 BCE
impressio, noun, "a pressing into, an impressing, impression"
phantasia, Latin translation of φαντασία.
τύπωσις, typōsis, "forming, moulding, impression"
φαντασία, phantasia, "appearance"
"Now, you know, don’t you, that the beginning of any job is the most important part, especially when we are dealing with anything young and tender? For that is when it is especially malleable and best takes on whatever impression (τύπος) one wishes to impress on it.
Shall we, then, thus lightly suffer our children to listen to any chance stories fashioned by any chance teachers and so to take into their minds opinions for the most part contrary to those that we shall think it desirable for them to hold when they are grown up?
By no manner of means will we allow it, Socrates" (Plato, Republic II.377b). the standard Stoic term for an impression, phantasia, by impressio (see Acad. 2.58). This is how we have come to use the term impression.
When I look at some object, I get an impression of how it looks. I might say, "I have the impression that the object is ...." The features of the object impress themselves on me and thus give me "the impression that the object is ...."
12. Already Chrysippus (just two generations after Zeno)
Zeno, late 4th to middle 3rd century BCE. Founded the Stoic school in about 300 BCE.
Chrysippus, early 3rd to late 3rd century BCE. Third and most influential head of the school in the early period. objected to this characterization of impressions. I take it that he did so because it is quite misleading in the following respect. It is true that we do not actively form an impression, a certain kind of representation of something, in the way in which we paint a painting or draw a map or describe a person. The impression is formed without our doing anything. But this should not obscure the fact that the way the impression is formed reflects the fact that it is formed in and by a mind. This is why the impressions animals form in their souls will differ from one another depending on the kind of animal in which they are formed, and this is why our impressions differ from the impressions of any other animal in having a propositional content, because they are formed in and by a mind or reason. But, given that, it is also easy to see why the impressions even of the same object will differ among different people, reflecting the difference between different minds. This is bound to be the case, for instance, because not all people have precisely the same concepts or the same habits of thinking about things, the same experiences, or the same beliefs. So it is perfectly true that an impression is something which we find ourselves with. But it is by no means true that we are completely innocent of the particular details of the impressions we individually form. They very much reflect the beliefs, habits, and attitudes of the particular mind in which and by which they are formed.
The impressions we get from things depend on us, on our "concepts ... habits of thinking about things, ... experiences, ... [and] beliefs." So, for example, when I see a dog on the street with no owner, I might get the impression it is a lost pet. You might get the impression it is a dangerous animal.
“Suppose that I am told that I am going to die next year. Also suppose that I
think of death in particular of my own death as something bad. In this case,
the mere thought, the mere impression, whether I actually believe it to be
true or not, will have something disquieting, disturbing, about it. This
feature is a feature of the impression which distinguishes this sort of
impression from the impression, say, that 2 + 2 = 4…. In fact it is this
distinctive feature which characterizes this sort of impression as an
impulsive impression” (Michael Frede,
"The Stoic Conception of Reason," 59.
Hellenistic Philosophy (edited by. K. Boudouris), 50-60. Athens:
International Society for Greek Philosophy and Culture, 1993-1994).
“We might have the impression that there is a spring of fresh water. Under the appropriate circumstances we might think of the water as something very appealing. Under these circumstances the mere thought that that there is a spring of fresh water, if thought of in this way, might stir us. But it is only when we give assent to the thought thus thought that we desire, are impelled to go after, the water and feel appropriately pleased and satisfied when we have managed to reach it. Similarly the thought that Socrates is going to die may be impulsive if we think of Socrates’ death as something to be averted. The mere thought might stir us. But, only when we are moved to accept the thought, will we be afraid and try to avert it, or be sad when Socrates’ death is no longer to be averted. … Now, there is an appropriate and reasonable way to think about fresh water, death, and the like; and one’s impulse will depend on the importance one attributes to these things which will be reflected by the way one thinks of them. But, as we saw earlier the affections are characterized by the fact that their objects are thought of as goods and evils. To think of something as good or evil is to attach to it the highest importance that can be attached to anything and which should only be attached to virtue, since, compared to virtue, nothing else is of any importance. But since people think of the objects of our ‘natural’ impulses as good or evils they give assent to the impulsive impressions which represent them as good or bad, and hence feel impelled towards them or away from them, with an intensity which stands in no comparison to their real value, and which hence is excessive. Thus the Stoics can define the affections of the soul as excessive impulses” (Michael Frede, "The Stoic Doctrine of the Affections of the Soul," 107. The Norms of Nature (edited by Malcolm Schofield and Gisela Striker), 93-110. Cambridge University Press, 1986).
“[T]he Stoics seem to think that all emotions and passions are a matter of accepting thoughts thought in a certain way, and that the way these thoughts are thought is entirely a matter of certain further beliefs we have—in particular, beliefs about what is good and what is bad—which we draw on to represent the object of the impression and the feature attributed to it in the thought” (Michael Frede, "Stoics and Skeptics on Clear and Distinct Impressions," 155. The Sceptical Tradition (edited by M. Burnyeat), 65-93. University of California Press, 1983. Reprinted in Essays in Ancient Philosophy (by Michael Frede), 151-176. University of Minnesota Press, 1987). 13. What is true of impressions in general is also true of impulsive impressions. They are thoughts which reflect your ways and habits of thinking about things. Let us now, though, focus on their impulsive character. Suppose you cut yourself badly with a rusty knife. Given your beliefs, the thought might occur to you that you got infected. And the further thought might occur to you that you might die from this infection. At this point this is a mere impression or thought which you find yourself with. It is a disagreeable, perhaps even disconcerting, thought; that is to say, the mere thought in itself is disconcerting. The question then arises: “What is the source and nature of this disquieting character of the impression?”
Impulsive impressions are impressions. They depend for their impulsiveness on our "habits of thinking." Their coloring as "agreeable" or "disagreeable" is a function of our "habits of thinking."
What does this mean?
To give the explanation, Frede gives an example.
14. According to the Stoics, there are two possibilities. The first is this: you wrongly believe that death is an evil, perhaps even a terrible evil. No wonder, then, that the mere impression that you might die is very disturbing. The second is this: you rightly believe, not that death is an evil but that it is natural to try to avoid death, and that nature means you, other things being equal, to try to avoid death. So the impression that you might die has an alarming character; it puts you on alert. This has a teleological function. It alerts you to the need to be on your guard. And, by a natural mechanism, your whole body will go into a state of alert, ready to move as needed. But the impression, though alarming, is not deeply disturbing. For, after all, you have a clear mind, and you know that there are many false alarms; and even if there is reason for alarm, you as a Stoic know that all you have to do is try to do what you can to avoid death. This is what you are meant to do. You do not actually have to avoid death. That is a matter of divine providence. So the question of whether you are going to die or not in this sense does not affect you at all. This is God's problem, as it were.
In adults, the impulsiveness of impressions depends on beliefs about what is good and what is bad.
To understand this, there are two cases to consider.
The first (in which you "wrongly believe that death is an evil, perhaps even a terrible evil") is the most straightforward to understand. Because you have this false belief about death and about your death in particular, the impression that you might die (because, say, you have been cut by a rusty knife) is impulsive. It is "alarming" and also "deeply disturbing," and assent to this impulsive impression issues in (what the Stoics call) an "excessive impulse" (ὁρμὴ πλεονάζουσα) to prevent your death. This impulse is way out of proportion to the value of your death, which you wrongly believe "is an evil, perhaps even a terrible evil," when in fact it is indifferent.
In the second case, "you rightly believe, not that death is an evil but that it is natural to try to avoid death, and that nature means you, other things being equal, to try to avoid death." You understand that nature in its providence arranges things so that in general living things find food when they are hungry, recover from illness when they are ill, and so on. You do not know whether nature has arranged things so that in your particular case your cut will heal and you will avoid death, but given your understanding of the arrangement in nature generally, it is reasonable "to do what you can to avoid death." So you take steps to avoid death, but your impulse is not excessive.
(One thing we will have to think more about in the second case is what the person believes is good and is bad. He has to have such beliefs because no impression is impulsive without them.)
The conclusion about what nature has arranged for someone, and hence what it is reasonable for him to do, is reached in an instance of defeasible reasoning. The argument has the form
1. Nature has generally arranged things so that P’s are Q’s.
2. I am a P.
3. Nature has arranged things so that I am a Q.
The conclusion is a defeasible, not a logical consequence, of the premises. (The same is true of the conclusion in this more familiar argument: Most P's are Q’s, this is a P, so this is a Q.) I might get new information that my death is part of how nature in its providence arranges things. (I might notice my cut is infected, that it is not healing, and that infection is spreading rapidly.) If that happens, I am not upset because I don't have (what according to the Stoics are) false beliefs about what is good and what is bad. I do not think that my death is bad.
This understanding of the good makes it challenging to be a Stoic.
15. But in the case of the person who believes that death is a terrible evil, the alarming character of the impression, which teleologically is just a signal to be on one's guard, turns into a deeply disturbing experience, and as a consequence the whole body goes into a disturbed, perturbed, or excited state, which might affect the operation of reason. Later Stoics will call an impression with such a coloring, and perhaps with the attendant bodily state, a propatheia, an incipient passion. προπάθεια, propatheia, noun, "prepassion"
Even prior to assent, the impression (in the first case in which you falsely believe that death is bad) is troubling. It is so "alarming" and "deeply disturbing" that "whole body goes into a disturbed, perturbed, or excited state...."
The impression is an "incipient passion" because assent to it results in a passion.
A "passion" (πάθος), for the Stoics, is an "excessive impulse" (ὁρμὴ πλεονάζουσα). In the death example in the case which the person believes falsely that his death is bad, he is driven by fear to try to avoid dying.
16. We have to firmly remember, though this might not be so clear to the person in a deeply disturbed state, that so far we are dealing with a mere impression or thought. Naturally, as the thought may occur to you, it may also be false. After all, we have not yet found out, or made up our mind, as to whether we actually got infected. And we have not yet considered whether we should believe that one may die from this infection. So far we have just the mere thought. Now, one cannot be afraid that one might die from this infection unless one believes that one got infected and that one could die from this infection. We clearly have to distinguish between concern and fear, on the one hand, and the alarming or disturbing character of the impression, on the other hand. The wise person will be concerned, but the foolish person who believes that death is an evil will be afraid. Thus fear, according to the Stoics, is nothing but the false belief that an evil is coming, or might come, one's way—a belief generated by assent to an impression which is deeply disturbing because one wrongly takes the situation to be an evil. Sometimes the Stoics also think of fear as the belief coupled with the attendant bodily state.
The Stoics distinguish the fool from the sage.
The fool has false beliefs about what is good and bad. The sage (the wise person) does not.
In the death example Frede gives, the Stoic fool experiences what the Stoics think of as "fear." The Stoic sage does not. He experiences what the Stoics think of as "concern."
17. In the same way in which the Stoics treat a fear, they also treat an
appetite, the supposedly natural desire of the nonrational part of the soul.
In truth it is nothing but a belief of a certain kind, a belief generated by
assent to a highly agreeable impression to the effect that something one
conceives of as a good is coming or might come one's way; the highly agreeable
and impulsive character of the impression is the result of this mistaken
belief that it is a good. The Stoics treat all the emotions, like anger, which
are supposed by Plato and Aristotle to originate in a nonrational part of the
soul, as misguided beliefs. They call them pathe, passions,
apathēs, adjective, "not suffering"
πάθος, páthos, noun, "passion" (Latin: perturbatio)
"[T]he Stoic sage does not gain his equanimity by shedding human concerns, but by coming to realise what these concerns are meant to be, and hence what they ought to be, namely the means by which nature maintains its natural, rational order. And we have to realize that in this order our concerns play a very, very subordinate role, and are easily overridden by more important considerations, though we may find it difficult to accept this. But it does not follow from the fact that they play a very subordinate role, that they play no role whatsoever. Nature is provident down to the smallest detail. Hence it must be a caricature of the wise man to think that he has become insensitive to human concerns and only thus manages to achieve his equanimity. Things do move him, but not in such a way as to disturb his balanced judgment and make him attribute an importance to them which they do not have" (Michael Frede, "The Stoic Affections of the Soul," 110. The Norms of Nature: Studies in Hellenistic Ethics, edited by M. Schofield and G. Striker (University of Cambridge Press, 1986), 93-110). that is to say, pathological affections, produced by the mind. The Stoic wise man does not experience any such passion. He is apathes. But this does not at all mean that he does not have any emotion. He knows concern, the counterpart of fear; he knows reasonable willing, the counterpart of appetite; and he knows joy, the elated satisfaction at the attainment of a real good, as opposed to gleefulness at the attainment of an imagined good. So much, then, about impulsive impressions and the way they heavily depend on one's own mind and reason.
Plato and Aristotle understand fear and the other emotions in terms of a nonrational parts of the soul. The Stoics understand them to be a matter of false beliefs about what is good and what is bad.
The Stoics call these emotions "passions" (πάθη).
The Stoic sage does not suffer from these emotions. He is ἀπαθής.
18. As to assent, we can now be brief. Animals can do nothing, or at least very little, but rely on their impressions. They have little or no way to discriminate between trustworthy and misleading instances. But our impressions are true or false. We also have reason, which allows us to scrutinize our impressions critically before we accept them as true and reliable. Here it is important to remember that there is more to our impressions than their propositional content. This is obvious in the case of perceptual impressions. But we have also seen that a thought that one might die from a certain infection, though it has the same propositional content, might come in different colorings, and the coloring is regarded as part of the thought or impression. So, to give assent to an impression, while primarily a matter of taking its propositional content to be true, is also a matter of accepting it in all its detail, for instance, accepting it, though it is not a clear and distinct impression, and accepting it in its coloring. Given an impulsive impression, one might accept its propositional content but find its impulsive character inappropriate and therefore refuse to assent to the impression on that ground.
How does the "character" differ from the "propositional content" of an impression?
Suppose I have an impression that frost is going to kill my tomato plants. If I believe their death is bad, this impression about what is going to happen is impulsive for me. It has a certain "coloring." It is "disagreeable." This "character," however, is not part of the propositional content of my impression. Someone might have an impression that frost is going to kill my tomato plants but believe their death is good. My impression and his impression have the same propositional content (that frost is going to kill my tomato plants), but the impressions are different. One is mine and the other his. Further, given our different beliefs about whether the death of my plants is bad, these impressions do not have the same character. Mine is "disagreeable." His is "agreeable."
19. There is one last detail which I will merely touch on. The notion of assent, like its legal counterpart of consent, can be construed quite generously. Just as tacit acquiescence in being ruled or governed by somebody can be construed as assenting to the person's rule, so assenting to an impression does not have to involve an explicit act of acceptance. Not to revolt against an impression but simply acquiescing to it and in fact relying on it can constitute as much an assent as an explicit acceptance.
Assent need not "involve an explicit act of acceptance." It can be "acquiescing."
Frede does not elaborate, but the point is interesting to think about. We form beliefs about the color of objects by looking at them. In doing this, we do not always think about whether the impression we get is true and accept it on the basis of our reasoning about its truth. In many ordinary situations when we get an impression of the color of the object, we do not bother to question whether the propositional content of the impression is true. We "acquiesce" and rely on the content of the impression in our subsequent reasoning and acting.
Sometimes, though, we do not "acquiesce." If we have a lot riding on getting the color of the object right, we might think about whether the object looking red is enough for us to believe it is red.
This suggests that the degree of justification we need to form a belief is relative to the degree of importance we attribute to the matter. We need more justification as it becomes more important to us that the belief we form is true. So when we "acquiesce" in the color example, we do not think the importance we attribute to being right about the color of the object requires us to do more than get an impression of its color by looking at it.
20. If we now return to the question of how the Stoics think of the desires Plato and Aristotle characterize as nonrational, it should be clear why the Stoics think that they are all rational, all the product of reason. For the Stoics there is an ambiguity in the term desire here. If by desire we mean an impulse which actually moves us to action, then, according to the Stoics, we are dealing with a belief of a certain kind that is constituted by reason's assent to an impulsive impression. If, on the other hand, by desire we mean, as Plato and Aristotle obviously sometimes do, a motive which might be overridden by a conflicting desire, something which just might move us to act but also may fail to do so, then, according to the Stoics, we must be talking about an impulsive rational impression. And this impulsive impression is formed by reason.
"Are we to say that some men sometimes though thirsty refuse to drink?
We are indeed, many and often.
What then, should one affirm about them? Is there something in the soul of those who are thirsty but refuse to drink, something bidding them to drink and something different forbidding them, that overrides the thing that bids them to drink?
I think so.
And is it not the fact that that which inhibits such actions arises when it arises from the calculations of reason, but the impulses which draw and drag come through passions (παθημάτων) and diseases?
Not unreasonably, shall we claim that they are two and different from one another, naming that in the soul whereby it reckons and reasons the reasoning part and that with which it loves, hungers, thirsts, and gets passionately excited by other desires, the unreasoning and appetitive part—companion of various repletions and pleasures.
It would not be unreasonable but quite natural" (Republic IV.439c). "For the Stoics there is an ambiguity in the term desire here."
What is the ambiguity?
Desires in Plato and Aristotle maps to two things in the Stoics: to impulses and to impulsive impressions.
What, for the Stoics, plays the role of a desire that moves someone to action?
An impulse plays this role.
What, for the Stoics, plays the role of a desire that is overridden?
I am not sure I understand Frede's answer.
"If, on the other hand, by desire we mean, as Plato and Aristotle obviously sometimes do, a motive which might be overridden by a conflicting desire, something which just might move us to act but also may fail to do so...."
Frede takes Plato and Aristotle sometimes to use "desire" for "a motive which might be overridden by a conflicting desire, something which just might move us to act but also may fail to do so," if it is overridden.
What does this mean? The following is a possibility.
Suppose someone is thirsty but does not want to drink. Given the tripartite theory, the explanation for this phenomenon is in terms of reason and appetite. If appetite were in control, the "motive" in reason that drinking is not good would be overridden by the desire of appetite to drink.
How does the phenomenon look to the Stoics?
Here is one possibility. The person believes that his health, for example, is good and thus that drinking now is not good. He also believes that it is good to drink when thirsty. So the impression that "I am thirsty" is impulsive for him. If he assents to this impression, he overrides his "motive" not to drink.
What is going on in this overriding?
21. Whatever we make of the details of all this, there is one point which is
absolutely crucial for the emergence of the notion of the will. The case of
the Stoics against Plato and Aristotle would completely collapse without the
assumption that any action, unless one is physically and literally forced into
doing something, presupposes an act of reason's assent to an appropriate
impulsive impression. This assent will constitute a rational impulse which
prompts or drives, as it were, the action. So any human desire
(orexis) is a desire of reason.
ὄρεξις, orexis, noun, "appetency, conation"
βούλησις, boulēsis, noun, "willing"
επιθυμία, epithymia, noun, "appetite" Thus any desire of a grown-up human being is a willing, a boulêsis. Here, therefore, we do have the notion of a willing which was lacking in Plato and Aristotle, a notion which allows us to say that, when a person does not act by being forced or out of ignorance, the person acts voluntarily or willingly. Among such willings, though, the Stoics now distinguish between bouleseis in a narrower sense, namely, reasonable willings, the kind of willings only a wise person has, and appetites (epithymiai), unreasonable willings, which are what we who are not wise have.
There is a lot going on here.
The Stoics think that every action in the adult (humans with reason) stems from a "willing." If the adult does something, it is because he assents. Assent belongs to reason. So, according to the Stoics, all actions in the adult stem from reason. Unlike in Plato and Aristotle, the adult never acts on the basis of a "nonrational" desire. For the Stoics, there are no such desires in the soul of the adult because the adult soul has no nonrational parts. This, however, does not mean that the Stoics think adult cannot have unreasonable desires. The adult will have unreasonable desires if his beliefs about what is good and what is bad are unreasonable.
When makes beliefs about what is good and what is bad unreasonable?
This is a question in epistemology, but we can give an answer without straying too far.
Beliefs are not unreasonable (or irrational) just because they are false. It must be, then, that they are unreasonable because we made a mistake in the way we formed them. So, for example, if I form a belief about the color of something not by looking at it but by remembering my favorite color, my belief is unreasonable/irrational.
So we need an explanation of the mistake or mistakes the Stoics think we make.
22. So now we have the notion of assent, and hence the appropriate notion of a willing, but we do not yet have the notion of a choice, let alone of a will. To see how we get this, we have to step back a bit. It is clear from what we have said that, according to the Stoics, our whole life is entirely a matter of what we assent to and what not. For our beliefs are a matter of assent, and so are our desires, which are just special forms of belief. Ensuring our life will come out well is entirely a matter of giving assent when that is appropriate and refusing to give assent when it is inappropriate. This focus on our internal life is sharpened by the fact that, according to the Stoics, wisdom is the only good, that a wise life is a good life, and that nothing else matters. So long as one acts wisely, one lives a life of (for us) unimaginable satisfaction and bliss, whatever may happen to one, whether one gets tortured or maimed or killed. The wise person will normally be concerned to avoid such things, but, if they do happen, they will make no difference to him, as he is just concerned to act wisely, by giving assent when appropriate and refusing assent when inappropriate. So the whole focus of one's life now is on one's inner life. And there is a further factor which reinforces this focus, namely, the assumption that the course of the world outside is predetermined. All the wise person can do is try to avoid death, but if he does not manage that, he takes this as a sure sign that nature in her wisdom means him to die and that therefore it is a good thing for him to die. All he has to do, having failed in his attempts to avoid impending death, is to give assent to the thought that it must be a good thing that he is going to die.
The Stoics, though, at this point, do not have a notion of the "will."
What are they missing?
"So now we have the notion of assent, and hence the appropriate notion of a willing, but we do not yet have the notion of a choice, let alone of a will."
When Frede says that "we have the notion of assent, and hence the appropriate notion of a willing," I take him to mean that the early Stoics believe all action requires the assent of reason in the soul.
ES (early Stoics) =
(for every adult human being h) (there is a power x in reason in the soul of h) (for every action y in which h is the agent): x issues in an assent h gives to an impulsive impression and this assent is a willing and an impulse in h to do y.
The early Stoics, though, according to Frede, do not believe that assenting is choosing.
LS (late Stoics) =
(for every adult human being h) (there is a power x in reason in the soul of h) (for every action y in which h is the agent): x issues in an assent h chooses to give to an impulsive impression and this assent is a willing and an impulse in h to do y.
How do we know that the early Stoics believe ES but not LS?
Frede needs an answer. Otherwise, it seems open to us to think the early Stoics have a notion of the will and thus to reject his conclusion that the notion first appears in the late Stoics.
Frede also needs an answer for the historical Socrates. Like the Stoics, the historical Socrates thinks that all desires in the adult stem from beliefs about what is good and what is bad.
Frede does not give an answer for the historical Socrates, but here is a possibility:
1. If Socrates has a notion of the will, he believes W.
2. We know Socrates believed that the soul is reason.
3. Given what we know about Socrates, it is unlikely he believed W.
4. Socrates does not have a notion of the will.
W is the assumption that Frede thinks we need to get "any notion of the will at all." (for every human being h) (there is a power x in the reason in the soul of h) (for every action y in which h is the agent): x issues in a choice h makes to do y.
The historical Socrates' theory of the soul as reason does not prevent him from believing W. So if he does not have a notion of the will, it seems that the argument must be that given the beliefs we know the historical Socrates possessed, a notion of the will requires him to believe something we would not expect him to believe.
23. Moreover, besides this increasing focus on one's inner life, we also have
to take note of the emphasis we find in later Stoics on the assumption that
philosophical theory is not an end in itself but a means to living one's life,
and their insistence that the application of this theory to one's life
requires a great deal of attention to, and reflection on, how one as an
individual actually does function, including a great deal of practice
(askêsis) and exercise in
ἄσκησις, askēsis, noun, "exercise, practice, training"
learning to think about things in appropriate ways and to act accordingly.
Hence later Stoics will turn to this inner life in a way which is supposed to
help us to learn to give assent appropriately. One
Epictetus, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Epictetus (50-135 CE) is a late Stoic.
Like Socrates, Epicurus wrote nothing. His Manual and Discourses were compiled by his student Arrrian. "I attempted to write down in his own words as nearly as possible, for the purpose of preserving them as memorials to myself afterwards of the thoughts and the freedom of speech of Epictetus" (Discourses. "Arrian to Lucius Gellius").
"[I]n a manner this is philosophizing, to seek how it is possible to employ desire and aversion without impediment" (Discourses III.14).
προαίρεσις, proairesis, noun, "choice"
"[Y]ou have a will free by nature from hindrance and compulsion.... I will show you this first in the matter of assent. Can any man hinder you from assenting to the truth? No man can. Can any man compel you to receive what is false? No man can. You see that in this matter you have a will free from hindrance, free from compulsion, unimpeded. Well then, in the matter of desire and pursuit of an object, is it otherwise? And what can overcome pursuit except another pursuit? And what can overcome desire and aversion except another desire and aversion? But, you object: 'If you place before me the fear of death, you do compel me.' No, it is not what is placed before you that compels, but your opinion that it is better to do so and so than to die. In this matter then it is your opinion that compelled you: that is, will compelled will" (Discourses I.17).
προαίρεσιν is an accusative form of προαίρεσις.
"[Socrates and the Stoics] certainly do not assume that ridding oneself, or others, of mistaken beliefs is just a matter of cogent argument" (Michael Frede, "Introduction," 15. Rationality in Greek Thought. Oxford University Press, 1996).
"[I]n spite of his extreme intellectualism--that is to say, his view that the way we act is completely determined by our beliefs, in particular our beliefs concerning the good and related matters--Socrates' life seems to have been characterized by a remarkable degree of asceticism. This strongly suggests that Socrates thought that it is not a matter of pure rational argument which beliefs we espouse and which we fail to espouse but that, precisely because some of our beliefs are so deeply embedded in the way we feel and behave, our openness to their rational rejection or their rational acceptance, our openness to rational argument, also is a matter of our pattern of behavior and the control we have over our behavior" (Michael Frede, "The Philosopher," 9-10 Greek Thought. A Guide to Classical Knowledge. Harvard University Press, 2000).
"[W]e are reflexive cognizers who can think about our own cognition and redirect various aspects of it..." (John Pollock, "Irrationality and Cognition," 251. Epistemology: New Essays, edited by Quentin Smith. Oxford University Press, 2008).
"We have no control over the computation of the visual image. It is a black box. It is both not introspectible and cognitively impenetrable. But we feel like we do have some control over various aspects of our reasoning. For example, you are irrational if, in the face of counter-evidence, you accept the visual image [of your immediate surroundings] as veridical. The latter is something over which you do have control. If you note that you are being irrational in accepting that conclusion, you can withdraw it. In this sense, we perform some cognitive operations 'deliberately.' We have voluntary control over them. To have voluntary control over something, we must be able to monitor it. So mental operations over which we have voluntary control must be introspectible. Furthermore, if we have voluntary control over something we must be able to decide for ourselves whether to do it. Such decisions are performed by weighing the consequences of doing it or not doing it, i.e., they are made as a result of practical cognition. So we must be able to engage in practical cognition regarding those mental operations that we perform deliberately" (John Pollock, "Irrationality and Cognition," 253).
"It is in securing the conformity of his will to his second-order volitions ... that a person exercises freedom of the will" (Harry G. Frankfurt, "Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person" 15. Journal of Philosophy, 68 (1971), 5-20).
Frankfurt distinguishes desires that are effective and those that are not. So if I do something because I desire to do it, the desire is effective. He distinguishes first-order and second-order desires. A second-order desire is a desire for a desire. A first-order desire is not. So if I have the desire that I desire to do something, the desire is second-order. He identifies the will with effective desires and says that a person has free will just in case (i) he has second-order desires and (ii) can bring his first-order desires into line with these second-order desires. So animals would not have free will if they do not have second-order desires. Neither does the drug-addict who cannot bring his first-order desire for the drug into line with his second-order desire that he not have the desire for the drug. of these philosophers is Epictetus at the turn from the first to the second century A.D., the most respected and influential Stoic of his time.
Frede says the late Stoics emphasize that "philosophical theory" is a means to living the good life. He says that they emphasize "the application of this theory to one's life requires a great deal of attention to, and reflection on, how one as an individual actually does function." (See 7.) Frede says that this attention to how human beings function that the late Stoics emphasize includes emphasizing the need for "a great deal of practice (askêsis) and exercise in learning to think about things in appropriate ways and to act accordingly." The goal of this "practice (askêsis) and exercise," at least in part it seems, is to have true beliefs about what is good and what is bad.
It is not easy to see what is going on in this "practice."
One might think that all beliefs are formed or revised on the basis of evidence. So once we suspect that a proposition we believe is false, it seems that we need do nothing more to stop believing it.
Maybe, though, the Stoics do not think this way about the false beliefs about what is good and bad we acquire as we become adults. Maybe they think we somehow have to "practice" to stop believing them.
24. In Epictetus's Discourses the notion of prohairesis (choice) plays perhaps the central role. It is our prohairesis which defines us as a person, as the sort of person we are; it is our prohairesis which determines how we behave; it is our prohairesis which we need to concern ourselves with more than anything else; indeed, our prohairesis is the only thing which in the end matters. Now, given what has been said, we might think that we readily understand this. Since we aim at a good life, our concern should be to give assent to the right impressions and in particular to give assent to the right impulsive impressions, which assent will constitute a rational impulse or desire and make us act in the appropriate way. Therefore we might think that the assent to our impulsive impressions constitutes a choice to act in a certain way and that the prohairesis which stands at the center of Epictetus's thought is the disposition of the mind to make the choices which it makes to act in the way we do.
In Epictetus' Discourses, προαίρεσις "plays perhaps the central role."
What is the "role"?
Frede says that it "is our prohairesis which defines us as a person, as the sort of person we are."
The point seems to be that for the late Stoics, adults (human beings with reason) have a character because they have a προαίρεσις or will. Further, the development of our προαίρεσις as we get the beliefs we get makes us "the sort of person we are" because it "determines how we behave."
How does the προαίρεσις determine our behavior?
We have an ultimate end: to live a good life. To achieve this end, we have to assent to impulsive impressions. These assents are a more specific form of a choosing that has already taken place when we assent to an impression that something is good or that something is bad. So, when I assent to the impression that my death is bad, I am choosing to dispose myself to making subsequent choices to forestall my death. Suppose that I got the impression from talking with my doctor that I will die soon unless I get more exercise. This impression is impulsive for me because I believe my death is bad. My belief that my death is bad, further, disposes me to choose to assent to the impression I get from my doctor so that I can try to forestall my death by exercising more.
Why does my belief that death is bad dispose me to assent the impression I got from my doctor?
We will have to think about this more.
25. But the matter is more complicated. This is already signaled by the very term prohairesis. It should strike us as curious that Epictetus makes such prominent use of a term which is strongly associated with Aristotle and Peripateticism and which had played almost no role in Stoic thought up to this point. We should also remember that in Aristotle willing and choosing are distinguished by the fact that choosing is a matter of willing something which is up to us and in our power.
Frede says that "it should strike us as curious" that Epictetus, in talking about προαίρεσις, uses a term that Aristotle uses but that "played almost no role in Stoic thought up."
What conclusion does Frede intend us to draw from this "curious" fact?
26. Clearly, this is highly relevant in Epictetus. In classical Stoicism the
phrase "up to us" (eph' hēmin) is used in such a way
ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν, eph᾽ hēmin, "up to us"
ἐπί (epi) is a proposition
ἡμῖν is the dative of the personal pronoun ἡμεῖς ("we")
When ἐπί is used with the dative it, means "with reference to." Hence the traditional translation "up to us." that an action is up to us if its getting done is a matter of our giving assent to the corresponding impulsive impression. Thus it is up to me to cross the street, because whether I cross the street is a matter of my giving assent to the impression that it would be a good thing to cross the street. But Epictetus uses “up to us” in a much narrower way. He insists on taking account of the fact that no external action in the world is entirely under our control. We may not succeed in crossing the street for any number of trivial reasons but ultimately because it may not be part of God's providential plan that we should cross the street. This had been assumed by the Stoics all along, so Epictetus's narrowing of the use of "up to us" hardly constitutes a change in doctrine but rather a shift in emphasis or focus. What Epictetus wants us to focus on is that it is up to us to give, or refuse to give, assent to the impulsive impression to cross the street but that it is not up to us to cross the street. So we can choose to give assent to the impression to cross the street, and we can thus will to cross the street, but we cannot choose or decide to cross the street. It is to make this point that Epictetus resorts to Aristotle's terminology, with its distinction of willing and choosing, and talks of choosing to give assent but of willing to cross the street.
What is the significance of "up to us" (ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν) in "classical Stoicism"?
In the classical Stoicism of Chrysippus, according to Frede, "an action is up to us if its getting done is a matter of our giving assent to the corresponding impulsive impression."
"Epictetus uses “up to us” in a much narrower way." What is "up to us" is not the action in the world, for example, the walking across the street. What is up to us, he thinks, is "to give, or refuse to give, assent to the impulsive impression to cross the street but that it is not up to us to cross the street."
Why does Epictetus restrict what is "up to us" in this way?
Epictetus "insists on taking account of the fact that no external action in the world is entirely under our control. We may not succeed in crossing the street for any number of trivial reasons but ultimately because it may not be part of God's providential plan that we should cross the street."
Frede thinks that "[t]his [fact about external action] had been assumed by the Stoics all along."
What had not been assumed along, Frede seems to argue, is that "we can choose to give assent to the impression to cross the street, and we can thus will to cross the street, but we cannot choose or decide to cross the street."
The early Stoics knew that "we cannot choose or decide to cross the street." What they did not understand, according to Frede, is that "assenting to the impression to cross the street" is something we choose to do.
Epictetus thus puts "choice" before "desire" in the soul.
This inverts the order in Aristotle. For Aristotle, "choice" or προαίρεσις is a form of rational desire (see 15 and 16 in lecture 2). We have a rational desire, engage in deliberation to determine what we can do to bring about the end of this desire, and form a desire for this means. Forming a desire for this means is what Aristotle calls choosing.
This also gives Epictetus the first notion of the will.
27. There is another important point which we should take note of. It is
conspicuous that assent does not play as central a role in Epictetus as we
might expect. He prefers to talk more generally of our “use of
impressions” (chrēsis tōn phantasiōn) or of the way we deal with
"What then is your own? The use of impressions (χρῆσις φαντασιῶν)"
"God had need of irrational animals to make use of impressions (χρωμένων ταῖς φαντασίαις), but of us to understand the use of impressions" (Discourses I.6).
χρῆσις τῶν φαντασιών, chrēsis tōn phantasiōn.
χρῆσις, noun, chrēsis, "employment, use made of a thing"
τῶν is the genitive plural of ὁ ("the").
φαντασιών is the genitive plural of φαντασία.
φαντασία, phantasia, noun, "appearance, impression" impressions. Assenting to them is just one thing we can do with them, though the most important one. So now it becomes clear, and Epictetus makes this explicit, that what is up to us, what is a matter of our choice, is how we deal with our impressions. We can scrutinize them, reflect on them, try to deflate and dissolve them, dwell on them, and, of course, give assent to them. But giving assent is just one of the things which it is up to us to do, which we can choose to do. And our prohairesis, which defines us as the kind of person we are, is not a disposition, as we at first thought, to choose to act in a certain way, because we do not have that choice, but rather a disposition to choose to deal with our impressions in a certain way, most crucially to choose how to assent to impulsive impressions. This assent, which you choose to give, will constitute a willing, and this willing is the impulse which makes you act in a certain way. So this ability and disposition, insofar as it accounts for your willing whatever it is that you will to do, can be called "the will." But the will is called prohairesis,
βούλησις, boulēsis, noun, "willing" rather than boulêsis, to mark that it is an ability to make choices, of which willings are just products. This indeed is the first time that we have any notion of a will.
Instead of simply talking about giving and withholding assent, Epictetus talks about the "use of impressions" (χρῆσις τῶν φαντασιών) and understands προαίρεσις as the ability exercised in this use.
Frede takes this as evidence to show that Epictetus has a notion of the will because
he believes ES and also believes that giving and withholding assent to impressions is choosing.
A stick, for example, as Socrates mentions in
the Republic, can look bent when it
is partially submerged in water. Once we know this, we do not form the belief that it is bent
because it looks bent. Instead, we reject the appearance as an illusion. In doing this,
we seem to be making a choice.
"The same magnitude, I presume, viewed from near and from far does not appear equal.
And the same things appear bent and straight to those who view them in water and out, or concave and convex, owing to similar errors of vision about colors, and there is obviously every confusion of this sort in our souls. And so scene-painting in its exploitation of this weakness of our nature falls nothing short of witchcraft, and so do jugglery and many other such contrivances.
And have not measuring and numbering and weighing proved to be most gracious aids to prevent the domination in our soul of the apparently greater or less or more or heavier, and to give the control to that which has reckoned and numbered or even weighed?
But this surely would be the function of the part of the soul that reasons and calculates (λογιστικοῦ).
Why, yes, of that.
And sometimes, when this has measured and declares that certain things are larger or that some are smaller than the others or equal, the opposite appears (φαίνεται) at the same time.
And did we not say it is impossible for the same thing at one time to believe (δοξάζειν) opposites about the same thing?
And we were right in affirming that.
The part of the soul, then, that opines (δοξάζον) in contradiction of measurement could not be the same with that which conforms to it.
Further, that which puts its trust in measurement and reckoning must be the best part of the soul.
That which opposes it must belong to the inferior parts of the soul.
This, then, was what I wished to have agreed upon when I said that poetry, and in general the mimetic art, produces a product far removed from truth in the accomplishment of its task, and associates with the part in us that is remote from intelligence (φρονήσεως), and is its companion and friend for no sound and true purpose" (Republic X.602c).
What is Frede's argument?
It seems to have the same basic form as the argument we imagined to show that Socrates does not have a notion of the will. The early Stoics were not pioneers in their thinking about the soul in the way Socrates was, but they were pioneers. They were the first to think that ES is true, but they did not believe that assenting is choosing. There is nothing about the theory of the soul in early Stoics that prevents them from believing this. This belief, though, Frede seems to argue, is not one we expect the early Stoics to possess given what we know they believed.
1. If the early Stoics have a notion of the will, then they believe LS.
2. We know the early Stoics believed ES.
3. Given what we know about the early Stoics, it is unlikely that they believed LS.
4. The early Stoics do not have a notion of the will.
I think we can plausibly wonder whether premise (3) is true and thus whether the conclusion is true.
28. This notion of a will is clearly developed to pinpoint the source of our responsibility for our actions and to identify precisely what it is that makes them our own doings. Chrysippus had said that it is up to us, for instance, to cross the street or not. And he had explained this by saying that it is up to us to give, or refuse to give, our assent to the appropriate impulsive impression. We are now told, according to Epictetus, that the sense of “up to us” involved in the two cases is different. The second case is a narrower and stricter sense of “up to us,”whereby it is up to us to give or not to give assent to the impression. And we get an explanation of precisely what that means. We can choose or decide to give assent, but we can also choose or decide not to give assent. This choice is to be explained by the will. In explaining your choices, it also explains your willings. But it is not in the same sense up to you to do something or not to do something, since you cannot choose to do something in the way you can choose to give assent.
"This notion of a will is clearly developed to pinpoint the source of our responsibility for our actions and to identify precisely what it is that makes them our own doings."
29. There are various details here which I will not go into at the length they deserve but which I want to mention at least briefly. The will thus conceived can be a good will or a bad will, depending on whether the choices we make in virtue of it are good choices or bad choices. We may not like the choices we make and therefore not like the will we have. We may will to have a will which makes different choices. We may, for instance, will it to no longer choose to give assent to the tempting impressions we have when we are faced by a delicious piece of cake. So there are second- and higher-order willings which can give the will a great deal of structure and stability. We should also note that the will, as it is conceived here, can choose to give assent to an ordinary nonimpulsive impression, like the impression that it will rain a lot tomorrow, such that, given this assent, we believe that it will rain a lot tomorrow. So in this sense what we believe is a matter of our will, as thus conceived. However, this does not at all mean that we will to believe something. We can at best be said to choose to believe something. For we get a willing only if the will chooses to give assent, not to an ordinary but to an impulsive impression which leads to action. Put differently, not every act of the will is a willing or a volition. Moreover, nothing which has been said so far shows that the will is free in its choices. It can make a particular choice or fail to make a particular choice. But there is nothing in what has been said which forces us to assume, for instance, that it can freely choose whether to give assent or not, or whether to give assent to this impression or another impression. It can choose or decide to give assent to a given impression, but it also can fail to do so.
"[N]othing which has been said so far shows that the will is free in its choices."
30. This notion of the will as our ability to make choices and decisions includes the ability to choose to give assent to impulsive impressions and thus to choose to will to do something. Thus in this complex way it accounts for what other ancient philosophers and we ourselves would call our choosing or deciding to do something. In what follows I shall for the most part focus only on the will as an ability to make choices and decisions as to what to do.
In his subsequent lectures, Frede "for the most part focus[es] only on the will as an ability to make choices and decisions as to what to do [in terms of assent to impulsive impressions]."
31. With [late] Stoicism, then, we get for the first time a notion of the will as an ability of the mind or of reason to make choices and decisions. This ability, though, which we all share, in the case of each of us is formed and developed in different ways. How it develops is crucially a matter of the effort and care with which we ourselves develop this ability, which we also might neglect to do. The will thus formed and developed accounts for the different choices and decisions different human beings make. As we have seen, the precise form in which the Stoics conceive of the will depends on their denial of a nonrational part or parts of the soul. Hence in this specific form the notion of a will was unacceptable to Platonists and to Aristotelians, who continued to insist on a nonrational part of the soul.
Frede next turns to how the Platonists and Aristotelians develop their own notion of the will.