Stoicism and Wishing Harm

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I have noticed around Facebook that since Donald Trump caught COVID19, there has been an awful lot of posts and comments wishing for the President’s death. I do understand that Donald Trump has caused many problems for our nation and even for the world and that it’s quite likely that if he had never become President, the world and the United States could’ve been better off. I also understand that Trump’s political decisions can cause long term trouble even if he is voted out of office. Even without considering Donald Trump’s long term harm, there’s also his character. He’s not a moral person. He doesn’t have a moral compass. So without thinking of the results and only looking at his motivations, it’s purely all self-calculated.

So do Stoics wish harm for bad, viscous, and sinister individuals? I would say no. It’s largely because Zeno of Citium thought considerably about what emotions humans should have. Zeno believed strongly against what he called pathos, which is a feeling repugnant to reason and nature. Pathos, literally meaning suffering, is based on the mistaken judgment that present and past events are bad or good. Pathos usually involves dread, fear, regret, lust, wrath, and jealousy. Pathos could also mean a strong desire for someone’s death or misfortune. But Zeno realized that these feelings are actually harmful to oneself and don’t make the situation better. Also, these feelings are based on things that are external to our own character, judgment, and will. We should desire instead to become virtuous, to help others, to learn how to become more wise like Socrates and Diogenes. It’s not only illogical and vicious to wish for someone’s harm, it actually harms us and doesn’t help the situation.

But isn’t anger helpful sometimes for people to make change? I don’t deny that anger can’t act as a sufficient condition for political change but it’s not a necessary condition for it. One can take a strong stance on an issue and work hard to make change. A Stoic would say that if you can act with fortitude and practical wisdom, and become a public servant, like a teacher, librarian, doctor, nurse, a cook in a soup kitchen, or a legislator, then you are living in agreement with nature, you are being a virtuous person who is helping out with the larger cosmopolis. One major reason why it’s unnecessary to wish ill on bad people is that bad people are vicious because they actually lack wisdom. Yes, they might have great intelligence, be very sociable, make lots of money, be super ambitious, but if they lack wisdom of what is truly virtuous (being noble as in being courageous, fair and kind, wise, and temperate), then they will be a disaster unto themselves and to others. Bad people are often victims of their own foolishness, they’re quick to anger, can’t take no for an answer, are addicted to a life of decadence. Sure they may put on a smile and look like they’re enjoying themselves but it’s only temporary. They wouldn’t know tranquility if it bit them on the ass.

So the answer is: no, a Stoic wouldn’t wish ill on anyone. It’s not worth a Stoic’s time. That doesn’t mean a Stoic wouldn’t oppose a government that became tyrannical. Not wishing ill will on someone also doesn’t mean a Stoic wouldn’t go to war, and it doesn’t mean a Stoic wouldn’t topple an illegitimate government. To not wish ill will simply means that Stoics don’t let their minds get clouded by anything that will get in their way of being kind, fair, wise, temperate, and courageous public servants.

By Jess W

JW has a B.A. in Philosophy from Drury University. JW has practiced philosophy for years after graduating Drury U, though he hasn't pursued philosophy as a career of choice. JW eventually learned what Stoicism was really all about and decided to adopt virtually all of its precepts. It's served JW well and has helped him through his journey through a life of ups and downs.

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