Do Stoics Care about Results?

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I have noticed that there is this occasional confusion about whether Stoics care about results since they believe that virtue is the only good. Well, Stoics do care about consequences because if you’re intending to do good, you need to know what the results of those intentions are. There’s an old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, a Stoic would hope that their intentions aren’t foolish or lacking in practical wisdom and would prevent such amathia (foolishness). In fact, it is said that the wise person uses morally neutral things, like their wealth, health, and reputation, correctly while a fool squanders their wealth or health. So, for a Stoic, and an Aristotelian or a Platonist, a “good intention” can’t really be good if it lacks wisdom. It’s not enough to be compassionate if your compassion means you’re helping someone who is taking advantage of you or someone else. Sometimes the best way to help others is not to help them at all.

Stoics are also not deontologists. They do not believe that any rule is categorical or good in itself. Just like how caring about consequences doesn’t make you a consequentialist, caring about duties doesn’t make you a deontologist. Stoics do have commitments to help others and to be kind and fair to others. But, unlike Kantian duties, they’re not hard and fast rules and are subject to change given the circumstance that the wise person thinks appropriate.

For those not familiar with Stoic virtue, it is similar to Plato’s virtues: justice, practical wisdom, temperance, and courage. The Stoics thought just like Plato that all four virtues work interdependently. If you’re an extremely intemperate person, you might steal someone’s phone, an injustice, since you couldn’t control your impulse to desire it. It’s also foolish since you lack the practical wisdom to know that a phone isn’t good in itself but is a mere indifferent. If you lack courage, you might run away from helping someone who needs help (with the ability to help them) because you shy away from difficulties, which also means you lack practical wisdom because justice (fairness/kindness) is the true good and viewing a difficulty as bad is false.

So Stoics weren’t born yesterday. Being virtuous doesn’t mean you’re unconcerned with external situations because the virtue justice means that you should help others. Also, the wise person uses externals like their wealth properly for the sake of virtue. The wise person knows when wealth serves as a means to virtue and when it is distracting from virtue. So Stoics know that results are important but they recognize that results aren’t up to us. Stoics can intend to do the right thing and they can use all their wisdom to bring about results that comport with their kindness and fairness but they also recognize that fate can change the results in a way that the wise person didn’t intend. But Stoics are empiricists and they should learn to minimize miscalculations.

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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