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Free Will, Determinism, and Stoic Counsel



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Ars Disputandi Volume 6 2006 1566 5399 Bill Ferraiolo Free Will Determinism and Stoic Counsel Abstract Stoic philosophy has been charged with an inconsistency insofar as its deterministic worldview appears to conflict with its advocacy of various methods of self discipline aiming at self improvement It is some claim self contradictory to hold persons responsible for adhering to counsel regarding their behavior and attitude if forces beyond their control ultimately determine that their behavior and attitude will not conform to counsel In this paper I argue that this complaint is misguided Though several Stoic philosophers attempted to reconcile their determinism with some conception of free will I contend that the Stoics should have or at least could have rejected the doctrine of free will while defending Stoic counsel and its efficacy for producing a well ordered mind virtuous character and a life of harmony with Nature But our souls are joined to God as being indeed members and distinct portions of his essence Epictetus Discourses Book I 14 1 Determinism often meets the charge that if true it would render all purposive deliberation and effort futile If all that occurs is necessitated by laws of nature antecedent conditions the will of God the gods Fate or any other form of cosmic governance then it seems that the course of one s life as it is but a tiny stream of events in confluence with all other streams in the deterministic universe must a fortiori be fixed by whatever forces guide the course and flow of all events So if all events in the universe are determined and one s life is a series of events within the universe then one s life will unfold as necessitated by the irresistible powers that be and attempts to master one s own fate are futile or even perverse As determinists the ancient Stoics were familiar with this complaint and Susanne Bobzien notes that Origen in Against Celsus mentions the following Idle Argument as an alleged sophism with which



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