DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A112-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

17. The goal

The ‘goal’ or ‘end’ (telos) is defined as ‘that for the sake of which everything is done, while it is not itself done for the sake of any further thing’ (see Telos). This is identified with happiness (eudaimonia), or ‘living well’. Both are commonplace to the Greek philosophical tradition. The partisan content arises when philosophers offer their formulas for what this end actually consists in. Zeno’s formula was ‘living in agreement’ (homologoumenōs zēn). The history of Stoic ethics over the next two centuries is largely a history of successive attempts to work out what Zeno must have meant.

Zeno’s vagueness was probably deliberate. The ‘agreement’ comprises both the perfect internal coherence and rationality (the ‘-log-’ part of homologoumenōs means ‘reason’) of the good life – ‘living in accordance with one concordant reason’ – and its conformity with nature, the ‘nature’ in question being itself equated with both one’s own individual nature and the nature of the world. Happiness is also identified as a ‘smooth flow of life’, and Zeno’s real point was that only those with complete understanding of cosmic rationality can make their own aims and choices entirely one with those of nature, and thus never come into conflict with either their own or the world’s rationality.

Pressure for clarification led either Zeno himself or Cleanthes to make the first addition to the formula, which now became ‘living in agreement with nature’. Chrysippus substituted ‘living in accordance with experience of what happens by nature’. What became clearer, as these and other formulations competed, was that the ideal life was defined in terms of things which were themselves morally indifferent – the ‘things which accord with nature’ (see §15). The challenge which the Stoics faced from their opponents in the Academy was how moral good could depend on a set of aims whose attainment was morally indifferent. The answer – compare §15 – was as follows. What matters is not necessarily achieving natural advantages like health, which cannot be guaranteed in all circumstances, and which in any case do not bring happiness. What matters is making the right rational choices – doing everything that lies in your power towards achieving what nature recommends. It is the consistency of those efforts, not of their results, that may ultimately become perfect agreement with nature, that is, happiness. Formulas for the goal designed to capture this emphasis included (Diogenes of Babylon) ‘reasoning well in the selection and disselection of things which accord with nature’, and (Antipater) ‘to live continuously selecting things which accord with nature and disselecting things contrary to nature’. Zeno’s original formulation had more to recommend it.

Citing this article:
Sedley, David. The goal. Stoicism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A112-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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