Monday, May 11, 2015

Amor Fati

It's odd that Nietzsche, who excoriated the Stoics in a frantic rant I referred to a few posts ago, referred often to amor fati,"love of fate."  He did so in such a manner as it appears to have been to him a kind of ideal state.

The phrase is a profoundly Stoic one, and acceptance if not love of fate is found in Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius and others of The Porch.  I'm tempted to say Nietzsche was indebted to the Stoics for the idea.  This may even account  for his anger at the Stoics.  So many of us come to hate those who benefit us, gratitude being a burden as Tacitus noted.  Nietzsche apparently also was inclined to refer fondly to the idea of eternal recurrence, another view held by the Stoics, though in their case this idea had a more cosmological meaning; the world would eventually perish only to begin again and have an unchanged existence, only to perish again and come to be again.

I doubt, though, that Nietzsche himself was ever a lover of fate. His end was grim enough it would have taken a Stoic Sage to bear it happily, but it would seem Nietzsche was far too discontented with life, with people, to love fate, condemned as he was to a life of seemingly endless disappointment.

The idea of love of fate, acceptance of fate, strikes many as objectionable.  It's thought to foster a submissive, passive nature and is reviled by some as promoting, or at least ignoring, injustice.  Self-styled radicals and revolutionaries, primarily those who lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, like to refer to it as being a bourgeoisie attitude--unthinking acceptance of the status quo.

It is not, however.  It is an expression of the Stoic doctrine that one shouldn't allow oneself to be emotionally or mentally disturbed by matters not in one's control, but it is in the way of emphasizing the equally Stoic doctrine that one should rightly make use of what is in your control, i.e. one should be virtuous.  Acting rightly would include acting against injustice, to the extent one can.  In the one case, the Stoic is not controlled by things, events and people who are not in his/her control; in the other case the Stoic uses what is in his/her control for good.

This is something generally ignored by critics of the Stoics, who often seem to buy into the idea that Stoics are cold, unfeeling, and unmoved.  They prefer to see only one facet of Stoicism and fail to give it what it is due.  But it is a persistent misconstruction of Stoic doctrine.

Stoicism is certainly not a Romantic philosophy, and followers of Romanticism (like Nietzsche, at least sometimes) tend to despise it.  This may be due to the fact that it is thought to espouse the repression of emotion while the Romantic revels in it.  Stoicism does indeed teach that we should live according to nature, which is to say reason; among the ancients nature was infused with the Divine Reason and we shared in it.  The Romantics of course were reacting against what they saw as too great a reliance on reason, and were often embarrassingly maudlin or zealous in extolling and expressing their emotions.  But again, this is to misunderstand Stoicism, which teaches only the dissipation of bad emotions such as anger and hate.

It is also I think to misunderstand reason, and the Enlightenment, and science, and we see this in those intellectuals who may be considered the successors to the Romantics as well as the religious zealots and fanatics who plague us today.  The successors of the Romantics question not only whether we should be reasonable but whether we can be, and denigrate science and reasonable assessment as mere narratives no more worthy of respect than myths.  The religious mistrust science and reason because neither will support their beliefs when those beliefs are put to the test.

So, science and reason are set upon by both these groups, and they or, better yet, the Enlightenment are blamed for everything from the Holocaust to the teaching of evolution in our schools to crime.  The narrowness of vision and arrogance of such as the "New Atheists" and in earlier times the logical positivists serve to empower these reactionary views.

As a result of anti-reason and anti-science, we may well be living in a world of the kind Yeats wrote of, where "the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity."  It seems something to be expected where reasonable judgment and conduct are considered no more worthwhile than any other kind of judgment or conduct, and where the words of books written thousands of years ago are considered to be the words of God, which others cannot be allowed to question.

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