[2.2.7] Virtue, Vice and Indifferent in Stoic Ethics

Stoic virtue ethics teaches, that relative to the goal of living for a sage (see [2.2.1]):

  • virtue is the only good thing, necessary and sufficient for a happy life,
  • however, there are preferred indifferent things, those who hold value.

The OntoUML diagram below presents the main categories of stoic virtue ethics:

Virtue, vice and indifferent in stoic ethics
Person A human person has a goal of living. has GoalOfLiving; has, experiences Something; has Knowledge as shared part
GoalOfLiving“Aristotle’s ethics provides the form for the adumbration of the ethical teaching of the Hellenistic schools. One must first provide a specification of the goal or end (telos) of living.is (relates to) Happiness
Happiness“A bit of reflection tells us that the goal that we all have is happiness or flourishing (eudaimonia). But what is happiness?… Zeno’s answer was ‘a good flow of life’ or ‘living in agreement,’ and Cleanthes clarified that with the formulation that the end was ‘living in agreement with nature’. Chrysippus amplified this to (among other formulations) ‘living in accordance with experience of what happens by nature;’ later Stoics inadvisably, in response to Academic attacks, substituted such formulations as ‘the rational selection of the primary things according to nature.'”relates to Virtue
SomethingFor stoics is the highest ontological genus: to be something (τί, ti) is to be some particular thing. These somethings related to the goal of living can be categorized as virtues, vices and indifferents.
Knowledge“Stoics identify the moral virtues with knowledge. […] Thus a specific virtue like moderation is defined as ‘the science (epistêmê) of what is to be chosen and what is to be avoided and what is neither of these’ (Arius Didymus, 61H). More broadly, virtue is ‘an expertise (technê) concerned with the whole of life’ (Arius Didymus, 61G). Like other forms of knowledge, virtues are characters of the soul’s commanding faculty which are firm and unchangeable.”is Something
Virtue“The only things that are good are the characteristic excellences or virtues of human beings (or of human minds): prudence or wisdom, justice, courage and moderation, and other related qualities. “is Something
Prudence, Wisdom, Justice, Courage, ModerationPrudence, wisdom, justice, courage and moderation are virtuessubkind of Virtue
Good“The best way into the thicket of Stoic ethics is through the question of what is good, for all parties agree that possession of what is genuinely good secures a person’s happiness. The Stoics claim that whatever is good must benefit its possessor under all circumstances.” characterizes Virtue
Vice“only vice is genuinely bad” is Something
Bad“only vice is genuinely badcharacterizes Vice
Indifferent “there are situations in which it is not to my benefit to be healthy or wealthy. (We may imagine that if I had money I would spend it on heroin which would not benefit me.) Thus, things like money are simply not good, in spite of how nearly everyone speaks, and the Stoics call them indifferents’ – i.e., neither good nor bad.” is Something
Not good and not bad characterizes Indifferent
“Some indifferent things, like health or wealth, have value (axia) and therefore are to be preferred [indifferent], even if they are not good, because they are typically appropriate, fitting or suitable (oikeion) for us.”is Indifferent
Value Value (axia) is a property of being “appropriate, fitting or suitable (oikeion)”. characterizes PreferredIndifferent
NotPreferred Indifferent Indifferents not characterized by Value.is Indifferent


  • All citations from: Baltzly, Dirk, “Stoicism”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 5/12/2019
Updated: 27/11/2020

2 thoughts on “[2.2.7] Virtue, Vice and Indifferent in Stoic Ethics

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