Chap. 1b: Suicide

7.2.35. However, suicide was never very common among the Greeks.

  • I cannot remember any illustrious Greek hero who died by his own hand, other than Cleomenes.
  • Aristomenes’ death is as much beyond the period of true history as that of Ajax.
  • The common story of Themistocles’ death was within that period.
    • However, it bears all the marks of a most romantic fable.
  • Of all the Greek heroes written by Plutarch, Cleomenes appears to be the only one who perished in this way.
    • Theramines, Socrates, and Phocion, who certainly did not lack courage, suffered in prison.
      • They submitted patiently to that death which the injustice of their fellow-citizens had condemned them.
    • The brave Eumenes allowed himself to be delivered by his own mutinous soldiers to his enemy Antigonus.
      • He was starved to death without attempting any violence.
    • The gallant Philopoemen was taken prisoner by the Messenians.
      • He was thrown into a dungeon and was privately poisoned.
    • Several of the philosophers are said to have died this way
      • But their lives have been so very foolishly written.
      • Very little credit is due to most of the tales told of them.

Three different accounts have been given of the death of Zeno the Stoic.

  1. After enjoying 98 years of perfect health, he fell while going out of his school.
    • He only broke or dislocated one of his fingers.
    • He struck the ground with his hand and, in the words of the Niobe of Euripides, said:
      • ‘I come, why doest thou call me?’
    • He immediately went home and hanged himself.
    • At that great age, one should think, he might have had a little more patience.
    • The first account is given by Apollonius of Tyre.
      • He flourished around the time of Augustus Caesar, between 200-300 years after Zeno’s death.
      • Apollonius was a Stoic.
      • He probably thought that it would do honour to sect’s founder, who talked so much about voluntary death, to die by his own hand.
  2. At the same age and because of a similar accident, he starved himself to death.
    • I do not know the author of this second account.
  3. At 72 years old, he died in the natural way.
    • By far, it is  the most probable account of the three.
    • It is also supported by Persaeus’ authority.
      • He was a co-temporary and must have been well informed.
      • He was originally the slave, and afterwards, the friend and disciple of Zeno.

After their death, men of letters are frequently more talked of than the greatest princes or statesmen of their times.

  • During their life, they are generally so obscure and insignificant that their adventures are seldom recorded by co-temporary historians.
  • The men of letters of later ages, frequently fashioned those earlier men according to their own fancy to satisfy the public curiosity.
    • It was almost always with a great mixture of the marvelous.
    • They had no authentic documents to support or contradict their narratives.
  • In this case, the marvelous, unsupported by authority, seems to have prevailed over the probable, which was supported by the best authority.

Diogenes Laertius plainly prefers Apollonius’ story.

  • Lucian and Lactantius also preferred the story of Zeno’s old age and violent death.


7.2.36. This fashion of voluntary death appears to have been much more prevalent among the proud Romans, than it ever was among the lively, ingenious, and accommodating Greeks.

  • Even among the Romans, the fashion was not established in the early and ‘virtuous ages’ of the republic.

The common story of Regulus’ death was probably a fable.

  • It could never have been invented unless he was dishonoured from patiently submitting to the Carthaginians’ tortures.
  • In the later ages of the republic, I apprehend there would be some dishonour in surrender.
    • In the civil wars which preceded the commonwealth’s fall, many of the eminent men of all the contending parties chose to perish by their own hands than to fall to their enemies.
      • Cato’s death was celebrated by Cicero.
        • It was censured by Caesar.
        • It become the subject of a very serious controversy between them.
          • They were perhaps the two most illustrious advocates that the world ever beheld.
        • It stamped a splendour on this method of dying which it seems to have retained for several ages after.
      • Cicero’s eloquence was superior to that of Caesar.
        • The admiring party prevailed greatly over the censuring party.
        • The lovers of liberty for many ages afterwards looked up to Cato as the republican party’s most venerable martyr.
  • The Cardinal de Retz observes that the head of a party may do what he pleases.
    • The head can do no wrong as long as he retains his friends’ confidence.
      • The Cardinal himself experienced the truth of this maxim several times.
  • Cato seems to have joined an excellent bottle companion to his other virtues.
    • His enemies accused him of drunkenness.
    • But Seneca says:
      • Whoever objected this vice to Cato, will find it easier to prove that drunkenness is a virtue than to prove that Cato could be addicted to any vice.


7.2.37. Under the Emperors, this method of dying seems to have been perfectly fashionable for a long time.

  • In Pliny’s epistles, we find an account of several persons who chose to die this way from vanity and ostentation than from any necessary reason, even to a sober and judicious Stoic.
  • Ladies are seldom behind in following the fashion.
    • Even they frequently chose to die this way, most unnecessarily.
    • They accompanied their husbands to the tomb, like the ladies in Bengal.
  • The prevalence of this fashion certainly caused many unnecessary deaths.
    • This is perhaps the highest exertion of human vanity and impertinence.
    • All the havoc which this caused would probably be very great.


7.2.38. The principle of suicide sometimes teaches us to consider killing oneself as an object of applause and approbation.

  • It seems altogether a refinement of philosophy.
  • In her sound and healthful state, Nature seems never to prompt us to suicide.
  • Melancholy is a disease of human nature.
    • There is a kind of melancholy which is accompanied with an irresistible appetite for self-destruction.
    • This disease has frequently been known to drive its wretched victims in circumstances:
      • often of the highest external prosperity, and
      • sometimes in spite of the deepest and most serious religious sentiments.
    • The unfortunate persons who perish in this miserable way are the proper objects of sympathy, not of censure.
      • It is absurd and unjust to punish them when they are beyond the reach of all human punishment.
        • That punishment can fall only on their surviving friends and relations:
          • who are always perfectly innocent, and
          • to whom the loss of their friend in this disgraceful way is a very heavy calamity.
  • In her sound and healthful state, Nature prompts us to always avoid distress.
    • On many occasions, Nature calls us to defend ourselves against distress though at the hazard or even with the certainty of perishing in that defence.
    • But no natural principle, no regard to the approbation of the impartial spectator or the man within the breast, calls on us to escape from that distress by destroying ourselves when we:
      • have been unable to defend ourselves, or
      • have perished in that defence.
  • We are driven to this resolution only by the consciousness of:
    • our own weakness, and
    • our own incapacity to support the calamity with proper manhood and firmness.
  • I have not read nor heard of any American savage who killed himself after being taken prisoner by some hostile tribe to avoid being tortured to death afterwards and amidst his enemies’ insults and mockery.
    • He places his glory in:
      • supporting those torments with manhood, and
      • retorting those insults with tenfold contempt and derision.


7.2.39. The two fundamental doctrines of Stoical morality rested on:

  • This contempt of life and death and, at the same time, the most entire submission to the order of Providence.
  • The most complete contentment with every event which the current of human affairs could possibly cast up.
  • Epictetus was independent and spirited but often harsh.
    • He may be considered as the great apostle of the first of those doctrines.
  • Antoninus was mild, humane, and benevolent.
    • He was of the second.


7.2.40. In his youth, the emancipated slave of Epaphriditus was subjected to the insolence of a brutal master.

  • In his older years, he was banished from Rome and Athens by the jealousy and caprice of the tyrant Domitian.
    • He was obliged to dwell at Nicopolis.
    • He might expect to be sent to Gyarae or perhaps be put to death at any time by Domitian.
    • He could only preserve his tranquility by fostering the most sovereign contempt of human life.
    • He never exults so much.
      • Accordingly, his eloquence is never so animated as when he represents the futility and nothingness of all its pleasures and pains.


7.2.41. The good-natured Emperor, who certainly had no reason to complain of his own allotment, delights in:

  • expressing his contentment with the ordinary course of things
  • pointing out beauties even in those parts where vulgar observers cannot see any

He observes that:

  • the weakness and decrepitude of old age are as suitable to nature as the bloom and vigour of youth
  • there is a propriety and even an engaging grace in old age as well as in youth
    • Death, too, is just as proper a termination of old age, as youth is of childhood, or manhood of youth.

We frequently say that the physician has ordered a man to:

  • ride on horseback or
  • use the cold bath or
  • walk barefooted

So we should say that Nature, the great conductor and physician of the universe, has ordered a man:

  • a disease or
  • the amputation of a limb or
  • the loss of a child

By the prescriptions of ordinary physicians, the patient:

  • undergoes many painful operations
    • He gladly submits to all from the very uncertain hope to improve his health.
  • swallows many bitter potions
  • In the same manner, the harshest prescriptions of the great Physician of nature, the patient hopes will contribute to:
    • his own health
    • his own final prosperity and happiness
  • He may be perfectly assured that they will contribute and are indispensably necessary to:
    • the universe’s health, prosperity, and happiness
    • the furtherance and advancement of the great plan of Jupiter
  • If they were not, the universe would never have produced them.
    • Its all-wise Architect and Conductor would never have suffered them to happen.
  • All, even the smallest of the co-existent parts of the universe, are exactly fitted to one another.
    • All parts contribute to compose one immense and connected system.
    • So all, even the most insignificant of the successive events which follow one another, form the necessary parts of that great chain of causes and effects which had no beginning and no end.
      • Those causes and effects all necessarily result from the original arrangement and contrivance of the whole.
      • They are all essentially necessary to the whole’s prosperity, continuance, and preservation.
  • A person wishes to stop the universe’s motion and break that great chain of succession if he:
    • does not cordially embrace whatever befalls him
    • is sorry that it has befallen him
    • wishes that it had not befallen him
  • The whole machine of the world would be disordered and discomposed for some little conveniency of his own.
    • He says in another place:
      • ‘O world, all things are suitable to me which are suitable to thee.
      • Nothing is too early or too late to me which is seasonable for thee.
      • All is fruit to me which thy seasons bring forth.
      • From thee are all things.
      • In thee are all things.
      • For thee are all things.
      • One man says, O beloved city of Cecrops. Wilt not thou say, O beloved city of God?’


7.2.42. From these very sublime doctrines, the Stoics attempted to deduce all their paradoxes.

7.2.43. The Stoical wise man tried to:

  • enter into the views of the great Superintendant of the universe, and
  • see things in the same light in which that divine Being saw them.

Mr. Pope says: But to the great Superintendant of the universe, all events, the smallest and the greatest, the bursting of a bubble and the bursting of a world were perfectly equal.

  • Those events were equally parts of that great chain which he had predestined from all eternity.
    • They were equally the effects of the same unerring wisdom, and universal and boundless benevolence.
  • In the same way, all those events were perfectly equal to the Stoical wise man.
    • In the course of those events, a little department had been assigned to him.
      • He had some little management and direction of that department.
      • In this department he tried to:
        • act as properly as he could
        • conduct himself according to those orders prescribed to him
      • But he took no anxious or passionate concern in the success or disappointment of his own most faithful endeavours.
    • He was perfectly indifferent to that little system or department’s:
      • highest prosperity
      • total destruction
    • If those events had depended on him, he would have:
      • chosen its highest prosperity
      • rejected its total destruction
    • But as they did not depend on him, he trusted whatever event which happened to a superior wisdom.
      • He was perfectly satisfied that such event was the very event he himself would have most earnestly and devoutly wished for, had he known all the connections of things.
    • Whatever he did under the influence and direction of those principles was equally perfect.
    • When he stretched out his finger, to give the example which they commonly made use of, he performed an action as meritorious as when he laid down his life for the service of his country.
  • To the great Superintendant of the universe, the greatest and the smallest exertions of his power were equally the effects of the same divine wisdom and benevolence:
    • The formation and dissolution of a world and that of a bubble, were equally easy and admirable.
    • So to the Stoical wise man, what we call ‘the great action’ required no more exertion than the little action which was equally easy.
      • It proceeded from exactly the same principles.
      • It was not more meritorious, nor worthy of any higher degree of praise and admiration.


7.2.44. As all those who had attained this perfect state were equally happy, so all those who fell short of it in the smallest degree were equally miserable.

  • They said:
    • The man who was an inch below the water’s surface could no more breathe than he who was 100 yards below it.
    • So a could no more breathe the free air of liberty and independency if he:
      • had not completely subdued all his private, partial, and selfish passions,
      • had many earnest desires, except the desire the universal happiness,
      • had not completely emerged from that abyss of misery and disorder which his anxiety for the gratification of those private, partial, and selfish passions involved him.
    • He could no more enjoy the security and happiness of the wise man, than he who was farthest from that situation.
  • All of the wise man’s actions were perfect, and equally perfect.
    • So all the actions of the man who had not arrived at this supreme wisdom were faulty.

Some Stoics pretended that they were equally faulty.

  • They said:
    • One truth could not be more true, one falsehood could be more false than another falsehood.
      • So an honourable action could not be more honourable, nor a shameful one more shameful than another.
    • The man who missed shooting a mark by an inch had equally missed it with him who had missed it by 100 yards.
      • So the man who acted improperly and unreasonably in the most insignificant action was equally faulty with him who acted improperly in the most important action.
        • For example, the man who killed a cock improperly and without reason, was as faulty with him who had murdered his father.


7.2.45. If the first of those two paradoxes appears violent, the second is evidently too absurd to deserve any serious consideration.

  • It is so very absurd that one can scarce help suspecting that it must have been misunderstood or misrepresented.
  • I cannot believe that Zeno or Cleanthes could be the authors of these or of the most part of the other Stoical paradoxes.
    • They were said to be men of the simplest and most sublime eloquence.
    • Those paradoxes are generally mere impertinent quibbles.
      • They do so little honour to their system that I shall give no further account of them.

I am disposed to impute them rather to Chrysippus.

  • He was the disciple and follower of Zeno and Cleanthes.
  • He seems to have been a mere dialectical pedant, without any kind of taste or elegance.
    • This is based on all that has been delivered down to us about him.
  • He may have been the first to reduce their doctrines into a scholastic or technical system of artificial definitions, divisions, and subdivisions.
    • It is perhaps one of the most effective expedients for extinguishing whatever good sense there was in any moral or metaphysical doctrine.
  • Such a man may very easily be supposed to have understood too literally some animated expressions of his masters in describing:
    • the happiness of the man of perfect virtue, and
    • the unhappiness of whoever fell short of perfect virtue.


7.2.46. In general, the Stoics admitted that there might be some proficiency in people who had not advanced to perfect virtue and happiness.

  • They distributed those proficients into different classes, according to their level of advancement.
  • They called the imperfect virtues not as rectitudes, but as proprieties, fitnesses, decent and becoming actions.
    • This might have been what Cicero expresses by the Latin word officia, and Seneca, I think more exactly, by the word convenientia.
  • The doctrine of those imperfect, but attainable virtues constituted ‘the practical morality of the Stoics’.
    • It is the subject of Cicero’s Offices.
    • It was the subject of another book written by Marcus Brutus, but which is now lost.


7.2.47. The plan and system which Nature sketched out for our conduct seems different from that of the Stoical philosophy.


7.2.48. By Nature, the events which immediately affect our little department which immediately affects ourselves, our friends, our country, are the events which:

  • interest us the most, and
  • chiefly excite our desires and aversions, hopes and fears, and joys and sorrows.

Those passions are often too vehement.

  • If they become too vehement, Nature has provided a proper remedy.
    • The real or even the imaginary presence of the impartial spectator, the authority of the man within the breast, is always at hand to overawe them into the proper tone and temper of moderation.


7.2.49. Nature has left us a consolation if all the events affecting this little department becomes unfortunate and disastrous.

  • That consolation may be drawn from:
    • the complete approbation of the man within the breast, and
    • if possible, a firm reliance on, and a reverential submission to, that benevolent wisdom which directs human life.
      • It is a still nobler and more generous principle.
      • We would never have suffered those misfortunes if they were not necessary for the good of the whole.


7.2.50. Nature did not prescribe this sublime contemplation to us as the great business and occupation of our lives.

  • She only points it out to us as the consolation of our misfortunes.
  • The Stoical philosophy prescribes it as the great business and occupation of our lives.
    • Stoical philosophy teaches us to earnestly and anxiously interest only those events which concern the department of the great Superintendant of the universe.
      • We do not have and should not have any management or direction in that department.
      • It tries to render us indifferent and unconcerned in the success or failure of everything which Nature has prescribed to us as the proper business and occupation of our lives, by:
        • the perfect apathy it prescribes,
        • trying to eradicate all our private, partial, and selfish affections, and
        • not even letting the impartial spectator’s sympathetic and reduced passions make us feel for whatever happens to ourselves, our friends, and country.


7.2.51. The reasonings of philosophy may confound and perplex the understanding.

  • But they can never break down the necessary connection which Nature established between causes and their effects.
  • Despite all the reasonings of Stoicism, the causes which naturally excite our desires and aversions, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, would produce their proper and necessary effects on each individual according to his actual sensibility.
  • However, the judgments of the man within the breast might be much affected by those reasonings.
  • They might teach that great inmate to attempt to overawe all our private, partial, and selfish affections into a perfect tranquility.
  • The great purpose of all systems of morality is to direct the judgments of this inmate.
  • The Stoical philosophy had a very great influence on the character and conduct of its followers.
    • It might sometimes incite them to unnecessary violence.
    • Its general tendency was to animate them to actions of:
      • the most heroic magnanimity and
      • most extensive benevolence.


7.2.52. 4. Besides these ancient systems, there are some modern systems, according to which virtue consists in propriety.

  • Dr. Clark’s system places virtue in:
    • acting according to the relations of things, and
    • regulating our conduct according to the fitness or incongruity which there may be in the application of certain actions to certain things, or to certain relations.
  • Mr. Woollaston’s system places virtue in acting according to:
    • the truth of things, and
    • their proper nature and essence, or in treating them as what they really are and not as what they are not
  • My Lord Shaftesbury’s system places virtue in:
    • maintaining a proper balance of the affections, and
    • allowing no passion to go beyond its proper sphere.
  • All of them are more or less inaccurate descriptions of the same fundamental idea.


7.2.53. None of those systems give any precise and distinct measure by which this propriety of affection can be judged of.

  • That precise and distinct measure can only be found in the sympathetic feelings of the impartial and well-informed spectator.


7.2.54. Some of the modern authors are not very fortunate in their way of self-expression.

  • The description of virtue in each of those systems is quite just.
    • There is no virtue without propriety.
    • Wherever there is propriety, some approbation is due.
  • But this description is still imperfect.
    • For though propriety is an essential ingredient in every virtuous action, it is not always the sole ingredient.
  • Beneficent actions have another quality by which they appear to deserve approbation and recompense.
    • None of those systems account easily or sufficiently for that:
      • superior esteem due to such actions, or
      • diversity of sentiment which they naturally excite.
  • Neither is the description of vice more complete.
    • For, in the same way, though impropriety is a necessary ingredient in every vicious action, it is not always the sole ingredient.
    • There is often the highest absurdity and impropriety in very harmless and insignificant actions.
    • Deliberately pernicious actions, against those we live with, have a peculiar quality of their own, besides their impropriety, which makes them appear:
      • deserving of disapprobation and punishment.
      • as objects of dislike, resentment, and revenge
    • None of those systems easily and sufficiently account for that superior degree of detestation which we feel for such actions.

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