/ Epictetus

Argument for Virtue as the Sole Good

This began as a small exercise for myself and eventually grew into something much bigger than I expected. A while back I was reading through Epictetus's Discourses 2.11.16 which is where Epictetus starts talking about there being a specific standard by which we can weigh things, in-order to determine if they are truly good or not. One of the properties of this standard that Epictetus comes up with is stability. That for something to be good, we need to be able to put our trust in it, and that we should only put our trust in things that are stable, as opposed to things that are unstable. Here is the passage from Robin Hard's translation:

When it comes to weights and measures, too, we aren’t satisfied with mere appearances, but have devised a standard to test them out in each case. In the present area, then, is there a higher standard than mere opinion? And how is it possible that that which is most vital for human beings should lie beyond determination, beyond discovery? ‘There surely must be a standard.’

Why don’t we seek it out, then, and discover it, and after having discovered it, put it to use without fail ever afterwards, never departing from it by so much as a finger’s breadth? For that is something, I think, which, when found, will rescue from madness those who use opinion as their sole measure in everything, so that from that time onward, setting out from known and clearly defined principles, we can judge particular cases through the application of systematically examined preconceptions. What is the subject of our present enquiry? ‘Pleasure.’ Submit it to the standard, put it on the scales. For something to be good , must it be something that we can properly place confidence and trust in? ‘Indeed it must.’ Can we properly place confidence, then, in something that is unstable? ‘No.’ Is pleasure stable? ‘No, it isn’t.’

Away with it, then; take it out of the scales, and drive it away from the realm of good things. But if your sight is none too keen and one set of scales isn’t enough for you, bring another. Is the good something that can properly inspire us with pride? ‘It is indeed.’ Is the pleasure of the moment, then , something that can properly inspire us with pride? Take care not to say that it is, or I’ll no longer regard you as being worthy of even using the scales! It is thus that things are judged and weighed when one has the standards at hand; and the task of philosophy lies in this, in examining and establishing those standards. As for the use of them, once they are known, that is the business of the virtuous and good person.

This seemed like a very interesting line of thought to me, and I wanted to see how far I could run with it using what I know about Stoic philosophy, and some of the arguments that they could use to try and back this point up.

What came out of this was a fairly large and interconnected argument map that attempted to argue for virtue as the sole good largely based on the point of stability mentioned above. Now I do not think this is any sort of thoroughly valid and impenetrable logical argument that goes ahead and proves that virtue is the sole good, far from it. It was really just a mental exercise on my side to try and see how far I could take this argument, and also attain a better understanding of how interconnected many of these arguments potentially were to one another.

I also found it rather amusing that as I was looking for a free argument mapping tool, the one that I found and settled on was called iLogos, as the Logos was a very important concept for the ancient Stoics.

Below I have posted the argument map I ended up with, errors and all. You may find a similar exercise beneficial for yourself, to sketch out some arguments you think have merit, and try to see where they lead you.

You can find the full argument map here with a small preview provided below. What do you think? Are these arguments on the right track or are they completely off the mark? Did we maybe not even start off in the right place? Is there a way to make a better argument here? As Epictetus says, 'Why don’t we seek it out, then, and discover it?'.