Introduction to Virtue Ethics: Insights of the Ancient Greeks

By Raymond J. Devettere | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

Prudence in Stoicism

Prudence and Stoic Determinism

The striking text already noted in chapter 3 reminds us how Zeno, Stoicism's founder, retained the foundational role of prudence found in Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Plutarch, writing around the end of the first century, reports Zeno's position as follows: [Zeno of Citium … defines prudence in matters of distribution as justice, (prudence) in matters of desire as temperance, and (prudence) in matters of standing firm as courage] (Moralia, 441 A). This text depicts Zeno setting forth the four traditional cardinal virtues—prudence, justice, temperance, and courage—and then making prudence the primary virtue by viewing the other three virtues as versions of it. The Stoic needs prudence, and not justice, temperance, or courage, to know, in any particular situation, what is the virtuous thing to do.

It might seem that Stoic ethics has little need for the kind of deliberative prudential reasoning that we saw in Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. As we saw in chapter 3, the Stoics believe that all natural reality (phusis) forms a single complete whole permeated by a universal reason (logos) that organizes and directs it. Fortunately, this immanent logos, which some Stoics called a world-soul or a god, is providential—it directs everything for the best. In Stoicism, what looks like a bad thing or a tragedy is merely a part of a predetermined rational plan achieving the best possible outcome.

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Introduction to Virtue Ethics: Insights of the Ancient Greeks
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part One - Desire, Happiness, and Virtue 7
  • Chapter 1 - The Origin of Ethics 13
  • Chapter 2 - Happiness 40
  • Chapter 3 - Character Virtue 60
  • Part Two - Prudence and Character Virtue 83
  • Chapter 4 - Prudence in Socrates and Plato 87
  • Chapter 5 - Prudence in Aristotle 107
  • Chapter 6 - Prudence in Stoicism 126
  • Glossary 139
  • Selected Greek Virtue Ethicists 151
  • Bibliographical Essay 155
  • Bibliography 174
  • Index 185
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