A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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2) Other extreme axiological positions


We can imagine another extreme axiological position, which contrarily to nihilism, maintains that “everything has a value”. I call “eclecticism” such a doctrine.
This position consists in the statement that all things have a real value, including those which seem at first sight to be flawed and imperfect. Actually, even things which are commonly hated or despised (evil, suffering, etc.) have a great value.

We can find a similar idea in some stoic founding texts. Stoicism is obviously not reducible to eclecticism, but I venture to maintain that in some fundamental texts, stoics give a brilliant example of this axiological doctrine.

For instance, here: We ought to observe also that even the things which follow after the things which are produced according to nature contain something pleasing and attractive. For instance, when bread is baked some parts are split at the surface, and these parts which thus open, and have a certain fashion contrary to the purpose of the baker's art, are beautiful in a manner, and in a peculiar way excite a desire for eating. And again, figs, when they are quite ripe, gape open; and in the ripe olives the very circumstance of their being near to rottenness adds a peculiar beauty to the fruit.
And the ears of corn bending down, and the lion's eyebrows, and the foam which flows from the mouth of wild boars, and many other things- though they are far from being beautiful, if a man should examine them severally- still, because they are consequent upon the things which are formed by nature, help to adorn them, and they please the mind.
So that if a man should have a feeling and deeper insight with respect to the things which are produced in the universe, there is hardly one of those which follow by way of consequence which will not seem to him to be in a manner disposed so as to give pleasure
1.

As we can see, this stoic idea of an absolute value of the world, including its parts which are misidentified as imperfect, comes close to the fundamental idea of eclecticism: everything has a value.
It brings the stoic wise man to face every events, including disasters, with serenity, since they are parts of this world, which he celebrates:
Everything harmonizes with me, which is harmonious to thee, O Universe. Nothing for me is too early nor too late, which is in due time for thee. Everything is fruit to me which thy seasons bring, O Nature 2.

The world, namely the whole, has an absolute value, for it is not a chaos, but a cosmos, viz. a principle of order, harmony and rationality. Everything happens according to the laws of necessity, not by chance: Whatever may happen to thee, it was prepared for thee from all eternity; and the implication of causes was from eternity spinning the thread of thy being, and of that which is incident to it 3.

However, it seems that stoicism is different from eclecticism, in that it blames some human behaviors: lamentation, rebellion, refusal of any damaging event which might affect us, and thereby attributes them a negative value, a notion foreign to eclecticism. Why such a blame?

Firstly, in a deterministic world, it is useless to wish something had happened differently than it did. If it is foreseen from all eternity that my child will die tomorrow, and that it is impossible for him to escape his destiny, then it is useless to resist, or to lament when it happens. Resistance only makes sense if I can change the course of events: the death of a loved one is painful, scandalous, only if it happens by chance, and may have occurred much later.

So anyone crying or fighting against the world is an ignorant who does not understand in which world he lives, or in what necessity makes his revolt absurd. Above all, for stoicism, the one who complains about a given event looks like a part which claims to separate from the whole, in order to live apart.

This hubris is not only an impossible dream: the rebel becomes, as a part which alienates the whole, like a tumor of the world: The soul of man does violence to itself, first of all, when it becomes an abscess and, as it were, a tumour on the universe, so far as it can. For to be vexed at anything which happens is a separation of ourselves from nature, in some part of which the natures of all other things are contained 4.

So we see that stoicism blames some actions, and thereby, does not attribute a value to all things, acts, events: in this, it fundamentally differs from eclecticism.


1. Marc-Aurèle, Meditations, Book III, 2
2. Ibid., Book IV, 23
3. Ibid., Book X, 5
4. Ibid., Book II, 16