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Stoic passions

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Stoic passions are various forms of emotional suffering in Stoicism, a school of Hellenistic philosophy.


The passions are transliterated pathê from Greek.[1] The Greek word pathos was a wide-ranging term indicating an infliction one suffers.[2] The Stoics used the word to discuss many common emotions such as anger, fear and excessive joy.[3] A passion is a disturbing and misleading force in the mind which occurs because of a failure to reason correctly.[2] For the Stoic Chrysippus the passions are evaluative judgements.[4] A person experiencing such an emotion has incorrectly valued an indifferent thing.[5] A fault of judgement, some false notion of good or evil, lies at the root of each passion.[6] Incorrect judgement as to a present good gives rise to delight, while lust is a wrong estimate about the future.[6] Unreal imaginings of evil cause distress about the present, or fear for the future.[6]

These states of feeling are disturbances of mental health which upset the natural balance of the soul, and destroy its self-control.[6] They are harmful because they conflict with right reason.[7] The ideal Stoic would instead measure things at their real value,[6] and see that the passions are not natural.[8] To be free of the passions is to have a happiness which is self-contained.[8] There would be nothing to fear—for unreason is the only evil; no cause for anger—for others cannot harm you.[8]

Primary passions[edit]

The Stoics beginning with Zeno arranged the passions under four headings: distress, pleasure, fear and lust.[9] One report of the Stoic definitions of these passions appears in the treatise On Passions by Pseudo-Andronicus (trans. Long & Sedley, pg. 411, modified):

Distress (lupē)
Distress is an irrational contraction, or a fresh opinion that something bad is present, at which people think it right to be depressed.
Fear (phobos)
Fear is an irrational aversion, or avoidance of an expected danger.
Lust (epithumia)
Lust is an irrational desire, or pursuit of an expected good but in reality bad.
Delight (hēdonē)
Delight is an irrational swelling, or a fresh opinion that something good is present, at which people think it right to be elated.

Two of these passions (distress and delight) refer to emotions currently present, and two of these (fear and lust) refer to emotions directed at the future.[9] Thus there are just two states directed at the prospect of good and evil, but subdivided as to whether they are present or future:[10]

  Present Future
Good Delight Lust
Evil Distress Fear


Numerous subdivisions of the same class are brought under the head of the separate passions. The definitions are those of the translation of Cicero's Tusculan Disputations by J. E. King.


Envy is distress incurred by reason of a neighbor's prosperity.
Rivalry is distress, should another be in possession of the object desired and one has to go without it oneself.
Jealousy is distress arising from the fact that the thing one has coveted oneself is in the possession of the other man as well as one's own.
Compassion is distress arising from the wretchedness of a neighbor in undeserved suffering.
Anxiety is oppressive distress.
Mourning is distress arising from the untimely death of a beloved object.
Sadness is tearful distress.
Troubling is burdensome distress.
Grief is torturing distress.
Distress accompanied by wailing.
Depression is distress accompanied by brooding.
Vexation is lasting distress.
Despondency is distress without any prospect of amelioration.


Sluggishness is fear of ensuing toil.
Shame is fear of disgrace.
Fright is paralyzing fear which causes paleness, trembling and chattering of teeth.
Timidity is fear of approaching evil.
Consternation is fear upsetting the mental balance.
Pusillanimity is fear following on the heels of fright like an attendant.
Bewilderment is fear paralyzing thought.
Faintheartedness is lasting fear.


Anger is lust of punishing the man who is thought to have inflicted an undeserved injury.
Rage is anger springing up and suddenly showing itself.
Hatred is inveterate anger.
Enmity is anger watching as opportunity for revenge.
Wrath is anger of greater bitterness conceived in the innermost heart and soul.
Greed is insatiable lust.
Longing is lust of beholding someone who is not present.


Malice is pleasure derived from a neighbor's evil which brings no advantage to oneself.
Rapture is pleasure soothing the soul by charm of the sense of hearing.
Ostentation is pleasure shown in outward demeanor and puffing oneself out extravagantly.

Good feelings[edit]

The wise person (sophos) is someone who is free from the passions (apatheia). Instead the sage experiences good-feelings (eupatheia) which are clear-headed.[11] These emotional impulses are not excessive, but nor are they diminished emotions.[12][13] Instead they are the correct rational emotions.[13] The Stoics listed the good-feelings under the headings of joy (chara), wish (boulesis), and caution (eulabeia).[5] Thus if something is present which is a genuine good, then the wise person experiences an uplift in the soul—joy (chara).[14] The Stoics also subdivided the good-feelings:[15]

  • Joy:
    • Enjoyment
    • Cheerfulness
    • Good spirits
  • Wish:
    • Good intent
    • Goodwill
    • Welcoming
    • Cherishing
    • Love
  • Caution:
    • Moral shame
    • Reverence

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blank, David. "Philodemus" – On individual ethical topics (c.f. - 5th paragraph) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)(published Wed Apr 10, 2013; substantive revision Mon Aug 4, 2014) [Retrieved 2015-3-15]
  2. ^ a b Annas 1994, p. 103
  3. ^ Annas 1994, pp. 103–104
  4. ^ Groenendijk, Leendert F. and de Ruyter, Doret J.(2009) 'Learning from Seneca: a Stoic perspective on the art of living and education', Ethics and Education, 4: 1, 81–92 doi:10.1080/17449640902816277
  5. ^ a b Annas 1994, p. 114
  6. ^ a b c d e Capes 1880, p. 47
  7. ^ Annas 1994, p. 113
  8. ^ a b c Capes 1880, p. 48
  9. ^ a b Sorabji 2000, p. 29
  10. ^ Graver 2007, p. 54
  11. ^ Inwood 1999, p. 705
  12. ^ Annas 1994, p. 115
  13. ^ a b Graver 2007, p. 52
  14. ^ Inwood 1999, p. 701
  15. ^ Graver 2007, p. 58


  • Annas, Julia (1994), Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-520-07659-4
  • Capes, William Wolfe (1880), Stoicism, Pott, Young, & Co.
  • Graver, Margaret (2007), Stoicism and Emotion, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-30557-8
  • Inwood, Brad (1999), "Stoic Ethics", in Algra, Keimpe; Barnes, Johnathan; Mansfield, Jaap; Schofield, Malcolm (eds.), The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-25028-3
  • Sorabji, Richard (2000), Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-198-25005-0
  • Andronicus, "On Passions I," Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, 3.391. ed. Hans von Arnim. 1903–1905.
  • Cicero, Marcus Tullius (1945 c. 1927). Cicero : Tusculan Disputations (Loeb Classical Library, No. 141) 2nd Ed. trans. by J. E. King. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard UP.
  • Long, A. A., Sedley, D. N. (1987). The Hellenistic Philosophers: vol. 1. translations of the principal sources with philosophical commentary. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

External links[edit]