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The Stoic Oikeibsis and Sartre's "Situation"* PHILIP MERLAN I WISH TOPRESENTANIDEAof the Stoa and another of Sartre, to point out the similarity between the two, and to try to explain the reason for this similarity. The similarity cannot be explained in terms of historical influence, I am happy to say, for if an idea emerges repeatedly in different ages but not as a result of direct influence, it is probably rooted in some fundamental need. Let me use an analogy: Why do babies always cry? Answer number one is that eating gives pleasure, and that the pursuit of pleasure is common to all living organisms; in fact, it is the most basic desire of all organisms, including the human. Not so, others will say. It is not pleasure, but freedom from pain that all organisms seek. What is called pleasure is merely the satisfaction of being freed from pain. A third answer points out that when a child begins to walk it will fall and hurt itself again and again and will cry. If it merely sought to avoid pain, it would stop trying to walk. But what happens is the opposite: the child will renew its attempts until it learns to walk. Why? This has nothing to do with either pleasure or pain; the child seeks seif-preservation. To give up walking would be to give up its self. Here we have three answers. Readers who have some knowledge of Greek philosophy will recognize three schools of philosophy: that man's most fundamental desire is the desire to experience pleasure was the doctrine of the Cyrenaics; that man's most basic desire is freedom from pain was asserted by the Epicureans; and that man's fundamental. desire is self-preservation was the doctrine of the Stoa. For our topic what is most important is to note that the Stoa, after having given this answer, proceeded one step further and in so doing opened very interesting perspectives. This self, the Stoa asked, what is it? What does man regard as his self? We can find two answers among the Stoa. Let us call the first "static," the other "dynamic." The static answer is that essentially man consists of body and mind, and that he tries to preserve these two in their integrity and fullness. More important for us is the dynamic answer. My self, so the Stoa explained, is the result of successive steps, at each of which I appropriate a different level of myself. Appropriation: this is the translation of the technical term oikei6sis. Today everyone is speaking of "alienation"; I shall counteract this trend and speak of appropriation. What does the Stoic mean by "self-appropriation"? It is the act by which man responds to nature's recommendation; namely, the appropriation of what nature has prepared for him as his prospective property or peculiarity. Nature, so to say, tells man as soon as he is born: this-and-this is you; acknowledge it as your own. It is then up to each individual to respond, "Yes, I recognize it and accept it; this from now on is going to be my self." Since the discovery and publication of two papyri in 1905 and 1906 we have been better informed about this doctrine of oikei6sis. One of these was a papyrus written by a * Under the direction of Mrs. Frances Merlan this article has been adapted for the lournal from a lecture deliveredin both English and German by her late husband. [1] HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY certain Hierocles, who lived in the second century ^.D., and who entitled it Fundamentals ol Ethics. Here we find the doctrine of oikeiOsis explicit. As the Stoa interprets it, the first act of appropriation is soon followed by another. The body and the mind which man has appropriated are only his private property. Nature also shows man that he is more than an isolated individual belonging to himself alone. Nature shows him others to whom he belongs by birth. In accepting nature's offer, man appropriates a second self, his family. He is no longer a private individual. Then nature continues to show him others, who are also men: "Identify yourself with them...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 1-4
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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