The Ultimate Good in Life, the Stoics, and the New Atheists

Look, now, at the great virtue called fortitude.  Is not its very function—to bear patiently with misfortune—overwhelming evidence that human life is beset with unhappiness, however wise a man may be?  It is beyond my comprehension how the Stoics can boldly argue that such ills are not really ills, meanwhile allowing that, if a philosopher should be tried by them beyond his obligation or duty to bear, he may have no choice but to take the easy way out by committing suicide.  So stultifying is Stoic pride that, all evidences to the contrary, these men still pretend to find the ultimate good in this life and to hold that they are themselves the source of their own happiness.  Their kind of sage—an astonishingly silly sage, indeed—may go deaf, dumb and blind, may be crippled, wracked with pain, visited with every imaginable affliction, driven at last to take his own life, yet have the colossal impertinence to call such an existence the happy life!  Happy life, indeed, which employs death’s aid to end it!  If such a life is happy, then I say, live it!  (St. Augustine, City of God, XIX, 4)

The Stoics held that the ultimate good was to be found in this life only.  This they have in common with the New Atheists.  The difference is that the Stoics were…well, stoic, while the New Atheists are inveterate whiners.  Perhaps the New Atheists find whatever good there is for them bound up in the process of inflicting their misery on others, so that the rest of us will commit suicide first.

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