Stoics talk a lot about living according to nature. But what exactly does that mean?
In Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche calls the Stoic phrase “according to nature” a fraud of words.
He writes that living according to nature and living according to life are the same thing. And he rhetorically asks, “how could you do differently?”
It’s a good question. Human beings are products of nature. Evolution produced the human brain, which is the basis for human behavior. So human behavior follows the laws of nature just as rocks follow gravity.
Saying human behavior is natural doesn’t mean it’s good or bad. Bad things are a product of nature just as much as good things are.
When someone says something isn’t natural—take cannibalism for example—they really mean that’s it’s morally wrong.
But that’s the naturalistic fallacy—incorrectly assuming that whatever is natural must be good. Nietzsche claims Stoicism falls into the naturalistic fallacy.
Further, he says Stoics wish to dictate their morals and ideals to nature. That is, Stoics are creating the world in their own image, which is not only arrogant but self-tyranny.
This self-tyranny is found in the Stoic call to regard anything that neither contributes to nor detracts from virtue as a preferred or dispreferred indifferent.
Nietzsche writes that to live is to resist indifference. Living is “valuing, preferring, being unjust, being limited, endeavouring to be different.” He says Stoics imagine that indifference is power, but he doubts anyone can truly live in accordance with indifference.
I’ve described my philosophy as having many features of Stoicism—particularly acknowledging that I have no control over (but sometimes can influence) external events.
But referencing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I disagree that being a good person is sufficient for human flourishing. Needs such as food, water, shelter, and safety are also essential for happiness.
That is, I find Stoic talk about preferred and dispreferred indifferents to be unrealistic for most people (myself included).