Quietism and Nature Philosophy

Quietism and Nature Philosophy

It was the philosophy of the Stoics which not only influenced Roman legal concep­tions but exerted an important direct influence upon later eco­nomic thought. This philosophy was tinged with a spirit of quietism which induced in many that economic fatalism so characteristic of Oriental thought. For example, Marcus Aurelius meditated as follows: "Be satisfied with your business, and learn to love what you were bred to do; and as to the remain­der of your life, be entirely resigned, and let the gods do their pleasure with your body and soul." Happiness, the Stoics believed, lies not in outward things, but in conquest of desires and passions; hence their thought was naturally not directed toward increasing the production or even improving the distri­bution of wealth. This belief, implying the desirability or necessity of man's making adjustments to environment, would tend to prevent or remove a sense of individual responsibility for social ills, and to beget a sort of inertia in dealing with social problems.

The Stoics' nature philosophy had a similar tendency, in that, according to it, the part of the wise man is to "follow nature." Nature follows law, they reasoned, — the universe is systematic and rational, — therefore it is the part of wisdom to submit calmly to the all-pervading law of nature.

This concept of a law of nature held an important place in Roman thought. Its connection with the jus naturale of the jurists is especially noteworthy: of both it may be said that the idea was one of a universal cosmopolitan and eternal law, which either corresponds to man's innate convictions of right, or must be accepted as the controlling factor in human action. Both as part of Stoic philosophy and as a doctrine of Roman law, this concept, as will appear, played a considerable part at the birth of economic science in the eighteenth century.

At first glance, Stoicism would appear to be idealistic in tendency; but as a matter of fact its influence has generally worked with materialism in economic thought, illustrating how extremes meet. The concept of a law of nature whose principles are innate in man, the ideas that a man is a law unto himself and that happiness does not lie in outward things, savor of the ideal. But, the Stoics regarded sensations as the source of knowledge, and while they exalted reason they gave it a material basis. In holding that a man must submit to the all-pervading, rational law of nature, — which led to a species of fatalism — they gave an objective materialistic cast to that law. In short, while they believed that man can make adjustments to natural law and thus may gain happiness, they also believed that it is possible for him to do so only by conforming to natural law. The influence of such philosophy upon economics may be seen in the thought of the Physiocrats and Adam Smith.