ABSTRACT

This article reviews the influence of Stoic thought on the development of Spinoza's and Nietzsche's ethics and suggests that although both philosophers follow the Stoics in conceiving of ethics as a therapeutic enterprise that aims at human freedom and flourishing, they part company with Stoicism in refusing to identify flourishing with freedom from the passions. In making this claim, I take issue with the standard view of Spinoza's ethics, according to which the passions figure exclusively as a source of unhappiness and bondage from which we must be liberated. I argue that, in fact, Spinoza anticipates Nietzsche and breaks with the Stoics in offering a more positive assessment of the role of passion in a flourishing life. The reading pursued here takes Spinoza's divergence from the Stoic account of the passions to be a consequence of his insistence on the immanence of human being in nature. I outline Spinoza's and Nietzsche's conception of immanence and suggest that it entails a common understanding of our nature as dynamic power or desire, which is simultaneously expressed as a capacity to act and be acted on, to affect and to be affected. The recognition of the complex relationship between passive and active power requires a revaluation of our vulnerability and openness to what can affect us and leads each philosopher to a consideration of the ways in which the passions might be made to support our striving to increase our power and to realize an essentially limited freedom and precarious flourishing.

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