Chapter sixteen is devoted to the second form. The most important school in the extreme form is the theory of Kant. It will be largely dealt with in this chapter but a short account of Cynicism, Stoicism, and Christian Asceticism will also be included.
Ancient Rationalism — (A) Cynicism:
The founder of the cynic school, Antisthenes studied in a school called Cynosures. Thus Antisthenes and his followers are called Cynics. The Greek adjective resembling the world cynics, means ‘like a dog’.
Thus they were called Cynics also due to the thick-headed behaviour of Antisthenes and his student Diogenes. The Cynic school propounds the following principles.
(1) Refutation of hedonism:
Cynics have bitterly criticized Hedonism. Antisthenes went so far as to say, “I would rather be mad than feel pleasure. A life of pleasures is a life of foolishness.”
Cynics recognize in man an intellectual being. According to them reason should exercise complete control over passions. A moral life is an intellectual life, and the real life of man.
In it lies happiness because happiness and wisdom are synonym. For every one only that is good which is his own and the only thing exclusively human is intellect or reason. Only an intellectual person is virtuous.
(3) Virtue is the ultimate aim:
According to Cynics, the ultimate aim is virtue. A virtuous person is complete in himself. He is a cosmopolitan and completely self dependent. Wisdom is his special quality. He has complete control over passions. His desires are the minimum.
Cynics are ascetics. According to them, perfection of the self lies in self denial. The main moral dictum of Diogenes was live according to Nature. Cynics took self control to the extreme of poverty. Pyrrho is biased in favour of extreme self denial.
Criticism of cynicism:
The above description of Cynicism precipitates the following arguments which can be levied at it:
The cynics propounded infamy, poverty, asceticism, lack of art, and contradiction of conventions.
(2) Individualism and Egoism:
Although the cynics laid the foundation of cosmopolitanism yet in practice they subordinate even patriotism to egoism. In this way, their cosmopolitanism is pure megalomania and complete egoism.
(3) Emphasis on non-sentient aspect:
Cynics are pessimistic. In their theories the non-sentient aspect is predominant, excessive emphasis being laid on the repression of the senses. They are called cynics as they are. They disregarded the conventional social postulates of limits.
Due to these defects Cynicism lost its attraction and in common use the word cynic came to denote something infectious.
Ancient Rationalism — (B) Stoicism:
The perpetrator of the stoic school of thought Zeno, used to lecture in a raincoat called the ‘Stoa Poicle’ or the coloured raincoat It was from this Stoa, that Zeno and his followers came to be called Stoic or ‘people of Stoa’. The credit for the special popularizing of the Stoic thought must go to the student of Zeno, Chrysippus.
The following points deserve mention in the Stoic moral theory:
(1) Virtue is ultimate good:
According to the Stoics also, virtue is the ultimate good but they laid greater emphasis on the affective aspect of virtue. They stressed the fulfillment of duty, in virtue. Life according to nature and life following reason are both mutually interdependent. Natural life is a life according to free volition and intellect
(2) Criticism of hedonism:
Stoics also like the Cynics criticized the hedonistic ideal. They look upon apathy as the special quality of the wise person. Happiness is the inevitable result of virtue. An ascetic is an impassive sage. He controls his passions by the reason.
(3) Practical morality:
According to the Stoic knowledge is virtue. Only a person with knowledge can wisely discern between good and bad. A practical wisdom judges or determines right from wrong.
The life of a person without any emotion is the ideal life. A natural life is one lacking in emotion and sentience. It is the intellectual life and one from which welfare accrues.
Stoics established the cosmopolitanism of Cynics in its true form. Instead of contradicting social conventions, they tried to find the implicit truth. Being intellectual, all people are members of one universal society.
Ill this society there is no discrimination. The law of justice is the universal law of this kingdom. Thus the stoic theory of cosmopolitanism is a theory of world brotherhood and universal love.
Difference between Cynics and Stoics:
The foregoing description should have made clear the points of difference between the principles of the Stoics and the Cynics. The main disparities are:
(1) Cynics are spoilt naturalists and stoics the idealists:
Stoics gave to the moral dictum of the Cynics a novel meaning. The dictum was – Live according to Nature according to them, living according to Nature means spending an intellectual life.
It is only the universal wisdom which is manifested in social laws. Thus against the Cynics, the Stoics recognized a life concurring with society as a natural life.
(2) Cynics are egoistic individualists and Stoics, altruistic Universalists:
As has been pointed out earlier, in spite of their recognition of the theory of cosmopolitanism the Cynics were egoistic and individualistic. Stoics took this principle to mean true human love.
(3) Cynics are pessimistic and Stoics are optimists:
Cynics tended to stress the non-sentient aspect of life. They were pessimists, Stoics were optimists. They propounded a pure intellectual happy life.
Medieval Rationalism – Christian Asceticism:
As has been mentioned before, Christian Asceticism is the representative of the ethics of medieval rationalism and asceticism. Although Christ never degraded the normal pleasures of life he did present the ideal of charity, sacrifice, negation of sentience and bearing of pain.
Although the Christian opinion attaches more importance to internal purity than external cleanliness, taking a clue from Christ’s ideal, the medieval priests presented a rigorism which is enough to make one’s hair stand on end.
In his book, “Varieties of Religious Experience”, William James has described the activities of the rigorist Christian saints. Taking Christ’s dictum – Die to live – in a literal sense die saints adopted a life of dying by degrees.
Many priests wore clothes of hair and others lived hi quarters not allowing a comfortable elbow space many slept on beds of nails and still others went around with the cross nailed to their backs.
In this way, rigorism was based on the dualism of body and soul. According to this theory, physical pain develops the soul, a theory taken to such extremes that in many places Christians went about beating themselves with thongs.
G. Rattray Taylor in his book, has drawn a very life-like picture of these flagellants. Escapism was conceived from this dualism between body and soul because according to this theory, the soul was not in its real element on this earth.
The earth is merely a stage for preparation for setting out for the real world above. This is a foreign strand.
Evaluation of Christian asceticism:
This description of the rigorism of medieval Christian saints does not detract from the importance of the personal messages of Christ pertaining to love, sympathy, compassion, humility, forgiveness, charity, purity of heart, universal brotherhood etc.
But the medieval Christian Asceticism concentrated emphatically on one particular aspect of the teachings of Christ the result — an extremely one-sided and ugly rigorism.
In this way, rigorism may emancipate the life of an individual but it is extremely dangerous to attempt to bring it into the life of the society. The people of a society who become incapable of obtaining normal happiness from life, dry up their life-spring. Man is neither exclusively intellectual nor exclusively sentient.
Thus any moral theory excluding either of the two is partial and one-sided. In the world, wherever emphasis was laid on rigorism, repression, etc. in society in reaction to it animal passions, mal-practices, violence and abnormal behaviour registered an upward trend.
In India, reaction to Buddhist asceticism was manifested in extremely derelict and immoral schools of thought like Choli Marg. In Europe, in the middle period the Christian monasteries became centers of sin.
Actually, the moral theories based on an utter disregard of human psychology stand on pillars of sand. No matter how great, they can never become practical, can never yield happiness and satisfaction, and human life can never attain perfect adjustment between individual and society by relying on them and finally, no where can they gain much credence.
Modern Rationalism — Rigorism of Kant:
In the modern age, the best example of Rationalism is the Rigorism of Kant. According to Kant reason takes two forms – Speculative or Pure Reason, and (2) Practical Reason. Analyzing pure reason, Kant has determined and founded the limits of reason.