The dichotomy of control is a concept in Stoicism and is one of the keystone principles of virtue ethics. In virtue ethics, one of the most important things is that you are responsible for your actions. Understanding what you can control and what you cannot is key to living a good life.

The dichotomy of control starts by explaining that there are certain aspects of life that people have no control over, whether they are related or unrelated to our actions. Some things we have no power over include natural disasters, the weather, diseases, other people’s thoughts and feelings, and the laws of nature. This does not mean that these things do not influence us, but that no event or thought is in our control.

dichotomy of control

Dichotomy of control in short

People have a choice between two types of control, which arise from our different desires for security and happiness. One is over external things, which includes our possessions, as well as external events in general, such as what we say about our lives or what happens to us. This form of control employs logical reasoning that demonstrates we have no power over external things that do not depend on us or are beyond our reach.

The other form of control is internal and is about our own thoughts and actions. This form of control is referred to as virtue and it allows us to take responsibility for our decisions as well as the consequences that arise from them. This focus on internal actions ultimately means that Stoic teachers teach that true happiness lies within ourselves and so do not recommend seeking external things or circumstances to make us happy.

Our desires for security

The external control we have is about our possessions and our external environment. We can do what we like with them and nothing is beyond our reach. Taken from this, people desire that things go well with their lives meaning that they want to live well and have good conditions for living.

To achieve this, people should gain as many resources and strategies as possible or learn to make the most of the resources they have. Because they have no control over external things, people should not think that their lives are inferior or anyway less good than another.

Our desires for happiness

The other form of control is one that we choose to exercise internally and is therefore referred to as virtue. Virtue is about controlling our own actions and thoughts, which means that we control what we have or what happens to us. Virtue within our actions means that we take responsibility for the choices we make and the consequences that arise from them.

It is therefore about being happy with who we are and with what we have. Stoics say that the first step to virtue is to give up things that we do not need because they only bring negative emotions.

The dichotomy of control in practice

The dichotomy of control affects how Stoics live their lives and it is therefore important for them to be able to distinguish between internal and external events. Stoics try to take on this task by understanding that the things they cannot control are things they should not worry about.

Natural disasters, the weather, diseases and other people’s thoughts and feelings are all beyond our reach. Because there is nothing we can do about them, Stoics should not worry about them. However, if these situations arise and people can intervene to improve the situation, they should do so as it would be wrong to just sit back and do nothing.

Stoics ultimately recognize that their goal is to be happy and they should therefore focus their energy on controlling the aspects of life they can change, which include their own thoughts and actions. Stoics think that this is the best way to achieve happiness because it is within our power and it allows people to take responsibility for the choices they make.

Conclusion

The dichotomy of control is a concept in Stoicism and one of the keystone principles of virtue ethics. In virtue ethics, one of the most important things is that you are responsible for your actions. Understanding what you can control and what you cannot is key to living a good life.

The dichotomy of control starts by explaining that there are certain aspects of life that people have no control over, whether they are related or unrelated to our actions. Some things we have no power over include natural disasters, the weather, diseases, other people’s thoughts and feelings, and the laws of nature. This does not mean that these things do not influence us, but that no event or thought is in our control.

Dichotomy of control in short

People have a choice between two types of control, which arise from our different desires for security and happiness. One is over external things, which includes our possessions, as well as external events in general, such as what we say about our lives or what happens to us. This form of control employs logical reasoning that demonstrates we have no power over external things that do not depend on us or are beyond our reach.

The other form of control is internal and is about our own thoughts and actions. This form of control is referred to as virtue and it allows us to take responsibility for our decisions as well as the consequences that arise from them. This focus on internal actions ultimately means that Stoic teachers teach that true happiness lies within ourselves and so do not recommend seeking external things or circumstances to make us happy.

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