The joy of torture: Hellenistic and Indian philosophy on the doctrine that the sage is always happy even if tortured

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Michael Stocker


Stoicism, India

Subject Categories



Prominent in Hellenistic philosophy is the debate over whether the sage is really always happy even if tortured. This doctrine that the tortured sage is happy is important because the Hellenistic philosophers used this case to debate the power of moral virtue in a person's life. Modern pain research shows that it is indeed possible to be happy while being tortured because pain is not purely a sensory phenomenon. Based on this modern research, I investigate the positions of Epicurus, the Cynics, the Aristotelians, the Neoplatonists, the Skeptics and the Stoics concerning the sage's complete happiness even if tortured. I show that the Stoics' position agrees with modern pain research and the Stoics are right that the tortured sage could still be happy.

This does not show that the Stoic sage is always happy, though. While the common objection to Stoicism, that the Stoic sage is unemotional, is a misinterpretation of Stoic ethics, nevertheless Stoic philosophy cannot prove that the sage is always happy. For the Stoics claim that the sage is happy because of her oneness with God, but the Stoics are unable to demonstrate how a sage realizes this oneness and why this oneness makes a sage happy.

Indian philosophy, through Pyrrho's visit to India, influenced Greek philosophy about the doctrine of the tortured sage who is indifferent to pain. Furthermore, Indian philosophy is able to modify Stoic philosophy so that we can show how the sage is always happy. For through the Indian technique of meditation a person can realize her oneness with God and experience deep joy and happiness. Modified by Indian philosophy with its technique of meditation, Stoic philosophy is right that the sage is always happy even if tortured.

Stoic philosophy has two more contributions to our ethical concerns. First, Stoic ethics is a very interesting synthesis of impartialism and partialism. Second, the Stoics' understanding of the emotions and anger is better than our current understanding.


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