Tabula Rasa

Source: John Sellars, Stoicism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006) 76-77.

“In the immediately preceding text Epictetus acknowledges that we do not have innate ideas of triangles or other things that we learn via experience, but here he seemingly goes on to imply that we have innate ideas concerning moral notions…[W]e also have other evidence to suggest that the Stoics thought that individuals would naturally tend towards a virtuous life and that our all too common deviations from virtue are the product either of external influences leading us astray or of faulty reasoning.”

Tabula rasa! Stoicism is consistent with Paul in the sense that it says humans are born with an innate moral code. And Paul says in Romans 2:15, “They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them” (NRSV).

But Paul diverges from the Stoics in his view on human nature. According to the quote from Sellars, the Stoics maintained that humans were born good but became bad through environmental factors or faulty reasoning. I’m curious about where they believe evil came from, if everyone was born good, but that’s a problem Christians have too: how did Adam and Eve sin, when God created them good? But, back to our topic, Paul differs from the Stoics in that he continually treats “the flesh” as sinful (Romans 6-8).

Augustine said that humans are actually born corrupt, which we can see by the selfishness of babies.

If humans are born with an innate moral code, why do we need to be taught virtue? Is it for reinforcement, or discipline for our straying natures?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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