Sage (sophos)

Sage (sophos)

A sage (Ancient Greek: σοφός, sophos), in classical philosophy, is someone who has attained the wisdom which a philosopher seeks. The first to make this distinction is Plato within the Symposium. While analyzing the concept of love, Plato concludes love is that which lacks the object it seeks. Therefore, the philosopher (Ancient Greek: φιλόσοφος, meaning lover of wisdom) does not have the wisdom sought, while the sage, on the other hand, does not love or seek wisdom, for it is already possessed. Plato then examines the two categories of persons who do not do philosophy:

  1. Gods and sages, because they are wise;
  2. senseless people, because they think they are wise.

The position of the philosopher is between these two groups. The philosopher is not wise, but possesses the self-awareness of lacking wisdom, and thus pursues it. This distinction between the philosopher and the sage played an important part in Stoicism.[1]

In Stoicism

The aim of Stoicism was to live a life of virtue, where "virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature."[3] As such, the sage is one who has attained such a state of being and whose life consequently becomes tranquil. The standard was so high that Stoics were unsure whether one had ever existed, if so, possibly only Socrates or Diogenes of Sinope had achieved such a state.[4]

Despite this, the Stoics regarded sages as the only virtuous and happy humans. All others are regarded as fools, morally vicious, slaves and unfortunate.[5][6] The Stoics did not admit any middle ground, as Cicero articulated the concept: "every non-sage is mad."[7]

The Stoics conceived of the sage as an individual beyond any possibility of harm from fate. The difficulties of life faced by other humans (illness, poverty, criticism, bad reputation, death, etc.) could not cause a sage any sorrow, and the circumstances of life sought by other people (good health, wealth, praise, fame, long life, etc.) were regarded by the Stoic sage as unnecessary externals. This indifference to externals was achieved by the sage through the correct knowledge of impressions, a core concept in Stoic epistemology.[8] Thus, the sage's happiness, eudaimonia, was based entirely on virtue.[9]

The difficulty of becoming a sage was often discussed in Stoicism. When Panaetius, the seventh and final scholarch of the Stoa, was asked by a young man whether a sage would fall in love, he responded by saying: "As to the wise man, we shall see. What concerns you and me, who are still a great distance from the wise man, is to ensure that we do not fall into a state of affairs which is disturbed, powerless, subservient to another and worthless to oneself."[10] Epictetus claims that only after the removal of any attachments to things in the external world could a Stoic truly possess friendship[11] - this state of indifference to externals would be sagacity.

See also


  1. ^ Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy?, pp. 39–45
  2. ^ Arius Didymus, Epitome of Stoic Ethics, trans. Arthur J. Pomeroy, p. 73 (John Strobaeus, Anthology, 2.7.11g)
  3. ^ Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy, p. 254
  4. ^ The Stoic Sage
  5. ^ Dirk Baltzly, Stoicism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  6. ^ Stoic Ethics. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  7. ^ John Sellers, Stoicism p. 37, University of California Press
  8. ^ R.J.Hankinson, Stoic Epistemology, in The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, Brad Inwood editor, p. 59
  9. ^ M.Andrew Holowchak, The Stoics, A Guide for the Perplexed, pp. 19–25
  10. ^ Authority and Agency in Stoicism | Gretchen Reydams-Schils -
  11. ^