And for what function were people designed? To answer this question, the Stoics thought, we need only examine ourselves. On doing this, we will discover that we have certain instincts, as do all animals. We experience hunger; this is nature’s way of getting us to nourish ourselves. We also experience lust; this is nature’s way of getting us to reproduce. But we differ from other animals in one important respect: We have the ability to reason. From this we can conclude, Zeno would assert, that we were designed to be reasonable.
Such godlikeness, the Stoics will be the first to admit, is exceedingly rare. For the Stoics, however, the near impossibility of becoming a sage is not a problem. They talk about sages primarily so they will have a model to guide them in their practice of Stoicism. The sage is a target for them to aim at, even though they will probably fail to hit it. The sage, in other words, is to Stoicism as Buddha is to Buddhism.
Someone who is not tranquil—someone, that is, who is distracted by negative emotions such as anger or grief—might find it difficult to do what his reason tells him to do: His emotions will triumph over his intellect. This person might therefore become confused about what things are really good, consequently might fail to pursue them, and might, as a result, fail to attain virtue. Thus, for the Roman Stoics, the pursuit of virtue and the pursuit of tranquility are components of a virtuous circle—indeed, a doubly virtuous circle:
He therefore told his students that a Stoic school should be like a physician’s consulting room and that patients should leave feeling bad rather than feeling good,22 the idea being that any treatment likely to cure a patient is also likely to cause him discomfort.