Social Media and the Problem of Stoic Virtue

Douglas C. Bates
6 min readAug 2, 2022

Well, you know, that’s just like your virtue, man.

A few months ago Massimo Pigliucci announced that he was abandoning his Twitter and Facebook accounts, where he had tens of thousands of followers, because of the pernicious effects social media is having on society. He declared that “it was the virtuous thing to do.”

This situation gives insight into the problem of the Stoic conception of virtue: It’s delusional.

One reason it is delusional is because people cannot agree on what is virtuous. If it were indeed virtuous to abandon social media, why is it that so many other Stoics — so many prominent Stoics — continue to participate in social media? Presumably, they think that participating in social media is virtuous. How can something be virtuous for, say, Ryan Holiday, but be vicious for Massimo Pigliucci?

Pigliucci gives his reasons for abandoning social media. Those reasons may or may not be good reasons, but ultimately the argument boils down to what Pigliucci thinks virtue is. If virtue is for him something different from what it is for others, how can one claim to know what is virtuous?

If one cannot give a good claim to being able to know what is virtuous, then how can one go on to claim that virtue is the only good? It’s all built on sand. One can say the Stoics have reasons for their claim that virtue is the only good, but when one gets to the bottom of the matter, it all rests on circular reasoning and assumptions. Here’s a prime example of this, from book III of Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (On the Ends of Good and Evil):

The essential principle not merely of the system of philosophy I am discussing but also of our life and destinies is, that we should believe Moral Worth to be the only good. This principle might be amplified and elaborated in the rhetorical manner, with great length and fullness and with all the resources of choice diction and impressive argument; but for my own part I like the concise and pointed ‘consequences’ of the Stoics.

They put their arguments in the following syllogistic form: Whatever is good is praiseworthy; but whatever is praiseworthy is morally honourable: therefore that which is good is morally honourable. Does this seem to you a valid…

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Douglas C. Bates

Ancient Greek philosophies of life. http://www.pyrrhonism.org Author of “Pyrrho’s Way: The Ancient Greek Version of Buddhism.”