Slave stealing parable

Slave stealing parable 2
A rendition (Ѻ) of the famous 270BC "slave stealing parable", attributed to Zeno of Citium, or "determinism defense" argument, according to which the wrongful slave, thief, or murder, pleads for forgiveness, leniency, or clemency, on the reasoning or logic that in a deterministic universe, his actions were carried out by forces beyond his control (see: external force), hence he should be absolved of the said crimes and not be punished. [4]
In hmolscience, slave stealing parable (TR:12), “stealing slave anecdote” or “determinism defense argument”, refers to the parable, cited by Diogenes Laertius, about how one day, in circa 270BC, Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium caught his slave stealing and proceeded to beat him for his actions, amid which the slave decried "but it was fate that made me steal", to which Zeno retorted "and me to beat you for it". The anecdote tends to be a discussion starting point in dialogues on absence of free will, determinism, punishment, guilt, and justice, individual action (or the individuality problem), in a fully deterministic universe.

Zeno’s slave
In 270BC, Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium, who did not believe in slavery, but nevertheless had a slave, is reported to have caught his slave stealing and set about giving him a beating for punishment. The incident is reported by Diogenes Laertius, as follows: (Ѻ)

“Zeno, they say, was whipping a slave for stealing. When the latter said, ‘It was decreed by fate for me to steal’, Zeno replied, “And to be beaten’.”

In short, according to another translation, knowing Zeno’s creed, the slave is reported to have said: [1]

“But you should not punish me for stealing. The destiny of the ages, over which I have no control, has determined that I should steal.”

To which Zeno is supposed to have answered:

“The destiny of the ages, over which I have no control either, has also determined that I should beat you for it.”

Another variant of the parable is as follows: (Ѻ)

“Long, long ago, before we were governed by Christian morality, the Eleatic Zeno, preached fatalism, which is very much like determinism. One day he caught his slave stealing and thrashed him for it. Eimasto moi klephai ("It was destined that I steal from you”), said the slave, “and also to be trashed” was the laconic answer of Zeno.

Zeno's slave stealing parable is what America physical organic chemist George Scott calls physical determinism; he cites this anecdote of Zeno as the best known ancient deterministic system of philosophy. [2]

determinism argument (cartoon)
A “determinism argument”, aka predestination, plead cartoon (Ѻ) by Roy Delgado.
Determinism plea
In 2012, English anti-materialism philosopher Edward Ockham gives the following rendition of the determinism argument:For more than 200 years, materialists have promised that science will eventually explain everything in terms of physics and chemistry. Believers are sustained by the faith that scientific discoveries will justify their beliefs.

“Sometimes a crude materialism of this sort is used to justify malicious actions. "OK I lied to you, but I am only a collection of atoms, and concepts like good and evil and being 'wrong' [or 'right'] are not appropriate to collections of atoms. Therefore what I did was not wrong". Which reminds of the story (I can't remember where I read it), of the man who was about to be executed for murder the next day, and pleaded to the king for clemency. "I could not help my actions, I was determined by my nature and by the stars to commit these evil deed, it was all predestined". To which the king replied "I forgive you. I also forgive the man who is to execute you tomorrow".”

Some of this argument, by Ockham, is a combination of the determinism argument and the more recent "my atoms made me do it" objection (see: physicochemical morality puzzles).

American freedom theory philosopher Orlando Patterson (1991) argues that Zeno, like Plato, was not bothered with the issue of how to reconcile laudable dignity with complete determinism, whereas Chrysippus, comparatively, was preoccupied with it; an issue that Patterson distinguishes as “inner freedom”, the power to act independently, as contrasted with “inner slavery”, which is the absence of such power; which he also distinguishes between “outward slavery”, which he defines as external subordination. [4]

In modern terms, unnatural process are by definition "exergonic" which means that the absorb energy from the surroundings in order to make them work and processes of this, by classification, are non-spontaneous, which means they won't go on their own, but have to be driven into existence via coupling; in short, unnatural processes tend to be destroyed, short-lived (short reaction extent), or "trashed" as Zeno put it, in the course of the reactions or destines of the universe, because they are actions that move upwards on the potential energy scale, and hence are inherently and increasingly unstable.

This, of course, spills into the Goethean revolution, according to which the "blame" or "guilt" is not to be assigned to the to the person per se (or weight of soul in religio-mythology speak), but rather, correctly, in the human chemical thermodynamics perspective, as Goethe saw things in 1796 (see: Goethe timeline), to the external forces (predominately) and internal forces (marginally), the judgment decided by evolved weighted consensus of the system, the morality of which changes per era and population density size

The following are related quotes:

“Those who have affirmed that the soul is distinguished from the body, is immaterial, draws its ideas from its own peculiar source, acts by its own energies, without the aid of any exterior object, have, by a consequence of their own system, enfranchised [liberated] it from those physical laws according to which all beings of which we have a knowledge are obliged to act. They have believed that the soul is mistress of its own conduct, is able to regulate its own peculiar operations, has the faculty to determine its will by its own natural energy; in a word, they have pretended that man is a free agent.”
Baron d’Holbach (c.1770), “A Defense of Determinism” (Ѻ)

“For how stands the fact? That, next to the greatness of these cosmic forces, the quality which most forcibly strikes everyone who does not avert his eyes from it is their perfect and absolute recklessness. They go straight to their end without regarding what or whom they crush on the road. Optimists, in their attempts to prove that ‘whatever is, is right,’ are obliged to maintain, not that nature ever turns one step from her path to avoid trampling us into destruction, but that it would be very unreasonable in us to expect that she should. Pope's ‘Shall gravitation cease when you go by?’ may be a just rebuke to anyone who should be so silly as to expect common human morality from nature. But if the question were between two men, instead of between a man and a natural phenomenon, that triumphant apostrophe would be thought a rare piece of impudence. A man who should persist in hurling stones or firing cannon when another man 'goes by,' and, having killed him, should urge a similar plea in exculpation, would very deservedly be found guilty of murder. In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another are nature's every-day performances.”
John Mill (1852), “Essay on Nature” [7]

“If neuronal events in the brain determine behavior, irrespective of whether they are conscious or unconscious, it is hard to find room for free will. But if free will does not exist, there can be no responsibility, and the structure of human societies must be revised.”
Christian de Duve (1995), Vital Dust [6]

“If the soul is out of a job, well some people, obviously, would think that’s terrible, but the worst thing we could find out is that we don’t have souls [see: soulless bag of chemicals]. But, it could also be a wonderful thing. Our taste for justice is a useful illusion.”
Joshua Greene (2013), Moral Tribes [5]

See also
● Killing spree paradox | | Physicochemical morality puzzles
● Nichols-Knobe determinism study [5]

1. Hallie, P.O. (1972). “Zeno of Citium”, in: The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (editor: Paul Edwards), 8, 368. MacMillan and the Free Press.
2. Scott, George P. (1985). Atoms of the Living Flame: an Odyssey into Ethics and the Physical Chemistry of Free Will (pg. 11). University Press of America.
3. Ockham, Edward. (2012). “The Human Molecule”, Beyond Necessity: Philosophy, Medieval Logic and the London Plumbing Crisis,, May 13.
4. (a) Patterson, Orlando. (1991). Freedom in the Making of Western Culture (pg. 193). Basic Books.
(b) Orlando Patterson – Wikipedia.
(c) Chrysippus – Wikipedia.
5. Greene, Joshua. (2013). Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them (useful illusion, pg. #; Nichols-Knobe determinism study, pg. 274). Penguin.
6. (a) de Duve, Christian. (1995). Vital Dust. Basic Books.
(b) Cashmore, Antony. (2010). “The Lucretian Swerve: the Biological Basis of Human Behavior and the Criminal Justice System” (Ѻ), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(10):4499-4504.
7. (a) Mill, John S. (c.1852). “Nature”, in: Three Essays on Religion (pgs. 3-68; Pope, pg. 28). Longmans, Green & Co., 1885.
(b) Stewart, Balfour and Tait, Peter G. (1875). The Unseen Universe: or Physical Speculations on a Future State (pg. 195). Macmillan.

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