On (Stoic) courtesy vs (Christian) care

Edwin Judge says that truly caring about somebody means sharing in their problems.



Edwin Judge says that truly caring about somebody means sharing in their problems.


The Stoics appealed to people in antiquity as having things in common with the Pauline communities, I would have thought – so much so that in later antiquity they invented the correspondence between Paul and Seneca, the great Stoic. They thought they should have compared notes. There have been many, many studies of whether they were the same, and the one that seizes my mind most simply is this: that the counterpart in the classical, i.e., Stoic ethical thought to what I’m calling care, or love, is courtesy.

Courtesy – that’s a modern word – but what is meant by courtesy is the polite, moderate awareness of other people. But it is not care, because care is when you actually share in the problem of the other person. We say to each other frequently, you don’t really care, and we value enormously what we mean by care. And we know what it is – not cold-hearted courtesy. Of course we’re polite with each other, and we’re polite particularly to the vulnerable and the weak; we don’t want to be seen to humiliate them, it would be degrading for us – this is a very classical point of view.

And so courtesy is a self-protective relationship with other people, where you treat them politely but you sustain your own detachment by courtesy. When we say you don’t really care, we mean you’re just pretending to worry about my problem, you’re not really worried. That’s why we say, you don’t really care. So care for us means actually bearing the cost – when you actually do something about the person you allegedly care for. And it is very different in spirit from courtesy. This is the real difference between the Stoic and the Christian bond between one person and another. In the Christian case, it is commitment to their problem, to share it. In the other case, it is recognition that there’s a difficulty; you offer politeness, but that protects you from any grand involvement.