Roman Calendar

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Distress and Delight

     An ancient summary of "distress" and "delight" found in Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion:
     "Distress is a contraction of the psyche which is disobedient to reason, and its cause is a fresh believing that some evil is present toward which it is appropriate to be contracted [systole]. Delight is an elevation of the psyche which is disobedient to reason, and its cause is a fresh believing that some good is present towards which it is appropriate to be elevated [eparsis]."

Monday, July 29, 2013

More on the notion of "assent"

      From Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion: "One particularly important class of assents is those called hormai, impulses or action tendencies. From a psychological and moral perspective what matters about action is the mental event that initiates it, and this event can be described as a special form of assent; that is, assent to a proposition of a particular 'impulsory' kind."

      "A further Stoic definition of impulse makes it 'a motion of psyche toward something,' namely, toward the predicate contained in the endorsed proposition."

     "Emotions are defined by Zeno as 'excessive impulses,' that is, as action tendencies of a certain powerful kind. Since every impulse involves assenting to some impulsory impression, the definition implies that emotions, too, depend on our formulating and ratifying certain propositions about ourselves and our surroundings."

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Concept of "Assent"

The Concept of "Assent"

     In Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion, she addresses the essential concept of "assenting" to our impressions:
     "An impression is what one might call a mere thought, a linguistically formulable notion that one entertains without necessarily being committed to it. What converts thought into belief is a further mental event which is termed variously 'assent' (sunkatathesis), 'judgment' (krisis), or 'forming an opinion' (doxazein). Assent is defined in intentional terms: it is that event in which one either accepts an impression as true or rejects it as false. That assent also has a physical description comes across most clearly in those texts which treat the conditioning factors for assent, whether or not it occurs in any given instance. For those conditioning factors are described both in intentional terms, e.g. as the extend to which the person recognizes valid inferences, and in physical terms as a certain level of tension in the mind material. Thus several sources claim that the assent in the person of perfect understanding [the sage] is characterized by 'strength' or 'good tension,' while the less reliable assents of ordinary persons are 'weak.' The ordinary mind is, as it were, a pushover, yielding easily to impressions which the wise person would resist."

     It is of particular importance to note that Stoicism holds that (other than a brief reflexive reaction to incoming impressions that is quickly mastered in reasonable beings) we are in control of whether or not we assent to our impressions. The world tries to impress us, to act upon our minds in various ways. The Stoic knows that nothing can act upon his or her mind without his or her assent.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A quick note about "Stoicism and Emotion"

     I'm not going to do a full post today, because I am at a conference and quite busy, but I did my daily Stoic reading, and I'd like to say that I am impressed by the way Margaret R. Graver's discussion of Stoic thought follows Stoic thought itself. For example, the ancient Stoics began with physics, proceeded through logic, and ended with ethics. Though it is the ethics that demand our attention, Graver begins with some of the relevant physics, both modern and as the ancients understood the issues.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Judgements and Apatheia continued

     Continued: "The analysis of emotions and emotional behaviors in terms of judgments implies a strong position on moral responsibility. In this ethical system, the making of any judgment goes hand in hand with responsibility: people are held accountable for what they do insofar as they are reasoning beings, ones that possess concepts, make judgments, and act on the basis of linguistically formulable reasons. Not every creature is capable of acting responsibly: subrational animals, very young children, and the mentally impaired are not, and accordingly these are not accountable for the feelings they have either. But the full-scale affective responses of mature, unimpaired human beings are 'up to us' in exactly the same way as our actions are up to us: we do have reasons for them, even if we are not always fully aware of what those reasons are."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Judgments and Apatheia

     Margaret R. Graver in Stoicism and Emotion on "judgments:" "Judgments, as such, are either true or false. If it should turn out that a particular type of response always implies a false judgment, then that is a response we should seek to eliminate, not because we wish to be unresponsive but because we wish to avoid believing what is false. And the Stoics' chief claim about emotions, properly so called, is that they do imply false judgments . . . depend on ways of seeing the world that are demonstrably mistaken. One cannot comprehend the Stoics' position, let alone respond adequately to it, until one engages fully with their reasons for asserting this. An informative study of Stoic psychology is thus required to consider certain points in Stoic ethics as well. Above all, we need to give careful attention to the theory of value, which states the criteria by which objects are to be considered beneficial or harmful. Only then can we follow the reasoning by which impassivity (apatheia) becomes a psychological norm."

Monday, July 15, 2013

Not "pathai" but "eupatheiai"

      In Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion, the word pathē is translated as "emotion," since this is the closest English concept to what the Stoics describe, but another traditional translation (as she notes) would be "passion." In the etymological sense, pathē in Greek and passiō in Latin are closely related, meaning "experience," "being acted upon by something outside." When someone shoves you, that is "passion" in the literal sense - you are being acted upon, moved by something other than your own will. Hence the negative connotations of pathē in Stoic thought - being moved by a "passion," an emotion, is allowing yourself to be moved and buffeted about by external forces, to surrender control of yourself. Some of what we might term "emotions," however, are not termed pathai but rather eupatheiai - "affective responses which the Stoic theory accepts as entirely rational and good," including at the very least "awe and reverence, certain forms of joy and gladness, certain particular kinds of love and friendship, and some powerful types of longing or wishing." In other words, not all passions are bad. A longing for virtue, a desire to act in accord with nature, a sense of duty to friends and loved ones, respect and reverence . . . these can all be in accord with nature and will, and can be "good" emotions. This is because "emotions are defined by their propositional content; i.e., . . . every instance of emotion is in its very essence a judgment concerning some present or potential state of affairs."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What are the natural feelings of humans?

     A passage from the introduction to Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion: "The founders of the Stoic school did not set out to suppress or deny our natural feelings; rather, it was their endeavor, in psychology as in ethics, to determine what the natural feelings of humans really are. With the emotions we most often experience they were certainly dissatisfied; their aim, however, was not to eliminate feelings as such from human life, but to understand what sorts of affective responses a person would have who was free of false belief."

     I find that this is the number one misconception of Stoicism - the popular misunderstanding is that we seek to live devoid of emotion. In truth, I find Stoicism to be a philosophy of limitless joy and happiness, for I am free of the illusion that my happiness is dependent upon anyone or anything but myself. I am not the sage, the sapiens of perfect knowledge and wisdom who in all things has correct judgment. I know of no perfect Stoic sages - they are as rare as fully realized buddhas. But I am on the path. And that is enough for me.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Spirit - Stoic Terminology

     Needleman and Piazza use the words "Spirit" or "Divine Spirit" to translate the Greek daimon in Marcus Aurelius. As they note, "This is the origin of the English word 'demon,' but here it does not have a purely negative association. For the Greeks, a daimon is a lower class of deity, which could enter (or possess) a person. The most famous daimon of Greek philosophy is that of Socrates. In the Apology, Socrates says that his daimon is a sort of inner guide, which tells him only when he is not doing what he ought to. For the Stoics, it also serves as an internal guide, to whom we refuse to listen at our peril. In the Symposium, Plato describes Eros, the god of love, as a daimon because he is an intermediary between humans and gods. The Christian concept of spirit (especially the Holy Spirit) comes from a different Greek term, pneuma, which is associated with breath."

Friday, July 12, 2013

Soul - Stoic Terminology

     Needleman and Piazza translate Marcus Aurelius' psyche as "soul," commenting "In Greek thought, the psuchē [sic] is generally thought to be what animates all living creatures ('animate' is from Latin, meaning 'things which have an anima, or soul'). This higher part is all that remains of our essential humanity."

Coming Soon: Thoughts on Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion . . .

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Reason - Stoic Terminology

     In Marcus Aurelius (and other Stoic authors in Greek), the word logos is of prime importance. Needleman and Piazza translate this word as "Reason," and explain, "While logos can mean reason, cause, discourse, or conversation, in the Meditations it often refers to the principle which orders all things in the COSMOS [q.v.], and will sometimes be translated with a capital 'R.' In the context of philosophical discourse, it is used to signify both the form and the content of what is being said. In an individual, reason is what INTELLIGENCE [q.v.] uses in order to make a right decision."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Principle (Dogma) - Stoic Terminology

     The Greek word dogma, which Needleman and Piazza translate as "principle," "guiding-principle," "life-principle," or "rules of living" rather than using the English loanword "dogma," has a clearly different connotation in the Greek of Marcus Aurelius from that in modern English. They comment: "For the Greeks (and many Christians) however, [dogma] is not a rigid law to be accepted and followed blindly. Rather, a dogma is a concept which is meant to be meditated upon and realized or actualized in one's life, the value of which is learned through experience and adherence."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Nature - Stoic Terminology

     Needleman and Piazza use the English word "nature" where Marcus Aurelius uses the Greek phusis (and where, undoubtedly, Stoic authors in Latin would have used natura). They note that the multiple senses of the English word can mislead us: "Nature as in 'the beauty of nature,' meaning the outdoors, and nature as in 'it is his nature to do that' or 'he's a natural.' The former notion gets its name from being a product of the latter, which also refers to the innermost being of a thing, or 'what it is,' and also its function. Nature with a capital N is the force behind all things that grow, and this is apparent from the origin of the Greek verb phuein, which means 'to grow.' It is also referred to by Marcus as Universal Nature."

Monday, July 8, 2013

Leisure - Stoic Terminology

     It seems appropriate, as I return from a long hiatus, that the next Stoic term for discussion is "leisure," translating the Greek scholē. Needleman and Piazza comment: "This is the source of the English word 'school,' and so we must assume it is not the same as idleness. On the contrary, for the Greek and Roman philosophers, it is idleness which motivates people to be busybodies and workaholics. Leisure, on the other hand, is the environment and state of mind in which one is relatively free from manual labor and concerns of survival, which only then allows time for study and meditation."

Return from Hiatus

 . . . aaaaand we're back!