Roman Calendar

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Laughing Stoic (IO SATURNALIA!)

     In honor of the beginning of Saturnalia today, I thought I would post a link to an article entitled "The Laughing Stoic". This article discusses the Stoic embrace of positive emotions such as joy and happiness, often overlooked by those who mistakenly think that Stoicism rejects all emotion!

Enjoy the article! IO SATURNALIA!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Stoicism's "Brotherhood of Man" (from "Stoicism and Emotion")

     One of the concepts in Stoicism that receives less attention than perhaps it ought in modern times is the concept of the "brotherhood of man" - the essential obligation of all human beings to all other human beings, simply by virtue of being human. Yes, human beings, lacking perfect wisdom, will quarrel and even go to war with one another, yet we are all human, and all have a duty to treat one another as fellow human beings. Here is Margaret R. Graver's take on this from Stoicism and Emotion:

"[E]very person has an obligation to consider the interests of others in determining how to act. In theory, that obligation should extend not only to others in existing social systems (the polis within which one is born) but also to every human being, since all rational beings are in fact united in a single cosmic community under the rule of Zeus. Progress in ethical understanding is in large part a matter of increasing one's awareness of the extent of this obligation. "Every human being should regard every other as akin just because they are human," writes Cicero." Another fragment by Hierocles speaks of a sense of kinship (again, oikeiosis) as something that can be intensified by conscious effort. Hierocles thinks of the individual as surrounded by concentric circles representing successively the self, the nuclear family, the extended family, the neighborhood, city, country, and finally the whole human race. It is a mark of character, he says, "to somehow pull the circles toward the center in one's proper treatment of each person, deliberately transferring those in the outer circles to the inner ones. As one comes to think of the persons in the wider circle as truly belonging to oneself, one will be increasingly motivated to behave toward them in the way the wise person would do."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 176-177). Kindle Edition.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

On Human Relationships (from "Stoicism and Emotion")

     On dies Saturni (Saturday), a.d. XII Kalendas Ianuarias (the 21st of December), I, Gaius Tullius Valerianus Germanicus, shall be marrying Appia Gratia Avita, my dearest love, who is also a practicing Stoic. Many people, who labor under the misconception that Stoicism is somehow the repression of emotion, seem surprised about the idea of Stoics getting married. Can a Stoic be married? How can a Stoic fall in love? But social contracts, including marriage, were and are highly valued by Stoics. Here are some thoughts from Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion:

     "The fact that nearly all humans live together in organized groups is not just a result of our contingent need for mutual assistance. It is also an expression of a deep-seated preference which is characteristic of our species. The Stobaean source indicates that marriage and political action are in accordance with the nature of humans as creatures who are not only rational but also communal (koinonikos) and gregarious (philallelos). The treatise of Hierocles supports a similar assertion from the ease with which social ties are formed.

But we are the kind of animal that has a herd instinct and a need for one another. This is why we live in cities. For every person without exception is part of some polis. In addition, we form friendships easily. For by sharing a meal or sitting together in the theater. . .'

     Unfortunately the papyrus tails off in mid-sentence, but it is clear enough what the argument must have been: if we can feel connected to another person from so slight an acquaintance as sitting next to one another at a performance, we must indeed be companionable beings."

      Appia Gratia Avita and I are indeed "companionable beings," and are looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together in a companionable relationship. Feliciter!

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (p. 176). Kindle Edition.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Confusing Pain with Evil (Stoicism and Emotion)

On the matter of confusing pain with evil (from Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion):

This alternative (and philosophically preferable) explanation is expressed in the passage just quoted, in connection with the confusion between pain and the destruction of our nature. Pain, says Cicero, is thought to be an evil both because of its sharpness and because it is seen to accompany (videtur sequi) destructions of our nature; i.e., instances of harm to our natural constitution." Being injured is not at all the same thing as being in pain, yet because pain does regularly accompany injury, it is easy for the undeveloped mind to assume that it is the pain itself that is to be avoided. Hence the difficulty of persuading a child to accept some necessary but painful medical treatment. With greater experience of the world, the child may come to realize that there are two object types to be kept straight, those which cause pain and those which harm the body, and to regard these things in different ways. Until then, the frequency with which these co-occur will be misleading. Likewise pleasure comes to be understood as a distinct object type from that which promotes health, and good or bad reputation as distinct from reputable or disreputable conduct. Even life itself-that is, the mere continuance of one's existence as an animate organism-is to be distinguished from a proper object, the preservation of one's natural state or (as we might say it) of one's wholeness as a person. A mature person does not necessarily believe that death is to be avoided at all costs.

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 160-161). Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Objects Mistakenly Regarded As Good or Evil (from "Stoicism and Emotion")

     From Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion, in which the author explores Cicero's explanations of how we come to regard objects (mistakenly) as good or evil:

     " Cicero names six objects which people mistakenly regard as goods and evils: pleasure and pain, death and life, honor and disrepute. Each of these is closely associated with an object for which we have some natural affinity or disaffinity: on the positive side health, the preservation of one's natural state, and moral excellence; on the negative side bodily harm, the dissolution of one's nature, and (by implication) moral turpitude. Our errors arise from our tendency to confuse objects in the first group with the corresponding objects in the second group. We fail to make distinctions between things that are in fact distinct.

     But why should we make such mistakes? Cicero twice speaks of the confusion in terms of a resemblance between one thing and another. Pleasure, he says, 'has something similar' to what is good by nature and so is 'an imitator of the good.' Glory, also, is said to resemble moral excellence (honestas). However, the language of resemblance is not entirely transparent. Ordinarily we think of resemblance as a sharing of properties: to perceive a resemblance is to observe the same properties in two distinct objects, each of which is already fully conceptualized. That is not quite what is happening in this case, where the relevant concepts are still in the process of formation. Here as in Calcidius, the salient epistemic challenge must be that of sorting out experiences which regularly occur together. The difficulty that confronts the developing mind is that of recognizing that the objects in question are in fact different, making distinctions it has not previously made, so as to form the boundaries of its concepts correctly."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (p. 160). Kindle Edition.

Monday, December 9, 2013

"Habitudes of the Wise" (from Stoicism and Emotion)

From Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion:

Habitudes of the wise

     "Finally we return to the attributes belonging to the normative human life and to the group of conditions called epitedeumata, that is, `habitudes' or `pursuits.' Examples of these appear in another portion of the Stobaean account: Fondness for music (philomousia), fondness for literature (philogrammatia), fondness for horses (philippia), fondness for hunting with dogs (philokunegia), and, in general, the things that are said to be encyclical skills are called by Stoics `habitudes' but are not said to be forms of knowledge; rather, they are classed among the worthwhile conditions. Accordingly, they say that only the wise person is fond of music and fond of literature, and analogously with the others. And they give an outline account of the `habitude' as follows: `a road that leads toward what is in accordance with virtue through a skill or through part of a skill.'

     What strikes the eye immediately is the similarity of nomenclature between the examples of `habitudes' philomousia, philogrammatia, philippia, philokunegia-and the `sicknesses' considered earlier: philarguria, philogu- nia, and so on. Why should `fondness for horses' have a different moral standing from `fondness for birds'? There would be no reason at all, if it were not that the habitudes are defined quite differently from the sicknesses. Sicknesses and infirmities have as part of their definition a mistake about the value of externals: they take some object to be choiceworthy that is in fact not choiceworthy. A habitude does not involve any such mistake; nor could it, since habitudes belong to the inerrant wise. Thus while a nonwise person might well be fond of dogs or literature in an ordinary way, thinking of a day of hunting, or of reading Euripides, as a genuine good, that would not be the sort of fondness that counts as a habitude.29 To be a habitude, one's engagement with the preferred object must be `a road that leads toward what is in accordance with virtue through a skill or through part of a skill.'

`     To understand this definition, it is helpful to know that the word hodos, `road,' also means method': a sensible means of achieving some end. Also, we have a definition of `skill' as `a system of accurate cognitions trained together toward some good end.' Accurate cognitions, also called katalepseis or `grasps,' are instances of reliable judgment. Thus we are again dealing with the area of belief, though these beliefs are not the precipitate and unstable opinions (doxai) of the nonwise but the wise person's fully justified beliefs, also describable as items of knowledge. A habitude should therefore be the kind of item that can work together with a set of interrelated beliefs to guide one's actions in one direction rather than another. I suggest, then, that a habitude must itself take the form of a belief (in this case a reliable `grasp') with specific content. Logically it should be related in content to the katalepseis comprised by the skill, without being one of them. That is, it should not just register some reliable bit of information concerning, for instance, horses but should direct a person's actions in that direction. This would be the case if the content grasped included something about the appropriateness in one's own case of preferring activities related to horses where circumstances permit and where no other more pressing obligation stands in the way.

     Thus a habitude is indeed a road or method, in that it guides a person toward actions in accordance with virtue. It should be remembered, though, that in the Stoic system all the actions of a wise agent are necessarily in accordance with virtue. We cannot think, then, that the habitude leads toward what is in accordance with virtue by directing one away from what is in accordance with vice: the wise person would not need such direction. Rather a habitude must offer a principle of selection among a number of possibilities for virtuous action. It must give the justification for devoting one's time to literature rather than public service, or sports rather than music.

     We are told that a habitude is not a form of knowledge but rather a worthwhile condition.' The significance of this assertion is that as worthwhile conditions, the habitudes do not have to characterize all wise persons equally. Knowledge in Stoicism is a property of a person's overall epistemic makeup, and it is a diathesis: it is present whenever someone holds all beliefs in a fully systematic way, as all the wise do. The virtues are forms of knowledge, and as such they interentail, so that every wise person possesses all the same virtues. However, the Stoics did not assert that every wise person has the same experience or knows exactly the same things. There is room for individuality in the account of skills, for while the virtues (in the sense that applies here) are also skills, not every skill is also a virtue. Skills are concerned with particular areas of experience: they are defined by specific good aims rather than by more general epistemic characteristics such as internal consistency or stability. It is quite possible, then, that each wise person may differ from all others in the specific skills that he or she possesses. Likewise, each may have his or her own habitudes.

     The habitude, then, is a characteristic of the wise person as an individual different from others who are also wise. Related in content to her individual skills, it gives her activities a specific focus which is no more virtuous than many alternative possibilities, but which is nonetheless legitimately favored by her. For instance, being `fond of music' would mean that she believes-with full justification-that it is appropriate for her to spend many hours a day practicing, studying, or listening to music. Such an appreciation is not in itself a virtue, and it is not by any means necessary for virtue that a person have either that appreciation or any specific appreciation at all. One wise person may be fond of music but not of dogs, while another, equally wise, devotes herself to horses, or to a variety of pursuits. Such preferences are not what it is to be wise; rather, they are personality traits of the wise, products of their varied experience."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (p. 145-147). Kindle Edition.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Today's Stoic Reading - "Reflections about Stoic Ethics at Work"

     My Stoic reading for today was an article in "The Stoic Philosopher: A Quarterly EJournal Published by the Marcus Aurelius School of the College of Stoic Philosophers." The article was entitled "Some Reflections about Stoic Ethics at Work." The title could potentially be misleading, by "at work," the author did not mean "in practice" (since every Stoic should be a practical rather than merely theoretical philosopher), but rather "in the workplace." Here is the link to the article by Manolo Trueba:

     I found the article very interesting, especially in its emphasis on the Stoic as a part of multiple communities, including a work community. I tend to find that modern Stoics spend much more time thinking about themselves, their own emotional states, their own practice, and so forth, and not as much time thinking about this communal aspect of philosophical living. I think it's definitely worth thinking about!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Involuntary Emotions? (from Stoicism and Emotion)

     We find in Seneca the notion that there might be involuntary pre-emotional reactions that are somewhat extended in time, yet still not considered true emotions or passions by Seneca. How does this square with the teachings of Stoicism as a whole? Is Seneca on his own here? I find it somewhat difficult to reconcile. This is the description from Margaret Graver's Stoicism and Emotion:

"Pursuing this theme, Seneca gives considerable scope and elaboration to `natural' affect. In the Consolation to Marcia, for instance, he admits that missing a family member is natural not only in bereavement but even in separation and says that it is "necessary" that there be "a biting and a contraction of even the firmest minds." Animals utter loud cries for a day or two over their missing young and search about, but only human beings grieve consciously, willfully, and at length. This suggests that in humans, too, noisy weeping and other such reactions might continue for a period of days and still be excused as mere preliminaries to emotion. Even more remarkable is a discussion of the wise person's tears in Moral Epistle 99. The wise person weeps both involuntarily, as at a funeral with sobs shaking his whole body, and voluntarily, when remembering the loved one's kind deeds and cheerful companionship. The involuntary tears are forced out by a certain `requirement of nature' (naturalis necessitas) and are an indication of `humanness' (humanitas). The other, voluntary tears can only be eupathic; they have some admixture of joy and are not uncontrollable. This is the only text known to me in which a eupathic response gives rise to weeping."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (p. 101). Kindle Edition.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Stoic Week Evening Text for Reflection - Day 7

Evening Text for Reflection:


'I travel along Nature's Way until the day arrives for me to fall down and take my rest, yielding my last breath to the air from which I draw daily, falling onto that earth which gave my father his seed, my mother her blood...the earth which for so many years has fed and watered me day by day; the earth which bears me as I tread it under foot and which I make use of in a thousand ways.'

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.4.

Stoic Week Lunchtime Exercises (The View From Above) - Day 7

From the Stoic Week Handbook:
Today’s Lunchtime Exercise: The View from Above


On our final day we turn to think about our place within Nature as a whole:

A fine reflection from Plato. One who would converse about human beings should look on all things earthly as though from some point far above, upon herds, armies, and agriculture, marriages and divorces, births and deaths, the clamour of law courts, deserted wastes, alien peoples of every kind, festivals, lamentations, and markets, this intermixture of everything and ordered combination of opposites.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.48

The ‘View from Above’ is a guided visualization that is aimed at instilling a sense of the ‘bigger picture’, and of understanding your role in wider community of humankind. You can download a recording of the View from Above from the main Stoic Week 2013 page:


Anyone who reads the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is bound to notice a recurring theme that involves contemplating the vastness of the universe, of space and time, the multitude of stars, and also the smallness of life on Earth when viewed from above. The French scholar Pierre Hadot called the deliberate effort to mentally visualise human affairs from high overhead “The View from Above”, and he found references to it throughout ancient literature, particularly in Stoic writings.


In a sense, these passages invite us to think like an ancient natural philosopher and simply to contemplate cosmology, the nature of the universe as a whole, in a detached manner. However, the Stoics clearly believed that doing so had profound “therapeutic” value and, as Marcus put it, can purge us of our over-attachment to trivial things by expanding our minds beyond their habitual, narrow perspective. We’re less upset about things when we literally picture them as occurring in a tiny corner of the cosmos: as a grain of sand in cosmic space, and the mere turn of a screw in terms of cosmic time. Why should we picture things in this way? First of all, for the Stoics, totality is reality. It’s a form of self-deception to ignore the wider context and it helps create the illusion that the events we face are somehow more important than they actually are. Second, the ancient Stoics sought to emulate the divine, and the View from Above happens to be the perspective of Zeus. We can even think of it as the Olympian perspective, what Zeus might have been thought to see when looking down upon human affairs from high atop Mount Olympus. If that seems too mythological, then for a more philosophical theology, the perspective of Zeus was perhaps that of omniscience, contemplating the whole of space and time in a single timeless vision. Again, the Stoics and other ancient philosophers aspired to glimpse that vision, and thereby to step into the shoes of Zeus for a moment.


This exercise appears to weave together many different threads within Stoic philosophy. That’s something that may become clearer to you if you practice it regularly. You don’t need to listen to an elaborate guided meditation, though. Just reading the passages from Marcus Aurelius may be enough to inspire you to close your eyes and contemplate things from a more “cosmological” perspective, in this way. Don’t worry if you find it tricky to literally visualise the whole of space and time – that’s normal. Just picture things that evoke the concept for you symbolically. You could draw a circle on a piece of paper, symbolising the totality of space and time, and imagine your whole life as an infinitesimally tiny dot in the middle. The Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus, who was influenced by the Stoics to some extent, describes a contemplative exercise that involves visualising the whole of space and time as if encapsulated in a glass sphere, like a kind of cosmic snowglobe. Take your time. Allow these images to interact with your wider understanding of Stoic philosophy and practices. Try to take away some piece of learning or sense of change from each meditation of this kind.


Complete the Post-Week Questionnaires


As this is the final day, it is now time to complete the online scales that you filled in before the week, using the same name (email or pseudonym) as before.  Visit the main Stoic Week 2103 page for the links:

Stoic Week Morning Text for Reflection - Day 7

Morning Text for Reflection:


The works of the gods are full of providence. The works of Fortune are not independent of Nature or the spinning and weaving together of the threads governed by Providence. All things flow from that world: and further factors are necessity and the benefit of the whole universe, of which you are a part. Now every part of nature benefits from that which is brought by the nature of the Whole and all which preserves that nature: and the order of the universe is preserved equally by the changes in the elements and changes in their compounds.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.3