Roman Calendar

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Adversity and Self-Possession" (from "Everything Has Two Handles")

"Adversity and Self-Possession" (from Chapter 4 of Everything Has Two Handles by Ronald Pies)

"'A wise man ought not to regret his struggles with fortune any more than a brave soldier should be intimidated by the noise of battle.'
~ Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy (Trans. Richard Green 1962, 99)

As Boethius also noted, 'The only true joy is self-possession in the face of adversity' (27) . . .

'The art of living resembles wrestling more than dancing . . .'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Farquharson, 50)

Why wrestling? Marcus explains that in life, as in wrestling, we must stand 'prepared and unshaken' to meet whatever comes our way."

     The idea is common across many, if not most, cultures that life consists of struggle and adversity (for whom is this not our experience?), although the Stoics would say that this is not an evil or bad thing. The Stoic expects this adversity, anticipates it, even welcomes it as something of a whetstone upon which to hone skills and philosophy.

"Be Prepared

There is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events . . . we should be anticipating not merely all that commonly happens but all that is conceivably capable of happening, if we do not want to be overwhelmed and struck numb by rare events . . .
~ Seneca, Letter XCI (Campbell, 178-9)"

     Life is not fair, and rarely is it kind. Those expecting it to be either are frequently to be disappointed. The Stoic expects and prepares for both, and accepts graciously when life does offer some gentle kindness.

"Good fortune deceives, adverse fortune teaches.
~ Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy

Reckon on everything, expect everything.
~ Seneca"

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Morality and Self-Respect" (from "Everything Has Two Handles"

From Chapter 3 of Pies' Everything Has Two Handles:

"Morality and Self-Respect

'Never value anything as profitable to yourself which shall compel you to break your promise, to lose your self-respect, to hate anyone, to suspect, to curse, [or] to act the hypocrite.'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 42-3)

'The Stoic believe that right is the only good . . . advantage can never conflict with right . . . Besides, the Stoics' ideal is to live consistently with nature. I suppose what they mean is this: throughout our lives, we ought invariably to aim at morally right courses of action, and . . . must select only those which do not clash with such courses.'
~ Cicero, On Duties (162-63)"

     This chapter addresses some of the most difficult aspects of Stoicism for the beginner - the concept that what is right and good is the only true advantage, and that any "advantage" gained in life by doing wrong is no true advantage at all. Pies acknowledges a frequent formulation of concern with this perspective: "The concept of Nature and 'natural law' may seem strange in our age of cultural relativism - when every moral value is reduced to some special interest group's 'narrative' or 'agenda'." Yet, as he points out, just such a concept is implicit in Jefferson's formulation of self-evident natural rights at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, and is a strong thread running through the Western liberal tradition.
     The approach here is not necessarily to prove the truth that only the Good is true advantage, but to analyze the concept that the self-respect that comes from pursuing only the Good is the one true possession a human being may have.

"'I do my duty. Other things trouble me not.'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 115)

. . .

Marcus Aurelius tells us that if we have done our duty, that is all we can rightly expect. Similarly, Epictetus tells us, 'If you fulfill your duties, you have what belongs to you' (Bonforte, 73). What does he mean by this? I think Epictetus is telling us that the only real possession to which we may lay claim is our own moral integrity. Everything else in life either belongs to someone else, or is beyond our control."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Mortality and Meaning" (from "Everything Has Two Handles")

I apologize for the long delay in my posts . . . life has a way of intervening even when you set yourself a blogging schedule . . .

From Pies' Everything Has Two Handles:

"Chapter Two: Mortality and Meaning

'Since it is possible that you may depart from this life this very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 25)

'[T}he one who lives longest and the one who will die soonest lose just the same.'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 29)"

     The chapter begins with the observation that "[o]ur American culture does not deal very well with the issue of death" - the fact that our culture is permeated with the "denial of death" (even to the point of euphemisms like "passed on" or "passed away" to avoid saying that someone has died. The ancient Stoics, on the other hand, "recognized that a keen awareness of death gives us the opportunity to create meaning in our lives."

     The need to "create" meaning in life has only grown as Western society has grown more secular, leaving behind medieval Judaeo-Christian thought in order to return to more a more classical understanding of our place in the cosmos, which does not reassure that there is a meaning to life, and that meaning is the service of the Judaeo-Christian god. Some see this as a negative thing, while others see it as a return to a better understanding of the true nature of the universe. Either way, it has left a bit of a void in Western thought, even among those who remain devout Judaeo-Christians. Stoicism offers a system of thought upon what to create to fill that void. Anyway . . .

     Pies observes that "although it often strikes us as 'cruel' when a young and promising life is cut short, the Stoics remind us that - in the larger scheme of eternity - there is little difference between 'the one who lives longest' and 'the one who will die the soonest.' This is a hard concept for many of us to accept, since we are conditioned to think in terms of longevity rather than depth and quality of life. But a hundred or thousand years from now, it will make little difference whether you or I lived to an age of 35 or 95. On the other hand, it might make a considerable difference if, in our lives, we performed many acts of kindness, or left behind a cure for cancer, or a book of poems that comforts generations to follow." I have heard people object to this line of thought that "in a thousand years, it won't matter whether I was a good or bad person any more than it will matter whether I lived to be 35 or 95". But that is manifestly untrue - the repercussions of good and evil deeds live on infinitely after in linear time, and besides, think of how the achievements of great people live on, regardless of the length of their life. One of my favorite poets, Gaius Valerius Catullus, only lived to be about 30, yet his collection of poems can still be found in bookstores more than 2000 years later . . .

"'A life is never incomplete if it is an honorable one. At whatever point you leave life, if you leave it in the right way, it is a whole.
~ Seneca (Letter LXXVII; Campbell, 125)"

     There is a lot of good analysis in this chapter on the roots of human suffering in attachment and demanding that the nature of things be other than what it is, noting this idea is not unique to Stoicism, but is also found in Buddhist, Hindu, and Judaic traditions, as well as in modern psychology.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Thinking and Feeling" (from "Everything Has Two Handles")

From Pies' Everything Has Two Handles:

"'Things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; but our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within . . . The universe is transformation, life is opinion.'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 54)

'Things do not touch the soul.' This deceptively simple statement is the keystone in the arch of Stoic philosophy."

Pies has a knack for getting straight to the heart of the matter! If one were looking for a good summation of Stoic philosophy, this might be a good candidate! The first chapter is supported with other sententious maxims from Marcus Aurelius, directly or indirectly - "Change your opinions, change the way you feel!" "Whatever man you meet, say to yourself at once: 'What are the principles this man entertains about human goods and ills?' . . . then it will not seem surprising or strange . . . if he acts in certain ways . . ." "Get rid of the judgment, you are rid of the 'I am hurt'; get rid of the 'I am hurt,' you are rid of the hurt itself."

And so we get to the quote from Epictetus that gives us the title of the book:
"'Everything has two handles - one by which it may be borne, another by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, do not lay hold on the affair by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be borne; but rather, by the opposite: that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus, you will lay hold on it as it is to be borne.'
~ Epictetus (Bonforte, 84)"

There follows a pretty good analysis of Stoicism's common points of reference with Talmudic philosophy in Judaism, Buddhist philosophy, Hindu thought, et cetera.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Beginning "Everything Has Two Handles"

     So, the next Stoic book for analysis is Everything Has Two Handles: The Stoic's Guide to the Art of Living by Ronald Pies. This looks like another popularizing take on the ancient philosophy, with plenty of primary source references (apparently drawing particularly on Marcus Aurelius) to keep it honest. In the introduction I found an excellent statement of definition:

"The Stoic aims to understand 'the way things really are' and to live accordingly."

That's a pretty good, clean, clear definition. "When we understand and accept the way things are, we find ourselves at peace, and are free to pursue our higher pleasures. When we refuse to accept the way things are, we make ourselves (and often others) unhappy."

     I was also pleased to find in the introduction the notion that activism for a better world is not inconsistent with accepting the nature of things - "we have every right - and even a responsibility - to try to change things for the better. But when we have exerted every effort in doing so, and failed, we are not under any additional obligation to make ourselves miserable!" "Stoicism is not passive acceptance of the status quo, but a reasoned understanding of the way things are, and a rational determination to better what can be bettered - including ourselves."

      I'm looking forward to the reading and the analysis!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"Everything Has Two Handles"

"Everything has two handles: one by which it may be bourne, another by which it cannot." ~ Epictetus

On The Tasks of Men and Women (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

"For all human tasks, I am inclined to believe, are a shared obligation and are the same for men and women - none is necessarily meant for either one exclusively." ~ Gaius Musonius Rufus

Old Age: A Viaticum" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

"Old Age: A viaticum

Provisions for a journey

. . .

A person who is of use to many while living, has no right to choose to die, unless through dying they are of use to more.

Most of all, the work of nature is to make desire and impulse to harmonise with our perception of the appropriate and useful.

Choose to die well while possible, in case it soon becomes necessary for death, but it will no longer be possible to die well. Since the Fates have spun out the lot of death for all, those who die well, not late, are blessed.

Which words provide comfort in old age? The same that are the best for youth too: live methodically in harmony with nature.

. . .

Humanity, better than all creatures on earth, resembles God, and has the same virtues that He has. We can imagine nothing (even in the gods) better than prudence, justice, courage, and moderation. Our conception of God is (through having these virtues)
* unconquered by pleasure or greed
* superior to desire, envy, and jealousy
* moral, generous, and kind
Since humanity (in the image of Him) should be thought of as being like Him when living in harmony with nature . . .

It isn't impossible for humanity to be like this - certainly when we encounter people that we call godly and godlike, we don't have to imagine that these virtues came from anywhere other than human nature.

If we're lucky enough to take the pains to get correct instruction while young - mastering all those good lessons and their practice - then in old age we can use these inner resources to live according to nature - bearing without complaint the
* loss of the pleasures of youth
* weakness of the body
* insults of neighbours
* neglect of relatives and friends
since you would have a good antidote in your own mind: past training.

. . .

The best life, you will agree, is that of a good person - yet even their end is death. Therefore, as I said before, if you can succeed in mastering this lesson in old age - to wait for death without fear and courageously - then you will have acquired much of what you need to live without complaint, in harmony with nature. So I tell you that the best viaticum for old age is the one I mentioned in the beginning - live according to nature, doing and thinking what you ought. In doing so, the elderly would be cheerful, winning the praise of others - living happily and in honour."

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"True Wealth" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:

"True Wealth

We shall condemn the treasures of Croesus and Cinyras as deepest poverty - One man alone is rich, the man who has acquired the ability to want nothing, always and everywhere.

Musonius asked for a thousand sesterces to be given to a beggar who was pretending to be a philosopher - when several people told him that the rascal was a bad, vicious fellow, who didn't deserve anything good, Musonius answered with a grin, 'Well, then, he deserves money.'

The notorius Rutilius, coming up to Musonius in Rome, said, 'Zeus the Saviour whom you imitate and emulate does not borrow money.' Musonius answered with a smile, 'He doesn't lend, either.' For Rutilius, while lending money himself, was telling off Musonius for borrowing.

. . .

Testimony to [the power of living a Spartan life] is the endurance of the Spartan adolescent men - antiquated with hunger, thirst, and cold - even with blows and other hardships. Trained in such noble and austere habits, the ancient Spartans were held up to be the best of the Greeks. Their poverty was envied more than the King's wealth! Thus I choose sickness over luxury, for sickness only harms the body, but luxury destroys body and soul - bringing with it weakness, a feeble body, and lack of self-control - cowardice in the soul."

Unsurprisingly, like all Stoics, Musonius Rufus declares that the only true wealth is virtue, and that, paradoxically, virtue is one thing the wealthy have difficulty obtaining, for not only can it not be purchased at any price, but acceptance of luxurious living makes one less willing to accept hardship.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Food" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:


Musonius spoke often and very emphatically on the subject of food - as a question of great significance - leading to important consequences: he believed that the foundation of moderation lay in self-control when eating and drinking.

. . .

Gluttony and high living are thoroughly shameful - no one will dare deny it; yet I have observed very few aiming to avoid these vices. Quite the opposite! . . . What else is gluttony except immoderation in the matter of food, causing people to prefer what is tasty over what is good for you? High living is nothing else but excessive luxury on the dinner table. Excess is always evil - but here in particular it reveals its true nature in these people - it makes them greedy like swine or dogs - incapable of proper behavior with hands, eyes, or gullet - the desire for delicacies perverts them completely. It is so shameful to behave this way towards food that we liken them to unreasoning animals rather than to intelligent human beings. Now if this is shameful, the opposite must be good - exercising moderation and manners in eating - demonstrating your self-control there first of all (not an easy thing to do, requiring attention and practice). Why should this be? Because despite there being many pleasures which lure humanity into wrong - forcing us to yield to what is contrary to the good - pleasure in eating is probably the hardest of all to combat."

Worth noting that in the 21st century United States we can certainly sympathize with these sentiments, and whereas in ancient Rome only certain wealthy classes had access to a surfeit of unhealthy food, the modern West has the additional problem that the unhealthiest and least natural foods are the easiest and cheapest to produce, hence the vast majority of people in the West have to be on guard against gluttony and addiction as well as malnutrition - malnutrition is common, even among those who eat far too much!

"For we encounter other pleasures less frequently, and we can avoid some of them for months or whole years - yet we're tempted by this one every day (and usually twice a day), since it isn't possible for us to live otherwise. Thus the more often we're tempted by pleasure in eating, the more dangers there are involved. Each meal is not one hazard, but many:
* eating too much
* eating too fast
* wallowing in pickles and sauces
* preferring sweeter foods to those more healthy
* serving your guests different food, or different amounts, than yourself
* indulging at unseasonable times - putting off something else we ought to have done fist
Since these and other vices are connected with eating, if you wish to show self-control, you must be free of all of them - blameless of any of them - this requires constant practice . . ."

Friday, June 27, 2014

"Obedience" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:


. . .

Must we obey our parents in all things, or are there circumstances where we don't listen to them? Well it seems a good thing for everyone to obey their mother and father - I certainly recommend it. However, let us examine obedience - what is obedience - who is the disobedient person?

Take this case. A father who isn't a physician or experienced in treating sickness prescribes for his handicapped son something harmful - the son is aware of that fact. Surely by not following his father's prescription he isn't disobeying and isn't disobedient, is he? It wouldn't seem so.

Suppose the father were ill and demands wine and food that he ought not to have - it would aggravate his illness if he took it - and his son, realizing this, wouldn't give it to him - surely he isn't disobeying his father, is he? Certainly you can't think so.

. . .

Sure, disobedience is a word of reproach and shame, but refusing to do what you ought not to do merits praise, not blame. Thus, if your father or the archon or even the tyrant orders something wrong or unjust or shameful, and you don't carry out the order - you are in no way disobeying - as you do no wrong nor fail to do right. Disobedience is disregarding and refusing to carry out good, honourable, and useful orders.

The obedient person listens to anyone who counsels what is appropriate and follows it voluntarily . . .

Don't let your father be an excuse for your own misdeeds - there is no reason for you to follow evil commands . . ."

An early iteration of the principle most firmly established in the Western mind at Nuremburg - "I was just following orders" is insufficient excuse for doing evil.

It is interesting that Rufus focuses so much on parental, and particularly fatherly, authority. This is, no doubt, a reflection of his times, in which patria potestas was largely undiminished.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Marriage" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live"

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:


. . .

[I]n marriage there must be, above all, prefect companionship and mutual love - both in sickness, health, and under all conditions - it should be with desire for this (and children) that both entered upon marriage."

Somewhat extraordinary for the time, Rufus refutes many misconceptions (if you will forgive the term) about marriage, including the somewhat silly notion that its purpose is the conception of children (since this "could result from any other sexual union" "just as in the case of animals"), and insists on the voluntary and consensual nature that marriage ought to have.

"Where this love for each other is perfect and shared completely, each setting out every day to outdo the other in devotion - then the marriage is ideal and worthy of envy - for this union is beautiful. But where each looks only to their own interests, neglecting the other, or worse - when one lives in the same house but affixes their attention elsewhere, being unwilling to pull together with their yoke-mate, unable to agree - then the union is doomed to disaster. Though they live together, their common interests crumble; eventually they separate entirely or remain together and suffer what is worse than loneliness.

Therefore those who contemplate marriage ought to disregard:
* family - whether either one is high-born
* wealth - whether on either side there are many possessions
* physical beauty"

I would note that this advice would have been nearly impossible for many women to follow in Rufus' own time, since their fathers arranged their marriages for them with little regard for whether or not they were "contemplating marriage" . . . but today, this is advice anyone ought to be able to follow in the free world!

Rufus then does enter a rather outworn argument for marriage as a basic unit of social cohesion, saying that if one believes that one should look solely to one's own interests, man is no better than a wild beast, continuing:

"Perhaps human nature most closely resembles the bee - which cannot live alone (for it dies when left alone) - but focuses its energy to the common task of his companions and hard-working together with its neighbours. For mankind, evil is injustice and cruelty and indifference to a neighbour's trouble, while virtue is brotherly love and goodness and justice and beneficence and concern for the welfare of your neighbor - with such ideas, I say, it would be each man's duty to consider his own city - making his home a rampart for its protection. But the first step towards this is marriage. Thus, whoever destroys human marriage destroys the home, the city - the whole human race . . ."

As I said, a rather outworn statement of the idea that the individual marriage and household is the basic unit of society and civilization! But one can see a reflection of the deep Greek and Roman values that state that man is a social, political animal, unable to exist as fully human on its own.

"Could you say that the people who take an interest in their city are worse and less just than they who do - they who look out only for their own interests are better than those who look out for the common good? Can it be that the person who chooses the single life is more patriotic, more a friend and partner to his neighbor, than the person who maintains a home and raises children - contributing to the growth of their city as a married person does?"

Rufus here attempts a reductio ad absurdum to which every reader is expected to give a resounding "NO!", despite the fact that many people today would disagree with these ideas. But in his day, it was certainly true that the household and family were the building blocks of the community, and that single, unmarried men (it was almost impossible to be a woman with such status) did not contribute nearly as much to the community. Today, we like to have the choice . . . but it remains true that good families form building-blocks of society that no number of single individuals can match. This is no insult to those who choose to be single, or choose not to rear children, it is simply a true statement that human society as we know it requires families.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

'Work" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:


To relax (remittere) the mind is to lose (amittere) it. Why are we always lazy, careless, and sluggish - seeking excuses for not working hard and sitting up late to perfect our logical argument?

. . .

The best livelihood (particularly for the strong) is earning a living from the soil, whether you own your land or not. Many can support their families by farming land owned by the state or private landowners. Some even get rich through hard work with their own hands. The earth repays those who cultivate her, both justly and well, multiplying what she received - endowing in abundance all the necessities of life to anyone willing to work - and all this without violating your dignity or self-respect!

No one (unless corrupted by soft living) would say that the labour of the farmer was degrading or unfit for a good person . . . To be sure, the occupations which strain and tire the whole body encourage the mind to concentrate upon the body alone - yet the occupations which require not too much physical exertion don't hinder the mind from reflecting on higher things - increasing its own wisdom - a goal for every philosopher to strive for continually . . ."

No Stoic can ever defame a life of hard work!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Living in Exile (from "Away from Home" in "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:

"Away From Home

Thrasea was in the habit of saying, 'I would rather be executed today than banished tomorrow.' Rufus said to him - 'If you choose exile as the heavier punishment, what a stupid choice! But if as the lighter, who gave you the choice? Aren't you willing to train yourself to be satisfied with your lot?'

Why should anyone that isn't ignorant be oppressed by exile?

It doesn't deprive us of water, earth, air, or the sun and the other planets, or even of the society of others, for everywhere, in every way, there is opportunity for association with them. So what if we're kept from a certain part of the earth, from association with some people - what is so terrible about that? . . . As Socrates said, surely the universe is the common fatherland of all? . . . The reasonable don't value or despise any place as the cause of their happiness or unhappiness - they make the whole matter depend upon themselves while considering themselves citizens of the city of God - made up of men and Gods. Euripides speaks in harmony with this:
'As all the heavens are open to the eagle's flight
So the earth is, for a noble man, his fatherland.'"

This train of thought from Musonius Rufus speaks to me particularly, as I am myself living in exile. My patria, my "fatherland," is the great state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, but since month of Quintilis in the consulship of P. Ullerius and C. Equitius (A.U.C. MMDCCLXIV, or Anno Domine 2011) I have been living in exile in the deserts of Arizona. I can see the truth in what so many of the ancients maintained, all the way back to Homer, that "nothing is sweeter than one's own fatherland," nevertheless like Socrates I have always considered myself a "citizen of the world."

The trick, for me at least, is that while one cannot allow one's happiness to depend upon one's circumstances, including the place in which one happens to live, one can still enjoy and take delight in one's fatherland. I shall always delight in my own patria, and may return to dwell there one day, but at present I am content where I am.

"Energetic, hard-working and intelligent people, no matter where they go, fare well and live without want. We don't feel 'without' things unless we wish to live luxuriously:
'For what do mortals need beside two things,
The bread of Demeter and a drink of the Water-carrier,
Which are nearby and have been made to nourish us?'
Let me add that those who are worth anything manage well obtaining the necessities of life in exile, and some acquire great fortunes!"

While this has indeed been my personal experience, the fact is that for some people, even the bare requirements of living are beyond their means to acquire, and the opportunity to come by them honestly does not exist. It is entirely too facile to blithely state, "Oh, well, those who are willing to work hard will always fare well enough." Our societies must work to become more just, to open more opportunities to everyone, so that this may be true. But it is not true . . . not yet . . .

"I have been deprived of my country, not my ability to endure exile.

I would like to tell you the reflections which I use for my own benefit (to make exile more bearable). It seems to me that exile does not strip you entirely, not even of the things which the average person calls goods . . . But even if you are deprived of some or all of them, you are still not deprived of the things which are truly good:
* courage
* justice
* self-control
* understanding
nor any of the other virtues which bring honour and benefit - show a person to be praiseworthy - or when absent, cause harm and dishonor. Since this is true, if you are that good person and have their virtues, exile won't harm or degrade you, because present inside of you are the virtues which are most able to sustain you. But if you are bad, it is the evil that harms you - not exile; and the misery you feel in exile is the result of evil, not exile. It is from this you must hasten to secure release, rather than from exile. I used to repeat these things to myself, and I say them to you now. If you are wise, you won't consider exile a thing to be dreaded, since others bear it easily. Evil, however, makes wretched every man in whom it is present."

This is indeed my own experience as well.

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Leadership" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:


You will earn the respect of all if you begin by earning the respect of yourself. Don't expect to encourage good deeds in people conscious of your own misdeeds.

How can we condemn tyrants, when we are much worse - we have the same impulses as theirs, but lack the opportunity to indulge them.

Rulers don't live long after they become used to defending themselves before their subjects with 'it is my will' rather than 'it is my duty'. Towards the ruled, you should aim to be regarded with awe, not fear. Reverence accompanies one, bitterness the other.

. . .

With the exception of philosophy, there is no study that develops self-control. It teaches you to be above pleasure and greed - admire thrift and avoid extravagance - it trains you to have a sense of shame, and to control your tongue - it produces discipline, order, and courtesy - in general, appropriate action. When these qualities are present in an ordinary person, they impart dignity and self-command - if present in a king they make him more godlike and worthy of reverence.

Courage breeds the fearless, the intrepid, the bold - so how else would you acquire these characteristics other than by having a firm conviction that death and hardships are not evils? For these are the things that unbalance and frighten you - philosophy is the only teacher that they are not evils. If kings ought to possess courage (and they should more than anyone else) - they must study philosophy - since they cannot become courageous by any other means.

. . .

It is of the greatest importance for the good king to be:
* Faultless and perfect in word and action (if he is to be a 'living law' as he seemed to the ancients)
* Ensuring good government and harmony
* Suppressing lawlessness and dissension
* A true imitator of Zeus - like him, father of his people

How could anyone be this king if they were not endowed with a superior nature, given the best possible education, and are possessing all the virtues of humanity?"

There is a lot of emphasis here on the "king", and in particular the idea that a good king is a philosopher, and idea certainly as old as Plato - the ideal "philosopher-king" described in Plato's Republic. Still, much of it is applicable to any leadership position. If one would lead well, one must be wise. The love and study of wisdom is essential to good leadership.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

"Resilience" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:

"If you want to be healthy, you should spend your life taking care of yourself. Unlike hellebore, reason shouldn't be cast out after the illness is cured - let it remain in the soul to guard your judgment. The power of reason shouldn't be compared to medicines, but to healthy foods - it introduces a good frame of mind into those where it becomes habitual. However, when the emotions are at their greatest heat, wise words and warnings barely have any effect at all. They are like the scents that revive those fallen in a fit, yet don't cure the disease.

To help us cheerfully endure those hardships which we may expect to suffer because of virtue and goodness, it is useful to recall what hardships people will endure for immoral reasons . . .

Anyone will admit how much better it is instead of
* struggling to win someone else's wife - struggle to discipline your desires?
* enduring hardship for the sake of money - train yourself to want little?
* troubling to be famous - take trouble to reducing your thirst for fame?
* trying to injure an envied person - ask how to stifle envy?
* slaving, as sycophants do, to win false friends - undergo suffering to possess true friends?

In general, hard work and hardship are a necessity for all - both those who seek the better ends and for those who seek the worse - it is ridiculous that those who are pursuing the better are not much more eager in their efforts than those who have small hope of reward for all their pains . . .

If we were to measure what is good by how much pleasure it brings, nothing would be better than self-control - if we were to measure what is to be avoided by its pain, nothing would be more painful than lack of self-control.

. . .

It is true that all of us who have participated in philosophic discussion have heard and appreciated that pain, death, poverty, or anything else free from wrong are not evil - similarly that wealth, life, pleasure, or anything else which does not contribute to virtue isn't a good.

. . . .

[T]he person who is in training must habituate themselves not to love pleasure, not to avoid hardship, not to be infatuated with living, not to fear death, and in the case of goods or money not to place receiving above giving."

Some pretty basic Stoic thoughts, but well-expressed!

"Live Well Today" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live"

"It isn't possible to live well today unless you think of it as your last day."

~ Gaius Musonius Rufus

Friday, June 20, 2014

On "Law" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

"To scheme how to bite back the biter, and to return evil for evil is the act of a wild beast - not a human capable of reasoning that most wrongs are done through ignorance and misunderstanding, from which humans will cease as soon as they are taught. To accept injury without a spirit of savage resentment 0 to show ourselves merciful toward those who wrong us - being a source of good hope to them - is characteristic of a benevolent and civilized way of life. How much better is the philosopher who conducts themselves so as to feel forgiveness for anyone who wrongs them, rather than to behave as if ready to defend themselves with lawyers and indictments - while in reality they are behaving inappropriately, contrary to their own teaching. To be sure - a good person can never be wronged by a bad."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"The Good" (from "Musonius Rufus on How to Live")

"'If you do a good thing through your hard work, the work passes - the good remains. If you gain pleasure through dishonour, the pleasure will pass, but the dishonour remains.'

'We begin to lose our hesitation to do immoral things when we lose our hesitation to speak of them.'

'If you choose to hold on to what is right, don't despair in difficult circumstances - reflect on how many things have already happened in your life in ways that you didn't wish, and yet they have turned out for the best. There is no more shameful inconsistency than to think of how weak your body is during the stress of pain, yet to forget this when enjoying pleasure.'"

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

An Introduction to Musonius Rufus's Stoicism

From Musonius Rufus on How to Live by Ben White:

     "Of everything that exists, God has put some in our control, some not. He has put the noblest and most excellent thing in our control (the reason He himself is happy), that is, the power of using our impressions.

     When correctly used, it means serenity, cheerfulness, constancy - justice and law and self-control - virtue overall. All other things He has not put in our control. Thus we ought to emulate the mind of God - dividing up things like this - we ought to completely claim the things in our control - entrust what isn't to the universe: gladly give it whatever it asks for - our children, our country, our body, anything."

~ Gaius Musonius Rufus

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

From "Greeks to Geeks" on Bullying . . .

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Epictetus: 'If evil be spoken of you and it be true, correct yourself, if it be a lie, laugh at it.'

Epictetus: 'If you hear that someone is speaking ill of you, instead of trying to defend yourself you should say, 'He obviously does not know me very well, since there are so many other faults he could have mentioned!"'

Epictetus: 'It is not he who reviles or strikes you who insults you, but your opinion that these things are insulting.'"

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Stoicism and Work: We Can Work It Out" (from "Greeks to Geeks"

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Stoicism and Work: We Can Work It Out

After relationships our careers are possibly the next biggest part of our daily lives, even if you just think of the sheer number of hours we spend each year working . . .

Epictetus: 'Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.'

Patience is a virtue when considering work and your career, allow time to pass and things to develop. So often we give up on ventures too early, or rush into things without proper planning leading to problems down the road. Give yourself plenty of time when preparing for some work, or when starting a new job to allow things to settle.

Epictetus: 'Practice yourself, for heaven's sake, in little things, and thence proceed to greater.'

Try not to rush ahead or put yourself in positions where you will be out of your depth in your work. Sometimes we have to, but in general, it's best, when possible, not to . . .

. . . Doing your work well, whatever it is, is a virtue itself. Taking pride in your job, your duty, is an endearing quality and it shows respect for whatever has been placed before you. There's an old Buddhist saying regarding duty, or Dharma, that goes 'What is in your way, becomes your way'. The point is that there are lessons and challenges in every situation that you find yourself in. By all means strive and endeavor to find your ideal job or career, but do not begrudge your current situation, even though it may not be perfect. Be appreciative of whatever positives there may be, take pride in your work, and play your role well . . ."

I have been there and done that, having worked some FAR less than ideal jobs . . .

Monday, June 9, 2014

"Stoicism and Relationships: In Sickness and in Health" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Stoicism and Relationships: In Sickness And In Health

Relationships make up a huge part of our life on Earth, sure there are the obvious ones like familial relationships, romantic relationships, work, friends, neighbors etc. But as well as those the fact is that every time you engage in a conversation with someone on the street, a police officer, or a shopkeeper that too is a relationship. Any time you are relating with another is a relationship . . .

There are two main Stoic points that should be remembered in any relationship, the first is that you do not, and cannot even if you wanted to, control the thoughts or actions of another person, people will do what people will do, you can offer advice, or tell them what you'd prefer, but in the end they are their own being . . . The second point is to have full respect and unconditional love of your friends and family, while reserving opinions and judgment for their actions only . . .

Remember that a relationship is made up of a series of deals, or agreements, 'I will do this, as long as you do that', when someone breaks one of these agreements the two (or more), the people involved, must look at the damage and decide whether to continue together, or what new agreements need to be put in place to continue the relationship. Try not to get caught up in believing that these agreements are more than what they are, to begin believing that they are sacred pacts or promises (never make a promise that is determined by forces outside of your control), or that there is good and evil involved, there is not . . ."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

From Aulus Gellius I.VI

From Aulus Gellius' Noctes Atticae (I.VI):

"Verba Metelli haec sunt: 'Di immortales plurimum possunt; sed non plus velle nobis debent quam parentes. At parentes, si pergunt liberi errare, bonis exheredant. Quid ergo nos ab immortalibus dissimile ius expectemus, nisi malis rationibus finem faciamus? Is demum deos propitious esse aecum est, qui sibi adversarii non sunt. Dii immortales virtutem adprobare, non adhibere, debent'."

"These are the words of Metellus: 'The immortal are able to do much, but they ought not to be more indulgent to us than our parents. But parents, if their children persist in doing wrong, disinherit them. What different justice, then, should we expect from the immortal gods, unless we should make an end to our evil ways? Those alone may justly claim the favor of the gods who are not their own worst enemies. The immortal gods ought to support virtue, not supply it'."

"Stoic Warriors" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Stoic Warriors: Making the Best of a Bad Situation

Epictetus: 'If you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live forever, you are stupid; for you wish to be in control of things which you cannot, you wish for things that belong to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish your servant to be without fault, you are a fool; for you wish vice not to be vice, but something else. But, if you wish to have your desires undisappointed, this is in your own control. Exercise, therefore, what is in your control. He is the master of every other person who is able to confer or remove whatever that person wishes either to have or to avoid. Whoever, then, would be free, let him wish nothing, let him decline nothing, which depends on others, else he must necessarily be a slave.'

You may be thinking, 'That's all well and good, going about telling people not to care about what they don't control, but is that even possible? It's so hard! It couldn't possibly actually work, could it? It can and does work . . ."

Healey goes on to give examples from the life of Vice-Admiral James B. Stockdale. He cites some quotes from Stockdale, including:

"You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"Living In Accordance With Nature" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Living in Accordance with Nature

Epictetus: 'Remember that you must behave in life as at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share with moderation. Does it pass by you? Don't stop it. Is it not yet come? Don't stretch your desire towards it, but wait until it reaches you. Do this with regard to children, to a wife, to public posts, to riches, and you will eventually be a worthy partner of the feasts of the gods. And if you don't even take the things that are set before you, but are able even to reject them, then you will not only be a partner at the feasts of the gods, but also of their empire. For, by doing this, Diogenes, Heraclitus, and others like them, deservedly became. and were called, divine.'

Allow life to come to you, states Epictetus in the above passage. Don't go outside of your philosophy in order to attain things, live your life honestly, authentically, and with dignity and let things flow into your life as they naturally do, and partake of them when they are presented to you.
. . .
Marcus Aurelius: 'We are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature.'

Fairness, equality, and cooperation are central to Stoic beliefs as, like Marcus Aurelius here states, we do not see nature tearing itself apart, or destroying itself, and by that logic neither should the human race."

Monday, June 2, 2014

"Of Tranquility: Preparing for the Trial" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Of Tranquility: Preparing for the Trial
. . .
Epictetus: 'Never say of anything, "I have lost it"; but, "I have returned it." Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. Is your estate taken away? Well, and is that not likewise returned? "But he who took it away is a bad man." What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don't view it as your own, just as travellers view a hotel.'
. . .
So here's an interesting idea, 'view nothing as your own' . . . unlike many religions and sects where it is necessary and part of the dogma to totally give up, or renounce certain material items, foods, drinks, wealth, and refrain completely from certain rituals or actions, in Stoicism the key is moderation. Should you go overboard or take part in some actions that you are not proud of, you have only disappointed yourself, and even then not beyond redemption, you don't torture yourself, you simply notice what you've done, notice that you dislike that you've done it and tell yourself that you'll try harder in the future, while maintaining full unconditional love and acceptance of yourself."

Radical detachment!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

"Fatalism, Determinism - Be It Gods Or Atoms" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Fatalism, Determinism - Be It Gods Or Atoms

Epictetus: 'Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another's.'

A big part of Stoicism is the idea that our path in life is pretty much mapped out, or at least that it might as well be considering that there will always be only one outcome to anything that we do or try, and we have no way of knowing how things would have turned out should you have tried something different. Now I'm not exactly sure if the Stoics really believed in a 'future is already planned out' fatalism, or if they were simply using what was the common belief at the time to communicate their message to people in a way that they would understand. Then there is the contradiction of when Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius will say that you have free will, indeed that it is all you have, and then later in the same passage talk about how we must accept our fate. This seems like a pretty big contradiction . . .

Determinism: Determinism is the view that every event has a cause and that everything in the universe is absolutely dependent on and governed by causal laws. Since determinists believe that all events, including human actions, are predetermined, determinism is typically thought to incompatible with free will. Basically, there are no coincidences, all is connected.

Determinism states that every event, including human cognition, behaviour, decision, and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. Determinists believe the universe is fully governed by causal laws resulting in only one possible state at any point in time.

Fatalism: Fatalism is the belief that 'what will be will be,' since all past, present, and future events have already been predetermined . . .

Fatalism is seen as a submissive mental attitude resulting from acceptance of the doctrine that everything that happens is predetermined and inevitable. It is also a philosophical doctrine holding that all events are predetermined in advance for all time and human beings are powerless to change them.

Free Will: The theory of Free Will states that human beings have freedom of choice or self-determination; that is, given a situation, a person could have done other than what he did. Philosophers have argued that free will is incompatible with determinism.

Free will is the power to make free choices unconstrained by external agencies.

Indeterminism: The view that there are events that do not have any cause; many proponents of free will believe that acts of choice are capable of not being determined by any physiological or psychological cause.

Indeterminism is a philosophical position that maintains that any form of determinism is incorrect because it is ultimately metaphysical. Quantum physics has shown that not only is it possible for outcomes to be different, but even that millions of alternate realities are playing out all at the same time in different dimensions or spaces.

So these are the most common fields of thought on this subject, all seem contradictory except for one thing they all have in common. The single consistency between these theories is that no matter which you believe, only one thing can actually happen to you at any given time, life is linear, we can't go back and see what would have happened if we had made a different choice.

. . . [W]e still have only one reality to deal with, and no matter how you look at it we have to accept what comes to us. Once something has happened it's already too late, it's time to move into acceptance and making the most of what is put before us. However, in the present moment we do have thoughts, opinions, and beliefs that are fully within our control (or at least seem to be), that we can change as we please, and when you consider that it is these exact opinions and beliefs which shape how we feel about our uncontrollable circumstances we're not doing too bad.

. . . As Epictetus says: 'Don't demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well'."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Of Preferences and Aversion" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Of Preferences and Aversion:
I Want Want Want it, but I Don't Need Need Need it!

Epictetus: 'Remember that following desire promises the attainment of that of which you are desirous, and version promises the avoiding that to which you are averse. However, he who fails to obtain the object of his desire is disappointed, and he who incurs the object of his aversion wretched. If, then, you confine your aversion to those objects only which are contrary to the natural use of your faculties, which you have in your own control, you will never incur anything to which you are averse. But if you are averse to sickness, or death, or poverty, you will be wretched. Remove aversion, then, from all things contrary to the nature of what is in our control, and transfer it to things contrary to the nature of what is in our control. But, for the present, totally suppress desire: for, if you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed; and of those which are, and which it is laudable to desire, nothing is yet in your possession. Use only the appropriate actions of pursuit and avoidance; and even these lightly, and with gentleness and reservation.'

. . . What Epictetus is saying here is that if you place your preferences and aversions on things outside of your power, you will naturally be unhappy, because your happiness is determined by whether or not you get what you desire, and avoid what you are averse to. And when outside forces are determining whether or not you get what you want, you will, eventually, be disappointed. Therefore, he says, prefer and move away from things within your power only, and reserve a kind of indifference to everything else . . .

It is suggested in Stoicism, in regard to external things, both desirable and undesirable, that they should be approached with a kind of indifference or apathy. This is not a negative indifference or apathy, though these words have gained quite a negative reputation, these are of the positive kind. The Stoic will still move naturally in the direction of that which they like and which is an external 'good' (health, wealth, good relationships, good reputation, etc.), just as they will as much as they can move away from that which they don't like, an external 'bad' (illness, poverty, bad relationships, a poor reputation, etc.). But the key point is that should either fortune or misfortune strike, it will be viewed with the sort of indifference that would be shown to anything outside the Stoic's control. They enjoy good fortune, but no more than it deserves, and they do not take credit for gains acquired from outside forces. Stoics do not reject wealth, power, property, status, or good reputation, they just don't need it. If it comes, it comes, if it doesn't, it doesn't.

. . . If you can stay pretty much the same and at peace in good circumstance and bad you will know that you are a Stoic."

I think Healey masterfully states some of the core ethics of Stoicism in very simple terms, here!

Monday, May 19, 2014

"For How Much Lettuce is Sold" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"For How Much is Lettuce Sold: The Little Epictetus Inside Your Head

Epictetus: 'Is anyone preferred before you at an entertainment, or in a compliment, or in being admitted to a consultation? If these things are good, you ought to be glad that he has gotten them; and if they are evil, don't be grieved that you have not gotten them. And remember that you cannot, without using the same means [which others do] to acquire things not in our own control, expect to be thought worthy of an equal share of them. For how can he who does not frequent the door of any [great] man, does not attend him, does not praise him, have an equal share with him who does? You are unjust then, and insatiable, if you are unwilling to pay the price for which these things are sold, and would have them for nothing. For how much is lettuce sold? Fifty cents, for instance. If another, then, paying fifty cents, takes the lettuce, and you, not paying it, go without them, don't imagine that he has gained any advantage over you. For as he has the lettuce, so you have the fifty cents which you did not give. So, in the present case, you have not been invited to such a person's entertainment, because you have not paid him the price for which a supper is sold. It is sold for praise; it is sold for attendance. Give him then the value, if it is for your advantage. But if you would, at the same time, not pay the one and yet receive the other, you are insatiable, and a blockhead. Have you nothing, then, instead of the supper? Yes, indeed you have: the not praising him, whom you don't like to praise; the not bearing with his behaviour at coming in.'

This passage describes yet another way we often torment ourselves needlessly. It's basically the idea of having your cake and eating it too.
 . . .
In all your dealings with the world there is an exchange, a compromise . . . But once you have made your choices, look at, and be happy with what you have gained, or retained, and don't lust after having both or you will be miserable.
 . . .
Don't forget what you have, and what it would cost to have what another is in possession of, nothing comes for free, there is always a price to pay be it in money, time, or lifestyle choices. So often we get carried away by the appearance of things, especially in regard to jealousy and envy, but always remember that everything comes with a cost."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"As A Mark Is Not Set Up To Be Missed" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"As A Mark Is Not Set Up To Be Missed

Epictetus: 'As a mark is not set up for the sake of missing the aim, so neither does the nature of evil exist in the world.'

What Epictetus is saying is that not once during the entire history of human kind has a person done the wrong thing on purpose . . . Even if a person decided to act . . . against their personal feeling and the available information, they would still be acting in accordance to what they think is best at the time. Even if they are doing their worst on purpose, it's still what they have willingly chosen to do. It is quite simply impossible to choose to do the wrong thing according to your own standards, opinions, and beliefs at the time of choosing. Even those historical figures who have instigated or personally taken part in horrendous crimes, have at the time of undertaking, been absolutely sure that it was the right course of action, or even if they had their doubts, it was still, to them, the best thing they could do at the time with the information that was available to them. Therefore Epictetus argues that there is no evil, or that no one has ever decided to do an evil thing. This of course does not justify these horrible acts, the Gulags of the Soviet Union come to mind, or the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge, or the Death Camps of the Nazis. Despicable as these atrocities are it must be accepted that those who created these systems, at one time at least, thought them to be noble and necessary ideas, or at very least the lesser of available evils. The concept of evil is entirely subjective and although people can do acts which are perceived as evil, the person as a whole cannot be evil . . .

This is not to say that everyone should go out and do horrible things and take no responsibility, quite the opposite in fact, we should take full responsibility for our deeds and to that end should take more care in choosing which course of action to take . . . "

This is one of the hardest doctrines of Stoicism for beginners, I think - the concept that nobody chooses evil. Almost everyone, I think, has enemies at some point in their lives, and almost everyone wishes to ascribe evil motivations to their enemies. But following a tradition begun by Socrates, the Stoics demand that we look closely at our enemies and realize that while they do not wish us well when they seek to harm us, they are under the mistaken impression that attempting to harm us is the right thing for them to do. We should pity their ignorance rather than hate their evil.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"Sickness is a Hindrance of the Body" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Sickness is a Hindrance of the Body: You Always Have a Choice

Epictetus: 'Sickness is a hindrance to the body, but not to your ability to choose, unless that is your choice. Lameness is a hindrance to the leg, but not to your ability to choose. Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see such obstacles as hindrances to something else, but not to yourself.'"

That last part is important - your SELF, your Ruling Faculty, is not the same as your body. Something can hinder your leg, but not affect YOU. You are your Ruling Faculty, you are your own ability to choose. You are your soul, so to speak.

"Don't  give up your Ruling Faculty, always consider what you are presented with carefully, and make the best decision from the choices available to you at the time.

Epictetus 'Remember that not he who gives ill language or a blow, insults, but the principle which represents these things as insulting. When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. Try, therefore, in the first place, not to be hurried away with the appearance. For if you once gain time and respite, you will more easily command yourself.'

Here Epictetus is using the same theory, that it is not the event but our opinions about the event that create our reaction to the event, to describe how it is possible to not go into things rashly in a knee-jerk way. So often when we are insulted, or something unforeseen and unfortunate happens, we go ahead and do something stupid that we later regret, often because we have misunderstood what has happened, or we were missing some important piece of information."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Death is not terrible" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Death is not terrible: Else it would have appeared so to Socrates

Epictetus: 'Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for instance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible. When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles. An uninstructed person will lay the fault of his own bad condition upon others. Someone just starting instruction will lay the fault on himself. Someone who is perfectly instructed will place blame neither on others nor on himself.'

Basically what Epictetus is saying here is pretty obvious stuff, death is one of the most important, and of course inevitable aspects of all life in the natural world, and being so could surely not be something to be worried about, for if it were, as Epictetus says, it would have appeared so to Socrates . . . So many of us spend our lives in fear, afraid of death and so become afraid of life, lose the fear of death and so become afraid of life, lose the fear of death and life can become much more pleasant. Your opinion is the most powerful tool you possess, and your choice is your only true freedom."

Monday, May 12, 2014

"It's Not The Accident" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"It's Not The Accident

Epictetus: 'When you see anyone weeping in grief because his son has gone abroad, or is dead, or because he has suffered in his affairs, be careful that the appearance may not misdirect you. Instead, distinguish within your own mind, and be prepared to say, 'It's not the accident that distresses this person, because it doesn't distress another person; it is the judgment which he makes about it.' As far as words go, however, don't reduce yourself to his level, and certainly do not moan with him. Do not moan inwardly either.'
. . .
Epictetus: 'The will of nature may be learned from those things in which we don't distinguish from each other. For example, when our neighbour's  boy breaks a cup, or the like, we are presently ready to say, 'These things will happen.' Be assured, then, that when your own cup likewise is broken, you ought to be affected just as when another's cup was broken. Apply this in like manner to greater things. Is the child or wife of another dead? There is no one who would not say, 'This is a human accident.' But if anyone's own child happens to die, it is presently, 'Alas how wretched am I!' But it should be remembered how we are affected in hearing the same thing concerning others.'
. . .
It is always your choice how you react to events.

Imagine the respite from stress and emotional pain you would gain from being able to treat your own misfortunes with the same, or similar degree of indifference that you would feel toward something that had happened to someone else.
. . .
Because the process of event, opinion, reaction is so quick, it is very difficult to change your opinions in real time . . ."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"With Regard to the Things You Love . . ." (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks:Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"With Regard to the Things You Love: Ceramic Cups and Kissing

Epictetus: 'With regard to whatever objects give you delight, are useful, or are deeply loved, remember to tell yourself of what general nature they are, beginning from the most insignificant things. If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it  breaks, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies.'

OK, Epictetus, we get it, don't be sad if our wife or child dies, no problem. A little harsh maybe, but let's look at the idea behind this logic and start with something a little easier like those ceramic cups he was talking about.

The point here is that if you place a great deal of attachment onto something which is outside of your control, you are setting yourself up to take one heck of a fall. This is quite a radical idea in this age of materialism, where people pride themselves on their physical possessions, their collections, their cars, houses, gadgets, clothes, and even our relationships. Let's hear that last sentence again; we 'pride OURSELVES on our physical possessions', so if our worth to ourselves and what we project to others is reliant on a physical item, what happens when that item breaks, is stolen, or lost? Depression happens, rage happens, violence can happen.
 . . .

This is an example of retaining logic, and dignity, during a crisis. Once something has happened, you cannot go back and change it, you do though have the power to choose how you will react and behave afterwards. If you follow the Stoic logic to its end, asking, is it within my power? Have I been harmed by this? Did I choose for this to happen? Have I embarrassed myself? If you ask these questions and answer them honestly, you will always keep your dignity in tough situations and you will be free of the excess pain, worry, and rage that is often the first impulse when something like this happens.
 . . .

If we place our own innate, human worth onto an external item, place, or person, we are disempowering ourselves completely, we become a slave to that which we have placed our worth onto."

Monday, May 5, 2014

"The Importance of Distinguishing" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

"The Importance of Distinguishing " from Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century

"Epictetus: Work, therefore, to be able to say to every harsh appearance, 'You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be.' And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and, if it concerns anything not in our own control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.
. . .
Epictetus is saying to us that if something is not within our power we have the right, or indeed the obligation, to say that it is nothing to us. If there is nothing we can do about something, what is the point in worrying? . . . You will find that in any circumstance you always have some power, to influence your opinion, and to make choices."

The ability to distinguish what is and is not in our power is perhaps the most important skill a Stoic learns, for everything hinges on the ability to make this critical distinction.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

"The Self Esteem Trap" from "Greeks to Geeks"

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century

"The Self Esteem Trap
 . . .
Epictetus: 'The things in our control are by their nature free, unrestrained, and unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you will not be harmed."

Healey, using Epictetus, here examines how little importance a Stoic should place on things outside the control one's own control. He quotes Dr. Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (who based it on Stoic philosophical concepts), as saying "Self-esteem is the greatest sickness known to man or woman because it's conditional." Healey explains, "If you place your sense of value as a human being, your sense of self-worth, on something that lies outside your control, you are asking for trouble. If your sense of self-love relies on outside conditions you are giving away all of your power."

So what is self-esteem? Healey says, "True self-esteem is the confidence you gain when you know what is actually within your power, and by mastering and utilizing this knowledge." True self - esteem, then, is based on what is in our control - opinion, pursuit, desire, and aversion - the "Ruling Faculty" of Epictetus. This Ruling Faculty "is simply our ability to form opinions, to have beliefs, to reminisce about the past and to project into the future."

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Of That Which Is In Our Control, & That Which Is Not" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism in the 21st Century -

"Epictetus: 'Some things are in our control and others are not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.'

OK, so let's think about that for a second. On first reading it may sound counter-intuitive, and certainly it is not something that is generally taught . . ."

Healey then goes on to examine some of the ways in which some things that seem to be under our own control, such as our bodies, are in fact subject to outside controls and influences, such as disease, old age, or simple physical constraint.

"One of the main objectives of Stoic philosophy is first of all to identify what lies within our full control all of the time and what does not, and secondly to then only concern ourselves with what we do control, and show apathy to that which we do not. Just imagine for a moment that you no longer cared about or worried about that which is not within your control. Imagine not caring about what others do, think, or say; imagine not worrying about the weather, or the traffic, or your wealth or reputation. The vast majority of what makes up the stress, discomfort, and unhappiness in the average human is caused by people imagining that they have control of that which they don't. If all you have to worry about is your own opinions, beliefs, actions, and perceptions, imagine the peace and contentment you could achieve."

Of course, one of the great problems we face is that most of us feel we must invest emotionally in things outside our own control.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Stoicism Q&A in "Greeks to Geeks" - Stoicism and Religion

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism in the 21st Century -

"Question: What about God and all that stuff, do I have to have faith? Do I have to change my religious beliefs? Is there any praying or any other weird rituals I have to do? And what about an afterlife?

Answer: The original Stoics were Pantheists, believing that nature is God, that this 'God' pervades all the universe and is found in everything; however it is nor necessary to be a full-on Pantheist to enjoy practical benefits of Stoic philosophy. Everyone from the most devout religious practitioner to the most scientific of atheists and everyone in between can enjoy Stoicism. As the Stoics are fond of saying, 'be it God or atoms,' it matters not."

It is interesting to note that in a time when most people were polytheistic in their outlook, the Stoics tended toward Unitarian and Pantheist frameworks of understanding.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Bene Gesserit "Litany Against Fear" from "Dune"

From Frank Herbert's Dune, the Bene Gesserit "Litany Against Fear" - 

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
This sounds rather Stoic to me. Worth remembering.

Stoicism Q&A in "Greeks to Geeks" - Asceticism in Stoicism

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism in the 21st Century:

"Question: Doesn't being a Stoic mean giving up all the fun stuff in life and living like a monk? The nice food, the sex, the drink, the death metal music?

Answer: No, not at all; nature is the Stoic god, it pervades everything, including our senses. By all means enjoy all that you can. The only thing the Stoics suggest is a certain modesty and balance to anything you do, and to not become attached to anything which you do not control, to not confuse the fruits of the world, and the material things in your possession, with your own self-worth. Moderation is the Stoic way; enjoy the good and pleasurable things that come into your life, but binging, greed, and gluttony would be looked down upon in Stoicism. At the same time, needless asceticism, fasting, chastity, and self-harming would also be seen as an excess."

     I can't really dispute Healey's response, except that one will find individual Stoics who urge differing levels of asceticism, and if the ancient Stoics tended to err in this regard, it tended to be on the side of caution. Some famous Stoics were given to bouts of "needless asceticism," mostly as a technique to prepare oneself to deal with unpreventable privation. Many ancient Stoics felt that they needed this kind of self-training to test themselves before they ran into the real thing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Stockdale Meditates on Stoicism as He Parachutes Into Viet Nam

From Courage Under Fire:

     "On September 9, 1965, I flew at 500 knots right into a flak trap, at tree-top level, in a little A-4 airplane--the cockpit walls not even three feet apart--which I couldn't steer after it was on fire, its control system shot out. After ejection I had about thirty seconds to make my last statement in freedom before I landed in the main street of a little village right ahead. And so help me, I whispered to myself: 'Five years down there, at least. I'm leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.'

     'Ready at hand' from The Enchiridion as I ejected from that airplane was the understanding that a Stoic always kept separate files in his mind for (A) those things that are 'up to him' and (B) those things that are 'not up to him.' Another way of saying it is (A) those things that are 'within his power' and (B) those things that are 'beyond his power.' Still another way of saying it is (A) those things that are within the grasp of 'his Will, his Free Will' and (B) those things that are beyond it. All in category B are 'external,' beyond my control, ultimately dooming me to fear and anxiety if I covet them. All in category A are up to me, within my power, within my will, and properly subjects for my total concern and involvement. They include my opinions, my aims, my aversions, my own grief, my own joy, my judgments, my attitude about what is going on, my own good, and my own evil."

James B. Stockdale. Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (Hoover Essays) (Kindle Locations 108-116). Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

From "Courage Under Fire"

From the introduction to Vice-Admiral James B. Stockdale's Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus' Doctrines in the Laboratory of Human Behavior:

     "[U]ndergirding my new confidence was the realization that I had found the proper philosophy for the military arts as I practiced them. The Roman Stoics coined the formula Vivere militare! - 'Life is being a soldier.' Epictetus in Discourses: 'Do you not know that life is a soldier's service? One must keep guard, another go out to reconnoitre, another take the field. If you neglect your responsibilities when some severe order is laid upon you, do you not understand to what a pitiful state you bring the army in so far as in you lies?' Enchiridion: 'Remember, you are an actor in a drama of such sort as
poor man, or a cripple, or a ruler, see that you act it well. For this is your business-to act well the given part, but to choose it belongs to Another.' 'Every one of us, slave or free, has come into this world with innate conceptions as to good and bad, noble and shameful, becoming and unbecoming, happiness and unhappiness, fitting and inappropriate.' 'If you regard yourself as a man and as a part of some whole, it is fitting for you now to be sick and now to make a voyage and run risks, and now to be in want,and on occasion to die before your time. Why, then are you vexed? Would you have someone else be sick of a fever now, someone else go on a voyage, someone else die? For it is impossible in such a body as ours, that is, in this universe that envelops us, among these fellow-creatures of ours, that such things should not happen, some to one man, some to another'."

James B. Stockdale. Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (Hoover Essays) (Kindle Locations 98-108). Kindle Edition.

Stoicism and Emotion (Margaret R. Graver)

     Well, I just finished reading Stoicism and Emotion by Margaret R. Graver, and I must say, I find it a truly magisterial treatment of the Stoic view of emotion. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Stoicism!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Apatheia Revisited (from "Stoicism and Emotion")

From Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion:

Apatheia revisited

     "The material we have seen here on remorse and shame gives rise to further reflections on the old ideal of apatheia or the disappearance of the pathē. Getting a more precise understanding of that ideal has been a major enterprise of this book. I have argued that while the pathē Stoics sought to eliminate are indeed cases of emotion in our sense, not everything we now call an `emotion' was considered by Stoics to be a pathos and subject to elimination. The pathē are affective responses toward externals, but there are other affect-laden responses that are not pathē. Such are the eupatheiai of the wise: their joy, their eagerness for what is good, their goodwill, friendship, and love. Thus Jerome is only half right when he complains against the Stoics that achieving apatheia would mean becoming "either god or a stone." Being wise and thus free of the pathē does mean that one is godlike, for knowledge is a harmonious condition that resembles the harmony of the god-infused cosmos as a whole. But it does not mean that one becomes like a stone, for there are genuine objects to which the wise may respond affectively. Indeed the Stoic understanding of human nature and of the causes of our feelings implies not only that such responses may occur in the normative person but even that they must.

     We should remember that the attainment of apatheia is not in itself the goal of personal development. For the founding Stoics the endpoint of progress was simply that one should come to understand the world correctly. The disappearance of the pathē comes with that changed intellectual condition: one who is in a state of knowledge does not assent to anything false, and the evaluations upon which the pathē depend really are false. Thus it seems to me philosophically perverse to think of using Stoic arguments to rid oneself of undesired emotions merely because of the way they feel, without coming to grips with Stoic axiology. That approach may be justifiable on a temporary basis, because of the disruptive nature of emotional judgments. But it misses the central and indispensable point of the Stoics' contribution in ethics and psychology: that no rational being wants to believe what is false.

     This chapter has added the observation that even those who are not wise will sometimes respond affectively to integral objects-that is, to features of our own character or conduct. When we do this, it certainly seems possible within Stoic theory that our responses are at least sometimes generated on the basis of true beliefs. These would then have the same status as our other actions have when premised on true beliefs about appropriateness; that is, the status of kathekonta, the ordinary person's 'appropriate actions,' as distinct from the `fully correct actions' (katorthomata) of the wise. Stoic reasons for believing that the pathē would be eliminated in a perfected mind would not apply to them."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 210-211). Kindle Edition.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thomas Jefferson on the Classical Philosophers

    From Carl J. Richard's The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment:

     "In 1803, Jefferson wrote regarding the classical philosophers: 'Their precepts related chiefly to ourselves, and the government of those passions which, unrestrained, would disturb our tranquility of mind. In this branch of philosophy they were really great. In developing our duties to others, they were short and defective.' In 1819 he declared: 'Epictetus and Epicurus give laws for governing ourselves, Jesus a supplement for the duties and charities we owe to others." (p. 187)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

On Stoic Love (From "Stoicism and Emotion")

     Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion tackles the difficult issue of the complex idea we call "love" in the context of Stoicism. As she writes, there is reason to wonder whether it counts as an affective response at all:

"Given that wise erōs is not a form of desire, there is some temptation to try to classify it with action tendencies of the calm `selective' type and to conclude that the wise person is devoted to erotic activities only as preferred indifferents, in about the same way as he might be devoted to studying literature or hunting with dogs. Against this it should be noted that the object toward which this love is directed-that is, the forming of a friendship-is an object the wise person recognizes as a good, albeit a good which is to be realized at some time in the future. This is the primary mark of a specifically affective response, as opposed to a merely `selective' impulse, that it depends on an evaluation of the unconditional sort. For this reason alone we should not hesitate to interpret Stoic erōs as having a place among the eupatheiai. As a future-directed eupatheia, it can be classified as a subspecies of wish (boulēsis), alongside the friendly responses of good intent, goodwill, welcoming, and cherishing."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 187-188). Kindle Edition.

     In other words, love in its purest sense is not a passion, involving an incorrect judgment about another person or a situation. If it turns into an irrational over-valuing of another person or relationship, than it becomes a passion we suffer. But if it is a rational judgment followed by rational and friends responses of well-wishing, that is not a passion, and can be - nay, must be - indulged by the sage.

     Some more thoughts on the positive purpose and outcomes of love follow. According to one analysis, the Stoics, especially Zeno, conceived of  "eupathic love as having an educational purpose; that is, that the wise lover's wish is not only to form a friendship with a young person seen as potentially wise but also to supply whatever teaching is required to realize that potential. That eupathic love should foster educational endeavor is an attractive hypothesis, especially in view of the age difference between the lover and the beloveds' In view of the Platonic parallel-for Diotima in Symposium 2o6c-2o7a is similarly concerned with intellectual reproduction-we are probably justified in finding this thought in the remark in Stobaeus that erōs is "a protreptic toward virtuous matters." If Zeno thought that love relations between the wise and younger persons who are not yet wise would encourage the latter to study moral philosophy, then it is easy to see why he would have held that love "contributes to the security of the polis." The `security' would then mean sure continuance over time, as each wise person is moved to train one or more younger persons to replace him.

     But we should be careful not to conclude that the educative dimension of the love relationship is what justifies wise erōs in the eyes of Stoics. Erōs does not require justification; it is a good thing in its own right, as are all the eupatheiai. The wise fall in love for no other reason than that it is their nature to want to be intimate with those whom they see as beautiful. A wish to impart wisdom might be part of their endeavor; how could they not want the beloved to acquire what they value for themselves? But it is the intimacy itself that is their object."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 188-189). Kindle Edition.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On Friendship and Self-Sufficiency (From Stoicism and Emotion)

     To us, it seems that human relationships require emotional investment in another person. If you have a friend, or someone whom you love, you grow to feel you "need" them, and feel an acute sense of loss when you "lose" them in some way. The ancient Stoics, as Margaret R. Graver shows in Stoicism and Emotion, had a very different take on the issue:

     "Perhaps the most radical element in the Stoic theory of friendship is the claim that relations among good people can be warm and genuine without also compromising the self-sufficiency of the individual. An important feature of the normative human in all ancient accounts is that he or she has the resources to live happily in any and all circumstances. Real happiness should be such as cannot be destroyed by any possible kind of loss. It follows that the wise person should be unalarmed by the mortal illness of a friend and should not grieve when friends die. While there might be some tears and a certain amount of pain-for these can come on involuntarily, as a `biting and small contraction'-there is no possibility that the wise will enter fully into grief.

     The claim that friendship is compatible with self-sufficiency could be defended in two ways. One could argue, first, that the ability to rise above the loss of friends comes of the wise person's accurate understanding of what it is for a thing to be good. The value of the commonality between friends is in its harmonious nature, and this is not dependent on numbers or diminished by the removal of one person. Alternatively, one might argue that while the wise value friendship in general, they are unconcerned about the identity of any one particular friend. A wise friend of one who is gone will turn immediately to other friends or potential friends, finding in them the same source of satisfaction as existed before."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 182-183). Kindle Edition.

Friday, January 3, 2014

On Stoic Friendship (from "Stoicism and Emotion")

     The concept of friendship in Stoicism is explored in Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion. The ideal sort of friendship discussed in the philosophy does not necessarily reflect any real relationships that actually exist or have existed, as this is an ideal:

     "One should keep in mind that this friendship claim, like all Stoic claims about the righteous or wise person, is made at a normative and theoretical level; it is not a description of historically instantiated relationships. If even the individual wise person is as rare as the phoenix, it is hardly to be expected that two such people would ever exist at the same moment in history. But the claim made here does not concern what has happened or might happen but only what ought to happen. Relationship entails plurality; in order to treat the idealized form of human relationship, Stoics must take plurality as a given and proceed from there."

     What, then, would relationships among the wise be like if they were to come together, as in theory they might? The above passages sound several important themes: that there is a likeness or similarity among all wise persons; that wise friendship is in essence a `sharing' or commonality (koinōnia) which involves treating the other as oneself; and that there is concord (homonoia), defined as a recognition that goods are held in common. To these points may be added further statements made in the same context by the Stobaean witness. These indicate that wise friendship includes a level of affective engagement.

'The righteous person is companionable, tactful, encouraging, and in companionship is liable to seek after good intent and friendship.... And they also say that cherishing, welcoming, and being friends belong only to the righteous.'

     Of significance here are the terms `good intent' (eunoein), `cherishing' (agapān), and `welcoming' (aspazesthai). For eunoia, agapēsis, and aspasmos are all terms known to us in the context of Stoic affective theory, where they are named as species of eupathic response, the type of affective response found in the wise; specifically, they are all species of the eupathic genus boulēsis or `wish.' Their occurrence here suggests that the ideal form of human relationship is conceived not only as a mutual disposition to act in one another's best interests but also as a disposition to respond affectively to one another. We are to imagine the wise interacting with one another in daily life and, in the context of those interactions, experiencing feelings of warmth and affection.

     A very early Stoic claim was that all the wise are automatically friends to one another, even sight unseen. In the Stobaean account, however, that view is replaced by one which allows friendship to be more clearly a personal relationship. Proper civic relations between people who are not personally acquainted do not have to be considered friendships, although it is still true that all wise persons, wherever they happen to live, regard one another as fellow citizens and regulate their actions accordingly. Friendships arise when people who are wise also come into contact with one another and acquire knowledge of each other's character as individuals."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (pp. 178-180). Kindle Edition.