Stoic News

By Dave Kelly

Monday, July 21, 2003

Stoicism: Epictetus: Freedom in the Walled City of the Mind

"Mental disturbance is caused by wanting and craving what is beyond our power. Bring an end to such wanting and craving, and you bring an end to suffering; you will be happy. (Compare this to Buddhism that teaches that the cause of human suffering is craving or grasping. In Buddhism, to eliminate suffering, one must eliminate craving, desiring.) External attachments cause both pleasure and pain. Virtue or peace is detachment from external attachments, even from attachment to one's own body (the well being of which is not entirely in our control). The harmony of the soul is above the flux of pleasure and pain, as the harmony of nature is above all the opposites found in nature. Stoicism is the dualism of internal stability and external flux. Inside the mind, there can be calm; outside the mind there is constant movement -- coming to be and passing away. Dependence on what comes to be and passes away brings disappointment and pain. Dependence on reason or natural order (which is constant) brings peace and freedom. "

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

"[Diogenes of Sinope] used to say, that there were two kinds of exercise: that, namely, of the mind and that of the body; and that the latter of these created in the mind such quick and agile phantasies at the time of its performance, as very much facilitated the practice of virtue; but that one was imperfect without the other, since the health and vigour necessary for the practice of what is good, depend equally on both mind and body. And he used to allege as proofs of this, and of the ease which practice imparts to acts of virtue, that people could see that in the case of mere common working trades, and other employments of that kind, the artisans arrived at no inconsiderable accuracy by constant practice; and that any one may see how much one flute player, or one wrestler, is superior to another, by his own continued practice. And that if these men transferred the same training to their minds they wou1d not labour in a profitless or imperfect manner." - Diogenes Laertius.

Virtue is a matter of habit.

The Internet Classics Archive | Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle - Book II.

"Virtue, then, being of two kinds, intellectual and moral, intellectual virtue in the main owes both its birth and its growth to teaching (for which reason it requires experience and time), while moral virtue comes about as a result of habit, whence also its name (ethike) is one that is formed by a slight variation from the word ethos (habit). From this it is also plain that none of the moral virtues arises in us by nature; for nothing that exists by nature can form a habit contrary to its nature. For instance the stone which by nature moves downwards cannot be habituated to move upwards, not even if one tries to train it by throwing it up ten thousand times; nor can fire be habituated to move downwards, nor can anything else that by nature behaves in one way be trained to behave in another. Neither by nature, then, nor contrary to nature do the virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit.

"Again, of all the things that come to us by nature we first acquire the potentiality and later exhibit the activity (this is plain in the case of the senses; for it was not by often seeing or often hearing that we got these senses, but on the contrary we had them before we used them, and did not come to have them by using them); but the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyreplayers by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.

"This is confirmed by what happens in states; for legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them, and this is the wish of every legislator, and those who do not effect it miss their mark, and it is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one.

"Again, it is from the same causes and by the same means that every virtue is both produced and destroyed, and similarly every art; for it is from playing the lyre that both good and bad lyre-players are produced. And the corresponding statement is true of builders and of all the rest; men will be good or bad builders as a result of building well or badly. For if this were not so, there would have been no need of a teacher, but all men would have been born good or bad at their craft. This, then, is the case with the virtues also; by doing the acts that we do in our transactions with other men we become just or unjust, and by doing the acts that we do in the presence of danger, and being habituated to feel fear or confidence, we become brave or cowardly. The same is true of appetites and feelings of anger; some men become temperate and good-tempered, others self-indulgent and irascible, by behaving in one way or the other in the appropriate circumstances. Thus, in one word, states of character arise out of like activities. This is why the activities we exhibit must be of a certain kind; it is because the states of character correspond to the differences between these. It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference."

Texts and Translations

"Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Famous Philosophers VI (Cynics)
i.e. Antisthenes, Diogenes, Monimos, Onesikritos, Krates, Metrokles, Hipparkhia, Menippos, Menedemos, at P Halsall's site at Fordham here. Lives of the Famous Philosophers VII (Stoics) i.e. Zeno of Kition, Ariston, Herillos, Dionysios, Kleanthes, Sphairos, Khrusippos, at P Halsall's site at Fordham here. Life of Epicurus at here."

Thursday, July 10, 2003

To be like-minded with God

"Harmonizing ourselves with nature is difficult but not impossible, and Epictetus gives a great deal of practical counsel to his students. It requires, he says, constant practice and self-discipline because

"Every skill and faculty is maintained and increased by the corresponding acts; . . . And thus it is in spiritual things also. When thou art wrathful, know that not this single evil hath happened to thee but that thou hast increased the aptness to it, and, as it were, poured oil upon the fire. . . . Wouldst thou, then, be no longer of a wrathful temper? Then do not nourish the aptness to it, give it nothing that will increase it, be tranquil from the outset, and number the days when thou hast not been wrathful. . . . For the aptness is at first enfeebled, and then destroyed. -- Discourses 2:xviii

"The key is to make new habits of thought and action, and to do this it is of primary importance not to judge too hastily. Whatever our first reaction may be, we should pause and examine it. "

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

The practice of Stoicism requires a commitment to changing bad habits, or vices, into good habits, or virtues, and a discipline to make it happen.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Modifying what you say to yourself: The therapeutic philosophy of Epictetus

"And what is the correct use of the appearances? The exercise of „prohairesis“ towards them, that is, to consent to them as they are. All what Epictetus teaches is summarized in the statement:

(E 8)

„Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life“ "