Stoic News

By Dave Kelly

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Exercises in support of the Discipline of Desire


"In A Handbook for New Stoics, renowned philosopher Massimo Pigliucci and seasoned practitioner Gregory Lopez provide 52 week-by-week lessons to help us apply timeless Stoic teachings in modern life" (backcover).

Below are references to the 17 exercises of Part 1, "The Discipline of Desire," each with Pigliucci's and Lopez's headings and their selections of text from the ancient Stoics (here alternately translated).


"1. Discover what's really in your control, and what's not"

"Some things are under our control, while others are not under our control. Under our control are conception, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything that is our own doing; not under our control are our body, our property, reputation, office" (Epictetus, Encheiridion, 1.1; Oldfather).


"2. Focus on what is completely in your control"

"Remember that the promise of desire is the attainment of what you desire, that of aversion is not to fall into what is avoided, and that he who fails in his desire is unfortunate, while he who falls into what he would avoid experiences misfortune. If, then, you avoid only what is unnatural among those things which are under your control, you will fall into none of the things which you avoid; but if you try to avoid disease, or death, or poverty, you will experience misfortune. Withdraw, therefore, your aversion from all the matters that are not under our control, and transfer it to what is unnatural among those which are under our control" (Epictetus, Encheiridion, 2.1--2; Oldfather).


"3. Take an outside view"

"What the will of nature is may be learned from a consideration of the points in which we do not differ from one another. For example, when some other person's slave-boy breaks his drinking-cup, you are instantly ready to say, "That's one of the things which happen." Rest assured, then, that when your own drinking-cup gets broken, you ought to behave in the same way that you do when the other man's cup is broken. Apply now the same principle to the matters of greater importance. Some other person's child or wife has died; no one but would say, "Such is the fate of man." Yet when a man's own child dies, immediately the cry is, "Alas! Woe is me!" But we ​ought to remember how we feel when we hear of the same misfortune befalling others" (Epictetus, Encheiridion, 26; Oldfather).


"4. Take another's perspective"

"When a man has done thee any wrong, immediately consider with what opinion [judgment] about good or evil he has done wrong. For when thou hast seen this, thou wilt pity him, and wilt neither wonder nor be angry. For either thou thyself thinkest the same thing to be good that he does or another thing of the same kind. It is thy duty then to pardon him. But if thou dost not think [judge] such things to be good or evil, thou wilt more readily be well disposed to him who is in error" (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.26; G. Long).


"5. Strengthen yourself through minor physical hardship"

"Now there are two kinds of training, one which is appropriate for the soul alone, and the other which is common to both soul and body. We use the training common to both when we discipline ourselves to cold, heat, thirst, hunger, meager rations, hard beds, avoidance of pleasures, and patience under suffering.

"For by these things and others like them the body is strengthened and becomes capable of enduring hardship, sturdy and ready for any task; the soul too is strengthened since it is trained for courage by patience under hardship and for self-control by abstinence from pleasures" (Musonius Rufus, Lectures, 4--5; Cora E. Lutz).


"6. Premeditation of future adversity"

 "If an evil has been pondered beforehand, the blow is gentle when it comes. To the fool, however, and to him who trusts in fortune, each event as it arrives "comes in a new and sudden form," and a large part of evil, to the inexperienced, consists in its novelty. This is proved by the fact that men endure with greater courage, when they have once become accustomed to them, the things which they had at first regarded as hardships. Hence, the wise man accustoms himself to coming trouble, lightening by long reflection the evils which others lighten by long endurance. We sometimes hear the inexperienced say: "I knew that this was in store for me." But the wise man knows that all things are in store for him. Whatever happens, he says: "I knew it"" (Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, 76.35--36; Gummere).


"7. Take a (much) broader perspective"

"Thou canst remove out of the way many useless things among those which disturb thee, for they lie entirely in thy opinion [judgment]; and thou wilt then gain for thyself ample space by comprehending the whole universe in thy mind, and by contemplating the eternity of time, and observing the rapid change of every several thing, how short is the time from birth to dissolution, and the illimitable time before birth as well as the equally boundless time after dissolution" (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9,32; G. Long).


"8. Meditate on nature and the cosmos"

"The Pythagoreans bid us in the morning look to the heavens that we may be reminded of those bodies which continually do the same things and in the same manner perform their work, and also be reminded of their purity and nudity. For there is no veil over a star" (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 11.27; G. Long).


"9. Be careful about what you call 'good' and 'bad'"

"True happiness, therefore, consists in virtue: and what will this virtue bid you do? Not to think anything bad or good which is connected neither with virtue nor with wickedness" (Seneca, Of a Happy Life, 16; Stewart).


"10. Act the opposite"

"These are voices which you ought to shun just as Ulysses did; he would not sail past them until he was lashed to the mast. They are no less potent; they lure men from country, parents, friends, and virtuous ways; and by a hope that, if not base, is ill-starred, they wreck them upon a life of baseness. How much better to follow a straight course and attain a goal where the words "pleasant" and "honourable" have the same meaning![3] This end will be possible for us if we understand that there are two classes of objects which either attract us or repel us. We are attracted by such things as riches, pleasures, beauty, ambition, and other such coaxing and pleasing objects; we are repelled by toil, death, pain, disgrace, or lives of greater frugality. We ought therefore to train ourselves so that we may avoid a fear of the one or a desire for the other. Let us fight in the opposite fashion: let us retreat from the objects that allure, and rouse ourselves to meet the objects that attack" (Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, 123.12--13; Gummere).


"11. Moderate at mealtime"

"Thus the oftener we are tempted by pleasure in eating, the more dangers there are involved. And indeed at each meal there is not one hazard for going wrong, but many. First of all, the man who eats more than he ought do is wrong, and the man who eats in undue haste no less, and also the man who wallows in the pickles and sauces, and the man who prefers the sweeter foods to the more healthful ones, and the man who does not serve food of the same kind or amount to his guests as to himself.[1] There is still another wrong in connection with eating, when we indulge in it at an unseasonable time, and although there is something else we ought to do, we put it aside in order to eat" (Musonius Rufus, Lectures, 18.B4; Cora E. Lutz).


"12. Put temptations out of sight"

"Just as he who tries to be rid of an old love must avoid every reminder of the person once held dear (for nothing grows again so easily as love), similarly, he who would lay aside his desire for all the things which he used to crave so passionately, must turn away both eyes and ears from the objects which he has abandoned. The emotions soon return to the attack; 4. at every turn they will notice before their eyes an object worth their attention. There is no evil that does not offer inducements. Avarice promises money; luxury, a varied assortment of pleasures; ambition, a purple robe and applause, and the influence which results from applause, and all that influence can do" (Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, 69.3--4; Gummere).


"13. Start practicing minimalism"

"How far happier is he who is indebted to no man for anything except for what he can deprive himself of with the greatest ease! Since we, however, have not such strength of mind as this, we ought at any rate to diminish the extent of our property, in order to be less exposed to the assaults of fortune: those men whose bodies can be within the shelter of their armour, are more fitted for war than those whose huge size everywhere extends beyond it, and exposes them to wounds: the best amount of property to have is that which is enough to keep us from poverty, and which yet is not far removed from it" (Seneca, Of Peace of Mind, 8; Stewart).


"14. Evaluate your goals"

"The next point to these will be to take care that we do not labour for what is vain, or labour in vain: that is to say, neither to desire what we are not able to obtain, nor yet, having obtained our desire too late, and after much toil to discover the folly of our wishes: in other words, that our labour may not be without result, and that the result may not be unworthy of our labour: for as a rule sadness arises from one of these two things, either from want of success or from being ashamed of having succeeded" (Seneca, Of Peace of Mind, 12; Stewart).


"15. Remind yourself of impermanence"

"With everything which entertains you, is useful, or of which you are fond, remember to say to yourself, beginning with the very least things, "What is its nature?" If you are fond of a jug, say, "I am fond of a jug"; for when it is broken you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your own child or wife, say to yourself that you are kissing a human being; for when it dies you will not be disturbed" (Epictetus, Encheiridion, 3; Oldfather).


"16. Comtemplate death, and how to live"

""It is difficult, however," you say, "to bring the mind to a point where it can scorn life." But do you not see what trifling reasons impel men to scorn life? One hangs himself before the door of his mistress; another hurls himself from the house-top that he may no longer be compelled to bear the taunts of a bad-tempered master; a third, to be saved from arrest after running away, drives a sword into his vitals. Do you not suppose that virtue will be as efficacious as excessive fear? No man can have a peaceful life who thinks too much about lengthening it, or believes that living through many consulships is a great blessing. Rehearse this thought every day, that you may be able to depart from life contentedly; for many men clutch and cling to life, even as those who are carried down a rushing stream clutch and cling to briars and sharp rocks" (Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, 4.4--5; Gummere).


"17. Meditate on others' virtue"

"When thou wishest to delight thyself, think of the virtues of those who live with thee; for instance, the activity of one, and the modesty of another, and the liberality of a third, and some other good quality of a fourth. For nothing delights so much as the examples of the virtues, when they are exhibited in the morals of those who live with us and present them before us" (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.48; G. Long).

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Are You Still a Stoic If?

 In this 4/24/2011 message to the International Stoic Forum Grant Sterling answers Nyk Cowham.


----- Nyk Cowham [ ... ] wrote:

> Salvete Stoici in foro,
>
> As we have a few discussions attempting to identify the 'essential'
> principles and definitions of Stoicism some interesting questions arise
> given that modern Stoics may reject some and embrace other aspects of
> ancient Stoicism. This raises the ancient problem of identity - how can
> Stoicism change and yet still be Stoicism?
>
> Here are the questions that come to mind: 
>
> 1. If you reject the physics, adopt modern symbolic logic in place of

> stoic logic and focus almost exclusively on the ethics, are you still a
> Stoic?

*****
If by 'focus almost exclusively on ethics' you mean
'accept the ethical principles accepted by the Stoics',
then "yes". Notice that this is true of Epictetus _as
found in his writings_--I doubt that anyone who knows
anything about philosophy and who picked up only Epictetus'
works as currently preserved would deny that E. is a Stoic
(indeed, he is a paradigm Stoic) and yet he says almost
nothing about physics or logic. (We have external
reasons for supposing that he taught about physics and logic,
and his teachings may have been quite orthodox, but not
one person that I know of counts him as a Stoic _on those
grounds_. Aurelias says little about physics or logic,
but seems to count as a Stoic.
*****

> 2. If you reject the ethics and logic, and are only interested in the

> physics, are you still a Stoic?
> 3. If you reject the ethics and physics and are only interested in the

> logic, are you still a Stoic?

*****
"No", and "No". People today adopt a huge range of
theories of physics and logic, some of which might
resemble the views of the Stoics in various ways, but
without anything resembling Stoic ethics they aren't Stoics.
*****


> The underlying question is it is essential, as Zeno, Chrysippus, et al
> claimed, to have all elements of the philosophy due to their tight
> interdependence? Must we refute their claim, and if so, on what grounds?

*****
On the grounds that we see clear examples of people
who have adopted distinctively Stoic positions in ethics
who everyone agrees are Stoics who reject all or most
Stoic physics and logic.
*****


>
> I have been diving deeply into the Stoic physics and as you engage in the
> discourse it seems that indeed you cannot really grasp it without reference
> to both their logic and ethics. This interdependence between the fields of
> philosophy seems to be an essential feature of their physics, logic and
> ethics. For example, Sambursky in 'The Physics of the Stoics' does a very
> good job showing that the ethical argument that distinguishes between that
> which is in our power and that which is not is can be directly derived from
> the determinism and causal theory of their physics. By the same causal
> theory the reason for asserting that virtue or character is the only thing
> we can make a ruling on, and therefore the only way we can influence the
> direction of our fate towards eudaimonia is given. There are many similar
> examples where the logic is in it's form different to modern propositional
> logic in support of the physical and ethical theories.

*****
I categorically reject the determinism and causal
theory of the ancient Stoics, and yet I have totally
independent reasons for accepting their notions of control
and of virtue. I accept their theory of the emotions
for strictly introspective/empirical reasons--it
accounts perfectly for all my actual experiences or
emotion. Etc.
*****


> This interdependence between the fields is itself a feature of Stoic
> physics, specifically their theory of causality again. It is an example of
> mutual causality:
>
> *But it is of interest to notice another analogy mentioned by Clemens of

> Alexandria, who tells of the distinction made in Stoic terminology between
> the asymmetrical cause-effect relation and the symmetrical relation of
> mutual cause and interaction. Among the examples quoted are the virtues
> ("the virtues are each other's mutual cause in such a way that they cannot
> be separated because of their interdependence") together with "the stones of
> a vault which are each other's cause for remaining in place." Here we have
> the picture of an interaction of localized units of a class where the
> removal of one unit leads to the breaking up of the whole system held
> together by the laws of statics. It is very suggestive to compare these two
> equivalent pictures of reciprocal causality, one based on the
> interpenetration of pneuma tensions and the other on the equilibrium of
> forces acting between adjacent bodies.*

> S. Sambursky, "The Physics of the Stoics", pp. 81-2.

*****
All this seems to me to say is that they drew an
interesting illustrative analogy between the unity of
the virtues and a certain kind of physical relationship.
{Jan will tell us that his favorite philosophers believe
that such metaphorical connectiomns are pervasive in
all of philosophy, and I'll say "so what?" :) }
Aristotle believed in the unity of the virtues, and
so do I (in some form or other) despite the fact that
neither of us believes in pneuma.
*****


> This idea of interdependence and mutual causality (which has interesting
> parallels in Buddhist Abhidhamma - reciprocal cause), implies that if you
> remove any of the fields of Stoicism, then the whole cannot stand. If we
> reject this interdependence of the disciplines in order to reject the
> physics and logic in favor of the ethics - then a new account that justifies
> the ethics must be devised. I suspect right now that the justification for
> many of us may simply be that the stoic theory is less noxious than the
> alternatives, or some other fallacious justification that appeals to
> consequences.

*****
I see no logical argument here that these beliefs
must be interconnected. If you only mean that people
should not hold philosophical views that contradict
their views in other fields, then I completely agree--
but there's nothing particularly Stoic about the idea
that our set of beliefs shouldn't be self-contradictory.
I'm a metaphysical dualist, a libertarian about free will,
and I believe almost all the essential ethical doctrines
that, say, Epictetus believed. I think that anyone who
read my philosophical views (without knowing that I
called myself a Stoic or subscribed to this List) would
call my views "Stoic" once they read the ethics--and that,
to me, is conclusive. "Stoic" is a word we use to
communicate--and in the philosophical community the
word is used to denote people who subscribe to a certain
set of ethical doctrines, regardless of their logical
or physical views (or their religious views, etc.).
*****


> I think if we want to find the essence of Stoicism this interdependence
> would seem to be a fundamental feature, at least according to the ancients.

*****
Again, if you cvonsider Epictetus we find him
taking great pains from the outset to teach his
students certain ethical doctrines...and he almost
never mentions anything at all about "interdependence".
He, at least, does not seem to have regarded this
idea as essential or indeed as important at all.
*****


> They may have been wrong, but the burden of proving them wrong would be on
> anyone who would remove elements from Stoicism and claim to be Stoic. In
> claiming a philosophical tradition it is not enough to simply pick what you
> like and ignore the rest, you also have to develop a discourse that
> justifies your identity with the tradition. The historical parallel is the
> Neoplatonists, who claimed to be continuing the Platonic tradition, despite
> the fact there was no unbroken line of succession from the Platonic academy.
> It should be noted the Neoplatonists claimed to be Platonists without
> qualification. It was later commentators who added the qualification of
> 'Neo', presumably because the Neoplatonists failed to give an adequate
> account of their claim to the Platonic succession. Are you a Stoic or a
> Neostoic?

*****

[At this point Grant's email was sent prematurely, so I'm adding, here, the text from Grant's correcting email which followed.]

I'm not sure what you mean by "failed to give an

adequate account of their claim to the Platonic
succession". If you mean that later scholars came
to believe that the content of their views was at odds
with central features of Plato's own view, then you're
right--compare, if you will the much later group called
the "Cambridge Platonists", who were much farther
removed from Plato in time and space and milieu,
but who defended some essentially Platonic doctrines
to such a degree that they were not called "Neo-"
or "quasi-" Platonists.
*****

> I think we have a serious philosophical challenge here. It is not so serious
> if we simply want to take Stoic ethical conclusions and accept them as
> articles of faith, but that would mean that modern Stoicism is no longer in
> the philosophical tradition but is rather a creed.

*****
Quite true--but I see very few instances on
this List where people accept fundamental
doctrines of Stoicism "on faith".
*****


>
> --
> Nyk Cowham
> Cowham Consulting
> [ ... ]


Regards,
Grant

"Why seek ye the living among the dead?"


Sunday, July 17, 2022

Where are Good and Evil to be Found?

 Grant Sterling sent this 11/16/2020 email message to the International Stoic Forum addressed to "G" ['Gich'].


G:

    I had forgotten what a discussion with you was like--thanks

for the reminder.  I will not forget again.

    This is my last post in the thread, unless you write something

that distorts what I said, in which case I will correct it for the

benefit of others on the List.


    The Stoics believe the following propositions.  Perhaps you think

they're wrong about one or more of them--that's fine.  Just say to

yourself "Stoicism is built on a false foundation" and move on.  But

since this thread is allegedly a result of the fact that you don't understand

the doctrines embodied in Dave's original post, the truth or falsity of

those doctrines should be irrelevant--I think that my explanations should

be sufficiently clear.


    1) The goal of life is eudaimonia.

    2) Eudaimonia includes both feeling good about your life (roughly the

English 'happiness') and acting correctly (morally/ethically/rationally/rightly--

those terms are essentially interchangeable in this context).

    3) When you perceive something to be good, then you desire it.

    4) When you don't get what you desire, you feel unhappy. 

    sub-conclusion 1) When you don't get something you perceive to be good, you

feel unhappy.  {3+4}

    s-c2) When you don't get something you perceive to be good, you don't have eudaimonia.

{sc1 + 2, part 1}

    5) When you desire something, you will be tempted to try to get it, even if this

means doing something wrong (incorrect/immoral/etc.).

    5b) If you desire many things (other than desiring to choose rightly), it is virtually certain

that you will at some point act immorally.

    s-c3) If you desire many things (other than desiring to choose rightly), it is virtually certain

that you will not have eudaimonia.  {5b + 2, part 2}

    6) Your true identity is your _prohairesis_, the faculty of choice.  Your choices are

completely in your control--it is impossible for your prohairesis to seek to choose X

but end up choosing not-X.  Your choices cannot go astray--they are truly _yours_.

    7) Nothing else is in your control in this way--everything else in the universe can

turn out "not-X" even though you earnestly seek "X".  Let us call those 'things out in

the world', following Dave. (Or, if you prefer, 'things not in our control', or 'externals'.)

    7b) If you desire many things in the world, it is virtually certain that you won't get

some of them.

    s-c4a) If you desire many things in the world, it is virtually certain that you won't have

eudaimonia, because you will be unhappy. {7b + sc-2}

    s-c3 {restated}) If you desire many things in the world, it is virtually certain that you will

not have eudaimonia, because you will act wrongly.  {5b + 2, part 2}

    Hence, regarding things in the world as good (or bad) prevents you from achieving

eudaimonia, the goal of life.  It causes you to be unhappy, and leads you to act wrongly.

    Furthermore, things in the world are not really "ours", they're not really part of

us, in the way that our choices are truly ours.  Hence, they are inappropriate targets

of desire.

    So this is what Dave meant by saying that 'good' is not really out there in the world,

it exists only in our own choices.  And this is why thinking otherwise is a mistake.


    Since you want an example, and you dismissed the millions of examples I put

forward (people distressed by the election outcomes in the US), I will give you another.

I know a woman who is caring for her elderly husband.  She thinks that it would be good

for him to live a healthy life for many more years.  She is terrified that he will get COVID.

She experiences fear and anxiety, that are causing her health problems.  She sometimes

treats other people badly, when she thinks they have done something that might endanger

her husband's health (even if they did so unwittingly, and the threat is extremely remote).

Because she regards something out in the world as good, her happiness has been crippled,

and she has behaved wrongly.

    The Stoics think that the entire population of the world (except for any Sages that might

exist) follow this pattern.  Not one of us has eudaimonia, and the cause of our failure to

achieve eudaimonia is, in 100% of all cases, perceiving things out in the world as good

or bad.  I have a friend grieving the death of her father.  I know someone whose life is

being destroyed by alcohol, because he worries about his work.  I know someone who once

stole money from a close friend, because he wanted it.  In every case of human distress or

immorality, you can find something out in the world that the person perceived to be good or

bad, which led them into their suffering and/or wrongdoing.


    Regards,

        GCS

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Two Opposing Views of (modern) Stoicism


Grant Sterling's message of 1/6/2011 to the International Stoic Forum


1/3/2011 8:38 AM, TheophileEscargot wrote:
>
> *Ancient Greco-Roman Moralist Philosophy*


>
> While we call them both "philosophy", these ancient schools had a much
> wider scope than philosophy today. Firstly, they were eminently
> practical schools, with the aim of encouraging their followers to live
> better, happier and more fulfilled lives. In a way, they were closer to
> the philosophy of"Chicken Soup for the Soul" or self-help movements like
> Dale Carnegie's than anything taught in contemporary philosophy classes.

*****
I don't entirely agree. Plato's Academy, for example,
continued to have a rigorous and technical curriculum. Stoics
like Chrysippus were far better known for their technical arguments
than as "self-help" gurus. Etc. I do agree that the expectation
was that one would live out one's ethical commitments, rather than
treating ethics as a purely academic (in the modern sense) exercise.
*****

> *Ancient Stoicism*


>
> Stoicism was one of the more popular schools. Practically, it had a
> strong focus on restraining the "pathea": negative emotions like anger,

*****
Again, I disagree. "Restraining" implies that
the pathos remains active in one's life, but is bottled
up so that it can't get out. Stoicism represented a
break from Aristotelian and Platonic views that taught
that the emotions always exist even in the virtuous person.
Stoicism is about _eliminating_ passions.
*****



> fear and hate. This was done with a variety of techniques involving the
> use of one's reason. Reason, Nature and Virtue/Excellence ("arete") were

*****
Again, I disagree. This implies that the Stoics
were committed to Reason only as a tool for restraining
the passions. The Stoics were committed to Reason and
Virtue as essential components of Eudaimonia.
*****



> There are two apparent paradoxes. The first is a circularity problem:
> Virtue/Excellence often seems to consist of actions to maximize
> Indifferent: a doctor who works round the clock to fight an epidemic is
> virtuous, but is acting on indifferents like life and health. The second

*****
I understand the appearance of paradox, but
I don't think the paradox exists. The Stoics deny that
the value of our action hinges on the external consequences,
and hold that this value inheres in the internal rationality
of the choice. If this idea is admitted to be coherent, then
it _must_ be the case that the virtue of the doctor will consist
in actions aiming at maximizing something which is not itself
good. (Kant held that same view, although with a completely
different system. H.A. Prichard (an obscure philosopher of
the early 20th C.) actually argues that the opposite view
(consequentialism) is incoherent.
*****



> is the Lazy Argument: why should a stoic bother to do anything at all if
> he can just lie in bed and regard his slow starvation with equanimity.

*****
This gets back to what I think was your earlier
misunderstanding. If Stoicism were _only_ aimed at
restraining the passions, this would follow. But
Stoicism has as its real goal Rational and Virtuous
action, with freedom from passions resulting. We
could free ourselves from passions by other means (as,
for example, by means of certain kinds of brain damage),
be this wouldn't be Virtue and wouldn't be eudaimonia.
By the way, this isn't the "Lazy Argument". The
LA was an attack on the determinism of the early Stoics,
of the form "If all events are fated to happen a certain
way, then why bother to do anything, because our actions
can't possible effect the outcome".
*****

> We can of course make guesses and construct our ow n solutions. But it's


> important not to confuse these modern reconstructions with an authentic
> ancient stoicism.

*****
When studying any ancient philosophy one has
to do intelligent interpretation of the data....
*****

> *Modern Stoicism*


>
> Before we get carried away with enthusiasm for stoicism. we should
> consider modern scholarship. Apart from some tenuous and superficial
> similarities, modern science doesn't much resemble ancient stoic
> physics. Most modern philosophers regard stoicism as an obscure
> historical curiosity. Of those who are interested, some regard the
> apparent paradoxes as fatal to it: Tad Brennan's book The Stoic Life

> <http://www.amazon.com/Stoic-Life-Emotions-Duties-Fate/dp/019921705X/>


> explains the problems lucidly. Others regard it as salvageable, but
> regarding an immense effort to rebuild the foundations: Lawrence
> Becker's A New Stoicism

> <http://www.amazon.com/New-Stoicism-Lawrence-C-Becker/dp/0691009643/> is


> an attempt in that direction. There are some who regard ancient stoicism
> as salvageable without major changes, but from the perspective of
> mainstream philosophy, they are a small faction within a tiny fringe.

*****
True.
*****



> So on this most important level, if you try stoicism and it works for
> you, there is no real need to pursue the theory further: this pragmatic
> proof will be enough. But stoicism is a philosophy of reason: some of us
> will be inclined to look further.

*****
Again, I partly agree and partly disagree. The
Stoics certainly believed that if one lived according to
Stoic principles one would be able to see progress in
their life. They certainly agreed that no-one would
reach eudaimonia by merely professing certain principles
and not acting upon them.
On the other hand, one cannot lead the Stoic
life without accepting certain principles. For example,
if I wish to eliminate anger from my life I must believe
that the insults of that person over there are not
real harms to me--they are neither good nor evil.
Epictetus' Handbook contains techniques like visualization
of bad outcomes (see, for example, sections 3 and 4) but
they are embedded in distinctly Stoic doctrine (see, for
example, sections 1,2, and 5). So while one could, for
example, practice yoga as a method of relaxation without
adopting _any_ of the beliefs of Vedic Hunduism, one cannot
practice the Stoic method of eliminating the passions without
adopting the core beliefs of the Stoics.
*****



> This research, on a systematic level, confirms much of what the stoics
> thought. People often assume that the way to be happy is to pursue
> immediate pleasures, and to accumulate material goods. Happiness
> research shows that these produce weak and transient pleasure only.
> People who are happy in the long term tend to be those who devote
> themselves to others, or pursue tasks and jobs they consider to be
> meaningful. The stoics seem to be correct that pursuing
> Virtue/Excellence (arete) leads to long-term happiness (Eudaimonia).

*****
I don't think that what the Stoics meant by Eudaimonia
is captured by the modern term "Happiness" studied by social
scientists. I agree that being a Stoic will probably help
you towards _that_ goal, and that "Happiness" is a component
of Eudaimonia. I deny that they are identical.
*****



> Firstly, is it true that good and evil are within our power?
>
> This aspect of stoic thought does not seem possible to investigate
> scientifically. This question still belongs to the domain of philosophy,

> even in modern philosophy.< / div>

*****
I agree.
*****



> Whatever the ancient stoics thought their proofs about the nature of
> good and evil to be, I don't think we can regard them as logically
> provable today. Instead, I think we have to start with an assumption

*****
I think you move too quickly here. Ethics is a
field of philosophy in which a great deal of work is
being done by a lot of people. I see no reason why
one can't develop good arguments in favor of Stoic Ethics
just as people try to do with Utilitarian Ethics or Kantian
Ethics, etc. There are contemporary Aristotelian and
Platonists about ethics--just because there are fewer
Stoics doesn't mean that we should give up.

*****



> that we define good and evil to be what is within our power, without
> claiming that we can prove this definition to be true. We can however

*****
I don't like the phrase "define". I don't think
the Stoics hold that good and evil are _defined_ to
be in our control. I would be happier with saying that
we will assert the belief that good and evil are in our
control....
*****



> So, that good and evil are in our power seems tenable. But what about
> the second part: can we really control our emotional responses to
> events? The evidence from cognitive behaviour therapy suggests this is
> true too. We can reduce the negative emotions we feel with practice.
>
> However, we should note that there is no evidence that we can completely
> eliminate negative emotions. The stoics, like all the Greco-Roman moral
> philosophers, frequently discussed the concept of the "sage", the
> philosophically perfect human being. All the schools had their own model
> of the sage: in stoicism, the stoic sage was completely free of negative
> emotions (pathea). However, no stoic philosopher that we know of

> actually claimed to have been a "sage": the "sage" seems t o have been a


> theoretical ideal, not a goal that a student is likely to achieve in a
> stoic programme.

*****
You miss the point.
Consider Epictetus' example from section 5 of the
Handbook. Most people think that death is evil, and so
when they see that they are about to die they experience
fear and misery. Socrates doesn't believe that death is
evil, and so when he sees his own death approaching he's
not fearful or miserable at all. So Socrates _completely
eliminated the passions of fear and misery_ with respect
to his forthcoming death. He didn't "restrain" them, or
"reduce" them or "moderate" them, he eliminated them. My
friend was extremely distressed by the outcome of a soccer
match. I, who could care less which team won, was not distressed
in the least.
Always, on every occasion, when someone believes that
an event is neither good nor evil the person experiences _no_
emotion regarding it. The only point of discussing the Sage
is to emphasize that there is no reason to suppose that
this ever fails--I don't care about the soccer game, and so I
experience no emotion regarding it, but I do care about the
budget crisis in my state, and so I experience emotions regarding
it. So I'm not a Sage. But we don't need to find a Sage in
order to figure out whether Stoicism works...we only need to
observe that in every single instance it works.
(I repeat an actual example from my own life. I was
once in a sporting event, and the official signaled a
foul, and I was angry because I knew that I hadn't committed
a foul. Then when I realized that the official had called the
foul _on my opponent, and not on me_, the anger dissipated.
It wasn't "reduced" or "controlled", it went away.)
*****



> Moreover, modern neuroscience is gaining an increasing, though still
> partial, knowledge of how the brain works. The evidence we have today
> suggests that emotions are an integral part of the way we think. There

*****
These books are the result of mistaken interpretations
of the data, as I have argued repeatedly before. What they
consider "emotions" is not the same as what the Stoics
consider "emotions" (for example, the apprehension of the
goodness of virtue is not a Stoic emotion, but the books you
cite assume that it is), and the Stoics never claimed that
whenever one eliminates emotions _no matter how_ one will
experience eudaimonia.
*****



> are good explanations in Antonio Damasio's booksDescartes' Error

> <http://www.amazon.com/Descartes-Error-Emotion-Reason-Human/dp/014303622X/>
> and Looking for Spinoza
> <http://www.amazon.com/Looking-Spinoza-Sorrow-Feeling-Brain/dp/0156028719/>,


> and in the Teaching Company course Passions: Philosophy and the
> Intelligence of Emotions

> <http://www.teach12.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.aspx?cid=4123> . This


> is in reasonable accord with the stoic idea that emotions are the result
> of our cognitive judgements.
>
> However, the accord is not perfect. When we interact with other huma n
> beings, the pattern of impulses in our brain mirrors the state of their
> brain. When we observe someone in pain, our own brain shows the same
> pattern of pain. Empathy appears to be a part of the faculty of reason.
> Without feeling, we cannot think.

*****
This simply doesn't follow.
1) Empathic feelings are not always "passions".
2) The vast majority of humans regard the pain of
others as inherently bad, so we cannot tell whether the
impulse pattern we see results from the belief, or merely
from the perception, or some combination of the two.
3) Even if we accept that empathy is a programmed brain
response, this in no way demonstrates that it is rational
(and certainly not that thinking requires feeling--sociopaths
can think, after all).
*****



> The ancient stoics had a model of how the mind works which had the
> faculty of reason called the "hegemonikon" or ruling faculty, which was
> isolated from other human beings, and isolated from emotion. This was a
> reasonable assumption at the time, but it is no longer scientifically
> tenable.

*****
It is perfectly tenable. None of the evidence
you have cited overturns it.
*****



> At this point that a modern stoicism must diverge from ancient stoicism.
> However, there are several distinct paths that modern stoicism can take.
> I think of the major ones as Mystical or Scientific.
>
> The Mystical path continues to believe in the Hegemonikon as an isolated
> unit. To a degree it continues to believe in the divine fire underlying

> the universe, but in s tead of being a material part of the physics of


> the universe, this becomes a metaphysical force separated from the
> physical world. The points of agreement that mystical modern stoicism
> has with ancient stoicism are that the hegemonikon exists; the sage
> remains a possibility; and that empathy, compassion and grief are
> failures of stoicism. The points of disagreement with ancient stoicism
> are that it is dualist rather than monist; that the divine fire is
> mystical rather than physical. This is no longer a materialist philosophy.

*****
I utterly reject mysticism, but other than that
inappropriate word this paragraph is a good statement of
my own position.
*****



> Mystical modern stoicism also seems to have some problems. It's not
> clear why some parts of modern science should be accepted and some
> rejected. If there's a mystical realm separate from the physical realm,

*****
I reject no parts of modern science. I do
reject Scientism, which says that Science is all
there is.
*****



> it's not clear why a single Nature should be a source of morality.
> Dualism usually comes from the Neoplatonic tradition where there is a

*****
Dualism can equally well be Cartesian, with
no such consequences.
*****



> corrupt earthly realm and a perfect heavenly realm. It's not clear how

> the moral a n d practical teachings of stoicism are to be derived, if


> they belong in a separate realm to the physical.

*****
They were never derived from the physical aspects
of the world _as modern science understands the physical_
in the first place, so this isn't a problem.
*****



> The Scientific path retains the elements of stoicism that are not
> contradicted by modern science or philosophy. The points of agreement it
> has with ancient stoicism are that it remains monist; it remains
> materialist; it retains the ancient integration of science and
> philosophy. The points of disagreement are that certain emotions such as
> compassion and grief, if experienced to a certain degree, change from
> being failures of stoicism to essential aspects of cognition.
>
> One way to think of this is that the modern stoic's goal is not to
> become emotionless, but to become emotionally intelligent. The emotions
> he feels should be of a type and to a degree that is in accord with
> reason. If a close friend or relative dies, he will feel a sufficient
> degree of grief to process that loss, but not so much grief he is

> incapacitated. ;

*****
Rather than call this "Modern Stoicism", it is
much simpler to call it "Aristotelianism".
*****



> Note that the same does not apply to emotions such as fear and anger.
> These are not emotions that we need to interact with other human beings
> on a daily basis. While the adrenaline surges may be useful in a
> wilderness to fight off or flee from danger, in a controlled environment
> where calm thinking is needed, these are almost always
> counterproductive; and going against reason they should be discouraged.
>
> While this represents a difference from the theoretical absolute ideal
> of the "sage" in ancient stoicism, we should remember that stoic
> philosophy was more practical than theoretical. The techniques used will
> be the same, whether one is trying to limit grief enough to function, or
> to eliminate it altogether.
>
> Overall, we should never forget that Stoicism is primarily a way to live
> a good life. Whatever differences exist in the fine details of our

> theories, we share a common goal, and believe in t h e same means to


> achieve that goal. We have more in common than divides us.

*****
What you call modern scientific Stoicism has it's
own problem--in seeking to be practical, it becomes
incoherent.
If I should feel some grief at the death of a loved one, then the external event represented by the
loved one's death must be genuinely evil. Now we face
a host of problems--if their death is evil, then we isn't
the death of my neighbor evil? Is the guy down the street
any less important than my neighbor? How about someone in
Tibet? Something like 150,000 people die every day--should
I feel grief constantly? Millions of people are starving--
shouldn't I feel their pain? The system you describe is
no longer able to explain why "moderate grief" is OK but
debilitating grief is not--it becomes theoretically
incoherent. The Stoics were not so absorbed in "practical
life" that they didn't care whether their views were
incoherent. If you want a "rational" view of life, then
you need to iron out obvious inconsistencies....
Further, while I agree that we're seeking the good
life, for me that requires _virtue_ and not merely "freedom
from debilitating emotions". Modern science tells us
nothing about Virtue at all--indeed, I see no way at all
that the materialistic view you advocate can accept the
existence of moral values at all.

Regards,
Grant, the anti-mystical Dualistic Stoic

Monday, July 11, 2022

Making Correct Use of Appearances

 What should the Stoic desire? to make correct use of appearances.


"[S]ince the correct use of appearances is a logical function of man, the whole of ethics is a function of logic." So Phillip de Lacy (p. 114) interprets Epictetus' _Discourses_1.1.

"The axiological function of the logical faculty is called the 'use of appearances.' The exact meaning of this phrase will become clearer as the work progresses. The term 'appearance' (_phantasia_) does not refer here to sense perceptions but refers rather to opinions of value that are expressed in such statements as 'That object seems to be bad.' The use (_chresis_) of appearances does not refer to any overt act of ours in manipulating external objects but rather to the way we receive appearances, test their validity, and relate to them our desires and impulses. The correct use of appearances comprehends the whole of ethics for Epictetus. As he says in the first discourse, it is the _kratiston_apanton and the _kurieuon_["the best faculty of all, the one that rules over all the others," 1.1.7; Hard], the one thing which the gods have put in our power. We may then state the doctrine expressed in the first discourse as follows: Since things beyond our control are not pertinent to our moral conduct, the whole of ethics is limited to the use of appearances, which alone is in our power; and, since the correct use of appearances is a logical function of man, the whole of ethics is a function of logic."

The Logical Structure of the Ethics of Epictetus

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Are consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics three ethical systems?

On 8/18/2011 Grant Sterling sent the following message entitled, "Two and one-half Ethical Systems," to the International Stoic Forum.


Are consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics three ethical
systems? I think they are not....

Let us stipulate that cons. and deont. can be collectively
summarized as ethical theories that try to answer the question
"what should I do now?" (This is a wretchedly simplified account,
but I'm hunting bigger, or at any rate different, game here so
please allow the oversimplification.) They give competing answers
to that question, so they are clearly not a single ethical theory.
Obviously, you could break each general category down into any
number of more specific versions, but let's leave that complication
out of the matter for a moment--for the purposes of this thread,
I will use Benthamism and W.D. Ross's version of intuitionism....
So let's imagine a simple case. Jones is a married man.
While having lunch one day his best friend's wife happens by.
She stops to chat with him, and then to his great surprise
she tells him that she has always been sexually attracted to
him, and that she hopes very much that he will stop by her house
the next day while her husband is out of town at a conference,
and she promises him that it will be worth his while. Coincidentally,
Jones' wife will be out of town the next day on a shopping trip with
some friends. What should Jones do now?
Bentham will say that Jones should calculate how much
pleasure he and his friend's wife are likely to have if he
has an affair with her. He must also calculate the chances of
them getting caught (presumably displeasing his wife and her
husband/his friend), although in this case the chance seems
extremely remote. Other longer-term factors must be considered
(could she get pregnant? could one of them transmit a sexual
disease to the other? will either of them want to insist on
further encounters? will it change their sex lives with their
spouses? etc.). After all these factors have been weighed, he
ought to have sex with her if the total pleasure-minus-pain for
everyone affected with be higher than the total p-p if they don't
do it. It seems that in some circumstances having sex with her
would almost certainly turn out to be the right thing to do,
but in many (probably most) other circumstances it wouldn't.
Ross would say that as a result of marrying his wife and
taking vows of faithfulness to her, Jones has a duty not to betray
her sexually. (This is a "duty of fidelity".) This is only a
_prima facie_ (that is, "ceteris paribus") duty, so it can in
principle be outweighed by other duties. It is unlikely that
any other duty would outweigh this in the imagined case (we are
not considering some bizarre science fiction case where only
by having an adulterous affair can he save the world from being
consumed by malevolent space aliens or something), so on Ross's
view Jones must not have sex with her even if it seems likely to
produce more slightly pleasure than refraining.

What about virtue ethics? As should no doubt be clear,
neither theory we have cited has mentioned Jones' character
(either his actual character, or his ideal character). Aristotle
might say that Jones should act "in the way that a person with
virtue [or, perhaps, with the virtue of temperance] would act".
Now this seems to be a third way of answering our question, and
so we seem to have a third ethical theory.
But I think this is far too fast. How, exactly, would
a virtuous person behave, on Aristotle's view? Luckily, Aristotle
tells us specifically about Jones' case: "But not every action nor every
passion admits of a mean; for some
have names that already imply badness, e.g. spite, shamelessness,
envy, and in the case of actions adultery, theft, murder; for all
of these and suchlike things imply by their names that they are
themselves bad, and not the excesses or deficiencies of them. It is
not possible, then, ever to be right with regard to them; one must
always be wrong. Nor does goodness or badness with regard to such
things depend on committing adultery with the right woman, at the
right time, and in the right way, but simply to do any of them is
to go wrong."
Sounds remarkably deontological, doesn't it? I think it
not merely sounds that way, it _is_ that way. And not just with
Aristotle, for the Stoics also talk about our duties and identify
virtuous action with (at least) the right use of impressions--and
the right use of impressions is based on truthfulness, and is
not defined in terms of virtues (but rather the reverse).
In other words, I think virtue theories ADD to obligation
theories an extra element--the idea that the ultimately correct
action must include a settled disposition of character that will
produce such actions consistently. In other words, if Jones refuses
to have sex with his best friend's wife the deontologist will say
that he has acted rightly, and the consequentialist will say that
he has acted rightly (if the circumstances are such that the p-p
value is lower for sex than for no sex), and they will stop there.
The virtue ethicist will go further and say (using Stoic language
now) "Jones' action was appropriate, but it can only be fully
virtuous if Jones has the character of the Sage [if his moral
judgment in general has been perfected]". But getting the
choice of actions correct is a necessary requirement for a virtuous
action, and the method by which we define which choices are
correct could in principle be identical to the method used by the
deontologist. (Indeed, I think they might not only be identical
in principle, I think that the two theories are a natural and
smooth fit, which is why I claim to be both a deontologist ethical
intuitionist AND a Stoic.)

So the virtue ethicist may well argue that his theory is
superior to either of the other two theories because those
theories are _incomplete_. (The Stoic virtue ethicist will have
to go farther in the case of consequentialism--insofar as cons.
identifies the good with the external consequences to be maximized,
it is fundamentally mistaken. But in theory a non-Stoic virtue
theory could be compatible with cons.) But this doesn't leave us
with three rival ethical theories on the same level--it leaves us
with two theories that offer rival accounts of how to define a
correct action but which neglect the question of character, and a third
theory that emphasizes character but offers no independent account of
how to define a correct action. That means, I think, that we have
either 2 1/2 ethical theories (two accounts of correct action, and
one theory that piggybacks an additional consideration on top of
one of the other 2), or 2 ethical theories (one complete theory,
and two half theories), or possibly 1 1/2 ethical theories (three
theories each of which only answers half the question). :)

Regards,
Grant, deontologist Stoic




Saturday, July 09, 2022

The Harshness and the Beauty of Epictetus

 

This is a copy of a Feb. 28, 2022 message from Grant Sterling to the International Stoic Forum.


All:

      This List has seen discussions of "harshness" in Epictetus, and has seen discussions of the virtues of rejecting (yes, Nigel) Epictetus' ideas regarding emotions in favor of a neo-Aristotelian model whereby emotions have their origins outside of assent to impressions that externals are good or bad, and we should aim to keep them in bounds rather than exterminate them (harshness, again). It has also seen Nigel wonder why so many on the List are obsessed with discussing Epictetus, rather than other Stoics.

      This is my answer.  From my conversations with other people, I know that I am by no means alone.  I suspect, but do not know, that the majority of people who are now attracted to Stoicism have a similar story.  But I don't speak for them, only myself.

      My first contact with the Stoics came through Marcus Aurelius, but that didn't spark my real attraction.  My love for Stoicism came from reading the Handbook.

      Life is filled with ups and downs.  Victory, success, friendship...and defeat, failure, unrequited love, death, etc.  And our actions--sometimes we get things right, do what we ought to do, even enjoy doing the right thing...and sometimes we know what we ought to do and we spit on that knowledge.  I remember one time in grade school when I cheated on an exam.  Not because I desperately needed a passing grade--I already had an A on the exam, I cheated to get an A+.  Not because I didn't know that it was wrong to cheat.  No, I was just greedy--I wanted the feeling of pride from telling other people that I had scored a perfect 100%.

      And this is the ordinary picture of life.  Happiness is a matter of good luck.  I loved the Minnesota Vikings as a kid.  A friend loved the Dallas Cowboys.  The Vikings have never won a championship--every single season of my life my favorite team has ended the year in failure.  My friend has celebrated not one but _five_ championships.  But I've been healthy--another friend has suffered from severe mental illness, and another was murdered (by mistake) at a young age. So happiness comes and goes, depending on matters largely out of one's control.

      Of course, I was told right from the start that I should control my responses to these things.  It was correct to feel grief at funerals, but after all one should never be _too_ consumed in grief.  Being upset that one's football team has lost should be brief and mild.  One should be angry when one has been insulted, but not punch the guy in the face.  One should be afraid of nuclear war, and Especially at the actions of the other political party, but not afraid enough to stop enjoying a good cheeseburger.  (I have always loved cheeseburgers.)  (I was rarely cautioned about being too happy at good fortune, but it was understood that that was possible, too.)  Of course, the techniques for doing this were never fully effective.  Taking a few deep breaths did take some of the edge off anger, and reminding oneself that the events one feared may never come to pass sometimes reduced the anxiety, but I never found anything that worked very well for frustration or for sadness.

      Right from the first sentence, Epictetus was the first person I had ever encountered who challenged this entire structure.  The distinction is sharp, "harsh"--things not in our control are enslaved, things in our control are free.  And almost everything is not in our control, including our own bodies--but that's ok, because those things are not who we really are.  We are enslaved to those externals things only because we _enslave ourselves_. It is never the events that happen that upset us--the Vikings losing, a friend dying--it is our own judgements about those events, and those judgements are in our control.  Change our judgements and we will be free of all grief, all sadness, all fear, all psychological pain.  _Free_. Not "you'll still feel grief, but not as much".  Not "you'll be sad, but you won't let your pain get too strong".  Not "you'll be tempted to steal, lie, commit adultery, etc., but you won't act on those temptations as often as you do now."  No, Epictetus says "you'll be free".  The harshness is part of the beauty--we will never achieve eudaimonia by holding on to the old view and making some little modifications--that will only make the chains more comfortable, and tempt you even more strongly to stay enslaved.

      All of this happens within the first 5 sections.  No mention of being forced to accept pantheism (or any kind of theism at all), or fiery pneuma, or Chrysippus' determinism (which most certainly was hard core determinism) or any other metaphysical notions beyond the dichotomy of internals and externals, and real good and bad all on one side of the chasm.  Of course, the theory does need _some_ more stuff.  Although E. doesn't use the language of "preferred indifferents", the theory needs something like that, because otherwise how could any choices at all ever be coherent?  Later on we get role-duties, and we get E's (apparent) monotheism.  But, really, we get that beautiful worldview in the first 5 sections, and after that just elaboration.

      Once I saw this, I saw that I could never be satisfied with any lesser worldview.  I loved Aristotle, but his moderate virtues paled by comparison.  And then...the more I thought about things, the more I explored my life and my choices and my emotions, the more it because clear to me that this was _right_.  Other people weren't in the least distressed when the Vikings lost.  Billions of people didn't notice my grandfather's death at all, much less feel grief about it.  And I...well, I won't risk offending anyone who happens to read my posts, but I admit that there were relatives of mine who died for whom I felt absolutely zero grief, because I had no thought that their death affected me.  And in all my wrongdoings I saw that I knew, deep down, that I should not have done those things but I had allowed myself to become attached to some outcome that I hoped for from the action, and chose to follow the attachment rather than my knowledge of right and wrong. So it was possible, indeed it was _within my grasp_ to lead a life with _no_ psychological pain and _no_ wrongdoing.  What a glorious vision!

     So I read more Stoicism, and I built more into my own Stoic worldview, but all of it has always revolved around the promises of those first 5 sections of the Handbook.  And none of my experiences since then has convinced me that this view was false. Epictetus changed my life, and changed it for the better.

      Now since then many people have told me that Epictetus' Stoicism stands alongside another, older Stoicism, that taught different things. (Pantheism and what-not.)  True enough--and my attitude towards that other Stoicism is the same as my attitude towards Aristotle's doctrine of the heavenly spheres-- historically interesting, but neither a view that attracts me nor one that I find even remotely plausible, and certainly not one that I would need to accept as true in order to accept the view in the Handbook.  Some have told me that E. secretly taught these other things, and that Arrian just didn't mention them, or that what E. taught was a simplified distortion of his real view that he didn't reveal. I've even seen people claim that perhaps these views aren't E's at all, but Arrian himself made them up.  I see no reason to think any of those things were true.  But suppose they were--well, too bad for E., then. I should have to go forward thinking that E. accidentally expressed the true and beautiful view, or that A. was inspired by E's false view into discovering the true one and bringing it forth in E's name.

     In other words, it is the view in the Enchiridion (esp. sections 1-5) that I follow.  I don't care, deep down, whether you call that view "Stoicism" or not.  (I think it's  silly not to, since that's the way the word has been used for centuries.  But it's just a word--I'm not loyal to the word "Stoicism", I'm loyal to that view.)  I think Epictetus believed it, but it's not really crucial to me whether or not he did.  If we discover his secret diaries and he repudiates the view, then I will follow the view and discard Epictetus.  I certainly don't care how well the view squares with the ideas of Zeno or Chrysippus, or especially how well is squares with the latest interpretation of the tiny fragments we have from Z or C.  I care about that view.

      I have also been told that this view, whether or not it was E's, is false.  That science proves it false, or that some philosophical argument demolishes it. Yet...no philosophical argument is ever actually brought forward to prove it false.  And people who claim that science has proven it false either can't actually cite which studies "prove" this, or they cite studies that most patently fail to prove anything of the sort.  (For example, there are studies that show that sociopaths don't feel emotions when they do some despicable things (or, at any rate, don't feel anything like the normal emotions).  Ergo, the psychologists conclude, if you don't feel normal emotions then you'll do despicable things.  But that's silly--just as well argue that a broken engine doesn't run and doesn't emit a loud howling sound, so emitting a loud howling sound is necessary in order for an engine to run.  No study has ever  investigated people who don't have normal emotions _because they have trained themselves to recognize that externals are neither good nor evil, but are still preferred or dispreferred_.  No studies have ever shown that recognition of moral values cannot produce action.)

     But suppose that somehow, someday, someone does prove that the theory is false...that grief and fear and sadness and so on come to us independently of our beliefs or perceptions of value.  That our lives will therefore contain such pains, and they are unavoidable, and the level of pain is therefore a matter of luck.  That we will always spend some portion of our time doing immoral things, because those belief-independent feelings will be constantly tempting us to go astray.  That a life of freedom and joy and virtue is impossible, except only in a relative sense.  (I have freedom because someone else is more enslaved than I am.)  Then I will not say "well, the Stoics followed truth, so this must be Stoicism". No, I will say "sadly, Stoicism is dead.  We are doomed.  Burn your Ethics books, because the truth about ethics turns out to be something that the average idiot on the street knew all along when they told you that grief was  unavoidable, and don't worry about stealing a little bit because everyone does it, etc."

      "Though I never thought that we could lose,

     There's no regret."

             -ABBA, "Fernando"

 

     Regards,

 

             GCS

The Little Encheiridion


Immediately below is an excerpt from Grant Sterling's message of Feb. 28, 2022 to the International Stoic Forum, "The Harshness and Beauty of Epictetus" (a copy of which is linked to at the bottom), followed by John Oldfather's translation of the first five sections of the Encheiridion.


Epictetus' beautiful worldview

"Right from the first sentence, Epictetus was the first person I had ever encountered who challenged this entire structure.  The distinction is sharp, "harsh"--things not in our control are enslaved, things in our control are free.  And almost everything is not in our control, including our own bodies--but that's ok, because those things are not who we really are.  We are enslaved to those externals things only because we _enslave ourselves_. It is never the events that happen that upset us--the Vikings losing, a friend dying--it is our own judgements about those events, and those judgements are in our control.  Change our judgements and we will be free of all grief, all sadness, all fear, all psychological pain.  _Free_. Not "you'll still feel grief, but not as much".  Not "you'll be sad, but you won't let your pain get too strong".  Not "you'll be tempted to steal, lie, commit adultery, etc., but you won't act on those temptations as often as you do now."  No, Epictetus says "you'll be free".  The harshness is part of the beauty--we will never achieve eudaimonia by holding on to the old view and making some little modifications--that will only make the chains more comfortable, and tempt you even more strongly to stay enslaved."

   
Within the first five sections of the Encheiridion

  All of this happens within the first 5 sections.  No mention of being forced to accept pantheism (or any kind of theism at all), or fiery pneuma, or Chrysippus' determinism (which most certainly was hard core determinism) or any other metaphysical notions beyond the dichotomy of internals and externals, and real good and bad all on one side of the chasm.  Of course, the theory does need _some_ more stuff.  Although E. doesn't use the language of "preferred indifferents", the theory needs something like that, because otherwise how could any choices at all ever be coherent?  Later on we get role-duties, and we get E's (apparent) monotheism.  But, really, we get that beautiful worldview in the first 5 sections, and after that just elaboration.


The Little Encheiridion

1. Some things are under our control, while others are not under our control. Under our control are conception, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything that is our own doing; not under our control are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, everything that is not our own doing. Furthermore, the things under our control are by nature free, unhindered, and unimpeded; while the things not under our control are weak, servile, subject to hindrance, and not our own. Remember, therefore, that if what is naturally slavish you think to be free, and what is not your own to be your own, you will be hampered, will grieve, will be in turmoil, and will blame both gods and men; while if you think only what is your own to be your own, and what is not your own to be, as it really is, not your own, then no one will ever be able to exert compulsion upon you, no one will hinder you, you will blame no one, will find fault with no one, will do absolutely nothing against your will, you will have no personal enemy, no one will harm you, for neither is there any harm that can touch you.

With such high aims, therefore, remember that you must bestir yourself with no slight effort to lay hold of them, but you will have to give up some ​things entirely, and defer others for the time being. But if you wish for these things also, and at the same time for both office and wealth, it may be that you will not get even these latter, because you aim also at the former, and certainly you will fail to get the former, which alone bring freedom and happiness.

Make it, therefore, your study at the very outset to say to every harsh external impression, "You are an external impression and not at all what you appear to be." After that examine it and test it by these rules which you have, the first and most important of which is this: Whether the impression has to do with the things which are under our control, or with those which are not under our control; and, if it has to do with some one of the things not under our control, have ready to hand the answer, "It is nothing to me."


2. Remember that the promise of desire is the attainment of what you desire, that of aversion is not to fall into what is avoided, and that he who fails in his desire is unfortunate, while he who falls into what he would avoid experiences misfortune. If, then, you avoid only what is unnatural among those things which are under your control, you will fall into none of the things which you avoid; but if you try to avoid disease, or death, or poverty, you will experience misfortune. Withdraw, therefore, your aversion from all the matters that are not under our control, and transfer it to what is unnatural among those which are under our control. But for the time being remove utterly your desire; for if you desire some one of the things that are not under our control you are bound to be unfortunate; and, at the ​same time, not one of the things that are under our control, which it would be excellent for you to desire, is within your grasp. But employ only choice and refusal, and these too but lightly, and with reservations, and without straining.


3. With everything which entertains you, is useful, or of which you are fond, remember to say to yourself, beginning with the very least things, "What is its nature?" If you are fond of a jug, say, "I am fond of a jug"; for when it is broken you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your own child or wife, say to yourself that you are kissing a human being; for when it dies you will not be disturbed.


4. When you are on the point of putting your hand to some undertaking, remind yourself what the nature of that undertaking is. If you are going out of the house to bathe, put before your mind what happens at a public bath—those who splash you with water, those who jostle against you, those who vilify you and rob you. And thus you will set about your undertaking more securely if at the outset you say to yourself, "I want to take a bath, and, at the same time, to keep my moral purpose in harmony with nature." And so do in every undertaking. For thus, if anything happens to hinder you in your bathing, you will be ready to say, "Oh, well, this was not the only thing that I wanted, but I wanted also to keep my moral purpose in harmony with nature; and I shall not so keep it if I am vexed at what is going on."


5. It is not the things themselves that disturb men, but their judgements about these things. For ​example, death is nothing dreadful, or else Socrates too would have thought so, but the judgement that death is dreadful, this is the dreadful thing. When, therefore, we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never blame anyone but ourselves, that means, our own judgements. It is the part of an uneducated person to blame others where he himself fares ill; to blame himself is the part of one whose education has begun; to blame neither another nor his own self is the part of one whose education is already complete.