Stoicism
February 10, 2019 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Against mourning: It takes a lifetime of preparation to grieve as the Stoics did – without weeping and wailing, but with a heart full of love. Brian D. Earp on Stoicism in practice: "Stoics can ‘afford’ to grieve as little as possible – that is, as little as Nature will allow – because they have spent their lives training in philosophy. And that means: ridding themselves of false beliefs, learning how to face the inevitable, and carefully matching their desires with the will of Zeus. So, when the worst things happen, when a child, friend or spouse is struck down in an unplanned hour, the Stoics’ muted response will reflect their hard-won preparation, not a lack of prior love or affection..."

Related piece by Maria Popova: Epictetus on Love and Loss: The Stoic Strategy for Surviving Heartbreak

Another, this one by Michael Tremblay: Stoicism and Emotions: How the Stoics conceived of emotions

Tremblay also wrote a handy 2-part intro to Stoicism: And he wrote this fascinating piece on the synergy between Stoicism and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for The Side View: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a Form of Stoic Askēsis. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), a modern grappling martial art, can be one of the best contemporary forms of Stoic askēsis for those wishing to improve themselves.
Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy. As a school of thought, its primary goal is to enable the individual to achieve happiness. It does this primarily through emphasizing the distinction between what is within our control and outside of it. The good Stoic focuses on what is up to them, and stops worrying about what they cannot control. But such a perspective can be difficult to obtain, and requires training, or askēsis, as the Stoics called it. I will argue that the contemporary martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is perfectly suited to be a modern form of Stoic askēsis, one that can train the individual to focus on what matters and become a better Stoic.
A Stoic study: Stoic beliefs and health: development and preliminary validation of the Pathak-Wieten Stoicism Ideology Scale

A review by Iona Italia of a new book by Derren Brown: In Praise of Stoicism: Derren Brown’s Happy.

Related post: Indifference is a power
posted by homunculus (56 comments total) 102 users marked this as a favorite
 
The recent revival in interest Stoicism today seems to be mostly concerned with psychology. I haven't seen much discussion of cosmopolitanism, which was an important part of Stoicism too. The Stoics were the ones who formulated and espoused "the very old ideal of the cosmopolitan, the person whose primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world." Martha Nussbaum wrote a great piece on it in 1994 called Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism (previously,) which I highly recommend.
posted by homunculus at 2:19 PM on February 10 [22 favorites]


how does this affect me, a featherless biped with broad flat nails
posted by poffin boffin at 2:28 PM on February 10 [31 favorites]


BEHOLD: A MAN
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:32 PM on February 10 [10 favorites]


I'd just like to take this opportunity to post my favourite passage from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations:

No different from a single breath taken in and returned to the air, something which we do every moment, no different is the giving back of your whole power of breathing - acquired at your birth just yesterday or thereabouts - to that world from which you drew it.

Thanks for this post. I look forward to digging into the links.
posted by Alex404 at 2:38 PM on February 10 [16 favorites]


how does this affect me

It will change your life! All the cool kids are into Stoicism now, so retweeting this thread will make you look cool! (To pompous bastards like me, anyway.) You're welcome!
posted by homunculus at 2:58 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


I remember playing Messala in Julius Caesar - there was this haunting bit of a scene where I'm hemming and hawing with Brutus, trying to figure out if he's heard about his wife's death, leading up to this exchange:
BRUTUS
Now, as you are a Roman, tell me true.
MESSALA
Then like a Roman bear the truth I tell:
For certain she is dead, and by strange manner.
BRUTUS
Why, farewell, Portia. We must die, Messala:
With meditating that she must die once,
I have the patience to endure it now.
MESSALA
Even so great men great losses should endure.
Always gave me goosebumps.

Since Messala is pretty much the only character on his side who doesn't end up falling on his own sword or heroically slain, I kind of felt like he had to show all the emotion for everybody else. But in a very tough, manly way. It was hard.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:02 PM on February 10 [7 favorites]


A quote from me 2015, I don't remember making this. And let me just say that if someone wants to pay me to care, I will give up stoicism on an hourly basis, unless there is a salary arrangement.

The quote: "A Buddhist knows you can't cage Joy, a Stoic would never name a parrot that."
posted by Oyéah at 3:08 PM on February 10 [15 favorites]


how does this affect me

You will stop caring about the answer to this question. :-)

I thought the link about stoicism and emotions was really interesting --> Do I know if what I'm worrying about is true? Does it matter if it is true?
posted by xammerboy at 3:08 PM on February 10


It's fine as far as it goes. I've been able to walk away from situations that weren't working to my satisfaction like a guy in an action movie strolling off and not looking back when a car explodes. Good stuff. Very alpha, amirite? But like...if you're just indifferent to everything, can't that also be an excuse to not even try? May you not be missing out on a lot? I guess what I'm saying is. Should we be indifferent to everything, finally?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:23 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


> The Stoics were the ones who formulated and espoused "the very old ideal of the cosmopolitan, the person whose primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world."

homunculus, good quote and have always considered this an important part of engaging with Stoicism. Without including the focus on the cosmopolitan ideal, Stoicism can degenerate into Nihilism or even Narcissism. Yes, be detached, but don't lose sight of the fact it's in service of being a better member of society and supporting all of it's members.

Otherwise it's just about "being aloof and empty" or "look how tough and invincible I am", which is fairly immature philosophy.
posted by inland400 at 3:34 PM on February 10 [27 favorites]


Another worthwhile read is James Romm's Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero, which covers how the philosopher tried to maneuvre the courts of Caligula, Claudius and Nero. Not easy, and ultimately futile. (Mind you, we're talking Seneca - a man of sides, shall we say....)
posted by BWA at 3:36 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Thanks for these links!

For all the valuable life lessons that the Stoics have taught us and can still teach us, I do think it is an inherently conservative philosophy. Take, for example, the insistence on acceptance of your fate. Epictetus wrote that we should all accept the role that has been given to us in the "play of life": we should strive to play that role (be it that of a king or that of a beggar) as best as we can, but we should never try to change or even question our part in the script.

I suspect that one of the reasons that Stoicism was as popular as it was in ancient Greece and Rome, is that it didn't question or undermine existing class structures. Rather, it reinforced them. And so, in this day and age, Stoicism is (mis)used as one of the many ways to 'self care' that are sold as a means for individuals to survive in a society that structurally does not take enough care of them.
posted by Desertshore at 3:43 PM on February 10 [37 favorites]


> ..if you're just indifferent to everything, can't that also be an excuse to not even try? May you not be missing out on a lot? I guess what I'm saying is. Should we be indifferent to everything, finally?

Can't answer from a stoic perspective, but from a Buddhist one:

Indifference is the Near Enemy of Equanimity. If one is actively/deliberately 'not caring' one is distancing oneself from the world and creating current suffering (withholding connection) to prevent future suffering (when connection no longer can be made).

The 'ask' is to 'let things go' as in 'allowing things to move and change' not 'tossing/dropping everything'.
posted by CheapB at 3:49 PM on February 10 [14 favorites]


if you're just indifferent to everything, can't that also be an excuse to not even try?

I think the ancient Stoics would find that wanting in Virtue
posted by thelonius at 4:10 PM on February 10 [8 favorites]


I listen to Marcus Aurelius' Meditations quite a bit I've realized, I should dig into more Stoic philosophies. I realized I wanted to live this life when he opens the book just extolling the virtues of so many people he's met. That's who I want to be.

I personally find Stoicism to be about engaging with the truest and best parts of yourself and letting the misfortunes and bad feelings fade away. They don't stop existing, but they are not the reason for your existence.

“It is in your own power to maintain the beauty of your soul, or to be a decent human being.”
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 4:14 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


In hindsight, I recommend that anyone who is not already familiar with Stoicism and plans on reading all or a at least a few of the links in the OP start by reading Iona Italia's article/review In Praise of Stoicism: Derren Brown’s Happy first. It gives a good sense of how Stoic ideas can work in practice for someone today.
posted by homunculus at 5:06 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Indifference is the Near Enemy of Equanimity. If one is actively/deliberately 'not caring' one is distancing oneself from the world and creating current suffering (withholding connection) to prevent future suffering (when connection no longer can be made).

Despite the common terminology, I think 'equanimity' is actually closer to the goal of the Stoic sage than 'indifference' is.
posted by homunculus at 5:07 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


The first linked article discusses at length how mourning should be lessened if we remind ourselves every day that our loved ones might die at any time.

It barely mentions that conversely, being aware of how fragile life is could make us love more, or value our time with our loved ones more. I guess stoics would also say "don't get too carried away there either...."

I also find interesting the suggested difference between natural mourning and social mourning. It shows how social cues (wearing black, etc...) might in the end make it easier to move on since no matter how you feel you are doing the right thing with respect to others.
posted by haemanu at 6:27 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Stoicism is also a living thing, isn't it? I mean, I guess it is for me? I see it as a root source of any number of Greco-Roman inheritance threads, most importantly existentialism. But what the fuck do I know, really? I can't control the way other people perceive intellectual history.
posted by mwhybark at 6:55 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


> Stoicism is fascinating but for fuck's sake is every thing in the universe a "hack" now?

Sangermaine, I thought of your comment when I read this piece, which applies as well to Stoicism as to Buddhism or any other practiced philosophy:

Practice Is not a Life Hack: People say that practice is something you do with your body, but that's backwards. Your body is something you do with your practice.
Practicing a philosophical life may sound like a life hack, but it most certainly isn’t. Hacks are for people who want shortcuts to becoming more efficient and productive, in other words, shortcuts for getting around practice. A philosophical life doesn’t give you a shortcut. Instead, it demands that you take up the burden of affirming your fate, of loving your place among the multifarious things in the world. The practice of wisdom is not about helping, improving, or streamlining. It counters the carelessness and violence wreaking havoc on people and the biosphere, but it doesn’t make life any less of a struggle. If anything, practice intensifies the struggle by bringing amorous dedication to it. Living philosophy does not make life any less of an emergency. It lets the emergency of coexistence more fully emerge, so that we might be together, such as we are.
posted by homunculus at 7:43 PM on February 10 [8 favorites]


Just read today that Hegel‘s concern with Stoicism would be that freedom that only takes place within the subject is not real. He insists we cannot, as subjects, give up on the world, not should we. This being Hegel, that whole idea isn‘t just a moral/political/psychological statement, but ties into his (weird and wondrous) ontology.
Anyway, I found that an interesting perspective on the Stoics.
posted by The Toad at 8:43 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


homunculus, Sangermaine: +1 on this thread of thought. It reminds me of some of the backlash against Mindfulness and the reflection Glen Wallis is driving over at Speculative Non-Buddhism. At least in the short term, taking on these practices is a burden and the opposite of a hack or quick fix. Ultimately a lot of these practices are used as "hacks" in order to make us good consumer-capitalist-participants, regardless of how much stress that causes us.

A lot of the fundamental practices across many schools - such as mindfulness, death-meditation, asceticism, seeking out suffering - can be fairly traumatic to an individual and their sense of self. I especially find the wide-spread and casual recommendation of mindfulness disturbing - it can be very difficult for a person if their own situation is not considered (e.g., if they already struggle with severe anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and other disruptive psychology).

I ventured into mindfulness in response to severe depression (and as a misguided alternative to therapy), well before I managed to adopt Stoicism or Buddhism as a serious practice, and it did much more harm than good in the first few years of "practice".
posted by inland400 at 8:59 PM on February 10 [6 favorites]


My dad wanted to name me Marcus Aurelius. After reading the first link I'm glad he didn't. That article must be written for someone who already knows all about Stoicism, because it asserts things without describing what they are. What are 'natural feelings'? How are 'natural feelings' related to 'false belief'? What is 'practicing philosophy'? The tone and argument used in that article is something I'd expect to hear from someone who tells me that I need "more classes" before asking me for $2000.

Anyway, Stoicism is demonstrably false since time and space when viewed from a fifth dimension is fixed and static. Therefore there is no such thing as personal choice. Checkmate, Marcus Aurelius.
posted by runcibleshaw at 9:11 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


> It barely mentions that conversely, being aware of how fragile life is could make us love more, or value our time with our loved ones more. I guess stoics would also say "don't get too carried away there either...."

Haemanu - I can't remember if it was Seneca or Epictetus, but one of them encouraged a nightly meditation on the fact your children could be lost while you're sleeping, and to use that as an incentive to appreciate each and every moment you have with them otherwise.

Stoics sometimes get cherry-picked to sound like an utterly-miserable group of bastards (Marcus Aurelius is pretty easy to target as being one of the more sour-stoic flag-bearers), but a lot of the early and middle greek texts were all about savouring the flavour before your tongue falls out.
posted by inland400 at 9:26 PM on February 10 [6 favorites]


We exist right in the middle of an instant in a huge universe of ongoing events. If we want to perceive as much of it as possible, then we have to dampen our screams, you know, allow the light to come in without reservation, breathe and behold. Otherwise the beauty, symmetry, elegance of this late evening apple is lost. To hear the words of others, apprehend, comprehend their projection; we have to pay the admission price; and the admission is, we aren't the only important event on the horizon.
posted by Oyéah at 9:28 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Anyway, Stoicism is demonstrably false since time and space when viewed from a fifth dimension is fixed and static. Therefore there is no such thing as personal choice. Checkmate, Marcus Aurelius.

I disagree. In my philosophy, that fifth dimension is exactly where you find personal choice.
posted by M-x shell at 10:11 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


Ironic that Derren Brown has written a book on the art of living because I've come to realise that surveilllance capitalism and going online in general is like being part of a mentalist performance. Companies seed you, subliminally, with a thought all day long and then ask, "Are you interested in buying...?", to which you answer, "Why, yes! Yes, I am! How did you...?"
posted by Tarn at 1:41 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


But like...if you're just indifferent to everything, can't that also be an excuse to not even try? May you not be missing out on a lot? I guess what I'm saying is. Should we be indifferent to everything, finally?

A fairly big part of stoicism is the importance of understanding and carrying out your duty. Of course the classical world often had views on what that was that would strike us as horrifying but if we keep the concept of carrying out your larger duty to society and to humanity, I think it transfers quite well to modern life.

For all the supposed quietism of which critics of stoicism sometimes accuse it, it is worth remembering that many stoics of the classical world led extremely active public / political lives. There is absolutely no reason why you could not simultaneously hold - and work towards the realisation of - radical political ideals without allowing the day-to-day stresses of that work to negatively affect your own emotional state.
posted by atrazine at 2:22 AM on February 11 [7 favorites]


if you're just indifferent to everything, can't that also be an excuse to not even try? May you not be missing out on a lot? I guess what I'm saying is. Should we be indifferent to everything, finally?

For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.
posted by flabdablet at 3:42 AM on February 11 [7 favorites]


It seems to me that suffering is quite unpleasant enough without extending any given bout of it to ten times its minimum achievable length by making a huge fuss about it.

Making a huge fuss about our suffering is one of the few skills we're born with. Babies don't have the specific skills required to alleviate any of the causes of their own suffering and therefore rely completely on others to do that for them, which they need to be alerted to do. So for a baby, making a huge fuss about suffering is wholly adaptive.

For an autonomous adult it's far less so, because we can and should acquire the skills required to minimize the overwhelming majority of our own suffering far more quickly than anybody else could do it for us. But the single oldest habit any of us have got is quite difficult to replace. Doing so takes training and focus and a great deal of practice.
posted by flabdablet at 3:58 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


time and space when viewed from a fifth dimension is fixed and static. Therefore there is no such thing as personal choice. Checkmate, Marcus Aurelius.

Unfortunately for this argument, the very same reasoning used here to deny personal choice works equally well to deny checkmate.

Only what has happened has happened, only what is happening is happening and only what will happen will happen. This tautology allows we temporal beings to construct an overarching conceptual model of reality as a block universe, and there are very strong hints from Relativity that doing so is appropriate and useful. But it doesn't allow us to fill in all the details of that model and read off our fates from it, and it doesn't help us come to grips with a mode of existence where movement is observable and that naturally, spontaneously and continually divides itself into past, present and future. Within that mode of existence, personal choice is as real and directly apparent as breathing.

Checkmate is the outcome of a move, but the entire concept of movement is foreign to the block universe model. If you're going to claim to have achieved a checkmate - achieved anything, in fact - you are implicitly conceding that you are in fact a temporal being and that time is part of your experience, which means that not only can you make personal choices, you have absolutely no option but to keep on doing so for as long as you remain awake.
posted by flabdablet at 4:38 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


For all the supposed quietism of which critics of stoicism sometimes accuse it, it is worth remembering that many stoics of the classical world led extremely active public / political lives. There is absolutely no reason why you could not simultaneously hold - and work towards the realisation of - radical political ideals

Most of the well-known Stoics of the classical world did not hold or work towards radical political ideals. Stoicism is beautifully suited for, say, an emperor with a thoughtful bent. Very easy to accept that human beings acting unkindly towards you are all part of the bigger universe when all they're doing is making it hard for you to put through the exact policies you want in a remote province.

Ultimately, stoicism assumes a benevolent and harmonious natural order which most non-religious moderns would reject out of hand.
posted by praemunire at 8:20 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


it is worth remembering that many stoics of the classical world led extremely active public / political lives.

A naive view of Stoicism may lead one to try to classify everything as either something one has complete control of, or something one has no control over. This overlooks the many things that one has some measure of influence over, which includes much of the political realm.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:52 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.


This reminds me of:

Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
posted by Groundhog Week at 9:03 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Ultimately, stoicism assumes a benevolent and harmonious natural order which most non-religious moderns would reject out of hand.
Still going through the links, but: I'm also reading Medidations for the first time now, and benevolent is hardly how I would describe the description of the natural order. It might be the only element so far in the book to which I would truly apply the term "indifferent".

I suffered a significant loss myself recently, which is why I picked up Medidations in the first place; I'm very open to wisdom literature (which is not necessarily the same as philosophy) at moments like these. I have been shocked by how little "indifference" I've seen in its pages. The book thus far very much about approaching the fullness of human experience with understanding and acceptance, with appreciation, even, living in and being accepting of a fact or moment, but without being destroyed, caged, or ruled by that fact or moment (it's striking me as viewing "nature" in a similar way to classical Taoism, but drawing different conclusions from it and responding to it in almost an entirely different way). There so much in this book about behaving with acceptance and compassion, or even with... cheerfulness? Not at all what I was expecting. So far I feel like I'm being told over and over again "don't be an asshole" when applying the book's lessons of rationality, duty, judgement, etc.

Interesting discussion, folks, thanks. I'm learning a lot.
posted by Fish Sauce at 9:09 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


So this is a crusty old translation, but from Book Two:

"All that is from the gods is full of Providence. That which is from fortune is not separated from nature or without an interweaving and involution with the things which are ordered by Providence. From thence all things flow; and there is besides necessity, and that which is for the advantage of the whole universe, of which thou art a part. But that is good for every part of nature which the nature of the whole brings, and what serves to maintain this nature. Now the universe is preserved, as by the changes of the elements so by the changes of things compounded of the elements. Let these principles be enough for thee, let them always be fixed opinions. But cast away the thirst after books, that thou mayest not die murmuring, but cheerfully, truly, and from thy heart thankful to the gods. "
posted by praemunire at 12:15 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


look the stoics were okay about some things, but the cynics were the ones who knew the value of public masturbation.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:47 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


I will argue that the contemporary martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is perfectly suited to be a modern form of Stoic askēsis, one that can train the individual to focus on what matters and become a better Stoic.

Here is an example of Stoic Jiu-Jitsu in action, being used here to refute an Epicurean.
posted by homunculus at 6:19 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


"Stoicism is beautifully suited for, say, an emperor with a thoughtful bent."

That's very not Epictetus, so I'm not sure your argument holds up.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:22 PM on February 11


That's very not Epictetus, so I'm not sure your argument holds up.

What's your point? He wasn't a political radical.
posted by praemunire at 10:30 PM on February 11


> look the stoics were okay about some things, but the cynics were the ones who knew the value of public masturbation.

I always wondered what the office conversations looked like in the time of the Cynics.

"Did anyone else get yelled at by the angry naked man in the barrel for carrying a bowl? Or was it just me?"
posted by inland400 at 11:07 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


To come at all this from the other end, just for a second, I have a theory - a TED talk premise! a thesis! a book idea! a clever tweet! - that you can tell a person's greatest (current) struggle in life by the philosophy that they find most appealing at the current moment.

I got this from observing myself, a person extraordinarily given to philosophical obsessions and zeal from a young age. As a teenager struggling under the thumb of my parents (who were controlling and abusive etc), the "OTHER PEOPLE ARE USELESS AND PAINFUL, AND THEY SLOW ME DOWN" ethos of Ayn Rand really appealed to me. It's funny how quickly that wore off once I was out of their house and living free. When I got married and had a ton of (hindu) religious/cultural bullshit expectations come crashing down on my head as a result, my atheism suddenly took on a militant flavor for a couple of years. This, too, naturally faded away once everyone around me got the message that I wasn't going to be bullied into playing the role of dutiful culturally-ideal south-asian bride. And so on.

Stoicism's "thing" is maintaining an even keel/mood/temper and practicing calm acceptance in the face of the chaos of life. Very similar to westernized Buddhism. And I think that probably strongly appeals to people who are trying to deal with crises, upheavals, depression, etc. When your strongest need is to stave off the power of the void, Stoicism's where it's at.

I wonder what it says about me that these days my philosophical mood is kind of like, "I see you, void, but fuck off, I got shit to do."
posted by MiraK at 11:01 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


"What's your point? He wasn't a political radical."

Your argument seemed to be that stoicism is attractive to the comfortable and powerful, like Aurelius, but Epictetus was famously a slave. I didn't mean to come off as argumentative.

I've always thought of it the other way around: that stoicism comes most naturally to the most powerless.

In late '99 my father suffered a serious breakdown. He was unhappy and alienated from everyone, suicidal and angry. He lashed out viciously at everyone in that way that someone with narcissistic personality disorder can do. He ended up crashing through the half-opened garage door, driving off to the unknown. No one heard from him for six weeks until he was found, only slightly injured, in his SUV which had apparently left a mountain road and rolled down the incline.

For some reason, I thought that Discourses might help him, so I sent it to him. After he died in 2008, I found it among his books, unread as far as I could tell.

I had mixed feelings about stoicism after reading Epictetus (I've not read Meditations), but I felt that my father desperately needed that perspective on the things about which he was unhappy. In retrospect, I suspect that kind of perspective doesn't come easily to a narcissist.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:33 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


> BEHOLD: A MAN

This is a man
posted by homunculus at 10:52 PM on February 15




Here's a great piece by Edith Hall on Aristotle's philosophy of happiness, how it compares to Stoicism and how its relevant for people today:

Why read Aristotle today? Modern self-help draws heavily on Stoic philosophy. But Aristotle was better at understanding real human happiness

And here's another piece by Hall on Aristotle's relevance today as an example of a public philosopher:

Speak to the shoemaker: Philosophy need not be arcane, argued Aristotle, as he led by example, writing treatises for peers and public alike
posted by homunculus at 12:44 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Which one are you?
posted by homunculus at 10:51 PM on February 23


Jared Janes:
Equanimity is an engaged, unconditional love of our experience.

Indifference is a detached indifference to our experience.

Deep awakening relies on equanimity.
posted by homunculus at 12:58 PM on February 25


Here's another piece by Michael Tremblay: Why Ancient Greek Psychology is Still Valuable Today
... one might question if turning to ancient thinkers is really a valuable strategy for learning about the mind, or how to be happy in a modern world.

Given this concern, this article will attempt to answer a troubling question: ‘Why should someone who wants to understand their own mind turn to ancient philosophy, instead of modern psychology?’.

The worry runs something like this: Ancient conceptions of the soul are intellectually and historically valuable, but they are not true. No current major psychologist would endorse Plato, Aristotle, or the Stoics’ conception of the mind as accurate. While it may be historically valuable, it is a mistake for those who want to better understand their own behavior, or the nature of human happiness, to turn to ancient philosophy for answers.

However, I want to challenge these kinds of concerns, and argue that those who want to understand what it means to live as a human being still have a good reason to look to the ancients.
posted by homunculus at 1:27 PM on February 25


Interview with Tushar Irani (Wesleyan) on Exercises for Teaching Ancient Schools as Ways of Life
Tushar Irani holds a joint appointment at Wesleyan in the Department of Philosophy and the College of Letters. His recent book, Plato on the Value of Philosophy: The Art of Argument in the Gorgias and Phaedrus (Cambridge University Press, 2017), explores Plato’s views on the role and purpose of argument in civic life. You can read an interview with him about it here. In addition to his work on Plato, he has interests in questions of philosophical method, the history and practice of rhetoric, Ancient Greek and Roman literature, and the history of ethics (especially virtue ethics). He also has a strong interest in philosophy as a way of life. He is co-editing a special issue for Metaphilosophy on philosophy as a way of life. The submission deadline for this issue is July 1 and you can see the call for papers here. In his teaching, he has developed a number of exercises helping students to explore what it would be like to live a Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, or Epicurean life. In this part of the interview, I ask Tushar about the inspiration and history behind his development of these exercises. The next post shares his exercises on living the Platonic life along with our discussion about them.
Interview with Tushar Irani (Wesleyan) on Exercises for Teaching the Platonic Way of Life
Tushar Irani holds a joint appointment at Wesleyan in the Department of Philosophy and the College of Letters. In his teaching, he has developed a number of exercises helping students to explore what it would be like to live a Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, or Epicurean life. The previous post shared the inspiration and history behind his development of these exercises.

Here is the most recent version of his exercises inviting students to Live Like a Platonist: The Life of Reason.

In this part of the interview, we talk about his experience with using these exercises.
posted by homunculus at 1:37 PM on February 25


Speaking of the Phaedrus, here's a related piece:

Plato, and how the foundation of Western philosophy is probably rooted in psychedelics. Philosophers could arguably benefit from psychedelics. "In the 1960s, intellectuals such as Aldous Huxley were fascinated by the effects of LSD, but today most professors are far too worried about respectability and tenure to investigate psychedelics themselves. Which is somewhat ironic, given that the field of Western philosophy has a huge debt to psychedelics, according to Peter Sjöstedt-H, a philosoph[er] who has written a book on the philosophical significance of drugs. In fact, one of Plato’s most-cited theories may have been a direct result of hallucinogenics."

MeFi thread: Peter Sjöstedt-H on Mind, Panpsychism, Philosophy and Psychedelics
posted by homunculus at 1:52 PM on February 25


D'oh! That piece is referring to the Phaedo, not the Phaedrus. Oops. Well, it's still an interesting piece and thread, imo.
posted by homunculus at 11:17 PM on February 25


Tom Wolfe ("Bonfire of the Vanities") wrote "A Man in Full" where the Stoics get a good airing. Wolfe left me sufficiently indifferent that I have not bothered to read more of his material, but it was good to see a reasonable review of the Stoic landscape.

I was 15?16? and I explained to my mother, "If you can fix it, then let's put our energy into fixing it. If it can't be fixed, can we save our energy from worrying." Which is how I would come at Stoicism.

My son turns 21 this month - which means it is 22 years since my aunt died, as I was pregnant at her funeral. What is more difficult - a child burying a parent - a parent burying a child? My responsibility is to be the best child that I can be and the best parent that I can be. Then no matter what eventuates, I am not mourning what I could or should have done (the past), but what I will not be able to do (the future).
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 8:57 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


How To Escape Fear: An Interview With Martha Nussbaum. The philosopher discusses the role of emotion in building democracy
In its renunciation to things outside our control, Stoicism also gives up on love, you say. Is Stoicism a school that you fully disagree with? Are there other philosophical schools you find problematic?

I have written two books about the Stoics that show my agreements and disagreements in great detail. In The Therapy of Desire and Upheavals of Thought I credit them with deep insight into what emotions are -- that they involve commitments to external goods beyond our control. I call my own theory of emotions a ‘Neo-Stoic’ theory. I also agree with some of their normative proposals, particularly to wean ourselves from retributive anger, as I discuss in Anger and Forgiveness.

But I just draw the line at love. So it certainly is not a total rejection. Gandhi had roughly the same views as the Stoics, as Richard Sorabji shows in his excellent book Gandhi and the Stoics: Modern Experiments on Ancient Values, and I have the greatest admiration for Gandhi, though I think he too went too far in his rejection of deep human attachment.

On another topic, the Stoics saw great and equal worth in all human beings, as I emphasise when I discuss the historical antecedents of the Capabilities Approach, so of course that too is something positive, as is their view that we have moral duties to people outside our own nation. My forthcoming book The Cosmopolitan Tradition goes into all that much more fully.
posted by homunculus at 7:39 AM on March 8


The secret to happiness is simple: live like a Stoic for a week. We don’t control what happens to us, we can’t control what the people around us say or do, and we can’t even fully control our own bodies, which get damaged and sick and ultimately die without regard for our preferences. The only thing that we really control is how we think about things

My week living as a Stoic: like a Buddhist with attitude, but hard to do hungover
As the week progressed, my conception of Stoicism changed. It wasn’t just stiff upper lip stuff, there was a lot of meditations that were about treating others well. A meditation we did for the “community” chapter on Wednesday (called the Circles of Hierocles) felt remarkably like a Buddhist loving kindness meditation.

As philosopher and author Nassim Taleb once wrote on the similarities between the two: “A stoic is a Buddhist with attitude.

“Those details begin with how both systems seek to reduce suffering by helping us to better understand the world and how we interact with it.

“For the Stoic, all happiness is internal.”
posted by homunculus at 10:09 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


As philosopher and author Nassim Taleb once wrote on the similarities between the two: “A stoic is a Buddhist with attitude.

Actually, it turns out the full quote is "A Stoic is a Buddhist with attitude, one who says ‘fuck you,’ to fate." - Nassim Nicholas Taleb (@nntaleb) from Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
posted by homunculus at 10:52 AM on March 10


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