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Thread: The Stoic philosophy thread

  1. #41

    Default Re: The Stoic philosophy thread

    Quote Originally Posted by Calypze View Post
    I am currently reading Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. As you are most certainly aware, Aurelius was a prominent Stoic, and the book has been praised by a lot of modern Stoics.

    The book is interesting in that it was written by a Roman emperor, but it has a lot of references to gods and fate, which I assume people in Antiquity worried a lot about, but that a scientifically literate atheist in the 21st century does not. In the book, he also commits the appeal to nature fallacy. Am I missing something here?
    The Meditations is indeed a great work but it is also one that I would not recommend as the first reading in Stoicism. It is very challenging in a translation that tries to convey the meaning closely to the original language. It was written in somewhat complex Greek style and meant as a personal study instead of addressing a wider audience. For instance, the Moral Letters by Seneca is a far more palatable way to get up to speed on Stoic thinking.

    It is also worth your while to get acquainted with Stoic thought and concepts before studying the classical works and especially the Meditations. Nature is one of the key concepts of Stoic philosophy and nature or natural there does not imply the many things that we in this time and age may understand. Stoics believe that all thought should be in accordance with nature, and that nature is more like the laws of physical nature.

    For instance, if it is the way of the nature that all living things eventually die, a person should not wish to live forever or think that it is unfair, but accept that as the way the world work and consciously work towards adjusting his behavior and expectations to the realities of the world we live in. Stoics believe that aspirations that are contrary to nature are irrational and thus unvirtuous (immoral). They cause us to suffer and skew our rational thought. And often set us on unvirtuous courses of action.
    Last edited by Septentrionalis; February 14, 2021 at 03:23 PM. Reason: Clarified my message
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  2. #42

    Default Re: The Stoic philosophy thread

    To give a practical example, some people today believe that some kind of weird healing techniques are better than modern medication, because the medicines are supposedly "unnatural". There is nothing in Stoic thinking that suggests that we should not make use of the natural qualities of substances (such as chemical compounds) to produce things that benefit us.

    An example of unnatural thought and behavior could be, for example, to get angry at an inanimate object that does not care and cannot care about your emotions.
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  3. #43
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    Default Re: The Stoic philosophy thread

    As someone who considers himself a modern times Stoic, I have to say one thing is always central: being practical. The very purpose of Stoicism becomes meaningless if you can't apply it to the everyday life and if doesn't make your life better, in a general sense.
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  4. #44

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    Flinn is right on the money here. Stoicism is very much an everyday practice, and there is no component in it that would require you to either personally believe or, when being among other Stoics, pretend to believe something that is against your scientific knowledge of the world. Some concepts and practices may have the resemblance of religion to someone who is unfamiliar with Stoicism, though. However, the philosophy is based on reason and anything that does not work in practice can and must be replaced with something that does work. I will try to illustrate a bit.

    We come across situations in our everyday lives in which we have previously let ourselves think worse thoughts or managed to think fewer good thoughts. Or in fact have let irrational negative emotions regularly get the better of us. Now we study the many principles honed over 2,400 years by a number of insightful people, many of whom have seen some really tough situations. We try to remember their teachings (which we view as educated opinions, not some prophetical, divine truths) and consciously alter our thoughts and actions to a better outcome.

    Above, I mentioned the example of getting angry at inanimate objects, which may sound like a theoretical thing or an insignificant curiosity, but it is not. To give you an example, some of us allow ourselves behavior such as getting angry and hitting a tennis racket against something because we fail consecutive shots or are losing a game. While the racket cannot suffer injustice as such, Stoics are likely to think that we are doing injustice to ourselves by letting us incorrectly assume that we are being wronged by circumstances in what is really our own failure. The better way is to humbly accept the fact that we occasionally fail and need more practice. And that getting angry will only make our game worse. Also, we are ruining the joy of our friends that we have the privilege of being on the court with by such displays of bad sportsmanship.

    Stoics also believe that not manning up to our shortcomings and accepting responsibility builds our character the wrong way and, as it is often put in this religious-sounding way, "hurts our soul". What next if we let ourselves get away with things? Because the world doesn't cater to us the way our unchecked ego would want, can we cheat in a game? Or steal because we did not have the same advantages as someone else? In another example, if it is raining, the Stoic way would be not to frown and curse at the bad luck or be angry at the rain that we cannot control no matter how intensely we decide to ruin our mood. One Stoic way would be to smile at the rain and remember how great it is that we do not have draught, crop failure, and starvation. Praise the rain! Or at least tolerate it with good composure.

    One of the key principles in Stoicism is that our happiness is determined by the quality of our thoughts, and that we can learn to master our thoughts by voluntary appliance of reason and rejection of negative emotions. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and you will notice a clear improvement in your level of courage, personal integrity, compassion, self-control, and mood. And no, I have never heard of anyone who learned to reject negative emotions by reasoning to suffer later on by some kind of "bottled-up" emotions. That is some kind of modern pseudo-psychological gobbledygook of all feelings being "natural". Yes, destructive feelings are natural occurrences like homicide, polio, and pollution, but we are better off with fewer of the kind and we can do things to prevent them.
    Last edited by Septentrionalis; February 15, 2021 at 02:33 PM. Reason: Grammar to make reading easier
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  5. #45
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    Septentrionalis,

    Your answer is unquestionable yet the nature of man has not changed why? For example when my sons were young I reasoned with them never to raise their hands against anyone, the result being that they were ganged up on and bullied that on one occasion four or five guys took turns to see who could knock out my eldest leaving him staggering into school where a prefect took him to the headmaster who in turn contacted me saying that if I didn't get these guys charged he would. When the policemen learned what I had taught them about raising their hands they told me that was the last thing I should have done. Anyway we ended up in court where these guys were found guilty by pleading guilty but not one word of apology from any of them or their parents. Did the school teach them to be little hard men, no? Did their parents? That I don't know but what I do know is that children grow up to bully wherever and whenever possible and there doesn't seem to be an answer to it. The root of it all lies in the nature of man and so history reflects what that nature is and all the philosophers that ever lived have never solved the problem because if Darwin was correct it cannot be solved. Dare I say that as a Christian there is however only one way it can be solved but then we get into the Supernatural.

  6. #46

    Default Re: The Stoic philosophy thread

    Thank you Basics for sharing and thank you for not delving too deep into religion. That said, some comparative discussions of ethical traditions can be useful. I can of course get your hint and yes, if those boys had been brought up like your sons, there would have been no one beating another one to begin with.

    That brings us into a very interesting question from the Stoic point of view, and I must first admit that I am not the best person to ask about violence and Stoicism. I really wish we had more practitioners participating here, because I do not feel comfortable representing a diverse group of people on every matter.

    The Stoic thought is fairly clear in that a rational person that values virtue will choose not to cause harm if that can be avoided. The ancient Stoics did not reject martial spirit and I remember some of them saying that a soldier who executes their duty as well as he can is excercising civic virtue. My interpretation is that a Stoic commander (of which there has surely been many, Marcus Aurelius included) would engage an enemy relentlessly, but would probably find the idea of torturing captives or inflicting harm on civilians below their standards. Seneca wrote that a military commander or a judge meting out punishment should never do so out of spite or personal gratification, but only in the extent necessary and for the purpose of correcting behavior for the better. Once again, Stoicism teaches us to question our own motives and to reject selfish and vain urges.

    As for the question of raising one's hand, my personal yet educated understanding (with which other practitioners may disagree) is that your view is based on a compassionate disposition but that it is still "immoral" in the philosophical, not judgemental, sense. I believe that it is our duty to stand up to violent people, and that the world does not become a better place by the just making themselves vulnerable. Quite the opposite, much of the peace in our world comes from the fact that those who are least willing to use violence against others are the most competent to do so. Like you say, that violent nature in man unfortunately pops up here and there all the time, but the majority of people are fundamentally good and we should make sure that the violent minority does not get the upper hand.

    I have always interpreted the saying about turning the other cheek, attributed to Jesus, to mean that not every hostile action deserves a full-on retaliation. That a virtuous person should know when letting the push come to a shove is not going to make things better, and instead to seek a more productive resolution even if it means having to put one's own pride and ego aside. I never saw it as an absolute requirement for us not to stand up to protect ourselves and our fellow men. I think that the best way to raise a child is to make them self-secure and competent to handle threatening situations, but of such moral character that they do not go around bullying and initiating violence themselves. I appreciate you for not raising your sons to be the bullies.
    Last edited by Septentrionalis; February 18, 2021 at 02:38 PM.
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  7. #47
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    Default Re: The Stoic philosophy thread

    Septentrionalis,

    The thing is that our nature seems to be to take advantage of situations that suits us whenever possible. For example we tell lies when we need to, we steal time if in employment, we steal pens, paper clips, paper and anything else that we think nobody would miss, we break the speed limits all the time and ignore signs wherever there are any. I suspect it's the same the world over yet that is our nature from a very basic observation. Therein lies the problem, the root problem and it begins from birth on. A growing child has but one thing on his or her mind, themselves. As parents we spend our time trying to teach them life is not about them only, us being rather hypocritical because we were once just like them and as written above still like that. So, how do we get people to change their nature when that nature has set in from birth?

  8. #48
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    Default Re: The Stoic philosophy thread

    Quote Originally Posted by Calypze View Post
    I am currently reading Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. As you are most certainly aware, Aurelius was a prominent Stoic, and the book has been praised by a lot of modern Stoics.

    The book is interesting in that it was written by a Roman emperor, but it has a lot of references to gods and fate, which I assume people in Antiquity worried a lot about, but that a scientifically literate atheist in the 21st century does not. In the book, he also commits the appeal to nature fallacy. Am I missing something here?
    I have never finished it. The first chapter has a lengthy rhetorical passage about how the Emperor owes his many amazing attributes to others. My feeling was not one of awe at a noble character generously praising his influences but a vainglorious monarch who beleived his own publicity., Aurelius wisdom must be questioned given he was granted the throne by adoption (as the previous four "good emperors" had done) but left it to his (inexperienced and highly unsuitable) son by birth Commodus.

    My impression is the Meditations reeks of vanity and a mediocre grasp of philosophy compounded by an absence of honest criticism but I am an unsuitable critic.
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  9. #49

    Default Re: The Stoic philosophy thread

    Quote Originally Posted by basics View Post
    I suspect it's the same the world over yet that is our nature from a very basic observation. Therein lies the problem, the root problem and it begins from birth on. A growing child has but one thing on his or her mind, themselves. As parents we spend our time trying to teach them life is not about them only, us being rather hypocritical because we were once just like them and as written above still like that. So, how do we get people to change their nature when that nature has set in from birth?
    That is a good observation, although my perception of the human condition is not quite that dismal. Humans have great potential for good as is all the time evident around us. As a curiosity, some years ago twelve wallets with money and personal items were intentionally dropped in various locations in Helsinki, the city in which I live. In eleven cases the finder had taken the trouble to find the supposed owner in order to turn in the wallet. I do not see any other explanation to that besides people wanting to be good.

    The Stoic theory is that human is not a reasonable being by nature but a being capable of reason. We are plagued by these primal instincts for selfishness, agression, etc. that fit the evolutionary model of our ancestors having had to compete for resources and fight off threats. However, a faculty of reason and ability to control those impulses has emerged in us as we have learned to rely on each other and cooperation for a much nicer life (you can ignore the evolution part and attribute it to God's providence, and it will not make a difference to the Stoic theory). Imagine having to provide for yourself everything you need. You would not have much to be honest.

    We cannot really change the nature of our species and perhaps we should not even attempt to by any invasive means such as genetic engineering, but we can improve ourselves and our societies collectively. Accumulating virtues is something that Stoics are big proponents of; use whatever good nature that has been set into us from birth and make that expand on the expense of the bad. In most if not all of our societies, an astounding number of virtues have already become ingrained within our culture and are considered norms. But there is much to do, and starting with ourselves and showing good example is a good place to start.

    As for your examples, I do not steal paperclips or drive recklessly on purpose, but now that you mention it, I do struggle with the issue of stealing time and the feeling of guilt over it. Thank you for the inspiration; I am going to contemplate on that so I could possibly improve my character.
    Last edited by Septentrionalis; February 19, 2021 at 02:04 PM. Reason: founder -> finder
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  10. #50
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    Default Re: The Stoic philosophy thread

    Septentrionalis,

    And then of course there's the person who mutters under his or her breath something nasty, too nasty to say it to the other's face.

  11. #51

    Default Re: The Stoic philosophy thread

    Quote Originally Posted by basics View Post
    And then of course there's the person who mutters under his or her breath something nasty, too nasty to say it to the other's face.
    Since your comment is seemingly in no way connected to the discussion here, I must ask if you think that I have offended you in any way?
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  12. #52
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    Default Re: The Stoic philosophy thread

    Quote Originally Posted by Septentrionalis View Post
    Since your comment is seemingly in no way connected to the discussion here, I must ask if you think that I have offended you in any way?
    Septentrionalis,

    It was just an add-on to what is human nature and surely not connected to you. Even if you had unintentionally offended me I never saw it so don't think that at all. May I say that you are one of the few with whom I can have a conversation with and not feel offended in any way because you don't make it personal as others on these threads do. Coming from dear ole Glasgow toon we have a saying, " refuse nothing but blows," so as far as you are concerned you would be called a right Gentleman.

  13. #53
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    Default Re: The Stoic philosophy thread

    After reading Seneca's Letters to Lucilius, the belief that philosophy is a tool to guide one in leading a well balanced life, and thus should be accessible, became firmly entrenched in my approach to this field.
    Anything excessively convoluted is simply an exercise in how verbose you can be.

    Personally, I'm attracted to Stoicism because of its discipline, self-control and moderation principles

  14. #54

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    Quote Originally Posted by Grimbold View Post
    After reading Seneca's Letters to Lucilius, the belief that philosophy is a tool to guide one in leading a well balanced life, and thus should be accessible, became firmly entrenched in my approach to this field.
    Anything excessively convoluted is simply an exercise in how verbose you can be.
    Thank you for sharing. That is the very core of it. Some modern practices of philosophy that center on pushing convoluted theories for personal attention and generally being a wiseass while ignoring the practical needs of improving one's own character have, in my opinion, damaged the reputation of philosophy and the general perception of philosophy as a concept. As if philosophy was somehow irrelevant to real life and practical matters, which is not the case or at least the objective with Stoic thought.
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  15. #55

    Default Re: The Stoic philosophy thread

    Quote Originally Posted by basics View Post
    It was just an add-on to what is human nature and surely not connected to you. Even if you had unintentionally offended me I never saw it so don't think that at all. May I say that you are one of the few with whom I can have a conversation with and not feel offended in any way because you don't make it personal as others on these threads do. Coming from dear ole Glasgow toon we have a saying, " refuse nothing but blows," so as far as you are concerned you would be called a right Gentleman.
    Thank you for clearing that off the table, Basics. Now I see your point. That is an interesting one and surely one of the tougher everyday questions of personal integrity that any practicioner of practical philosophy faces, Stoic or otherwise. The question of being honest when being honest hurts. I wish I had more wisdom in this specific matter.

    The Stoic thought is in some ways invested in the virtue of outcome, and in general advises people to avoid causing harm if a less harmful course of action is available. If you think that someone is stupid and ugly, there is very little virtue in being honest and telling that to their faces. It does not help them to become smarter or prettier at least in your opinion, but it will hurt their feelings and increase animosity in between you two. Some things may be best kept under our breath. Then again, if you think that someone aspiring to make music is not really talented, you probably should not at least tell them the opposite and encourage them to embark on a career that will not serve them the best way. Even if that would temporarily hurt their feelings.

    When being on the receiving end of verbal abuse, the Stoic tradition is fairly clear. If someone tells you that you are stupid and ugly, the best way to respond is to say that "if you knew all of my shortcomings, you would not limit yourself to criticizing my looks and intellect".

    Honesty is not a key concept in Stoicism the way reason and compassion are. Most practical matters can be handled by applying reason and compassion alone. Think what information will serve the interests of your neighbor the best and tell them that and nothing else. If you need to criticize someone and you feel that the criticism will genuinely help them to improve and make better choices, go ahead. This is not my strong suite, however, and it would be nice to hear other practitioners' opinions on the matter.
    Last edited by Septentrionalis; February 23, 2021 at 03:12 PM. Reason: criticism will help -> criticism will genuinely help them to improve and make better choices
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