Roman Calendar

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Emotion: The Terminology of Stoisicm

     Folllowing Needleman and Piazza's notes in The Essential Marcus Aurelius, another term we should know is the word translated as "emotion" - the Greek is pathos. The root means "to move," "Therefore, emotions are conceived of as things that move us and are somewhat out of our control. The task of philosophy, then, is to train our emotional reactions so that we are not ruled by these 'movers'." I think Needleman and Piazza are accurate as far as they go. But while the ordinary Greek (and later Roman) conception of emotion as an outside force pushing us around may be accurate, the Stoics did not much approve of this dissociation of emotion and the person feeling it. To a great extend, the Stoics saw them as internal things that are, or ought to be, under our control - that trying to claim they were external was just making excuses. But I certainly agree that the "passions" or "emotions" were conceived as things that would "move" you around if you let them - you should control them, not the other way around!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Craft: The Terminology of Stoicism

     As Jacob Needleman and John P. Piazza note in their book, The Essential Marcus Aurelius, one of the essential terms of Marcus Aurelius' writings on Stoicism is "craft," also translated "skill" or "art," the original Greek term being technē. Those authors note: "It refers to what we would call the arts as well as various skills or crafts. The Greeks and Romans did not distinguish between the art of carpentry, for example, and a 'fine art' like scupture or painting. Some have translated this word as 'know-how'." This raises the question - is Stoicism a fine art? A craft? A skill? How does one define it. In the 21st century, far too many of us are accustomed to thinking of "philosophy" as an empty intellectual exercise, but Stoics are reminded that Stoicism is a tool for living, a technique, very close in some ways to a craft or skill. Perhaps it could be said that Stoicism teaches you how to make your life into an art . . .

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Stoic Routine - Evening (from "The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy")

     From Donald Robertson's The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, more daily routines constructed as a modern approximation of the daily practice of Stoic philosophers:


1. Retrospection
     1.1. Mentally review the whole of the preceding day three times from beginning to end, and even the days before if necessary.
     1.1.1. Ask yourself what mistakes you made and condemn (not yourself but) what actions you did badly; do so in a moderate and rational manner.
     1.1.2. Ask yourself what virtue, that is, what strength or wisdom you showed, and sincerely praise yourself for what you did well.
     1.1.3. Ask yourself what could be done better, that is, what you should do instead next time if a similar situation occurs.
2. Relaxation
     2.1. Adopt an attitude of contentment and satisfaction with the day behind you. (As if you could die pleased with your life so far.) Relax your body and calm your mind so that your sleep is as tranquil and composed as possible; the preceding exercise will help you achieve a sense of satisfaction and also tire your mind."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Stoic Routine - Throughout the Day (From "The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy)

     A modern regimen based on ancient Stoic practice, from Donald Robertson's The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy:

"Throughout the day

1. Self-awareness. Continually bring your attention back to the use you are making of your mind, your mental activity in the here and now, during any given situation.
     1.1. Logic. Remember the difference between what is under your control and what is not, in any given moment. Separate your thoughts from the real facts. Stick to the facts and avoid using rhetoric to distort your own emotions. Remain objective. Question each impression that enters your mind, especially those that are accompanied by distress, asking yourself whether it is true or false, i.e. objectively true, or an emotive distortion of things. Remember what is under your control and what is not.
     1.2. Physics. Serenely accept the given moment as if you had chosen your own destiny, 'will your fate' after it has happened. Accept the hand which fate has dealt you. Trivialize trivial things. Contemplate the transience of material things, how things are made and then destroyed over time, and the temporary nature of pleasure, pain, and reputation. Think of the essence of things, and what they really are.
     1.3. Ethics. Take full responsibility for your own judgments and actions. Continually remind yourself to question each thought and ask whether it is true or false, healthy or unhealthy. Does each thought contribute to your long-term happiness and well-being, or not? Reject false or unhealthy impressions immediately, and replace them with more healthy and accurate ones. Pursue your own enlightened self-interest, seeking genuine well-being and happiness. Try to act as if you were already a sage. Recall your principles often and affirm them to yourself in a word, or a short phrase.
2. Oneness.
     2.1. Empathy. Contemplate the virtues of both your friends and your enemies. Empathize with everyone. Try to understand their motives and imagine what they are thinking. Praise even a spark of strength and wisdom and try to imitate what is good. Ask yourself what errors might cause those who offend you to act in such an inconsiderate, unhappy, or unenlightened manner. Love mankind, and wish your enemies to become so happy and enlightened that they cease to be your enemies.
     2.2. Cosmic consciousness. Think of yourself as part of the whole cosmos; indeed, imagine the whole of space and time as one and your place within it. Imagine that everything is interconnected and determined by the whole, and that you and other people are like individual cells within the body of the universe.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stoic Routine - Mornings (From "The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy")

     A modern adaptation of the kind of daily regimen practiced by ancient Stoics, taken from Donald Robertson's The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy:


1. Meditation
     1.1. Take time to calm your mind and gather your thoughts before preparing for the day ahead.
     1.1.1. Be still and turn your attention inward, or isolate yourself from others and walk in silence in a pleasant and serene environment.
     1.1.2. The View from Above. Observe (or just imagine) the rising sun and the stars at daybreak, and think of the whole cosmos and your place within it.
2. Premeditation
     2.1. Mentally rehearse generic precepts, for example,
     2.1.1. "Follow nature," i.e., accept the here and now, and,
     2.1.2. "Make good use of your impressions," that is, monitor your thoughts and forcefully question their logic and objectivity where it is necessary to do so (Epictetus)
     2.2. Mentally rehearse any potential challenges of the day ahead, and the specific precepts required to cope wisely with them, perhaps making use of the previous evening's self-analysis.
     2.3. Periodically contemplate catastrophe and death, rehearse facing such calamities "philosophically," that is, with rational composure; contemplate the uncertainty of the future and the value of enjoying the here and now. Remember you must die, that is, that as a mortal being each moment counts and the future is uncertain.
3. Contemplation of the sage
     3.1. Periodically try to contemplate the ideal of the sage, try to put his philosophical attitudes into a few plain words, what must he tell himself when faced with the same adversities you must overcome? Memorize these precepts and try to apply them yourself. Ask yourself, 'What would someone with absolute wisdom do today?' Adopt a role model such as Socrates, or someone whose wisdom and courage you admire."

Monday, April 22, 2013

On How to Value Externals (from "The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy")

     From Donald Robertson's The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy:

     "As Epictetus puts it, 'I am not eternal, but a man, a part of the whole, as an hour is of the day. Like an hour I must come and, like an hour, pass away' (Discourses, 2.5.13)
     Hence, in one of the most startling and controversial passages in Stoic literature, Epictetus recommends that we practice seeing even the lives of our friends and loved ones as transient. He describes this method as 'the highest and principal form' of Stoic training, and the one which marks initiation into the philosophical life. Things that are normally seen as desirable are to be viewed as transient, like an earthenware cup, a disposable object.
     'So in this too, when you kiss your child, or your brother, or your friend, never entirely give way to your imagination, nor allow your elation to progress as far as it will; but curb it in, restrain it, like those who stand behind generals when they ride in truiumph and remind them that they are mortal. In a similar way, you should remind yourself that what you love is not your own. It is granted to you for the present while, and not irrevocably, nor for ever, but like a fig or a bunch of grapes in the appointed season; and if you long for it in winter, you are a fool.
     So, if you long for your son or your friend when he is not granted to you, know that you are longing for a fig in winter . . . Henceforth, when you take delight in anything, bring to mind the contrary impression . . .' (Discourses 3.24.84-88)
     The sage moderates emotional attachment by, philosophically, reminding himself that he is mortal and must die, that his loved ones are mortal, and that wealth and reputation are fickle and transient things, in the hands of fortune and beyond his ultimate control."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Pause for Reflection

     Following the apparent bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15th, 2013, I am taking a moment to pause and reflect. My first impressions are of horror and terror, and my instinctive reaction is rage and anger and sorrow. Tranquility shatters easily in such circumstances. And yet, how does a Stoic properly view such things?

     Such an act as this bombing is against all the laws of gods and men. As such, it deserves condemnation. And there should be severe consequences for the parties responsible, to prevent them from ever acting in such a way again, and to deter others from ever behaving in such a way. But justice must be dispassionate, else it is not justice, but rage and revenge. I find myself needing to pause, take a deep breath, calm myself, and remind myself that it is not my part or place to be angry. Just to do what I can to aid those who need aid, and what (little) I can to help bring justice to those who need justice. That is all.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Wanting and Having (from Valerius Maximus)

     On my wall calendar (from Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers) in my office at school is a Latin quote for every day ("Sententia Latina as Diem"). Today's quote, from Valerius Maximus:

"Omnia . . . habet quī nihil concupīscit."

"Who desires nothing has everything."

      A perfect summation of Stoic teachings on desire and happiness.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cosmos: The Terminology of Stoicism

     In The Essential Marcus Aurelius by Jacob Needleman and John P. Piazza, the term "cosmos" (kosmos) as frequently referenced by Marcus Aurelius is "also translated as 'universe,' this word refers not only to the spatial magnitude but also to the beauty and order of the entire universe. Marcus Aurelius sometimes used the word 'Whole' (holos) as a synonym. The beauty and order of the cosmos come from the REASON or order (logos) which governs it."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"Care" of the Soul - Terminology of Stoicism

From Jacob Needleman & John P. Piazza's The Essential Marcus Aurelius:

     The Stoics talk a good deal about the idea of the "care of the soul." In Marcus Aurelius, the word for "care" is therapeia (the English derivative from this is, of course, "therapy") - "also translated as 'tending' or 'service' . . . it reminds us that philosophy from the beginning was seen as a kind of healing through the redirection of one's attention to the soul."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Defiant Gratefulness

Defiant Gratefulness

     This morning, I received in my e-mail inbox this link from The Art of Manliness to an article entitled "Every Man's Call to Defiant Gratefulness" -

     I was struck by the fact that this coincides almost exactly with how I have always attempted to integrate painful experiences into my long-term consciousness and personality - with an attitude of gratitude for the opportunities granted me by adversity. I shan't claim that I am always successful in doing so, and certainly it is hard to do so in the immediate aftermath of disaster  - one almost always needs time to process truly traumatic events - but certainly, what has not killed me has only made me stronger (to paraphrase Nietzsche). 

     I cannot help but reflect that this is just the way I was raised - my parents encouraged this attitude in me, in different ways - so I've had it all my life. But as I have grown older and my education and reading have advanced, it also reminds me of the teachings of the Stoics. One can easily imagine Marcus Aurelius counseling a radical gratitude for adversity in life. I know of several letters to Lucilius in which Seneca counsels exactly that. So for me, this is an aspect of life in which the philosophies I have adopted coincide with and grow from beliefs with which I was raised - it is nice not to have to unlearn something I have learned, in order to be true to myself. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Self-interest and altuism in Stoicism (from "The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy")

     Stoic philosophy is, on its face, a selfish philosophy - it is based on self-interest and self-improvement, and could seemingly be thought of as a self-centered philosophy. However, as Donald Robertson points out in The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, the "Stoic and his environment, the brotherhood of mankind and the universe as a whole, form a single organic system, therefore, and not a mere collection of atomized and fragmentary individuals. For the Stoic to care for himself is to care for part of the universe in its relationship with the whole. Stoic ethis is indeed based upon self-interest. However, any change in our view of the self means a change in our view of what self-interest actually means. A metaphysical theory about personal identity therefore determines Stoic ethics. I am part of a whole; my interests are therefore bound up with the question of what it means for me to function well and harmoniously in relation with the whole." So while so much of Stoic focus is on the self, and the self's ability to choose good and evil, nevertheless it is not as self-centered as it initially appears, since the relationship of the self to the rest of creation is a significant part of how one chooses good and evil.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The View From Above (From "The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)

     The ancient Stoics often advised trying to imagine seeing the whole world, as if from on high, and thereby becoming able to visualize how insignificant the indifferent things of this world really are. This would naturally enhance the Stoic's "contempt" of the world - although the negative connotations of "contempt" have led some to suggest that "indifference" or "detachment" might be better terms. Donald Robertson quotes Vice-Admiral Stockdale: "[M]ake sure in your heart of hearts , in your inner self, that you treat your station in life with indifference, not with contempt, only with indifference" (thus highlighting the different shades of meaning in English).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Stoics Not Overly Fatalistic (from "The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy")

     Donald Robertson on the dangers of assuming that the Stoics were simply fatalists who awaited whatever might happen to them in a passive manner:

"[W]e should wonder whether the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, for example, was being over-fatalistic in this sense when he personally led the Roman legions, greatly depleted by a recent plague, into the heart of Germania to fight back the invading barbarian hordes of the Marcomanni tribes. Was Seneca being too passive when he, reputely, conspired to overthrow the corrupt and tyrranical Emperor Nero and lost his life in the process? Was Cato of Utica, the man who defied Julius Caesar, a doormat? In fact, many Stoics were famous political and military leaders, notorious for their onstinacy and courage rather than for their passivity. The archetypal hero of the Stoic school, Socrates, was himself a decorated military hero, and they also revered the legendary Hercules, who accomplished the twelve labours, and defied the very gods. In short, the Stoics undoubtedly admired action and assertiveness."