Roman Calendar

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Eupathic Responses, continued

Eupathic Responses

From Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion:

     "As a normative response can hardly be dependent on any false belief, the evaluations that give rise to eupatheiai will necessarily be true. The objects at which they are directed must therefore be such objects as the person of perfect understanding can consider to be goods or evils. They may be bound up with externals in that actions and decisions have to be about something, but the external aspects of action would not be the real objects of the feeling. The real objects must be those integral goods and evils which are, as Seneca says, 'real and the mind's own'."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Eupathic Responses" from "Stoicism and Emotion"

"Eupathic Responses" from Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion:

     "We should expect "that the person of perfect understanding will be capable of every feeling it is in human nature to have. And in fact we do find references in Stoic sources to a class of affects which belong specifically to the normative human. The collective term eupatheiai, 'good emotions' or 'proper feelings,' is attested from an early date and was probably the term used in the early treatises. Cicero . . . offers the Latin term constantiae or 'consistencies.' This may be a rendering of alternative Greek terminology which is now lost, or it may be creative translation: 'consistency' is one way to refer to the logically coherent state of mind which disposes one to experience affects rather than ordinary emotions. . . . [Eupatheiai, or eupathic reponses] are to ordinary emotions what the Stoic sage is to the ordinary person: they are the corrected version, the endpoint of development. We can think of them as normative affect."

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Stoic Ethical System (1) from "Stoicism and Emotion"

     Some passages from Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion:

     "Deeper motivations for the Stoic position lie within the structure of their own ethical system. Goodness in Stoic thought is essentially a notion of rightness or fit. Just as in mathematics the solution to a problem is right when it is in accordance with the system of thought which is mathematics as a whole, so in Stoic ethics a circumstance or event is good when it participates in some logically coherent system. For most things in the universe, the relevant larger system is just the universe itself, for the world as a whole operates according to underlying principles of regularity which admit of no exceptions, rather as we speak of 'laws of science.' But the mind of an adult human, while it certainly participates in the world order, also has a frame of reference which is entirely its own. Because I am a rational being, capable of stating my beliefs and the reasons for what I do, there subsists right now, in relation to my mental contents, a large number of propositions or, as the Stoics term them, axiōmata. These can be interrelated in various ways: they may all be linked into a single coherent system, or (more likely) there may be some amount of internal contradiction. Thus my beliefs, actions, and affective responses are all capable of being evaluated not only in relation to universal reason but also in relation to my own harmonious or inharmonious system of belief. Such things belong to my own frame of reference: external objects or 'indifferents' do not."

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Genuinely Good vs. Preferred Indifferent

     From Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion on what is genuinely good and what is merely an indifferent thing that one would often prefer:

     "In general, the 'proper characteristic' (idion) of a qualified thing is that which it must do if it has that property at all. If a thing is genuinely good, the reasoning goes, it must benefit us every time, not only on some occasions. So anything which harms us at all, even very infrequently, is not good in the requisite sense. Wealth, comfort, power, reputation, and other objects external to our control may be beneficial (in the ordinary sense) on some occasions, but there will always be cases in which each of these things turns out to be harmful. Not even health is beneficial all the time. If a brutal dictator is seeking to conscript you to become part of a death squad, then it is preferable not to be physically fit (Seneca, who had some experience of dictators, recommends suicide in such instances). For this reason, the Stoics argue, neither health nor wealth nor any other external object is truly beneficial at all, and neither are their opposites harmful. Genuine value does not come and go with the occasion."

      This illustrates one of the most difficult aspects of Stoic thought to fully grasp: a Stoic realigns his or her thinking about all things, and judges most things to be indifferent, even if the average person who is not a Stoic would generally believe these same things to be good or bad.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"The Supreme Virtue" (from "The War of Art")

From Steven Pressfield's The War of Art:

"Someone once asked the Spartan king Leonidas to identify the supreme warrior virtue from which all others flowed. He replied: 'Contempt for death.' 

For us as artists, read 'failure.' Contempt for failure is our cardinal virtue. By confining our attention territorially to our own thoughts and actions - in other words, to the work and its demands - we cut the earth from beneath the blue-painted, shield-banging, spear-brandishing foe."
What a wonderfully Stoic idea, is it not? If we measure failure by the opinions of others, we are giving them power over us, valuing external indifferent things. Contempt of this . . . yes, in a way, this is close to a statement of the supreme virtue in Stoic thought as well . . .

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"The Stoic ethical stance" (from "Stoicism and Emotion"

From Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion:

     "Now the chief insight of Stoic axiology could very well be expressed this way: that in a rational being, external objects never merit uncompromising evaluation but integral objects always do . . . They speak most often of integral objects in terms of 'virtue' and 'vice' and of uncompromising evaluation in terms of what is seen as genuinely good or evil. So the claim often appears in the form 'virtue is the only good, vice the only evil.' More precise treatments make it clear that the class of genuine goods and evils includes not only characteristics of persons but also any impulse that counts as an exercise of virtue or vice."

     What Graver refers to as "external objects" are, in more traditional Stoic terminology, "indifferents." "To call such objects 'indifferents' is not to say that one has to be indifferent to them; indeed, one might pursue them strenuously on the basis of a restricted evaluation, in what the Stoics call 'selection' or 'disselection.' But these are objects which do not in themselves make life different, turning a good life into a bad life or vice versa. What matters about them is only how they are used, the adverbial aspect, as it were, of our engagement with them. Virtues and faults must have something to work with if they are to be exercised. Fighting courageously in battle requires a battle to fight in . . . acquiring money honestly means there was money to acquire. But in each case the elements of those activities that are external to the agent's control are not integral to the evaluation. If we think the fighting or the acquisition is good in itself, we are making a mistake."

Monday, August 5, 2013

Emotions and Ascriptions of Value, Part 2

     In Stoicism and Emotion, Margaret R. Graver discusses "the relation of the judgments involved in emotion" to the particular type of judgment she calls a "simple ascription of value," i.e., "a judgment to the effect that 'X is good' or 'X is bad,' where X is an object type such as 'money' or (more properly) 'having money.' . . . such judgments figure prominently in the Stoic account, but what exactly is their role in the emotion event?"

     She clarifies, "For instance, would it be right to say that an emotion in Stoicism simply is a simple ascription of value? Should one say that what happens when a person has an emotion is fully captured by stating that he or she judges some external object to  be either good or evil? Certainly this is not a position that matches our immediate intuitions about what an emotion could be. Anger, fear, desire, and grief surely do not seem very much like deciding that something is valuable; they seem like responses to events in our lives . . . All the same, there is some reason to believe that the Stoics did identify emotions with judgments of value."

     Of course, this is exactly the position many Stoics take. If I grieve "because I have lost" someone or something, it isn't really the loss that is causing the emotion. It is the ascription of some value to the person or thing lost. I lose carbon dioxide every time I breathe, I lose skin cells with nearly every movement, yet I do not go into deep grief with these daily losses. I ascribe no value to them, so they are not really "losses." But if I lose $100, or if someone I love dies, I might grieve, because I believe that having money or having the person in my life is a genuinely good thing, and that not having them is a genuinely bad thing. I ascribe positive value to the having and negative value to the losing. Hence my emotion. Stoicism, however, teaches that nothing can be said to be truly good except moral choice. Other things may seem good, but they are fleeting, temporary. I should not ascribe true goodness to something I can gain or lose . . .

Friday, August 2, 2013

Emotions and Ascriptions of Value, Part 1

     In Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion, we see an analysis of the concept that "emotions are defined as certain kinds of impulses," thus containing "thought-content." Impulses (hormai) "are defined in Stoic psychology as a subset of assents: to act is to endorse a certain kind of proposition, namely the proposition that some predicate is appropriate to oneself at that moment." This involves ascribing a value to certain impulses. But to the non-Stoic, it often does not feel as if we put such thought into emotions - they just seem to well up out of nowhere. But careful reasoning allows us to see that this is in fact the case.

     More analysis to follow . . .

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Emotions and Feelings

     From Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion, on the topic of emotions and feelings:

     " . . . [H]aving an emotion is not quite the same as having a feeling. The feeling is our subjective awareness of a physical change in the psychic material; it is something that happens when one has an emotion, but the possibility is left open that it may also occur at other times and for other reasons . . .
     This is a point that proves to be crucially important when we seek to understand the norm laid down in Stoic ethics for the optimization of our affective experience. For among the best-attested and most generally known claims of this ethical system is that the genuinely wise person exhibits apatheia or impassivity; that is, the absence of the pathē. Realizing the fullest of human potential means, for Stoics, not only that one becomes able to control or channel the emotions but that one actually ceases to experience emotions as we known them. The distinction between emotions and feelings therefore serves to open up an interpretive space around a central dictum  of Stoic ethics. If the psychic sensations we experience in emotion are not simply identical with the pathē, then the norm of apatheia does not have to be cashed out as an injunction against every human feeling. One might be impassive in the Stoic sense and still remain subject to other categories of affective experience.
     . . . The capacity to undergo a wide range of feelings is . . . 'hard-wired,' as we would say, into the human psyche. Thus to deny any role for feeling in the life of the wise would be to claim that human beings are endowed by nature with psychic equipment for which we have no legitimate use. As the endowment of nature plays a role in Stoicism analogous to that played by the evolutionary endowment in our own science, this would be the equivalent of saying in a modern context that a creature has evolved capacities which do not promote its effective functioning in its environment. People would have something like a foot in the middle of their foreheads."

     Most of this is quite well put, but I feel the analogy with modern evolutionary science runs up against some misconceptions at the end. The misconception is that "evolution" is some magical thing that improves creatures to be better able to deal with their environments. A foot in the forehead is silly, so it couldn't happen. Except that such is exactly how evolution works according to science - random mutations (like a foot in the forehead) that either prove beneficial (and thus evolve into a standard feature), are neutral (and thus survive or fail somewhat randomly), or are maladaptive (and thus cause the extinction of all who share the mutation, thus preventing it from becoming a standard feature). The step that Graver leaves out is that standard Stoicism contains something like "intelligent design" - the idea that the gods, that Nature, is guiding the development of all things. So useless capacity for affective response, like a foot in the forehead, is not possible . . . because the gods or Nature would not allow such a thing to happen.