Recent Stoic Meditations, #15

When Fortuna allows, I publish a short morning meditation based on a short quote from a Stoic writer, seeking to apply that ancient wisdom to life in the 21st century. Here are the most recent entries:

We have become alternately merchants and merchandise, and we ask, not what a thing truly is, but what it costs. (listen here)

One of the major differences between Stoics and Aristotelians has always been the treatment of disruptive emotions, such as anger and fear. They are helpful, in small measure, for Aristotle, but definitely to avoid for the Stoics. (listen here)

Do you find yourself in the thralls of fear, jealousy, or anger? Do you act inconsistently in life? Then you ain’t wise yet. (listen here)

From the point of view of someone who has managed to overcome his attachment for externals, people going after riches and luxuries look like fools. Are you one of them? (listen here)

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Recent essays, #15

Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, my Patreon site devoted to practical philosophy. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription levels at $1, $3, and $5), but the majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

Stoic advice: what’s the Stoic attitude toward virtual reality? LT asked me the simple question that gives the title to this essay. It’s a good question, and its simplicity is deceiving. To begin with, as I’ve written in the past, it is a bit misleading to ask a general question along the lines of “is X Stoic?” The reason being that Stoicism is a type of virtue ethics, as distinct from the other two major frameworks in moral philosophy: Kantian deontology and Utilitarianism. Unlike the other two, in virtue ethics the focus is on the character and intentions of the individual, and the goal is not to seek universal answers, because situations are different, and so are people. (continue to read)

Can virtue be taught?

Is virtue — in the Greco-Roman sense of the term — the sort of thing  that can be taught? Short answers: no, though it’s complicated  (Socrates). Yes, though it’s tough (the Stoics). Since the idea that  virtue can be learned is central to Stoic teachings, and since the  Stoics very clearly thought themselves as the intellectual heirs of  Socrates, the issue deserves some further discussion. Luckily, I found a lively paper by Hugh Mercer Curtler at Southwest  State University who presents a very accessible treatment of the issue  of learning virtue, from which I will draw for the following notes. (The  paper appeared in Humanitas in 1994, the full version is here.) (continue to read)

Suggested readings, #15

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

You would think this does not need to be said, and yet: Let the professors run the university. Faculty members need to reassert themselves as the people who direct discourse on campuses. (Inside Higher Education)

No, we probably don’t live in a computer simulation, very sensibly says physicist Sabine Hossenfelder. (BackReaction)

Democracy is for the gods, and it should be no surprise that humans cannot sustain it. (New York Times)

Social physics: despite the vagaries of free will and circumstance, human behavior in bulk is far more predictable than we like to imagine. (Aeon)

Socrates’ critique of 21st-Century neuroscience: the ancient thinker saw limits to what natural science can tell us about ourselves. (Scientific American)

Cicero and Stoicism

I have just published a new e-booklet on the theme of Cicero and Stoicism: Brief Introductions to De Finibus, Stoic Paradoxes, and Tusculan Disputations.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) was a Roman statesman, orator, lawyer, and philosopher, who served as consul in the year 63 BCE. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the Roman equestrian order, and is considered one of Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists. He lived in turbulent times, being a contemporary of Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, Mark Anthony, and the future emperor Octavian Augustus.

The new e-booklet contains 10 essays and runs to about 18,500 words. Here is the table of contents:

De Finibus and the nature of Stoic philosophy (parts I & II)

Cicero’s criticism of Stoicism (parts I & II)

Stoic Paradoxes

Tusculan Disputations: I. On contempt of death

Tusculan Disputations: II. On bearing pain

Tusculan Disputations: III. On grief of mind

Tusculan Disputations: IV. On other perturbations of the mind

Tusculan Disputations: V. Whether virtue alone be sufficient for a happy life

Recent Stoic Meditations, #14

When Fortuna allows, I publish a short morning meditation based on a short quote from a Stoic writer, seeking to apply that ancient wisdom to life in the 21st century. Here are the most recent entries:

Seneca reminds us that Alexander the Great conquered everything, except his own destructive emotions, which led to endless grief for him and his friends. Beware, therefore, of reacting in anger to your problems. (listen here)

Seneca reminds us that in the time of Nero – just like today – famous, rich and powerful people are hiding much evil under a thin coating of titles. (listen here)

Seneca, who knew a thing or two about wealth, warns us about pursuing it. A mind that revels in luxury, he says, is a mind that has lost its balance. (listen here)

Seneca reminds us that striving to be a better person is an end in itself, not to be pursued in order to boast to others of our accomplishments. (listen here)

Recent essays, #14

Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, my Patreon site devoted to practical philosophy. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription levels at $1, $3, and $5), but the majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

The differences among philosophy, rationality, and therapy. Stoicism is a philosophy, which means a general framework for navigating one’s life. It has a body of theory (e.g., the three disciplines) and a set of practices. Stoicism is just one particular philosophy of life, others include some of its Hellenistic competitors, such as Epicureanism, as well as bodies of ideas coming from outside the Western tradition, especially Buddhism. As Bill Irvine argues in his A Guide to the Stoic Life, the advantages of adopting or developing a more or less coherent philosophy of life is that one has always available a handy reminder of how to interpret things, what to prioritize, and how to behave. Not bad, if you ask me. (continue to read)

Misguided ideas in applied ethics: the neurophilosophy of moral intuitions.

Patricia Churchland is one of the most famous and controversial contemporary philosophers. She and her husband, Paul Churchland, have for decades now being pushing a notion in philosophy of mind known as “eliminativism.” Eliminativists claim that people’s common-sense understanding of the mind (to which they refer to as “folk psychology”) is false, and that moreover certain classes of mental states that most people believe in do not, in fact, exist. (Here is an in-depth treatment of the concept.) Eliminativists’ favorite analogy is with the shift from the geocentric to the heliocentric models in astronomy: in ancient times, people took the appearance that the Sun and the other celestial objects were rotating around the Earth at face value, but Science (note the capital “S”) dismantled that primitive notion and gave us the modern understanding of the world. (continue to read)

Suggested readings, #14

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

Is Western philosophy just a form of white suprematism? No, of course not. But sure, let’s keep writing that sort of thing. What’s the worse it can happen? (The Philosophical Salon)

Could Ancient Greek philosophy help you work smarter and better? Sure, though that would actually mean missing the point of Ancient Greek philosophy. Also, a rival of the humor theory? What the hell, NYT? (New York Times)

Where are all the women in ancient philosophy? They are there, but mighty hard to find, through no fault of their own. (New Statesman)

Plants neither possess nor require consciousness. A brief introduction to the pseudoscience of plant neurobiology. (Trends in Plant Science)

When researchers submitted to Science a paper attempting (and failing) to replicate a high profile result in social psychology (previously published by Science), they were told: “not interested.” That’s bad. Really bad. (Slate)