Recent Stoic Meditations, #32

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:

People think some things unjust because they ought not to suffer them, and some because they did not expect to suffer them: we think what is unexpected is beneath our deserts. (listen here)

Revenge and retaliation are words which men use and even think to be righteous, yet they do not greatly differ from wrong-doing. (listen here)

If anyone is angry with you, meet their anger by returning benefits for it: a quarrel which is only taken up on one side falls to the ground: it takes two people to fight. (listen here)

Men, frantic with rage, call upon heaven to slay their children, to reduce themselves to poverty, and to ruin their houses, and yet declare that they are not either angry or insane. (listen here)

Other vices affect our judgment, anger affects our sanity. Its intensity is in no way regulated by its origin: for it rises to the greatest heights from the most trivial beginnings. (listen here)

Recent essays, #32

Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, both on Patreon and Medium. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription at $3 for Patreon, $5 for Medium, but the latter comes with access to additional authors as well). The majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

Seneca to Lucilius: 44, philosophy as the great equalizer

“If there is any good in philosophy, it is this: it has no regard for genealogies.” (Letters to Lucilius, XLIV.1)

At the beginning of his 44th letter to his friend Lucilius, Seneca reminds us that philosophy is for everyone, regardless of one’s ancestry or so-called “noble” birth. This is a point I often have difficulty getting across when I talk about Stoicism to the media. A common objection raised to my presentation of the philosophy is that it’s elitist, since few people have enough leisure time to read the ancients, or a sufficient degree of education to appreciate them.

(continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

Seneca to Lucilius: 47, on slaves and human beings

“They are slaves.”
No, they are human beings.
“They are slaves.”
No, they are housemates.
“They are slaves.”
No, they are lowborn friends.
“They are slaves.”
Fellow slaves, rather, if you keep in mind that fortune has its way with you just as much as with them.
(Letters, XLVII.1)

This is the stunning beginning of Seneca’s 47th letter to his friend Lucilius. It’s an exceedingly uncommon talk for an ancient Roman patrician, especially because the Romans still reeled from the famous revolt by the gladiator-slave Spartacus, which took place just over a century before Seneca’s writing.

(continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

Seneca to Lucilius: 48, tricks of logic

Logic is one of the three fields of study of the standard Stoic curriculum, together with “physics” (meaning the totality of the natural sciences, plus metaphysics), and ethics — the study of how to live our lives. So it may appear somewhat odd that Seneca trashes logic in his 48th letter to his friend Lucilius. Isn’t logic necessary in order to reason well, which in turn leads us to live a life informed by rationality? And yet, after a short preamble at the beginning of the letter we read:

“That, most excellent Lucilius, is what I want those splitters of hairs to teach me—what I should do for a friend, or for a human being; not how many different ways the word ‘friend’ is used or how many different things ‘human’ can signify.” (Letters, XLVIII.4)

Seneca here, it turns out, is not criticizing the study of logic understood as the discipline that improves human reasoning, but rather what we would today call logic chopping, or hair splitting: indulging in irrelevant puzzles about minutiae, for the sake of impressing others or for pure intellectual enjoyment, with no practical impact on how we conduct our business in life.

(continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

Suggested readings, #32

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

What John Rawls missed. Are his principles for a just society enough today? [Good article, though I remain convinced that Rawls missed precious little.] (New Republic)

A problem based reading of Nussbaum’s virtue ethics. [Yeah, there are a lot of problems there…] (Medium)

The meaning to life? A Darwinian existentialist has his answers. [Interesting observations about life, the universe, and everything from veteran philosopher of science Michael Ruse] (Aeon)

What Netflix can teach us about the paradox of choice. Today’s dizzying number of options might just be making us miserable. (Medium)

We don’t actually want to be happy. Chess helps answer the perennial human question, “What should I do next?” (New York Times)

The Spartan philosophy of life. Maxims from ancient Sparta still relevant today. (Medium)

The happiness ruse. How did feeling good become a matter of relentless, competitive work; a never-to-be-attained goal which makes us miserable? (Aeon)

Philosophy Day 2019

The annual Philosophy Day — a UNESCO sponsored worldwide celebration of philosophy — will take place at the City College of New York on Thursday, 21 November 2019.

The event will feature a lunch time talk (12:30pm in the North Academic Building, room 5/144) by Prof. Ben Vilhauer on “Taking free will skepticism seriously.”

The keynote for Philosophy Day 2019 will be given by Prof. Elise Crull on “Metaphysics & the Multiverse,” at 7pm in the North Academic Center, room 1/201.

Both events are free of charge. You will have to present a valid form of ID upon entering the campus building.

More info here

RSVP here

Recent Stoic Meditations, #31

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 need a long-breathed struggle against permanent and prolific evils; not, indeed, to quell them, but merely to prevent their overpowering us. (listen here)

Often the pretense of passion will do what the passion itself could not have done. Sometimes, it may be effective to fake anger. Just don’t make the mistake of actually becoming angry. (listen here)

We are so foolish that we actually get angry at inanimate objects, who neither deserve nor feel our anger. But in fact, no one deserves our anger: not animals, not children, and not even adults. (listen here)

Someone will be said to have spoken ill of you; think whether you did not first speak ill of them; think of how many persons you have yourself spoken ill. (listen here)

Is it a good person who has wronged you? Do not believe it. Is it a bad one? Do not be surprised at this; by their sin they have already punished themselves. (listen here)

Recent essays, #31

Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, both on Patreon and Medium. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription at $3 for Patreon, $5 for Medium, but the latter comes with access to additional authors as well). The majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

Are you ready to die?

Are you ready to die? I’m not, which means my philosophical training is not yet complete. I’m not a sage. As Seneca says:

“Most men ebb and flow in wretchedness between the fear of death and the hardships of life; they are unwilling to live, and yet they do not know how to die.” (Letters to Lucilius, IV.5)

I have always been “willing to live” in Seneca’s sense, meaning to do things in life that I found worthwhile and meaningful. From very early on, when I was in middle school, I resolved that I would become a scientist, because the human quest for knowledge and understanding seemed to me to be paramount. I was lucky enough to actually have a successful academic career as an evolutionary biologist, and it seemed like that was going to last me for a lifetime.

(continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

Stoicism’s origin stories

Everyone loves a good origin story. Spiderman’s has been told a number of times, in both the comic books and the movies. And who doesn’t delight in telling their friends how they met the love of their lives? (In my case, at Stoic Camp, in case you were curious.) So let’s talk about the origin stories (yes, there is more than one) of Stoicism.

Diogenes Laertius gives the classic accounts, which begins with a shipwreck:

“[Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism] was shipwrecked on a voyage from Phoenicia to Piraeus with a cargo of purple. He went up into Athens and sat down in a bookseller’s shop, being then a man of thirty. As he went on reading the second book of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, he was so pleased that he inquired where men like Socrates were to be found. Crates [of Thebes, a Cynic philosopher] passed by in the nick of time, so the bookseller pointed to him and said, ‘Follow yonder man.’ From that day he became Crates’s pupil.” (Lives and Opinions of the Eminent Philosophers, VII.2-3)

(continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

Suggested readings, #31

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

Bad Romance. Capitalism hasn’t disenchanted the world, a new book argues. Like a bad lover, it beguiles us into spiritual desolation—and only the most utopian politics will break its spell. (Boston Review)

Stoicism as a ball game. Sporting metaphors in ancient Stoic philosophy. (Medium)

Conceptual origami. Unfolding the social construction of mathematics. (Philosophy Now)

Sophie’s World: the wonder and glory of philosophy. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space.” (Medium)

Wonder works. History and philosophy should reveal to us the baffling, strange and wondrous qualities of other lives and other times. [Maybe, but this is a long-winded article with no particular point to make, so far as I can understand. Can someone please explain it to me?] (Aeon)