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:
Stoicism and arousal: so you think you can’t control your emotions, eh?
A central tenet of Stoic psychology (which happens to be supported by modern research) is that emotions are, in part, a matter of cognition. Specifically, the Stoics developed the following model for how to arrive at good decisions and actions, despite an initially problematic emotional reaction to a situation:
Impression > Assent > Impulse to Action
The above are technical terms, and should not be understood according to their modern English meanings. Margaret Graver, in her Stoicism and Emotion, provides the following definitions:
An “impression” (Gr. phantasia) is an alteration of the mind through which something seems to be present or to be the case. In having an impression, the mind registers some state of affairs prior to forming an opinion about it one way or another.
An “assent” is what converts thought into belief. It is also referred to as ‘judgment’ (krisis), or ‘forming an opinion’ (doxazein). Assent is defined in intentional terms: it is that event in which one either accepts an impression as true or rejects it as false.
An “impulse” (hormai) is a tendency to action, generated by the assent that one has given to an impression.
Ethics begins at home, a personal update.
According to the Stoics, a eudaimonic life — that is, a life worth living — is one in which we use reason in the service of the human cosmopolis. Which is why a bit more than five years ago, coming out of a more or less typical midlife crisis, I embraced Stoicism as my chosen philosophy of life. As Seneca puts it: “Virtue is nothing else than right reason.” (Letters to Lucilius, LXVI.32)
The emphasis, of course, being on right. But what does it mean to live a Stoic life? There are several possible answers to this question. One can, for instance, use the four cardinal virtues (practical wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance) as a kind of a moral compass, paying attention (prosochē) to what one is doing here and now, particularly to the ethical valence of one’s decisions and actions. Is this thing that I am about to do wise, courageous, just, and temperate? If yes, let’s go ahead; if no, abstain. Another approach is to constantly practice Epictetus’ famous three disciplines: desire and aversion, action, and assent.