Recent Stoic Meditations, #43

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:

It is my delight to keep the ruling faculty sound without turning away from any of the things that happen to people, but looking at and receiving all with welcoming eyes and using everything according to its value. (listen here)

Those who rather pursue posthumous fame do not consider that the people of tomorrow will be exactly like these whom they cannot bear now; and both are mortal. (listen here)

Take me and cast me where you will; for there I shall keep my divine part tranquil, that is, content, if it can feel and act conformably to its proper constitution. (listen here)

If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now. (listen here)

Marcus Aurelius reminds himself that if life is unbearable, one has the option to leave. But we have a duty, toward ourselves and others, to stay, if at all possible. (listen here)

Recent essays, #43

Most of my original writings now appear over at Patreon and Medium. Many are free, but the recent ones are behind a paywall (monthly subscription at $3 for Patreon, $5 for Medium, but the latter comes with access to additional authors as well). Here are some of the most recent entries:

What makes people happy or unhappy — the empirical evidence

This semester I’m teaching an experimental course at the City College of New York: the philosophy and science of happiness. Fun, but not at all straightforward, since the very word, “happiness” has a number of meanings, and much confusion arises by not distinguishing among them. Sounds like a job for a philosopher. Then again, surely we can’t just sit down and decide on the basis of a priori considerations what does or does not make people happy. Sounds like a job for a scientist.

Which is why I have adopted two complementary textbooks for the task: How to Live a Good Life: A Guide to Choosing Your Personal Philosophy, which I co-edited with Skye Cleary and Dan Kaufman, and Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, by Richard Layard.

To begin with, we need to distinguish between at least two meanings of happiness, although surely they influence each other. On the one hand, happiness is an in-the-moment feeling generated by a pleasurable or meaningful experience. For example, at this moment I’m actually pretty happy of being sitting at my desk, looking over at the Manhattan skyline, engaged in one of my favorite activities: writing.

(continue reading on Patreon, Medium)

Stoic advice: How do I overcome fear?

G. writes: Fear according to the Stoics is related to attachment to externals. Let’s say for instance that someone is shy and wants to ask someone out on a date. According to Epictetus, this person experiences fear if his goal is not totally under his control (get a positive answer). If he changes his goal to an internal one (just ask someone out, and nothing more) the feeling of terror will subside and he will be able to make his move.

Μy problem is that when I face a similar situation, I can calm myself down when I am in solitude, by focusing on an internal goal. As a result, in theory victory depends only on me. But when it’s the time to act and I am with the other person, I feel an enormous irrational fear. Although I try to form the right thoughts in my head, it helps just a little. There is a storm taking place inside me. Somehow, sometimes I manage to make my (clumsy) move with respect to the described situation, but doubts are always coming in my head in an uncontrollable way (is she interested, is she available, is this an awkward ting to do?). 

Very good question, and very common problem. I assume that by “EBT” you meant REBT, rational emotive behavior therapy, a forerunner of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), both of which were initially inspired by Stoicism. I think that the conflict with Stoic advice is more apparent than substantial.

Let’s step back for a minute and talk about how the Stoics see what we call emotions, which is broadly consistent with the findings of modern cognitive science. An emotion, for instance fear, is the result of two components: a raw feeling that something is wrong (the Stoics call it a proto-emotion), and a cognitive judgment that something really is wrong (in your case, failure to get a date).

(continue reading on Patreon, Medium)

Suggested readings, #43

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

The post-human Enlightenment, a review of Fiction Without Humanity: Person, Animal, Thing in Early Enlightenment Literature and Culture, by Lynn Festa. (Public Books)

If you’re angry, you’re part of the problem, not the solution. What we need is restraint — not rage. (Medium)

Welcome to the age of impunity: David Miliband’s World Economic Forum speech. (International Rescue Committee)

It’s time to free your e-reading from Amazon. (Medium)

You are now remotely controlled. Surveillance capitalists control the science and the scientists, the secrets and the truth. (New York Times)

How life improved when I gave up on the news. The benefits of a “media diet” (Medium)

Psychology still skews western and affluent. Can it be fixed? Critics have argued that these biases present an imperfect view of the human mind. Why is it so hard to correct? (Salon)

Recent Stoic Meditations, #42

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:

It is a sort of revenge to spoil a man’s enjoyment of the insult he has offered to us … the success of an insult lies in the sensitiveness and rage of the victim. (listen here)

Freedom consists in raising one’s mind superior to injuries and becoming a person whose pleasures come from himself alone. (listen here)

All things happen in a more endurable fashion to people who are prepared for them. (listen here)

Do not let your thoughts at once embrace all the various troubles that you may expect to befall you: but on every occasion ask yourself, What is there in this that is intolerable and past bearing? (listen here)

I see no virtue that is opposed to justice; but I see a virtue that is opposed to love of pleasure, and that is temperance. (listen here)

Recent essays, #42

Most of my original writings now appear over at Patreon and Medium. Many are free, but the recent ones are behind a paywall (monthly subscription at $3 for Patreon, $5 for Medium, but the latter comes with access to additional authors as well). Here are some of the most recent entries:

“Why do I need a philosophy of life?” Let me tell you

Recently I had a very enjoyable video conversation with my friend John Horgan, an author and Scientific American contributor. The wide-ranging chat was on science, philosophy, and Stoicism. All in about one hour and 13 minutes…

At the end of the session, off the record, John commented on the whole concept of having or adopting a philosophy of life, concluding: “Why do I need a philosophy of life? I don’t like systems, I prefer to go with the flow.” So this is my answer to John and to all those who prefer to “go with the flow.”

In a recent book I co-edited with Skye Cleary and Dan Kaufman, How to Live a Good Life: A Guide to Choosing Your Personal Philosophy, we define a philosophy of life (or religion, which we take to be a special case) as a system of thought based on the following two elements…

(continue reading on Patreon, Medium)

“I don’t read biased news.” Yes you do, because there is no other kind. And that’s okay

A close relative of mine and I have been having discussions about the Democratic Presidential Primaries of late. She and I both subscribe — generally speaking — to a liberal-progressive view of politics, though of course we disagree in specific instances. One such disagreement emerged recently, after the Sanders-Warren dustup about whether Bernie Sanders did or did not say to Elizabeth Warren (in a private conversation) that he thinks a woman is unelectable in 2020.

I absolutely do not wish to revisit that discussion here. That’s not the point of this post. My concern is much broader than that, and it encompasses nothing else than our very ability to engage in meaningful, rational, evidence-based conversations as a society. Without that ability, seems to me, we are doomed. So this is somewhat important.

But my conversation with my relative furnishes a good example of what I’m concerned with. At some point I sent her an article that I thought contained both pertinent factual information and a reasonable analysis of the episode, asking her to read it and let me know what she thought. To my surprise, she rejected my suggestion on the ground that “I don’t read biased news.” That led to an interesting discussion of what, exactly, constitutes “bias.”

(continue reading on Patreon, Medium)

Suggested readings, #42

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

Calculating the incalculable: Thoreau on the true value of a tree. (BrainPickings)

Stoicism and dating. Time to let your values lead the way. (Medium)

The IRS decided to get tough against Microsoft. Microsoft got tougher. [and, unfortunately, we let them get away with it.] (ProPublica)

Nancy Cartwright on the disunity of science. (Medium)

The top 10 crises the world should be watching in 2020. While these countries represent less than 6 percent of the world’s population, they host more than half of all people identified as being in need globally. (International Rescue Committee)

Bertrand Russell on how to conquer happiness — part II. (Medium)

Race and IQ. Again. [An excellent commentary on how a philosophical journal once again published a shoddy paper on “scientific racism.”] (Fardels Bear)

Stoa Nova event: prosochē or not prosochē? On Stoic mindfulness

Do the Stoics engage in mindfulness? Is it similar to the practice from the Buddhist tradition? Is it useful? What is “mindfulness” anyway? Join us and find out why the answers to these questions may make a difference in how you practice Stoicism. Or live your life.

Suggested reading here.

When: Tuesday, 4 February 2020, at 6pm.

RSVP here.