Recent Stoic Meditations, #3

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 says that it is natural for us to be virtuous. Modern scientists say that it is natural for us to be prosocial. Either way, it is reason that allows us to expand our instinctive circles of ethical concern. (listen here)

Cicero uses a metaphor involving ship pilots and their cargo to remind us that a more or less valuable “cargo” doesn’t make us better or worse “pilots.” It is our skills, that is our virtue, that make the difference. (listen here)

Seneca, differing from Epictetus in a metaphysical sense, says that the universe is – as we would put it – morally neutral to us. What matters, then, is how we handle so-called “good” and “bad” things. (listen here)

Seneca uses a colorful analogy between life and a journey. Sure, we’d like to live longer, but when the journey is longer a number of unpleasant things are bound to happen, like rain and mud. Just bring good gear with you for the trip. (listen here)

Seneca uses an interesting economic analogy to remind us that the privilege of being alive comes with the tax of suffering setbacks and losses. Understanding this helps us to cope with problems and even to look forward to them as further exercises in virtue. (listen here)

Recent essays, #3

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:

Some of my most loved relatives are sexists and racists. Now what? When I was growing up in Rome I went to a high school whose student and teaching bodies leaned heavily toward the left of the political spectrum. The outside wall still bore the mark of police bullets fired during an anti-Vietnam student protest that took place a couple of years before I began attending the school. I was actually considered a moderate by my schoolmates, and only very occasionally participated in street demonstrations, during one of which I saw some of my friends being charged and beaten by the police. (continue to read)

Silicon Valley style Stoicism. Nellie Bowles, over at the New York Times, has recently published yet another harsh criticism of Stoicism. This time taking inspiration from the creation of something called “the Cicero Institute,” which is attracting Silicon Valley types by promising the usual cocktail of “life hacks” to become rich and famous. Bowles is half right, and I think it’s important to distinguish between the part she does get right and the one she gets distinctly wrong. (continue to read)

Marcus Aurelius – the Unemotional Stoic? Happy 1,898th birthday, Marcus! Here is a short essay to explain why the famous philosopher-king was not an unemotional robot. And why Stoics in general don’t actually spend their time trying to suppress emotions and go through life with a stiff upper lip. (continue to read)

Suggested readings, #3

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

Why is simpler better? Ockham’s Razor says that simplicity is a scientific virtue, but justifying this philosophically is strangely elusive, says my colleague Elliott Sober. (Aeon)

Sabine Hossenfelder discusses the current chaotic state of fundamental physics, showing why “beauty” gets in the way of science. To be read in tandem with the above linked article by Sober. (Nautilus)

I had no idea what “ethical interilimity” is. Now that I’ve found out from this article by Sam Ben-Meir, I doubt it’s a particular useful or coherent concept. But I could be wrong. (Blitz)

I’ve explained before why Jordan Peterson ain’t no Stoic (he doesn’t claim to be, but some people think he is). This article actually by Jennifer Baker argues (correctly) that is an anti-Stoic. (Psychology Today)

One more on Peterson, this time a commentary on his recent inane debate with the equally embarrassing Slavoj Žižek. “Enjoy.”

Why trust a theory? Epistemology of fundamental physics

Cambridge University Press has recently published a volume edited by Radin Dardashti, Richard Dawid, and Karim Thebault entitled Why Trust a Theory? Epistemology of Fundamental Physics. I have contributed a chapter to the effort, on “Philosophy of science and the string wars: a view from the outside,” which is available as free download here.

This is the description of the book: Do we need to reconsider scientific methodology in light of modern physics? Has the traditional scientific method become outdated, does it need to be defended against dangerous incursions, or has it always been different from what the canonical view suggests? To what extent should we accept non-empirical strategies for scientific theory assessment?

Many core aspects of contemporary fundamental physics are far from empirically well-confirmed. There is controversy on the epistemic status of the corresponding theories, in particular cosmic inflation, the multiverse, and string theory. This collection of essays is based on the high profile workshop ‘Why Trust a Theory?’ and provides interdisciplinary perspectives on empirical testing in fundamental physics from leading physicists, philosophers and historians of science. Integrating different contemporary and historical positions, it will be of interest to philosophers of science and physicists, as well as anyone interested in the foundations of contemporary science.

Recent Stoic Meditations, #2

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 tells us something that may appear to be a no-brainer, and yet is difficult to apply: never believe that you can be happy through the unhappiness of another. (listen here)

Seneca writes words about the foolishness of war that were surprisingly modern for his time, and unfortunately very much still pertinent to us today. (listen here)

Continuing his criticism of the state’s war machine, Seneca exhorts us to prosecute our politicians and generals for the crimes they commit in our own name. (listen here)

Seneca echoes the advice of Musonius Rufus when he says that we don’t need to pay for extravagant meals with ingredients brought from all over the world. Every time we sit at the table to eat we have a chance to exercise temperance. (listen here)

Marcus Aurelius reminds us that we spend far too much time trying to change other people, which is outside of our control, and too little time attempting to improve ourselves, which we certainly have the power to do. (listen here)

Recent essays, #2

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:

Surprisingly, you may not be the best judge of your own emotions. It’s beginning to look like I have another (admittedly, self-appointed) job: to counter the opinions of new public philosophy columnist Agnes Callard, who has recently started writing for The point magazine. You may recall that last month I responded to Callard’s first column, where she was loudly wondering whether public philosophy is really a good thing. My short answer was a resounding yes. You can check the more nuanced version here.

Callard’s second column rails against what she calls “the emotion police.” As usual, she does have some good points, but I think her basic position is highly problematic, and has substantial (negative, if adopted) practical implications, so let’s take a closer look. (continue to read)

Television review: Netflix’s Roman Empire. A few weeks ago I published a reviewof a recent theatrical production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. And before that I wrote an essayon how Stoics approach entertainment. And here is my commentary on an ongoing television series on the Roman Empire produced by Netflix. What does any of this have to do with practical philosophy, the alleged theme of Figs in Winter? Well, seems to me that how to spend one’s leisure time is most certainly within the domain of practical concerns. And to approach it philosophically just means that you frame the issue in terms of reasoning about the value of your time, arguably the most precious thing you have. So here we go with my first review of a television series.

Roman Empire is produced by Netflix and available on its streaming service. It is an ongoing series, the first season having been released in 2016, the third one just a few weeks ago. The idea is to focus on specific moments of the history of ancient Rome by using a combination of acting and academic commentary. Much of each episode is taken by the unfolding story as interpreted by actors. However, we also get a peppering of short commentaries by a number of leading academics who help putting things in context. It’s an interesting formula, and it works pretty well, overall. (continue to read)

Rome Stoic School 2019

On July 18-21, 2019 spend three days in Rome studying ancient and modern Stoicism! Join Massimo and a small group of proficientes (students of Stoicism) to dig into Cicero’s writings about the Stoics, learn about practical Stoicism and how to apply it to your life. While there, walk through the Roman Fori or visit the National Roman Museum, and of course enjoy traditional Roman cuisine and local wines (don’t worry, we won’t accuse you of being an Epicurean…)!

RSVP and payment here.

Where: Sala Tirreno of Hotel Mediterraneo, Via Cavour 15
(near Termini train station, Termini subway stops on the A and B lines)

Registration (at this site, required to reserve your spot): $150, covers only expenses for the meeting room. Refundable until 30 days before event.

The two hotels below are just convenient suggestions, it is possible to find cheaper accommodations in Rome, just make sure you can make it to the meeting place.

Hotel Mediterraneo or Hotel Atlantico

Single €100.00 – Double €120.00
Including buffet breakfast, wifi and standard taxes

Room cancellation up to 48hr before
Discount code: Summer Stoic School (for phone or email reservations only). Note that rooms are locked for our use until February 4st, after which it will be first-come first-serve

Textbooks:

Delphi Complete Works of Cicero, Delphi Ancient Classics Book 23

Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician, by Anthony Everitt, Random House

How to Be a Stoic, by Massimo Pigliucci, Basic Books

A Handbook for New Stoics: How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control, by Massimo Pigliucci & Gregory Lopez, The Experiment

Program:

Thursday, July 18

Arrival at the hotels in the afternoon. Suggestion: dinner after the first session, when restaurants will be open and actually serve food…

First session (7-9pm): Introduction to Stoicism. What is it? How did it come about? What is it good for? (Chapter 2 and Appendix of How to Be a Stoic)

Cicero, his time, and his relationship to Stoicism (pretty much all of Everitt’s book)

Friday, July 19

Morning session (9am-1pm, coffee, tea & snacks provided): Cicero’s De Finibus, book III: the argument in favor of Stoicism (Delphi Complete Works of Cicero)

Live like a Stoic: the discipline of desire & aversion (part I of Pigliucci & Lopez)

Lunch in small groups, local eateries (1-3pm)

Afternoon session (3-7pm, coffee, tea & snacks provided): Cicero’s De Finibus, book IV: the argument against Stoicism (Delphi Complete Works of Cicero)

Live like a Stoic: the discipline of action (part II of Pigliucci & Lopez)

Group dinner at a Roman traditional restaurant (optional, cost of dinner not included in School’s fee)

Saturday, July 20

Morning session (9am-1pm, coffee, tea & snacks provided): Cicero’s Stoic Paradoxes (Delphi Complete Works of Cicero)

Live like a Stoic: the discipline of assent (part III of Pigliucci & Lopez)

Lunch in small groups, local eateries (1-3pm)

Afternoon session (3-7pm, coffee, tea & snacks provided): Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations (Delphi Complete Works of Cicero)

Live like a Stoic: putting together your own set of Stoic practices (Epilogue of Pigliucci & Lopez)

Dinner in small groups, local eateries

Sunday, July 21

Morning session (9am-12pm): general discussion about Stoicism as a philosophy of life; advice on how to keep your training going; overview of the next Rome Stoic School

Lunch in small groups, local eateries

Afternoon session (2-5pm): visit to Marcus Aurelius’ statue and Capitoline Museums (optional, cost not included in School’s fee)