Recent Stoic Meditations, #24

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:

Aristo of Chios disagreed with the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, in pretty fundamental ways. A powerful reminder that Stoic philosophy isn’t written in stone, and never was. (listen here)

According to Chrysippus, when it’s all said and done, there are only three conceptions of the chief good for human beings. (listen here)

Cicero’s reports a famous metaphor used by Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, to explain the progression from perception to assent to comprehension to knowledge. Which is then used as a reminder about the limits of our own knowledge. (listen here)

Plato said that “every soul is deprived of the truth against its will.” Which means that we need to treat people who make mistakes with sympathy, not criticize and dismiss them. (listen here)

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Stoicon-X Toronto: How to Thrive in a World out of Your Control, One Practical Exercise at a Time

Here is my very practical presentation (about 25 minutes) on Epictetus’ three disciplines (desire, action, and assent), at the recent Stoicon-X Toronto. Based on my book with Greg Lopez, A Handbook for New Stoics: How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control―52 Week-by-Week Lessons.

Person, Place, Thing

Wednesday night, at 7pm, I will be interviewed by the Host of Person, Place, Thing, Randy Cohen (the former New York Times ethicist) on, well a particular person, place, and thing that have had a major impact on my life. I won’t spoil the experience by giving you the answers now, so if you are interested and available, come to the New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 W 64th St. for what will likely be an entertaining live show.

About Randy: Randy Cohen’s first professional work was writing humor pieces, essays and stories for newspapers and magazines (The New Yorker, Harpers, the Atlantic, Young Love Comics). His first television work was writing for Late Night with David Letterman for which he won three Emmy awards. His fourth Emmy was for his work on Michael Moore’s TV Nation. He received a fifth Emmy as a result of a clerical error, and he kept it. For twelve years he wrote “The Ethicist,” a weekly column for the The New York Times Magazine. His most recent book (an optimistic formulation) is Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything.

Recent essays, #24

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 with access to additional authors in the latter case). The majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

The lure and danger of extreme examples.

One of the main reasons I turned away from modern ethics — either of the utilitarian or of the Kantian-deontological stamp — is that it is both too narrow and too infatuated with thought experiments and increasingly convoluted, extreme (alleged) counter-examples, aimed at knocking down opponent schools, rather than actually being useful to people’s day-to-day lives. In other words, a lot of modern ethics indulges in precisely the kind of things that Seneca warned us against:

“I should like to have those subtle dialecticians of yours advise me how I ought to help a friend, or how a fellow man, rather than tell me in how many ways the word ‘friend’ is used, and how many meanings the word ‘man’ possesses.” (Letters XLVIII.4)

Consider, for instance, the cottage industry informally referred to as “trolleology,” the study of trolley dilemmas. Plenty of professional philosophers spend their careers inventing more and more convoluted scenarios to “test” our ethical intuitions about who we should allow to get hit by a runaway trolley. This has resulted in the piling up of a large literature about situations that will never occur in anyone’s real life, or that — if they did occur — would require a snap judgment based on knowledge of very specific circumstances, not idealized cartoonish thought “experiments.” (continue to read: Patreon, Medium)

Prosochē or not prosochē? On Stoic mindfulness. “Mindfulness” has been all the rage for some time now. And it has, predictably, been criticized on both philosophical and effectiveness grounds. But I’m not concerned with either here. It’s pretty clear to me that while different philosophical traditions that use mindfulness (e.g., Buddhism) do make philosophically questionable assumptions, those assumptions are specific to each tradition, and need to be evaluated case by case. It’s also clear that although the benefits often claimed for mindfulness are likely exaggerated, the word refers to a panoply of mental techniques that are useful for modest but important purposes, such as calming oneself, paying more attention to one’s thought processes, and so forth. So, I’m going to take it as a given that mindfulness refers to a number of different techniques, that are more or less effective, and that are more or less based on certain specific philosophical and metaphysical assumptions. (continue to read: Patreon, Medium)

Suggested readings, #24

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

The five most popular books on Stoicism. Modern introductions to Stoic philosophy as a way of life. (Medium)

The three classic books on Stoic philosophy. The most important ancient texts on Stoicism. (Medium)

Metaphors are us. War, murder, music, art. We would have none without metaphor. (Nautilus)

Righteous incivility. The temptation to be uncivil grows as public discourse gets nastier and more aggressive. Can rudeness ever be righteous? (Aeon)

The death of Alexander the Great: one of history’s great unsolved mysteries. When you party too hard after conquering the world. (LitHub)

My name is Wil Wheaton. I live with chronic depression and generalized anxiety. I am not ashamed. (Medium)

A famous argument against free will has been debunked. For decades, a landmark brain study fed speculation about whether we control our own actions. It seems to have made a classic mistake. We shall patiently await Sam Harris correcting himself… (Atlantic)