Stoicism, then and now

Stoicism invented hereby Massimo Pigliucci

New Scientia Salon video, featuring another conversation between Dan Kaufman and yours truly. This one covers ground we have treated before [1]: the current revival of Stoicism as a practical philosophy. While the video was initially released (on BloggingHeadsTV) around the occasion of the annual Stoic Week [2], I am publishing it here in part to nudge interested readers to my new site devoted entirely to Stoicism: HowToBeaStoic.org [3].

With Dan we talked about Stoic Week, as mentioned, about how to wrestle philosophy out of the ivory tower and onto the street, covered the idea of neo-Stoicism (like the ancient kind, but with less Zeus), talked about a typical day in the life of a practicing modern Stoic, and asked whether Stoicism can be a secular replacement for traditional religion.

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Massimo Pigliucci is a biologist and philosopher at the City University of New York. His main interests are in the philosophy of science and pseudoscience. He is the editor-in-chief of Scientia Salon, and his latest book (co-edited with Maarten Boudry) is Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem (Chicago Press).

Daniel A. Kaufman is a professor of philosophy at Missouri State University and a graduate of the City University of New York. His interests include epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, and social-political philosophy. His new blog is Apophenia.

[1] Why not Stoicism?, by M. Pigliucci, Scientia Salon, 6 October 2014; and The Stoic egg, by M. Pigliucci, 17 November 2014.

[2] International Stoic Week.

[3] How to Be a Stoic.

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37 thoughts on “Stoicism, then and now

  1. Excellent discussion. I particularly liked the ideas expressed in the last section, regarding the complementarity of religion (in the sense of a structure within which deep connections with others are expressed across generations apart from any supernatural committments per se) or some other form of connectedness and Stoicism and also the idea that philosophical reflection does not necessarily detract from emotional investment. Finally, the distinctions between ancient and modern philosophy and the insights of the former as sometimes more on target. And yes, the two of you should definitely do a program on that!

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  2. Massimo,
    Given the intention of this dialog is to get beyond the specialization and peel away some of the layers, disciplines and complexity of philosophy, I hope you don’t mind me attempting a similar effort, to go to a basic level and try to explain the philosophic movements(religion, politics, etc.) in terms of the dichotomy of balance and momentum. The reality is that we are in constant dynamic activity and those entities which are out of balance will come apart. So we balance our actions to the world in which we exist. Not too fast or slow. Not obsessing too much on one factor, but not ignoring what needs attention. From this comes the premise of teleology, since those aspects which do not have balance and function come apart, which gives the sense focus and purpose to those which are sustained. Such as the function of an astroid is to be an astroid, i.e. an interstellar vacuum cleaner and part of the process of pulling mass structure inward and giving it larger form.
    For example, Taoism would be far to the side of seeing balance as the epitome of existence, while fanatical monotheism being much more in the momentum side, in that this world doesn’t matter, as compared to that state, goal, direction from which we came and that to which we are pointed.
    Stoicism would be seeking balance in a world it recognizes as dynamically propelled. Rather than the Buddhist inclination toward shutting out the world, but seeking to balance the forces within it. So it wouldn’t be appreciated by those whose religious belief requires significant levels of focus and obsession, while rejecting what doesn’t comply.
    Life is like riding a bicycle. You keep moving forward, or you fall over. But you fall over a few times learning to ride.

    On a personal note; I have to say, my main example of a natural stoic would be my mother. Between raising six kids, running a good sized farm and trying to keep track of my father’s wheelings and dealings, the only time anyone ever saw her cry was out of exhaustion. Yet she grew up on a Howard County Md. version of Tara, as daughter of a newspaper publisher and granddaughter of a governor.
    Her favorite poem was Kipling’s If.

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  3. Great conversation! Hats off to Dan for asking such incisive questions. And thanks to both of you for such a clear and simple description of Stoicism, then and now. My own perhaps primitive stoicism is influenced by mysticism while always remaining grounded. Mossimo or Dan, I would relish your thoughts regarding my short essays. Beyond asking busy men to read more, again let me say thanks for an enlightening conversation. Cheers!

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  4. Excellent video. I watched it past midnight, long passed my normal bedtime schedule.

    Stoicism looks good.

    If your going to Stoicism is by going back to your root, it will be a great thing. If your reason is to avoid other religions (especially the Christianity), it might already pollute your energy.

    The description of God in Christianity is not only wrong but is totally stupid. But, other’s wrong should not pollute our energy.

    This universe (including lives) is POPped out, via a way. Our energy should be used to search for that POP, not preconceived to deny it because of the total WRONGness and stupidity of others.

    Any kind of preconception is a deadly fallacy for the advancement of humanity. Most of the preconception is the result of some arrogances which form a vicious circle.

    C1, being arrogant, not willing to learn from others.

    C2, not knowing about others, one becomes more arrogant.

    After knowing you about one year via your Scientia Salon, I know that you are not an arrogant person. Thus, I would like to suggest to you to read more about other cultures, such as Confucianism (http://www.chinese-word-roots.org/Confuciu.htm ), which is a great religion without any nonsense dogmatism. It could be one example for constructing the neo- Stoicism.

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  5. @ Tienzen: “If your reason is to avoid other religions (especially the Christianity), it might already pollute your energy.

    The description of God in Christianity is not only wrong but is totally stupid. But, other’s wrong should not pollute our energy.”

    Three questions:

    1. Christianty- is this a synecdoche for theism?
    2. What sense of energy do you mean? Energy as in my electrons? I’m not familiar with electron pollution via Christianity.
    3. I thought part of the latter section of the dialogue was to demonstrate the necessity of other socio-cultural activities/communities/etc to supplement Stoicism. I see nothing prima facie wrong with a moderate, modern liberal Christianity of a Terry Eagleton variety combined with Stoicism.

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  6. Hi Massimo (and Dan), I had seen this video earlier but watched it again to refresh my mind and to see if anything changed since first time (after which I had been giving Stoicism more attention).

    I think one change is that previously I felt (contrary to Massimo) that Stoicism was more like Buddhism than Epicureanism was. Now I see that beyond allowing activity in politics (which yes Epicureanism was down on) Stoicism can promote what I would call ‘pleasure’ (finding and manifesting one’s personal interests). I still am not sure I agree that Epicureanism demands as much withdrawal from the world as Buddhism, but at least Stoicism is not so emotionally barren.

    Perhaps this is because I have moved outside of Epictetus to Aurelius? Given the challenges they face, stoicism for the slave may have a different flavor than Stoicism for emperors.

    I recently watched a movie which brought a couple questions to mind…

    1) Have you seen “A Most Violent Year”? I went in not sure what it was about, but as it unfolded I thought it was a nice depiction of an active Stoicism (of sorts). Some of the main character’s comments to those around him seemed rather Stoic in nature. Many people criticized the movie for not being, well, violent. But the point was that the year was turbulent (and filled with violence if not the threat of) and some guy was trying to make his way through it unscathed. It also showed that traditional “good” (the law) may be equally dangerous and corrupt as “bad” (criminal acts) and that one has to center oneself on one’s own actions and not what others think or expect.

    2) Whether you saw it or not, in addition to quotations (which are always nice to have for inspiration/reminders) and full philosophical writing (the meat of the theory) perhaps it would be interesting to find and recommend artistic works which reflect or champion Stoic ideals?

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  7. brodix,

    “try to explain the philosophic movements (religion, politics, etc.) in terms of the dichotomy of balance and momentum”

    Naturally, but no, I don’t think balance and momentum provide any explanation for philosophical movements, despite the fact that every individual philosopher has to maintain balance, and is often characterized by momentum.

    “From this comes the premise of teleology, since those aspects which do not have balance and function come apart, which gives the sense focus and purpose to those which are sustained”

    Sounds like the sort of statement usually associated to random post-modern generators, I honestly have no idea how you arrived at that.

    But it sounds like your mom was cool!

    Tienzen,

    “This universe (including lives) is POPped out, via a way. Our energy should be used to search for that POP”

    See my comment above about postmodern phrase generators.

    Thanks for the suggestion about Confucianism. It is a type of virtue ethical philosophy, similar in many respects (though with some important differences) to Aristotle’s version of the idea.

    jarnauga,

    “What sense of energy do you mean? Energy as in my electrons? I’m not familiar with electron pollution via Christianity”

    Precisely.

    “I see nothing prima facie wrong with a moderate, modern liberal Christianity of a Terry Eagleton variety combined with Stoicism”

    I don’t either, though it isn’t my own cup of tea.

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  8. Massimo,

    “I don’t think balance and momentum provide any explanation for philosophical movements, despite the fact that every individual philosopher has to maintain balance, and is often characterized by momentum.”

    I suppose the layers between the physical and the analytical get a bit thick, but for those of us for whom life is more phenomenological, the connections are more apparent.

    It doesn’t seem as though the specific topic of modern Stoicism is garnering much comment, but there does seem to be some inclination to diverge into various religious(anti-religious) pet peeves. Personally I find much history, metaphysics, philosophy, deep psychology and politics goes into the formulation of the various religious groupings and it might be an interesting topic to try to objectively explore in some other thread.

    Given the innumerable strings attached, it would be bound to generate as much or more heat than light, but then examining these deep issues is what Scientia Salon is about!

    For example, consider generic monotheism as a form of platonic ideal. Then the subjective tendencies of its various versions and how they reflect certain political and historic needs. As well as the fact that as a philosophic system, it doesn’t have an obvious regenerative mechanism, other than spawning competitive branches. For comparison, Greek mythology had a form of genealogy; Chaos-Chronos-Zeus. Then it was able to incorporate various tribal identities, sexual, philosophic, natural delineations and distinctions as aspects of the pantheon. Now there is a tendency to straitjacket a lot of the complexities of life into a monolithic religious system, with resulting sociological consequences.

    I’m not trying to change the topic myself, as stoicism has been something of a family trait anyway and there wasn’t much time for church.

    Thanks. The parents were good people. Obits:
    http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1993-01-25/news/1993025060_1_merryman-twixt-maryland-horse
    http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2002-11-18/news/0211180189_1_merryman-horse-trainer-horse-racing

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  9. @ dbholmes, but also more generally:

    “I still am not sure I agree that Epicureanism demands as much withdrawal from the world as Buddhism, but at least Stoicism is not so emotionally barren.”

    I’ve seen this characterization of Buddhism a number of times on Scientia. In terms of doctrine, this is certainly true of Theravada but it also reflects in part modern Western Buddhist practice. I think it may be helpful to keep in mind that there are Buddhist traditions (particularly Mahayana in a *non-monastic* setting) which do not tend to focus only on the serenity of moksha. One only has to compare depictions of serene Buddhas with Budai (laughing Buddhas), prevalent especially in East Asia. Mahayana became the dominant Buddhist tradition precisely because it is less austere in what it demands of the average person, to the point where Buddha himself became divinized. Plus, western practice is geared more toward the adult, thus the organic familial context is not infrequently absent:

    “…most meditation Buddhists in the West did not grow up in the positive emotional surrounding of a Buddhist family, community and culture. Thus we have tended to have a more conceptual and idealized picture of what Buddhism is and what its mature practitioners look and act like.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lewis-richmond/no-delusions-doesnt-mean-no-emotions_b_3018102.html

    In terms of the discussion between Dan and Massimo here, this reminds me of their point at the end that things like Stoic practice need supplementation re: the deeper ties between people.

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  10. A Symposium of Truth:
    Truth is the comprehensive philosophy of everything. It can be found in everything and everywhere including Oneself. And when the truth of One is found the truth of All is found, One is All there is. As for ethics and morality, there is no greater good than the good of One or All. One equals or is All. The Goddess Justice then is equality, the infinite immeasurable balance of Nature; it is time to remove her blindfold and throw away her scale. And science has gone the other Way, measuring and dividing everything, only to find their measures probable or uncertain at best. Nature is truly immeasurable and yet man is measure of All things; we went the wrong Way. Democracy is the ideal of freedom, freedom is equality. Equality is the truth we fight and die for. Religiously God is simply another name for the equitable or united One, a rose by any other name. Mathematically the equation for truth is much more simple than thought. Equal or = is All there is. Equal is the long sought after equation for grand unification, the truth (not a theory) of everything.
    Truth is =, = is One.
    Any more questions Socrates?

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  11. At 32minutes Massimo says teleology is function.
    And at36.22 “There is a fundamental structure to the universe, the universe unfolds according to cause and affect, that’s 90% of stoic metaphysics”
    Would function be possible without structure? Does structure itself serve any other function except to provide this possibility? In what way is structure distinct from function?

    Isn’t it also true that function is a matter of perspective?
    Marcus Aurelius said “Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth”
    There are many perspectives. There is a coherent perspective from which the function of our body and each of its organs is to maintain a healthy habitat for the bacteria in our guts. However, from the perspective of love, the function of the human body is to love other humans.

    Several times Massimo says that Stoicism is a philosophy of love. To the degree this is so, and I think it is so from the Stoics I have read, than it is essentially indistinguishable from Christianity. Any distinctions between the two are merely window dressing. I know that both many Christians and many Stoics would object to this, but I submit that this rejection is based in an incomplete commitment to the perspective of love.

    At 59:30 Dan’s great insight is that theism is resistance against the notion of our insignificance. True. But love not merely resists, but obliterates this notion. Love cares about nothing except insofar as it furthers the works of love. From love’s perspective, all the universe serves its purpose and there is nothing that can be said against this that love can take seriously. Even practicing the perspective that in the great scheme of things it matters little whether I live or die – serves the purpose of love. I am nothing, and yet, I love. Love knows that in all the universe there is no marvel surpassing this treasure and the fact that ‘we hold this treasure in mere vessels of clay’ can only add to the marvel. It is in love that, as Jesus said, the least are made the greatest and the humble inherit it all.

    If Kurtzweil’s Singularity occurred and I uploaded my consciousness to a supercomputer which granted me immortality and the secret to faster than light travel. If I built an empire spanning the galaxy. In a million years it could be said, “The universe is his oyster”. But all of that could never be more than a mere preference to a Stoic or a Christian. I would still have nothing if I lose my soul – which is my love for others.

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  12. Michael,
    If we have everything, it has no bounds and is equilibrium. All is not one, as one is a thing, an entity. That is its meaning. The singular is distinction. It is what is included and not what is not. There are no monopoles and so the entity has polarities, which then leads to two.
    Three thousand years ago, when the Egyptians were staring up at the sun and the Hebrews were writing it all down, The One was a deep insight, but now we know there are strings attached. All without bounds is equilibrium, effectively zero. Connectivity is the network, while one is the node.
    Religions start out as visions of connectivity, but then they become sets of one and those not part of this set are not welcome. Even Christianity has the Trinity. God as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. As past, present and future. One thing always leads to another. Processes create entities. The process may be eternal, but the entity is transient.

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  13. This was an enjoyable listen. I enjoy learning about different belief structures very much. I think we can learn from them. Stoicism (or at least part of it) in particular has always struck me as full of wisdom.

    At about 39:00.

    My own views differ when you talk about making your own meaning. I wonder how making up meaning and deciding to live your life according to that, would be different than say making up Gods and their traits and living according to that. I think all agree we shouldn’t do the latter. But I think the latter is wrong (at least in some normative sense if not morally) because of some innate view that we shouldn’t live according to “make believe.”

    I recognize there is a difference between making up a god and making up meaning. But I am not really sure it is an important one. If the meaning is not from some fundamental part of reality but is rather just a construct of our mind, then its hard to see how living by this meaning can be intellectually satisfying. That doesn’t mean we need to believe in God but it seems we do need a bit more from our fundamental reality than just saying we made it up.

    I realize that problem is not unique to neo-stoicism. I do think the practice is important. I think by understanding you are small cog in a big universe, (51:40) is not only for humility but it can also reduce anxiety. It’s interesting that Dr. Kaufman thought the opposite. I may give this a try.

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  14. Wm,

    “In what way is structure distinct from function?”

    This is not a controversial distinction, nor is it made just by the Stoics. In evolutionary biology, for instance, the eye has a certain structure (i.e., arrangement of parts) and a certain function (seeing). The two can be decoupled, for instance, when the function is no longer necessary, for instance in recently evolved cave animals (which eventually do lose their eyes, precisely because they are not functional).

    “Several times Massimo says that Stoicism is a philosophy of love. To the degree this is so, and I think it is so from the Stoics I have read, than it is essentially indistinguishable from Christianity. Any distinctions between the two are merely window dressing.”

    Not at all. First off, that’s not the only distinction between Stoicism and Christianity. For instance, Christians include amongst their virtues things like chastity and purity, for which there is no equivalent in Stoicism. Second, the point of a Christian life is to worship God and act according to his mandates; for Stoics the point is to cultivate one’s moral character. And even in terms of love, the Stoic concept of love was more rational and less emotive than the Christian one. So, no, not just window dressing.

    Joe,

    “I wonder how making up meaning and deciding to live your life according to that, would be different than say making up Gods and their traits and living according to that.”

    The first is an example of a decision we make about our lives, we are not making up stuff, we are simply deciding on our priorities. The latter is, indeed, an exercise in making things up.

    “If the meaning is not from some fundamental part of reality but is rather just a construct of our mind, then its hard to see how living by this meaning can be intellectually satisfying”

    Why? I find my friendships and personal relations to be deeply meaningful (to me), but they are certainly not a fundamental part of reality. The universe would get by fine without them, and indeed those relations (as opposed to the people themselves), are not physical, objective properties of reality, they are constructs of my mind.

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  15. I said:
    “I wonder how making up meaning and deciding to live your life according to that, would be different than say making up Gods and their traits and living according to that.”

    Sci Sal said:
    “The first is an example of a decision we make about our lives, we are not making up stuff, we are simply deciding on our priorities. The latter is, indeed, an exercise in making things up.”

    Maybe. I think it depends on how you view it. It seems there are perhaps 3 steps in what you describe. Step one: deciding what virtues are and step 2: then you meditate on what you decide are virtues and then hopefully step 3: your life decisions will be based on those virtues.

    Now I think it’s fair to say you are making a decision on how to live your life at each point. So I don’t disagree with what you wrote. But in that first step do you not think you are trying to anchor your decisions to some moral reality? Or do you think you are just making decisions without regard to reality? It seems to me that you would want to say reality must tie in- and not just tie in due to the reality of your subjective beliefs and feelings. Because otherwise in step one you do seem to be making things up. Or at least it’s hard to see the difference.

    You said:
    “I find my friendships and personal relations to be deeply meaningful (to me), but they are certainly not a fundamental part of reality. The universe would get by fine without them, and indeed those relations (as opposed to the people themselves), are not physical, objective properties of reality, they are constructs of my mind.”

    I agree morality is not a physical property. But to say it is not an objective part of reality I think is problematic.

    I find my friendships to be meaningful as well. But I think that meaning and importance is part of reality. Consider the psychopath. We don’t need to think hypothetically they are real. Some of them see their personal relationships like a box of tools. If mris are believed to reveal what we think, then they do not have the same feelings we do. If someone is no longer useful to them and in fact somehow a burden then they would be pleased to have them eliminated.

    I don’t doubt they think this way. (We can see the killings and the explanations they offer for them.) I also don’t doubt they have decided on their own priorities.

    I think it is true to say they got their priorities wrong, and what they think is morally true is actually false. I don’t think the universe will get along fine with their priorities. I think the universe will be worse if people adopt the views of many psychopaths.

    If we accept a correspondence view of truth then a statement/belief is true to the extent it accords with reality. If someone says some god exists the truth is not a matter of whether that person (or some group) else decides to believe it. Nor does it depend on the meaning they think they get from believing or their feelings. If in reality that god exists then their belief is true.

    So to claim our moral views have more truth than the psychopaths we need to tie them in with reality. If we admit there is no tie in to reality then we need to admit their views are just as true as ours. Can you do that without admitting at least a little bit of cognitive dissonance? E.g.,Do you really think the universe is fine if everyone views each other as tools? Finally do you have reasons to believe that morality is not a part of objective reality?

    BTW I realize this is sort of a side issue from this topic and a large topic of its own. So if you have blogged your views on this other places or fairly well adopt a position taken elsewhere by someone else I would be happy if you just point in that direction.

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  16. Joe,

    “in that first step do you not think you are trying to anchor your decisions to some moral reality? Or do you think you are just making decisions without regard to reality?”

    Depends on what you mean by “moral reality.” If you mean it in a cosmic sense, no, because there is no such thing. If you mean it – like the ancient Greco-Romans did – in the sense of how to behave within human societies, given facts about human nature, then yes.

    “Consider the psychopath.”

    Interesting example. To a Stoic, psychopaths are sick people, so they do not understand the value of virtue and morality.

    “I think the universe will be worse if people adopt the views of many psychopaths”

    No, the universe does’t care. But we do. We, as a society, would be worse off.

    “If we accept a correspondence view of truth then a statement/belief is true to the extent it accords with reality.”

    That is problematic even in science, let alone in moral philosophy.

    “do you have reasons to believe that morality is not a part of objective reality?”

    Again, it depends on what you mean by that. Cosmically, no it isn’t. I don’t know how it could. Locally, for human beings, yes there are objective facts about what does and does not improve our wellbeing, for instance. (But then we still need to agree that improving wellbeing is a worthy goal.)

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  17. I just got around to watching this one and found the discussion interesting especially with regard to the idea of a coherent philosophical approach that attempts to incorporate virtue ethics, metaphysics, rationality/emotions and other areas of knowledge inquiry.

    I like the how stoics incorporate context into their virtue ethics. For example:

    – Seneca
    “Now as the body is to be kept in upon the down-hill and forced upward, there are some virtues that require the rein and others the spur. In liberality, temperance, gentleness of nature, we are to check ourselves for fear of falling; but in patience, resolution, and perseverance, where we are to mount the hill, we stand in need of encouragement. Upon this division of the matter, I had rather steer the smoother course than pass through the experiments of sweat and blood. ”

    From a taoist perspective it relates to concepts like complementary support, yin within yang, yang within yin, & wu wei. When things are easy and abundant ( going with the downhill ) different virtues apply than when climbing. Similarly the background mindful awareness in support of the applied virtues also changes with the context. Steering the smoother course especially resembles the taoist idea of wu-wei, and would seem to entail a cultivation whereby expression of the right virtue at the right time would lead to what the stoics are calling ‘preferred indifferents’. These ‘preferred indifferents’ could be emotiinal states, or states of physical well-being I suppose.

    One difference seems to be that while rationality and the emotions inter-relate, ultimately the stoics seem to place a premium on rationality while I think the taoists would see both emotions and rationality placed in a similar relationship to environment. For the taoists I think it is the premium is placed on the overall natural harmony between what we conceive as ourselves and what is outside of ourselves.

    I do think the characterization of Buddhist meditation as ‘mindlessness’ was a bit dismissive especially given the similarity similarities between loving-kindness type meditations and the described stoic circle type meditation. Nevertheless I enjoyed the discussion. Thanks 🙂

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  18. Hi Massimo,
    I agree with you that from certain perspectives there can be any range of distinction between Christianity and Stoicism. My point was not to deny this, but to say that from a particular perspective, through the lenses of Love, (Christian Agape and the Stoic Philanthropy), these distinctions are irrelevant.

    I’d like to consider the strongest distinction as an example, however, I think any distinction in ideas of virtue is going to be very weak; the parallels are too strong here. Chastity isn’t an exception. Epictetus’s injunctions to do one’s utmost to avoid sexual relations before marriage is stronger than anything Jesus said, and Epictetus’s teacher Musonius is equal to any given Christian in sex aversion. For Musonius sex should not even be for pleasure but only for begetting children in lawful marriage; at least St. Paul allowed that sexual pleasure (within marriage) is a good thing.
    Also, from what I’ve read of Stoics, Christians to not surpass all Stoics in their devotion to God/Zeus.

    No, the big distinction (perhaps only distinction from any perspective) is the gnostic gospel at the heart of Christian metaphysics which is supposed to negate death. While any expression of this gnosis put into the mouth of Jesus seems inauthentic to me; it’s central to Paul. Nevertheless, even Paul allowed that the logos of God was in nature and provided all one needed to derive virtuous practice. And more importantly, in perhaps the most celebrated text from Paul, he explicitly says that any gnosis whatsoever is incomplete, and as such, ultimately irrelevant and transient. Only love is complete and essential.

    This point is stressed throughout the New Testament — that everything serves the purpose of love and fails insofar as it doesn’t. Jesus says don’t bother to pray if you’re at odds with your neighbor. He says love for the weak is love for him, even if the lover has no knowledge of Christ. John asks how can a man love god whom no one has ever seen if they can’t love their brother who they do see.

    To sum up my intent here: Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man; man was not made for the Sabbath. IOW, religion serves humanity and when it is the other way round it harms humanity. Isn’t this also true of philosophy?

    One of Paul’s many borrowed ideas from the Stoics is that there is no distinction between romans and barbarians, Men and women, slave and master, we are all in the family of God. To point out glaring distinctions that exist from any number of perspectives is to miss the point of what the Stoics/Paul was saying. Which is from the perspective that matters most, that of love of humanity, these distinctions disappear. Doesn’t this perspective of love also dissolve the distinctions in metaphysics arising from our incomplete knowledge–whether religious or philosophical?

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  19. Massimo, in response to Joe, says he is ‘not a fundamental part of reality’.

    I don’t believe in morals ( or a God) which exists independently of human experience, and for many, this would certainly classify me as an atheist. However, I really don’t get the point or value in the common atheist perspective that “the universe doesn’t care” about us, or that human experience is not a ‘fundamental’ aspect of the universe. It seems a quite pointless perspective that atheists, bewilderingly to me, seem to hold dear. And essential to their atheism. The fact that a bear could eat us while we’re hiking holds a sort of fundamental significance that eludes me. I get that this is significant, it’s the ‘fundamental’ part I don’t get.

    I received a phone call from my father this morning with news. My mother has been diagnosed with Parkinsons. I invited them for dinner tonight. Certainly, from a particular perspective, it is true that my mother’s body does not care about her; it has not taken all her concerns into consideration as it goes about doing its parkinsons thing. But wait! My mother is her body. She is even her parkinson’s body. We’re all going to die, from parkinson’s, cancer, being bear ‘et, or whatever. I don’t get why this is more ‘fundamental’ to some supposed alien universe we’re strangers in than the laughter, love and joy we experience. Neither is our pleasure in life more fundamental to who we are than our death and suffering is.

    Stoics say ‘fate permitting’ and Christians “God permitting”. Same attitude. We are our fates, and are as much that fate which interrupts our plans as that which permits them. Providence and Fate are the same thing. It is our fate to die. Possibly suddenly, randomly, and without forewarning–eaten by a bear perhaps. However, we are equally the awareness of our fate and our capacity to live in ever increasing awareness of it. Fate/God/The Cosmos provided us with this capacity and from it we developed science/technology , whereby we can even affect fate/God/The Cosmos itself.

    Is my mother’s body any less responsible for those inspiring expressions of humanity which I see reacting to her parkinsons than the random mutations which created it? Is the universe any less responsible for the humanity which arises in response to it’s blind inertia and randomness than it is the blind inertia? Why is the blind randomness more fundamental?

    Our bodies are made up of a trillion+ parts, all of which go about completely unaware of themselves and most of which are capable of doing something random that will kill us. Yet, when we look at one another we don’t see a bunch of inanimate objects as ‘fundamental’. Quite the opposite. Could somebody please explain why the larger universe, which is also made up of many parts that somehow managed to create self awareness, cannot, or should not, be seen in the same perspective?

    Amor Fati!!

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  20. Hi SciSal,

    Interesting example. To a Stoic, psychopaths are sick people, so they do not understand the value of virtue and morality.

    I am not sure that this view holds though. There is no reason why a psychopath cannot understand the value of virtue and morality, after all psychopaths pretty much depend upon most people not being psychopaths.

    It is not so much that they don’t see the value but that they are not personally moved to participate in that particular program, just benefit from it.

    Like

  21. Hi Wm. Burgess,

    … or that human experience is not a ‘fundamental’ aspect of the universe. It seems a quite pointless perspective that atheists, bewilderingly to me, seem to hold dear.

    This discussion seems to over-analyse the word “fundamental”.

    Modern humans, and thus “human experience”, have only existed for the last 0.002 per cent of the universe’s existence. Further, “human experience” is only present in a volume that is about one part in 10^65 of the volume of the observable universe. Thus it is hard to regard humans as in any way “fundamental” to the universe.

    Humans care about humans. Sharks do not care about humans; mountain ranges do not care about humans; the rest of the universe does not care about humans. Humans, and human caring about humans, are a derived product of the universe, a product of Darwinian evolution in one tiny period in one tiny location in the universe. Thus, human caring about humans is not in the least “fundamental” to the overall universe.

    But, human-caring-about-humans is still very real, it is a very real aspect of our present, and it is a very important aspect of our lives and our experience. Nothing in the previous paragraph reduces the importance of human-caring-about-humans to us humans.

    It is a complete theistic fallacy to say that “caring” and “meaning” are only “real” if a god does it, or if the universe as a whole does it, but not if it is “just” us humans doing it.

    You say you’re bewildered that atheists emphasize this perspective. We do so because it does not in any way reduce the importance of humanity to us, indeed it only highlights it.

    There you are, cast adrift in an un-caring universe in a fragile lifeboat, and your only source of companionship and assistance is your fellow humans.

    Like

  22. Seth,

    “One difference seems to be that while rationality and the emotions inter-relate, ultimately the stoics seem to place a premium on rationality while I think the taoists would see both emotions and rationality placed in a similar relationship to environment”

    Sounds about right to me, though of course the Stoics were aiming at right emotions too, they just thought that what really distinguishes humans is their ability to engage in rational thinking, so that cultivating it amounts, for us, to “live according to nature.”

    “I do think the characterization of Buddhist meditation as ‘mindlessness’ was a bit dismissive”

    Wasn’t meant as dismissive, but yes, it applies only to one particular type of Buddhist meditation, as I’ve learned. That type, however, happens to be by far the most commonly mentioned one in a Western context.

    Wm,

    “Epictetus’s injunctions to do one’s utmost to avoid sexual relations before marriage is stronger than anything Jesus said”

    Do you have specific passages for all those? At any rate, even if the Roman Stoics were “averse to sex” (I doubt Seneca was), the Greeks weren’t. And more to the point, none of this stems from the practice of the four cardinal virtues, while Christians make chastity explicitly a virtue.

    “the big distinction (perhaps only distinction from any perspective) is the gnostic gospel at the heart of Christian metaphysics which is supposed to negate death”

    As for some Stoics being really into Zeus, again, that varies, with Epictetus being the most obvious example. But even there, Irvine argues that we may be reading too much into it, and that his invocations of Zeus were a way to make Stoicism more palatable to the average Roman, who wasn’t going to go for virtue for its own sake.

    Yes, that’s a big one.

    “religion serves humanity and when it is the other way round it harms humanity. Isn’t this also true of philosophy?”

    It is, but as you know I reject any doctrine that invokes the transcendental / supernatural, on rational grounds.

    “Doesn’t this perspective of love also dissolve the distinctions in metaphysics arising from our incomplete knowledge–whether religious or philosophical?”

    I’m not sure what it would mean to “dissolve” hat distinction: the distinction is there, and it’s not going away. But yes, I agree that we should emphasize the similarities more than the differences, which is one reason I am interested in, and have started practicing, Stoicism.

    “I really don’t get the point or value in the common atheist perspective that “the universe doesn’t care” about us, or that human experience is not a ‘fundamental’ aspect of the universe.”

    From an atheistic standpoint it is simply a question of accepting the reality of the situation and not make up fantasies to avoid it. Yes, I agree that some atheists come across as positively cocky about this, and I don’t like that attitude myself. Still, the universe is what it is, regardless of our desires (a Stoic precept too).

    “I don’t get why this is more ‘fundamental’ to some supposed alien universe we’re strangers in than the laughter, love and joy we experience”

    I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s diagnosis. But I do think there is an issue here with the word “fundamental.” What is meant in this cosmos is simply that the universe at large is neutral about what happens to us. But of course certain things that are indifferent to the universe matter a great deal to us, and they “fundamentally” contribute to our meaning in life. I see no contradiction between the two.

    “Providence and Fate are the same thing.”

    If you are Epictetus, maybe. But I prefer the Stoic’s sense of fate because it doesn’t have to imply a plan or a designer. It is enough to accept universal causality, which was definitely part of Stoic metaphysics.

    “Why is the blind randomness more fundamental?”

    Because meaning of the type we are talking too is, as far as we know, exceedingly rare in the universe, and it emerges from blind processes.

    Robin,

    “There is no reason why a psychopath cannot understand the value of virtue and morality, after all psychopaths pretty much depend upon most people not being psychopaths.”

    Fair enough, but their inability to express normal human emotions makes them incapable of understanding in the broader, not strictly rationalistic, sense of the word. One of the things that a New Stoicism needs to take into consideration is the fact that rational thinking is less powerful than the Stoics thought (and the Skeptics were telling them so already!). But I don’t see a problem in evolving Stoic doctrine, since the Stoics themselves, beginning with Seneca, were explicitly aware that they didn’t know everything and that they might have to alter their thinking on specific issues when new generations learn better.

    Coel,

    “human-caring-about-humans is still very real, it is a very real aspect of our present, and it is a very important aspect of our lives and our experience. Nothing in the previous paragraph reduces the importance of human-caring-about-humans to us humans.”

    Precisely.

    Like

  23. SciSal:

    Sorry I didn’t realize how long my last post was.

    I have always viewed the correspondence theory of truth as the traditional view of truth. It may have some problems but I am surprised you *seem* to discount it out of hand. I am not aware of any scientific issues with that view of truth. (Ok other than say the paradox of schrodinger’s cat.) I tended to think that getting this idea of what truth was one of the best things I ever learned. I’m curious if you reject it generally, or if you just don’t think it applies to morals, because morality does not deal with reality.

    When I say morality is real I mean certain properties are real. These are real properties that attach to our actions. Whether they are “cosmic” or not? I am not so sure how we distinguish cosmic facts of reality, from other facts of reality so I can’t answer that. But I do not mean their reality is entirely dependent on our views.

    I agree you must have moral agents to have morality. But that does not mean, after you have moral agents, that what is moral is entirely dependent on their views of what is moral.

    I said:
    “I think the universe will be worse if people adopt the views of many psychopaths”

    “No, the universe does’t care.”

    I didn’t mean to anthropomorphize the universe. So yes I agree it’s not right to talk about the universe as caring. But even if it did care, I don’t think what it cared for would necessarily determine whether it was better or not.

    “But we do. We, as a society, would be worse off.”

    Do you think it would in fact be worse off? Do you think that it’s being worse off is simply because you or some people believe it would be worse, or is there more to it?

    Society is part of the universe. So to the extent that part is worse might we also say the universe is worse?

    I am glad you find the case of the psychopath interesting. I do as well. One of the things I find interesting is that their brains do not seem to fire in the emotional areas our brains do when we think of moral issues. They may even fire a bit more in the reasoning part of the brain. Normally we would think that would make their beliefs more reliable – not less. It’s hard to think of any other intellectual pursuit where we would think more emotion and less reasoning is the path to the correct answers.

    Like

  24. I asked:
    “do you have reasons to believe that morality is not a part of objective reality?”
    SciSal answered:
    “Again, it depends on what you mean by that. Cosmically, no it isn’t. I don’t know how it could.”

    Are you taking something like Mackie’s view that moral facts would seems a queer thing?

    I tend to think it would be very hard for someone not to hold that belief from time to time. What would it mean to say “justice” is done if there is no real moral framework for it to approximate? Do you believe justice can be done in a real sense?

    You also say:
    “Locally, for human beings, yes there are objective facts about what does and does not improve our wellbeing, for instance. (But then we still need to agree that improving wellbeing is a worthy goal.)”
    I tend to think “wellbeing” is too vague to really add much. If it only meant health it would at least add something. (it would be wrong but it would at least be new) But since it is supposed to mean more than our health it really seems vacuous. Should we “be well”? Yes of course. If I said someone “did well” does that mean much different than saying they “did good?” (Grammar aside) We should also “do right.” We should also “do good and avoid evil.” I’m not sure any of this really adds to the discussion. Until we know what differentiates “well being” from these other terms I don’t see how it adds anything.

    Coel you say:
    “Nothing in the previous paragraph reduces the importance of human-caring-about-humans to us humans.
    It is a complete theistic fallacy to say that “caring” and “meaning” are only “real” if a god does it, or if the universe as a whole does it, but not if it is “just” us humans doing it.”

    I think the issue is not so much who does the caring, but instead why we care about the things we do. Are these cares or concerns tied to reality or not? Do you think there is some third ground where you can say yes our views of morality are not based on objective reality and yet we are not making them up?

    Can we say then our views of morality mirror truth better than someone else’s? It would seem you would need to give up the idea of truth is linked with reality.

    I think Russ Shafer-Landau sums it up quite well when he says:

    “Nihilists believe that there are no moral truths. Subjectivists believe that moral truth is created by each individual. Relativists believe that moral truth is a social construct. These three theories share the view that, in ethics, we make it all up. ” Page 11 Whatever Happened to Good and Evil.

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  25. Wm. Burgess,

    I’ll have to agree with Coel here, and I think he expressed the matter pretty well. Human concern for other humans is fundamental – to our human experience. This just doesn’t make any necessary claim on the ontology of the universe, or on any telos it might conceivably have (for which evidence seems lacking).

    Joe,

    In reply to Shafer-Landau: “These three theories share the view that, in ethics, we make it all up.” It depends on what the ‘we’ refers to. If it means, individuals make it up as they go along, that’s applicable to some non-teleological ethics, but not all; in any case, its rather a trivial criticism, since any ethical discussion only acquires relevance in community.

    But if it means the human species as historically inventing social norms in order to live peaceably with other humans for collective survival, then the answer is probably that’s exactly what ‘we’ did.

    There’s a real danger when taking ethical norms to have been derived from some ‘reality’ other than human experience and its history. For one thing, it cannot engage a proper explanation of all the many varied forms of human social behavior that archeology, anthropology, history, and sociology reveal to us. For instance, we in America take the ‘nuclear family’ to be a fundamental social unit and embodiment of certain values; but there are many cultures on record where that simply hasn’t been the case.

    One way to deal with such issues in a non-reductive or non-dismissive way is to accept that ethical discussions in our culture are properly addressed to our needs and responses in the culture we do have, rather than to extrapolate these needs and responses into some ‘higher’ – or more ‘basic’ – moral reality.

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  26. Massimo in response to Robin:

    “One of the things that a New Stoicism needs to take into consideration is the fact that rational thinking is less powerful than the Stoics thought (and the Skeptics were telling them so already!). But I don’t see a problem in evolving Stoic doctrine, since the Stoics themselves, beginning with Seneca, were explicitly aware that they didn’t know everything and that they might have to alter their thinking on specific issues when new generations learn better.”

    I agree with this completely. I think however the implications of following through on this thought does present some issues for the neo-stoic doctrine. It seems that it is crucial to the doctrine to be able to identify and discriminate that which is to be accepted (be it ‘fate’ or ‘universal causality’), and that which is to honed or cultivated (the ‘virtues’). If the stoics put the premium on rationality as the tool by which one could know what to accept and when to work for change, and if that tool is more flawed and more suspect to context and conditions than they realized I think a neo-stoic approach would need to be very clear on how to best make these discriminations.

    This is why I really like the passage I posted previously by Seneca. There is a recognition that the proper application of virtue is conditional to internal and external environmental contexts. In other words awareness or mindfulness of conditions, climate, circumstance, etc… is an important variable accompanied by rationality. This is also another reason why I wonder why you are so down on open ended meditations that are designed to cultivate ones capacity for awareness or mindfulness of the influence that environment (internal & external) can have on thoughts (or rationality).

    I really like the stoic approach, but I think adding in cultivation of environmental awareness to the already existing rationality cultivations would help achieve the capacity to meet the core doctrine goal of discriminating what to accept and how and where to best apply our virtue.

    Like

  27. Hi Joe,

    The whole area of meta-ethics becomes so, so much easier if you once accept that morals relate to human feelings, that there is no more grounding to them than that, that we don’t need any more grounding to them than that, and that such a grounding is not in any way a second-rate or insufficient grounding — and then give up the search for the false grail of moral realism.

    By the way, I refuse to use the word “nihilism” about this idea, since it implies that human feelings are unimportant or of slight regard. That’s the complete opposite of the case, since our feelings are the most important thing to us.

    I think the issue is not so much who does the caring, but instead why we care about the things we do.

    We care about such things because we are programmed by evolution to do so. Humans are, by nature, beings with feelings and emotions.

    Do you think there is some third ground where you can say yes our views of morality are not based on objective reality and yet we are not making them up?

    Well we’re certainly not just making them up, our feelings are part of our nature to our core.

    Can we say then our views of morality mirror truth better than someone else’s?

    Nope, because we should give up the whole idea that there is a “truth” to the matter of what is or is not moral. That’s the false grail.

    There is no “truth” of the matter of whether marmite objectively tastes nice (though there is a truth to the matter of whether humans like the taste), and similarly there are no objective moral truths, though there are truths about how humans think and feel on moral issues.

    What would it mean to say “justice” is done if there is no real moral framework for it to approximate?

    “Justice is done” means that humans feel the outcome to be appropriate and fair.

    Society is part of the universe. So to the extent that part is worse might we also say the universe is worse?

    That’s a rather colossal anthropocentric projection! It’s a bit like saying that, because I’ve just put a mug down and made a coffee ring on a document, making it look worse in my opinion, that therefore the universe is “worse”.

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  28. Massimo (Sorry to be late to the party),

    I had been meaning to read some stoic philosophy and your insistent recommendations finally got me to do it. I have found it interesting but I have some major reservations. I find that stoicism usually presupposes facts about human psychology which are naive and am worried that practice based on such presuppositions could be dangerous. I am thinking of statements like the following:
    “Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions” (Enchiridion 1.1)
    “things of themselves have no hold on the mind but stand motionless outside it.” (Meditations 4.3)

    I have not made my way through all stoic writing but so far these strike me as representative. It also strikes me that they are well out of step with existing empirical psychology and even commonplace understanding of the way minds work. Cognitive research into will power (as I understand it) tends to treat will power as an essentially exhaustible resource. But stoics seem to treat will almost as inexhaustible, indefatigable at least in principle. This could lead people to put themselves in positions were they could be compromised. Likewise it can be dangerous for people to try not to feel their own angers and griefs. Here I am thinking of psychoanalysis but you need not, I am sure cbt grief counselors and other therapists would say similar things. Attempting to treat emotions as things you can control or even opt out of is not without its dangers.
    You hint in the video that at least some stoics have a way of trying to respond to such worries. Sophisticated stoics, you imply, do not counsel that you should not try to feel emotions but that you should not “assent” to them. I am inclined to think some such addition to this moral psychology is necessary for the philosophy to be viable. I am not sure what “assenting” to an emotion is, but I am worried that it is only a kind of meaningless concession such the thrust of the philosophy is that we should attempt to hegemonize and command our subjective experience in a way that we are not really capable of.

    You hint in the video that at least some stoics have a way of trying to respond to such worries. Sophisticated stoics, you imply, do not counsel that you should not try to feel emotions but that you should not “assent” to them. I am inclined to think some such addition to this moral psychology is necessary for the philosophy to be viable. I am not sure what “assenting” to an emotion is, but I am worried that it is only a kind of meaningless concession such the thrust of the philosophy is that we should attempt to hegemonize and command our subjective experience in a way that we are not really capable of.

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  29. (c’ont)
    I also wonder if you wonder if this stoicism sits ill at ease with your humeanism, much longer on display. Hume, and Butler, were apt to display all the ways in which we depend on others especially to lead good lives. In the famous passage of the Treatise, when Hume is afflicted with philosophical melancholy he seeks to find solace in others. “I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.” (Treatise 1.4.7) Hume goes to friends, as Anette Baier would put it, to receive care. Marcus, I think, would be scandalized: “have no need of help from outside or the peace that others confer. In brief you must stand upright, not be held upright.” (3.5) Yet it seems to me that Hume’s vision is both more humane and better grounded in the realities of being human. You might be tempted to reply that stoicism emphasizes our social nature. So it does. But in what way? For Marcus being social largely means doing for others, and not being excessively annoyed when they do not come through for you. He learned from his father “to be gentle” to “have regard for the feelings of others” “to hold to one’s friends” but all the while “to be self-sufficient in every respect.” (1.16) (This holds as a general rule but one interesting exception is what he learned from Severus to “trust in the affection of one’s friends”. 1.14 )

    As to Kant, when he considers his ethical philosophy in relation to the ancients (which is often) he always situates himself between the stoics and the epicureans, preferring stoics but finding both importantly wrong. Thinking of stoics and epicureans first was not at all atypical of the period as we tend to forget.

    Massimo, as to your contention that cbt is the only therapy to show real data supporting its effectiveness, that claim has been repeated many more times than it has been substantiated. Below are some discussions alleging that such dismissals of psychoanalytic approaches is based more on ideology than science. In particular there are two meta-studies (one put out by the apa another by Harvard Medical Review) finding that psycho-analytic and cbt therapies are equally effective. You are an evidence based guy, I hope you consider this seriously. I could get into the silly Popperian objections to psychoanalysis, but another day…

    http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/amp-65-2-

    98.pdf

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23660968

    http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/66/2/152/

    http://chimneysweeping2.blogspot.com/2011/10/psychoan

    alytic-psychology-and-apa-part.html

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  30. David:

    I appreciate your remarks in your second post. I have tried in past discussions on Scientia to speak up on behalf of psychoanalytic and more generally, depth-psychological approaches, to very little avail.

    This dialogue wasn’t really the place for it, but I did push Massimo a little as to whether Stoicism is a bit too intellectual to have much emotional depth — that is, to penetrate down, far enough, to get at the well from which our emotions and thus, our behaviors ultimately derive. It’s why I asked him whether one has to already be quite emotionally well-adjusted to benefit from Stoic practice, which begs the question of what it was that got a person to that position of emotional well-adjustedness.

    I too find the idea of “deciding whether to assent” to emotions to be somewhat naive — in the descriptive sense — and potentially self-deceiving. To the extent that one “succeeds”, it is unclear whether the success is due to one’s willfully assenting or to the fact that one was already pretty much in control of oneself to begin with.

    My biggest problem with philosophical approaches to these dimensions of human life — and the reason why I am highly skeptical and critical of the whole idea of “philosophical counseling” — is because they ignore the unconscious. This strikes me as a serious impoverishment, in terms of a basic understanding of the human psychological template and renders any approach to human problems commensurately impoverished. Having been in both cognitive behavioral therapy *and* psychoanalysis, I can tell you that while CBT was useful for very specific, well-defined problems, with obviously defined solutions, it was entirely useless for problems of a more inchoate, pervasive nature. I suspect that much of the cheer-leading for CBT ultimately stems less from the science than from the problems with mental health care financing. CBT is generally quick, limits itself to obviously “fixable” issues, and is thus amenable to an insurance-driven health care system that will only pay for limited sessions, while psychoanalysis is long-term and addresses the sorts of problems for which the idea of “fixing” is somewhat obscure. The science — as it is — is hardly conclusive and is, of course, funded by the very system that is the problem. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a therapy, testing regimen, or other medical practice was recommended for reasons that ultimately turned out to be more financial than health-related.

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  31. I think David Ottlinger makes some really good points, but I also think a neo-stoicism could be updated based on current knowledge from psychology and maintain enough of the original intent to keep the ‘stocism’ monicker.

    Regarding the idea of ‘assent’ I think the quote from Epictetus may be relevant:

    “How, then shall one preserve intrepidity and tranquility; and at the same time be careful, and neither rash nor indolent?

    By imitating those who play at tables. The dice are indifferent; the pieces are indifferent. How do I know what will fall out? But it is my business to manage carefully and dexterously whatever doth fall out. Thus in life, too, this is the chief business; to distinguish and separate things, and say, “Externals are not in my power, choice is. Where shall I seek good and evil? Within; in what is my own.” But in what belongs to others, call nothing good, or evil, or profit, or hurt, or anything of that sort.”

    Per my last post, I think the Stoics did think that we each have a power of ‘choice’ that was more independent and separate from ‘externals’ than current science and philosophy suggests. Nevertheless, the emphasis here is on being receptive to the uncertainty in how things will ‘fall out’. I don’t think this entails the denial of the corresponding emotions, but it does help prepare one for results that contain the unexpected. I think ‘assent’ paradoxicly embeds the unexpected into our expectations, and I think this can be very helpful in dealing with contingency in life. When prepared in this way I think our emotional responses can be more appropriate.

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  32. Hi Massimo, not sure if you missed my question or thought it unimportant. In case the former I was wondering if you had or were interested in collecting/sharing works of art that reflect or inspire Stoic ideals?

    To Jarnauga, thanks for the info about different forms of Buddhism. I was aware there were different forms, and indeed about the laughing Buddha, however my view of practices/beliefs was perhaps bent toward the western meditative concept. I want to be clear I wasn’t trying to demean Buddhism (including western meditative versions). The main thing for me is that philosophies/practices like these are best chosen in line with one’s character (or one’s intended character). Buddhism (or how I have experienced it) simply didn’t fit my character as well as others had. Yet I find it interesting and something I’d encourage others to look at. Within Eastern traditions, I tended to feel more in tune with Taoism (the non-religious form).

    To Coel, your replies so far have been pretty solid along my way of thinking. Nice.

    Like

  33. Great discussion and I am at my 5th post here. That is plenty since what we are talking about is not central to the main topic of the post.
    Ejwinner

    I am not sure that different ethical views disproves moral realism. It may be that people are mistaken. They can be mistaken not only by thinking right is wrong and wrong is right, but they can also be mistaken for thinking some things are moral issues when they are not and vice versa.

    Coel:
    “The whole area of meta-ethics becomes so, so much easier if you once accept that morals relate to human feelings, that there is no more grounding to them than that, that we don’t need any more grounding to them than that, and that such a grounding is not in any way a second-rate or insufficient grounding — and then give up the search for the false grail of moral realism.”

    If I said my beliefs about politics or physics or biology were just based on my feelings and had no more grounding than that would you not suspect they were second rate? I disagree that our beliefs need no more grounding than that. It seems you are doing a bit of special pleading when it comes to your moral beliefs.

    There are other problems with this view of morality that is disconnected from any objective reality.

    Coel:
    “We care about such things because we are programmed by evolution to do so. Humans are, by nature, beings with feelings and emotions.”

    That’s an interesting view. Lion’s are programmed by the same evolution to have urges.

    I am a self conscious rational creature. This allows me to look at what is creating my urges and cares and question whether the basis is reliable. It might be *easier* to say I care about this, and not that, due to evolution and that is good enough. But there is plenty in the world to tell me that is not necessarily a rational way to base my life.

    Some would say our self consciousness and rationality is what helps us act different then Lions. But if that rationality has no moral reality to latch on to, who is to say? Without some reality to measure the truth then who is to say one person’s cares are more important than a psychopaths?

    Coel:
    “Justice is done” means that humans feel the outcome to be appropriate and fair.”

    Which people? The majority? The majority at any given time? Socrates addressed these views. Lots of people thought Plessy v. Ferguson was just. Lots of people thought Brown v. the Board of Education (overturning Plessy) was just. Was Plessy and the case overturning Plessy both just?
    Consider this:
    If your view was true then we would be doing as much good by getting more people to believe in Plessy so we would never need to have a Brown v Board of Education.

    Like

  34. Massimo-Coel-EJwinner:
    I think the word ‘fundamental’ perhaps needs even more analysis. It holds a meaning, important in my discussions/arguments with atheists (from their side as well), that I think isn’t fully explicated and it’s hard to explicate it without help from atheists. So thanks.

    First, let me repeat and emphasize; while I believe the word ‘god’ (or better, ‘divinity’) references something indispensable in human experience that no other words do, I do not believe in, (or even desire), the supernatural or a god which transcends human experience. (By ‘human’ I include any possible life at our level of sentience in the universe. )

    I think my disagreement with (perhaps my fellow) atheists is a feeling that human experience is, in some way important, not being given all it’s due.

    Massimo said that the universe is ‘indifferent to things that matter a great deal to us.’ Coel, more specifically, indicts mountain ranges and sharks. I assume that our kidneys are as ‘indifferent’ to us as sharks are? I think these statements are meaningless. And yet, they mean something to atheists–and this is what interests me.

    Why meaningless?
    1, Everything is nothing more or less than what it does.
    2. what something does can be called ‘fundamental’ or ‘essential’ only insofar as it’s important.
    3. Ontologically, only what contributes to sentience can possibly be important.
    4. Sentience is nothing more or less than what contributes to it.
    Therefore, the ways in which mountain ranges and kidneys contribute to sentience is what is fundamental to them. Whatever else they do, their essential function is to ‘do’ sentience.
    The same can be said of anything else in the universe. Whatever else ‘blind processes’ do, it is a fact that they ‘do’ sentience, hence, whatever else they are–they are, most essentially and fundamentally, sentience (see 4.)

    I know that large volumes and masses can make an impression on sentience (Coel is certainly not alone in this). However, I think sentience is, more sensibly, impressed by itself and therefore finds whatever contributions large and heavy objects make to sentience to be more essential properties of those objects than their volume and mass. Yes, sentient existence (as we know it) only possesses .002 percent of the complete volume of time and even less percentage of the volume of space. But we’re told that a volume of space the size of a basketball and a few seconds of time once contained the whole universe. This seems to undermine the idea that there is an essential relation between volume and what is ‘fundamental’.

    Massimo: You say that emphasizing what people with differing metaphysics have in common is more important than their differences. I think this goes in the direction of what I’ve been saying about love. I’d just add that love is the most important thing we have in common and when made the purpose of human life, it takes everything motivated by love, including metaphysics based on impartial knowledge, for what it is: another expression of love.

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  35. How do we really know what consciousness does is all that consciousness is?
    When science can’t solve a problem it has two solutions. Either it declares it an axiom and deals with how it interacts with what it does know, or it insists anything which can’t be measured, observed, etc, doesn’t exist.
    The tendency is to dismiss consciousness as epiphenomenal at best, but what if the other method were considered, to take it as a given? How do we know that consciousness isn’t elemental to biology? Can we prove it isn’t foundational to biology?
    What if it were considered as a thought experiment and just run through the logical consequences.
    Would it provide elemental life a sense of motivation that insensate matter doesn’t have? Would it tend to bind together with similar forms? Would it expand and multiply as a multitude of points of view? And in doing so, find itself in conflict with other expressions of consciously motivated forms?
    We tend to think less complex life can’t possibly be possessed by consciousness, if it lacks reflectiveness, but how much are these higher order reflections manifesting the same impulses of attraction, repulsion, distinction, connection, etc. as lower forms?
    What is love? Does that sense of being a larger sense of oneness with another a reflection of how our body functions as a larger whole? Does our liver love our kidneys? Does our brain love our stomach? It seems a silly question, but does our sense of consciousness love our body? Not just in the sense of Narcissus, but loving athletic talents, dexterity, skills, etc? Do we enjoy our own company? So do our kidneys enjoy the company of our liver? It still seems a silly proposition, but then when you start to go from the consciousness into the subconscious, a lot of those emotions are connected to more than just parts of our brain and it is apparent consciousness is a field effect of all this input. Could the consciousness be a focusing of the larger field and not just an emergent quality of it?
    Consider how you might grasp and consider a particular object of interest in your hand and it can be like an amoeba encircling its food, absorbing it from all directions. consider all your actions in the course of a day and how they necessarily follow patterns and how these patterns can be expressed as essential actions. Much like science distills out basic patterns from complex situations. Yet that actual state of consciousness is inseparable from its situation, in that we are what we do. So we are both the state of awareness and what we are aware of.
    Which is to argue that in our efforts to reject a top down form of theism, are we sure there might not be some bottom up form of spirituality that would explain many of these questions and it is only what amounts to particular biases which cause some to reject any form of spirituality and not consider logical uses of its explanatory possibilities.
    The irony here is that sense of conscious surety is what makes us so convinced of our own beliefs.
    While the reality is as the old saying goes; The more we know, the more we know we don’t know.
    We are sure that we are conscious. The problem is trying to describe what we are conscious of, especially when we are reflecting on this state of consciousness.
    To paraphrase Descartes; I am, therefore I think. I think.

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