11 Matching Annotations
  1. Apr 2019
    1. Hedgehog & Fox One point you make a number of times in the book is that our understanding of the mind and the brain, our processes, what’s actually going on beneath the surface, our understanding of that has changed radically. Not just from two-and-a-half thousand years ago but in the last ten years, five years. How recuperable do you think therefore the kind of wisdom traditions are within a framework where we have a very different understanding from they did of how the human mind works? Antonia Macaro Yes, that’s quite a difficult one because especially the Stoics put a lot of emphasis on only thing we can control being our moral choice. Hedgehog & Fox And rationality is well to the fore, isn’t it? Antonia Macaro Yes, yes, exactly. So I certainly think they were wrong in that, in the sense that we are told that a lot of our functioning is unconscious and that we don’t even know our motivation very well; sometimes we act thinking that we are acting for one reason and in fact we’re acting for a completely different reason. There are a lot of studies in social psychology that show that. So I certainly think we shouldn’t overemphasize those abilities because we need to be aware of the fact that we don’t really understand ourselves. But on the other hand, they are good aims to have, to be rational. That is a very good aim to have. It’s true that we have probably more choice on our reactions to things and the way we act than on actual things that happen in the world. So in that sense I think they were correct. So it’s good to remind ourselves of that, because we do get very worked up about how things go for us in the world and a lot of the time it’s good to remind ourselves that we don’t have any control on on that, so focusing more on our reaction. I think it’s good as an inspiration and as a kind of ideal, but not in that extreme way that they were they were saying.
    2. Hedgehog & Fox Because certain of the ancient writers you quote, if you were to apply them strictly, the level of radical detachment would be quite hard core. You quote Bernard Williams calling Stoicism ‘lethal high-mindedness’. It would be quite a strong prescription, wouldn’t it, hardcore Stoicism? Antonia Macaro I think a lot of people who consider themselves Stoics probably aren’t quite. Obviously people do adapt it in modern life, but I’m not sure that they’d even be considered Stoics. I can’t remember the exact quotation but Epictetus does say that a lot of his students, a lot of the people studying Stoicism, if they really examined themselves would find that they are maybe Aristotelians or Epicureans, but not really Stoics, because Stoicism is very, very extreme and I don’t think that many people really live like that. I personally don’t think that it would be necessarily a good thing to be that extreme, so it’s always a modified Stoicism that I advocate. Hedgehog & Fox And maybe even the Stoics were modified Stoics. I did smile when Epictetus was suggesting you shouldn’t have more than you need to eat, and you shouldn’t have a bigger house than you need, and you shouldn’t have more slaves than you need! And then you’ve got Seneca, a very wealthy man wrestling and not quite resolving his problems [with wealth], and I thought maybe there’s a little difficulty there even with the early practitioners of Stoicism applying it rigidly. Antonia Macaro Yes, I definitely think that’s true; maybe some more than others. I don’t really know what Epictetus was like in his daily life. He’s certainly quite extreme in what he says. In fact, if you read Seneca’s letters, there are some things that are more Epicurean than than Stoic. So he was a much more rounded individual and had, as you say, his fair share of dilemmas about how attached he should be to wealth and material comforts.
    1. Whereas Aristotle had claimed that virtue was to be found in the golden mean between excess and deficiency of emotion (metriopatheia), the Stoics sought freedom from all passions (apatheia). It meant eradicating the tendency to react emotionally or egotistically to external events, the things that cannot be controlled. For Stoics, it was the optimum rational response to the world, for things cannot be controlled if they are caused by the will of others or by Nature; only one's own will can be controlled. That did not mean a loss of feeling, or total disengagement from the world. The Stoic who performs correct (virtuous) judgments and actions as part of the world order experiences contentment (eudaimonia) and good feelings (eupatheia).
    1. The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible. Their answer was a qualified "Yes," advocating a formula of passionate commitment and impassive stoicism.— Alan Pratt[1]
  2. Nov 2018
    1. The Modern Stoicism movement traces its roots to Victor Frankl’s (Sahakian 1979) logotherapy, as well as to early versions of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for instance in the work of Albert Ellis (Robertson 2010). But Stoicism is a philosophy, not a therapy, and it is in the works of philosophers such as William Irvine (2008), John Sellars (2003), and Lawrence Becker (1997) that we find articulations of 21st century Stoicism, though the more self-help oriented contribution by CBT therapist Donald Robertson (2013) is also worthy of note. All of these authors attempt to distance the philosophical meaning of "Stoic"—even in a modern setting—from the common English word "stoic," indicating someone who goes through life with a stiff upper lip, so to speak. While there are commonalities between "Stoic" and "stoic," for instance the emphasis on endurance, the latter is a diminutive version of the former, and the two should accordingly be kept distinct.
  3. Oct 2017
    1. I do think it is a philosophy for everyone, and I am convinced that the world would be a better place if more people prioritized their moral development over the acquisition of external goods. That said, there are clearly people for whom Stoicism immediately “clicks,” it comes natural, and others for whom it doesn’t. Then again, Stoicism isn’t the only positive philosophy of life. Buddhism is an excellent alternative, if it speaks more clearly to one’s personality or cultural background. What the world needs is more compassion (love in the broad sense, as you were saying earlier) and use of practical reason to solve human problems.
    2. But you do have a point: the “Dionysian” aspect of life is in the background for the Stoic, since the primary concern is to live a moral life. But that hardly seems a misplaced priority to me. We still live in a world of such gross injustice and inequality, that only privileged people like ourselves can afford to think of eros and art as top concerns in life. They are important, for sure, but I think it’s high time to shift priorities around, away from selfish indulgence, and toward more concern for the wellbeing of so many others who suffer atrocities, injustice, and famine, all over the planet.
    3. “Socrates did not blush to play with little boys, Cato used to refresh his mind with wine after he had wearied it with application to affairs of state, and Scipio would move his triumphal and soldierly limbs to the sound of music…It does good also to take walks out of doors, that our spirits may be raised and refreshed by the open air and fresh breeze: sometimes we gain strength by driving in a carriage, by travel, by change of air, or by social meals and a more generous allowance of wine: at times we ought to drink even to intoxication, not so as to drown, but merely to dip ourselves in wine: for wine washes away troubles and dislodges them from the depths of the mind, and acts as a remedy to sorrow as it does to some diseases.”
    4. “Fate permitting” is a standard Stoic phrase meant to remind ourselves that planning things is up to us, but the ultimate outcomes are not under our control. It helps us to develop an attitude of equanimity toward the universe. We should very much try to change things for the better, that’s the whole point of the Stoic discipline of action, as I was saying earlier, and that discipline is connected to the virtue of justice. But we should also be rational about it, and understand that sometimes things go our way, and at other times they don’t.
    5. But if you truly cannot do anything about something, then why on earth would you want to make things even worse for you by falling into despair? It seems like adding a self-inflicting injury to the already existing one. I’m reminded of the recent movie Bridge of Spies, where one of the main characters risks the death penalty. His lawyer notices that the fellow doesn’t seem to be worried or upset at the prospect, and asks him why. The man replies: “would it help?”
    6. I also find some of the Stoic techniques to be very useful. For instance, the evening philosophical diary, in which I interrogate myself about the difficult parts of my day, reflecting on what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I could do better the next time around. Or the exercises in mild self-denial, like occasional fasting, or even taking a cold shower. They remind me of just how good my life normally is, when I can count on things like hot water and a nice meal, which are definitely not a given for everyone on the planet. Think of them as exercises in gratitude, but in practice, not just words.