Saturday, March 23, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.17 - How we should adapt our preconceptions to particular cases

Rid yourself of preconceptions when you approach philosophy!  "What is the first task for someone who is practicing philosophy?  To rid himself of presumption" (v. 1, p. 110)

"Why, then, are you frustrated?  Why are you troubled?  Aren't you presently trying to avoid what is inevitable?  Why do you fall, then, into difficulties of any kind, why do you suffer misfortune?  Why is it that when you want something, it doesn't come about, and when you don't want it, it comes about?  For that is a very strong proof that you're in a troubled and unfortunate state.  I want something and it doesn't come about: who could be more wretched than I?  I don't want something and it comes about: who could be more wretched than I?" (v. 17-18, p. 111-112)

"Don't wish for anything other than what God wishes.  And who will be able to obstruct you then, who will be able to constrain you?  No one at all, any more than he could obstruct or compel Zeus."

"When you have such a leader, and conform your will and desires to his, what reason do you still have to fear that you may no succeed?" (v. 22-23, p. 112)

"If you continue to feel envy, poor wretch, and pity, jealousy, and fear, and never let a day pass by without lamenting within yourself and before the gods, how can you still claim to have received a proper education?" (v. 26, p. 112)

"[Start] off from this point, build everything up in due order, so that nothing may come about against your wish, and nothing that you wish may fail to come about" (v. 28, p. 113).

Three Stages of a True Philosopher

"It is enough for me to live my life free from hindrance and distress, and to be able to hold my head high in the face of events, like a free person, and to look up to heaven like a friend of God, showing no fear of anything that could come about" (v. 29, p. 113)

"I want indeed to be free from passion and disturbance of mind, but I also want, as a pious person, a philosopher, and a diligent student, to know what my duty is towards the gods, towards my parents, towards my brother, towards my country, and towards strangers" (v. 31, p. 113)

"I [want] to be secure and unshakeable in my knowledge of it, and not only when I'm awake, but when I'm asleep, when I'm drunk, and even when I'm thoroughly depressed" (v. 33, p. 113)

Having attained stage 3, "you are a god," headed for the stars, "to harbour such ambitions!" (v. 33, p. 113)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.16 - That we fail to practice the application of our judgements about things that are good and bad

I'm simply going to quote some moneyball quotes from this chapter, with a smidgen of commentary.

"Where does the good lie?  'In choice.'  Where does the bad lie? 'In choice.' And that which is neither good nor bad? 'In things that lie outside the sphere of choice.' (v. 1, p. 105)

"a lyre-player ... knows how to play his instrument, and sings well and has fine robes to wear, but trembles nonetheless when he has to come on stage.  Yes, he knows all of that, but he doesn't know what a crowd is, or understand the nature of its shouts and jeers.  He doesn't know, indeed, what this anxiety itself is, and whether we ourselves are responsible for it or other people are, and whether or not it lies in our power to put a stop to it.  And so he leaves the stage puffed up with pride if he receives applause, but his conceit is soon pricked and deflated if he meets with jeers" (v. 9-10, p. 106).

"Has God given you nothing to help you in this predicament?  Hasn't he given you endurance?  Hasn't he given you greatness of soul?  Hasn't he given you courage?  And yet, being equipped with the hands that you have, do you still look for someone else to wipe your nose?" (v. 13-4, p. 106)

"What is it, then, that weighs down on us and makes us lose our minds?  What else than our judgements?" (v. 24, p. 107)

"What are [true judgements]?  Those that a person should reflect upon all day long, so that, feeling no attachment to anything that is not his own, whether comrade, or place, or gymnasium, or indeed his own body, he may keep the law constantly in mind and have it forever before his eyes.  What law?  That of God; to preserve what is his own, and not lay claim to what is not his own, but to make use of what is granted to him, and not long for what is not granted; if anything is taken away from him, to surrender it willingly, and be grateful for the time in which he has enjoyed the use of it" (v. 26-28, p. 108).

"Can you see anything better or greater than the sun, the moon, the stars, the entire earth, the sea?  And if you understand the one who governs the universe, and carry him around within you, why should you still yearn for some pieces of stone and a petty rock?" (v. 32-33, p. 108).

"If he is free to leave the banquet whenever he pleases and abandon the game, will such a man lament while he remains?  Won't he stay as one does in a game, only as long as it continues to amuse him?  Such a man could surely face up to permanent exile, or to death, if he were to be condemned to that" (v. 37-38, p. 109)

"As the expression goes, be ready to lose your head, man, for the sake of happiness, for the sake of freedom, for the sake of greatness of soul." (v. 41, p. 109)

Another translation has a sharper point to it ... "Listen, as the saying goes, it's crisis time: make a last desperate effort to gain freedom and tranquility - to be Stoic."

"Raise up your head at last as one who has been freed from slavery; dare to raise up your eyes towards God and say to him, 'Use me just as you will from this time onward; I'm of one mind with you; I'm yours.  I refuse nothing that seems good to you.  Lead me where you will, wrap me in whatever clothes you wish.  Is it your wish that I should hold office, or remain a private citizen, that I should stay here, or goo into exile, that I should be poor, or rich?  I'll defend you before my fellow men in every case; I'll show what the true nature of each thing is.'" (v. 41-43, p. 109)

The above passage reminds me of a similar attitude which Marcus Aurelius expressed: "Universe, your harmony is my harmony: nothing in your good time is too early or too late for me. Nature, all that your seasons bring is fruit to me: all comes from you, exists in you, returns to you." (Meditations 4.23)

"If Heracles had sat around at home with his family, what would he have been? ... It was accordingy in obedience to [God] that he traveled around the world purging it of injustice and lawlessness" (v. 44, p. 109).

"Cast fear and distress from your mind, along with desire, envy, malice, avarice, effeminacy, and intemperance.  These you cannot cast out in any other way than by lifting  up your eyes to God alone, and devoting yourself to him alone, and faithfully carrying out his commands" (v. 46, p. 110).

This last quote reminds me of another quote I recently read: "If you will not have rules, you will have rulers" (link to tweet)

Monday, March 18, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.15 - To those who hold stubbornly to certain decisions that they have reached

Marcus Aurelius once wrote to himself, "If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change.  I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one's own self-deception and ignorance" (see Meditations 6.21).

Similarly, Epictetus reminds us that we should listen to reason and not just "adhere unswervingly to every judgement that [we] have formed (v. 2, p. 103).  Rather, it is more important to first make a sound judgement before stubbornly sticking to it.

He tells someone, "If your decision is justified, look, here we are at your side and ready to help you on your way; but if your decision is unreasonable, you ought to change it" (v. 6, p. 104).

Substitute the word 'decision' with words such as: culture, tradition, religion, or the way things ought to be, and the advice applies.

So many people don't challenge their assumptions - including me!  We must challenge our assumptions with sound reason.

Epictetus responds to the person who says, "we must stick with a decision."

"Don't you wish to lay a firm foundation at the beginning, by examining Whether or not your decision is sound, and then go on to establish your firm and unwavering resolve on that foundation? But if you lay down a rotten and crumbling foundation, you shouldn't try to build on that, but the bigger and stronger the edifice that you heap upon it, the sooner it will come tumbling down (v. 8-9, p. 104).


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.14 - To Naso

I had a manager a few years ago, who loved to use the "sausage machine" analogy.  We assembled several reports and stewarded several groups.  Our reports were intended to be used by upper management.  My manager would always talk about the goal of the end product - a nicely assembled, easy to read and informative report.  All the work that went into it, was boring, tedious and time-heavy.  All that work was the bloody sausage machine while the end product was the cooked sausage.

Epictetus, similarly, teaches that the practice of any skill is boring to the uninitiated.  Similarly, learning and discussing philosophy and "good" and "bad" things can be tedious and boring.  But the end product is amazing.

He defines the goal of the philosopher as one who "should adapt his own will to what comes about so that nothing happens against [his] will, and so that nothing fails to happen when [he] wants it to happen" (v. 7, p. 101).  In other words, the goal of a philosopher is to exactly align his or her own desires and aversions with the desires and aversions of the universe/god(s).  And furthermore, to "resemble them as far as possible.  If [the gods are] trustworthy, he too must be trustworthy; if free, he too must be free; if beneficent, he too must be beneficent; if magnanimous, he too must be magnanimous.  And so thenceforth, in all that he says and does, he must act in imitation of God" (v. 12-13, p. 101)

He compares this life to a "festival" and as it sounds, it would more aptly be described as a state fair in today's vernacular.  At the festival, the express purpose is to buy and sell cattle.  But there are so many other things going on too.  If you observe the cattle, all they care about is the food.  You could say the same about many people who attend the festival.  Then there are those who "are capable of reflection" and want to figure things out - what is going on, how is it organized, and managed.  Thus they spend their spare time learning as much about the festival before it ends.  Whereas the cattle and some people would simply laugh at the reflective people.

Life, therefore, is full of people who care only about food, pleasures, wealth, status, etc..  Whereas, there are some who are more interested in how life is organized, ruled and administered - what is the purpose of life.  These are the philosophers who simply want to align their will with the organization of the world/universe/'the rule and organizer'.

As said many times before, Nietzsche succinctly summarizes the goal as: amor fati.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.13 - About anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

The causes of anxiety can be several from lack of preparation on one's part to complete lack of knowledge of an uncertain future or outcome.  Therefore, it is important to practice the dichotomy of control to understand what aspects are in your control versus out of your control.

To begin, figure out if the cause of your anxiety is something you want.  Epictetus says, "When I see someone in a state of anxiety, I say, 'What is it that he wants?'" (v. 1, p. 97).  If a performer wants not only to perform well, but to "win the approval of his audience" he will need to recognize that: 1) his preparation to perform well is in his control, but 2) how the audience reacts will be out of his control, therefore, to alleviate his anxiety about approval from the audience, he should recognize this is entirely out of his control and therefore, use his energy to focus on what is in his control.

Apply this line of thinking to everything out of your control.  In his handbook or Encheiridion, he lists these things as out of our control: "body, property, our reputations, and our official positions."

Body - if you are anxious about getting cancer or having poor health, much of this is out of your control.  From cancer to heart disease, a large portion of what happens to our body is beyond our control.  But can you eat well and exercise and take care of your body?  Absolutely!  Do all that you can, that is within your power, to keep your body in good health.  But do not let anxiety take over your life, with constant worry.  You will soon die, like every human before you.  Live well, while you can, but do not succumb to constant worry of the body.  Find balance.

How many people who have ate perfectly, exercised without fail, lifted weights and performed cardio every day, but ultimately die in a young age (in their 30s or 40s)?  And how many people have neglected these things and have lived to a ripe age in their 80s or 90s?

Property - possessions can be stolen, burned, flooded, swept away with wind or any number of ways.  Indeed, attempt to be a good steward of what has been given you.  But if you are excessively worried about protecting your property, and when something finally happens to your property, you will be disappointed.

How many people spend all their time and efforts and worries on protecting their property?  What beauties have they missed by focusing nearly all their time and effort protecting what is "theirs"?

Reputation - indeed, do all you can to have a good character, but people may still say what they will about you.  It is beyond your control.

Career / official positions - sometimes we are compelled to perform a duty or be placed in a position.  We must recognize that sometimes what we do for a living is out of our control.  We may be drafted as a soldier.  We may be called to an assignment at the behest of the company.  Indeed, do what you can to ensure your freedom to choose what you do; what position you will hold.  But recognize there are times when this is beyond your control.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.12 - About the art of argument

Thanks to many who have taken the time to explain the technical aspects of philosophy, in laymen terms, I am able understand Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca and others.

In this chapter, Epictetus reiterates the importance of making philosophy accessible so that people can understand it and apply it.

A good philosophy teacher or "a good guide, when he see someone wandering astray, doesn't abandon him with a dose of mockery or abuse, but leads him back to the proper path."  And furthermore, the good teacher doesn't blame the shortcomings of the student, but rather blames himself failing to make it clear: "you shouldn't make fun of him, but should recognize your own incapacity instead" (v. 3-4, p. 95-96).

The rest of the chapter discusses how Socrates "patiently endured abuse from others" in his pursuit to "put an end to conflict" (v. 14, p. 96).  The chapter goes on to provide an example of how Epictetus or philosophers of his day might've gone about engaging with rich lords on the topic of the good.  But it sounds like he could not quite endure it for some unknown reason: "This is an enterprise that I too was once very keen to pursue, until I feel into such difficulties" (v. 25, p. 97)

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.11 - What is the point of departure in philosophy?

If you were going to buy 15 gallons of gasoline for your car, would you want to know that the gas pump that dispenses the gas into your car was accurate?  You would want the scale to say it pumped 15 gallons in your car, when in fact it only pumped 14 gallons in your car.  For this reason, laws have been established to ensure gas stations' pumps are checked on a regular basis to verify they are accurate.  If they are not, then the gas station owner is notified and possibly fined for fraud.

All of this - the scales, the law, the verification, the fines - are set up to ensure justice between seller and buyer.  What great care we take, as a society, over such small matters as gasoline.  Yet what "scale" or system of measurement do we use to tell us if our judgements and way of living are accurate?

This is the point of philosophy - to tell us if our opinions and actions are appropriate.

We are born into "the world without having an innate conception of what is good and bad, right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, and of happiness, and of what is proper for us and falls to our log, and of what we ought to do and ought not to do" (v. 3, p. 93).  As such, we default to the opinions of our parents and tribes.  Repeated millions of times throughout the world, people and tribes arrive at different conclusions and opinions about what is good, bad, right, wrong and what actions are appropriate and not.  If only there were some scale or measuring stick to tell us what is right from wrong, good from bad, appropriate versus inappropriate actions.  But this is precisely what philosophy aims to do.

How can we tell which opinions are the correct opinion?

"Look now, this is the starting point of philosophy: the recognition that different people have conflicting opinions, the rejection of mere opinion so that it comes to be viewed with mistrust, and investigation of opinion to determine whether it is rightly held, and the discovery of a standard of judgement, comparable to the balance that we have devised for the determining of weights, or the carpenter's rule for determining whether things are straight or crooked" (v. 13, p. 94).

And to be absolutely clear, he further states, "the opinion that each person holds is not a sufficient criterion for determining the truth" (v. 14, p. 94).

We must devise a method and standard for ensuring our opinion is good.  We, humans, have figured out a way to devise a standard for measuring and weighing things such as gasoline, gold, silver, the height of a basketball hoop, so "how is it possible that that which is most vital for human beings should lie beyond determination, beyond discovery?" (v. 16, p. 94)

There is a standard; and we must seek it out and discover it and then "put it to use without fail ever afterwards" (v. 17, p. 94).  It will then "rescue [us] from madness" (v. 18, p. 94).

Epictetus then demonstrates two examples in the chapter by applying them to some criteria about what is good: 1) pleasure and 2) pride.

Since both are not constant and are unstable, they cannot be used as a measuring standard.  For something to be good, it must be reliable and constant.

This is why the Stoics arrived at the conclusion that "virtue is the sole good" as virtue does not change.

"It is thus that things are judged and weighed when one has the standards at hand; and the task of philosophy lies in this, in examining and establishing those standards.  As for the use of them, once they are known, that is the business of the virtuous and good person" (v. 23-25, p. 95).

Friday, March 8, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.10 - How may the actions that are appropriate to a person be discovered from the names applied to them

Epictetus goes through a number of titles people might take upon themselves; as he describes what makes that person consistent with the title.  It reminds me a bit of what Marcus Aurelius said in Meditations 3.5: "let the god that is within you be the champion of the being you are - a male, mature in years, a statesman, a Roman, a ruler: one who has taken his post like a soldier waiting for the Retreat from life to sound, and ready to depart, past the need for any loyal oath or human witness."

The titles Epictetus reviews:

Citizen - "never to approach anything with a view to personal advantage, never to deliberate about anything as though detached from the whole" (v. 4, p. 90).  His point is, that as a citizen (of a city, country and the universe), we ought to take a view of: what is beneficial for the whole is beneficial for the individual.  The Stoics would go so far as to say "if a wise and good person could foresee the future, he would cooperate with nature even if it came to illness, death, or mutilation, because he would recognize that these are allotted as a contribution to the ordering of the whole, and that the whole is more important than the part, and the city than the citizen" (v. 7, p. 90).

Son - he discusses how as children we ought to obey our parents; never speak badly of them or say or do anything to harm them.

Brother - similarly, we should respect our siblings; do not contend with our siblings.

A council member - to counsel.

Youth, elderly, parent, smith - to show actions appropriate to the title.

The last part of the chapter talks about what we should do when someone injures us.  "'What, then, if someone injures me, won't I injure him in return?'" (v. 24, p. 92).  This is a question a student poses to Epictetus.  Epictetus teaches "that the good lies in the choice" and that it makes just as much sense to turn the statement around: "'Since the person in question has injured himself by inflicting some wrong on me, shouldn't I injure myself by inflicting some wrong on him?"  By flipping the perspective this way, it does not make sense to retaliate, since you are doing self-harm and it amounts to a double-dose of hurt.

It's a bit of an odd chapter, so hopefully you get something out of it.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.9 - That although we are unable to fulfill our human calling, we adopt that of a philosopher

There is a phrase used in the scrum world that goes, "nail it before you scale it"  The idea is that you have to master the basics before tackling more complexity.

Epictetus is making a similar point.  Some want to become a philosopher before they can learn how to be a good human.  He begins, "merely to fulfill the role of a human being is no simple matter" (v. 1, p. 87).  We must be rational in all we do, otherwise we are mere beasts and "act for the sake of our belly or genitals, [or] act at random, or in a filthy manner, or without proper care [or] ... when we behave aggressively, and harmfully and angrily, and forcefully" (v. 4-5, p. 88).  Actually, that is a really good list to start with.  If a person can abstain from the above, they are making progress away from becoming a beast and toward becoming a good human.

We continue to make progress toward becoming a good human being when we act according to our nature.  "Each person is strengthened and preserved by actions that are appropriate to his nature" (v. 10, p. 88).  If you want to be a carpenter, do what a carpenter does.  If you want to be a skilled writer, do what skilled writers do.  If you want to be "a modest character" then have "modest actions." Your faithfulness is "preserved by acts of fidelity" (v. 11, p. 88).  You see a pattern here; to live virtuously, have virtuous acts.  And being a good human being requires virtuous acts.

"That is why philosophers recommend that we shouldn't be contented merely to learn, but should add practice too, and then training" (v. 13, p. 88).  And even if we practice and train, we still might slip into bad habits and opinions.  "It is one thing to put bread and wine away in a store-room, and quite another to eat them.  What is eaten is digested and distributed around the body, to become sinews, flesh, bones, blood, and good complexion, sound breathing.  What is stored away is ready at hand, to be sure, to be taken out and displayed whenever you wish, but you derive no benefit from it, except that of having the reputation of possessing it" (v. 18, p. 89).  It is with use that we derive the benefit of philosophy, not simply owning or reading philosophical books.

Learn to be a good human being; learn philosophy.  Then practice being a good human being; instill training into your routine to help you implement what you learn from philosophy.  I don't think it is bad to want to desire to lift the rock of Ajax, even if you can't lift 10 pounds.  But if you consistently apply yourself and learn and train, you may achieve your goal.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.8 - What is the essence of the good?

There is divinity in each of us.  We have a mind that thinks; we possess intelligence and reason.  This is our god-given blessing that is unique to us.  It is here that we ought to spend our time and effort in improvement.

As Epictetus says, we "are of primary value [to God]" and that you and I are "a fragment of God" (v. 11, p. 85-86).  That "fragment of God" bit reminds me of the mind-blowing book by Scott Adams entitled God's Debris.  In this thought experiment, he proposes a paradigm, not un-like the Stoics, that helps us think of a framework where people can liberate their minds to more freely cooperate and help and love each other.  If you've not read or listened to it, I highly recommend it.

In today's modern world, people are fascinated by the invention of artificial intelligence.  Humans can create life, but this is a biological aspect of humans and it is not enough to satisfy the itch to create something truly special.  We, as a species, are trying to create a consciousness by our own design - inherent in us is this urge to create something that can exist on it's own.  This urge has haunted us for hundreds of years and we are driven to create something self-aware, outside the normal biological means of reproduction.

Isn't this nothing more than humanity trying to play like God?  God gave us our freedom and in turn, we are attempting to do the same.  "And what work of any human artist contains within itself the very faculties that are displayed in its markings?  Is such a work anything other than marble, or bronze, or gold, or ivory?  And the Athena of Phidia, once she has stretched out her hand to receive the Victory upon it, remains fixed in that attitude for ever, whereas the works of the gods move and breathe, and are capable of making use of impressions and passing judgements about them" (v. 20, p. 86-87).

Why make this point?  To show that we have a gift from God different from any of other life form in this world.  "Not only has [God] created you, but he has also entrusted you to your own sole charge ... he has delivered you yourself into your own keeping, and says, 'I had no one in whom I could put more confidence than you.  Keep this person as he was born by nature to be; keep him modest, trustworthy, high-minded, unshakable, free from passion, imperturbable'" (v. 21-23, p. 87)

And what are we to do with this unique gift?  We are to live our life according to virtue: integrity, honor, dignity, patience, calmness, poise, trustworthy, nobility.  We ought to show others our strength: "Desire that never fails in its aim, aversion that never falls into what it wants to avoid, motivation that accords with one's duty, purpose that is carefully weighed, and assent that is not over-hasty" (v. 29, p. 87).

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.7 - How we should make use of divination

Astrology, divination, horoscopes ... personally speaking, all are mindless child's play.  This chapter is particularly useful for people who really think that divination has importance.

First off, Epictetus argues we already "have a diviner within [us] who has taught [us] the true nature of good and bad (v. 3, p. 83).

And while a diviner might tell us signs and ways of how to lengthen life, prolong death or gain riches, they cannot tell us that by gaining or avoiding those things, if they would be beneficial to us or not (see v. 6, p. 84).

I love the example he gives in the chapter.  "It was thus an excellent reply that the woman made when she wanted to send a boatload of provisions to the exiled Gratilla; for when someone said to her, 'Domitian will merely confiscate them,' she replied, 'Better that he should take them away than that I should fail to send them.'" (v. 8, p. 84).  She focused on what was in her control (the virtue of helping someone else) and left the results and the outcome fall where they would.

Why would a person approach and seek the services of a diviner?  "Simply cowardice, our fear of what may come about" (v. 9, p. 84).  Therefore, if we spent the time focusing on our desires and aversions (something in our control), would we not have greater success in gaining courage and avoiding fear and anxiety?  Fix the root cause!

If you were to approach God in prayer, ask not for wealth, riches, rewards, improved health, avoidance of bad health and a life of ease or even immortality and eternal life.  Rather, ask that you can desire a life of virtue; ask for understanding and a love of what God wants in the universe and in this world.  Ask that you love what God loves.  Ask for things to happen exactly as they do.

Pray thusly, "Universe, your harmony is my harmony: nothing in your good time is too early or too late for me. Nature, all that your seasons bring is fruit to me: all comes from you, exists in you, returns to you." (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.23)

image source:

Friday, March 1, 2019

Stoicism in Six Points

I keep getting asked: what is Stoicism, in a summarized version?

First off, the goal of Stoicism, is to seek a flourishing human life; a fulfilling life through excellence of character (arete).  It is also said the goal and end is eudaimonia, which is defined as happiness or well-being.

To achieve a fulfilling life, three phrases come to mind along with three disciplines or practices.

1) focus on things in your control
2) live according to nature
3) virtue is the sole good

The Three Stoic Disciplines
- Discipline of Assent
- Discipline of Desire
- Discipline of Action

focus on things in your control

The logic is, if you seek to be happy by getting something you do not have 100% control over, you will be frustrated.  Alternatively, if you want to avoid pain or distress about something you do not have 100% control over, you will fall into pain and distress.  Most things in life, are not 100% in your control; Stoics call these externals.  Examples: health, wealth, weather events, actions of other people.

What is in your control?  Your attitude, perspective, judgement, motivation and desire.  Notice where these things come from: from you; your brain; they are internal to you.  This is where you must spend your time and attention in order to achieve a fulfilling and flourishing life.

live according to nature

One weekend night, after eating a bowl of ice cream, I set the bowl down on the floor next to the couch I was sitting in.  My wife and I went to bed and we heard the "clanging" of silverware on ceramic.  We thought our son was in the kitchen.  My wife got up to check on him, and called his name through the doorway.  But he didn't respond and the clanging continued.  She was perplexed.  Then she heard where the noise was really coming from.  Our dog, Fritz, found the empty bowl and was licking it.  He couldn't help himself - it was his nature to lick the empty bowl!  One of the defining qualities of all animals is to eat.  Humans share this quality with animals.  But it is not what makes us unique.  What is our unique nature?  We think; we have emotions; we talk; we write and we can reason with logic.

So when the Stoics say we should live according to nature, we ought to live according to our unique nature; we ought to think and reason.  More specifically, we ought to think and reason about how to live our unique life (our place in time and space and circumstance) in such a way as to lead it to a flourishing and fulfilling end.  Although somewhat simple, I think it still makes the point: consider the movie Kung Fu Panda 3 and how Po trains the seemingly inept Pandas.  He focuses on their unique natures to teach them (see this clip).  The unique trait of each panda enabled them to flourish at Kung Fu.  Likewise, humans' unique ability to think and reason enables us to flourish as human beings.

virtue is the sole good

Related to our unique nature as humans is our ability to live a virtuous life.  Humans are the only animals that can live a life of virtue.  Stoics focused on the four main virtues of temperance, courage, justice and wisdom.  If a Stoic desired and sought to exercise temperance, courage, justice and wisdom, they would flourish as a human being and find fulfillment.  Seeking a virtuous life is both in our control and in accordance with our nature.  Therefore, the Stoics would summarize the entire philosophy as: virtue is the sole good.

The Three Disciplines, as described by Pierre Hadot, are ways to put these concepts into practice.  There is a lot to explain about each discipline, but I will try to get to the heart of it succinctly.

discipline of assent

The discipline of assent is the process of strengthening our hegemonikon to assent (agree) with only valid impressions and to disagree or ignore invalid or incorrect impressions.

The world is filled with external events.  We are confronted with and bombarded by these events incessantly.  These events "propose" an idea or opinion to us and then we have to decide if we agree or not with that proposition.  But before we agree or disagree, we need to deconstruct events and things.

The best way to practice this discipline, is to lengthen the pause between event/thing and your impression of it; and then decide to agree or disagree.

Epictetus said, "Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hits you knock you off your feet; just say to it, 'Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test'" (Discourses 2.18).

Another quote that I quite like goes, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."  I've heard this has been attributed to Viktor Frankl, but I'm not sure if that is confirmed or not.

discipline of desire

As you work on lengthening your pause or space between an event/thing and your judgement of it, you need to begin to ensure your desires are properly grounded.

You should desire two things.

First, macro/global/universal events that are out of your control.  You should work to align your desires with the desire of the cosmos / the universe / Zeus / God / Gods.  This can be difficult in some circumstances, but the Stoics would say, "Universe, your harmony is my harmony: nothing in your good time is too early or too late for me. Nature, all that your seasons bring is fruit to me: all comes from you, exists in you, returns to you." (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.23)

Pierre Hadot puts a unique perspective on this by making macro events exceptionally personal.  In in his book, The Inner Citadel, he says, "This brings us back to the theme of the present. A particular event is not predestined for me and accorded with me only because it is harmonized with the World; rather, it is so because it occurs in this particular moment and no other. It occurs in accordance with the kairos ("right moment"), which, as the Greeks had always known, is unique. Therefore, that which is happening to me at this moment is happening at the right moment, in accordance with the necessary, methodical, and harmonious unfolding of all events, all of which occur at their proper time and season.

To will the event that is happening at this moment, and in this present instant, is to will the entire universe which has brought it about." (see p. 143, as well as p. 75, 260)

Second, you should desire and yearn for opportunities to practice virtue.  Virtue is the sole good, according to the Stoics.  Therefore, in every event and circumstance, you should desire and be motivated to practice some virtue (wisdom, justice, discipline, courage) according to the how the situation and context dictates.

connecting this to the discipline of assent, as we lengthen that pause, we then need to ask ourselves, "what can I learn from this?  What virtue can I exercise given the situation?"

discipline of action

Having lengthened your "pause" in judgement and having learned proper desire, you are now willing to act.

I am not well versed in Epicureanism, but I have heard and read many other aspiring Stoics discuss the differences between Stoicism and Epicureanism.  The Epicureans believed pleasure was the sole good and believed the best way to accomplish this was to "to live modestly, to gain knowledge of the workings of the world, and to limit one's desires." (source)  One way to achieve this was to disengage with society and seek tranquility in a garden or peaceful place.  Indeed this sounds wonderful and peaceful; however Stoicism offers this same peace and tranquility while engaging with society.  For the Stoics, virtue is the sole good and the only real way to practice virtue is in society.  One cannot practice discipline, courage, wisdom and justice unless there are other human beings around, who would give the aspiring Stoic opportunities to practice said virtues.

Furthermore, Stoics would bring others into their circle of care by wanting others to flourish.  The technical Greek term for this is oikeiĆ“sis.  It can be roughly translated as "familiarity" or "affinity".  Practically speaking, it means each of us as individuals, are naturally programmed to care for ourselves, physically and logically.  While we practice to be better at that, we can also extend our circle of affinity to those closest to us, then on to an ever-widening circle, until we have that same affinity to all citizens of the cosmos; we become true cosmopolitans.

Albert Einstein provides a great visual for circles of compassion:

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

With these two principals in minds, (acting with virtue in the context of society and viewing all people as "in our circle of care"), Stoicism gives us the tools to enter the world every day and engage with others and keep our tranquility.


I know I may have taken a bit more time to explain all that, but hopefully the read wasn't too long.  If you want more in-depth analysis on this, I suggest you read my blog post On Happiness - Part Two: Stoic Style.

Also, I highly recommend The Path of the Prokopton Series by Chris Fisher.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.6 - About indifference

Discourses 2.6 feels like a continuation of 2.5, in that he continues to talk about things that should be indifferent to us.

"Life is indifferent, but the use that one makes of it is not" (v. 1, p. 81).

If you recall from 2.5, Epictetus distinguishes between the platform and equipment from what we do on the platform and with the equipment.  One of the best examples I can think of that demonstrates this concept is found in Ender's Game.  If you're not familiar with the book or movie, I'm sure you can find a good summary of them on Wikipedia or YouTube.  Ender Wiggins is sent to battle school.  In the school, the students practice war games.  Virtually everything is done to make it un-fair for Ender.  But he consistently controls the one thing he can: his attitude.  The platform (the battle school, as well as the practice battle ground) are indifferent to him.  By use of creativity and team work, he is able to use the seemingly un-fair disadvantages thrown at him, to his advantage.  Also, while in battle school, Ender is given a computer tablet with games on it.  Again, the tablet represents a platform that is out of his control.  Through his reasoning and creativity, he is able to learn amazing things about himself via this tablet.

So too, life is a platform.  The events in it, from traffic, accidents, illness, weather events and what other people say or do, are all things out of our control.  How we interact and use the platform to demonstrate our attitude and virtues, is what matters (virtue is the sole good).

"Always remember what is your own and what is not, and you'll never be troubled" says Epictetus (v. 8, p. 81).

We ought to work to get to the point (mentally speaking) where what happens in the universe is exactly what we wish for.  "If I, in fact, knew that illness had been decreed for me at this moment by destiny, I would welcome even that" (v. 10, p. 82).  What an amazing attitude!  Many of us wring our hands and moan about things that happen, which we interpret to be bad.  But what if the universe wanted those things to happen, in order to bring about something greater?  That is an attitude we could embrace if we so chose.  If the event is going to happen either randomly or with intent by the universe, it still is going to happen.  What's left is our choice of attitude about the event.  If we so choose to view it as fated, intended by the Universe or God, then it may change our perspective and attitude.  Alternatively, we could choose an attitude of "this sucks!  The universe is always out to get me; why try?"  But that does not seem so very productive to me, rather, "we suffer our lot with tears and groans" (v. 16, p. 82).

"Can anyone compel you to think anything other than what you want to think?" (v. 21, p. 83).  Really take the time to think about that question and decide your answer and what that means.

"Just remember the distinction that must be drawn between what is yours and what is not yours.  Never lay claim to anything that is not your own.  An orator's platform and a prison are two different places, one high and the other low; but your choice can be kept the same in either place, if you want to keep it so" (v. 24-25, p. 83).

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.5 - How greatness of mind may coexist with carefulness

Epictetus instructs us that there are things in our control and things out of our control.  The things out of our control are called externals.  These are materials for our use of our reason; they are the platform to demonstrate our virtues and attitude.  Therefore, he states, "materials are indifferent, but the use that one makes of them is by no means indifferent" (v. 1, p. 78)

How are we to interact with externals.  He gives multiple examples of how life is like something and how there are things that are in our control and things out of our control.  He was Forest Gump's mama before there was a Forest Gump!

Life is like a card game or dice ...
The dice and cards fall where they may - they are out of our control.

What is in our control is our reaction to them: "to be attentive and skillful in making use of whatever does fall, that is now my task" (v. 3, p. 78).

Life is like an ocean voyage ...
You can choose the captain, the boat and the day you set sail and even the best time to sail.  "Then a storm descends on us.  Now why should that be of any concern to me?  For my role has been completed.  This is now somebody else's business, that of the helmsman.  But now the ship begins to sink.  So what can I do?  What I can and that alone, namely, to drown without fear, without crying out, without hurling accusations against God, as one who well knows that what is born is also fated to perish.  For I am not everlasting, but a human being, a part of the whole as an hour is part of the day.  Like an hour I must come, and like an hour pass away.  So what difference does it make to me how I pass away, whether it be by drowning or a fever?  For in some way or other, pass away I must" (v. 11-14, p. 79).

Life is like a ball game ...
Ballplayers do not value the ball, but rather focus on the skills needed to excel at the sport.  "If we're anxious or nervous when we make the catch or throw, what will become of the game, and how can one maintain one's composure; how can one see what is coming next?" (v. 17, p. 79)

We don't get to choose the ball, but we do get to choose whether to play the game or not, so too in life, we don't get to choose if we are imprisoned, exiled or executed.  We don't get to choose if our wife dies and our children become orphans.  We may play with one "ball" for twenty years and then the judge takes it away and gives us another.  The excellent athlete keeps his concentration and coolness and keeps playing, despite the change in equipment.  He uses the ball, but he does not grow attached to it - the ball is just a means for demonstrating skill.

Life is like weaving...
The weaver does not make the wool; rather she makes the "best use of whatever wool she's given.  God gives you food and property, and can take them back - your whole body too.  Work with the material you are given."

You are like a foot ...
The foot can only be useful in the context of the full body.  So too, the human can only be useful and understood in the context of community and the whole universe.

It is according to nature for the foot to be cleaned, to tromp through dirt and mud to step on needles.  It is also according to nature for the foot to be amputated, if the need arises.  You want your foot to be there to do those things.  You want your foot amputated if it puts the rest of the body at risk.  You do not want a foot that says, "I cannot walk today, I'd rather soak in a tub" - especially when you need it to run the race!

Similarly, if you view yourself as part of the whole, then "it may be in the interest of the whole that you should now fall ill, now embark on a voyage and be exposed to danger, now suffer poverty, and perhaps even die before your time.  Why do you resent this then?" (v. 26, p. 80).  Humans are part of a community of gods and men - in a community - it a city - in a state - in a nation - in a world - in the universe.

In sum
"For it is impossible, while we are in a body such as ours, and in this universe that contains us, and among such companions as we have, that such things should not happen to us, some to one person and some to another.  It is thus your role to step forward and say what you ought, and to deal with these things as they turn out.  If the judge then proclaims, 'I judge you to be guilty,' you may reply, 'I wish you well.  I have fulfilled my role, it is for you to see whether you have fulfilled yours.'  For he too runs some risk: don't forget that." (v. 27-29, p. 81)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.4 - To a man who had once been caught in adultery

Adultery is defined as: voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.

In many major religions today, adultery is considered a sin.  Epictetus appears to have the same view and he states his reasons.

"Human beings are born for fidelity, and that anyone who damages it is damaging the distinctive quality of man" (v. 1, p. 77).  In other words, humans' nature is to be rational, and one way to demonstrate that, is to be faithful to the spouse you have committed yourself to.  Anyone who attempts to destroy that fidelity is not living according to their (rational) nature.

Adultery ruins, destroys integrity and piety.  It destroys the good feelings between friends and neighbors.  It destroys trust.

An adulterer exhibits bad character and is "useless" (v. 6, p. 77).  Epictetus compares them to wasps: people run away from them and kill them if possible; since all they do is sting!

Simply put, adultery is immoral.  For Stoics, where virtue is the sole good, adultery is not virtuous, and therefore not Stoic.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.3 - To those who recommend people to philosophers

A simple analogy to make a simple point.

How do you know if the currency you have is real or not?

According to this article, there are a number of ways to determine a bill is real our counterfeit:
3D security ribbon to the left of Benjamin Franklin’s portrait visible only on the front of the bill. Holders moving the bill around should see blue Liberty Bells that change to the number 100. Depending on whether the bill is held and tilted vertically or horizontally, the images move back and forth or up and down.
Now, applied to a person: how do you know if a person is good or not?  We read about this in Discourses 2.1.  We can know if a person is good if they "never fail to attain what [they] desire, ... [they] never fall into what [they] want to avoid.  Bring death before [them] and you'll know.  Bring hardships, bring imprisonment, bring ignominy, bring condemnation" and they will view these as indifferents.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.2 - On calmness of mind

Epictetus reiterates what makes us free or enslaved.

"If you want to preserve your choice and keep it in accord with nature, you'll be entirely safe; all will go smoothly; you'll have no trouble.  If you want to safeguard those things that lie within your own power and are free by nature, and remain satisfied with those, what is left for you to worry about?" (v. 1-3, p. 74).

Socrates safeguarded what belonged to him - that which was in his power.  Therefore, he could state, with confidence, "I've never committed any wrong whether in my private life or my public life."

But, if you are going to stretch your desires and aversions towards things outside your control, you will become enslaved to those very things.  You'll weep, groan and beg and you will "be a slave ever afterwards" (v. 12, p. 75).

Each of us must "choose unequivocally and wholeheartedly to be either the one thing or the other, either free or slave, either educated or uneducated, either a fighting cock of true spirit or one without spirit, either one who will endure a rain of blows until death or one who'll immediately give up the fight" (v. 13, p. 75).

The real goal: "Ensure that my mind will be able to adapt itself to whatever comes about" (v. 21, p. 76).

If you cannot succeed at this, then your master will be "whoever has authority over anything that you're anxious to gain or avoid" (v. 26, p. 76).

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.1 - That confidence does not conflict with caution

I tried reading this chapter a few times; I'm not entirely sure I've understood it perfectly, but I'll do my best to explain how I read it.

It begins with a paradox: "we ought to combine caution with confidence in all that we do" (v. 1, p. 70).

He later explains that it is not paradoxical when explained like this: "Where things that lie outside the sphere of choice are concerned, there you should act with confidence, but when it comes to things within the sphere of choice, there you should act with caution" (v. 5, p. 70).

How I understand this: If you have a clear understanding of what is not in your control, then you should be able to behave confidently.  For example, death is out of our control.  Therefore, we do not need to let our fears control us with regard to death - in other words, we can be confident we are going to die and there is nothing we can do about it; the matter is settled.

And, with regard to things in our control (our use of impressions; our attitude; our desires), then we ought to exercise caution and be sure we are judging impressions correctly; that we recognize our attitude ought to be adjusted by ourselves and not swayed by things outside our control.

With this understanding, we can now review Epictetus' statements throughout the rest of the chapter.

In verses 10 to 12, he explains that we all ought to know that death, banishment, pain or ignominy are things outside our control - they could happen to any one of us and our efforts to ward them off will be futile.  In this, we ought to be confident!  But, as so many people do, we allow sure knowledge to turn into "rashness, recklessness, foolhardiness, impudence" and we allow fear to creep in our lives.

Later, he says, "it isn't death or pain that is frightening, but the fear that we feel in the face of death or pain.  It is towards death, then, that our confidence should be directed, and towards the fear of death our caution" (v. 14, p. 71).

Socrates called such things as fear of death, "bogeys" which are similar to masks that frighten children.  Children are afraid of such masks because they lack experience and knowledge.

Continuing on the subject of death, "What is death?  A bogey.  Turn it around and you'll find out; look, it doesn't bite!  Sooner or later, your poor body must be separated from its scrap of vital spirit, just as it was formerly.  Why be upset, then if it should come about now?" (v. 17, p. 71)

"And what is pain?  A bogey; turn it round and you'll find out.  Your poor flesh sometimes undergoes rough treatment, and sometimes gentle.  If you don't find that to be to your profit, the door stands open" (v. 19, p. 72).

What do we get when we apply this reasoning?  "a true philosophical education, namely, peace of mind, fearlessness, and freedom" (v. 21, p. 72).

"No one who lives in fear, then, or distress or agitation, can be free, but anyone who is released from fear, distress, and agitation is released by the very same course from slavery too" (v. 24, p. 72).

We must be able to demonstrate that we have learned from philosophy.  The focus ought not to be on how well we remember or write, but how we applied what we learned.  "Show me how you are in relation to desire and aversion, and whether you never fail to get what you want, and never fall into what you want to avoid" (v. 31, p. 73).

"See how I never fail to attain what I desire, see how I never fall into what I want to avoid.  Bring death before me and you'll know.  Bring hardships, bring imprisonment, bring ignominy, bring condemnation" (v. 35, p. 73).

"Let others study how to plead in the courts, or how to deal with problems, or with syllogisms, while you study how to face death, imprisonment, torture, and exile.  Do all this with confidence, placing your trust in the one who has called you to this task, and has judged you worthy of this position, in which, once you have taken it up, you'll show what can be achieved by a rational ruling centre when it is ranged against forces that lie outside the sphere of choice" (v. 38-39, p. 74).

I like another translation of this same passage:

"Your duty is to prepare for death and imprisonment, torture and exile - and all such evils - with confidence, because you have faith in the one who has called you to face them, having judged you worthy of the role.

"When you take on the role, you will show the superiority of reason and the mind over forces unconnected with the will."

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.30 - What should we have at hand that help us in difficult circumstances?

After I read the chapter a few times, I would have entitled the chapter: What's the Point of it All?  And by 'it' I mean life.

If you were to be judged by anyone or even by God, the judgement might be like an oral examination - to determine what you have learned.  This would be the first point of life: did you learn something?

One of the first questions of the examination would be about how you judged certain things.  What did you think of: exile, imprisonment, chains, death and disgrace.  In the context of 2018-2019, that list seems pretty harsh.  Who of my peers and friends has been sent to exile?  Who has been sent to prison?  Who is in chains?  Who has died ... well, plenty have died, but what did they think about death?  And who, of my peers in 2018-2019, is disgraced?  What do these terms means in a post-modern society?  Let's examine them.

What does exile look like in corporate America?  Perhaps it looks like what happened to Steve Jobs in 1985.  "They basically stripped Jobs of responsibilities and gave him an office that he referred to as 'Siberia.'"  Similarly, today, we could be stripped of authority and the ability to make change in a company - our ranking could tank.

What does imprisonment look like?  Well, we still have prisons in 2018, but I think the idea implies being imprisoned unjustly - when you are actually innocent.  Rubin "Hurricane" Carter lived this.  Or perhaps we have been sentenced to a different kind of prison.

Do people actually wear chains in today?  Physically - maybe not.  Chains are simply devices that restrict our body.  Perhaps an illness casts a certain sort of chain on our bodies.

Disgrace has lasted well through time - people were disgraced centuries ago and they are still disgraced today.  In fact, the current President of the United States has used 'disgrace' multiple times in his first few years in office - firing cabinet members and staff at a whim.  At my company, I have seen a few examples of people who have fallen from grace.

Now - do any of these things really matter?  Or should we view them as "indifferents"?  If you were to pass the examination by God, you would need to view them as indifferents.  Indifferents are things that should not matter to you or me.  And why do they not matter?  Because these are things that are not in your control or my control.

Therefore, what should matter to you?  Focusing on things that you can control is what should matter to you.  And what can you control?  You can control your will and your impressions (your attitude).

Lastly, God might ask, "what is the goal of life?"  And if you can honestly respond with "to follow God" or "to love my fate", then you may have passed the examination.  And that is the point of it all.


I thought part of  the text of this chapter was so succinct and worth reading, I've copied it below.

What did you call exile, imprisonment, chains, death, and dishonour in your school?

These I called matters of indifference.

So what do you call them on the present occasion?  Have they changed in any way?

No they haven't.

And have you yourself changed?


Tell me, then, what is meant by matters of indifference, and what follows from that?

They're things that lie outside the sphere of choice, and they're nothing to me.

Tell me further, what were the things that you regarded as being "goods"?

The right exercise of choice and right use of impressions.

And what is the end?

To follow God.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.29 - On steadfastness

The common theme from this chapter seems to be "mental toughness."

A person has to be really mentally tough to stand up to a tyrant and bully.  Mental toughness begins with the ability to derive contentment from within.  If you think you will be content by obtaining or avoiding things external to your mind, you will be disappointed.  As Epictetus says, "If you want something good, get it from yourself."

If you are able to gain contentment from yourself, then what can a tyrant do to you?  A tyrant may threaten to put you in chains, but he is not putting you in chains; rather he is putting your hands in chains.  A tyrant may threaten to lop off your head, but he is not killing you, he is killing your body.  Indeed, Epictetus is using some very extreme examples to make a point.  The modern-day equivalent is a saying that kids may say to a bully: "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

A tyrant or bully ultimately wants complete control over you - they want to control your judgments, your opinions, your thoughts.  But this is where the tyrant loses control.  He does not have this power.  He may have power to chain you, imprison you or kill you, but he can never control your thoughts.  But what about mind-altering drugs?  Well, then, that falls under the category of controlling your body (your brain), but the real you is not under his control.

Another aspect of mental toughness is to have patience with those who are not philosophical.  If you, as one who studies philosophy, have decided that true, meaningful happiness cannot be found in the opening of Christmas presents; and if a child comes up to you, to wish you a Merry Christmas, you do not begin to philosophize and say that Christmas is not "good", rather you should say, "Merry Christmas" back to the child.  Similarly, if you cannot persuade another person to change their perspective on philosophy, then treat them as you would a child who lacks understanding and context - be patient with them (see verses 30-32).

Once we have learned something, we should be willing to practice it.  We should always be ready for and looking for opportunities to practice virtue.  "We should keep all this in mind, then, and when we're summoned to confront any difficulty of this kind, we should know that the moment has come to show whether we have received a proper philosophical education ... Athletes ... are non too happy to be matched against lightweights" rather they want a challenge to test their practice and learning (see v. 33-35, p. 65-66).

Furthermore, you can view people who "don't get it" as opportunities to practice what you learn from philosophy.  Are you up to the challenge of being patient with others?  Why did you read and study these things (Stoicism) if not to practice it?  You should be grateful for chances to demonstrate what you've learned, and disappointed when you don't have an opportunity to practice.  Gladiators begged to be put in the coliseum with worthy opponents - they were always eager to prove their mettle (see verses 36-38).

Developing mental toughness also requires you to embrace and love the life you've been given.  We do not get to choose our circumstances all the time.  We do not get to choose who our parents and family are.  You have the ability to cope and live in contentment now, in these circumstances.  Just like clothes and props don't make an actor great (it's his acting that makes him great), so too it is not our circumstances that make us happy; it's how we react to them that does!  Are you or can you be a philosopher as a Senator or Emperor?  How about as a garbage collector?  Epictetus makes a call to everyone: "What is it that is lacking, then?  Someone to put them into practice, someone to bear witness to the arguments in his actions" (verse 56).

Monday, February 4, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.28 - That we should not be angry with others; and what things are small, and what are great, among human beings?

According to the Stoics, people act according to their impressions.  What does that mean?  It means that when some event happens (it may just happen or the event may happen specifically to us as an individual) we may react a few different ways.

We may react instinctively, without thinking.  Or maybe we simply observe the event - like watching a leaf fall from a tree.  Or maybe we acknowledge the event and consider what it has to do with us.  If we are required to have an opinion, we may think about it and decide.  If no opinion is required, perhaps we simply pass.  And on that last part - what criteria should we use if we are to have an opinion?

For many people, events impress themselves upon us and we allow ourselves to react without thinking.  You're reading a book in a quiet room.  A little girl enters the room and begins whistling.  It bothers you and you instinctively yell at her.  There was no wrong done on her part.  'But she should see that I'm reading and I need quiet!'  Fine, then teach her and try to persuade her why she should not be whistling in the room right now.

This is a dumb little example, but it is a microcosm of the greater world.  People may think that being angry is a virtue.  And until you can convince them otherwise, why should they not go on living angrily?  Either bear (have patience with) what others do, or make a genuine attempt to convince them of the better way.  But no grumbling and complaining.

Epictetus runs through a similar scenario with Medea (see this summary of her).  He succinctly states that Medea thinks it is better to gratify her anger toward her husband than to protect her children.  Most of us would see this as folly!  To which Epictetus says, "Show her clearly that she is mistaken and she won't follow that course; but as long as you haven't shown it, what else can she do than follow what seems best to her?  Nothing else.  Why should you be angry with her, then, because, poor wretch, she has gone astray on matters of the highest importance, and has changed from a human being into a viper?  Shouldn't you, if anything, take pity on her instead?"  (v. 8-9, p. 60).

In so many cases, we assume the other person should know better?  Have we checked our assumptions?  And after having checked our assumptions and learning that the other person needs some educating, are we willing to help them by educating them - by showing them a better way?

The chapter pivots to point out that The Iliad and The Odyssey would not have happened had it not been for impressions and reactions of Paris and Menelaus.  The person Epictetus is having a dialogue with acknowledges that wars, the loss of men and razing of cities is simply due to some bad impressions by a few people.

And then Epictetus simply states that wars, razed cities and dead men are no different than dead sheep and birds nests being burned.  Now this is shocking to the other person and it may even be shocking to you and me to hear Epictetus so flippantly disregard life and property.  But he is willing to teach us.

There is no difference between a man's home and a stork's nest ... both are simply shelters; nothing more and nothing less.

But there is a difference between the man and the stork.  He says, "So where in human beings is the great good and evil to be found?  In that which distinguishes them as human; and if that is preserved and kept well fortified, and if one's self-respect, and fidelity, and intelligence are kept unimpaired, then the human being himself is safeguarded; but if any of these are destroyed or taken by storm, then he himself is destroyed" (v. 20-21, p. 61).

What makes humans unique, also defines our nature.  Our honor, trustworthiness, intelligence - our virtue is what makes us different from the beasts.  Living a life according to Virtue is our true nature.

He expounds, using The Iliad as an example: "[It] consists of nothing more than impressions and the use of impressions.  An impression prompted Paris to carry off the wife of Menelaus, and an impression prompted Helen to go with him" (v. 12, p. 61).

I apologize for all the copying of quotes, but one more.  This is the rub: do we allow our life to be ruled by reactions to impressions?  Or do we put thought into our reactions?  This is how Epictetus closes the chapter:

"Am I any better than Agamemnon and Achilles, to be satisfied by impressions alone, when they caused and suffered such evils by following their impressions?  What tragedy has had any other origin than this?  What is the Atreus of Euripides?  All a matter of impressions.  The Oedipus of Sophocles?  Impressions.  The Phoenix?  Impressions.  The Hippolytus?  Impressions.  What do you call those who follow every impression that strikes them?  Madmen!  What about us, then; do we act any differently?" (v. 31-33, p. 62).

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.27 - In how many ways do impressions arise, and what should we have at hand to help us deal with them?

The world is full of ideas, impressions, opinions and events.  We are bombarded with so many voices telling us what to think and not to think; what to do and not do.  And our ruling center needs to sort through the mountains of data to guide us on a safe course.  This is what philosophy aims to teach us: how to successfully navigate the bombardment.

Epictetus says, "Whatever difficulty may trouble us, we must bring forward the appropriate remedy to apply against it" (v. 3, p. 58).  If we have a bad habit that needs correction, then we find a solution to stop the old and begin a new habit.  If we are uneducated and have faulty thinking, then we must find and apply a solution in the form of sound reasoning and thinking.  "Against sophistic arguments we should apply logical reasoning, and train ourselves in such reasoning so as to become familiar with it.  Against specious appearance, we should apply clear preconceptions, keeping them well polished and ready for use" (v. 6, p. 58).

He then uses "death" as an example of a process we all ought to go through when trying to deal with false impressions.

If you are afraid of death and wish to escape it, then find a way.  Can you go to a place or to people who can prevent you from dying?  Then go!  But if you cannot escape death, will you then grieve?  Or will you accept your fate?

If you can change the "external circumstance" (i.e. it's in your control), then do so.  But if you cannot, then this is where you must embrace and love your fate.  Else, you become impious (you hate God/Zeus/the Universe).

Friday, February 1, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.26 - What is the law of life?

Theory is nice and gets us thinking about what is appropriate, but actual living is what counts.  Epictetus says, "far more important is the law of life that states that we must do what follows from nature" (v. 1, p. 56).  We live in a physical universe and world.  While some may sit around and theorize all day and live in a world of words, it ultimately doesn't matter until they actually do something physical.  One other way of stating this is: theorizing is easy, doing is harder.

Now, with that stated, we indeed have to start with education.  Nothing great was ever accomplished without some thought or retrospective.  This is why Epictetus says we go astray due to ignorance.  Along those same lines, it is education and theory that teaches us; not anger.  "To whom has anger ever taught the art of navigation or music?  When it comes to the art of life, do you suppose, then, that your anger will teach me what I need to know?" (v. 7, p. 56).

He also teaches us that the first step in philosophy is "to become aware of the condition of one's ruling center" (v. 15, p. 57).  In other words, we need to know the state of our attitude and mindset.  If it is weak, then we ought not to use it in matters of importance.  If it is weak, we need to strengthen it and discipline and focus it.  And to begin to do so, means we examine our life.  As Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living."

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.25 - On the same theme

According to Epictetus, Zeus sent us here to earth with the commandment: "Guard what is your own by every means."

What truly, wholly belongs to us?  It is our perception - our opinion - our attitude.

Indeed, we can prioritize everything in our life, but whatever we decide to focus on, we ought not to resent it.  "Whenever you devote your attention to what is not your own, you lose what is truly your own" (v. 4, p. 53).

Epictetus also correctly points out that what we try to protect and cherish becomes a means for us to be enslaved.  He says, "If I attache value to my poor body, I have given myselft up to slavery; if I attach value to my miserable possessions, I'm likewise a slave; for by doing so, I'm at once showing to my own detriment by what means I may be caught" (v. 24, p. 55).  When we place importance on things that don't belong to us or are not in our control, we only torment ourselves.  "But as a general rule keep this in mind, that it is we who cause aggravation to ourselves; that is to say, it is our own judgements that aggravate us and crowd us in this way" (v. 28, p. 55).

So what should we do?  We should practice "maintaining always the same even temper," for this is what Socrates did.

This is why the discipline of assent is so important.  We may experience a gut reaction to some event.  We ought to pause; and in that pause, reflect on whether whatever it is that is trying to bother us.  Is it in our control?  Does it have sway or power over us?  Most likely it does not.  And instead, it is our perception that is holding us as slaves.  Therefore, we ought to check our assumptions and change our opinion as needed.  This is true freedom.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Tuesday January 22, 2019: Haleakala Sunrise, Lavender Garden, Seven Turtles

We woke up super-early Tuesday morning to drive up to the crater on Haleakala.  The drive was steep and dark.  My sinuses were acting up all week, so the pressure going up and going down wrecked havoc on my nose and ears.  But it was so worth it!  It was cold and windy at the time.  We brought a couple of blankets to stay warm, but they weren't enough.  We should've had at least two blankets per person.  Some people at the top were in full winter gear!

Once we snapped our pictures and enjoyed the moment, we got in the car and turned up the heat and drove down the mountain a bit.  We made another pit-stop at some craters, before winding our way to the lavender garden.

We had visited this lavender garden before.  There isn't anything too special about it, but it is a nice place to visit, stretch your legs and enjoy the silent breeze and sweet smells.  We ate a bite at the tiny cafe that sold t-shirts and lots of lavender products.  We also walked around quite a bit and sat in the gazebos and enjoyed the view.

After the lavender garden, we headed back to the place to take a nap and sit on the beach.  When we arrived at the beach, we saw seven turtles!  They had all washed up on the sand and were sleeping in the sun.  It was so neat to see so many turtles sleeping on the beach.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Monday January 21, 2019: Olivine Pools and Nakalele Blowhole

We slept in on Monday and then went on a nice walk to the local village, where they had a great fruit stand and lots of places to sit and eat.  We found a place called Java Jazz that served some wonderful coffee and an pretty delicious pancake and omelette.  The place was wildly decorated and even had someone playing jazz in the morning.  I would have expected it to only have live jazz later in the day.

After breakfast, we walked around the shops a bit, got some sunglasses, t-shirts and food at the market place.  Then we walked back to the place, packed some food and gear and drove north.  The last time we were in Maui, we only drove to see the Nakalele Blowhole, but from a distance.  This time, we wanted to go a bit further.  We ended up, my mistake, driving past the Olivine Pools, to a point where the road was extremely narrow and would barely fit one car.  There were two times we had to back up to a wide-enough spot, to let the oncoming traffic through.  We only drove a mile down this road before we decided to turn around.  Thankfully, going back we didn't have to back-up to let oncoming traffic pass.

We found the Olivine Pools and hiked down.  It was a good 10 minute hike to get to the bottom.  About halfway down, there is a marker with a warning pleading people to not go past.  It tells of a family's son who was swimming in the pools on January 23, 2017, when a wave hit him and swept him out to sea; they never recovered his body.  So naturally, we ignored it and hiked past.  There were about 20 people in the area.  There were several pools, but the main one was gorgeous.  It was like jumping into Jacob's Well.  But instead of that fresh feeling, it was a bit salty!  The rocks around the pools were constantly being pounded by the waves.  The view was breathtaking!

When we had our fill, we hiked back up and drove on to Nakalele Blowhole.  Similar to Olivine Pools, you had to walk down to get the the cool stuff.  It was also about a 10 minute hike.  There were lots of rocks - like we were in a big rock bowl.  There were no warning signs near the blow hole, so maybe no one has died near there.  I think there was one sign that said to stay on dry rock.  The blow hole is like Old Faithful; water comes spouting up and into the air.  The really cool think about the Nakalele hole is the sound.  As waves crash onto the rocks, you can hear the rushing air and feel the force of the water rushing up through the hole.  The fun part is trying to get a picture or selfie at the right time.  I was able to get some video of it spouting a few times; and Jill and I were able to get a pretty cool selfie at the right time!  This was our highlight of the day - we sat around for quite some time, watching the waves pound the rocks.

After the blow hole, we drove back to the place to snorkel some more and sit on the beach.  We waited and watched the sun set.  A man got his bag pipes out and played a couple of songs and everyone on the beach clapped.  Then we went to a burger place called Maui Brewing.  Unfortunately, my sinuses were really bad and I couldn't taste anything.  Jill said it was really good food.  She ordered some salad and I had some fish burger.  I imagine it tasted great.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sunday January 20, 2019: Walking, Snorkeling, Football and Lahaina

We left Saturday at 8:30am.  Emma took us to the airport super-early, because we were hearing some news reports about one airport terminal being closed from the partial government shut-down.  But our worries were not warranted.  We flew through check-in and security in 23 minutes.  Our reward was to sip a warm beverage while waiting for our flight.  We were able to talk quite a bit and I was able to catch up on some Chess Tempo chess problems.  Jill talked to her Mom while we waited and they had a great conversation.

The first leg of the trip was to Los Angeles.  I am just getting over a cold, that has been lingering for a couple of weeks.  It is in my sinuses.  So ascending and descending on the airplane was quite the experience.  I think ascending was easier, while descending made it a bit tough to pop my ears.  Jill had the window seat; I sat in the middle and we had a larger man sitting next to me in the aisle.  I later came to learn he is a comedian who flies all over the world entertaining guests on cruise ships and such places.  We started talking, but I soon realized he was talking and I was listening.  So I went back to my book.

We landed in LA nicely and had a two-hour layover.  We ate salmon and chicken sandwiches at Wolfgang Puck's, then did some shopping as Jill was going to finish her first book and needed a second.  I too found I needed a more entertaining book than the one I had (business book).

The flight to Kahului was close to six hours and it felt much longer.  The turbulence was pretty rough at times.  Jill was reading a book about a man and a woman who are sailing and are caught in a hurricane.  The man dies and the woman survivies 39 days at sea.  So she was wondering if something similar was going to happen to us if the airplane broke up over the ocean!  The Friday before we left, I was watching Castaway for a few minutes!  But the plane survived and we survived.  We were just really tired by the time we landed.  Luckily our luggage was one of the first at baggage claim.  The car rental line wasn't too bad either, but then we had another hour of driving to get to the place.

The place was nice enough; just AC in the bedroom.  But we didn't travel 10 hours for the room.  We got some sleep.

After sleeping in a bit, we woke and got our walking clothes on and walked 3 miles to the Gazebo.  On the way, we stopped at a few beaches and took some pictures.  When we got there, there was a line as expected.  But we didn't feel the least desire to wait in it.  So we pulled up our Google maps app and looked for another high-star place to eat breakfast.  We found The Coffee Store in Napili.  The brews were delicious and the pastries divine.  Then we walked back to our place and collected our stuff and headed to the beach.

The beach by our place is divided by a rock cropping.  There is a very small beach area, with rocks on both sides, to the north.  And to the south is a much larger beach, with rocks also on both sides.  We headed to the smaller beach first and had it to ourselves.  We spent about 40 minutes just watching these 3 turtles swim around and eat.  It was amazing.  Then we sat in the sand and talked and let the ocean waves lick our feet and legs.

We then decided to check out the larger beach and try some snorkeling.  We expected the other beach to be much busier, but there were only maybe 20 or so people on it.  We put our chairs in the shade of a large tree next to the rocks and then got our gear on and went for a swim.  There wasn't a plethora of fish, but we did see quite a few colorful fishes.

After the swim, we just soaked in the sun and the beach.  It was lovely.

When we had our fill, we walked back to the place (a one minute-walk), to the pool to shower and swim around a bit to get the salt water off.  Then we came back to the place and watched the football games.  We caught the end of the Rams v Saints game and then watched the Patriots v Chiefs game.  I'm glad the Rams won, but was disappointed the Chiefs lost.

At precisely 4pm local time, I logged into to reserve our park pass to see the sunrise on Haleakala.  They release 80 tickets two days in advance, at 4pm.  We wanted to do this, so made sure we were ready to claim a pass at 4pm.  We've been hearing these get gobbled up very quickly.  The rest of the tickets have to be bought 2 months in advance.

During the football games, we walked back to the beach and sat in the shade.  We found a huge turtle had arrived and was chilling on the beach.  It was pretty cool to see one so close.

After the football games, we drove to Lahaina and ate dinner at Paia Fishmarket Front Street.  We had vowed we would eat fish every day.  I had the Mahi Mahi blackened and Jill had it in tacos.  Oh my!  It was delicious!  We sat next to a couple from Colorado, who had been on Maui all week, and they said it was the best food they'd had!  So we scored big on our first dinner.  The cole slaw was really good, along with the house fries.

Then we walked around Lahaina, doing some light shopping as well as observing the lunar eclipse.  It was quite the sight!  After that, we drove to Safeway to pick up some groceries, and to get a stronger
decongestant for me.  Jill had called the doctor-over-the-phone earlier and got me a prescription to hopefully knock this thing out.  I feel good ... maybe 85%, so I'm not suffering, but just not 100%.  Thankfully, I can smell and taste still.

After shopping, we came home, ate some ice cream, watched a bit of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom before falling asleep.  It was a great first day.