Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Classical Argument Construction - abolish gender based sports at highest competitive levels

This is a blog post for my Critical Thinking class I am taking this semester.  The assignment was to construct an argument using either Classical, Rogerian, or Toulmin types of arguments.  I chose classical.


Competitive (e.g. for acclaim or money) gender-based sports should be abolished.  In recent years, the lines between gender have blurred, at least to the public's eyes.  Most of the outrage can be seen when a person who is perceived to be a woman, might actually be more aligned genetically to be a man due to higher levels of testosterone.

Statement of Background

One catalyst event, which brought wide-spread attention to this issue was the 2016 Olympics 800m women's' event.  The gold medal winner was Caster Semenya.  Attention followed her because of the events which lead up to the 2016 Olympics.  In 2009, at the world track and field championships, she won the event by an impressive margin (2 seconds) after which she was accused, by another runner, of being a man.   After the accusation, she "was barred from competition and subjected to sex tests. She returned months later" after "the general secretary of the International Association of Athletics Federations, track and field’s world governing body, said, 'She is a woman, but maybe not 100 percent'" (Longman).

The Semenya issue drove clarity in guidelines for competition events for women.  In 2011, the International Association of Athletics Federations, working with International Olympic Committee Medical Commission established rules for the amount of testosterone a person recognized as a woman by law, can have in her body (“IAAF to Introduce Eligibility Rules for Females with Hyperandrogenism| News”).  Subsequently, some female athletes are subjected to tests to verify if they are qualified to compete as a women.


As the lines blur more and more, and as society begins to deal with similar issues at all levels of competition in sports, perhaps it is time to rethink how competitive categories are established.  As a first step, gender based sports, at the highest competitive levels (i.e. professional, paid, Olympic) should be abolished and new categories established.

One proposal is to follow in the footsteps of Paralympics sports, to recategorize competitive groups "based on functional ability rather than medical conditions" such as the amount of testosterone in the body (Kerr).  This shifts the competitive rules away from lightening rod topics of sex and gender (i.e. medical based), towards a more objectively based criteria.


Whereas most sports are based on a selective classification (i.e. gender), the Paralympics have moved towards a functional based classification system, thus avoiding problems such as the one faced by Semenya and other hyper androgenous female athletes.  In a functional based system, "the main factors that determine class are … how much the impairment of a person impacts upon sports performance" as well as movements of the body (Tweedy, Kerr).

In the case of running and sprinting, the categorization would move from gender based to muscle mass classification.  The highest category for runners could have a range, from a minimum amount of muscle mass and fast twitch fibers to an unlimited amount.  The next category's upper limit of the range would be just below the minimum range of the top category to some lower limit (Kerr).


However, the norms of society are quite strong, and many people are quite used to gender based sports, mostly for the aspects of fairness in play.  This position is not stating that gender based sports at all levels be abolished, but only at the highest levels.  As more spectators and society view the proposed functional based categories, they will adapt and become comfortable with an alternative way to compete.  Some lower levels of competition (e.g. college, high school) may begin adopting this method, especially in open and co-ed leagues.  Change takes time and the very best can lead the way into a more objective based competition system.

Works Cited

“IAAF to Introduce Eligibility Rules for Females with Hyperandrogenism| News.” www.worldathletics.org, 12 Apr. 2011, www.worldathletics.org/news/iaaf-news/iaaf-to-introduce-eligibility-rules-for-femal-1. Accessed 11 Nov. 2021.

Kerr, Roslyn. “Why It Might Be Time to Eradicate Sex Segregation in Sports.” The Conversation, 14 Jan. 2018, theconversation.com/why-it-might-be-time-to-eradicate-sex-segregation-in-sports-89305.

LONGMAN, JERÉ. "Understanding the Controversy Over Caster Semenya. "ProQuest, Aug 18, 2016, https://www.proquest.com/blogs-podcasts-websites/understanding-controversy-over-caster-semenya/docview/1812349822/se-2?accountid=8289.

Tweedy, S. M., and Y. C. Vanlandewijck. "International Paralympic Committee Position Stand-Background and Scientific Principles of Classification in Paralympic Sport." British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 45, no. 4, 2011, pp. 259. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/international-paralympic-committee-position-stand/docview/1779237454/se-2?accountid=8289, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.2009.065060.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Letters from a Stoic 124 - On the True Good as Attained by Reason

On the True Good as Attained by Reason

The topic of this letter is "whether the Good is grasped by the senses or by the understanding; and the corollary thereto is that it does not exist in dumb animals or little children."

In sum, the Good can only be grasped and understood by reason.  Animals and little children (and to some extent, non-adults), cannot attain the Good.  This is related to my previous post on letter 123, where I stated "to completely grow and progress into the full bloom of a rational, human adult (logikē psuchē, see Sellars 104-105)."  Animals do not even possess the capacity to reach the cohesion state of logikē psuchē.  But children at least have the capacity to reach that cohesion state.

Sellars writes,

A rational human being, then, will contain pneuma at all four levels of tension. She will have pneuma as hexis giving cohesion to her bones, for instance; pneuma as phusis by virtue of being alive in the most basic biological sense; pneuma as psuchē giving her the animal faculties of impression and impulse; and pneuma as logikē psuchē giving her the rational power of judgement that can intervene between receiving impressions and acting on impulses.

Seneca notes that Stoics associate the Good with the rational mind and not the senses or pleasure.

Those who rate pleasure as the supreme ideal hold that the Good is a matter of the senses; but we Stoics maintain that it is a matter of the understanding, and we assign it to the mind.


we condemn men who are slaves to their appetites and their lusts, and we scorn men who, through fear of pain, will dare no manly deed.

The Stoics maintain that eudaimonia is obtained only through reason.

Reason, however, is surely the governing element in such a matter as this; as reason has made the decision concerning the happy life, and concerning virtue and honour also, so she has made the decision with regard to good and evil.

And eudaimonia is attained only according to Nature and that humans are born the the capacity to reach it.

we define as "happy" those things that are in accord with Nature. And that which is in accord with Nature is obvious and can be seen at once – just as easily as that which is complete. That which is according to Nature, that which is given us as a gift immediately at our birth, is, I maintain, not a Good, but the beginning of a Good.

Reason can only be attained and understood by rational humans.  It cannot be attained by animals or children.

In that which does not possess reason, the Good will never exist. In that which is not yet endowed with reason, the Good cannot be existent at the time.


the Good cannot be discovered in any random person, or at any random age

Like wheat, the purpose of adult humans cannot be achieved until it is in full bloom.

There is a certain Good of wheat: it is not yet existent, however, in the swelling stalk, nor when the soft ear is pushing itself out of the husk, but only when summer days and its appointed maturity have ripened the wheat. Just as Nature in general does not produce her Good until she is brought to perfection, even so man's Good does not exist in man until both reason and man are perfected.

The Good is:

a free mind, an upright mind, subjecting other things to itself and itself to nothing


a matter of the understanding


a clear and flawless mind, which rivals that of God, raised far above mortal concerns, and counting nothing of its own to be outside itself. You are a reasoning animal. What Good, then, lies within you? Perfect reason.

How can you know when you have attained eudaimonia?

Only consider yourself happy when all your joys are born of reason, and when – having marked all the objects which men clutch at, or pray for, or watch over – you find nothing which you will desire; mind, I do not say prefer.

And Seneca offers this rule of thumb for know when you have reached that point.

"You will come to your own when you shall understand that those whom the world calls fortunate are really the most unfortunate of all."


Sellars, John. Stoicism. Berkeley, University Of California Press, 2006.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Letters from a Stoic 123 - On the Conflict between Pleasure and Virtue

On the Conflict between Pleasure and Virtue

In my studies of Stoicism, I've learned the summum bonum is eudaimonia - this is the why of philosophy.  And eudaimonia is the state of having a good soul, or if you earnestly believe the Stoics, it means to align your own part of divinity (your daimon) with the Whole - the Cosmos - Nature, hence the motto live according to Nature (Long, 197; Sellars, 122-123).  Or to put it even more bluntly, to align with, choose with, desire with and will with God (Stephens, 59).

And, in my opinion, the goal is not only to achieve eudaimonia once for a brief moment, but to be able to achieve a constant state of flourishing and excellence - to completely grow and progress into the full bloom of a rational, human adult (logikē psuchē, see Sellars 104-105).

The Stoics will say that avoidance of pain, toil and trials and the pursuit of pleasures and ease are not up to us.  And therefore, if we try to avoid the former and pursue the latter in hopes of achieving eudaimonia, we will end up disappointed and fail in our quest.

But, if we place our desires on the pursuit of exercising moral virtues (and this is entirely up to us), then we have a shot at finding and retaining lasting equanimity, serenity and eudaimonia.

Therefore, all that the Stoics try to teach us, is too focus only on what is up to us and to not get caught up in the avoidance of things (pain, toil, trial) not up to us and the pursuit of things (fame, status, wealth, pleasures) not up to us.  These indifferents are mere materials or mediums for us to exercise what is entirely ours: our will; our volition; our character; our morals.

In this spirit, Seneca attempts to explain how, regardless of circumstances, we can find a way to act with moral conviction.  And he will rail against those whose philosophy is to pursue pleasure and ease, not to make himself feel better or to make others feel bad, but on the contrary - to help people understand the reality of the situation, and to help them find an alternative to folly and disappointment.

nothing is heavy if one accepts it with a light heart, and that nothing need provoke one's anger if one does not add to one's pile of troubles by getting angry.

If your expectations do not match reality, your expectations may need an adjustment.  And your attitude of the situation can be immediately adjusted.  If you find some circumstance to be "heavy" you can simply choose to change your attitude about it.  If something upsets you and you are angry, recognize that by being angry, you are piling on more trouble.

I must not eat until hunger bids me; so I shall wait and shall not eat until I can either get good bread or else cease to be squeamish about it.  It is necessary that one grow accustomed to slender fare

The antidote to gluttony is to delay eating until necessary.  When you complain about the food, wait even longer until the coarse bread becomes rich.

To have whatsoever he wishes is in no man's power; it is in his power not to wish for what he has not, but cheerfully to employ what comes to him.

Folly begins when you find yourself always wishing.  Wishing and desiring for things not up to you will lead to disappointment.  But cheerful acceptance is something you can do something about.

Every circumstance is a test of your character and resolve.  Complaining and anxiety are symptoms of an internal misalignment.  Reflect on these and improve.

viewing one's own troubles not only fairly but calmly, not flying into fits of temper or wordy wranglings, supplying one's own needs by not craving something which was really due, and reflecting that our habits may be unsatisfied, but never our own real selves.

We must be leery of desire infection from others.

how much do we acquire simply because our neighbours have acquired such things, or because most men possess them!   Many of our troubles may be explained from the fact that we live according to a pattern, and, instead of arranging our lives according to reason, are led astray by convention.  There are things which, if done by the few, we should refuse to imitate; yet when the majority have begun to do them, we follow along

Seneca goes so far as to advocate shunning certain people because of their "bad habits."

You should avoid conversation with all such persons: they are the sort that communicate and engraft their bad habits from one to another. We used to think that the very worst variety of these men were those who vaunted their words; but there are certain men who vaunt their wickedness. Their talk is very harmful; for even though it is not at once convincing, yet they leave the seeds of trouble in the soul

I would temper Seneca's advice.  If you are just beginning to practice a philosophical life and if you are trying to drink and eat less, for example, then you should probably not talk much with people who would have you join them at the bar or buffet every week.  A bit more distance from them would be in order.  However, if you have established, good habits, then there is no need for avoiding such people.  Rather, you could be an anchor and boon to them, in helping them see a better way.

Seneca would warn us to avoid such people, because we might catch their tune in our head and soon, we would not be able to get it out of our mind.  Thereafter, we would begin to be persuaded by such devious philosophies such as this:

"Virtue, Philosophy, Justice – this is a jargon of empty words. The only way to be happy is to do yourself well. To eat, drink, and spend your money is the only real life, the only way to remind yourself that you are mortal. Our days flow on, and life – which we cannot restore – hastens away from us. Why hesitate to come to our senses? This life of ours will not always admit pleasures; meantime, while it can do so, while it clamours for them, what profit lies in imposing thereupon frugality? Therefore get ahead of death, and let anything that death will filch from you be squandered now upon yourself. You have no mistress, no favourite slave to make your mistress envious; you are sober when you make your daily appearance in public; you dine as if you had to show your account-book to 'Papa'; but that is not living, it is merely going shares in someone else's existence.  And what madness it is to be looking out for the interests of your heir, and to deny yourself everything, with the result that you turn friends into enemies by the vast amount of the fortune you intend to leave! For the more the heir is to get from you, the more he will rejoice in your taking-off! All those sour fellows who criticize other men's lives in a spirit of priggishness and are real enemies to their own lives, playing schoolmaster to the world – you should not consider them as worth a farthing, nor should you hesitate to prefer good living to a good reputation."

These are siren voices; and we ought to take precautions in order to avoid their messages becoming our philosophy.  And be wary of those who profess to be Stoics, but in reality, they are not.

let us retreat from the objects that allure, and rouse ourselves to meet the objects that attack.


only those men bring ruin to our ears, who praise pleasure, who inspire us with fear of pain – that element which is in itself provocative of fear; I believe that we are also in injured by those who masquerade under the disguise of the Stoic school and at the same time urge us on into vice.

The sage is wise and knowledgeable in both intent and actions.

No man is good by chance. Virtue is something which must be learned.

Philosophy fights vice.

philosophy ought not to try to explain away vice.


Long, Anthony A. Hellenistic Philosophy : Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics. London, Duckworth, 1986.

Sellars, John. Stoicism. Berkeley, University Of California Press, 2006.

Stephens, William O. Stoic Ethics : Epictetus and Happiness as Freedom. London ; Oxford ; New York ; New Delhi ; Sydney Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Letters from a Stoic 122 - On Darkness as a Veil for Wickedness

On Darkness as a Veil for Wickedness

Seneca does not support various ways of living because, he argues, these ways are not according to Nature.

Here is the list:

  • sleeping in well into the morning or afternoon
  • staying up all night
  • basking in wine and perfumes
  • being idle; becoming fat, lackadaisical and flabby
  • indulging in pleasure
  • drinking alcohol on an empty stomach to feel the effects more strongly
  • cross-dressing
  • craving food out of season; wanting flowers in winter
  • putting toilets over the sea
  • not swimming unless the water is heated
  • desiring notoriety, peculiarity and luxury
  • wanting to be the center of gossip and attention
The root of his argument is that people are not content with the simple life.  They wish to make things complicated and they are focused on overcoming the mundaneness of living and they wish to be noticed.

To a modern reader, and to the aspiring modern Stoic, I would suggest we not get hung up on the specific examples, but reflect on the intent and principal of what Seneca is trying to convey.

He proposes there are ways of living according to Nature, but it is humans who wish to go around Nature or even oppose it, who are indulging in vice.

[They who] desire all things in opposition to the ways of Nature, they end by entirely abandoning the ways of Nature.

And he writes that living according to Nature is simple and straight-forward, but there are some who are "squeamish" at this plainness.

The method of maintaining righteousness is simple; the method of maintaining wickedness is complicated, and has infinite opportunity to swerve. And the same holds true of character; if you follow nature, character is easy to manage, free, and with very slight shades of difference; but the sort of person I have mentioned possesses badly warped character, out of harmony with all things, including himself.  The chief cause, however, of this disease seems to me to be a squeamish revolt from the normal existence.

He ties living simply with having a good character.  A good character will focus solely on the virtues and duty.  Whereas, the bad character will wish to avoid duty and will want to pursue something novel, new, fanciful and fleeting.

I'll conclude with one more quote from the letter.  This one reflects the Stoic pursuit to understand Nature as it is, and then to follow it.  But to not follow Nature as it functions, is to turn to vice.

All vices rebel against Nature; they all abandon the appointed order. It is the motto of luxury to enjoy what is unusual, and not only to depart from that which is right, but to leave it as far behind as possible, and finally even take a stand in opposition thereto.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Letters from a Stoic 121 - On Instinct in Animals

On Instinct in Animals

The theme of this letter is oikeiôsis.  William O. Stephens has a fine explanation of this concept in this Stoic Ethics entry, under the section Theory of Appropriation.

Seneca, in this letter, is exploring the question "what is best suited for man" or in other words, what is appropriate for man?

He delves into the concept of oikeiôsis by observing the nature of self-preservation in animals.  Understanding this, will help the Stoic student understand what is the unique nature of a fully grown, human adult.

The big point of this letter is to prove that there is something inborn and inherent to all animals, which helps them to want to survive and exist.  And this is not learned, but is something entwined with existence from the day the animal is born.  And that thing is the instinct to exist; to live; to survive.

The instinct pushes beyond the experience of pain.

The proof that it is not fear of pain which prompts them thus, is, that even when pain checks them they struggle to carry out their natural motions.  Thus the child who is trying to stand and is becoming used to carry his own weight, on beginning to test his strength, falls and rises again and again with tears until through painful effort he has trained himself to the demands of nature.

And, there are some things about our nature that we simply know or feel, yet cannot fully explain.

Nature is easier to understand than to explain; hence, the child of whom we were speaking does not understand what "constitution" is, but understands its own constitution.


We also know that we possess souls, but we do not know the essence, the place, the quality, or the source, of the soul.


Everyone of us understands that there is something which stirs his impulses, but he does not know what it is. He knows that he has a sense of striving, although he does not know what it is or its source.

The human has his or her own instincts and appropriations based on the stages of growth.  It takes a lot of work to develop into a full human being and it's probable that some humans, despite their age, never fully blossom.  But, the human does go through stages and has the tools suited to him or her in order to grow into their next stage.  Seneca uses teeth as an example.

But each age has its own constitution, different in the case of the child, the boy, and the old man; they are all adapted to the constitution wherein they find themselves. The child is toothless, and he is fitted to this condition. Then his teeth grow, and he is fitted to that condition also.


The periods of infancy, boyhood, youth, and old age, are different; but I, who have been infant, boy, and youth, am still the same

He then summarizes the point.

For even if there is in store for him any higher phase into which he must be changed, the state in which he is born is also according to nature.  First of all, the living being is adapted to itself, for there must be a pattern to which all other things may be referred. I seek pleasure; for whom? For myself. I am therefore looking out for myself. I shrink from pain; on behalf of whom? Myself. Therefore, I am looking out for myself. Since I gauge all my actions with reference to my own welfare, I am looking out for myself before all else. This quality exists in all living beings – not engrafted but inborn.

He further explores other animals who have inborn instincts for survival.

Why should the hen show no fear of the peacock or the goose, and yet run from the hawk, which is a so much smaller animal not even familiar to the hen? Why should young chickens fear a cat and not a dog? These fowls clearly have a presentiment of harm – one not based on actual experiments; for they avoid a thing before they can possibly have experience of it.


Hence indeed it is evident that these animals have not reached such a condition through experience; it is because of an inborn desire for self-preservation.


each animal at the same time consults its own safety, seeking that which helps it, and shrinks from that which will harm it. Impulses towards useful objects, and revulsion from the opposite, are according to nature; without any reflection to prompt the idea, and without any advice, whatever Nature has prescribed, is done.

He concludes with a bit more evidence about how some insects perform their seemingly incredible arts, which they are born with.  The bees can make honeycomb cells and the spiders can make immaculate webs - "This art is born, not taught."

We are born with an inherent instruction book to prompt us to take care of ourselves.

Nature has communicated nothing except the duty of taking care of themselves and the skill to do so; that is why living and learning begin at the same time.


This is the first equipment that Nature granted them for the maintenance of their existence – the quality of adaptability and self-love. They could not survive except by desiring to do so.