Mountain Stoic on Wikipedia

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Thanks to the readers of this blog, since it is very likely without you I would not have been able to reach the point where I was included in Stoicism Today’s compendia, and from there to Wikipedia!

I remember some time back, Donald Robertson made a post in his Facebook group for a draft article for Wikipedia.  I don’t recall seeing anything about it thereafter, but today while I was puttering around the intertubes, I saw that it indeed has been published.

Which, frankly, is pretty cool.  So thanks again for helping to get me there.

I do note that the article doesn’t point back to this blog.  If I recall correctly, Wikimedia has rules about editing things you’re involved in, so if someone wanted to link my name as an external link back to the blog’s main page, that would be much appreciated.

Why Marcus’ advice to himself is wrong for you.

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“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

— Meditations X.16


One of the things which often seems to be forgotten, is that the title which is traditionally given to what we call “Meditations” in English is Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν or “Things to one’s self” and sometimes just “To himself.”  Marcus never intends his notes to be read by another, and certainly that matters when we’re interpreting his writings.

Below are a few reasons why the above passage (and others like it) likely don’t apply to the modern Stoic student.
Image result for Marcus Aurelius

1. Marcus was already firmly studied in Stoicism.

Marcus had several private tutors in philosophy from a young age.  Whether it be Fronto or Rusticus, during the formative years of his life he had a solid philosophical influence.  Most of us come to philosophy in adulthood, and we lack the decades of grounding that Marcus had.  When he admonishes himself from study to action, he knows this.  It simply doesn’t apply to the nascent προκόπτων in the same way.  We ought to prefer practice to theory alone, but we do need the theory.

2. Marcus had training in Stoic moderation (ἄσκησις )

From an early age, Marcus was used to the Greek regimen of moderation and simplicity.  Early on in the Meditations, he recounts how his mother and others would try and dissuade him from these practices.  Most of the 21st century Stoic practitioners are not preforming the physical training that we see over and over in Musonius, Epictetus, and Marcus.  True Stoic moderation appears extreme to those of us steeped in a level of indulgence that would be staggering to the ancients.  For this reason, Marcus was already practiced in the things which for most of us are mere theory, cold showers aside.

3. Marcus was in a particular and rare circumstance.

As the Emperor of a large empire, Marcus had external demands and duties which are radically different from ours.  This is not to enter a value judgment about which are better, easier, or preferable, it’s a mere fact that they are different.  The Roman Stoics had more of a focus on roles and duties than their predecessors; and Marcus would have felt this strongly. For him, his time is better spent in embodying the virtues he has already come to know than it would be in further study.  We, however, have need to inculcate these points in our daily lives, and this requires study and learning.

4. Marcus had access to resources we do not (probably).

It is generally accepted that the works of Epictetus to which Marcus had been introduced was probably some version of Arrian’s notes: The Discourses.  We also know that there were four additional Books which have been lost to time.  It seems likely to me that Marcus had access to those lost books.  Since we are working with only a fraction of the Stoic record, we have to work more intensely and diligently on them than those who had access to more.  Marcus may admonish himself to have fewer books, but he had access to ones we do not.

5. Marcus was living and operating in a world where Stoicism was a major social influence.

Any educated Roman of Marcus’ time would have been familiar with Stoic philosophy, at least the broad strokes.  Greek philosophy helped shape Rome in profound and serious ways.  In may ways, Marcus practice while extraordinary for an Emperor, was relatively common in and of itself.  We students of ancient philosophy, especially those of us seeking to make philosophy a way of life, are outliers.  Rather than stepping into the well worn ruts of those who have gone before, we find ourselves forging new paths, and carving roads into a wilderness 2,000 years deep.  This distance of time requires different strategies, tools, and work than Marcus himself needed.

It seems to me that there is much to gain from Marcus’ writings, but it is also important to take from them judiciously.  I cannot help but see parallel struggles (and sometimes the exact same ones) in Marcus’ writings as I have in my own life.  Yet some are unique to his time, others unique to his person.  So when Marcus tells himself to pair down his bookshelf, waste no more time in contemplation, etc., these might not be true for us.

I certainly encourage frequent reading of the work, and a careful application of a critical rule which shifts what’s applicable to us and what is not.  So before you set aside something which might seriously affect your training, consider whether that in fact applies to you.

Stoic Week 2019, the beginning

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If virtue promises to enable us to achieve happiness, freedom from passion, and serenity, then progress towards virtue is surely also progress towards each of these states … if, when someone gets up in the morning … he bathes as a trustworthy person, and eats as a self-respecting person, putting his guiding principles into action in relation to anything he has to deal with, just as a runner does in practising running … this then is the person who is truly making progress; this is the one who hasn’t travelled in vain.

— Epictetus, Discourses 1.4. 4, 20-1


I have participated in Stoic Week every year since 2013, although not always during the specified time frame.  I think I first learned about it in April of 2014, and did the previous year’s by myself.

Stoic Week is like a philosophical Lent for me, a call to reorient, reengage, and rededicate myself to philosophy.

While I think that many times it skips over important practical and theoretical underpinnings of our School, it’s an excellent introduction.

Protection against Corruption

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This is not really on any particular topic, and we’re not talking a +2 Charisma amulet, but I wanted to toss an idea out there that I’ve been chewing on for a little bit.  It’s not really even Stoicism-per-se, or even philosophy, really.  It is however meta-relevant to us, our practice, and our School.  And, it’s fairly serious.

I don’t have a moral problem with profit or people being fairly remunerated for their efforts. And yet, I’ve always had a … distaste for the popularizers of Stoicism who seem to be focused on making money, or focused on helping their readers make money, or get power, or just get their way in social situations. They are often sardonically called “$toics” or something along those lines.

Outside of the $toics, we have popularizers who make money doing actual philosophy, that’s a separate thing, but one which is still orbiting this discussion, if at a great distance.  Whether I agree with them or not isn’t the operative thing for these categories, it should be clear to any reader who goes in which camp.  I disagree (often at length) with some folks who make money doing philosophy but are by no means “$toics.”  So, to be clear, that’s really not what I’m writing about here.  However, these two should have these same concerns for themselves, I do for myself.

Image result for tithing indulgencesI think I may have finally identified why I feel this way about money and philosophy.  (I stress “finally” because this post has been a half-written draft for quite literally more than three years.  WordPress tells me this is the 16th revision.)

In most societies in the east and west, long running traditions in which we have specialized people guiding and teaching about life would have an opportunity for impropriety which would be extreme. Think middle age indulgences in the Catholic church, as an example.  Their ability to influence people and money is different and greater than the average person’s.  As such, their need for concern here is much higher than the average person.

One protection against this are vows of poverty and chastity, or so it seems to me.  In fact, we see that lots of societies chose this route.  Where these exist, the people in “high leverage potential positions” aren’t “playing the game” that the people listening to them are.  It’s harder to leverage property, money, sex, power or anything else when everyone knows you’re not handling those things yourself.  You can ask someone that you know won’t be competing with you in the market, or in the political area for advice on the moral course of action and have a little more confidence that you’re getting good advice if they don’t stand to benefit from your loss.  Not perfectly, but maybe better than it might otherwise be.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2f/Mendicant_Monk_Sitting_on_Xindong_Street%2C_Taipei_20140103.jpgThis doesn’t work all the time, obviously.  We have scandals and crimes in the east and west over sexual assault, misappropriation of funds, and other awful crimes.  Oftentimes, the organizations become so large and powerful despite this, that they can protect the criminals from justice.  We even have organizations posing as religious institutions to leverage the space we’ve carved out for them.  That’s also not good.  Historically, the Roman Church was a government in Europe, and the Orthodox Church in Greece today leverages a lot of influence in the government of that country.  So again, not perfect.

This isn’t the only solution, clearly.  It may not even be the most efficient one, or the best.  But is a solution.  We don’t even have a bad one at them moment.  Thus this discussion…

The opportunity for impropriety exists in the modern Stoic renaissance we find ourselves in, and the rewards for churning out low-effort, low-accuracy information that appeals to popular demographics are great.  This skews the signal-to-noise ratio of our discourse, and not in the direction we would like.  The folks who are selling book after book, trinkets, coins, etc. may have gone astray.  Others will certainly follow.  We, ourselves have to constantly monitor our work and our efforts to ensure we don’t tend in that direction.

With all that being said, is it fair to expect “philosophical workers” to do so for free?  How can we support those folks so they have the time and space to actually do that work?

How do we handle this, as a community?

In summary, my two questions are:

1) What voluntary system or standard can we propose to the Stoic community which will help protect against this sort of corruption?

2) What can we create that will allow us to support folks so that they have the time and space to do philosophical work?

Many folks here are in some way or other involved in producing philosophical content, teaching, moderating, or even just consuming the products of these efforts.  So it seems a likely place to brainstorm possible solutions.  Feel free to share this wherever you have the best discussions online, within the rules as allowed there.  If you do, please tag me in the comments, so I can read the responses, and participate in those discussions.

Thanks in advance.

Reading: On Socratic Meditation (EDITED)

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socratesLongtime readers will remember that I’ve written about Socratic Meditation in the past.  I recently came across this paper, and am in the process of reading it.  I can’t speak to its conclusions or methods (as I haven’t read them yet) but I thought I would share it with you in case you’re also interested in this avenue of exploration.

Here’s the paper: “Socratic Meditation And Emotional Self-Regulation: A Model For Human Dignity In The Technological Age,” Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 24 (2013): 1-29. (with Paul Carron).  This link may require registration to download, but should be readable without logging in.

I would like to devote more time in the coming weeks to developing a meditation practice.  While I wrote about it previously, I haven’t done much of it of this sort.  I’ve been reading a bit about different meditation types, and this hint about Socrates’ practice keeps nagging at me, and really merits some further investigation.

If any readers of the blog have a formal meditation practice, I’m interested in your findings experiences, and thoughts in this regard.  Please let me know in the comments or privately as you choose.

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After reading the paper, this isn’t too much here as far as non-technical information that I didn’t cover in my first description.  It was nice to see some of my conclusions and inferences supported.  I don’t have the technical background to speak to the section on research and brain states, but it was interesting.

My overall conclusions remain the same:  that this is a practice which merits further exploration.