​An internal dialogue regarding the impressions of anxiety.



Today I find that my prohairesis is presented with impressions of the physical and mental manifestations of anxiety. Two questions then must follow.

The first: is this impression actually what it reports to be? So I must know what the impression tells me it is. An impression which carries with it the symptoms of anxiety, recommends that some current or future apparent evil exists. In a less technical vocabulary, it presents as if there is or will be some serious threat. So I look at the situation and I asked myself, does there appear to be such a threat? Is the apparent evil a real evil? I’​​m forced to admit that the answer is no to both of these questions. So the impression is not in fact what it reports to be, it is not the thing itself merely an impression of it.

The second question is the following: is this a situation which is in my exclusive jurisdiction? I also find that answer to be no. And looking at the training of the stoics I understand that proto-passions exist, impressions are presented to the ruling faculty, and many of them occur before we have a chance to attach a judgment to them and assent. However, these could be proto-passions, or they could be impressions incorrectly assented to. So either way I’m dealing with something that is not as it appears to be.

The judgment is up to me, and the proto-passion is not.

Let us assume then for the sake of argument, that I am experiencing an internal impression which is presented to me without my assent. In this case my internal state is experiencing something which is more like that of the body as it experiences weather, rather than as the moral will experiences the results of a judgment. Some days, the weather is sunny and pleasant. Some days it is wet and dreary. And yet other days, the weather presents itself as frightful, terrible terrible; and even a threat to living beings. Today my internal weather feels somewhat like this latter one.

But it is the case that this is not fully up to me, it is an aprohairetic thing, and therefore I must determine that it is nothing to me. When the weather is bad, that doesn’t imply that we’ve done something wrong, it doesn’t indicate that we are bad, or in some way responsible or guilty. Today these anxious feelings are similar. I’m experiencing some bad weather, and it is not indicate a fault on my part. Yet, I must take care not to fall into a fault merely because of this context.

So what is my role here? It is to handle these impressions rightly, it is to respond to the situation as presented to me in the best way possible. If we’re playing cards, and we are dealt a bad hand, it does not mean that we are a bad player. Even the very best of players sometimes draw bad hands. How we use that bad hand indicates whether we are a good or bad player, or rather how we play despite it. So today I would like to be a good player, to handle the situation as it is presented to me in accordance with the nature of things. That is my goal, and my recommendation. It is not always pleasant to be dealt the bad hand but it is my game to play, and play well. Sometimes, however, we play from a position of disadvantage.

Additional resources on technical points:

Franco Scalenghe: ‘”Nature” and the “Nature of Things” in the Stoic Philosophy of Epictetus: A Synopsis’


I just began reading a new publication from our esteemed colleague Franco Scalenghe. Franco is a skilled linguist and student of philosophy. One of his several foci is translations of Greek technical vocabulary in Italian and English. In the linked document, Franco takes aim at φύσις ( “physis” ), which is often translated simply as “Nature” in English by pretty much every translator across all time periods.

Franco offers that “the nature of things” is often (about 40% of the time) the clearer reading. This document is a discussion on that very topic.


Epicurean dog whistles


I was pursuing a discussion in the Traditional Stoicism group on FB, (probably the highest level discussion on FB) when I came across a comment on ἀταραξία. There is a common trope I see in online Stoic circles that ἀταραξία is Epicurean, and ἀπάθεια is Stoic. While it is true that these words connote roughly into the two camps, it’s not as if one has unilateral claim versus the other. Epictetus uses the word ἀταραξία at least twice (that I could quickly find at the speed of online discussions).

Discourses 2, Chapter 1, Line 21.
τίς οὖν τούτων τῶν δογμάτων καρπός; ὅνπερ δεῖ κάλλιστόν τ᾽ εἶναι καὶ πρεπωδέστατον τοῖς τῷ ὄντι παιδευομένοις, ἀταραξία ἀφοβία ἐλευθερία.

What then is the fruit of these opinions? It is that which ought to be the most noble and the most becoming to those who are really educated, release from perturbation, release from fear, freedom.

Enchiridion 12
… ἄρξαι τοιγαροῦν ἀπὸ τῶν σμικρῶν. ἐκχεῖται τὸ ἐλάδιον, κλέπτεται τὸ οἰνάριον: ἐπίλεγε ὅτι ‘τοσούτου πωλεῖται ἀπάθεια, τοσούτου ἀταραξία:’ προῖκα δὲ οὐδὲν περιγίνεται. ὅταν δὲ καλῇς τὸν παῖδα, ἐνθυμοῦ, ὅτι δύναται μὴ ὑπακοῦσαι καὶ ὑπακούσας μηδὲν ποιῆσαι ὧν θέλεις: ἀλλ᾽ οὐχ οὕτως ἐστὶν αὐτῷ καλῶς, ἵνα ἐπ᾽ ἐκείνῳ ᾖ τὸ σὲ μὴ ταραχθῆναι.

… Begin then from little things. Is the oil spilled? Is a little wine stolen? Say on the occasion, at such price is sold freedom from perturbation; at such price is sold tranquillity, but nothing is got for nothing. And when you call your slave, consider that it is possible that he does not hear; and if he does hear, that he will do nothing which you wish. But matters are not so well with him, but altogether well with you, that it should be in his power for you to be not disturbed.

In the second instance, we see both ἀπάθεια and ἀταραξία used in the same example.

Do not take this to mean that when we see people in modern Stoic circles pandering for a Stoicism-lite, a reductionist model which excises the very foundation of the school, that such is correct. I think it is not. However, the test cannot be the mere usage of this word, as the classical Stoics used it to. While it may be the states goal of Epicureans, it is merely a consequence of the telos of Stoicism.

I find words, etymologies, and the like interesting.  I’m a fairly verbal processor.  At what might seem a contrary idea, I would not get hung up on whether this term is Epicurean and that one Stoic, or Pyrrhonic, or whatever.  Understanding the ideas, why one in fact is a cause of the other, is far more important.  We talk with some regularity, that philosophy begins with teaching the newcomer not to be overly swayed by apparently negative things.  It’s only later that we have to pivot, and discuss the apparently positive ones too.   So we might need to speak to ἀταραξία before we do ἀπάθεια.  That fits.

Either way, I hope that this brief discussion helps, and makes the jargon of the garden a little less bristly.

“Philosophy as Medicine: Stoicism and Cognitive Psychotherapy”, Sellars


I just finished reading this (draft) article by John Sellars, “Philosophy as Medicine: Stoicism and Cognitive Psychotherapy”. It’s a good read even as a draft, and came to me at an opportune time.  I don’t think this counts as a citation in his notes, but I will point you to the original publication link.  He begins by touching on the history of philosophy as a therapeutic, not for philosophy itself by for our minds, souls.  This is be written for a non-Stoic audience, and will probably touch much ground that we have covered here, and I would suspects all my readers have covered elsewhere.

The core part of the article extracts three practices of Stoic therapy:

I: Assigning Value
II: Assuming the Worse
III: Good out of Bad

I won’t steal his’ thunder by going into depth here, but these must surely look familiar to the practicing Stoic as The Discipline of Assent, Premeditatio Malorum, and … well, most of Seneca.  The paper is twenty-five pages long, and also briefly touches on some Epicurean doctrine.  There are a few things I might take issue with at nit-picky level, but considering it’s for a non-specialized audience it’s very good.  One such thing being, “The ideal Stoic life is thus not one completely devoid of emotion, but it is one free from unpleasant emotions.”  This does a good job at refuting the misconception that Stoics are Vulcans, but doesn’t quite get us to “virtue is the only good.”

I would like to share one short but excellent pull quote, however (with the smallest of editorial license):

“[I]n life, it is only through apparent adversity that we get to prove our character.”



Coaching myself


Then, in some great hour of your life, when you stand face to face with some awful trial, when the structure of your ambition and life-work crumbles in a moment, you will be brave. You can then fold your arms calmly, look out undismayed and undaunted upon the ashes of your hope, upon the wreck of what you have faithfully built, and with brave heart and unfaltering voice you may say: “So let it be—I will build again.”

William George Jordan, “The Majesty of Calmness”
From Self Control, Its Kingship and Majesty, 1905



Seneca gives us the advice to teach, coach, and gently chide ourselves as we would a cherished but sick friend and not as a taskmaster.  I’ve been trying to do this lately, and luckily, this site has helped me to do it.  I have been re-watching a select few of the Ask a Stoic series. It has been a long enough time since I made them, that it really is like getting advice from someone else.  So, in the ebb and flow of life, and amidst the actual advice received from several friends, I’ve been coaching myself.

I’m calling myself back to a daily practice.  Relearning to note impressions, to gauge them, test them, and judiciously accept or deny them.  I have this opportunity in this body work to re-read my own words from a time when I was more fully steeped in the practice of our School.

If you’ve been on the fence with philosophical journaling, let me point you here as an example why.  You may only have an audience of one, yourself.  But you my find that you heartily need that advice at some time.

Whitehead: Modes of Thought


“Connectedness is of the essence of all things of all types. It is of the essence of types, that they be connected. Abstraction from connectedness involves the omission of an essential factor in the fact considered. No fact is merely itself. The penetration of literature and art at their height arises from our dumb sense that we have passed beyond mythology; namely, beyond the myth of isolation.”

— Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought

I’ve been trying to make use of some additional time to restart my Stoic practice. I’ve been away for too long, and I’m find it difficult. Epictetus is correct regarding the relaxing of attention. Additionally, I’m trying to get back into the habit of reading philosophy. I’ve been spending some time with Whitehead, who while not a Stoic, touches on some topics which I find useful.

I’m still working through Modes of Thought, but thus far my takeaway has been a new perspective of my philosophical work.  There is a danger, Whitehead admonishes, in the need to systematize.  If we systematize before making enough observations, we’ll leave something out, and “[p]hilosophy can exclude nothing.”

In this early section, he also discusses “importance” and “interest” in a way which has caused me to pause and reflect in a way which I think will be fruitful.  It’s a bit early for me to report back, but I wanted to share this with others in case you also wanted to read and discuss this work.

My university will mail books out, so I’m using a dead-tree version (I’m the second person to check out since 1958), but if its’ difficult to source for you, there is an html-version here.

I have generally not paid too much attention to modern philosophy, since much of it sets asides the ancients.  But like Seneca’s spy, I shall dip into the other camp to see how things are done.  I will report back.

Fun divergence: Four theologians meme


There’s a trend going around social media, that so far I’ve seen restricted only to Christian posters, that seemed like a fun divergence.  The premise of the meme is to post pictures of four theologians who have shaped your worldview.  I thought I’d try my hand at it.  Stoicism is at its core, like most ancient philosophies a religious philosophy.  It is not possible in my opinion to discuss it properly if you’ve excised that component.  That doesn’t mean that you must adopt the view of the ancients wholesale, but if you do, you will be missing an integral piece.

That being said, I tried to narrow down which of the classical Stoics and modern philosophers most informed my outlook.  I did not include Musonius, for his bent (or what we have of it) is more practical.  He does touch of some cosmological points, but not to the extent of his student, Epictetus, who decidedly made my list.

Heraclitus is the foundation of Stoic theology in my opinion.  The Fragments of his work speak to me in a less analytical and more emotional way that is a needed component for me.  The Weeping Philosopher then, also makes my list.

Skipping ahead a few thousand years, I’ve included Pierre Hadot, who more than any other modern writer reframed ancient philosophy for me, and made it much less foreign to my way of thinking.  I also included Thomas Merton, whose quiet, devotional work dovetails nicely with my own inclination of philosophical practice, even if outside my immediate belief system.

If I had another spot in this meme, I’d include Alfred North Whitehead.  I’m more and more inclined to the ideas of panpsychism which I think is an excellent way of parsing the axiom that “the cosmos is both rational and providential.”

Please share your list of four theologians who have shaped your worldview, and why.  I’m interested in seeing what sorts of things help build this big tent of ours.