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

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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

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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

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“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

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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.

Philosophy amidst the panic

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“It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened!
How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering?
You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so, look forward meanwhile to better things.”

— Seneca, Letter 13


I’ve been holding off writing about this topic, but today I decided it was time to set fingers to keyboard.  Not because I have some revelation to share with you, but because I need to work through this linguistically.  I need to think about it, rationally.  I need to frame it appropriately to my nature, and I need the therapeutics which philosophy brings.  Like many folks, I’ve been experiencing some anxiety due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.  I have ameliorated that somewhat, and I’ll tell you how.

I realized I was checking in on the stats almost hourly.  That might be a slight exaggeration, but it was at least a handful of times per day.  I’m an analytical sort, and I like and work with data.  So at first, I didn’t notice anything wrong with this behavior.  However, in retrospect, I see it was a sort of compulsive behavior that wasn’t very helpful to me.

So the first thing that I did was reduce my information intake to once daily or less.  I also restricted the amount of public official video I was watching:  all of them for my country and state, to reading a short review of each of one to be generally apprised.  I also (maybe unfairly) outsourced some of my information consumption to others who were not so affected:  I asked them to give me short summaries when something interesting crossed their transom.

I noticed an immediate reduction in stress.

That being said, the situation is materially quite severe.  While I myself am not in the highest-risk demographic, many others are.  I’ve reframed my “social distancing” and “stay at home” behaviors as a function of my social roles, and also a way of extending Hierocles’ circles of affinity.  I have also set plans to re-start my meditation practice, with some limited success, but I’m working on it.

Epictetus is very right when he says:

“When you relax your attention for a little, do not imagine that you will recover it wherever you wish, but bear this well in mind, that your error of to-day must of necessity put you in a worse position for other occasions.”

— Epictetus, Discourses 4:12.

Re-starting a philosophical practice of any sort is difficult.  It is comforting, even if we’ve drifted away from our progress, to remember that the promises of philosophy are always there, and it is never too late to take up the old cloak and bag.

Updating a Stoic Week exercise for 2020

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I tend to “fall off the wagon” during Stoic Week some time around Wednesday. I think in part that’s because I forget to print of a monitoring sheet, and it’s a bit of a pain to carry around. I’m doing some Stoic Week practices at the moment to reacquaint myself with our the practical aspects of our School that I have let slip. I still hate carrying around those sheets.

For another project a year ago, I started using a Google Form to keep track of hours spent on business venture. I made the form, organized it, ran it through several drafts, and them placed an icon-shortlink for it on my phone’s main screen. This made it easy to keep track of what I was doing, and easy to use it. I set it up for several people to use, to collect emails, and more.

I decided to do a similar thing for the Stoic Week monitoring sheet, and I’ve run this through several revisions, as well as added a few things. The version shown here is identical to the one I’m using, although this one is just an example so you can recreate it if you want. Feel free to take a look: Here’s the Example Stoic Week Monitoring Form.

I’m going to close this to results sometime soon, so I don’t get inundated with people testing, but I’ll leave it live for a short time if you want to duplicate it. If you decide to duplicate it, please let me know in the comments, as well if it’s helpful to you.