Stoic philosophy and the art of motorcycle maintenance


Today, I rode past a church which had on its sign “The one who makes you angry controls you.” Motorcycle riding offers a unique sort of period for contemplation, and this was excellent fodder for my ride.

I think that what the church meant was that we should not surrender our freedom to others, but I took a different, Stoic message from it.

The one who makes us angry controls us, by which we could mean our ruling faculty, our reason controls us and has the ability to make a judgement of being harmed which can result in anger.

Instead of worrying over whether our neighbor controls our actions, we should firmly look to controllong ourselves, since it is by means of a judgement that we are made angry… or not.

Voluntary austerity


So, in the vein of voluntary exposure to those things which we might not classify as indifferents, I was scheduled at work for 8 hours on, 8 hours off, then 12 hours on.  I have a 45-minute commute each day each direction.

I was scheduled to work from 2pm to 10pm, then to be back at work again in uniform, armed, and ready to go by 6am.  If I travel home (I live and work in two different cities) , I don’t get much sleep.  So, I was going to sleep at work, on a cot, in a back room. However, I was informed that for some reason (which was kind of made up) that I shouldn’t do that.  Not wanting to deal with the hassle, I decided to make the best of it.

So, I slept in my car in the parking lot.  This allowed me to sleep in until 0530 instead of getting up at 0430. It saved me travel time, and I got to bed about 45 minutes earlier than I would had I gone home.  All in all, turning what would have been about four hours’ sleep into darn near seven hours.

My knees and back aren’t thanking me much, this new vehicle isn’t nearly as comfortable to sleep in as my last one, but I now know that if I need to, I certainly can sleep there.  I also ate the same food for four straight meals, focused more on the fuel of the body than the preference for the tastes.

So, working my way through a 12-hr shift after the end of a 70-hour work week, I’m in better spirits than I might have first thought.

On philosophy and philology


Our modern conception of virtue is predicated on the Greco-Roman period of antiquity, but we find ourselves in an interesting position in relating to the vocabulary that we use to talk about these ideas. There are two main versions of the four cardinal virtues of which I am aware. They are “Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice” and “Temperance, Courage, Prudence, and Justice.” These translations are interesting, and I’ll discuss them each in turn.

Temperance: σωφροσύνη (sōphrosynē): In English, temperance is generally understood to mean “moderation” esp. in the case of alcohol, but more truly in respect to all the passions or emotions. It is “the middle path.” However, in the Greek, sōphrosynē means something different. When translated to Latin, the word they used was ‘decorum,’ which the Romans graciously passed to us via the Normans in 1066 when they concurred England.

A better English translation would be “fittingness,” meaning that state of a critter fitted and suited to it appropriate functions in its particular context. When meeting your spouse’s boss, extra politeness would be fitting. When celebrating a birthday, the consumption of a moderate amount of alcohol would be fitting. When reprimanding a child in your care, a certain amount of firmness tempered by mercy and concern for his or her well-being is fitting.

Fortitude/Courage: ἀνδρεία (andreia): Fortitude and courage are related, but not directly interchangeable. Taking aside the social construction of gender, the Greek word here better translates as “manliness.” Courage can relate to physical and also to moral courage, the same can be said of fortitude. The difference here tends to be one of the school of thought of the translators and philosophers, but it is interesting to note what each much have thought “manliness” most entailed.

Prudence: φρόνησις (phronēsis): also comes to us from the Latin, prudentia. Meaning, in the native Greek wisdom, but having added to it knowledge. Not a whole lot of issues here.

Justice: δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosynē): sometimes Justice, Fairness, and in Christian traditions, often piety or righteousness. Not much of an issue here.

Consider also, that the word Virtue is often translated from the Greek arete (ἀρετή), when a better translation might be something like “excellence” or “a thing functioning according to its truest nature.”

Whenever we are dealing with such important ideas as morality and ethics, we often detach from them the conception that they are informed by and shaped by us, ourselves. The conception of virtue is appropriate for a certain people, of a certain time, in a certain place, speaking and thinking in a certain way. Just food for thought.

Be well, and be excellent.