That the difference between virtue and vice is non-gradational.


One of the difficult positions in Stoic philosophy for new students is the idea that there are no successive steps between virtue and vice.  This means that we prokoptontes are not in any better state than the layman.  Vice is vice, 100%.  Virtue is virtue, 100%.  There is no material benefit to being “part way” between the two, and it may not even be possible to be part way between them.drowning

To take some liberties with Plutarch’s example, a man who drowns in the bath tub is no less drowned than the man who drowns fifty feet below the surface in the sea.  Both are the same amount of dead.  In this way, the amount of failing which constitutes our own vicious intent is no less severe.  All vices are equal to the Stoic philosopher.

This flies in the face of the common conception, but it’s important to remember here, that we’re talking about our own internal thought-models for aligning our moral intent with the universal perspective.  We’re not discussing laws, courts, and organizations.  We’re not saying what this person’s or that person’s punishment should be for an act prohibited by the civil law.  No, indeed we are only discussing our own internal state, the universal perspective, and the inclination towards virtuous intent.

With that in mind, the fact that our little failings are just as severe per se as our large ones is easier to grok.  The drowning analogy, again.  We’re just as drowned in the tub as the sea.  This means that there is a sense of urgency in our practice.  While we might, and others might see in us, progress as we practice, we’re still drowning.

The Sage is not drowning.  Her perspective is aligned with the universe, with God (as it were).  The Sage is free from the little failings of intent.  While she is by no means omniscient, her moral will is a sharp and incisive tool, and her disinterest in the common, worldly baggage allows her to share the divine perspective.

It is this state, this alignment which Stoic philosophers are practicing towards, and this is the light which calls us from the depths, whether we’re drowning in the tub or the sea.

The Philosopher’s Cloak, (MK-II)


This entry is a continuation of the previous:  The Philosopher’s Cloak.

““Socrates, I supposed that philosophy must add to one’s store of happiness. But the fruits you have reaped from philosophy are apparently very different. For example, you are living a life that would drive even a slave to desert his master. Your meat and drink are of the poorest: the cloak you wear is not only a poor thing, but is never changed summer or winter; and you never wear shoes or tunic.” ”

— Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.6.2

The philosopher’s cloak (pallium, or tribōn/τρίβωνcontinues to be of interest to me.  Since the writing of the first iteration of The Philosopher’s Cloak, I’ve done some more reading and some practical experimentation.  My core questions at the end of the last post (SPOILER ALERT!) was whether for a modern philosopher (specifically a Stoic) should a philosophical uniform be adopted, and if so, should it cause one stand out, or blend in

A version of a uniform which blends in might be like Steve Job’s outfit, of a black shirt and jeans.  He could, and did, wear this almost anywhere, and most folks unless they saw him often wouldn’t be aware of the intentionality of his practice.steve_jobs

This is what’s often called a capsule wardrobe, a term I learned from The Cynic TubCast co-host Telma Larman.  Telma sent me this link, to a site which argues for a capsule wardrobe of 33 total items.  Now, the motivations for Steve Jobs, and for many of the minimalist folks overlap in a part, but not in total, to those of a philosopher.  But, frankly, we’re not concerned about their motivations here, we’re concerned about our own, to which we will return shortly.

A person’s clothing is by definition an indifferent in Stoicism, no question.  But we as prokoptontes are training ourselves towards virtue:  we’re “making progress.”  We do this, in part, by manipulating externals/indifferents, and organizing our lives in a way which is conducive to the study and acquisition of virtue, whereby we seek to attain eudaimonia.  I don’t think any of the previous two sentences is overly controversial, but I do want to draw attention to, and explicitly state that,

“we [train for virtue], in part, by manipulating externals/indifferents.”

The philosopher’s cloak is argued for several times in Classical texts.  This tells me a few things.

1)  The tribōn was not common enough to escape notice.
2)  The wearing of the tribōn was distasteful enough that arguments had to be made to convince others to adopt it.
3)  The tribōn carried culturally dependent messages to those who viewed it.
4)  The tribōn carried specific messages to the wearers of it.
5)  The tribōn carries some (likely a different) message to modern viewers.

Tertullian was one who discarded the toga (a symbol of affluence, power, luxury, and wealth), in favor of the humble tribōn, and he explains his reasons in the above linked piece.  The philosopher’s cloak, then, is a symbol of poverty, and also of severity of manners.  In many ways, then, it bears striking similarities to the dress of monks, ascetics, holy men, and others of many traditions the world over.

It seems to me, then, that the tribōn had “negative social capital” at the time of the Classical Stoics.  It was a poor person’s last resort to modesty and protection.  It was the sign of those who were living in a very different way from the wider culture.  It made one stand out.  If we look at Buddhist monks, and the reasoning behind their wearing of the kasaya,we see a striking similarity in intention.  To take something of low social standing, to take something of minimum protection, to take the minimum required for modesty, and make use of it for more noble purposes.Portrait_statue_of_an_old_man_wearing_a_himation

It is a funny twist that now that we are approximately 2,500 years removed from those reasons, that they carry a very different message.  Monks are respected, and their robes are treated and reacted to as such by the laity.  We westerners dress up our near-modern figures in the tribōn as symbols of wisdom, democracy, and intellectual authority.  How interesting that these symbols of poverty and privation have instead become symbols of the highest human aspirations to reason and spiritual progress.

I mentioned my experiment in the opening of this piece, and as of the writing, I have been wearing a philosophical uniform daily for about six weeks.  I have learned some interesting things even in that short time.  My current chosen uniform is a sand-colored cotton shirt, woven, and in the Indian style often called a kurta.  It is collarless, has a few buttons to allow the head to pass through, and very little adorning.  It’s a very simple garment.  I wear either jeans or shorts (depending on work or at leisure), and sandals.

At first, when I thought about wearing my uniform, I thought people would notice, since it stands out just a little (but not much).  I even had a (vicious) impression that such attention might not be all bad:  a bit of rebel vanity, as it were.  No one mentioned it.  Some folks looked, and I suspect some of my co-workers noticed, but it was not a problem.  Those feelings passed quickly, and after two or three weeks, a new thing arose.

One day, I was getting ready for work, and I grabbed my uniform automatically, on auto-pilot as it were.  And I thought to myself, “Man, I’d really like to wear something else today.”  Ah ha!  The regular sort of vanity was cropping up.  While no one ever mentioned my uniform to me, it did occasionally garner me some sideways glances.  Now, the attention was a little uncomfortable.  I didn’t like it.  I wanted to be looked at a certain way, but not this one.

I was treating an indifferent, social feedback, as a good.  I desired it.

In realizing this, I pulled on my uniform and went to work per the usual.  At this point, wearing the uniform became (occasionally) an act of self-discipline.  My short-lived infatuation with it had passed, and it had become a spiritual exercise (read:  the original intent of it).

Which brings me to final point:  I’m sold on the idea of a philosophical uniform, and I think the somewhat negative social feedback is actually a useful tool whereby such exercise and progress is made.

The purpose of the tribōn was to provide minimal protection, adopt simplicity, and meet the expectations of modesty.

“Modesty is about a person, male or female, choosing to foster an inner spirit of humility and dignity, and communicating that in outward, culturally contextualized symbols of dress and behavior.’

Toward a New Understanding of Modesty

While my current uniform half-way blends in:  I suspect there is some benefit to the classical garment.  The tribōn at the time was not a privileged garment, we today value it solely in art.  I suspect a person who adopted the tribōn  as his or her daily dress would be in a similar position of a classical philosopher.  If I could get away with wearing one, I would give it a shot.

Since the wearing of the tribōn is not a divine obligation:  it’s no sin for a Stoic not to wear one, I do not think we’re obliged to wear the actual article that Musonius, Epictetus, et al praise so highly.  We should be able to re-locate the message and the intent of the tribōn into a modern context, however.

How we do that is up for discussion, but I’ve come to a position that I’m willing to firmly state:

I think there is a value in Stoics and Stoic students devising and agreeing upon a philosophical uniform for daily wear: and they should wear it.

It would need to be motivated to several points:
– It needs to culturally relevant to west, (i.e. one shouldn’t expect to be fired for wearing it).
– It needs to meet the minimum protection from the weather.
– It needs to meet the minimum protection for modesty for both men and women. (we might choose two styles)
– It needs to be inexpensive, and either acquirable (or able to be made) in most western countries.
– It should be simple, and set the wearer apart as a Stoic philosopher.

I’d like to open up the discussion for what should be (a voluntary) uniform of the Stoic Philosopher.
What say you?

The Rule of Musonius: A Rule of Life for the Stoic Prokopton


The Rule of Musonius is a Rule of Life, a foundational principle which can be used by the Stoic προκόπτων to help train so he or she can regulate their life conformably to nature.  The Rule is made up of two parts:  The Seven Precepts, and Three Τόποι; ten parts which form both sides of the training of a philosopher.  Musonius notes that there are two kinds of training, the training of body and soul together, and of soul alone.  The Precepts and Τόποι cover these, respectively.

The Seven Precepts of Musonius

If you accomplπροish something good with hard work, the labor passes quickly, but the good endures; if you do something shameful in pursuit of pleasure, the pleasure passes quickly, but the shame endures.”

— Musonius, Fragment 51

  1. To speak plainly, and true.

    We take it upon ourselves to speak truly, in the spirit of παρρησία, and with virtue in mind in the spirit of Musonius’ Lecture I in regards to speech.   [Read more…]

  2. To prefer practice to theory alone.

    We take it upon ourselves to practice what we learn, for it is the stronger of the two. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lectures V and Lecture VI in regards to practice.    [Read more…]

  3. To eat no animal-flesh, with moderation and simply.

    We take it upon ourselves to eat no animal-flesh, but those things produced by animals are acceptable.  We take it upon ourselves to eat for health, with self-control (σωφροσύνη), and according to our nature. We take it upon ourselves to train to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lectures XVIII A and XVIII B in regards to food and drink.     [Read more…]

  4. To dress simply, for protection of the body, and without vanity.

    We take it upon ourselves to dress for the minimum protection of the body and for modesty, and not for fancy fashions or mere proclivity. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture XIX and Lecture XX in regards to clothing, furnishings, and coverings.     [Read more…]

  5. To cut not the beard, and the hair only to remove what is useless.

    We men take it upon ourselves to leave the beard, nature’s symbol of the male as it is formed by Nature. All of the προκόπτωντες take it upon ourselves to only cut the other hair as necessity and utility may demand, not for fashion nor to appear beautiful in the eyes of others. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture XXI in regards to the cutting of hair.      [Read more…]

  6. To strengthen the body and soul through cold and heat, thirst and hunger, scarcity of food and hardness of bed, and abstaining from pleasure and enduing pain.

    We take it upon ourselves to experience austerity, that we might become more wise, more just, more temperate, and more courageous. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture VI and Lecture VII in regards to training and austerities.     [Read more…]

  7. To use sex only for virtuous purposes, and within the confines of fidelity.

    We take it upon ourselves to use our sexual faculties with kindness and virtue. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture XII, Lectures XIII A and XIII B, Lecture XIV, and Lecture XV in regards to family life.     [Read more…]


The Three Τόποι of Epictetus

“There are three areas of study, in which a person who is going to be good and noble must be trained. That concerning desires and aversions, so that he may never fail to get what he desires nor fall into what he would avoid. That concerning the impulse to act and not to act, and, in general, appropriate behaviour; so that he may act in an orderly manner and after due consideration, and not carelessly. The third is concerned with freedom from deception and hasty judgement, and, in general, whatever is connected with assent.”

— Epictetus, Discourses 3.2.1–2.

  1. The Discipline of Assent.
    We study and exercise ourselves in the Discipline of Assent that we may keep our προαίρεσις in a state conformable to nature.

  2. The Discipline of Desire.

    We study and exercise ourselves in the Discipline of Desire and Aversions that we may be desirous of true goods, averse to true evils, and not be caught up in apparent goods and evils.

  3. The Discipline of Action.

    We study and exercise ourselves in the Discipline of Action and Inaction that we may fulfill our duties by undertaking action with justice, self-discipline, courage, and practical wisdom; and that we may also through inaction avoid every mean and vicious thing.




Additional Reading:  The Lectures and Fragments of Musonius Rufus.

Did Stoics Meditate?


We have a few hints and suggestions for what might have passed for meditation in classical Stoicism.
Most of these come down as words from the Koine (Greek), and a little from Latin.

Melete, (Μελέτη):  The Muse of Meditation.
Premeditatio: Premeditation (e.g.:  Premediatio Malorum).
Askesis, (ἄσκησις):  Training.
Pneuma, (πνεῦμα):  Breath, (often used by the Stoics as Spirit).
Psyche, (ψυχή):  Breath of Life, Soul, Spirit.

Epictetus advises us many times to maintain a tranquil mind, a mind impenetrable to outside causes.  Marcus engages in several visualization and mind-calming exercises.  We have the Delphic Injunction to “Know Thyself.”  In looking at the above list of vocabulary words, we see a lot of similarity in other School’s meditation vocabulary, specifically from the Indian subcontinent.

There has been some speculation that the “gymnosophistai” which Alexander came across in his travels were either Jains or early Buddhists.  We have ended up with a bottle-necking of Stoic sources, and there are references and terms to things which suggest some sort of meditation practice.

Musonius also discusses two types of trainings for the philosopher, those which train the body, and those which train the mind/soul.  He doesn’t enumerate nor elaborate on these, but the hints from Epictetus and Musonius suggest to me something akin to meditation.

Whether this is sitting meditation as most folks understand it, or more intellectual exercise is up for debate.  Lately, I’ve been learning Vipassana mediation as a support for my Stoic practice.  At the danger of sounding like an eclectic, I think that there is a high degree of possibility for this helping my practice.

This, and following the Rule of Musonius (a set of seven rules extracted from his Lectures and Sayings), I think I’ve found an interesting vehicle for practice.  I’ll be publishing the seven rules in the next few weeks, and, Fate permitting, the full e-book not too long thereafter.

I discussed this issue in an Ask A Stoic video, as well: