Camp Seneca: Day 9 – The Fourth Precept

Standard

“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 I.6.2



The fourth of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

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.

I’ve discussed clothing before, it’s an idea I’ve been chewing on for over a year now, in The Philosopher’s Cloak Mark I  and Mark II.  If you read those two pieces, you’ll see what I think is the core of the practice related to the Fourth Precept.

For Camp Seneca, I’ve restricted myself to a black button-up shirt and jeans as an exercise in minimal protection, and avoiding vanity.  The temperature here is also flirting with three digits in Freedom Units, so there is a bit of practice for toleration of cold/heat as well.


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

SLRP: LXXVIII. The Healing Power Of The Mind (Part 4: 22-29)

Standard

Seneca,

There does seem to be an interesting double-thinking occuring in this article.  It may be that it’s a rhetorical device, but it’s a thing I too have been thinking about lately.  It is true, as you say:

“[T]he thirstier a man is, the more he enjoys a drink; the hungrier he is, the more pleasure he takes in food. Whatever falls to one’s lot after a period of abstinence is welcomed with greater zest.”

This is exactly the Epicurean position, that by abstaining from the fanciest of things, we are able to take pleasure in mere barley cakes and water.  And pleasure, or lack of pain, is the Epicurean goal.

The Stoic twist, then, should be that although there is a body-pleasure, and even its perception may be increased by our training, it is still an indifferent.  It’s important to remember that the increased pleasure should not become the focus of the training.

I wonder, though, if as a stepping stone, that’s an appropriate thought during training.  To be able to hold off now for the future pleasure?  Epictetus gives us a similar trick:

‘If you are struck by the appearance of any promised pleasure, guard yourself against being hurried away by it; but let the affair wait your leisure, and procure yourself some delay. Then bring to your mind both points of time: that in which you will enjoy the pleasure, and that in which you will repent and reproach yourself after you have enjoyed it; and set before you, in opposition to these, how you will be glad and applaud yourself if you abstain.”

—Epictetus, Enchiridion 34

Which bears a similarity to a Fragment of Musonius, explicitly playing of the Epicurean position, it seems.

“If one were to measure what is agreeable by the standard of pleasure, nothing would be pleasanter than self-control; and if one were to measure what is to be avoided by pain, nothing would be more painful than lack of self-control.”

— Musonius, Fragment 24

It seems to me, that this sort of an aid to training, as an intermediary argument for the person just starting in philosophy, considering the practices of philosophy as a pleasure with which the uninstructed person is already attached has a fair broad basis in the text.

At some point, however, that needs to flip, and the προκόπτων must come to the understanding that:

“[A]ny life must seem short to those who measure its length by pleasures which are empty and for that reason unbounded.”

Farewell.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.

Camp Seneca: Day 8 – The Third Precept

Standard

“[T]he rational and the irrational appear such in a different way to different persons, just as the good and the bad, the profitable and the unprofitable. For this reason, particularly, we need discipline, in order to learn how to adapt the preconception of the rational and the irrational to the several things conformably to nature.”

— Epictetus, Discourses I.2



The third of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

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.

On the first day, we discussed food in general.  Musonius devotes a rather long lecture (usually broken into two parts) to food.  The text says its a topic which was often discussed, and that for Musonius the foundation of moderation begins with eating.

For Camp Seneca, I’m interpreting ‘with moderation’ as eating once a day, or sometimes twice if need be.  This is noted in the texts as the frequency with which we are presented with the choices surrounding food.

Eating once a day has gotten much easier since day one, although I did have two meals over the weekend.  Coupled with the vegetarian diet he suggests, I have eaten less than I generally do.  As a result, I’m losing some weight, a little less than 4-lbs last week.

I’m doing my best not to make “Musonius’ vegetarianism” a “pizza, pasta, and rice” diet, and I’m trying to focus on healthier choices.  I’m also trying to avoid “wallowing in the pickles and sauces,” as it were.

I have also been abstaining from alcohol, which is not something explicitly stated in Musonius, but we do have some cautionary tales in Seneca.  As I stated before, the Stoic position on alcohol is not one of complete abstinence, but I’m finding this period useful to me.

I have also cut out caffeine and sugary drinks, excepting an occasional cherry juice for my joints.

So far, the exercise has a been a good one, and the regimen seems like it’s very do-able for a period of time.


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

SLRP: LXXVIII. The Healing Power Of The Mind (Part 3: 15b-21)

Standard

Seneca,

The comparison to athletic training is an apt one, since we often use it to discuss philosophical training.  Sickness seems to present itself as an “earlier than we expected” excericse.  Like the gym or the dojo, we train in the school of philosophy, but our training is meant to be carried out and used in the real world.  We sweat in the gym to avoid bleeding in the street.

Sickness, then, for the new philosopher can seem like a post-graduate exam when we’re really just getting our feet wet in the general curriculum of under-grad.  But it’s not up to us when such challenges are presented.

So let us also win the way to victory in all our struggles, – for the reward is not a garland or a palm or a trumpeter who calls for silence at the proclamation of our names, but rather virtue, steadfastness of soul, and a peace that is won for all time, if fortune has once been utterly vanquished in any combat.

This section stuck out at me when I was in pain.  It was these couple lines that rallied my spirit when instead I was wallowing in self-pity.

Do you think that you are doing nothing if you possess self-control in your illness? You will be showing that a disease can be overcome, or at any rate endured. There is, I assure you, a place for virtue even upon a bed of sickness. It is not only the sword and the battle-line that prove the soul alert and unconquered by fear; a man can display bravery even when wrapped in his bed-clothes.

Thank you for the words.

Farewell.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.

Summer Solistice, 2016

Standard

Today, is either the summer or winter solstice, depending on your hemisphere of choice.  For us in the northern one, it’s the summer solstice.  You might ask, “Uh… so what?  That sounds like some hippie-dippie stuff.”

With a firm lack of general times and markers for practicing Stoics (we ain’t got holidays), the Society of Epictetus has chosen the solstices as times to set aside and for special note.  For the theists among us (for whom SoE might be of interest), it’s a time to ponder nature, God, the cosmos, and our place in it.

Soe_sols.png

Click picture for link to SOE Facebook page.

It also so happens that this year’s Summer Solstice also coincides with a full moon. Something that hasn’t happened since 1948, or so the internet tells me.  Just an interesting aside.

So, as a practicing Stoic:  how do you (if you do) plan to make use of this new tradition of ours?  Time spent out of doors with family?  Let me know in the comments.

Dolly Sods, WV.

CrashCourse: How does this happen?

Standard

If you’ve watched any of the Crash Course (Philosophy) videos, they’re generally pretty good.  Except when they’re clearly not.  Either you have people basically ignorant of the subject matter writing for it, or people ignorant of the subject matter editing it, or both.  How else does this happen?

epic_what

“Ancient Stoic philosopher Epicurus…”

First someone should have said, “Wait… isn’t Epicurus the founder of Epicureanism?”  Then they should have read two Wikipedia articles.  /:

Stoicism.  Epicureanism.

Epicurus was not a Stoic, he was the founder of the Garden… of Epicureanism.  You can tell, you know, because of the spelling.

The physics and theology of the Stoics and Epicureans were diametrically opposed. The disjunction from Marcus Aurelius, “Providence or atoms,” distills it.

They are philosophical rivals:  virtue or pleasure, Providence or atoms, Heraclitus’ monistic physics versus Democritus’s atoms.  At nearly every point (except for relatively austere living) the Stoics and Epicureans are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

If I put out a video that said, “Ancient Confucian philosopher Siddhārtha Gautama…”  I’d probably catch some flak for it, wouldn’t you think?

Come on guys, basic investigation, basic fact-checking, and basic editing.

Camp Seneca: Day 4 – The Second Precept

Standard

“Where then is progress? If any of you, withdrawing himself from externals, turns to his own will to exercise it and to improve it by labour, so as to make it conformable to nature, elevated, free, unrestrained, unimpeded, faithful, modest; and if he has learned that he who desires or avoids the things which are not in his power can neither be  faithful nor free, but of necessity he must change with them and be tossed about with them as in a tempest, and of necessity must subject himself to others who have the power to procure or prevent what he desires or would avoid; finally, when he rises in the morning, if he observes and keeps these rules, bathes as a man of fidelity, eats as a modest man; in like manner, if in every matter that occurs he works out his chief principles as the runner does with reference to running, and the trainer of the voice with reference to the voice- this is the man who truly makes progress, and this is the man who has not traveled in vain.”

— Epictetus, Discourses I.4



The second of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

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 andLecture VI in regards to practice.

If you’ve read more than three posts on this blog, surely you’ve heard me harp on practice at least once. It’s a perrenial topic at mountainstoic. There’s a reason for that. Practice is the hallmark of the philosopher who is “doing” philosophy as a way of life.

Earlier today, I came across a description of ‘philosophy as a way of life’ on the main Wikipedia article for Stoicism, and it had a small parenthetical: (lex divina). Divine law.

This reminded of the quote that we looked at the other day, on our own Rule of Life.

“Whatever principles you put before you, hold fast to them as laws which it will be impious to transgress. But pay no heed to what any one says of you, for this is something beyond your own control.”

— Epictetus, Enchiridion 50.

This speaks to the weight the ancient Stoics put into practice.  We have from Musonius two Lectures which are fouced generally about training (and many ‘on’ training).  Mainly, we’re looking at Lecture V and Lecture VI.  It’s easy to get bogged down in the intellectual side of Stoicism.  The learning curve is steep, it’s jargony, the level of nuance and detail is high.  I’m learning another language as part of that intellectual exercise of our school.

But getting locked into that solely intellectual mode is not good for those of us seeking to “do” philosophy, and not merely to study it.  It’s needed, but we must remind ourselves (or at least I must remind myself) that we need to prefer practice to theory alone.

In addition to Musonius’ two Lectures, we also have Epictetus.  These three, taken together, provide the broad strokes for what Stoic training/practice should look like.  Musonius lays out that we’re training the body and soul, Epictetus gives us the cautious restriction that we must not do extraordinary things.  The kinds of simple moderations we’re looking at may seem extreme, but they are generally very mild, conformable to nature, and not liable to irreparably injure us.  No beds of nails or withered arms here.  Sleeping on pallet or the floor, dressing miminally and modestly, eating a vegetarian diet and moderately are quite good places to start.

That covers the first part, the training of body and soul together, and for the soul alone, we turn to Epictetus’ Three Τόποι.

Together, these things for the groundwork of a foundational Stoic practice, based in the texts, and easily adaptable for the 21st century.


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

SLRP: LXXVIII. The Healing Power Of The Mind (Part 2: 7-15a)

Standard

Seneca,

As I said yesterday, my first real attempt at reading this Letter and putting it into practice was a couple of months ago during my second (but first known to me) gout flare up.

“The reason, however, why the inexperienced are impatient when their bodies suffer is, that they have not accustomed themselves to be contented in spirit. They have been closely associated with the body. Therefore a high-minded and sensible man divorces soul from body, and dwells much with the better or divine part, and only as far as he must with this complaining and frail portion.”

There is a despising of the body present in Epictetus which is not found in earlier Stoic texts.  It’s a pretty serious change to my mind.  Generally, my understanding, is that the ancient perspective was not really of two things mind-body, but a sort of mixing of the two.  Each equally important, but different.  In Epictetus we start to see a shift away from that.  Maybe that’s just him, or maybe it’s trend towards the modern perspective.

Either way, the idea is clearly easier for we moderns to grok, since our society today is firmly Cartesian, even if some scientists argue the mind is no more than an epiphenomenon of networked cells.

“…to fast, to feel thirst and hunger.” These are indeed serious when one first abstains from them. Later the desire dies down, because the appetites themselves which lead to desire are wearied and forsake us; then the stomach becomes petulant, then the food which we craved before becomes hateful. Our very wants die away. But there is no bitterness in doing without that which you have ceased to desire.”

I’m seeing this myself with the appropriately named Camp Seneca.  The first day of one meal a day was mildly difficult, but as the days go on (we’re on Day 5 at the time of this writing), the twinges of the body are less and less as it becomes accustomed to the new regime.

“Pain is slight if opinion has added nothing to it; but if, on the other hand, you begin to encourage yourself and say, “It is nothing, – a trifling matter at most; keep a stout heart and it will soon cease”; then in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion; ambition, luxury, greed, hark back to opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer.”

This where training and preconceptions come into play.  We might have convinced ourselves that we’ve eliminated or changed the way we think about a thing, and then the universe plops into our laps a swelling of the joints so painful the weight of the body itself or a even a sheet seems too much to bear.  Then we get the reality check.

“[E]very one adds much to his own ills, and tells lies to himself.”

Farewell.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.

Camp Seneca: Day 4- On the First Precept

Standard

“Rufus used to say, “If you have time to waste praising me, I am conscious that what I say is worth nothing.” (So far from applause on our part,) he spoke in such a way that each of us sitting there felt that someone had gone to him and told him our faults, so accurately he touched upon our true characters, so effectively he placed each one’s faults before his eyes.”

— Musonius Fragment XLVII



The first of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

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.

In Lecture 1, we get an explanation about why many proofs for problem are unnecessary.  If what we say is true, and the listener is of a reasonable mind, we don’t need to beat the dead horse.  The other portion which lays the groundwork for this precept is an idea contained in several of the Fragments, one of which is:

“One begins to lose his hesitation to do unseemly things when one loses his hesitation to speak of them.”

— Fragment XXVI

 

Here we’re left with the impression that how we use our speech is an indication of our mental state, and indeed, that it can even influence it if we’re not careful.  From these, and other lessons, we understand that how speech is used matters to the practicing philosopher.  We should speak simply then, as Lecture 1 suggests, and we should speak the truth.

Each of the precepts is geared towards a certain mode of life, and an intentional focus in what is often done without clear attention.



This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

Michael Connell: Stoic Comedy

Video

I suppose the way that Stoics try to re-frame their perceptions and experiences of life would certainly seem funny from the outside.  Sometimes, it seems funny from the inside.  Michael has been posting videos of unique blend of comedy and philosophy for quite some time, but this is the longest special posted yet.

Feel free to trundle over to the YouTubes, give him a watch, a like, and a share.  The Stoic message is a powerful one, and new and creative avenues for spreading it are a good thing.

Plus, he’s pretty funny.