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:
- Prohairesis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohairesis
- Impressions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantasiai
- Proto-Passions: https://donaldrobertson.name/tag/proto-passions/
One thought on “An internal dialogue regarding the impressions of anxiety.”
Beautiful reflection, particularly the image of the weather!
I like how you described the uncertainty over how “these could be proto-passions, or they could be impressions incorrectly assented to.” I also have troubles telling those two things apart in my own experience, some of the time.