Camp Seneca: Day 13 – The Seventh Precept

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“For this is the object always set before him by the wise and good man … Is it to marry? No; but if marriage is allowed to him, in this matter his object is to maintain himself in a condition conformable to nature.”

— Epictetus, Discourses IV.5



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

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.

 

I don’t think is a topic I’ve addressed much.  The other day, I promised an issue which I thought should raise some controversy… but really hasn’t.  So the section from Musonius on which this precept is based states that sexual activity is only acceptable within the confines of marriage and for the purpose of procreation.

You can see that I’ve made a change a here, for “within the confines of fidelity.”  I admit this is a divergence.  There’s a few reason for it.  One is that concept of marriage these days has a controversy surrounding its definition and applicability which I wanted to avoid.  It’s not my intent to exclude anyone from using this system.  Second, I think Musonius may have been a little short-sighted in this position which we took.

Musonius values the institution of family highly, and neglect the bonding and closeness between married persons which is only aided by sexual activity between them seems a glaring omission.  My thought, is that Musonius has actually made an error.  The sexual act is pleasurable, but the Stoic should be able to see its utility beyond the pleasure which occurs with it.

It’s important that he or she does not become a slave to it, but its presence shouldn’t be a reason to turn aside entirely.

For these reasons, I’ve adopted the term fidelity in the precept rather than marriage.

This is something which I expected lots of controversy around, but only ever received maybe one comment towards that end.


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

Camp Seneca: Day 11 – The Sixth Precept

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“Aeschylus at the Isthmian games was watching a boxing-match, and when one of the men was hit the crowd in the theatre burst into a roar. Aeschylus nudged Ion of Chios, and said, “You see what a thing training is; the man who is hit says nothing; it is the spectators who shout.” ”

— Plutarch,  How a Man May Become Aware of His Progress in Virtue.



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

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.

I’ve discussed training at least or twice on the blog.  The core theory is described in this post.  Then, some of the specifics were distilled here.  Finally, the Rule of Musonius was produced from these ideas.

Epictetus gives a warning:

“We ought not to train ourselves in unnatural or extraordinary actions, for in that case we who claim to be philosophers shall be no better than mountebanks. For it is difficult to walk on a tight-rope, and not only difficult but dangerous as well…”

— Epictetus, Discourses III.12.

So we know that we’re not engaging in beds of nails, or emaciated bodies, or damaging the body.  Not all movement is progress, and considering the wide variety of human practices that we have available, we need to pick and choose carefully.

“Since it so happens that the human being is not soul alone, nor body alone, but a kind of synthesis of the two, the person in training must take care of both, the better part, the soul, more zealously; as is fitting, but also of the other, if he shall not be found lacking in any part that constitutes man.”

— Musonius, Lecture VI.

Musonius breaks down the two kinds of training, in the above.  In one of the previous posts I broke that down into:

  • Soul and Body:
    • Designed to instill discipline to both by exposure to:
      • cold and heat
      • thirst and hunger
      • meager rations
      • hard beds
      • avoidance of pleasure
      • patience under suffering (note: not causing suffering)
  • Soul Alone:
    • Designed to build the habit of handling impressions appropriately
      • to have ready to mind the proofs regarding apparent and real goods and evils
      • distinguish between apparent and real goods and evils
      • practice in not avoiding apparent evils
      • practice in not pursuing apparent goods
      • practice in avoiding real evils
      • practice in pursuing real goods.

This precept is geared to the first type, of body and soul together.  Parts of this practice are woven throughout the other precepts, in eating only once per day, we’re experiencing hunger, in dressing modestly and not for fashion we can choose things that allow us to feel the heat or cold.  In controlling our sexual urges and abstaining from alcohol, we’re avoiding pleasures, etc.

“I am inclined to pleasure: in order to train myself I will incline beyond measure in the opposite direction. I am disposed to avoid trouble: I will harden and train my impressions to this end, that my will to avoid may hold aloof from everything of this kind.”

—Epictetus, Discourses III.12

The issue of pleasure is an interesting one.  Since pleasure and pain are classed as indifferents.  We have the story of the Spartan boy who asked if pain were not a good, Musonius references this, .

If then we place these two young men in the position of pupils of a philosopher arguing that death, toil, poverty, and the like are not evils, or again that life, pleasure, wealth, and the like are not goods, do you imagine that both will give heed to the argument in the same fashion, and that one will be persuaded by it in the same degree as the other? Far from it. The one reluctantly and slowly, and fairly pried loose by a thousand arguments, will perhaps in the end give sign of assent—I mean of course the dullard. The other quickly and readily will accept the argument as cogent and relevant to himself, and will not require many proofs nor a fuller treatment. Was not just such a lad that Spartan boy who asked Cleanthes the philosopher if toil was not a good?

— Musonius, Lecture 1.

and it’s also related in Lives VII.5

A Lacedaemonian having declared that toil was a good thing, he was overjoyed and said,

          “Thou art of gentle blood, dear child.”

— Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers VII.5

 

The danger of the doctrine relating to pleasure is that the situation is one in which self-delusion is possible.  “If pleasure is an indifferent,” we might be inclined to say, “then it doesn’t matter if I indulge.”

But indulgence trains the moral will.

And that is the core reason behind this precept.

 


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

Camp Seneca: Day 10 – The Fifth Precept

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“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 fifth of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

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.

I’ve discussed beards before in this post.  Surprisingly to me, the thing in the Rule of Musonius that gets the most criticism is this precept on beards.  Which is strange to me, because there’s a much larger criticism that could be levied that we’ll talk about towards the end of these daily precept posts.

The issue about hair might at first seem to be about vanity, or about culture, or some other issue which we generally class as vicious at worst, or indifferent at best.  So why should this be something the Stoic προκόπτων concerns him- or herself with?  Female προκόπτωντες do not need to worry about the prescription regarding the beard, but the cutting of hair matters to both.  We’ll address each in turn.

Epictetus’ reasoning is that the beard is placed by nature as the symbol of the male, like the rooster’s comb, or lion’s mane, to which Musonius also agrees.  To keep the beard, is κατὰ φύσιν, or in accordance with the nature of things.  For Epictetus, the beard is a matter of piety, so important that he would accept death rather than to go against nature.

“Come now, Epictetus, shave off your beard,”
        If I am a philosopher, I answer, I will not shave it off.

“Then I will have you beheaded,”
        It if will do you any good, behead me.

— Epictetus, Discourses I.2.29

Hair is not burdensome, Musonius tells us, like feathers to a bird unless there is some illness.  To trim or cut the hairs of the head for utility is as in accord with nature as letting it grow, this comes from Zeno, but it shouldn’t be for fashion.

There’s even a section of this lecture where Musonius attacks a specific hairstyle, examples of which can be seen at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

“For they, you know, plait some parts of their hair, some they let fall free, and some they arrange in some other way in order to appear more beautiful.”

If we took a very close look, we might even then restrict ourselves to hair cuts of a single length, either letting it grow, or more a short buzz-cut.  If I’m correct, the statues that Dillon mentions which I’ve included above would be these, but views from the side and back are not available:

Pair of Portrait Busts of Youths and Two Marble Eyes

Pair of Portrait Busts of Youths and Two Marble Eyes, at Getty Museum.

So for the Musonius and Epictetus, they’re clearly of one mind on this issue, the beard and hair is worthy of attention.  It’s important to remember that while these external things are externals, how we handle them is a matter of virtue or vice.

For Epictetus, the beard is a matter of piety, so important that he would accept death rather than to go against nature.

“Come now, Epictetus, shave off your beard,”
        If I am a philosopher, I answer, I will not shave it off.

“Then I will have you beheaded,”
        It if will do you any good, behead me.

— Epictetus, Discourses I.2.29

 


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

Camp Seneca: Day 9 – The Fourth Precept

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“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.

Camp Seneca: Day 8 – The Third Precept

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“[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.

Camp Seneca: Day 4 – The Second Precept

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“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.

Camp Seneca: Day 4- On the First Precept

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“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.