Fun divergence: Four theologians meme

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There’s a trend going around social media, that so far I’ve seen restricted only to Christian posters, that seemed like a fun divergence.  The premise of the meme is to post pictures of four theologians who have shaped your worldview.  I thought I’d try my hand at it.  Stoicism is at its core, like most ancient philosophies a religious philosophy.  It is not possible in my opinion to discuss it properly if you’ve excised that component.  That doesn’t mean that you must adopt the view of the ancients wholesale, but if you do, you will be missing an integral piece.

That being said, I tried to narrow down which of the classical Stoics and modern philosophers most informed my outlook.  I did not include Musonius, for his bent (or what we have of it) is more practical.  He does touch of some cosmological points, but not to the extent of his student, Epictetus, who decidedly made my list.

Heraclitus is the foundation of Stoic theology in my opinion.  The Fragments of his work speak to me in a less analytical and more emotional way that is a needed component for me.  The Weeping Philosopher then, also makes my list.

Skipping ahead a few thousand years, I’ve included Pierre Hadot, who more than any other modern writer reframed ancient philosophy for me, and made it much less foreign to my way of thinking.  I also included Thomas Merton, whose quiet, devotional work dovetails nicely with my own inclination of philosophical practice, even if outside my immediate belief system.

If I had another spot in this meme, I’d include Alfred North Whitehead.  I’m more and more inclined to the ideas of panpsychism which I think is an excellent way of parsing the axiom that “the cosmos is both rational and providential.”

Please share your list of four theologians who have shaped your worldview, and why.  I’m interested in seeing what sorts of things help build this big tent of ours.

Philosophy amidst the panic

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“It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened!
How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering?
You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so, look forward meanwhile to better things.”

— Seneca, Letter 13


I’ve been holding off writing about this topic, but today I decided it was time to set fingers to keyboard.  Not because I have some revelation to share with you, but because I need to work through this linguistically.  I need to think about it, rationally.  I need to frame it appropriately to my nature, and I need the therapeutics which philosophy brings.  Like many folks, I’ve been experiencing some anxiety due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.  I have ameliorated that somewhat, and I’ll tell you how.

I realized I was checking in on the stats almost hourly.  That might be a slight exaggeration, but it was at least a handful of times per day.  I’m an analytical sort, and I like and work with data.  So at first, I didn’t notice anything wrong with this behavior.  However, in retrospect, I see it was a sort of compulsive behavior that wasn’t very helpful to me.

So the first thing that I did was reduce my information intake to once daily or less.  I also restricted the amount of public official video I was watching:  all of them for my country and state, to reading a short review of each of one to be generally apprised.  I also (maybe unfairly) outsourced some of my information consumption to others who were not so affected:  I asked them to give me short summaries when something interesting crossed their transom.

I noticed an immediate reduction in stress.

That being said, the situation is materially quite severe.  While I myself am not in the highest-risk demographic, many others are.  I’ve reframed my “social distancing” and “stay at home” behaviors as a function of my social roles, and also a way of extending Hierocles’ circles of affinity.  I have also set plans to re-start my meditation practice, with some limited success, but I’m working on it.

Epictetus is very right when he says:

“When you relax your attention for a little, do not imagine that you will recover it wherever you wish, but bear this well in mind, that your error of to-day must of necessity put you in a worse position for other occasions.”

— Epictetus, Discourses 4:12.

Re-starting a philosophical practice of any sort is difficult.  It is comforting, even if we’ve drifted away from our progress, to remember that the promises of philosophy are always there, and it is never too late to take up the old cloak and bag.

MMRP: Book III, Chapters 8-11

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We have two topics again today, one is on the nature of life and perception, and the other on the work of our ruling faculty with a touch of Providence.  I’m going to only focus on one of these today: the ἡγεμονικόν or προαίρεσις.

But first, a seeming diversion which in fact gets us to the point.  One of the great treasures of the modern Stoicism movement is Franco Scalenghe.  Franco runs Epitteto.com.  In addition to a new, modern translation of all of Epictetus works (an immense undertaking) which he offers to the reader without cost (!), he has written five dialogues. These are dialogues in the classical, philosophical sense.

Image result for Socratic dialogIn these, one of the things discussed is some new work in the field of Epictetus.  We have many folks working on Stoicism, and a few novel inventions, but this seems to me to be the most in line with the classical texts while making some valuable movement in it.  Franco breaks down the ruling faculty of the mind into three functions, or judges:  The Diairesis, the Antidiairesis, and the Counterdiairesis.  Franco does an excellent job translating into English, and he has chosen to leave a handful of words in the Greek which may cause confusion in translation.  Do not get hung up in the new terminology, the Dialogue makes it clear what’s being discussed.  This brings us to the meat of the issue: the ruling faculty, or prohairesis.

Without stealing Franco’s thunder, or misrepresenting anything: the tasks of the various judges are to identify what is up to us and not up to us and to formulate projects in either case.  It is the purview of the Diaresis to discriminate between what’s up to us and not, and to formulate projects that are entire up to us in the Epictetan sense; and the Antidiaresis’ is to formulate projects in the other case (i.e. externals) based on the judgement of the former one.  When the prohairesis refuses or deludes itself into believing that something which is up to us in fact isn’t, this obfuscation is called Counterdiairesis.  An additional trouble arises because Counterdiairesis can also give orders to the Antidiairesis, and thus we forumlate projects incorrectly and are twarted.

If all of that is a bit much, it is merely a one paragraph survey of about 40 pages of Dialogue, but if this idea interests you, I would point you to Franco’s site where you can read the dialogues in several languages, as well as his other works.  Franco’s categorization is a very good model for how our ruling faculty works, in my opinion.  The added benefit as I see it to the standard formulation is that it gives us three places to look for errors in judgment.  We can play a “what if” game, and find out where things may have gone wrong, and maybe then we can fix them.  The Dichotomy of Control gives us a powerful tool, but it can often be difficult to identify in which category a given impression or project is rightfully placed.  The incorrect solution to this problem is the Trichotomy, but Franco’s model offers (to my mind) the better option.Image result for three judges

Marcus notes a few points which tie into this:  the first being that our ability to form opinions is paramount (this is a work of the Diairesis in the above framework), and by it alone can you avoid committing errors by making plans contrary to the nature of things (a project ordered by Counterdiaresis).

Franco and Epictetus agree that the prohairesis is the closes thing to a “self” which can be identified, the judge that sits and rules inside the mind/soul.  This three-part model is an interesting one, and I recommend it to your study.

After you’ve spent some time with Franco’s Dialogues (and I do suggest more than a cursory reading, there is a lot there to ruminate on), I’d be interested in your thoughts and if you think this is a model you would adopt for your own way of thinking about prohairesis and the hegemonikon.

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This post is part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Marcus’Meditations.

Currently Reading: Ethical Roles in Epictetus (B.E. Johnson)

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Ethical Roles in Epictetus
by Brian Earl Johnson
In: Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy 16 (2):287-316 (2012)

Abstract

Epictetus holds that agents can determine what is appropriate relative to their roles in life. There has been only piecemeal work on this subject. Moreover, current scholarship on Epictetus’s role theory often employs Cicero’s narrow and highly schematic role theory as a template for reconstructing Epictetus’s theory. I argue against that approach and show that Epictetus’s theory is more open-ended and is best presented as a set of criteria that agents must reflect upon in order to discover their many roles: their capacities, their social relations, their wishes, and even divine signs. Epictetus in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy.

ISBN(s) 1085-1968
DOI 10.5840/epoche20121628


This is an interesting read, but it’s behind a paywall, so no link.
Check your local university or inter-library loan for a copy.

Thesis: Spiritual Exercises in Epictetus – Difficult but Justified

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This got posted in one of the larger Facebook groups last week.  I’ve been listening to it in the car on my daily commute the past few days and found it to be well worth the time.
The author discusses several problems in interpretation of spiritual exercises in a Philosophy descended from Socrates, where virtue is a kind of knowledge, and knowledge is sufficient for virtue.  I found the arguments compelling.

Also, the author addresses three spiritual exercises, the Three Disciplines of Epictetus, and distils and describes them well.

https://curve.carleton.ca/5522dbc5-785b-4ab3-a873-4e6297c59068

Thoughts for a Εὐδαίμων New Year:

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“How long, then, will you delay to demand of yourself the noblest improvements, and in no instance to transgress the judgments of reason? You have received the philosophic principles with which you ought to be conversant; and you have been conversant with them. For what other master, then, do you wait as an excuse for this delay in self-reformation? You are no longer a boy, but a grown man. If, therefore, you will be negligent and slothful, and always add procrastination to procrastination, purpose to purpose, and fix day after day in which you will attend to yourself, you will insensibly continue to accomplish nothing, and, living and dying, remain of vulgar mind. This instant, then, think yourself worthy of living as a man grown up and a proficient. Let whatever appears to be the best, be to you an inviolable law. And if any instance of pain or pleasure, glory or disgrace, be set before you, remember that now is the combat, now the Olympiad comes on, nor can it be put off; and that by one failure and defeat honor may be lost – or won. Thus Socrates became perfect, improving himself by everything, following reason alone. And though you are not yet a Socrates, you ought, however, to live as one seeking to be a Socrates.”

— Epictetus, Enchirdion 51.