​An internal dialogue regarding the impressions of anxiety.



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:

MMRP: Book III, Chapters 8-11


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.

Askesis: Notes on Epictetus’ Educational System


This short excerpt comes from a book titled, “Askesis: Notes on Epictetus’ Educational System,” (Hijmans, B. L.).
It touches on a variety of topics, and this particular bit touches Stoic theology.  I’ve worked through it once “quickly,” it relies heavily on primary sources, often not in translation, with the occasional German, French, and Latin thrown in for good measure.

I’m going to need to sit down and spend some serious time with this before my thoughts are finalized, but initial impressions are high favorable.  The book is exceedingly well-researched.

Now, on to Stoic Theology…

Whenever we discuss the God of the Stoics, Zeus, Providence, or any other word for this concept in Stoicism, there is often an immediate knee-jerk like reaction from many that prompts them to argue against the Abrahamic God.  This short paragraph should lay that particular point to rest, and begin to show how the piety of Epictetus is based in gratitude for reason.  Specifically λόγος ὀρθός, or “right reason,” and the prohairesis.

I’ve been wrangling with the conception of Stoic theology and piety for some time, and I think can begin with gratitude and an appreciation for natural beauty.  I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.