Stoicism, Epictetus Style

[Part of an occasional series of free books based on previously published essays by yours truly. You can find all other free downloads here.]

Epictetus was a first century slave, born in Hierapolis, modern day Pamukkale (Turkey). He eventually became one of the most successful teachers of the Roman Empire, as well as a Stoic philosopher we still read and learn from today, almost two millennia later. This is a collection of essays on various aspects of Epictetus’s philosophy that I think are both of general theoretical interest and have very practical implications. We’ll discuss how to be a Stoic, Epictetus-style; the famous “dichotomy of control,” which Epictetus labeled “the fundamental rule of life”; the three disciplines in which we need to train ourselves to become better human beings; the notion of “role ethics;” Epictetus’s conception of freedom; his attitude toward suicide; and his criticism of other schools, such as the Epicureans and the Academics. (download E-pub here)

Suggested reading: In praise of anxiety

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Tracy Dennis-Tiwary

Nobody likes to feel anxious. Anxiety is among the most pervasive and reviled of human emotions. An entire industry has sprung up to aid us in eradicating it, from self-help books and holistic remedies to pharmaceuticals and cutting-edge cognitive behavioral therapy. Yet we are an ever more profoundly anxious society. Epidemiological studies show that over 100 million people in the U.S. will suffer from an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Rates, especially among the young, have been rising for the past decade. Our efforts to contain anxiety aren’t working. … (continue at The Wall Street Journal)

Paper: Stoic therapy for today’s troubles

by Massimo Pigliucci

[Part of an occasional series presenting academic papers I have published but that may be of general interest. Full list with links here.]

Why would anyone want to resurrect ancient Stoicism as a way to tackle today’s troubles? Isn’t it all about going through life with a stiff upper lip while doing one’s best to suppress emotions? It may have been good for Roman legionnaires, but hardly suitable to the uber-technologic society of the twenty-first century, with its fast-paced life, recurring economic upheavals, and possible environmental catastrophe.

Also, wasn’t Stoicism a man’s thing? After all, the very Latin root of that crucial word, “virtue” [vir] means “man.” And we know that women in ancient Roman and Greek societies were confined to very restrictive roles, not really citizens in any meaningful way of the word. How is that going to square after three waves of feminism, the #metoo (fourth wave) movement, and the increasing, if still painfully slow, undoing of the patriarchy? …

[From: Kelly Arenson (ed.) (2020) “The Routledge Handbook of Hellenistic Philosophy,” Routledge. Read the full paper here.]

Suggested reading: How to change your mind about COVID-19 (or anything else)

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Olga Khazan

In the spring of 2020, as Americans continued to proclaim their excitement for basketball games and parades, an ER doctor named Dylan Smith watched in dismay. Was everyone else ignoring reality? That March, New York City hesitated to close its schools during the city’s first COVID wave. Smith was horrified. A major pandemic was arriving, and softening its blow would require closing schools, which he believed was the best way to protect kids. “There were a lot of suggestions that kids would be these super–carrier vectors,” he says, “where they would come home and they would infect Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa, and they would infect teachers at school.” … (continue at The Atlantic)

Is Stoic virtue “foolish”? Not so fast

Stoicism deserves criticism on a number of fronts, but the Stoic conception of virtue ain’t one of them

by Massimo Pigliucci

I’ve recently quit social media. I’ve consciously, willfully left close to 50,000 followers on Twitter and a few thousands on Facebook. Why? Because, I reckoned, it was the virtuous thing to do. The case against social media and their increasingly pernicious effects on society is increasingly well established on empirical grounds. And as a welcome side effect, I regained some peace of mind and control over my own time.

Am I under the illusion that my quitting those platforms will make any dent in the global situation? Of course not. But since when one has to be assured of having a planetary impact before doing anything? Virtue, as they say, is its own reward.

Which brings me to an article by Douglas Bates provocatively entitled “Stoic ‘virtue’ is delusional,” to which I wish to respond because it raises interesting questions about Stoicism in particular and the broader notion of virtue — common to most of the Hellenistic philosophies — more generally. Besides, I’d rather not be thought of as delusional. … (continue at Medium)

Suggested reading: Why being anti-science is now part of many rural Americans’ identity

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Monica Potts

By September 2021, the scientists and staffers at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission had gathered enough data to know that the trees in its green-tree reservoirs — a type of hardwood wetland ecosystem — were dying. At Hurricane Lake, a wildlife management area of 17,000 acres, the level of severe illness and death in the timber population was up to 42 percent, especially for certain species of oak, according to a 2014 forest-health assessment. The future of another green-tree reservoir, Bayou Meto, more than 33,000 acres, would look the same if they didn’t act quickly. … (continue at FiveThirtyEight)

Cynic satire

So-called Menippean satire was invented by an ancient Cynic philosopher. And it has influenced us for millennia

by Massimo Pigliucci

Menippus of Gadara (modern day Jordan) was a slave. He was also a Cynic philosopher and a satirist. We don’t know much about him, except the fact that he was a Greek, likely of Phoenician descent. When he obtained his freedom he moved to Thebes. Even more unfortunately, all his works have been lost. Which makes Menippus one of the most influential figures of antiquity you probably never heard of. According to the commentator Diogenes Laertius, Menippus wrote books with titles like Necromancy, Letters Artificially Composed as If by the Gods, and The Birth of Epicurus, among others. They were works of satire of a new kind, which is nowadays referred to as Menippean. … (continue at Medium)

Suggested reading: It’s very unlikely anyone will read this in 200 years

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by B.D. McClay

Recently, Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley attracted a lot of derision for tweeting: “People are like, ‘he regards himself as self-important.’ No fucking shit. I would regard myself as an abject failure if people are still not reading my philosophical work in 200 years. I have zero intention of being just another Ivy League professor whose work lasts as long as they are alive.” Stanley deleted the tweets, but, unfortunately for him, they live on. People found his pronouncements very funny because they were indeed self-important, but inevitably, a meta-discourse developed: what was so wrong about this ambition, after all? Shouldn’t we want to create something that will last hundreds if not thousands of years? Don’t we all want to live forever? … (continue at Gawker)