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A Conundrum?

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  • Daniel
    I was thinking about Stoicism and some other things recently, and I ve come across an interesting conundrum that probably points to some failure of
    Message 1 of 47 , Oct 1, 2008
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      I was thinking about Stoicism and some other things recently, and I've come across an interesting conundrum that probably points to some failure of understanding on my part rather than a conundrum inherent in Stoicism. You help is much appreciated...


      1) CONTROL & PAST CHOICES

      First, I was dwelling on some things I have done in the past and experiencing aggravation that I hadn't made as wise and good of choices as I should have. Then I tried to remind myself to focus on what I can control.

      As I have said here before, it is not merely our choices that are in our control - but only those choices we are making right now in the present. We also will have the opportunity to make choices in the future. However, choices that I made in the past (even a second ago) are now in the past and out of my control. For all practical purposes, they may as well be considered the same as the choices made a decade ago, the choices of other people, or even the natural events happening on Mars. All of these things are equally in that category of "things not in my control". Therefore, while it is helpful to examine past choices as well as the choices of others for possible lessons about current and future choices, it is pointless to fret over that which I cannot control - including my past choices.

      This all seemed highly in line with stoicism, and perhaps even a pinch of Buddhism with the notion that all we have is "right now". It has worked to alleviate my aggravation at past failures. But then I thought about the following...


      2) A CONTENTED LIFE WITHOUT REGRET

      I have read that eudaimonia is a flourishing life that includes 'contentment'. That the wise and virtuous person aims to make choices such that he will have no regrets and this will provide that contentment. Professor Michael Sugrue of Princeton University, in a lecture* on Marcus Aurelius said that "...Marcus Aurelius intends to live a life in which he will not have to feel guilty about anything."


      THE CONUNDRUM:

      If the wise person does not receive distress from the things he cannot control, and if that includes past actions, then that alone should be enough to provide contentment. HOWEVER, why then should it make a difference to our contentment that we make wise/virtuous decision or whether we make unwise/vicious ones?  When we look back over that collection of past choices, and we lump them into that which is out of our control, then all of them are equally Indifferent.

      If, on the one hand, we say that our past choices *do* effect our contentment, then we will be able to make the argument that it matters whether or not we make wise/virtuous choices. BUT, we will not be able to then say that we shouldn't fret over our past actions which are now out of our control.

      But if, on the other hand, we say that our past choices are now out of our control and should not cause us distress, this will go a long way toward providing contentment, and be consistent with the general stoic view on those things outside of our control. BUT, we will then not be able to say that it matters to a contented life whether we make virtuous or vicious choices.

      How should this conundrum between concepts #1 and #2 above be resolved?

      Thanks :)
      Daniel


      NOTES:

      * The lecture to which I am referring is in a video I have referenced to on my website at humanistcontemplative.blogspot.com. The following is from Part 2, time 4:53 to 5:42. Note especially the last sentence...

      "[Marcus Aurellius] is not afraid of being dead, he's not afraid of being in pain, he's not afraid of having people laugh at him, he's only afraid of doing what's wrong. He's only afraid of making chaos of his soul. Why? Because his soul is the only thing he's completely in control of. It's the only thing he's responsible for, and the rest of it is a matter of indifference to him. He'll certainly try and perform his function as emperor in the best way he possibly can. But there are Germans at the border and should they succeed in winning this war, he did the best he could, he has no reason to feel guilty, he has no reason to feel that this is a difficulty. If for some reason he gets sick, well, sickness is part of human life. You accept it as it is, you deal with it the best you can, and then you move on. In other words, Marcus Aurelius intends to live a life in which he will not have to feel guilty about anything."

    • Daniel
      Keith, Thanks so much for this! Indeed this aidôs seems to be the right fit for what I had described in AP, and provide that sense of shame which several of
      Message 47 of 47 , Nov 5, 2008
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        Keith,

        Thanks so much for this! Indeed this aidôs seems to be the right fit
        for what I had described in AP, and provide that sense of shame which
        several of us have discussed. It was my ignorance of this concept
        which lead to my original conundrum. However, I wouldn't have known to
        ask about aidôs without describing it, and that description came after
        the input from all those who participated on this thread - thanks to
        you all for helping to further my understanding yet again :)

        -Daniel



        --- In stoics@yahoogroups.com, Keith Seddon <K.H.S@...> wrote:
        >
        > Hello Daniel,
        >
        > [Palatino Linotype font must be installed for the Greek to appear
        properly.]
        >
        > The Appropriate Passion (AP) you identify appears to be what Epictetus
        > calls /aidôs/, self-respect, sense of shame, modesty, or something like
        > that. Here is a chart of how Epictetus' translators have translated it.
        >
        >
        >
        > Here is my brief definition with references to Epictetus from my
        book on
        > Epictetus:
        >
        > */aidêmôn/* 'self-respecting', of someone who possesses /aidôs/,
        > self-respect, honour, a sense of modesty, or a sense of shame; for
        > Epictetus, a key characteristic of the /prokoptôn's prohairesis/.
        > Our /aidôs/ is our own, and cannot be taken away, nor its use
        > prevented (/Discourses/ 1.25.4). See also /pistos/. [See
        > /Discourses/ 1.3.4, 1.16.7, 2.1.11, 2.2.4, 2.8.23, 2.10.15/18,
        > 2.20.32, 2.22.20/30, 3.7.27, 3.17.5, 3.18.6, 3.22.15, 4.1.106,
        > 4.2.8, 4.3.1--2/7--9, 4.4.6, 4.5.21--2, 4.8.33, 4.9.6/9/11, 4.12.6,
        > 4.13.19--20; /Handbook/ 33.15, 40; /Fragment/ 14; for /aidêmôn
        > /together with /pistos/ see /Discourses/ 1.4.18--20, 1.25.4,
        > 1.28.20--1/23, 2.4.2, 2.8.23, 2.10.22--3/29, 2.22.20/30, 3.3.9--10,
        > 3.7.36, 3.13.3, 3.14.13, 3.17.3, 3.23.18, 4.1.161, 4.3.7, 4.9.17,
        > 4.13.13/15; /Handbook/ 24.3--5.]
        >
        > A. A. Long, in his /Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life/
        > (Oxford University Press 2002, pages 222--9), translates both /aidôs/
        > and /pistis/ by the term 'integrity'. Long writes on page 223:
        >
        > /Aidôs/ is what Achilles lacks when he drags Hector's corpse around
        > the tomb of Patroclus, and it is what inhibits Phaedra from
        > revealing her adulterous passion for Hippolytus. Person's motivated
        > by /aidôs/ may simply be inhibited from by fear of social
        > disapproval or by concern to maintain their reputation, but /aidôs/
        > can also signify self-respect and the internalized respect for moral
        > norms that we call conscience.
        >
        > ????? appears to be one of the good emotions, arising from the
        virtue of
        > ??????????. This from Rachana Kamtekar, 1998. ????? in Epictetus.
        > /Classical Philology/ 93--2: 136--60:
        >
        > I will argue that in Epictetus, ????? is a type of judgement of
        > appropriateness that guides the actions and reactions of the Stoic
        > in training and enables her to make progress. According to Epictetus
        > our capacity for ????? is a natural and distinctively human capacity
        > for self-evaluation, manifested in attitudes such as shame and
        > self-respect (136).
        >
        > According to a report in Stobaeus, the Stoics regard ?????????? as a
        > virtue, a species of ????????? (temperance). A Stoic virtue is a
        > disposition of the soul's ?????????? (commanding faculty), brought
        > about by or identical with reason, and consistent, firm, and
        > unchangeable: in short, knowledge (LS 61B; see LS 61A). ... Diogenes
        > Laertius tells us that the Stoics consider ????? to be a kind of
        > ???????? (good emotion), one of the rational and calm qualities that
        > replace the ???? (passions) in the virtuous person. Just as joy
        > replaces pleasure, ???????? (watchfulness), a rational avoidance of
        > bad things, replaces fear. ????? is one species of watchfulness (DL
        > 7.116). Similarly, Andronicus reports that the Stoics classify ?????
        > among the good emotions and define it as ???????? ????? ?????
        > (watchfulness about right censure). Combining these three reports,
        > we may infer that the good emotion ?????, which is a rational
        > avoidance of justified censure, is informed and undergirded by the
        > virtue ??????????, the knowledge of what justified censure is and
        > the stable disposition to avoid it (137--8).
        >
        > DL 7.116 (my translation):
        >
        > There are also three good dispositions of the soul; joy, caution,
        > and wish. And joy they say is the opposite of pleasure, since it is
        > a rational elation of the mind; so caution is the opposite of fear,
        > being a rational avoidance of anything, for the wise man will never
        > be afraid, but he will act with caution; and wish they define as the
        > opposite of desire, since it is a rational desire. As therefore some
        > things fall under the class of the primary passions, in the same
        > manner do some things fall under the class of the primary good
        > dispositions. And accordingly, just as certain subordinate passions
        > are classed under the primary passions, so also are there certain
        > good states subordinated under the primary good emotions. Thus,
        > under wishing are classed benevolence, kindliness, friendliness,
        > affection; and under the heading of caution are *respect [?????]*
        > and piety; under the heading of joy we speak of delight,
        > cheerfulness, and contentedness.
        >
        >
        > Regards,
        >
        > Keith
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        > Daniel wrote:
        > > Grant, Jan, Gich, and Keith:
        > >
        > > I still eagerly await your response to my proposed solution to the
        > > conundrum about which I originally asked - actually I suspect it may
        > > simply be a different way to word what Jan may have meant, but until I
        > > hear from Jan I won't know for certain. In any case, in my re-wording
        > > I found this concept of the AP was necessary for it all to be
        > > consistent so I'd like to hear your thoughts on that.
        > >
        > > I'd also appreciate hearing from anyone else on this list, but these
        > > are the people who have previously commented in the thread and whose
        > > inputs have helped form the proposed solution, which is why I mention
        > > them by name.
        > >
        > > For the sake of convenience, I have posted the original conundrum
        > > below, followed by my proposed solution. If you already know the
        > > conundrum, please feel free to skip to the solution (the important
        > > part)...
        > >
        > >
        > > ORIGINAL CONUNDRUM:
        > > =======================
        > > If the wise person does not receive distress from the things he cannot
        > > control (including past actions) that should be enough to provide
        > > contentment. HOWEVER, why then should it make a difference to our
        > > contentment that we make wise/virtuous decisions or whether we make
        > > unwise/vicious ones? We seem to have to options:
        > >
        > > (A) We can say our past choices *do* affect our contentment. BUT, we
        > > will not be able to then say that we shouldn't fret over our past
        > > actions which are now out of our control.
        > >
        > > -OR-
        > >
        > > (B) We can say that our past choices are now out of our control and
        > > should not cause us distress. BUT, we will then not be able to say
        > > that it matters to a contented life whether we make virtuous or
        > > vicious choices.
        > >
        > > ===========================
        > >
        > >
        > > PROPOSED SOLUTION:
        > > =========================
        > > First, there *IS* a negative passion that is stoically appropriate
        > > (for now, let us call is "AP" for Appropriate Passion). This type of
        > > passion is appropriate when it is based on the CORRECT judgment that
        > > vicious choices give us TRUE HARM - and when it results from only that
        > > which is CURRENTLY in our control. I will not call this negative
        > > passion "pathos" because it is not stoically inappropriate and not a
        > > sign if mental illness in the stoic sense. I will also not call it
        > > "distress" because that is the formal label in Jan's chart which is a
        > > pathos and 'bad feeling' not stoically appropriate, which we feel when
        > > we make the FALSE judgment that we have received evil and have
        > > actually only received an Indifferent. Whether this passion can be
        > > called "guilt" I am open to considering.
        > >
        > > HOWEVER, it is not the vicious action ITSELF that should cause the
        > > stoic learner AP. Rather, it is that the vicious action is *evidence*
        > > that we CURRENTLY have the KIND OF CHARACTER that we would produce
        > > such an action. Even though the action has passed, the knowledge of
        > > this about our character has not - it is a PERSISTENT and ONGOING FACT
        > > about our character. Therefore, the negative passion we feel as a
        > > result of this is appropriate and similarly ONGOING. I have described
        > > AP as the natural result of a vicious character and the ongoing state
        > > that is associated with a LACK of eudaimonia.
        > >
        > > AS SUCH, that passion should abate in correlation to the gradual
        > > shifting of our character as our character improves (assuming it
        > > does), because this changes the persistent condition. Eventually, we
        > > leave behind this AP because we are no longer that person, and the
        > > fact that we have the "kind of character that would do that vicious
        > > act" is no longer true. At that point it would be inappropriate to
        > > continue to experience the negative passion. It would instead be the
        > > result of a false judgment, and an example of the pathos of distress.
        > >
        > > In any case, it will ALWAYS be true that ANY passion over the ACTION
        > > ITSELF will be pathos and a sign of false judgment - even a
        > > MICROSECOND after its occurrence. At no time is passion over a past
        > > event, choice, or action appropriate - because it is out of our
        > > control (an Indifferent) and therefore such a passion would be pathos.
        > > ===================================
        > >
        > > This solution provides shows the harm of vicious choices while at the
        > > same time providing a rationale and mechanism for redemption through
        > > the role of character.
        > >
        > > My main questions are:
        > > 1) Is this solution consistent with stoic literature and if not, what
        > > was their solution?
        > > 2) Does something like this AP concept exist in the stoic literature?
        > >
        > > Thanks,
        > > -Daniel
        > >
        > >
        > >
        > > ------------------------------------
        > >
        > > Yahoo! Groups Links
        > >
        > >
        > >
        > >
        > >
        >
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