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Askesis/austerity

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  • John
    Did the word askesis , which is the root word for ascetic , carry that meaning to the ancient Greek and Romans who practiced Stoic philosophy? Today it
    Message 1 of 9 , Jul 1, 2004
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      Did the word 'askesis', which is the root word for 'ascetic', carry
      that meaning to the ancient Greek and Romans who practiced Stoic
      philosophy? Today it certainly brings to mind austerity and a 'harsh'
      way of life and discipline, but how was it read by the ancients
      themselves? I know that Aurelius for one, when he became a
      philosopher undertook austerities. Is this the result of the
      zealousness of a new convert, or sound doctrine?
      John
    • Jan E Garrett
      The answer is primarily not, at least at the beginning. The mammoth Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon gives as the primary meanings of askesis exercise,
      Message 2 of 9 , Jul 2, 2004
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        The answer is primarily not, at least at the beginning. The mammoth
        Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon gives as the primary meanings of
        askesis "exercise, practicing, training." As philosophy develops the term
        comes to mean "mode of life, profession" as applied to a philosophical
        sect. When it starts to be applied to religious sects, it can connote
        asceticism. The transition is natural enough, when we understand that
        philosophical groups like the Cynics practiced the capacity of living
        without the physical comforts.

        On Fri, 02 Jul 2004 02:54:41 -0000 "John" <jtwatson@...>
        writes:
        > Did the word 'askesis', which is the root word for 'ascetic', carry
        >
        > that meaning to the ancient Greek and Romans who practiced Stoic
        > philosophy? Today it certainly brings to mind austerity and a
        > 'harsh'
        > way of life and discipline, but how was it read by the ancients
        > themselves? I know that Aurelius for one, when he became a
        > philosopher undertook austerities. Is this the result of the
        > zealousness of a new convert, or sound doctrine?
        > John
        >
      • John
        Is it not interesting how word meanings drift and often completely change over time? I have heard a popular song on the radio that employs the line drowning
        Message 3 of 9 , Jul 3, 2004
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          Is it not interesting how word meanings drift and often completely
          change over time? I have heard a popular song on the radio that
          employs the line "drowning in a river of deceit and apathy". The
          speaker uses the state of being deceived, and the state of apathy as
          almost synonymous. To the Stoics, and to many ancients up until
          modern times, these two words would be considered antithetical. The
          delusive state would be a result of pathos, not the lack of pathos. I
          do not blame the singer of course, he is just reflecting the culture
          at large. Included in this line, is the modern idea that one cannot
          think clearly without emotions. If one does not feel emotional
          disturbances, one is 'ill'. In "Introducing Mind & Brain" by Angus
          Gellatly and Oscar Zarate, we read of a man with damage to his limbic
          system. It says that because he has this damage, he 'talks
          rationally, can distinguish what is socially acceptable or not, but
          they do not seem to feel their own emotional assessments at a gut
          level". It continues "Study of such people has made it clear that
          emotions are an important part of normal reasoning and decision-
          making." First I would like to object to the idea that because a
          person with damage to the part of the brain that result in emotions
          cannot make decisions, that a normal person without the damage,
          cannot make decisions. The person with brain damage is not the first
          I would go to when looking for a role-model. They do not consider the
          fact that a person can base decisions on principles, and must not
          rely on `gut feelings'. The book goes on to say "unless the rational
          mind is a divine gift- something over and above our biological
          nature, this will not do. Thought and emotions are both expressions
          of brain activity and must be mutually interdependent as any bodily
          functions." I will the last part for more eloquent commentators than
          I.
        • Papini, Mauricio
          I do not know this book you mention, Gellatly & Zarate, but I assume these are neuroscientists. On this assumption, I would caution you on your interpretation
          Message 4 of 9 , Jul 5, 2004
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            I do not know this book you mention, Gellatly & Zarate, but I assume these are neuroscientists. On this assumption, I would caution you on your interpretation of what they say. When they say: "Thought and emotions are both expressions of brain activity and must be mutually interdependent as any bodily functions," their "must" should probably not be interpreted as a statement of value (i.e., we must keep them separate), but as a description of actual brain functioning. That is, they are probably saying that unless one sees thought and emotion working together, one cannot explain a certain type of data (no idea here what this would be).
             
            They are also probably not thinking of the purposeful disconnection that a person (e.g., a stoic) may develop between thought and emotion, but of the clinical cases in which you have pure thought with little or no emotion (psychopathic personality, schizophrenia) or emotion with little thought (anxiety disorders). Of course, I would object to a strict, black/white dissociation. If emotions require the "approval of the mind", as stated by Seneca, then even a person suffering from an anxiety disorder would be exercising some degree of rationality.
             
            Best,
            Mauricio.
            -----Original Message-----
            From: John [mailto:jtwatson@...]
            Sent: Saturday, July 03, 2004 12:46 PM
            To: stoics@yahoogroups.com
            Subject: [stoics] Re: Askesis/austerity


            Is it not interesting how word meanings drift and often completely
            change over time? I have heard a popular song on the radio that
            employs the line "drowning in a river of deceit and apathy". The
            speaker uses the state of being deceived, and the state of apathy as
            almost synonymous. To the Stoics, and to many ancients up until
            modern times, these two words would be considered antithetical. The
            delusive state would be a result of pathos, not the lack of pathos. I
            do not blame the singer of course, he is just reflecting the culture
            at large. Included in this line, is the modern idea that one cannot
            think clearly without emotions. If one does not feel emotional
            disturbances, one is 'ill'. In "Introducing Mind & Brain" by Angus
            Gellatly and Oscar Zarate, we read of a man with damage to his limbic
            system. It says that because he has this damage, he 'talks
            rationally, can distinguish what is socially acceptable or not, but
            they do not seem to feel their own emotional assessments at a gut
            level". It continues "Study of such people has made it clear that
            emotions are an important part of normal reasoning and decision-
            making."  First I would like to object to the idea that because a
            person with damage to the part of the brain that result in emotions
            cannot make decisions,  that a normal person without the damage,
            cannot make decisions. The person with brain damage is not the first
            I would go to when looking for a role-model. They do not consider the
            fact that a person can base decisions on principles, and must not
            rely on `gut feelings'. The book goes on to say "unless the rational
            mind is a divine gift- something over and above our biological
            nature, this will not do. Thought and emotions are both expressions
            of brain activity and must be mutually interdependent as any bodily
            functions."  I will the last part for more eloquent commentators than
            I.



          • John
            ... disconnection that a person (e.g., a stoic) may develop between thought and emotion, If I understand correctly, this purposeful disconnection is an
            Message 5 of 9 , Jul 5, 2004
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              >>> They are also probably not thinking of the purposeful
              disconnection that a person (e.g., a stoic) may develop between
              thought and emotion,>>>>

              If I understand correctly, this 'purposeful disconnection' is an
              important part of askesis. Epictetus makes much of this, "Semblance,
              wait for me a little while, let me see what you are.." Disc. II 18
              This is a process that should eventually become unnecessary, as the
              opinions that result in disturbances are replaced with knowledge, and
              his emotions are replaced with selections. The Sage, who will never
              have emotions, is to modern psychologists and nueroscientists an
              impossiblity, even the 'purposeful disconnection' would be some sort
              of emotional assessment. This need not affect our (Stoic) pursuit.
              "The mere fact that psychology places limits on what is humanly
              possible does not show, without further arguement, that ethics must
              keep its demands within those limits." Cambridge Companion to The
              Stoics, pg. 257
            • Robert Tyner
              This discussion reminds me of the Buddhist doctrine of non-attachment. It is through judging our perceptions as either good or bad that emotions and
              Message 6 of 9 , Jul 5, 2004
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                This discussion reminds  me of the Buddhist doctrine of non-attachment.  It is through judging our perceptions as either good or bad that emotions and attachments arise.  Because we have attachment to our home, we judge the destruction of it by a tornado as something bad, which leads to emotion and suffering.  The Buddha says to allow perceptions to enter our mind, observing them for what they are, but judge them as neither good nor bad, which keeps our emotions in "the middle ground" and  does not lead to attachement or suffering.  Of course, it is much  easier said than practiced. 
                 
                Robert Tyner
              • Papini, Mauricio
                This may be a good moment to ask you a question I have for you all, and it concerns biological evolution. Evolution comes to mind (to me, at least) when I
                Message 7 of 9 , Jul 5, 2004
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                  This may be a good moment to ask you a question I have for you all, and it concerns biological evolution. Evolution comes to mind (to me, at least) when I think about the reason behind Robert's phrase "much easier said than practiced." Presumably, we find it easier to value externals because natural selection has probably favored many of our ancestors when they acted upon their emotions. For example, think about the protective role of fear or the enhancement of reproductive success by feelings of sexual attraction. A fearless herbivore would not last for too long and a male or female with no libido would probably leave no offspring. This is just the ABC of evolution, a very simplistic application, but clearly relevant to Stoicism, in my opinion. If you want to oppose natural tendencies, you must provide for discipline and training, whether it is dieting, drugs, or becoming capable of controlling your own emotions. My question is how do you feel, as Stoics or from Stoicism, about biological evolution? What relevance do you see in this concept?

                  None of the ancient texts clearly develop the notion of evolution, perhaps with the exception of Lucretius who talks about a process akin to natural selection without developing it. If I am correct, this is a question for a modern Stoic to answer.

                  Best,
                  Mauricio.


                  -----Original Message-----
                  From: Robert Tyner [mailto:robert.tyner2@...]
                  Sent: Mon 7/5/2004 21:38
                  To: stoics@yahoogroups.com
                  Cc:
                  Subject: RE: [stoics] Re: Askesis/austerity




                  This discussion reminds me of the Buddhist doctrine of non-attachment. It is through judging our perceptions as either good or bad that emotions and attachments arise. Because we have attachment to our home, we judge the destruction of it by a tornado as something bad, which leads to emotion and suffering. The Buddha says to allow perceptions to enter our mind, observing them for what they are, but judge them as neither good nor bad, which keeps our emotions in "the middle ground" and does not lead to attachement or suffering. Of course, it is much easier said than practiced.

                  Robert Tyner
                • Malcolm Schosha
                  ... and nueroscientists an impossiblity, even the purposeful disconnection would be some sort of emotional assessment. This need not affect our (Stoic)
                  Message 8 of 9 , Jul 6, 2004
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                    --- In stoics@yahoogroups.com, "John" <jtwatson@n...> wrote:
                    >
                    > The Sage, who will never have emotions, is to modern psychologists
                    and >nueroscientists an impossiblity, even the 'purposeful
                    disconnection' would be some >sort of emotional assessment. This need
                    not affect our (Stoic) pursuit.
                    > "The mere fact that psychology places limits on what is humanly
                    > possible does not show, without further arguement, that ethics must
                    > keep its demands within those limits." Cambridge Companion to The
                    > Stoics, pg. 257

                    ..............

                    In my understanding, Stoic Ethics IS psychology, and seems (to me)
                    particularly compatible with some developments in Existential
                    Psychology.

                    I am not sure that I understand what the quote you give means
                    by "psychology places limits on what is humanly possible...". Exactly
                    which development in psychology is referred to? It seems to me that
                    psychology has a lot to offer contemporary Stoics.

                    By the word "Sage", Stoics do not seem to intend any actual person,
                    but rather what in psychology is called an "Ideal Model". This is an
                    image that is created in the mind that, in our efforts, acts as a
                    model for perfection, but realizing that perfection is an ideal.

                    Malcolm Schosha
                  • John
                    Robert said: This discussion reminds me of the Buddhist doctrine of non-attachment. There was a time when I found many similarities between Buddhism
                    Message 9 of 9 , Jul 6, 2004
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                      Robert said:>>>>This discussion reminds me of the Buddhist doctrine
                      of non-attachment. >>>>

                      There was a time when I found many similarities between Buddhism and
                      Stoic teaching, but the more I learn about the latter of the two, the
                      more I see a difference. One need only look to the first `Noble
                      Truth', the `Truth of suffering'. "What is the Noble Truth of
                      Suffering? Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is
                      suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what
                      one wants is suffering: in short the five categories affected by
                      clinging are suffering". Observe the first four of the suffering
                      statements. These are things that are completely indifferent. To be
                      born is not to suffer, suffering comes from our opinions about birth,
                      likewise with ageing, sickness, separation etc. These things are not
                      bad. Buddhists seek to get `beyond' this world, they believe that
                      reality is delusive and some seem to think that the world is `evil'.
                      These are not opinions the Stoic would hold. Read Epictetus'
                      Discourse, book II, chapter 20. The Stoic exists in society, he is a
                      social animal, he has a house, a family, a job, he cannot spend the
                      rest of his life sitting under a tree. The Buddhist tries to destroy
                      desire, as he believes that desire is the root of all evil. But as
                      Epictetus says, "Even those who have their organs(genitals) cut off
                      cannot rid themselves of desire". The human propensity to desire is
                      completely natural, and anyone who attempts to destroy it does so at
                      his peril. Desire is like steam, it must be channeled, not bottled
                      up, but it must be channeled towards virtue. The virtue in Buddhism
                      seems to be, to be without desire, and this is absurd.
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