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It would be much more honest to say, ‘See you yesterday.’ For most, it’s what they see.

Stoic Practice in Stoicism


Stoicism did have ‘enlightened’ Stoics.  The goal of a Stoic was to become a Sage. A Sage was someone who sees reality clearly, and is troubled by nothing.  He is thus empowered to impart this knowledge to others, as well as always being able to take the right action.  They did in a sense have monks who engaged in an ongoing process they called “askesis”. A constant ongoing inquiry, and minimizing any activity that isn’t inquiry.

In dialogue with others? Oh yes, the Stoic wasn’t a hermit, neither was the Cynic though people wished they were. The difference between the Stoic and the Cynic were pronounced.

Would it be accurate to say that being a hermit would be counterproductive to either trains of thought? A hermit wouldn’t have contact with others, and thereby would have no opportunity to challenge and be challenged. Yes, that is correct, and is part of why they met in what amounted to a public square. They were people watching.

No meditation at all in the Stoic practice? Actually, a lot of meditation to help clarify thinking, and process a discussion/argument. They tended to meditate on observations and precepts they believed were demonstrations of truth. Ever see the movie Dune or read the book? Their meditative practice was similar to that of the Mentats.

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I think Stoicism is still around in some form? It still is in a denatured and decentralized form. But if someone sought formally to embrace it, it could legitimately be the basis of a revival and not totally off base. But most who would revive Stoicism would reject Stoic spirituality. It would make their truth and reality too mystical. They prefer a dead soulless matter view, and that is not how Stoics saw things, not the originals.

Tainted by the ‘scientific revolution’? Yes, so Stoicism has been corrupted, but it isn’t totally lost to us. Deists tend to be sort of like classic Stoics, but many deists are also to some degree agnostic which is not a Stoic view.

How did Stoicism get tainted by the scientific revolution? I would think they have the same end goal? In Stoicism, God is in the machine, and the universe is alive. In the scientific revolution the universe is a machine, and dead except for what we call life, which may also be little different from the dead. Stoics focused on the whole, and they would call an obsessive focus on heuristic thinking a baseless distraction. Basically a waste of time.

We lost it with our fixation on lateral thinking. That’s true. Perhaps interesting trivia, the Roman Empire was capable of canning food like we do, but they would not can food for the same reason. It was seen as a waste of time. The Romans and Greeks had a solid pragmatic streak. In the case of canning, they could make clay jars cheaply and easily, and seal them just as easily. Whereas metal would be more work and complex to seal. They knew how to do it, but it was just seen as too much of a bother. So many of our supposed advances are really more of a value judgment than anything. The medieval Moors preformed very successful c-sections, and their survival rate for females was by comparison very high.

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You mean we allow or reject based on values? Yes, and the US President Bush actually had to have one of his policies repealed by Obama. Obama actually had to order that the Presidential office adhere to scientific fact. Stem cells and other matters. Much of the ecological issue too, and the issues behind bio-engineering.

It’s interesting to examine what we ‘can’t do’, and see that it may be because of values then any actual limitation.

Your thoughts are welcome. Be well friends.

Travis Saunders
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(Bold, italicized text is input from One World class participants. Thank you!)

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Your Insight on “Stoic Practice”

  1. James

    I applaud you, my brother. Very interesting tack taken in discussion of the early Stoics, and I’m intrigued especially by your involvement of value judgements.

    I think, however, as something of a Stoic and follower of Epictetus, Zeno, Chrysippus, and Aurelius myself, that you skirted around the most pithy of the issues. Stoicism is itself a derivative secondary doctrine, that existed in the world of Plato’s Academy and the Peripatetic school, and not in the true beginning of philosophy that was Elea, that was Parmenides, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, et cetera. So the dichotomy between the lies told by Appearance and the true disclosure of the One, of Being as well as the theme of Man’s freedom as the violent one who wrings from Being its true nature, have gone to seed and become the Stoic conception of askesis, fatalism, and freedom. And truly this concept of falsity and freedom IS the soul of Stoicism; all else is merely its garb.

    It is not he who reviles or strikes you who insults you, but your opinion that these things are insulting.

    We see that we must engage in limitless questioning. We must limitlessly engage every aspect of appearance. If one insults, we must understand what is the nature of his emotion, the nature of his insult. To give an example Epictetus uses, if one kisses one’s wife and daughter, one understands their nature as wife, as daughter, as human beings. And so when they are taken away, one does not despair: such is the nature of human beings. There is no despair in correct understanding. Death may be met like this, as may every duty of life. This gives rise, eventually, to the paradox which is the highest manifestation of Stoic thought: “Only those who know truly that they are not free are free at all.” In Stoicism, we may no more control our station in life, our pleasures and pains, than we may control if we feel hot or cold. Such happenings happen due to the laws of cause. (Chrysippus, the ‘Second Founder’, argues a sort of soft fatalism in which not only is every action fated, but the whole causal chain leading to that action is fated). We may be free of death by not railing against it, not taking arms against a sea of troubles, as it were, but rather by disciplined meditation, contemplation, and endless questioning, we may understand its nature and thus be freed from despair.

    It shares some essential features with Parmenides and Heraclitus and the true path. In a way, one could even say that it shares many of the early Buddhist ideas; at least Dukkha(suffering) and Anicca(impermanence), if not Anatta(no-soul). Not to mention the doctrine of the aggregate body, that we are the acted upon much more so than the actor. Historically, however, Buddhism was soon to be corrupted with exactly the facets of Hinduism it sought to deny, and of course the true path of the early Eleatics was forgotten for thousands of years until Heidegger and Jaspers. Luckily, however, Neoplatonism was chosen over the other Greek styles to dominate in the Western Christian world. I say luckily because that insured that the Stoics, who the Christians have always respected and yet have not followed, were mostly left alone to molder in old cellars of parchment. We are thusly not cursed with a plethora of misguided ideas about the Stoics as we are about the Platonists, Gnostics, and others.

    Anyway. Very good article, sir. I especially enjoyed your foray into a modern manifestation of Stoicism being corrupted by science and empiricism. Bertrand Russell found Stoicism to be a confusion based on a faulty heuristic: we can’t be happy, so let’s just be right instead. He betrays his own failure by this understanding, and the grand failure of Western man, in understanding truth as mere ‘rightness’ or ‘correctness’ and not as the illimitable Truth which washes away the false dichotomies of the clever paradox and the incidental truth of appearance.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write these meager paragraphs; I hope I have refrained from being hopelessly obtuse. To you sir, and any others who may be reading, strength on the journey, and God bless.

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