Dear Sandy Grant: I’m a Stoic who Marched on Washington

I practice philosophy—and more specifically virtue ethics—as a way of life.  That means that I try and let moral excellence guide every aspect of my life, not just bits and pieces of it.  I don’t do it very well.  I fail frequently, and I might be a hypocrite sometimes.  But I don’t pretend that ethics is a hobby or a side-project: ethics is life, and it has to permeate every moment.  No topic or activity is outside its scope.  Certainly not politics.

A few days ago, philosopher Sandy Grant wrote a piece for Quartz that lambasts Stoicism for being at best politically ineffective, and at worst “an evasion that aims to keep both master and slave in their places.”  Stoicism, to her, is a philosophy of inaction and of suppressing the complaints of the marginalized.

I believe the opposite, of course: Stoicism is a philosophy that emphasizes action above all else, that takes injustice very seriously, and that is (or ought to be) sensitive to the complaints of the oppressed.

The good and evil of a rational, social animal consist in action and not in feeling, so it is not what they feel but what they do, which makes mankind either happy or miserable.

—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.16.

Continue reading “Dear Sandy Grant: I’m a Stoic who Marched on Washington”

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What Board Games Teach us about the Stoic Life

Experienced ball players can also be seen to act in such a way.  None of them is concerned about whether the ball is good or bad, but solely about how to throw and catch it…

Now, Socrates certainly knew how to play ball.

—Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.15,18.

Believe it or not, board games and real life share a great deal in common.  No no, stay with me: just think about it.

In a typical family-oriented strategy game, you have a little bit of choice over how you play (you have to at least try to be clever and competitive) but in the end, the outcome of the game is largely the result of chance.

As a result, even if one player is objectively more skilled than the other on average, it’s anyone’s guess who might win a particular game.  The outcome of the game is only loosely correlated with the player’s strategic skill.

Today, two things happened to me:

  • My part time job gave me a raise (hurrah!).
  • I learned how to play a table-top dice game called Qwixx.

Taken together, these two things drove home a point for me: career events pose very much the same sort of emotional challenge that playing a strategy game does.  Whether we consider a game of pure chance (like gambling) or of almost pure strategy (like chess), there is always a component of a given game that is outside of the player’s control (if only the decisions that other players make).

Continue reading “What Board Games Teach us about the Stoic Life”