It has often been observed that the way that contemporary Stoics study and quote from our ancient texts is somewhat similar to the way that members of Judeo-Christian faiths relate to their scriptures.
Now, some people are very uncomfortable with this analogy! We live in an enlightened, free-thinking age, after all. We moderns pride ourselves on our non-dogmatic, independent investigation, and we expect any philosophical conversation to flow freely under only the sacred auspices of free speech! The very idea of a “canon” or of “orthodox texts” is itself heterodox to many of us.
However much value we find in the ancient Stoic authors, then, we hasten to qualify our love of philosophical texts: they are not scriptures! we read them for their rational arguments, not their authority! there are many things I disagree with! I’m not even sure I can call myself “a Stoic!” I retain the right to pick and choose!Continue reading “Could Stoics Print a Bible?”
Professor Bill Irvine and I have now completed a debate in Stoicism Today over Stoicism, personal resilience, social justice activism, and what it means for modern Stoicism to be welcoming toward women and minorities.
Whenever any disturbing news is brought to you, you should have this thought ready at hand: that news never relates to anything that lies within the sphere of choice.
—Epictetus, Discourses, 3.18.1.
“The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency,” writes David Remnick in today’s New Yorker cover article, “is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism.” Remnick is, of course, far from alone in his frustration and fear. “I think mostly it’s a heart-breaking identity crisis,” a close family member confided to me from overseas this morning: “this vote tells us ‘You don’t belong here.’ The emotion is like someone close to us has died, it’s that strong. It’s the feeling of our whole country rejecting us.”
“We believe that no man or woman can be moral (or Happy) unless they work tirelessly for the benefit of all humanity. Justice and Benevolence must be a guide to all of our actions.”
I’m not the only one who’s been talking about Stoicism and activism, however. Over the past couple weeks in particular, the Stoic community has seen quite a bit of discussion over what a Stoic relationship to activism and injustice could/should look like.
Greg Sadler, who led a rich conversation on anger and Justice during the last 15 minutes of his Stoicon 2016 workshop on “Struggling with Anger? Useful Stoic Perspectives and Practices,” 15 October, 2016.
Needless to say, the authors of these articles & talks don’t all agree on the specifics of how to put social engagement into practice! I think the conversation itself is much-needed, however.
Some of us are trying to build a dedicated space for taking this conversation further. If you’re interested in the topic of Stoicism and Justice/Benevolence, please join us in our new Facebook group, “Stoics for Justice!”
I have no particular reason for bringing this up today, but it can never hurt to be too clear about this:
Let’s just add Cicero’s glorification of honor killing—complete with stigmatizing rape victims and suggesting that they are better off dead, and that people who kill them are moral heroes of the highest order—to the list of places where I am not just willing, but EAGER to disagree and absolutely repudiate ancient thinking on morality an virtue ethics:
As of mañana I will have completed Level 1 of the Pimsleur Spanish audio course—and I just thought I’d share a few thoughts on how pleased I am with it!
Now, since this is a philosophy blog, let me mention that it’s not hard at all to see learning a language as a Stoic exercise. According to Quintilian, in fact, the ancient Stoics made large contributions to the study of grammar, and were the first Westerners to give names to things like “articles,” “prepositions,” “pronouns,” and “adverbs” (Institutio Oratoria, 1.4).
Those of us who have fallen in love with a canon of ancient texts, moreover, are always tantalized by the far-off possibility of reading them in their original language. Especially dedicated contemporary Stoics, for instance, sometimes take to learning Koine Greek. Personally, I have a few Loeb editions of Cicero, and the Latin facing me on the left-hand side always taunts me! I dream of someday being able to read Seneca and Cicero in the original—especially since I expect to be using them to inform my daily practice for years to come.
On a simpler level, though, becoming a polyglot is just one of those things that pretty much everybody would like to accomplish, but which we rarely find the time or resolve to actually pursue. Like exercising and eating healthy, then, learning a language is one of those aspects of human excellence that we often aspire to, but rarely flourish at (Stoic virtue, anyone?).