In “Cicero on Living a Stoic Life,” John Sellars explains Cicero’s view that there are four dimensions to who you are: common human nature, your own character traits, the circumstances in which you find yourself, and the career you choose. “So, how to live a Stoic life? The top priority remains a life in harmony with Nature/reason/virtue. Then there are the chance circumstances in which we find ourselves, out of our control and ultimately laid down by Nature too. But also central in Cicero’s account is the idea that we remain true to our own individual natures, to who we are. Thus self-knowledge becomes vital for a life in harmony with nature. Once we feel secure that we know who we are, what our strengths and weaknesses are, where we fit in the world, then the only decision to be made is how best to remain true to ourselves in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.” And all of this raises challenging questions about how much is up to you and how much just happens to you.
Would-be Stoics can begin by relaxing their upper lips. Massimo Pigliucci describes how he recently became a Stoic, how he practices a number of standard Stoic exercises daily, and how Stoicism might or might not fit in with his scientific and philosophical beliefs. “For my part, I’ve recently become a Stoic. I do not mean that I have started keeping a stiff upper lip and suppressing my emotions. As much as I love the ‘Star Trek’ character of Mr. Spock (which Gene Roddenberry actually modeled after his — mistaken — understanding of Stoicism), those are two of a number of misconceptions about what it means to be a Stoic. In reality, practicing Stoicism is not really that different from, say, practicing Buddhism (or even certain forms of modern Christianity): it is a mix of reflecting on theoretical precepts, reading inspirational texts, and engaging in meditation, mindfulness, and the like. … In the end … Stoicism is simply another path some people can try out in order to develop a more or less coherent view of the world, of who they are, and of how they fit in the broader scheme of things. The need for this sort of insight seems to be universal.”
Philosophies such as Stoicism and Epircureanism promise that you can render yourself invulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But in “Against Invulnerability” Todd May asks whether we really want to be invulnerable. “But for those who choose to remain vulnerable, life is not and cannot be undergone as anything other than a fraught trajectory, one hedged about by an inescapable contingency, and one that is likely to leave scars alongside its joys. And for most of us, most of the time, we would not want it to be any other way.”
According to Lary Wallace, Stoicism is eminently understandable but is grotesquely misunderstood. It’s misunderstood even by great philosophers like Nietzsche. It’s typically thought to be about remaining impassive. But in fact Stoicism promises “lasting transcendence and imperturbable tranquility.” It’s one of the best mind hacks ever.
Stoic Week 2014 is an online and international event taking place from Monday, November 24, to Sunday, November 30. This is its third year. Anyone can participate by following the daily instructions in the Stoic Week 2014 Handbook. You can follow the Stoic practices of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus, for seven days, and discuss your experience other participants. “The aims of the course are to introduce the philosophy so that you can see how it might be useful in your own life and to measure its potential therapeutic effectiveness.”
What can philosophy do for warriors? Very interesting interview with Nancy Sherman about philosophy and the military profession … with special attention to the blessings and curses of Stoicism.
How Stoicism saved burnt out ad-man Jeremy Scott when he was up to his eyeballs in debt. “The wisdom of the Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius in his masterpiece Meditations is as effective in dealing with the problems of today as it was 1,800 years ago.”
“Live Like a Stoic Week is happening for the second year. It will be taking place from November 25 to December 1. Everyone who is interested in Stoicism, or who practices it today, is encouraged to take part, get involved in an event or activity, and help spread the word.” Stoicism may be just what you need for Thanksgiving week.