Did Stoicism Age Well?

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A Pragmatist’s Embrace of Stoicism

Do our thoughts mirror reality?  Or are they just a tool for prediction, problem solving or action?  Well philosophical pragmatists think it’s the latter.  In fact, pragmatists aren’t necessarily interested in whether they think ideas correspond to reality but are specifically interested in whether ideas serve practical purposes in our daily life.  Pragmatism originated from Charles Sanders Peirce and his pragmatic maxim:

“Consider the practical effects of the objects of your conception. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object.”

(Peirce, 1878, p. 132)

Peirce is saying that the meaning of any idea that one has is meaningful if it has some practical effects observed in the world.  William James took the pragmatic maxim and expanded it to concern the truth of our thoughts.  Does Stoicism, as a system of thought, mirror reality?  How about all of Stoicism’s various precepts, like “virtue is the only good”?  Or is Stoicism and it’s individual ethical prescriptions simply part of a narrative that helps people cope in their daily lives with come-what-may?  Stoicism, more specifically its precepts, could mirror reality but there’s no denying that it’s a useful system as a whole. What’s  more is Stoicism is part of a coherent worldview that mutually supports Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  It’s a plus that CBT and Stoicism can mesh well since CBT is a scientific therapy that produces effective and evidence-based results.

Stoicism as a whole is a useful system of thought.  It helps its practitioners view all externals without morally judging them.  This allows Stoic practitioners to free their minds of the common conception that externals are either good or bad.  By regarding externals as ethically neutral, practitioners can focus on intrinsic goals.  Their cognitive resources are freed up significantly from anxiety and anger.

Stoicism is also adaptable because it is willing to update its metaphysics wherever a scientific naturalist framework will take it.  As Marcus Aurelius discussed in the Meditation that he could use Stoic ethics, whether “providence or atoms.” Marcus Aurelius could adjust to these circumstances by continuing to live by the maxim that virtue is the only good.  In fact, somewhat radically Marcus Aurelius suggested that if something comes across his mind that is better than virtue, he’ll follow it (Meditations 3:6), which means the core doctrine of Stoicism is falsifiable.

The Stoic ethic, “virtue is the only good,” not only helps individual practitioners but it is socially helpful.  The pragmatist John Dewey thought that morals boil down to maxims that assist humans in achieving social ends that produce a satisfying life for individuals in society (Field, n.d.).  If John Dewey were alive today, perhaps Modern Stoic philosophers could convince him that Stoicism fits that social role.  After all, if society stressed virtue as the sole good and individuals en masse followed virtue as the sole end, then there should be social effects good for individuals in society.

As discussed above, from the pragmatist perspective, it matters not whether Stoicism and its precepts truly correspond to reality-with-a-capital-R.  All that matters is that it works effectively at achieving important social ends.  It helps if Stoicism coheres with existing worldviews that are also instrumentally good, like CBT.  Stoicism as a system works well for the individual, for society, is adaptable, and is falsifiable.  To pragmatists, it should be quite instrumental.

References

Peirce, C.S. (January 1878). “How To Make Our Ideas Clear.” Popular Science Monthly. 12, 286-302.

Field, R. “John Dewey.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (ISSN 2161-0002). Retrieved from https://www.iep.utm.edu/

5 Reasons Stoicism is Better than Jordan B Peterson

Jordan Peterson is the psychology professor from the University of Toronto who has become something of a celebrity intellectual. Men’s Rights Activists and Alt Righters everywhere are absolutely happy to flock to this guy. He’s popular because he opposed a Canadian law that will supposedly destroy your career as a professor for not using gendered pronouns that go beyond two. Oddly, even though he’s opposed this law, his career is perfectly safe and he benefits greatly for his opposition to this law. Here are 5 Reasons Stoicism Is Greater than Him.

1. Jordan Peterson famously compared human beings to lobsters. As bizarre as this might sound it’s particularly pernicious. Jordan Peterson is saying that human beings have hierarchies like the lobster and that these hierarchies are not artificially created by global capitalism but just the natural order of things. Jordan Peterson is essentially saying that the terrible ways our system is is because we’re just designed that way and it’s not just that we’re designed that way but it’s good. So you should be happy being at the bottom. Stoicism just observes humans the way they are. There have been hierarchies throughout all time but they’re never exactly the same hierarchies. There used to be master-slave hierarchies, feudal hierarchies, and now we have capitalist hierarchies. Nothing is static. The Stoics knew the universe was change. The Stoics also believed everyone ultimately deserved equal status in the world of things. No one was a Sage, so everyone was in the same boat. No one was really any better than anyone else.

2. Jordan Peterson uses the theory of evolution in a way to justify his Jungian archetypal theory. Unfortunately he engages in evolutionary psychology, which most forms of it are pseudoscientific since we have no idea what were in the heads of our distant ancestors. It’s speculation at best, pseudoscience at worst. And Jordan Peterson should know better than to consider Carl Jung an important psychologist. Stoicism is always updating closely with the current science. Stoicism used techniques back in its ancient days that were a lot like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In fact, CBT owes quite a bit of its development to Stoicism, which is pretty much Stoic psychological techniques being tested in the lab.

3. Jordan Peterson may have won that interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News but he can’t win an argument against a Stoic. Why is that? A true Stoic is adept at logic and rhetoric and knows when someone is using rhetoric as opposed to logic. Jordan Peterson is an excellent rhetorician but if challenged by an actual professional philosopher or psychologist like Massimo Pigliucci or Donald Robertson, he’d have to eat his hat. The problem is Jordan Peterson is used to being interviewed by people who don’t have expertise. But how would he do with an expert in his same field or in his crossover field: philosophy?

4. Jordan Peterson Lobster Lobster Jordan Peterson. Stoicism doesn’t use lobsters to justify its philosophy. Any questions?

5. Finally, Jordan Peterson doesn’t calm down his rabid followers. Zeno of Citium is known for reprimanding his followers whenever they became too uncontrollable. Jordan Peterson seems to make a killing out off having a fervent crowd of young pissed off white males. Stoicism has no place for any amount of fervent followers, even if a few.

Image result for Jordan Peterson lobsters

My Stoic Way of Dealing with Alcohol

I’ve never been exactly an alcoholic.  But no one really is.  I mean, it’s really more of a continuum than a simple categorical statement like, “I’m an alcoholic.”  For me, I had a drinking problem but not enough to really interfere too much with my life.  But it was still a concern so here are some things I did to figure out how to deal with this.

1.  Whiskey was too much for me.  So I switched to beer.  You don’t have to completely quit alcohol but you should try to make it more manageable.  Drink beer instead of hard liquor so that your belly fills up faster and you don’t get as inebriated.  This isn’t exactly a Stoic technique but it is rational and it will save you some trouble.

2.  Remember, to drink water between beers.  This helps to make the effects of alcohol even less potent than otherwise.  Drinking water will also fill your belly faster and keep you from drinking as much and as often.  It will also keep you more hydrated and you’ll avoid feeling as much of a hangover in the morning if you have too many beers in one night.

3.  Never drink on an empty stomach.  Also make sure you eat something as well as drink something in between beers.

4.  Now that you’ve done 1-3, you’ve definitely achieved some success; you might be drinking more than a moderate amount but you’re helping your liver a lot more and your liver is thanking you.

5.  If alcohol is still a problem by this point you’re probably still drinking too many beers even though you’re taking water and food breaks in between.  You should probably not be drinking 12 beers in a day, even beers that don’t seem to have much more alcoholic content than water like Budlight.

6.  If you’re drinking too many beers, here’s where the Stoic advice should come in handy.  You’re not drinking too much because of weakness of will, you’re drinking too much because you’re suffering from a lack of wisdom.  You think alcohol is the ultimate good in your life and it can really seem that way because it feels like a shortcut to tranquility.  But really, the best way to tranquility is virtue.  That means you should know what’s truly in your control and not in your control.  Your choices are in your control but whether those choices yield actionable results is not truly in your control.  You should also know that less alcohol means you can do more good for those around you.  If you let alcohol be your only good in life, you’ll forget the true good you can do for others.  Instead of staying home and drinking you can go to your daughter’s soccer game.  That does so much more true good for you and your daughter than sitting at home drinking alone.

7. If you’re drinking too many beers, it could be because you’re avoiding something.  You have social anxiety, you have depression, you might even have generalized anxiety.  If any of these are the case, seek professional help.  Psychological therapy can go a long way to helping you get over your issues, especially when a psychologist is helping you.  You can also practice Stoicism.  All our fears tend to be magnified because of our judgment that externals are bad.  Try to help yourself get rid of the judgment that things external to you are bad and you might find that some of your fears dissipate.

8.  Remember, you’re never a failure if you find yourself running back to the bottle.  Don’t ever hate yourself.  You’re mistakenly covering up for fear or depression by pursuing something you misjudge as a good way to dissolve those fears or depression.  The best way though is through some kind of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy used by a sufficiently trained CBT Ph.D. Psychologist.  And of course supplementing that with a life philosophy like Stoicism.

9.  You are not an alcoholic.  You may have a drinking problem but you are not defined by that problem.  You are simply drinking beyond moderation.  It’s interfering with your desire to pursue virtue.  Don’t let it.  Try to remember your last taste of what it was like to do good and do that thing.  Do the good.  Be the good.  You can be a good person.  But you are not an alcoholic.  You just drink too much.

I hope this helps someone like it did me.