The Stoic spectrum and the thorny issue of preferred indifferents

One of the things I truly enjoy about Stoicism is its alleged “paradoxes.” Cicero wrote a whole book to explain them, and they still puzzle people when they first (and second, and third) encounter them. It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think that the Stoics perversely enjoyed to present their doctrines in the form of short phrases that would appear puzzling, and which therefore invited further discussion and clarification — thus avoiding the reduction of their philosophy to a “bumper sticker” version. If you wanted to understand Stoicism, you needed to slow down and wrap your mind around it, no shortcuts allowed.

Continue reading

The three topoi and the three disciplines

Zeno & Epictetus
Zeno & Epictetus

Two of the first things anyone interested in Stoicism learns are the distinctions among the three topoi (i.e., logic, physics, and ethics) and the three disciplines (i.e., desire, action, and assent). One may even learn that the two sets were not, so far as we know, explicitly connected in ancient times, but that Pierre Hadot has made an excellent case for a specific pattern of relationship between them (and the four virtues), in his excellent Philosophy as a Way of Life.

In this post I’d like to revisit the issue and clarify why Zeno, who originated the tri-partition among the topoi, taught them in a specific sequence, as well as way Epictetus, who is thought to have explicitly introduced the three disciplines (though they were arguably implied in earlier Stoicism) thought that one of them had clear precedence over the others.

Continue reading

Greek Buddha, part II

BuddhaLet me conclude my brief commentary of Christopher I. Beckwith’s intriguing (and controversial, see also here) Greek Buddha: Pyrrho’s Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia, following up on yesterday’s post on the alleged relationship between Buddhism and Pyrrhonism (and, indirectly, other Hellenistic philosophies, including Stoicism).

We are now going to tackle the phenomenon of the Greek Enlightenment, to which Beckwith devotes chapter 4 of his book, and which he provocatively subtitles “what the Buddha, Pyrrho, and Hume argued against.” (On David Hume and his take on both Pyrrhonian skepticism and Stoicism, see here.)

Continue reading

Greek Buddha, part I

Greek BuddhaI often say that Stoicism is the Western equivalent of Buddhism, since there are many similarities between the two philosophies, based on what little I have read about Buddhism, and what I am told by friends and colleagues who know much more about it than I do. But could it be that some of these similarities are not the result of convergent cultural evolution, but rather of direct historical influence? It is not a crazy idea, given that we know that the Greeks came into extensive contact with Indian culture at the least in the time of Alexander the Great, and likely significantly earlier.

It is thus with more than a little curiosity that I tackled the reading of Christopher I. Beckwith’s intriguing Greek Buddha: Pyrrho’s Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia.

Continue reading

Musonius’ sayings

Musonius
Musonius

We have just taken a look at Musonius Rufus’ Lectures, as newly translated by Cynthia King (with preface by Bill Irvine). It is then time to turn to the collection of short Sayings that are part of the same book to further our picture of an influential Stoic and teacher of Epictetus.

The Sayings are essentially aphorisms, not the sort of comprehensive essays that we have seen in the Lectures, but they are nonetheless useful to improve our understanding of Musonius and his Stoic worldview.

Continue reading

From ancient to modern Stoicism — part II

keep calmAs part of my ongoing exploration of Stoicism — of which this blog is essentially my public diary — I have been keen on thinking about what a modern Stoicism might look like. After all, the ancient version ceased being a live philosophy abut 18 centuries ago, and much has happened in both philosophy and science in the meantime. An update is long overdue (one such was attempted, and enjoyed a brief period of interest, during the Renaissance.)

In part I of this essay I presented three possible major 21st century improvements on ancient Stoicism, derived chiefly from the work of Bill Irvine and of Larry Becker, regarding the dichotomy of control, virtue, and nature. In this second and last part I wish to explore three more major issues: how to think of emotions, the question of preferred indifferents, and the Logos as universal rational principle.

Continue reading