Regret is a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors. It is accompanied by feelings of sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance, or guilt. Recently, Gordon Marino (a philosopher who specializes on Kierkegaard) has written an op-ed in the New York Times in praise of regret. This is going to be my Stoic response to it, where I argue that regret is never a useful reaction to past events.
I am a student of Stoicism, and therefore one of the four virtues I do try to practice is temperance, an aspect of which is self-control (others include knowing when things should be done, propriety of behavior, and a sense of honor; see Matthew Sharpe’s paper on Stoic virtue ethics, table 2.1). I am also a scientist, so I like to keep up with what modern science discovers about the world and see how it applies to Stoicism. Indeed, the Stoics themselves urged to study both “physics” (which included the natural sciences) and “logic” (which included every aspect of good reasoning), because they both inform our ethics (i.e., the way we live our lives).
Justice is one of the fundamental Stoic virtues, together with practical wisdom (or prudence), courage, and temperance. And yet there is rarely talk, in Stoic circles of social justice, in the contemporary sense of the term. This, I will endeavor to argue, should be neither surprising nor problematic, but at the same time I do think that we need to clarify what is a reasonable Stoic take on social justice, which I will also attempt to do here.
You might have heard of positive psychology. It has been all the rage in the media for a while now, especially thanks to the high profile work of its founder, Martin Seligman. Positive psychology (PP, henceforth) focuses on the achievement of a satisfactory life, rather than on illness, on personal growth rather than pathology. But what is the relationship, if any, between Stoicism (ancient and modern) and positive psychology?
As a Stoic, am I committed to some kind of fundamental mind-body dualism? And if so, how on earth can I reconcile that with my understanding, as a scientist, that dualism has become untenable at the least since the second part of the early 20th century, particularly with the publication of Jacques Loeb “The Mechanistic Conception of Life”? (Not to mention earlier sharp criticism by Thomas Henry Huxley, the famous “Darwin’s bulldog.”)
Stoics have a bad reputation when it comes to emotions. But is it deserved? What, exactly, is the connection between Stoic theory and what modern cognitive science tells us about the relationship between emotion and cognition?
These and a number of related questions are taken up by an in-depth treatment of the problem of Stoic emotion in a paper by Larry Becker, published in Stoicism: Traditions and Transformations, edited by Steven K. Strange and Jack Zupko for Cambridge University Press. The paper is well worth a careful read for any serious student of modern Stoicism, but I will attempt to give the gist of it by presenting some of its highlights.
Stoicism is a philosophy, which means a general framework for navigating one’s life. It has a body of theory (e.g., the three disciplines) and a set of practices. Stoicism is just one particular philosophy of life, others include some of its Hellenistic competitors, such as Epicureanism, as well as bodies of ideas coming from outside the Western tradition, especially Buddhism. As Bill Irvine argues in his A Guide to the Stoic Life, the advantages of adopting or developing a more or less coherent philosophy of life is that one has always available a handy reminder of how to interpret things, what to prioritize, and how to behave. Not bad, if you ask me.