Category Archives: Science

Epictetus was right: modern cognitive science supports the Stoics’ conception of emotions

AnxiousThere is a new book out on the neuroscience of emotions, Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety, by Joseph LeDoux, to which modern Stoics should probably pay attention. The following commentary is based on a review of the book by Simon Wolfe Taylor in The Nation.

LeDoux is a leading neuroscientist, who did his doctoral work under the supervision of the pioneering Michael Gazzaniga at Stony Brook University (where I was a faculty in the Ecology & Evolution Department for five years), and he has been interested in nonconscious processing of information by the brain for a long time (he wrote a highly successful book on the so-called fear center, the amygdala, entitled The Emotional Brain).

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Stoic natural philosophy

Stoic FireFascinating chapter by Michael J. White on Stoic natural philosophy (“physics”) in the Cambridge Companion to the Stoics. As is well known, the Stoics thought that natural philosophy (we’d call it science today, though their version included also what we would term metaphysics) is relevant to ethics, because if one is to “live according to nature” one better form the best possible understanding of what nature consists of.

As White puts it: “the common contemporary assumption that it is both possible and desirable to undertake a ‘value-neutral’ investigation of nature is quite foreign to Stoic thought. … the Stoics themes of the unity and cohesion of the cosmos and of an all-encompassing divine reason controlling the cosmos are of fundamental importance to Stoic physics.”

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