The Stoic egg

Massimo Pigliucci in Scientia Salon:

ScreenHunter_876 Nov. 20 16.37The annual Stoic Week is approaching [1], so it seems like a good time to return to my ongoing exploration of Stoicism as a philosophy of life. I have been practicing Stoicism since 4 October 2014 [2], and so far so good. I have been able to be more mindful about what I do at any particular moment in my day — with consequences ranging from much less time spent on electronic gadgets to more focused sessions at the gym; I have exercised self-control in terms of my eating habits, as well as with my emotional reactions to situations that would have normally been irritating, or even generating anger; and I feel generally better prepared for the day ahead after my morning meditation.

I have also spent some time reading Stoic texts, ancient and modern (indeed, I will probably offer a course on Stoicism “then and now” at City College in the Fall of ’15. Anyone interested?). Which in turn has led to an interest in exploring ways to update Stoicism to modern times not only in terms of its practice (where it’s already doing pretty well), but also its general theory, as far as it is reasonable to do so.

Now, before proceeding down the latter path, a couple of obvious caveats. First off, as a reader of my previous essay on this topic here at Scientia Salon [3] pointedly asked, why bother trying to develop a unified philosophical system? Isn’t life just too complicated for that sort of thing? To which my response is that any person inclined to reflect on his life strives for a (more or less) coherent view of the world, one that makes sense to him and that he can use to make decisions on how to live. One may not label such philosophy explicitly, or even think of it as a “philosophy” at all, but I’m pretty sure the reader in question has views about the nature of reality, the human condition, ethics, and so forth, and that he thinks that these views are not mutually contradictory, or at the least not too stridently so. In other words, he has, over the years, developed a philosophical system. Indeed, I would go so far as saying that even not particularly reflective people navigate life by way of what could be termed their folk philosophical system, whatever it happens to be. Why, then, not try to develop one more explicitly and carefully? And if so, Stoicism happens to be a good starting point, though by far not the only one (I have in the past played with Epicureanism, and also — in the specific realm of moral philosophy — with virtue ethics; other non religious people have adopted secular humanism, of course, or even secularized versions of Buddhism [4]).

Second caveat: beware of changing and re-interpreting things so much that what you are left with has little to do with anything that can reasonably be called Stoicism.

More here.