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Showing posts from December, 2018

What does it mean to be happy?

This is some of the better research in happiness I have read about - but, as usual, there are no philosophers involved which is even more bizarre in this case as the goal of the project is to give a precise definition of happiness. Still, at least they are aware of the cultural differences and some of the inherent ambiguities in thinking about happiness. One problem with this project that is immediately apparent is their category "good mood". The stoics would ask: "Which kind of good mood are you talking about? Gladness, which is a passion and - as such - should be avoided? Or joy, which is the rational feeling we are all striving for whether we know it or not?" buffer

More on the Scope of Wisdom

A widespread caricature of the Stoic idea of wisdom look something like: "Don't waste time on reading, thinking and discussing. Just go out and do the right thing". That's very far from Seneca's conception of wisdom - according to which wisdom requires extensive studies of the laws of life. "Wisdom is a great and extensive thing; it needs space; one must learn about matters divine and human, about the past and future, about transient and eternal matters, about time" - Seneca, Letters 88.33 "the condition of the mind will not be in its best state unless it has understood the laws of life in its entirety" - Seneca, Letters 95.57 

Happiness = living according to nature

An essential part of what makes us happy is seeing ourselves as healthy, natural creatures. We might have different conceptions of what "natural" means but our assessment of our own happiness - as well as our assessment of the happiness of others - is to a very large extent defined by our own definition of "natural". This is why it is so important to understand our place in the universe. "For these reasons it will be useful for us to investigate nature: first, we shall leave behind what is sordid; next, we shall keep our mind, which needs to be elevated and great, separated from the body; next, when our critical faculty has been exercised on hidden matters, it will be no worse at dealing with visible ones. And nothing is more visible than these remedies which are learned in order to counter our wickedness and madness, things we condemn but do not forsake" - Seneca, Naturales quaestiones 3.praef.18 "What will be the benefit?” you ask. The greatest p

Repeat the Basics

This - slightly edited - interpretation of the Japanese Zen concept of “shōshin” which I accidentally stumbled upon on the web is certainly a good approach to Stoicism as well: "shōshin  means “beginner’s mind”. As eager students, we always want to move on, move on. We always look up (forward) to the next thing and want to get there. But the expression “shōshin” teaches us to always return to the foundation. We must always do basics, master the basics, enjoy the basics. We all need lots of repetition" tinart_tong_0810sozan1.html

Making ourselves happy

It's interesting that a lot of people who have experienced great adversity tend to agree with the thought expressed in this quote - whereas a lot of those who claim to fight for the oppressed people of the world tend to get extremely mad when it is suggested that it doesn't really matter that much whether we are rich or poor. "each and every individual is capable of making himself happy. External goods have trivial importance and exert little influence in one direction or the other: the sage is neither carried away by prosperity nor cast down by adversity, for he has always striven to rely to the fullest extent on himself, and to derive all his joy from within himself" - Seneca, Consolation to Helvia, 5.1

The Scope of Wisdom

It's easy to get the impression from Seneca's writings, that wisdom equals practical wisdom - that the goal of wisdom is simply to give us control over our passions and, thus, peace of mind. This is not the case. We can only call us wise when: "We have achieved knowledge of the universe. We know the origins of nature’s development, how it organizes the world, through what changes it restores the year, and how it contains all that will ever be and makes itself its own goal. We know that the stars move by their own force, that nothing besides the earth is stationary, and that the remaining bodies proceed with unceasing speed. We know how the moon overtakes the sun and why, though it is slower, it leaves what is faster behind; we know how the moon receives or loses its light, and the causes that bring on night and restore day" - Seneca, Letters 93.9 For, as Seneca says, "The virtue to which we aspire is marvelous not because freedom from evil is in itself wonder

When is life complete? An ambiguity in Seneca's letter no. 12

"Every day, then, should be treated as though it were bringing up the rear, as though it were the consummation and fulfillment of one’s life." - Seneca, Letters 12.8 " Anyone who has said, “I have done living” rises profitably each morning, having gained one day." - Seneca, Letters 12.9 In my opinion, there's a huge difference between living as if each day is what makes our life complete and living as if each day is an added bonus to a life that was already complete when we woke up. From the first point of view, our life is both not complete when we begin the day and also assumed to be only completed if we live through the entire new day. Since the core mission of Stoicism is to teach us how to be happy always and at any moment, this point of view does not seem to align with Stoicism at all. The second point of view seems to be much healthier and truly Stoic.