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Lecture 3


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York University
PHIL 1100
Henry Jackman

PHIL 1100 LECTURE NOTES – FALL Week 3 Background to Epictetus: Handbook Stoicism: - Named after the porch (stoa poikile) where the school was founded - Founded by Zeno (335-263 B.C.E.) - Covered all areas of philosophy, including subjects such as psychology, metaphysics, science, logic, and many more - There was a focus on ethics and on how you should life - Can be seen in our current term stoic - Popular with roman aristocracy o Popular with a lot of people especially because you could suddenly find yourself from the top of the ladder to the very bottom because there were quick reversals e.g. new emperors quickly changing o You had a lot of aristocrats who weren’t in the most able position so you had people like: Seneca, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius o In advocacy of the independence of true happiness from the contingencies of life found a receptive ear in the Hellenistic and Roman world where people constantly faced prospect of sudden and drastic reversals of fortune Life and Works of Epictetus - Born around 55 C.E. in Southwestern Turkey, coming to Rome as a slave - Being a slave wasn’t as bad in the Roman world as it was in the US – in that slaves often did important work, had education, and more opportunity to become an improved person - Began to work in Rome as a teacher of Philosophy o Criticism was faced from Emperor, so he abolished all philosophers from Rome, so Epictetus moved to Greece and set up a school in 89 C.E. - Died 135 C.E. o Didn’t publish much himself, the works of Epictetus were mostly put together by a student of his Epictetus & Stoicism - Similar to Plato’s apology where it states “no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.” (by recognizing what is important and what Is not), that is an idea that stoics tried to really develop - Stoicism was as much a practice guide on how one should live one’s life as it was a theoretical description of the nature of the world - It was an austere doctrine that viewed a life of virtue and reason (living “according to nature”) as the proper goal for any human being - There is no sense in which you should sacrifice your own good to promote the good of others - If you recognize what your own good really is (rather than what it merely appears to be), you will see that there is no conflict in promoting your own ends and supporting the common good The Stoic Psychological Insight - Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. (paragraph #5) o E.g. if you are upset that you don’t get something, it’s not necessarily because that thing was good, but it because something you wanted. The badness you’re feeling is from the attitude towards the object, not the object itself. If you hadn’t had that strong desire, then when you were given the alternative, you’d be perfectly fine with it. Your disturbance has to do with how you value these things. The Guiding Stoic Principle - “Remove aversion … from all things that are not in our control…. o If you wanted to avoid something or were worried about something that’s not in your control, then you’re setting up yourself for failure - What you should do is: “for the present, totally suppress desire: for, if you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed” (paragraph #2) o If you desire things out of your control, sooner or later you will not receive this desire, and you will be upset - The basic stoic philosophy is that it is ultimately guided about making your life better - All these ethical systems, like stoicism, which could seem like they’re advocated self-nihilism, they are really just trying to maximize the happiness or well-being of the person themselves o These desires for money, riches, are to be avoided because they are things that are not in our control so it can lead to our disappointment and sadness if we cannot attain these desires What is ‘unimportant’? - “Don’t wish to be a general, or a senator … but to be free; and the only way to do this is a contempt of things not in our own control.” (paragraph 19) o As long as we desire things that aren’t in our control, whether or not we are happy is out of our control, and if happiness is out of our control then we are not really free o Thus, if we are in control of our desires, then we are in control of our happiness, resulting in us feeling free - “if you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies.” (paragraph #3) o There is a strong detachment from spouses and children – you’re going to be happy if you don’t attach yourselves to children and spouses, because if you do, you will be very upset if either of them die, especially back in those days when mortality rate was a lot higher o You’ll never really be free if you attach yourselves in a strong way to other people Philosophers vs. the Vulgar - The vulgar here used in original sense of the everyday people - “a vulgar person… never expects either benefit or hurt from himself, but from externals o They expect good things from other people and they expect bad things from other people, but they don’t think it’s up to them – they try to affect the external world, but It’s up to the external world if they’re satisfied or not o The vulgar person still thinks the good/bad is out of their control - The … philosopher … expects all hurt and benefit form himself” (paragraph #48) o All valuable things are under your own control o The idea of valuing reasoning, inquiry, being virtuous – things that are up to you  Somebody can make you lose a leg, but somebody can’t make a person who is virtuous no longer virtuous o Philosophers view as happiness coming from the internal view - “Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen.” (paragraph #8) o It would make you happy if your wishes came true, but most wishes don’t come true, so you’ll be happier if you scale back your wishes and your desire, so your desire corresponds with the way things happen o Much better to want what you’re going to get The Three Fields of Study (things we have to try to engage in to become Stoic required): - (1) The Discipline of Desire o Trying to control what we desire so that we desire things as they are, not things that are of external things that are harmful to us - (2) The Discipline of Action o That helps us act in this appropriate way - (3) The Discipline of Assent o Involves coming to recognize what’s important and telling us that these things are important and other things are not - The stoic says that this works for all things – need to all be exercised together Is Stoicism a Livable Philosophy? - The kind of detachment recommended is argued to be psychologically impossible for humans - Epictetus is not recognizing that suddenly you will be free of all desires, but rather an ideal that should be approached - Socrates for them is an example of a perfect person, as he improved himself by attending to nothing but reason, forgetting external issues o Furthermore, they state: “and though you are not yet a Socrates, you ought … to live as one desirous of becoming a Socrates.” (Paragraph #50)  The closer you get to that stage, the better you’ll be  In that sense, it is a livable philosophy - Even if you could bring yourself not to care about your family, should you really have that as an ideal? o Some people thing that is missing something good, something that is a little too harsh o Life is arguably better with imperfections, than going towards complete stoic mentality Practical Stoicism - Classical Stoicism had an objective conception of what was good for us (reason). - Could we combine the Stoic’s three disciplines with a more natural conception of what we should strive for, to guide one’s thinking o E.g. human happiness would be better if you cut back some of your desires but not all of them o You should look at your pleasures in life and think of what you have a realistic chance of getting, and just cut it down that much Epicurus – Week 3 - Epicureanism was the other dominant philosophy of the Hellenistic world, and was founded by Epicurus (341-271 BCE) - Epicurus was born in Athens, studied philosophy and came back around age of 35 starting a school called “the garden” - trying to live a communal life, living according to the principles, at some time removing themselves from society o Most philosophical groups were exclusively male or female in wealthy class, but the epicurean garden spent time with both men and women, and their slaves o Was egalitarian, causing people to be weary of the idea - Epicureanism is a view of how to live your life but there is a background metaphysics to it Background Metaphysics - Atomistic – Epicurus was one of the early defenders of the view that the world was made of small indestructible atoms - Mechanism – everything in the world could be explained by how these atoms interacted o Purely mechanical explanation of the world is possible o Made him different because people thought things could be divided indefinitely, and the idea of mechanism was controversial because he believed it applied to everything o Meant there was no-theistic explanation of the world (how the god’s were feeling) o It’s not that he didn’t believe in the gods, but rather he had this view that gods didn’t care what happened to the world  Their actions didn’t explain anything because they didn’t act for us  His reason for thinking that is: o 1) the gods are perfect o So 2) the gods could make things on earth perfect for at least much better) if they were interested in us o 3) thing’s on earth are far from perfect o So 4) the gods are not interested in us o So 5) the god’s neither punish us for any of our sins, nor reward us for behaving in ways typically thought to please them o The second consequence is that people themselves are understood as purely material beings  A collection of atoms – happen to be arranged in a certain way that lets us walk and talk. When we die the atoms fall apart and re-form in a different way. Nothing about us survives.  Death is thus a permanent thing - Christians ended up burning most of Epicurus’ work because they felt that he was a stealth-athiest. o He thought the gods were perfect, but framework was the same as if one was an atheist. o Gods don’t do any explaining for epicurus so everything has to be explained through an atheistic framework. o They weren’t really believers it was assumed, so that is why most of his work is second hand - Epicurus is one of the philosophers who tries to ground an account of what should be important in our lives based on human nature o Based on the kind of creatures we are, how we are assembled, what is it that we really value? Egoistic Hedonism - For epicurus, the main goal for human life is pleasure: o “pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the starting-point of every choice and of every aversion  All we try to do is get pleasure and avoid pain – engine that drives human behaviour - This psychological claim can be understood in two different ways: o 1) Descriptive conception  He’s saying as a matter of fact, human’s just pursue pleasure and avoid pain o 2) normative conception  This is in fact what we should do, and if we find a way of doing it better we should try to do it better - Epicurus endorses both ways o It’s a good thing we pursue to pleasure, and since it is a good thing, we should structure a philosophy that has a better way of doing s
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