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4: SEP 15


  • McMahon C1, “Highest Good” (40-50)
  • Epictetus, Enchiridion (12)


  • Lecture notes on modern stoicism (Irving)
  • The Stoic Worldview

A bit of happiness, slightly out of order

  • Even though we are focusing on wisdom today, we might say something briefly about the last 10 pages of the McMahon chapter, as it takes us from Aristotle to the Hellenic philosophical world, where Stoicism gets its start.
  • Repasting McMahon notes from p. 40-50
  • big contrast between Plato and Aristotle -- School of Athens fresco.
  • end, function, craft, techne. Hierarchy of arts.
  • end vs. final end -- the universal good is the final end, not relative. sec. 6-7.
  • happiness as activity of the soul in accordance with virtue (def., but also consequence of reasoning from nature of human life). Gloss on eudaimonia.
  • Section 13: nature of the soul. two irrational elements: veg/appetitive and one rational. Note separation/relationship.
  • As M notes, Aristotle's focus on the rational part of the soul leaves him with a similar problem as Plato -- a model of happiness that few (not the Alcibiades in the world) will attain. In spite of the huge contrast between them, they are both classical Greek philosophers who see Reason as central. Perhaps "hyper-rationalists".
  • Note how Aristotle's analysis of happiness entails a view of wisdom.

"The Stoic Worldview"

  • Way before the stoics: "What is wise is one thing, to understand rightly how all things are steered through all." -- Heraclitus
  • Most global philosophical cultures have deep philosophical commitments to some form of this principle. For example, the “serenity prayer” in Christianity is stoic. Daoism also connects here.
  • Example of modern stoic / CBT connection: [1] and a broader net. [2]
Theology & Ontology -
  • pantheism -- theos is in all things - pneuma = fine matter.
  • ontology - All is corporeal, yet pneuma distinguishes life and force from dead matter.
  • determinism and freedom - Ench. #1
  • The Hegimonikon ("A ruling or governing power; specifically human reason"): God in us.
  • Model of Growth and Development toward Sagehood & Wisdom - Soul-training. Realizing the divine in you.

Epictetus, The Enchiridion

  • Our challenge is to pick through Epictetus' language and give the most useful reconstruction we can. Often this involves re-interpreting some of the radical claims.
  • Key Idea: To realize our rational nature (and the freedom, joy and, really, connection to the divine, that only rational being can know), we need to adjust our thinking about our lives to what we know about reality.
  • Key Claim: You need wisdom (soul training) to realize your nature, but if you succeed, you will flourish and be happy. (This is a typical way to unite wisdom and happiness.)
  • Some passages that define the practical philosophy:
  • 1: A first principle, really. "Some things are in our control and others are not."
  • Notice the "re-orientation" which is recommended in #1 and #2. "confine your aversions" and understand the limits of things. (Sounds like an “aversion” retraining program based on knowledge claims.)
  • 3: Infamous. ceramic cups, but then at #11, your partner's death. Read with #7, #8, and #14, in case we’re being too subtle. "confine your attractions". Very much like "attachment" in Buddhism. Or, in CBT.
  • 4: Something like mindfulness?
  • 6: Limits of pride. Catching the mind exaggerating.
  • 8: Alignment
  • 11: awareness of change
  • 15: Desire,
  • 26: observing asymmetries. I find this interesting and challenging. It might need modification.
  • importance of commitment
  • 34: note specific advice in 34 (attend to the phenomenology of desire and future pleasure), 35 (own it). "measure" in 39, read 41. 43
  • 46: Advice about comportment. -- stay inside yourself, don't be showy or ostentatious.

Example of a modern "update" to Epictetus

  • William Irvine does a great job of updating Epictetus with a more modern psychology. We'll will look briefly at his "trichotomy of control. See links for two chapters from his A Guide to the Good Life: the ancient art of stoic joy