Which Stoic? Saturn or Jupiter?

20 02 2010

The philosophical view-point by which I seem to be living seems to be more in line with what I have read to be the definition of Stoicism. In reality my philosophy is very simple. I believe in actions over words. I believe in reality over imagination despite my dabbling in poetry and astrological metaphor which describes possible future outcomes.

Generally speaking my quest in life has been contentment, just like all other people. However, I realised fairly early  that fulfilment does not breed contentment but rather doubles the desire, doubles the need for satisfaction. Certain things in life do not bring a calm mind and a peaceful soul and a sober home, the things which make people happy in the end.

The Stoics did not seek to extinguish emotions; rather, they sought to transform them by a resolute ‘askēsis‘ which enables a person to develop clear judgment and inner calm.[22] Logic, reflection, and concentration were the methods of such self-discipline.

What I find interesting about the Stoic standpoint is that it does not deny emotion. It merely acknowledges emotion as part of a deterministic universe. Human beings, like animals are thrown around by seemingly random events which have firm bases in their own actions and thoughts. The Stoic is not meant to deny that emotion exists and thus lead a repressed life. The Stoic is supposed to make judgements in calmness and consideration, in order to minimise suffering.

Obviously self-discipline is required. When one thinks about one´s life, desires, and needs, it is never obvious what is the cause of suffering in many instances. It is only possible to make inferences from previous experiences, and from the experiences of others, and without question logic does not have the power to prevent all human suffering. Logic at times may actually be the cause of human suffering, because reason can be mistaken. The causes and problems of others´ suffering are never universal, because people are different.

My personal philosophy is that the world is fortune. My emotions move up with good news and personal advancement, and in the same way they also move down, with bad news and problems. Clearly emotions will always be with the human species. And in fact emotions are often catalysts for positive action and change. The Stoic is meant to accept all emotion. With analysis, with contemplation before action, and cultivation of the calm sort of mind which is required for deliberation the Stoic does not act in disharmony with the deterministic universe, but rather accepts it and works with it.

In my personal life, I was born into a family, mother, father and sister. The parent´s difficulties with each other and the sister´s waywardness and the emotional “suffering” within the dynamics of the family are deterministic in that I personally had no choice in the matter. Whether these people were or indeed are morally good, virtuous or other, is debatable, and only they, and God will ever really know. They have in my observation been responsible for their own individual and interpersonal sufferings and anguish.

It is not in my right to judge the dignity of any of my family members. But I am able to observe that personal philosophies on their parts or perhaps lack of philosophy and a reliance on the “forces” at work on their emotions are culprits in the personal and secret miseries that do not escape the eyes and senses of a Scorpion.

I do not judge their dignity, for mine is bound up with theirs as I have stated that their presence in my life was, is and will continue to be the inevitable unavoidable circumstance of our natural state. The free will that I do exert is that my life does not have to be impulsively lead the way their lives are. I do not need to be pulled and pushed by whimsical desires and superficial judgements.

The philosophy though treads on a fine wire. The success of such a philosophy is determined greatly on my own reasoning faculties and judgement and logic. Logic of man is highly fallible, because in part desire seems to always be the most logical thing at the time of that particular emotional stimulation. Logic works on highly dubious principles. The example that I like is that of the logic of modernism. The modern world is based on the idea of caring for and providing provision for the less fortunate. You make more food, feed the poor, house the poor, provide healthcare for the poor, but in the end, all that happens is more mouths to feed, more poor and an even bigger logical problem. Those ideas are based on the fact of logic and reason, but not of acceptance, nor a grasp of the bigger, more long term picture. They satisfy immediate desires and wants, they attempt to neutralise unhappy emotions with innovation, with attempts to stop suffering.

In the end though Stoicism knows and has always known that suffering will continue. Something that I find weak and undignified about the modern world, when I read about and learn about the ancient world is that this world does not accept suffering. It is in essence an anti-stoic society based on a false reasoning. Stoics are supposed to try to reduce suffering, but the idea of reducing it through using clever means will always fall short.

For the Stoics, ‘reason‘ meant not only using logic, but also understanding the processes of nature — the logos, or universal reason, inherent in all things. Living according to reason and virtue, they held, is to live in harmony with the divine order of the universe, in recognition of the common reason and essential value of all people.

 

Living in harmony with the divine order of the universe. A man is born with his particular genetic code and with his particular appearance and nature. Ideas that man ought to be different to what he is, is antithetical to the principles of living in harmony with the divine order. There is natural dignity in human aggression, some people are born fighters and they are part of that nature, to deny their right to go to war is against the natural order. What the Stoic warrior ought to do though is to battle with dignity and honour and to accept his inevitable wounds as part of divine justice.

The noise of the world can make it rather difficult to find the “right path”. However, with contemplation and with patience the Stoic finds that path. It takes self-discipline to realise that personal desires will not be fulfilled immediately or even in the way that expectation and illusion has made them out to be.

The Stoic must always be on guard to keep his mind free from clutter, free from overindulgence and from emotions like jealousy, or anger. Eventually the stoic realises the luck that he has for maintaining such a calm and serene mind and optimism. The Stoic is aware that human emotions and situations pass and change like the seasons. But it´s only through observation of the natural order surrounding him in nature that he is able to grasp the meaning of this. The oak tree that stands alone in the field for a century is magnificent and withstands much. It is the job of the stoic to stand firm, to be unmoved by random events and emotions.

The logic which the Stars teaches me is that if I take the long-view, if I look at my life as a whole rather than my immediate satisfaction I can gain a perspective which makes me feel content and calm. When I begin to contemplate life as a whole, I begin to see that as a seed I have been fortunate to have been born in fairly fertile soil with the possibility of gret growth and movement and the possibility of a very good view. I do no longer feel the discontent for things that I felt were missing in life or unjust.  Things, qualities, experiences that others possessed but which I did not were causes for my unhappiness. But in the same way that I realised that others had happiness, I´ve also realised just how temporary those happinesses were, observance of my family I have already cited.

I think that the key to understanding Stoic philosophy is that it is not in our interests to pursue, or to chase after illusive dreams, to try to alter or to change the courses of divine nature, but simply to realise its existence around us and that we are also  part of that. For there is nothing in the universe which is wrong, nature has created perfection. Human judgement creates wrong and creates “evil”. But it is also down to human judgement and analysis to put all of nature and to put our human lives into perspective.

Some of the messages which come out of the world of people without Stoic philosophy include messages that “there isn´t enough time, or money” that their lives are not good enough, that they aren´t attractive enough or that they are not respected enough or a countless other list of lacks. When the stoic stops listening to that cranky swell of human emotion which makes up the family, and the friends, when one finds other Stoics or when one is able to weather those unstable emotions that come from society and can make one doubt oneself that is when one is truly free. The divine will of the universe has created all individuals and there is inevitability for all, there are courses which are already dictated. But it is up to individuals to find personal contentment with themselves, within themselves.

Exposure to elements eventually brings resistance to those elements and this is the task of the Stoic. The elements outside of the self are constantly changing, but once inner happiness is found there is little or nothing which can destroy it. The Stoic´s job though is not to suffer needlessly, not to be slapped around, each is due his space in the world, this makes it a tough task, for one does not fight and engage with the wilderness in a war with it, with the human nature of others either.

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2 responses

29 08 2010
Escombo

I really liked this text. Congratulations.

17 08 2012
Akul Tripathi

very very well written. Kudos.

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