Prep for Tomorrow’s Meeting (Feb. 9)


This message is for those who are attending tomorrow’s meeting (Feb. 9th).

We’ll spend the meeting taking turns reading out loud selected passages from Massimo Pigliucci’s How to Be a Stoic Ch. 1-2 + Appendix. After reading one passage, the person who selected it should share a few thoughts with the group, after which we’ll open it up to further discussion.

Just a few requests:

  1. please select at least one passage to share, about which you have thoughts.
  2. please glance at the list of topics below that we can use to motivate discussion.
  3. please email me in advanced (TODAY!) if you have any topics or questions that you would like to explore… OR, if you would like to discuss anything about the logistics of the group itself

List of Discussion Topics:

  1. There’s an interesting remark about the kind of discourse we should foster with others (pp. 4-5). There, Massimo cites a passage from Epictetus’s Discourses (Book II Ch. 12) in which Epictetus discusses the “art of argument.” What kind of discourse do you think is most effective? Among friends? Among receptive acquaintances? Those who are resilient and hard-headed (or, “self-assured”)? Hostile?
  2. What do you think of Massimo’s search for a secular approach to life that is neither too mystical (as he describes more popular schools of Buddhism) nor too cold (as he describes secular humanism)? What do you think of his ending his search with Stoicism (pp. 5-6)?
  3. What are your thoughts on Massimo’s remarks about preparing oneself for death: “whatever we decide about the meaning of our extended lives, we also need to find ways of preparing ourselves and our loved ones to face the permanent demise of our own consciousness, of our unique presence in this world. And we need to know how to die in a dignified way that allows us to achieve tranquillity of mind and is of comfort to those who survive us” (p. 7).
  4. What are your thoughts on Stoic Week and the data that is has published? Here is the most recent results from Stoic Week 2018. Would we interested in participating in Stoic Week 2019 (in October) as a group?
  5. What are your thoughts on adopting a more formalized “philosophy of life” (p. 9) — what has been your “philosophy of life” up until now. Other ways to phrase it may be your conceptual framework, your schemata for understanding the world, your worldview, etc. (these can be religious or non-religious).
  6. Massimo acknowledges how cognitive science has uncovered how most of our thoughts and behavior is guided by implicit bias and cognitive distortions. What do you think of his response: “Modern cognitive science has shown over and over again that we are often prey to cognitive biases and delusions. But in my view, this knowledge reinforces the idea that we need to train ourselves in virtuous and right thinking, as the Stoics advised” (pp. 11-2; see also note on p. 244). What if we can never free ourselves of our “cognitive biases and delusions”? Should we still try?
  7. What do you think of the figure of Epictetus? Recalling our reading of his Handbook (Enchiridion), do you think he will be a proper guide? Can you anticipate any challenges or benefits?
  8. What do you make of the epigram in Ch. 2: “What is the goal of virtue, after all, except a life that flows smoothly?” (Discourses, Book I, Ch. 4)? What does “flows smoothly” mean?
  9. Cleanthes was a pugilist and worked in garden irrigation. Chrysippus was a long-distance runner. Why do you think “physical jobs and practicing sports often figure in ancient Greco-Roman philosophy” (note on p. 245)? Should the we be doing some physical exercise as part of our studying Stoicism?
  10. What do you think about the different ways the schools of Hellenistic philosophy defined “eudaimonia” (p. 19 + Appendix)?
  11. What do you think of the dictum that “in order to live a good life, one has to understand two things: the nature of the world and the nature of human reasoning” (p. 21)? In other words, in order to understand ethics, one has to understand physics and logic/epistemology? (p. 22)
  12. How do you interpret Chrysippus’s metaphor of the garden? (p. 23)
  13. The way of organizing Stoic practice into the Discipline of Desire, Action, and Assent (or, into Acceptance, Philanthropy, and Mindfulness) was popularized by Pierre Hadot’s work on Marcus Aurelius (The Inner Citadel, Ch. 6, 7, 8; introduced on pp. 86-88). Massimo is adapting his diagram from Donald Robertson’s commentary on Hadot’s work (Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, Ch. 4, 6, 8; introduced on pp. 18-20). The ultimate source of all this is Epictetus (Discourses, Book III, Ch. 2) and perhaps Musonius Rufus or even Chrysippus himself (thought their work is lost)… All this to say… we should definitely spend time discussing this… so just familiarize yourself with the discussion on pp. 23-5.

Feel free to bring up other topics and readings, but let’s make sure to always bring the conversation back to Stoicism and how we can apply its insights to our daily lives. I’ll try to print out some helpful handouts for everyone.

See you all tomorrow morning!

P.S. If there is enough space, I will try to nap a booth in one of the partitioned sections of the Coffee Bean — it seems much quieter over there!

Justin K.


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