Last Saturday (Feb. 9th), we began discussing Massimo Pigliucci’s How to Be a Stoic, Ch. 1-2 + Appendix.
There were 7 people in attendance: Randy, Kristin, Fred, Matt, Joel, Justin D., and myself (Justin K.). We were able to fit (comfortably?) in a partitioned booth at the back of the Little Tokyo Coffee Bean. All in all, the discussions were more thought provoking than I was expecting given that the first couple chapters seemed pretty straight-forward. The following are some of the discussions that we had in-brief…
Fred voiced his concern about the implications of being overly-rational and whether evoking the notion of a universal logos — “the simple, indubitable fact that Nature is understandable by reason” (p. 6) — was disregarding the non-rational forces in human nature that we seem to value. Much of artistic expression is about giving up control and letting less rational impulses take over. If that’s the case, perhaps human happiness (eudaimonia) should be less about living according to reason, but more about freedom (in whatever way that manifests). I may be misrepresenting his views, but I think these are reasonable concerns to have regardless of who voices them.
In the meeting, the question about the nature of the universe led us to focus on Stoic physics (which includes what we might call physics, but also the natural sciences, metaphysics, and theology). That segued once or twice to discussing the diagram on p. 24 and how the three “disciplines” of desire, action, and assent corresponded with the three areas of physics, ethics, and logic respectively and the three general virtues of self-mastery (temperance and courage), justice, and practical wisdom respectively. I won’t try to summarize that discussion. We’ll have a chance to return to the topic in future meetings since the rest of the book is dedicated to elaborating on the three disciplines.
At the end of the meeting, I myself was sympathizing towards Fred’s concerns while also feeling confident that Stoicism can absorb the objections that might come from those concerns. Again, logos is just an attribute of Nature (or, God) that makes it “understandable by reason” (p. 8). The act of artistic creation itself seems to be either a kind of cathartic outlet for the artist herself or it is an attempt to be understood by others (I’m sure this is an oversimplification, but I need to oversimplify here in order to put down my initial thoughts on the matter). If it’s the latter, then the artist needs to bring some kind of order to her creation so that a verbal or non-verbal message can be communicated faithfully to others. If it’s the former, then the Stoics might condone the catharsis as a way to release unhealthy emotions and avoid the vice to which those emotions may lead; the danger, of course, would be the temptation to indulge in those emotions as the artist is trying to release them — counteracting the objective of the artistic process but also compromising the artist’s virtue… I think the Stoics would not endorse art that leads to the loss of control in this way, UNLESS (and I think we hit on this briefly in the meeting), it was in a planed, pre-ordained way, say, in a carefully planned ritual or by having a guide through the process. Otherwise, the loss of control may lead us to act in certain ways which foster bad habits which undermine the project of becoming virtuous. Looking forward to fleshing this out in future meetings.
All in all, it was a good meeting. I’m looking forward to the next one (March 9th). 🙂
— Justin K.