Friday, April 1, 2011

part 1 of my response on stoicism

I tried to post this under Jan's post on the name of things, but I do not think it took for some reason. This is actually the first part of my response to Jan's post and is be be read, if possible, first. It echos slightly what I was trying to express in class on Thursday.
If this is posted twice I apologize in advance.

Though I haven’t really read anything on stoicism, while listening to the responses in class a few thoughts came to mind.

I do not think stoics believe in being neutral or indifferent to emotions, I believe that is simply the way modern western society has portrayed them. Like a new concept or word, western society has attempted to define stoicism using the only concepts and frames of reference it knows. I think stoicism is about experiencing but not being moved by the emotions or more accurately being controlled by the emotions. In this vein I don’t think the method of practicing askesis is truly fighting against physical limitations and therefore un-stoic. I think the practice of askesis is actually the concept of limiting the influence and control these physical interactions have on our lives.

It may appear to us that stoics have simply given up and accepted their fate, true or not. This is defiantly not a very Western concept. It could even be argued that this ‘giving up’ results in a sense of freedom only because there is nothing else to lose. What possibly has happened is that the stoic is now fully oppressed and their will has been broken. Now they are nothing more than a farm animal that has given up fighting its new master, accepted its lot in life and bends its neck everyday in servitude for the good of another. Maybe this is why stoicism in film is usually portrayed in a prison setting. For here we have a good definition of what we would describe as the total loss of free will.

But maybe Stoics know emotions are just our physical body’s learned reaction to outside influences. By letting those reactions alter our actions or existence, we are allowing those outside influences to control our lives. Stoic’s acknowledge the deterministic influence and seek to limit it. By limiting our reactions we are taking control back of our life. This may be the first step in obtaining or regaining our free will.

Because these influences are external and obtained via our senses, regardless if you believe Descartes, Kant, or Locke, they are fallible and may not be the ‘true’. Stoics feel they can obtain true knowledge by limiting these influences. These same sentiments were expressed nearly 2000 years later by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason. In Critique, Kant expressed that while acknowledging information via the senses may be fallible; it was the individual’s duty to apply reason and judgment to this information to obtain the ‘true knowledge’ within this information. How is this different than the stoic concept of seeking truth (the sage) by applying reason (not being ruled by emotions) to these outside influences?

This ideal of the fallible sense is also present in early Christian writings. In these writings early Christians expressed the idea the Devil (Rex Mundi) controlled the physical world. Could this be why Descartes was so sure his senses where played upon by the Demon and why stoics tried to limit the influence these interactions had on their lives. Jan also pointed out the similarities in early Christianity and stoicism. It seems both believed we are simply part of a higher spirit that we will return to when we die. There are also many references in the Old Testament referring to the stoic concept of accepting one’s lot in life, including Ecclesiastes 5:18-20.

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