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Stoic Practice

  "The only thing over which we have control, therefore, is the faculty of judgment. Since anything else, including all external affairs and acts of others, are not within our power, we should adopt toward them the attitude of indifference" (Connolly).

A Mind Map of Stoicism

A Mind Map of Stoicism

Basic Stoic Principles

The Core Dogmas of Stoicism

Fundamental Dogmas of Stoicism

A Stoic practice prototype

1. Attention (Discourses, IV.12; Meditations, XII.3)
2. The Three Disciplines (Discourses, III.2)
3. Dogmas and theorems

1. Attention is the basic posture of the Stoic. Epictetus (Discourses, IV.12) warns of the dangers of not attending:

When you have remitted your attention for a short time, do not imagine this, that you will recover it when you choose; but let this thought be present to you, that in consequence of the fault committed to-day your affairs must be in a worse condition for all that follows.

And Marcus Aurelius' Meditation XII.3 describes an exercise designed to enable the Stoic to be present and attending. Hadot (Citadel) devotes most of his chapter on the Discipline of Assent to this exercise. I included the text of Marcus' Meditation XII.3 (trans. Hadot) in my welcoming message:

2. The Three Disciplines are the meat of Stoic practice. These exercises are said to have been originated by Epictetus. Hadot introduces his exposition of the Disciplines with a chapter on Epictetus. And Keith Seddon's internet article on Epictetus covers the The Disciplines along with the dogmas which support them. I quote from Keith's article:

The three topoi (fields of study) establish activities in which the prokopton (Stoic student) applies their Stoic principles; they are practical exercises or disciplines that when successfully followed are constitutive of the eudaimôn ('happy') life which all rational beings are capable of attaining.

There are three areas of study, in which a person who is going to be good and noble must be trained. That concerning desires and aversions, so that he may never fail to get what he desires nor fall into what he would avoid. That concerning the impulse to act and not to act, and, in general, appropriate behaviour; so that he may act in an orderly manner and after due consideration, and not carelessly. The third is concerned with freedom from deception and hasty judgement, and, in general, whatever is connected with assent. (Discourses 3.2.1-2, trans. Hard)

3. Dogmas and Theorems. I'm not quite sure that I know the precise difference between Stoic dogmas and theorems, but I know that they are necessary to the practice of Stoicism.

Hadot (36) says that "A dogma is a universal principle which founds and justifies a specific practical conduct, and which can be formulated in one or in several propositions." For example, "the fundamental dogma of Stoicism, which is the foundation for all Stoic behavior: only moral good, or virtue, is a good, and only moral evil, or vice, is an evil" (36).

Hadot (37) concludes: "Thus we can say that the 'Meditations' -- with the exception of Book I -- are wholly made up of the repeated, ever-renewed formulation of the three rules of action [ the Disciplines] which we have just seen, and of the various dogmas which are their foundation."

Notes on Marcus Aurelius contains, in the section "IV. Supporting Dogmas," some of the dogmas that Marcus uses.

Theorems. I identify the theorems of Stoicism as the basic principles that make up the three parts of Stoic Philosophy: Logic, Physics, and Ethics. They probably have not been formulated to justify "a specific practical conduct," as have the dogmas. I suppose that this is the difference between the two.

Scholars have mined ancient sources and seem to have been able to compile all of the basic principles of the Stoic system. Long & Sedley's "The Hellenistic philosophers: volume 1, translations of the principle sources, with philosophical commentary" is an adequate source for the basic principles. I don't see how any Stoic practice could proceed without a study of the basic principles of the philosophy. Unfortunately, "Long & Sedley" is expensive. I borrow the book from a local college library. Perhaps some other compilation would be more affordable or accessible.

This is my prototype for a Stoic practice and a rough outline of the study area which I have staked out for myself.

Hadot, Pierre (1998). The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Translated by Michael Chase. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

A simple beginning for a Stoic practice

1. Attention.
(Hadot, "The Discipline of Assent," 112-25), (Meditations, XII.3; Discourses, IV.12).

2. Flaws of Character.
(Buzar�, "III. Practical Physics, A. The Discipline of Desire (and aversion), 1. The Apropt�sia Exercise as Applied to Desire"), (Handbook 2).

3. Obligations.
(Seddon, "The Discipline of Action"), (Handbook 30; Discourses II.10).

1. Attention

The following is Pierre Hadot's (112-13) translation of Marcus Aurelius' Meditation XII.3 1, which Hadot (120) calls "the fundamental exercise of Stoicism":

There are three things of which you are composed: your body, your vital breath, and your intellect (nous).
    The first two are yours only insofar as you must take care of them. Only the third is yours in the proper sense of the term.
    This is why, if you separate yourself from yourself,
    that is to say, from your thought (dianoia),
--everything that others may say or do;
--or again, everything that you yourself have said and done (in the past), as well as the things which trouble you because they are still to come;
--and everything that happens to you, independently of your will, because of the body which surrounds you, or your innate vital breath 2;
--and everything which stirs the waves of the violent sea which bathes you 3,
    in order that
--raised above the interweavings of Fate,
--free for itself,
    the living intellectual power
--by doing what is right,
--by willing everything that happens,
--by telling the truth,
-----if, I say, you separate from this guiding principle (hêgemonikon) the things which have become attached to it, because it has become attached to them,
    and if you separate from time that which is beyond the present and that which is past,
    and if you make yourself like the Sphairos of Empedocles, "a pure orb, proud of its joyful uniqueness,"
    and if you strive to live only what you live--that is to say, the present,
-----then you will be able to live the time that is left to you, up until your death, untroubled, benevolently and serenely with regard to your inner daimôn. (trans. Hadot, 112-13)

1 See Hadot, pages 113-25, for his interpretation of the meditation.

2 Involuntary emotions "caused by impressions recieved by the body, and by the soul" (Hadot, 115). The Stoic should refuse to give assent to the value-judgments which are the cognitive content of these emotions (Hadot, 116).

3 "[T]he course of events; in other words, [...] the course of Destiny and of the time in which Destiny unveils itself..." (Hadot, 117).

Hadot (127) concludes his chapter on "The Discipline of Assent" with this thought

'Everything is a matter of value-judgment', says Marcus ([Meditations] II, 15; XII, 26, 2), whether the subject is the discipline of assent, the discipline of desire, or that of action....It is always a matter of examining and criticizing the judgments which I bring to bear, either on events which happen to me, or on actions I want to undertake.

2. Flaws of Character

"Epictetus insists on the fact that his students should stop having desires [altogether]" (Buzar�).

Handbook 2. "Remember that, on the one hand, desires
command you to obtain what you long for, and on the
other, aversions command you to avoid what you
dislike. Those who fail to gain what they desire are
unfortunate, whilst those who fall into what they seek
to avoid are miserable. So if you seek to avoid only
those things contrary to nature amongst the things
that are in your power, you will accordingly fall into
nothing to which you are averse; but if you seek to
avoid sickness, or death, or poverty, you will be
miserable. [2] Therefore, remove altogether your
aversion for anything that is not in our power, and
transfer it to those things contrary to nature that
are in our power. For the time being, completely
restrain your desires, for if you desire any of those
things not in our power you are bound to suffer
misfortune. For of those things in our power, which it
would be proper to desire, none is yet within your
grasp. Use only choice and refusal, but use even these
lightly, with reservation, and without straining"
(trans. Seddon).

So, concludes Buzar�, "You should start with aversion for irrational behavior and learn to identify your flaws" (Buzar�).

"Passion is the source of unhappiness, wrong-doing and the flaws of character which issue in wrong-doing" (Long, 419).

3. Obligations

"To progress in the Discipline of Action, then, the prokopton [Stoic student] must be conscious, moment by moment, of (a) which particular social role they are playing, and (b) which actions are required or appropriate for fulfilling that role to the highest standard" (Seddon).

Handbook 30. "The actions that are appropriate for us
can generally be determined by our relationships. He
is your father. This tells you to take care of him, to
yield to him in all things, to put up with him when he
abuses you or beats you.

'But he is a bad father'.

"Nature did not provide for you a good father, but a
father. Your brother wrongs you? Well then, maintain
your relationship to him. Do not think about what he
is doing, but about what you will have to do if you
want to keep your moral character in accordance with
nature. For no one can harm you unless you wish it.
You will be harmed only when you think you are harmed.
If you get into the habit of looking at the
relationships implied by 'neighbour', 'citizen',
'commander', you will discover what is proper to
expect from each" (trans. Seddon).

Buzar, Elen. "Stoic Spiritual Exercises," Stoic Voice Journal, Vol. 2, No. 12, Jan. 2002.

Stoic Spiritual exercises (revised Feb 2010)

Hadot, Pierre (1998). The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Translated by Michael Chase. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Long, A. A., Sedley, D. N. (1987). The Hellenistic Philosophers: vol. 1. translations of the principle sources with philosophical commentary. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Seddon, Keith H. (2001). "Epictetus," The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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