Book Club summary: The Inner Citadel

Over at my Patreon site I run occasional “book clubs,” meaning multiple posts on the same book, which interested readers can use either as a companion to the book itself, or simply as summaries that give them an idea of what the book is about (and hence facilitate their decision of whether to invest the time to read the full volume or not). Here are all the entries connected to one now completed series.

The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, by Pierre Hadot, Harvard University Press, 2001. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are treasured today–as they have been over the centuries–as an inexhaustible source of wisdom. And as one of the three most important expressions of Stoicism, this is an essential text for everyone interested in ancient religion and philosophy. Yet the clarity and ease of the work’s style are deceptive. Pierre Hadot, eminent historian of ancient thought, uncovers new levels of meaning and expands our understanding of its underlying philosophy.

Here are my commentaries:

1. Marcus Aurelius’ teachers.

2. A first glimpse of the Meditations.

3. The Meditations as spiritual exercises.

4. The philosopher-slave and the emperor-philosopher.

5. The beautifully coherent Stoicism of Epictetus.

6. The discipline of assent.

7. The discipline of desire, or amor fati.

8. The discipline of action, in the service of humanity.

9. Marcus Aurelius — the man himself.

Endure and Renounce

A new e-booklet has just been published by my personal imprint, so to speak, Figs In Winter. The title, “Endure and Renounce,” comes from a well known passage by Epictetus: “There were two vices much blacker and more serious than the rest: lack of persistence and lack of self-control … Endure and Renounce. (Fragments 10)

The e-booklet is a collection from the first year of my (now archived) blog, How To Be A Stoic. The first post came out on 3 March 2015, and ever since I have used that blog (and now Figs In Winter) as a sort of public diary tracking my explorations of Stoicism, both the ancient philosophy and its developing modern descendant, in terms of theory but especially of practice, which is what makes Stoicism so distinctive in the philosophical landscape.

“Endure and Renounce” collects the best 84 of the essays published from the beginning of the blog through December 2015, and features the following table of contents:

Part I: The historical perspective

A brief history of Stoicism
On the decline of (ancient) Stoicism
Ancient vs modern ethics: a comparison

Part II: Epictetus

Beginning the Discourses
On steadfastness
From Epictetus to Naso
How to do philosophy
Against the Academics and the Epicureans
Of love and friendship
On Cynicism
Epictetus, a bit of an anti-intellectual?
The Fragments
The Handbook

Part III: Marcus

Meditations, Book I
Meditations, Book II
Meditations, Book III
Meditations, Book IV
Meditations, Book V
Meditations, Book VI
Meditations, Book VII
Meditations, Book VIII
Meditations, Book IX
Meditations, Book X
Meditations, Book XI
Meditations, Book XII

Part IV: Ancient writings about the Stoics

Cicero’s De Finibus and the nature of Stoic philosophy, part I
Cicero’s De Finibus and the nature of Stoic philosophy, part II
Why Plato’s Euthydemus is relevant to Stoics
Diogenes Laertius on the Stoics, I: Zeno
Diogenes Laertius on the Stoics, II: Cleanthes
Diogenes Laertius on the Stoics, III: Chrysippus

Part V: Stoic theory

The three Stoic disciplines
Stoic epistemology
Stoic logic
Stoic natural philosophy
Stoic theology
Stoic determinism
Stoic cosmopolitanism and the problem of unmet friends
Stoic virtue ethics, part I
Stoic virtue ethics, part II
(more on) Stoic ethics
Stoic moral psychology
Apatheia vs Ataraxia: what’s the difference?

Part VI: Modern Stoicism

Is belief in God necessary to practice Stoicism?
The three pillars of Stoicism
Negative visualization
The dichotomy of control
The Rise of Stoicism
Stoic Psychological Techniques
Stoic self discomfort and control exercises
Stoic practical advice, I: duty and social relations
Stoic practical advice, II: on insults
Stoic practical advice, III: grief
Stoic practical advice, IV: anger
Stoicism and personal values: fame
Stoicism and personal values: on luxurious living
On surviving a change of place
Stoic old age
On becoming a Stoic
Stoicism reconsidered
On the effects of practicing Stoicism
Atoms vs Providence? Both, really
Don’t judge others, but don’t keep bad company
A New Stoicism, part I
A New Stoicism, part II
A New Stoicism, part III
A New Stoicism, part IV
A New Stoicism, part V
Virtue, Forrest Gump, and Wittgenstein
What Would a Stoic Do? Presidential candidates
What Would a Stoic Do? On terrorism
What Would a Stoic Do? I met a sophist, and it didn’t go well
What Would a Stoic Do? The Stoic’s decision making algorithm
The Stoics vs Ayn Rand
Kant vs Cato
Epictetus was right: modern cognitive science supports the Stoics’ conception of emotions

Part VII: Stoicism and other philosophies

Revisiting the similarities among Stoicism, Epicureanism and Buddhism
Neo-Stoicism and the relationship between Stoicism and Christianity

Part VIII: Stoicism and popular culture

Stoic movie review: Amy
Stoic movie review: The Martian
Stoic movie review: Bridge of Spies
Stoic movie review: Trumbo
What Would a Stoic Do? On entertainment
What Would a Stoic Do? Twitter edition

Cicero and Stoicism

I have just published a new e-booklet on the theme of Cicero and Stoicism: Brief Introductions to De Finibus, Stoic Paradoxes, and Tusculan Disputations.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) was a Roman statesman, orator, lawyer, and philosopher, who served as consul in the year 63 BCE. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the Roman equestrian order, and is considered one of Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists. He lived in turbulent times, being a contemporary of Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, Mark Anthony, and the future emperor Octavian Augustus.

The new e-booklet contains 10 essays and runs to about 18,500 words. Here is the table of contents:

De Finibus and the nature of Stoic philosophy (parts I & II)

Cicero’s criticism of Stoicism (parts I & II)

Stoic Paradoxes

Tusculan Disputations: I. On contempt of death

Tusculan Disputations: II. On bearing pain

Tusculan Disputations: III. On grief of mind

Tusculan Disputations: IV. On other perturbations of the mind

Tusculan Disputations: V. Whether virtue alone be sufficient for a happy life

Book Club summary: The Character Gap

Over at my Patreon site I run occasional “book clubs,” meaning multiple posts on the same book, which interested readers can use either as a companion to the book itself, or simply as summaries that give them an idea of what the book is about (and hence facilitate their decision of whether to invest the time to read the full volume or not). Here are all the entries connected to one now completed series.

The book covered by today’s summary is The Character Gap: How Good Are We?, by Christian B. Miller. We like to think of ourselves, our friends, and our families as decent people. We may not be saints, but we are still honest, relatively kind, and mostly trustworthy. Miller argues that we are badly mistaken in thinking this. Hundreds of recent studies in psychology tell a different story: that we all have serious character flaws that prevent us from being as good as we think we are – and that we do not even recognize that these flaws exist. But neither are most of us cruel or dishonest. Instead, Miller argues, we are a mixed bag. On the one hand, most of us in a group of bystanders will do nothing as someone cries out for help in an emergency. Yet it is also true that there will be many times when we will selflessly come to the aid of a complete stranger – and resist the urge to lie, cheat, or steal even if we could get away with it. Much depends on cues in our social environment. Miller uses this recent psychological literature to explain what the notion of “character” really means today, and how we can use this new understanding to develop a character better in sync with the kind of people we want to be.

Here are my commentaries:

  1. What is character and why is it important?
  2. The way we actually are.
  3. What can we do to improve our characters?
  4. Improving character by way of divine assistance?

Book Club summary: Early Socratic Dialogues

Over at my Patreon site I run occasional “book clubs,” meaning multiple posts on the same book, which interested readers can use either as a companion to the book itself, or simply as summaries that give them an idea of what the book is about (and hence facilitate their decision of whether to invest the time to read the full volume or not). Here are all the entries connected to one now completed series.

The book covered by today’s is Plato: Early Socratic Dialogues, edited by Trevor Saunders. Rich in drama and humor, these dialogues include the controversial Ion, a debate on poetic inspiration; Laches, in which Socrates seeks to define bravery; and Euthydemus, which considers the relationship between philosophy and politics. Together, they provide a definitive portrait of the real Socrates and raise issues still keenly debated by philosophers, forming an incisive overview of Plato’s philosophy.

Here are my commentaries:

  1. A brief introduction to Socrates.
  2. The Ion and whether poetry can teach moral skills.
  3. The Laches and the question of expertise in teaching young people.
  4. The Lysis and the nature of friendship.
  5. The Charmides and the nature of self-knowledge.
  6. Hippias Major and what it means when something is “fine.”
  7. Hippias Minor – or why virtue is knowledge and no one does evil on purpose.
  8. Euthydemus and the difference between sophistry and philosophy.

Why trust a theory? Epistemology of fundamental physics

Cambridge University Press has recently published a volume edited by Radin Dardashti, Richard Dawid, and Karim Thebault entitled Why Trust a Theory? Epistemology of Fundamental Physics. I have contributed a chapter to the effort, on “Philosophy of science and the string wars: a view from the outside,” which is available as free download here.

This is the description of the book: Do we need to reconsider scientific methodology in light of modern physics? Has the traditional scientific method become outdated, does it need to be defended against dangerous incursions, or has it always been different from what the canonical view suggests? To what extent should we accept non-empirical strategies for scientific theory assessment?

Many core aspects of contemporary fundamental physics are far from empirically well-confirmed. There is controversy on the epistemic status of the corresponding theories, in particular cosmic inflation, the multiverse, and string theory. This collection of essays is based on the high profile workshop ‘Why Trust a Theory?’ and provides interdisciplinary perspectives on empirical testing in fundamental physics from leading physicists, philosophers and historians of science. Integrating different contemporary and historical positions, it will be of interest to philosophers of science and physicists, as well as anyone interested in the foundations of contemporary science.