Oct 20, 2016

Epictetus' Conception of Prohairesis

I've been kept rather busy over the last week - first some travel out to New York, to attend and speak at STOICON, and then the start of Stoic Week 2016 itself, and a Stoic Week talk here back home - so I'm just now getting to posting something Stoicism-related that took place the week prior, here in Milwaukee.

For several years now, I've been doing quite a bit of research work - piecing together a lot of passages from a wide array of texts, and reconstructing theoretical and practical perspectives, dealing with a term that plays a major role in ancient moral theory.  In the Greek, it is prohairesis.  It gets translated in many different ways, ranging from "choice" (with a number of qualifiers, such as "moral" or "deliberate") to "commitment", to "faculty of choice" to "moral purpose", and even. . . (this is why I got interested in it) "will".

A little under two weeks ago, I gave an invited talk as part of the Midwest Seminar in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy, "Prohairesis in Epictetus' Stoic Moral Theory" (you can watch the video of it, if you like, here - and the slides are available here).  I was honored to get to present my research and reflections, and delighted with the questions and discussion it provoked.  But, why is prohairesis an important topic?

Oct 9, 2016

Stoic Exemplars and Their Differing Roles

Engaging in the practice of Stoic philosophy - or applying any moral theory more generally - is often guided by looking to individuals who particularly exemplify that committed and examined way of life.  This reference to exemplars is good - indeed often necessary - but sometimes what gets lost sight of is precisely what Epictetus points out in this passage:

Living out a deliberate, thoughtful way of life, informed by a moral perspective, does not always take precisely the same form.  What might be entirely appropriate for a Diogenes might be out of place for a Zeno - or for an Epictetus, or for any one of us. The challenge, then, is to determine for oneself what the proper way of living a philosophy out is when applied to one's own case.

Oct 2, 2016

Stoic Week Activities Coming Up

Every year (at least recently), one of my favorite philosophy-focused celebrations is Stoic Week, and it is coming up later on this month!  I first got involved with it three years ago, enrolling in the free online course developed by the members of the Stoicism Today project, and particularly Donald Robertson.

Since that first year, I've stepped up my own activities during the week and my involvement with the associated project.  The last two years I created a series of videos, one for each day (you can see those here) of the week.  I also hosted a Stoic Week event here in Milwaukee last year.  And, starting last March, I was very honored to be asked to take over as the editor of Stoicism Today.

I've already enrolled in the 2016 Stoic Week course, and I'm really looking forward to engaging in it again this year.  As someone who has been studying and teaching about Stoic philosophy for quite some time, I find it's very useful to work through the sort of materials and exercises that the course provides once a year.  I also enjoy reading and engaging in the daily discussions with fellow participants (who these days number in the thousands, worldwide!)  So, I can't recommend strongly enough that - for anyone who has any interest in Stoic philosophy, in improving their life, or learning something new and interesting - that you sign up for that free online course!

Sep 24, 2016

One Sentence Summary on Aristotle and Anger

As the current editor of Stoicism Today, and a frequenter of various social media Stoicism-focused groups, I wind up wading into quite a few discussions bearing not only on Stoic philosophy, but on practical philosophy more generally, particularly when the conversation turns to two other matters that I do quite a bit of work on - Aristotelian philosophy, and the emotion of anger.

In the course of one of those discussions in the Facebook Stoicism Group, an interlocutor asked me if I could provide a one-sentence summary of Aristotle's position on anger.  If that was something easy to do, I would have done so right then and there.  But since it isn't I decided I'd put some thought into it and then provide an answer later.  And that's exactly what I'm doing now.

Aristotle's position on anger is that it is one of the most complex and distinctive of the human emotions, that it involves bodily, psychological, social, and moral dimensions, and that anger can and ought to be felt and acted upon in a number of right ways.

Sep 13, 2016

Stoic Comedy and Commentary

A few years back, I came across some of an Australian comedian, Michael Connell's, philosophically-focused comedy routines on YouTube.  After I emailed him and proposed having a chat sometime, we ended up not only doing that, but also carrying on an online correspondence and occasionally collaborating on various projects where our skills and interests intersected.

The first of these collaborations took place on my long-since-lapsed philosophy forum series.  Back then, I was experimenting with Google Hangouts on Air, and so I proposed that Michael and I discuss philosophy and comedy.  Each of us was a seasoned professional in one field and an interested amateur in the other, and it went quite well, I think.

Since then, Michael has been developing a lot more philosophy-informed content - really excellent stuff! - including a short bit with him dressed like the Stoic Emperor, Marcus Aurelius.  More recently, he released his much longer Stoic Comedy Special.   He's also engaged in some thoughtful and illuminating discussion about what attracted him to Stoic philosophy, how he managed to fit it into his comedy work and his life, and what implications it has had for his own craft.

Aug 21, 2016

Should Stoics Be Concerned About Others?

In a 6-week online course on Epictetus I'm presently teaching though my company, ReasonIO, I got asked a question that keeps popping up, quite naturally, when we're considering Stoic Ethics.  I'm also in the process of consolidating and rewriting posts from my other blogs into pieces here in Orexis Dianoētikē. Here's a piece originally published in Virtue Ethics Digest that frames and addresses those general concerns - Should a Stoic be concerned about (non-)Stoic others? And further, how and why?

Over the course of Stoic Week 2015, I created a sequence of seven videos, four of which focused on discussions of key Stoic doctrines in the works of the Roman orator, statesman, and philosopher, Cicero (who was not himself a Stoic, but who did admit himself attracted to a number of their doctrines, particularly in the field of Ethics.  On one of those videos, one of my interlocutors - a very bright, young South African student and blogger, Marc Smit asked me a very important question.

I feel that Stoicism does offer relevant ideas for me as individual, in the sense that I can apply it to my own thoughts, feelings or actions bearing on things that happen to me, but how do I respond to these things when then happen to others, notably friends or loved ones?

Aug 17, 2016

Musings About Life On YouTube

This weekend, my main YouTube channel - a largely academic channel devoted primarily to lectures about philosophical texts and thinkers  - passed a significant milestone.  Over 30,000 viewers are presently subscribers to the channel, and we're rapidly approaching 3 million total views.

Those numbers are particularly gratifying given that the videos I produce are on the low-tech, low-production - but high-content - end of the spectrum.  It shows that there's a real desire for substantive engagement with ideas out there, and that, if you produce content that helps people grapple with those ideas, what you out out there will indeed be watched.  And not just watched, but shared, commented on, and used by students, lifelong learners, working professionals - and even other academics.

Once I passed the 30,000 subscribers mark, I took a look through the figures - the "analytics" - YouTube provides me about the channel and the videos in it.  There's several other figures that are in many respects even more telling.  One of those is the total number of minutes that have been viewed - and that's a staggering number.  As I recheck those numbers tonight, it's 29,104,280 minutes.  29 million!  That has me once again mulling over something I've thought about from time to time over these last five years.  Quite simply - my YouTube avatar has existed for more total time than I have.