Friday, May 27, 2016

More Correction of the Stoics and More

Despite the wisdom contained in both the Cynics and the Stoics, of the two the Cynics are of greater pragmatism for they understand the causal nature of things.  The Stoics understand the power of the human will to affect or cause one’s state-of-mind, but do not give externalities their proper credit.  The Cynics acknowledge that unpleasant passions come about from valuing that which is lacking in value or is not good or true according to “Nature” or our own nature.  However, Lucian the Cynic entails reasons why one should not eat rich foods, or pursue the life of Hedonist frivolities, and one of the reasons is that these foods must be shipped from around the world and such commerce creates suffering (The Cynic Philosophers pg. 6-7[1]).  The realization of social factors in suffering makes us realize here a divide.  The Stoics would say to those working in disastrous conditions so others can eat fine meals that any suffering that is brought about is from their own weakness of character or ignorance.  They fails to see the Universal Logos of God and for this they suffer.  But the Cynics ascribe the reasoning behind the suffering to the action or causation of things rather than solely the slaves’ or workers’ frame of mind.  Now, in some situations, what the Stoics claim is closer to the truth (suffering is created by one’s own judgements and impressions) and in other cases someone who focuses on externalities (like Marx or Bakunin) would be correct.
The wisdom of the Cynics is they understand both sides of the coin through their pragmatism and their dislike of the norms of society.  These impressions and values were forced unto others and whether they accept them is in some sense out of their control.  However, with help (or without help, though help certainly helps) one can (if so fated) remove themselves from the state of mind they had assumingly in agreement with the norms of their society and adopt different attitudes and values hopefully in agreement with “Nature” (or what is reasonable and true and not merely said so by society).
Humans are determined by their perceptions of value but also other things which are immune to “Stoic reasoning.”  Epictetus gives the example of a wife that harms her children to spite her husband.  If she could see proper reason, he argues, she would have no desire to do this.  What they fail to see is that provided by Spinoza and Hume, rather that reason is guided by the passions rather than the other way ‘round.  Though (despite what Spinoza says) reason has some efficacy depending on the individual and situation, ultimately the passions dominate the mind because the passions in a sense are that person at that particular moment while reason is merely a filter where there thoughts are guided through.  Reason can be at-times a strainer, removing the unwanted passions and leaving only the serene state of being at the bottom of the basin, but ultimately it is that state of being, that dispassionate state, that we become, not the reasoning that brought us to that state.  Also one could argue there would have to be some “passion” or motivation within our minds to bring us to use reason as a strainer.  Those who have no interest in listening to reason will not, and even if they are told the most valuable truth from the wisest man on this Earth, if they do not listen they will not hear and it will be like the sound of wind to them.
The Stoics believe that we suffer not from bad befalling us, but through having a bad will.  And even if this is in some sense true, since the will is connected to our lives (unless we are complete dualists) through causality we do suffer through what befalls us, for what befell us caused us to have a bad will, and since we do not have complete control over our thoughts and state of being (despite what the Stoics believe) we always suffer ultimately, yes, by having a bad mental state (for we are nothing but our minds and can only suffer “directly” in this way) but causally the source comes from without or outside us, and therefore this is the source of our misery and what we must direct our attention to.  There are situations in life where it is the external that deserves almost the entirety of our attention (political problems for example); there are situations where we must focus on our own mental constitution instead (in personal relations to others for example).  The difference being the source of the ill.  Tax cuts for corporations and raising taxes on the poor harms the citizenry.  It is not the citizenry that harms themselves.  However, over-valuing or having an incorrect perception about a friend can cause harm, so even if they betray you the majority of the pain is created by your own perception of them whether or not said perception was justified or not.
The question then arises of how effectively we can assess the source of a problem.  In a sense all things observed by a conscious being (to recite Husserl) have two components (regardless of the nature of existence) a thing that is being perceived and a thing perceiving.  And so all of our sentiments have both the sentiment towards or about something external and the sentiment that is because of the nature (whether a consistent or momentary nature or state) of the subject.  But there are times where, unlike what the Stoics will acknowledge, evil does occur in the world and we must evaluate it and respond to it.  But not necessarily be distressed by it, which is something I think the Stoics can still teach us despite their flaws.  It is wrong to say that “everything the Lord has made is good, and it is only our own ignorance or vanity that colors thing darkly” but it is not wrong to say, “all things are manageable and it is within our power to work towards desired ends and not have what we cannot control worry us.”  We should concern ourselves with the external, but not worry or fret over it. 
Epictetus is right to say as he does in his Discourses (Stoic Six Pack p. 151[2]), for nothing can be good or bad (for us, for as a skeptic I believe human beings will never know any normative claims outside of the pragmatic conception of our lives and the lives of beings we encounter – making the phenomenal/Noumenal distinction of Kant but siding with the phenomenal) outside of our state of mind.  And nothing can be of value save to how it affects the mental states of conscious beings.  However, we must remember two things of the Stoics in their absolutism.  A – Their philosophy developed in an incredibly unstable time both politically and socially.  Human lives were “cheap” and it did seem as if everything one loved and held dear could be taken in the night.  Much of the first world both societally and politically is far more harmonious despite the economic concerns of its populous – and though America involves itself abroad militarily American soil remains untouched by the disruption and dismay of war.  And B – their philosophy was developed when the connection between mind and brain were still essentially non-existent (this relation between mind and brain can exist even if the brain or material reality is created by something we cannot conceive of.  I.e. even if we inhabit the Matrix, laws of brain activity and apples falling applies even if said things are in reality a computer simulation).  Now we know that our mental states cannot be completely changed in the Idealist way (thought exercises) they recommend though to their credit the meditations of the Stoics are taught by clinicians across the country for anxiety and other ailments of the mentally perturbed.  We know that there are social and exterior socials to our ills rather than solely mental or internal ones.  That regardless of whether or not what we communally experience is “reality” we do inhabit a shared world (so it seems) where we can learn and act on the knowledge gained to benefit our lives rather than merely cope stoically.
Though the Stoics were Realists their insistence on pragmatism leads towards the possibility of Anti-Realist or Instrumentalist interpretations of Stoicism.  The Cynics even more-so, since they focused solely on ethics and had no physics or epistemology (at-least not explicitly stated) to speak of – and therefore no ideas of existence save how it applied to us.  Their views of how knowledge is gained also leads the way towards Pragmatist and even Humean views.  For though they are by some considered Rationalist for their insistence of using reason and public inquiry or discussion to arrive at the truth, they begin by having us talk with others about the world to learn its contents and regularities.  That is, we look at our world and confer with others about it – much like our modern science whether Realist or Anti-Realist.  It is Humean because through its emphasis of pragmatism it lends itself to an Empiricism where no reference to fundamental essences is given – only the sense perceptions which allow us to make sense of the world.  For its not as if Hume thought reason was impotent, only that we gain knowledge of things via the senses and utilize reason to make sense of those impressions.
The major distinction ‘tween the Stoics and Hume is in moral sentiment.  The Stoics believe that reason guides men’s steps when Hume points out otherwise – that humans can never be motivated by “pure reason” and instead are always motivated by the passions or “normative perceptions” which reason is impotent to provide us, though can either reinforce or dismantle normative value-judgments.  Because once again, reason is a useful tool and is adequate at-times of either disabusing people of detrimental or hazardous notions or can be used to insert these notions in people’s heads as we see in our society with people adopting the values they do in-part of societal inculcation and “socialization.”
Though the catacombs of philosophy are as large as they are wide-spread (both in-terms of geography and chronology) in-effect I find the most wise sentiments and “truth” as far as Man may discover it in the writings of the Cynics in-regards to what we should value and how we should live (asceticism and rejection of pleasure and “peer pressure” or normalcy for normalcy’s sake); Hume, in-regards to how we learn things and what motivates human behavior; and Schopenhauer in how we should see each other (fellow sufferers) and what we should strive for in this existence (to be free of pain and content, rather than pursue pleasures which are seldom as pleasant as we imagine).  Also the latter two give proper reasoning for punishment (consequential – to deter further crime rather than because of the inherent “wrongness” of the crime that “deserves” punishment and needless suffering) though he is ignorant of the human capacity of improvement (when given the proper resources either through compassion or sense of justice and fairness) and deterring crime through fostering virtue in people (which the Greeks attempted to do) rather than threatening them with pain and imprisonment (or Hell in the case of religions).
To refer once again to a Pragmatist lens of various philosophers, the views of Schopenhauer’s metaphysics appear mystical and absurd when viewed in a Realist light.  But when we remember that even Schopenhauer himself said (though he was a Realist) that the world is composed of an evil ‘Will’ only so far as it applies to living things, and otherwise it is ignorant and indifference – this to applies very-much to an Anti-Realist Pragmatist position of what the world is in its significance being not atoms or Geist but what it is in relation to us.  Which rationally is the necessary thing (whether this world is generated through something outside our comprehension or really exists in the Realist sense) that allows us to exist and suffer as we do.  And viscerally is something to be rejoiced in for rejoicing is always better than lamenting.  Anti-Natalism should be encouraged but not stewed in.  That is, we rationally realize it is better never to have been, but since we are, we rejoice in this life and treat all beings as fellow sufferers who should be helped to see life in ways of potential rather than the inevitabilities of suffering and injustice which abound everywhere.  Suffering and injustice abound everywhere, as they always will as long as humans exist, but these ills can be mitigated through both the internal and the external, through Virtue, reflection and the creativity of human artistry.
This life is made in error, but through our own efforts it can be made into something which is so ethereal it appears to us to (but never rationally does) vindicate the erroneousness of this existence.



[1] In short, instead of a simply life you choose to fill it with unnecessary complication.  Because all this expensive stuff which is supposedly so conducive to happiness and which you hold so dear costs a lot in terms of pain and aggravation.  Just look at gold, which is so sought after, or silver, or expensive houses, fancy clothes, and all that goes with them.  Then consider at what price they’re acquired in terms of trouble, pain and danger- or rather in terms of blood, death and shattered lives, not just because many people die at sea searching for these luxury goods, or ruin their health manufacturing them, but because they are the source of so much intrigue and conflict among you, setting friend against friend, child against parent, even wife against husband.
[2] The being (nature) of the good is a certain will; the being of the bad is a certain kind of will.  What, then, are externals?  Materials of the will, about which the will being conversant shall obtain its own good or evil.  How shall it obtain the good?  If it does not admire (over-value) the materials; for the opinions about the materials, if the opinions are right, make the will good.

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