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[image: Death of Seneca, by Jacques-Louis David, Musée du Petit-Palais, Paris, Wikipedia; this is essay #276 in the Figs in Winter series]

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Warning: this essay is about suicide. If you are depressed or suffering from a mental condition that leads you to entertain suicidal thoughts, this article is not for you. Instead, call the suicide prevention hotline at 800–273–8255, or visit their web site.

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The Stoics are famous — or infamous, depending on who you ask — for their treatment of suicide, which was at variance with those of both Socrates (the direct inspiration for Stoic philosophy) and the Epicureans. Epictetus writes about his “open door policy,” suggesting that the possibility of suicide is what makes us truly free: if…


How wellbeing is affected by Hedonic vs long-term goals.

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[image: Antoine Watteau, Pleasures of Love, 1718–19, Wikimedia; this is essay #275 in the Figs in Winter series]

Should we pursue a life of pleasure or one of meaning? This question has been asked at least since Greco-Roman times, and it is perhaps best exemplified in the contrast between two of the dominant Hellenistic philosophies: Epicureanism (pleasure) vs Stoicism (meaning). (With a major caveat: since the Epicureans defined lack of pain as the highest pleasure, it has reasonably been argued that Epicureanism shouldn’t really be considered a hedonistic philosophy. Not to worry, for the purposes of this article you can substitute it with Cyrenaism.)

Modern psychologists are also very interested in the issue, referring to it as hedonia…


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[image: bronze statuette of a girl reading (1st century), Wikipedia; this is essay #274 in the Figs in Winter series]

The third and fourth lectures by Musonius Rufus, the teacher of Epictetus, deal with the topic of how women should be educated. While, inevitably, Musonius makes some comments that would not pass muster with current ideas on gender issues, the Stoics in general, and Musonius in particular, were ahead of their time in this respect. It would, of course, be anachronistic to talk about ancient Stoic feminism. …


Stoics strive to maintain a reasonable outlook on life, avoiding the Scylla of dour pessimism as well as the Charybdis of wishful thinking

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[image: apartment complex in Brooklyn, photo by the author; this is essay #273 in my Patreon/Medium series]

The image accompanying this essay is of a building in Brooklyn, New York. My wife and I will move into that apartment complex before the end of the spring, if the gods of banks, lawyers, and building cooperatives will allow. The reason I’m telling you this bit of personal trivia is because it occurred to me that this, very likely, will be the last time I will ever buy an apartment. (With the possible exception of moving to Italy for retirement later on, which is something we are considering.)

Indeed, at some point or another in our lives we will…


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[image: by Victoria Borodinova from Pexels; this is essay #272 in my Patreon/Medium series]

One could reasonably argue that a crucial aspect of Stoicism is an emphasis on endurance. Which is why so many people think that Stoicism is “only” good to deal with hardship. Setting aside that there is a lot more to Stoicism than how to cope with hardship, we would do well to remember that every human life will, sooner or later, be marked by hardship. Even if you are the most successful, wealthy, and healthy person in the world, you will still have to face your own death. And before that, the death of some of your loved ones. …


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[image: reproduction of a Trojan archer sculpture, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; this is essay #271 in my Patreon/Medium series]

A friend of mine the other day asked me if I had read an article in the New York Times talking about Prof. Dan-el Padilla Peralta, of Princeton University, and his crusade to save the Greco-Roman classics from their (alleged) whiteness. I looked, and my first thought was “this is far too long, is it really going to be worth my time?” You see, one of the classic authors in question, Seneca, always reminds me that time is by far the most precious commodity we have:

“But they never regard themselves as in debt when they have received some of…


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[image: Charles Darwin as a young man, portrait by George Richmond, Wikipedia; this is essay #270 in my Patreon/Medium series]

Below is a response, by W. Ford Dootlittle and Drew Inkpen to my commentary on the Gaia Hypothesis, published here on January 4th. It’s followed by a brief counter-commentary by yours truly.

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We (I’m joined by my former postdoc Drew Inkpen, now a member of the faculty at Mt. Allison University and co-author with me on a Proceedings of the National Academy paper explaining some of the tenets of our expansion of Darwinian thinking) have several things to say in response to Massimo’s critique. Most of this has already been published in academic journals, which do not in general…


Is pain really morally bad? Is pleasure really morally good?

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[image: Medieval woman, having given birth, enjoying her lying-in (postpartum confinement). France, 14th century, Wikipedia; this is essay #269 in my Patreon/Medium series]

You might have heard of anti-natalism, the notion that it is immoral to bring children into the world. You might have also dismissed it out of hand as yet another example of useless philosophical navel-gazing. But the anti-natalists have a sophisticated argument on their side, and simply labeling a position absurd is no counter-argument. Let’s take a look, and then construct an anti-anti-natalist response on the basis of Stoic principles.

An article by Joseph Earp, a strong advocate of anti-natalism, makes the case. Earp summarizes the argument put forth by one of the leading philosophers in the anti-natalism camp, the…


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[image: early afternoon during the Polar Night, viewed from the upper reaches of Tromsø towards the mainland side, Wikipedia; this is essay #268 in my Patreon/Medium series]

Some people suffer from what psychologists call Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. For instance, people who live in areas of the globe where winter days are very short and it’s very cold. Yet, others seem to cope remarkably well with the hardship, for instance, the inhabitants of Tromsø, Norway, latitude 69 degrees north. They receive only two or three hours of light per day during the winter, and yet they don’t suffer from SAD. Why not?

An article by David Robson in the Guardian explains, focusing on the fascinating research conducted by health psychologist Kari Leibowitz. The answer, broadly speaking…


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[image: Steve Jobs, a dick, not a Stoic, Wikipedia; this is essay #267 in my Patreon/Medium series]

T. writes: There are many “vices” that I have the power to correct but that according to modern cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) need not necessarily be corrected. CBT would even re-frame these vices as strengths because they make a person less effective if corrected.

For an extreme example think of Steve Jobs, he was a colossal dick by many accounts, but that colossal dickiness maybe got people to do amazing things really fast. …

Figs in Winter

Stoicism, ethics, and philosophy of science. Complete index, by subject, at https://figsinwinter.blog/essays/

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