[image: yours truly, selfie at the emergency room; this is essay #298 in the Figs in Winter series]

As regular readers know very well, one of the foundational passages in ancient Stoic literature is found right at the beginning of Epictetus’ Manual:

Some things are up to us, while others are not. Up to us are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not up to us are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing. (Enchiridion 1.1)

The passage introduces what is often called the dichotomy of control, though it should probably be renamed the dichotomy of responsibility, or the dichotomy…

[image: Immanuel Kant, unidentified painter, circa 1790 (Wikipedia); this is essay #297 in the Figs in Winter series]

In the “Critique of Pure Reason,” Immanuel Kant writes that “all the interests of my reason,” theoretical as well as practical, boil down to just three questions: “What can I know?” “What ought I do?” and “What can I hope for?” In these three questions, Kant delineated the whole scope of philosophical thought. (h/t to Tom Whyman for reminding me of this)

I don’t fancy myself a Kant, and in fact, I never warmed up to that particular philosopher, as brilliant and influential as he undoubtedly was. But when I encounter something like the above I can’t help but looking…

What Stoicism can do, with practice and dedication, is to make the whole situation more bearable.

[image: Intellectual activities such as playing chess or regular social interaction have been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s in epidemiological studies, although no causal relationship has been found (Wikipedia); this is essay #296 in the Figs in Winter series]

J. writes: I have recently learned that my father has moderate Alzheimer’s dementia. Having watched multiple family members die from this, I know there is the potential for a long, difficult road ahead. Do you have any writings related to this, or can you point me in the direction of some Stoic literature related to the topic? …

[image: ostrakon from 482 BCE, used to cast a vote to ostracize the Athenian general Themistocles (Wikimedia); this is essay #295 in the Figs in Winter series]

The time is 1979. The place Rome. I am a 15 year old who is participating in a sit-in organized by one of the anarchic factions of my decidedly left-leaning high school. A variety of topics are under discussion, ranging form American imperialism to the latest terrorist attack by the (ultra leftist) “Brigate Rosse” (Red Brigades). I am not myself a committed leftist, coming from a family whose political opinions range from none at all to moderate-boring to positively apologetic of fascism. But I am curious to see why my friends attend these sit-ins, so I go.

There are some…

Ask yourself that question, ponder it, and you’ll discover interesting — or perhaps disturbing — things about yourself.

[image: statue of Seneca in Córdoba, Spain (Wikimedia); this is essay #294 in the Figs in Winter series]

What is the most important thing in life? The chief good, so to speak? Ask yourself that question, ponder it, and you’ll discover interesting — or perhaps disturbing — things about yourself. For the Stoics the answer is surprisingly straightforward: virtue, a term that various sources use interchangeably with wisdom (Socrates) or sound judgment (Epictetus). Why would sound judgment be the chief good? Because everything else in your life depends on it. It is your judgment that will lead you to act or not to act this way or that. …

[image: Rage (14th century), Wikipedia; this is essay #293 in the Figs in Winter series]

A few days ago I saw a tweet that talked up a forthcoming book which will argue that rage is necessary to address racial injustice. The book isn’t out yet, so this essay isn’t about it, directly. But it is about the general notion that becoming enraged at injustice is both natural and right.

I have been writing about the perils of anger and rage for a while now, ever since the Stoics have convinced me that these are truly unhealthy emotional responses. Seneca wrote a whole book on anger, which begins:

Anger [is] a short madness: for it is…

[image: funerary relief (circa 500 BC) depicting wrestlers, Wikipedia; this is essay #292 in the Figs in Winter series]

One day Musonius Rufus, the first century Stoic who taught Epictetus, was having a conversation with his students, and someone asked whether he thought philosophical theory or practice was more effective, if one’s goal is to become a better person. He said:

Suppose that there are two physicians, one able to discourse very brilliantly about the art of medicine but having no experience in taking care of the sick, and the other quite incapable of speaking but experienced in treating his patients according to correct medical theory. Which one would you choose to attend you if you were ill? (V)

The Stoics understand eudaimonia as a life worth living.

[image: Heracles’ door at Ephesus, photo by the author; this is essay #291 in the Figs in Winter series]

This semester I’ve been teaching a course at City College in New York entitled “Practical Ancient Philosophy.” Naturally, we talk a lot about Stoicism. One of my students said she really digs the Stoics, but she feels she’d be more confident in her understanding of the philosophy if she was aware of some of the common criticisms raised against it, as well as of how Stoics respond. So here we go, in my experience the 24 most common objections to Stoic philosophy, organized by general theme. …

It is difficult to precisely define science and demarcate it from non-science and pseudoscience.

[image: Thales of Miletus, the first scientist (Wikipedia); this is essay #290 in the Figs in Winter series]

Natural philosophy — what we nowadays call science — was born when the Presocratic philosopher Thales of Miletus, back in the 6th century BCE, made the radical move to abandon supernatural “explanations” for the world’s phenomena, and inaugurated instead an understanding based on natural laws. Aristotle explains:

That from which is everything that exists and from which it first becomes and into which it is rendered at last, its substance remaining under it, but transforming in qualities, that they say is the element and principle of things that are. … For it is necessary that there be some nature, either…

On the perils of doing metaphysics by way of pathologies

[image: (left) David Hume by Allan Ramsay, 1766 (right) Buddha as an avatar at the Dwaraka Tirumala temple, Andhra Pradesh (Wikipedia); this is essay #289 in the Figs in Winter series]

Steven Hales is a professor of philosophy at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. As he describes in an essay for Aeon/Psyche, a traumatic personal experience has convinced him that there is no self, that the word “self” simply refers to a convenient fiction. He is in good company in his conclusion, from Buddha to David Hume. But I don’t think that’s quite right, and Hales in particular draws his inference on the basis of a mistake that is common to a number of philosophers: arriving at metaphysical statements on the basis of pathological examples.

Hales at one point suffered a disturbing…

Figs in Winter

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

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