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August 03, 2023


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“Stoicism advises being happy with what we already have”

“That doesn't mean we don't try to deal with problems.”

……….Just read all three of your posts on Stoicism, the two here and the one in your other blog. Nice. (Left a comment there as well, but it seems not to have taken!)

I was wondering, how do the Stoics resolve the conflict between the two quotes from your posts that I’ve copied above? Given the first sentence, how would the second sentence fit in there? Does your book clearly discuss this?

What I mean is this: If you’re content with what you have, then why would you try to “deal with problems”, at least beyond the completely trivial chopping-wood-drawing-water sense? If you’re happy with what you have, why would you go out of your way to change things? After all, that guy, Diogenes, yes, he was content to live in a barrel, wasn’t he, and simply laughed in Alexander’s face when he offered to help him. If you’re already content, then wouldn’t “trying to deal with problems” amount to Alexandrian folly?

It’s a question of judgment, I suppose. Or maybe a matter of some kind of mean, that shuns either extreme. Except, what would that judgment entail, exactly, and why? And why a mean, and how exactly would the mean be defined, at what level, and why? If going from one barrel to two barrels is fine, then why not five? Why not a small hut? Why not a mansion? Why not a kingdom? Why not a whole blinking empire?

I guess what I’m saying is, the devil would be in the details of how those two sentences of yours are resolved. I was wondering how the Stoics themselves resolved this contradiction, this conflict. Resolve it they must have; because they were smart guys, those ancients, and this is such a completely obvious loose end; so that very likely they’ve already addressed this.

Does your book speak of this? If so, it would be great if you could tell us how the Stoics worked around this …this thing, this apparent paradox.

@ AR

Where I live one is hardly 10 minutes away from the first house etc ..but in the USA I understand one can be miles and miles away from any help.

If a stoic had a flat tire on one of these roads he might not get upset, neither by the flat tire nor by the consequences of not arriving somewhere in time but would he not change the wheel?

Hey, um!

Yep, they would, change the tire I mean to say. And agreed, they might either do that with curses flying, else with joy in their heart and a song on their lips. Agreed, the latter seems more ...healthy, more happy, better adjusted, sure. To that extent, sure, agreed, this Stoic principle works fine. ...But then, that would be firmly in the "trivial and drawing-water-chopping-wood" territory I spoke of, no?

What I was speaking of is the larger issues of life, that most people are beset with. At the personal level, as well as at levels larger than that. Stoicisim is cool actually, but it isn't simply about how-to-smile-through-dentists-appoinments level of trivial tribulations. So those larger issues, the larger problems that people go to great lengths to address, that's what I was wondering about, how the Stoic reconciles that with being (already) happy and content with things as they are.

@ AR

What I am going to write now is pure a personal impression...!!!

It seems to me that all those that have mastered ANY path, be it philosophers or mystics where not interested in "changing the world for the better" as they had come to realize that the could not ..and .. if you want to change the world, change your own.

And that doesn't mean they were egocentric ... it is a matter of understanding.


Christ for example did not say .. go and create charitable organisations etc ... he said to those that suffered from the Roman occupation and did not find consolation in the temple .. enjoy your own kingdom INSIDE

The Buddha too .. did he created practices of Tonglen??

He found the source of human suffering INSIDE them and because of that there is also the cure

So you're suggesting removing the second sentence altogether. The "That doesn't mean we don't try to deal with problems" part. Fair enough, that's one way of resolving that conflict, by doing away with the conflict altogether.

I wouldn't necessarily generalize this across all systems, but certainly what you say holds for Buddhistic principles, if you follow them to their logical end. At least IMV.

I was wondering if that's the case for Stoicism as well, or if they've devised some workaround to it.

(I'd imagine they would have, because the Romans were as completely the opposite of the (mostly) pacifist Buddhist types as it is possible to be! After all, when you think of Stoicism, then the one man that immediately leaps to mind is Marcus Aurelius; and while he was by all accounts a wise man, but he was no non-violent pacifist, but a world-conquering emperor. So what would lead someone who's content with things as they are, to go rampaging in far-away lands? To "solve problems", the larger problems, for better or for worse? ...Or is that simply a case of disconnect between principle and observance?)

@ AR

Who is called to look after the problems of the world???

If you want bread do you go to a farmer?

@ Ar

To use the example I often use:

Yehudi Menuhin , has developed himself to a master of Violin, he payed the price of his youth .. how could he have found time to do anything else???

All those that teacher the peek of their interest, did so to the complete exclusion of everything else.

Haha, thank you, um! You've helped me answer my own question, although not in the sense you meant it.

Your Yehudi Menuhin argument might work for mystics, and schools of mysticism. Those, as you say, would be so wrapped up in their own internal perspective that, while they wouldn't overtly do harm, but they wouldn't dilute their inner absorption to focus overly much on worldly matters either. That kind of makes sense.

But the Stoics weren't mystics. As far as I follow this, Stoicism isn't about mysticism. Aurelius's "meditations", so called, are actually contemplations, reflections, is all. Those are rules of conduct in the world, set out for effective living, is all.

So that, it isn't inconceivable that those rules might encompass righting egregious wrongs in the world. No contradiction there, at all.


That said: That resolution to the question that occurred to me, above, on thinking over what you said, is just my personal take. It may be valid, generally speaking, maybe. But is that how the Stoics of old themselves resolve the issue? For that answer, we'll have to turn to the Stoics themselves. Maybe Brian could tell us that, if his book touches on that specific.

And besides, how do you go from "Be content with what you have", to 'Spend huge swaths of your life fighting in faraway lands, winning lands and subjugating populaces in order to add to your already gargantuan empire', as Marcus Aurelius did? Heh, well might Alexander have taken this question, that I asked here, to his teacher Aristotle, so that he might have a snappy answer ready for when the barrel philosopher Diogenes laughed in his face! Again, if your book addresses this specific, then maybe you could tell us about it, Brian.

It’s all a bit alien to me this stoic business of grading and how to respond or not to situations. Am more or less quiet okay with ‘being happy with what you have’, although rather than ‘being happy’ about it, I would simply say (IMO) about a situation ‘be present with what you have’. Whatever is occurring at the moment is what it is and whether one goes along with it, challenges it or decides to alter it is still that which is happening at that moment.

Being okay with what you have, like life, changes from moment to moment. One minute (day month or year) brings a new moment, perhaps a new thought or emotion or a new life situation. Perhaps one you didn’t expect, maybe one foisted upon you by outside influences. All are actual, real-life situations that one deals with according to where, how and what you are at that moment.

Whether one just thinks about it or acts on it is not (in the scheme of things) important. What is significant (IMO) is that the moment is lived in awareness, being present, whether that moment is a sad one, a happy one or whatever. Which I guess means knowing the mind which instead of living and seeing life filtered through a lifetime’s accumulation of thoughts and experiences, enables one to live life as it is – at that moment

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