Philosophy teaches us to act, not to speak; it exacts of every man that he should live according to his own standards, that his life should not be out of harmony with his words, and that, further, his inner life should be of one hue and not out of harmony with all his activities. This, I say, is the highest duty and the highest proof of wisdom, that deed and word should be in accord, that a man should be equal to himself under all conditions, and always the same. – Seneca, Moral Letter 20
This week we learned more about how to harmonize theory with practice. As we see with this quote from Seneca, and as we saw from Musonius Rufus, to Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, the Stoics believed they should identify with their essential nature as rational beings by practicing what they preached. Otherwise, why study philosophy at all, if not to come home every night a better person? Musonius taught us that ‘practice trumps theory’. Epictetus said “In response to every situation in life, ask yourself what faculty or virtue nature has given you to best deal with it, e.g., courage, restraint, etc., and continually seek opportunities to exercise these virtues” (Enchiridion, 10). Marcus said to ‘practice even what seems impossible’.
Our learning materials also covered one of the most famous modern attestations to the power of Stoic reasoning, the experiences of Vice-Admiral James Stockdale. Having previously studied Epictetuss Enchiridion, Vice-Admiral James Stockdale was uniquely positioned to survive and lead his men through seven years of torture and captivity in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. The survival of Vice-Admiral Stockdale and his men is a testament to the power of the dichotomy of control and finding opportunities to act virtuously even in the most challenging of situations. In his own words, Vice-Admiral Stockdale described how in a prison camp good and evil are not just abstractions you kick around and give lectures about and attribute to this person and that. The only good and evil that means anything is right in your own heart, within your will, within your power, where its up to you.
In the last chapters of Irvines book, he traces the decline of Stoicism. Irvine believes that much of Stoicisms decline has to do with the popularity of modern psychological trends, the declining popularity of philosophy in general, and the average philosophers opinion that philosophies of life arent real philosophy. Further, Irvine points out that Stoicism requires a degree of self-control that people simply dont want to adhere to. To be a Stoic, you must practice what you preach, but Irvine argues that people arent interested in practicing these sorts of virtues anymore.
First, please read Seneca’s Moral Letter 20, On Practicing what you Preach: (Links to an external site.) I will send this
Then, considering this reading by Seneca, along with the material in Chapters 19-22 and the piece written by James Stockdale, answer the following questions, and number your responses accordingly.
In Seneca’s Moral Letter 20, Seneca applies to wisdom the definition of friendship. Describe how these two attributes correlate to each other. Draw explicitly from the Seneca’s writings from Letter 20.
Regarding procrastination, Irvine writes, Keep this up and we will one day realize that we have grown old without having acquired a philosophy of life…the contest that is our life has already begun (p. 206). Why might someone procrastinate when it comes to obtaining a philosophy of life, and what might someone risk if they fail to obtain a philosophy of life? Draw explicitly from the textbook when crafting your response.
In Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior, Vice-Admiral Stockdale cites examples from his own life where he applied stoic thinking to real-world circumstances. Compare and contrast one of Vice-Admiral Stockdale’s experiences with one of your own by discussing the Stoic practice he put to use and how it also applies to your experience. Make certain to cite the page of your example.
Irvine writes that “the Stoics want us to set many of our other personal desires aside so we can do our duty to serve our fellow humans” (p. 223). What do you believe is the most difficult desire for you to personally overcome, and why? What do you believe is the most difficult desire for people in general to overcome, and why? Use specific examples, and use outside research to support your answer.