Gregory Lopez | Stoic Logic, Training with Epictetus & Aligning with Nature

Gregory Lopez | Stoic Logic, Training with Epictetus & Aligning with Nature

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Gregory Lopez is the co-author of A Handbook for New Stoics, founder of the New York City Stoics, cofounder and board member of The Stoic Fellowship, is on the Modern Stoicism team, and co-facilitates Stoic Camp New York with Massimo Pigliucci. He is also lead editor for Examine.com and editor in chief of the Nutrition Examination Research Digest.

In this episode we discuss a wide range of topics from Stoic logic to Epictetus' training method, and aligning with nature to the coronavirus outbreak. 

GUEST LINKS

NEW YORK CITY STOICS: New York City Stoics 

BOOK: A Handbook for New Stoics

THE STOIC FELLOWSHIP: The Stoic Fellowship

MODERN STOICISM: Modern Stoicism

NUTRITIONAL EXAMINATION RESEARCH DIGEST: Nutrition Examination Research Digest

EXAMINE: Examine.com 

  • Epictetus taught that we should never do or say anything which inhibits our two fundamental human traits: rationality and pro-sociality. 
  • When we go throughout our day there will be many first impressions which hit us. Our job is to interrogate those initial thoughts and question their legitimacy/truth, and thereby make better and more rational decisions which can help us to be better humans.
  • Cicero gives an account of the Hellenistic philosophies, including Stoicism. He believed that all of the Hellenistic schools aimed at a life in agreement with Nature. 
  • Gregory suggests that the Epicureans create the clearest picture of living in agreement with Nature. The Epicureans focused on ascertaining which desires were natural and which were not, and they aimed at whittling one’s desires down until they only desired things that were natural to desire. 
  • The Epicureans believed that we have a “natural metre” in our heads which can tell us what’s healthy for us and what’s not - it’s called pleasure and pain. They argued against the Stoics, suggesting that even the Stoics would do things that were painful even though Nature was clearly showing them that it wasn’t good for them. 
  • The Stoics would disagree with this distinction, and one should use logic to get a clearer picture of what it really means to live in agreement with Nature. 
  • Epictetus offered a three-pronged approach to training our mind for better decisions. 
  • First is the discipline of aversion. We’re to (a) work with our aversions, or what we want to get away from, and we’re to (b) move those aversions away from things that are external to us. This is basically the dichotomy of control, which means that we are to understand what is within our control and what is not within our control. When we understand what is in our power and what’s not, then we are to practice our aversion to external things by giving certain things up and experiencing discomfort. Put simply, we are to learn how to decrease our aversions to things outside our control, and to increase our aversions to flaws in our own moral character - the thing inside our control. You want to change your reactions to things - not the things themselves.
  • It’s important that we don’t simply stop at the dichotomy of control, because Stoicism is not simply about being resilient. If we stop here then we might achieve a certain satisfaction no matter what happens to us, but that doesn’t necessarily make the world a better place. 
  • You shouldn’t yet try to increase your desires for internal goods, and Epictetus give the reason for this in his second step:
  • Second is the discipline of desire/action. This is the discipline of practicing being a better person and improving one’s moral character. We should only want what is good for our moral character. 
  • Epictetus taught that only the Stoic sage could be a true friend. This is one of Stoicism’s great paradoxes. Epictetus demonstrates this by giving a metaphor of puppies in a pen. The puppies are all cute and playful, and they seem to all be friends with each other, but as soon as they’re hungry and you throw in some meat then that will be enough to turn them all against each other. This is because they desire externals (food) above being friendly to each other. So the sage can be a friend because he/she doesn’t change when externals get in the way, but regular people are basically friendly when things are just right. 
  • Third is the discipline of ascent. This is the process of fine-tuning your attention to your most immediate thoughts and reactions to things in life. We’re to practice pausing in the moment when we are faced with a certain impression so that we can really question what would be the best response. This is where we use logic to determine the best possible course of action.
  • There are three main studies in Stoicism: physics, ethics and logic. 
  • Physics encompasses the learning of everything that exists around us. It is a study which is aimed at learning what everything in the cosmos is, and that also encompasses the Stoic understanding of “God”. 
  • Ethics is a focus on the learning and development of one’s character (ie: how we should live).
  • Logic was called “dialectics” in ancient days, which basically is the study of how to speak and how to correctly formulate theories and arguments. 
  • Logic today is the study of formal systems in order to deduce theorems. 
  • In the book of John in the bible there is a passage that reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The word which John is describing is derived from the Greek tradition, which John was involved in, and is describing the logos - or the interaction of our words with the world around us. Logic, to the ancient philosophers, was the study of words and how they work. Logic (or words) is what helps us to see clearly and to make sound judgements. 
  • Logic, as the Stoics saw it, was a much broader subject which encompassed our understanding of words, language, psychology, and the creation of effective ways to describe the world and our striving for better actions in it. 
  • The Stoics debated over which study a student should start with - logic, ethics or physics. 
  • Gregory argues that one should start with logic which seems like a natural precursor to the other disciplines seeing as it can teach us how to think clearly. 
  • The Stoics believed that humans fundamentally had two things that make us human. First, we’re social creatures. Second, we have reason (the logos, or logic). 
  • We live in tribes, we love socialising, and we love talking about other people and helping them. It’s clear that we’re social.
  • We’re capable of using reason to a high degree in order to solve problems which we face. Therefore it is clear that reason is one of our core traits. 
  • Working on our logic, according to the Stoics, makes us more human because we’re developing a part of ourselves which is fundamental to who we are. 
  • Many people start their practice of Stoicism with the dichotomy of control, but simply knowing what is in your power and what’s not in your power may not be the most effective place to start since this really doesn’t solidify in your mind what you should do or aim at. 
  • Gregory suggests that the best first step is to start in the same way that the ancient philosophers started - by sitting down and really considering (or writing about) what you should aim at in life. Ask the questions; what do you want? What does all this mean? What’s worth aiming at? Is virtue really the highest good? Answering these questions for yourself will really help you to understand the directions you’re going and the directions you’d rather go. When you know this then you can aim better and learn better.
  • There are three core questions in Stoicism: (Physics) What is all of this I’m experiencing? (Ethics) How should I act now that I know what all this is? (Logic) How do I know if I’m right?
  • There is a metaphor which the Stoics used to demonstrate these questions: There is a fenced field where crops are growing (similar to the metaphor of the walled Garden of Eden). There is the soil (physics), the crops (ethics) and the fence which keeps it all safe from infestation (Logic). We need to understand the physics so we can grow good crops (ethics), and when we can grow good crops (ethics) then we need a fence (logic) in order to protect what we’ve grown. 
  • The fence (logic) is the most important element of the walled garden of Stoicism because you cannot understand the world and how to live unless you can use reason and logic to think correctly about these questions. 
  • Greg suggests that the philosophy of words is what one would study in order to become better at logic. 
  • “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” is based on a behaviourist theory of language called “relational framed theory.” This theory basically says that our brains work in an interrelated mesh. Sometimes we trick ourselves with words and we go down paths that aren’t best for us. For example, if we look into the future and tell ourselves a story that we will suffer then we will live out that hell in the present. This is a double-edged sword. 
  • One of the goals of Stoicism, like the goal of acceptance and commitment therapy, is to dull the edges of this double edged sword so that we can stop focusing so much on the future and the past and instead to see the thought as a thought and not as reality. This allows us to think more rationally about what would be the best next step.