Nancy Sherman | Stoic Emotion and Seneca's Humanity
ABOUT OUR GUEST
Nancy Sherman is University Professor and Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. Sherman is a New York Times Notable Author. Her books include Afterwar, The Untold War, and Stoic Warriors. From 1997-1999, she served as inaugural holder of the Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the US Naval Academy, designing and teaching the brigade-wide military ethics course and laying the groundwork for the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership. Sherman has received numerous prestigious fellowships, including those from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Center, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council for Learned Societies, the Mellon Foundation, the Yale Whitney Humanities Center, the American Philosophical Society, the Newcombe Fellowship of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and NYU’s Center for Ballet and the Arts. Sherman is a frequent contributor to the media worldwide. She has research training in psychoanalysis from the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute and regularly consults with military and veterans groups in the U.S. and abroad on issues of ethics, moral injury, and posttraumatic stress. In October 2005, she visited Guantanamo Bay Detention Center as part of an independent observer team assessing the medical and mental health care of detainees. She lectures widely nationally and abroad. She holds a Ph.D. from Harvard in philosophy.
- The Stoics borrow from Aristotle when it comes to emotions. They believe that at the centre of an emotion is a belief, cognition or thought which you ascent to voluntarily.
- We have the stimulus and then we have the reaction to that stimulus. Stoics taught that we can control this reaction.
- We also have fears and desires for things in the past, present and future. These are emotions that the Stoics believe we should aim to contain within our control as well.
- But before all of these responses that are within our control are viewed upon we actually have autonomic responses to the stimulus. For example, if you see your daughter crying then you’re likely to feel yourself tearing up as well. This is an uncontrollable emotional response. These are called “proto” emotions or “Propatheia”.
- These porto-emotions are now understood as our “low road” emotions that are deep within us and rarely make their way into our more rational control. Over time they can be redirected with practice, but unless they are harmful to others we really shouldn’t need to focus our efforts on changing them seeing as they simply happen.
- The Stimulus: the things that happen.
- Involuntary Response: our biological and deeply ingrained first response (e.g. laughter, crying, shivering etc.)
- Impressions: Our immediate judgements about those things that happen.
- Voluntary Response: Our “high road” response to the stimulus, involuntary response, and impression.
- Eupatheia is the word for our better and more virtuous responses. These are good emotions.
- Stoics talk about various expressions of emotions like good caution, bad caution, good joy, bad joy, good desire, bad desire etc. Many of these have to do with the Stoic sage, understanding that nobody can really achieve the life of a sage thereby making only virtuous decisions.
- Ultimately what we’re aiming at is the avoidance of vice and the cultivation of virtue.
- So much of our personal growth and directional change finds its roots in emotional regulation and management.
- Stoics encourage emotional fortitude and a focus only on the process of developing our skills and emotions as opposed to attaching ourselves to the outcome.
- “At some point we need to realise that there can be enough failure of outcome that the greatest insulation we have, or protection policies we take out against outcome success still won’t protect us fully.” - Nancy Sherman quote.