Being Better: The Spartans and Stoics Offer So Much More than Self-Help by Kai Whiting

At least on some level, co-authoring my recent book “Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living In” was a journey into the hearts and minds of the great men and women, who pointed out the path to eudaimonia (a state that Zeno referred to as the “good life” or “the life worthy of being lived”) and told us that we could obtain it through our work alone. One of the most powerful Stoics that I became acquainted with, and whose story Leo and I tell (in Chapter 7) is that of the Spartan Queen Agiatis[1]. She leant on Stoic ideas to help her husband King Kleomenes III bring down an oligarchical regime that had crushed Sparta’s warrior spirit. Her example speaks to me for three reasons:

  1. It confirms to me that Stoicism isn’t only about the self: While Stoicism is profoundly about sculpting your own character, the Stoic-influenced Spartan land and socioeconomic reforms prove that the philosophy can be used for the common good. It also shows me that we can successfully apply Stoicism at the community level and assures me that Stoicism has something to say about environmental issues, such as biodiversity loss, which we normally don’t consider to be under our control. I am convinced that if the Spartans could use Stoicism to improve their society, then so can we.
  2. Sparta was so much more than toughness and austerity: Writing Being Better allowed me to dispel the myths of a Spartan as a single-minded killing machine. It taught me how Kleomenes, with help from his wife and the Stoic philosopher, Sphaerus, reformed the educational system, established paths to citizenship for foreigners, and tirelessly advocated for justice, temperance, courage, and wisdom (at least how they conceived of these virtues).   Even in their failures, the Spartan Stoics showed me that reason and justice were more natural to humankind than mere slaughtering in warfare.  It is interesting to me how the mass media creations of Sparta, though often entertaining, says more about the vices of contemporary society than it does about ancient Sparta!
  3. Female Stoics were not silent: If you listen carefully, female Stoics have a voice and they powerfully remind us that role models come in all shapes and sizes, whether they label themselves as Stoics or not. This inspired me to continue playing my part in making the contemporary Stoic community as cohesive and coherent as possible. In particular, it made me think about how we all need to lean into reason and put aside the labels we too often used to define and separate ourselves from others.

 In some respects, Being Better was a very difficult book to write, not least because it rebels against its categorisation as a “self-help” book. This is because it fundamentally  questions the meaning behind, and validity of, the self-help space – at least how it’s conventionally understood. The irony is not lost on me. In fact, if Being Better was a person, I think it would be the troublemaker who is precariously close to being thrown out of the group for biting the hand that feeds it. There would certainly be some truth in this accusation. Without a shadow of a doubt, Being Better owes its existence to the half-truths (and some damn right lies) that litter the self-help space and which, for the most part, constitute the tried and tested formula of self-help success.

In the remainder of this article, I would like to show, at least to some extent, where and why Being Better, breaks the “self-help” mould and challenges Stoic practitioners, including myself, to grapple with what is required to create and belong to a world worth living in.

There Are No Universal Solutions in Stoicism

Many self-help books (not necessarily Stoic ones) are written by people who believe that the secret  to your “success”  (not just theirs) is their 10-step plan, which if followed to the letter will guarantee the life you dream of. However, this view of reality couldn’t be further from Stoicism, which holds that the ability to live a life worthy of being lived (the life the ancient Stoics said we should be dreaming of) is a function of four roles.

As Leo and I discuss in Being Better, only one of these, the role of being a rational human being, is universal to everyone. The second role is shaped by our individual nature. This includes our likes, dislikes, personality traits, and odd quirks. The third is a product of our personal circumstances, which include where we were born, where we now live, whether we have children or elderly parents, and how much money or social influence we have. The fourth relates to the professional path we wish to take in life and includes our career choices: the job that we are trained to do, and the corresponding knowledge that we acquired while doing it.

All four roles combine to determine our path to eudaimonia. Although we may share some steps with others, the path we carve (the choices we make and actions or inactions we undertake) is ultimately our own. It is unique to us because it is created by the way in which we actively chose to shape our character, in light of our moral obligations, responsibilities and the degree of freedom we have to walk upon the terrain (our circumstances) while tied to the metaphorical Stoic cart. As Leonidas Konstantakos and I state in Chapter 5:

Our ability, and therefore our personal obligation, to save lives if we happen to be a motor mechanic will be different from that of a trained doctor. Likewise, our ability, and therefore our personal obligation, to enact legal change will be different for those who are qualified lawyers or judges. However, a Stoic mechanic is expected to obtain the necessary wisdom that enables them to fix cars and to treat people justly at the same time, as this will have an impact on their own well-being and the well-being of others.

None of what I have said so far is remotely contentious or hard to understand. Both the Stoics and common-sense tells that no two people are exactly alike and that, therefore, we get different results when we do the exact same thing. To use a mundane, and rather silly, example, I am 5ft 5 inches, Leo is 6ft. If “success” is grabbing toilet roll off the top shelf in a supermarket, and it is to be achieved by following Leo’s instructions to (1) stand in the correct place and (2) reach my arms up in the air and (3) grab it, then I will fail if the shelf is higher up than I can physically reach. No amount of self-belief will result in my adult limbs growing. It may be a stupid example, but, in essence, it’s no different to all sorts of claims that too many self-help authors make. This is why Leo and I wrote in Chapter 1:

We aren’t privy to your personal circumstances. We don’t know the nature of the problems you are trying to solve. We cannot guess how you and those around you would react to any of the many possible options available to you. Even if we did know you well and tried to “put ourselves in your shoes,” what we would actually be doing is considering your situation from our point of view. In other words, we would be putting our feet into your shoes rather than considering how your shoes fit your feet! [2]

Ironically, writing the above paragraph flies in the face of conventional non-Stoic self-help wisdom, even though it is effectively saying “we are not going to give you answers precisely because we want you to think it through and help yourself”. In other words, Leo and I wrote Being Better in a way that (we hope) gets you to ask yourself better questions, ask yourself questions that you might never have thought about previously and, ultimately, ask yourself how you can be a better person. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the quality of my life has been marked by the quality of my questions.

For me personally, Being Better empowered me to ask extremely difficult questions – ones we typically shy away from, even in the contemporary Stoic community! For example, the book caused me to consider if I truly believed the Stoic claim that slavery is an “indifferent”, i.e. neither a virtue or vice. It made me ask myself whether, and to what extent, Stoicism can be used to fight climate breakdown, extreme poverty and religious/political intolerance.

I am happy to report that, if anything, Being Better convinced me that Stoicism is a powerful tool that goes way beyond our (hopefully) calmer self and quotidian matters.

Stoic Self-Help Isn’t About Me, Myself and I

When I first came across Stoicism, and as I wrote for the Daily Stoic, I saw a philosophy that serves humanity by helping individuals to acknowledge and work towards cosmopolitanism, as captured by Hierocles Circles of Concern. These circles depict the Stoic belief that we all belong to one universal community bound by reason (logos).The circles also visually portray the Stoic belief that a reasonable person’s relationship with others starts with the circle of the “self” and expands into “family,” “friends,” “community,” and “all humanity”, and, in my opinion, the “Earth”.

Figure 1. A contemporary version of Hierocles’ circles of concerns, first established in Whiting et al (2018) [3]

These circles allow us to recognise ourselves in all of humanity and all of humanity in ourselves. It leads to an understanding that Stoicism is more about collective obligations, responsibilities and civic duty than an individual’s rights, a sentiment which is nicely captured by Marcus Aurelius when he says:

What brings no benefit to the hive brings no benefit to the bee

Meditations 6.54

The aforementioned phrase by Aurelius is well-known in the contemporary Stoic community. It is impossible to disagree with it and is the kind of sentence I would expect to find on a Silicon Valley CEO’s fridge, as much as I would anticipate seeing it on an eco-feminist Marxist’s backpack. The problem is that superficial sentiments and pithy quotes can equally support the idea of “success” as becoming a more effective entrepreneur (in your main job or side hustle), who earns considerable money and “crushes it” for the benefit of the customer and shareholder bees. However, such an approach to success contrasts with Stoic ethics, particularly the theological aspects. Leo and I highlight this in Being Better, when we discuss the importance of considering the wellbeing of all things that share the logos with us (this includes animals, plants and rocks).

 Being Better also alludes to the dangers of self-help authors creating the (false) impression that humanity is destined to live in a dog-eat-dog world or is subject to a zero-sum game that only fools think we can escape.[4] To me, the fool is the person who values competition over collaboration only to lose out on the benefits that can be obtained when we chose to work towards for the common good – something that Denis Villeneuve’s film Arrival, makes beautifully clear when the protagonist highlights the consequences of translating the word “tool” as “weapon”.  

Having written Being Better, I would now say that I am more acutely aware as to how quickly false notions of competition can become a weapon with which to attack the shield of cosmopolitanism. For evidence of this, consider how often business self-help books use the terms “crushing it” or “killing it” to, somewhat ironically,  describe someone who is doing something well. How precisely can crushing, killing or annihilating the competition bring us closer to virtue and eudaimonia? It doesn’t surprise me that these kinds of self-help books fail to mention justice or wisdom and restrict self-control and courage to having enough “self-control” or “courage” to “follow your passion” (not exactly a Stoic message). It also doesn’t help people if authors glorify the making of sacrifices for the sake of a more pleasurable or wealthier (rather than virtuous) existence.

Writing Being Better convinced me more than ever to take a stand against the idea that a world worth living is one where we should all prioritise how we feel over a sense of rational thought processing, duty and civic responsibility. To truly live Marcus Aurelius’ warning, we have to embody it in our day-to-day decisions such as what we eat, what we buy and what we chose to tolerate. Being Better also made me consider just how much we all invest in convincing ourselves that we can do nothing because X or Y is beyond our control. Wouldn’t we all be better Stoics if we invested in our agency so that we could gain control?  In this respect, I think there are definitely times that we all get a little too complacent and comfortable in our Epicurean garden!

Maybe, Stoicism’s Not for Everyone?

I have heard a great many contemporary Stoic practitioners and scholars say that Stoicism really isn’t for everyone. However, I don’t think I quite understood where they were coming from until after I had finished writing Being Better. While Stoicism certainly doesn’t call us to proselytise or to preach to anyone, I would be lying if I said didn’t want more Stoic practitioners in the world, even though I know that the size of the contemporary Stoic community is well beyond my control!

I think I thought that all people who sincerely came into contact with Stoicism would just ease their way into the practice. I thought that if they understood the fundamentals, they would be prepared to accept that it is a philosophy of extremes practiced in a world of multiple shades of grey. I am no longer sure that’s the case. Quite frankly, a lot of people do want a tick box guide sheet and, unfortunately for them, that’s just not Stoicism!

Stoic philosophy has no tick boxes and makes only one axiomatic claim: virtue is the only good and vice the only bad. Despite this, I find that some people may not wish to accept that what is a virtuous thing for me to do may not be a virtuous thing for them to do, because in Stoicism the right thing to do is dependent on the reason behind it. In turn, those reasons are a product of who you are and where you are at that specific moment in time. This is simply an understanding of the world that some people do not willingly accept because it smells of moral relativism[5].

However, in line with what I explained above, both a medical doctor and an academic doctor (PhD), like myself, who come across a dying person are morally obligated to do everything in their power to assist them. However, my obligation may end with a simple phone call, whereas the doctor might have to involve themselves in a range of complex processes (virtuous acts) that I couldn’t hope to understand.

Personally, I remain convinced that the path to eudaimonia is open up to all adults that are capable of reason and that Stoicism is one path that allows us to obtain it.  I do believe that one of my obligations, at least for the moment, is to do my very best to ensure that I communicate the nature of Stoicism. This requires me to unpack what it really means for something to be an indifferent and to have as many Socratic discussions with contemporary Stoics as possible so we can together distinguish the superficial from the fundamentally important. To my mind, this is the first step on the road to being better and a world worth living in.

Acknowledgement: Kai would like to thank James Daltrey for his formulation of the footnote on Stoicism and moral relativism.

[1] We are largely indebted to Plutarch’s Lives of Agis and Kleomenes and Andrew Erskine’s The Hellenistic Stoa: Political Thought and Action for the telling of the stories that connects Stoicism and Sparta.

[2] This mirrors Epictetus’s lesson in Discourses 1.1: Discourses 1.1): “If you’re writing to a friend, grammar will tell you what letters you ought to choose, but as to whether or not you ought to write to your friend, grammar won’t tell you that.

[3] Originally proposed in Whiting, K., Konstantakos, L., Carrasco, A., & Carmona, L. G. (2018). Sustainable development, wellbeing and material consumption: A Stoic perspective. Sustainability, 10(2), 474. Open access here: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/10/2/474

[4] Darwin did not coin the term “survival of the fittest”, nor should it be taken to mean the strongest or most aggressive.  It can equally mean the cleverest or most collaborative. For a brief accessible discussion, see: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13671-evolution-myths-survival-of-the-fittest-justifies-everyone-for-themselves/

[5] Stoicism does not invite moral relativism because it holds that being a rational social animal is a normative condition. This necessarily entails coherent reasoning and mutual aid, which is cashed out in terms of roles and positive responsibilities. As such the private internal understandings of any individual, or all actual or possible social customs within any specific culture are not all equally valid. They need to be argued for and justified in the light of the real-world relations between real human animals in the real natural world. Stoicism does not invite moral relativity because it holds that truth comes from universal reason, which is external to humans and not subject or a product of a specific culture or the belief of a single human individual

Kai Whiting is the co-author of Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living in. He is a researcher and lecturer in sustainability and Stoicism based at UCLouvain, Belgium. He Tweets @kaiwhiting and blogs over at StoicKai.com

Author: Gregory Sadler

Editor of Stoicism Today, president of ReasonIO, adjunct professor at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design | Sadler's Lectures podcast - https://soundcloud.com/gregorybsadler | YouTube channel with 1700+ philosophy videos - https://www.youtube.com/c/GregoryBSadler

11 thoughts on “Being Better: The Spartans and Stoics Offer So Much More than Self-Help by Kai Whiting”

  1. Ian,

    These are very good questions.

    With regard to your first point.

    The base assumption that there is real world that can be known, predates the scientific period by a very long way. Among the Greeks there is the Stoics, also the Epicureans and Aristotle. That the world is a real physical thing, and you simply cannot have alternative facts about.

    Knowing what those facts, how you can know these facts is the study of epistemology, how perceptions, words and concepts all slot together such that we can know what is going on.

    The achievements of science are principally technical and have ruled a lot of silly speculation as to how the world works.

    However, even when we have actual facts, how we work out our values from those facts is complicated.

    The classic formulation is “You can’t get a value from a fact”

    That hundreds of thousands of people are dying from sickness is fact, doesn’t mean we should do anything about. Why should we even care?

    If hundreds of people are being killed because of irresponsible gun owners, so what?

    If you are a relativist you can’t even say high school shootings are wrong…you can’t go beyond that you don’t like them. To a relativist the shooters morals are just a valid as yours.. the problem isn’t having different facts… it is values…

    The Stoics pin values in the fact that humans are natural creatures, who live socially, and work together, are dependent on one another, have shared interests and shared responsibilities to look after one another and these are facts of nature stemming from the kind of animal we are, rational and social.

    We can work through the arguments, the line of thinking, and they are all there to be looked at, but this is the Stoic bottom line, not up for negotiation.

    No school has more goodness and gentleness; none has more love for human beings, nor more attention to the common good. The goal which it assigns to us is to be useful, to help others, and to take care, not only of ourselves, but of everyone in general and of each one in particular.
    Seneca On Clemency

    But this is our understanding. If someone else, “Selfishness is a virtue and we shouldn’t bother with caring about people, it’s all about me, me, me”

    We can debate them, try to change their mind, try to show them that they haven’t grasped the naturalistic understanding of the human condition, we can’t climb into their heads and change their minds.

    But at the end of the day, the selfish person is still a human, a member of the human race, our brother or our sister, and we care for them, even if they hate us.

    It is down to the Stoic do what is right no matter what.

    The ethics of Stoicism is about what kind of person each one of US is, and how we vote, how we behave personally if elected, and laws we draft, is informed by this, Similarly when we participate in debates about gun control or abortion or healthcare we behave as Stoics with Stoic values and Stoic clear thinking from the grounding of real, sensible and rational understanding of the world and how it works.

    Broadly, that precludes appealing to magic, miracles, divine intervention, or some imagined special status we have bestowed upon ourselves as the blessed, the elect, the infallible, divinely informed or the self-entitled.

    Not from self-interest and not from hatred or anger.

    Every moral issue is complex, and there are no black and white answers to any of them, but what is what is important is that we are moral decision makers…and the art of Stoicism is to be the best moral decision maker, which is hard work, takes time and effort.

    You can’t take the values, print them off and turn them into a constitution, and insist everybody understands and obeys them. Use it as some come of calculus or algorithm to formulate laws.

    You do the best you can, embodying those values, and dealing with people and each situation arises, to the best of your ability.

    Stoicism is all about mutual aid and cooperation, but it is not socialism because it doesn’t have any technocratic solutions of how countries, economies and government should be run.

    Stoicism is all about what you do, but it isn’t individualism, because you are only what you are at all because of those around you.
    As the title of Kai’s book says, it is being better yourself and building a world worth living in.

    It’s bottom up,

    Be the change you want to see in the world.

    Does that make sense?

  2. Ian,

    These are very good questions.

    With regard to your first point.

    The base assumption that there is real world that can be known, predates the scientific period by a very long way. Among the Greeks there is the Stoics, also the Epicureans and Aristotle. That the world is a real physical thing, and you simply cannot have alternative facts about.

    Knowing what those facts, how you can know these facts is the study of epistemology, how perceptions, words and concepts all slot together such that we can know what is going on.

    The achievements of science are principally technical and have ruled a lot of silly speculation as to how the world works.

    However, even when we have actual facts, how we work out our values from those facts is complicated.

    The classic formulation is “You can’t get a value from a fact”

    That hundreds of thousands of people are dying from sickness is fact, doesn’t mean we should do anything about. Why should we even care?

    If hundreds of people are being killed because of irresponsible gun owners, so what?

    If you are a relativist you can’t even say high school shootings are wrong…you can’t go beyond that you don’t like them. To a relativist the shooters morals are just a valid as yours.. the problem isn’t having different facts… it is values…

    The Stoics pin values in the fact that humans are natural creatures, who live socially, and work together, are dependent on one another, have shared interests and shared responsibilities to look after one another and these are facts of nature stemming from the kind of animal we are, rational and social.

    We can work through the arguments, the line of thinking, and they are all there to be looked at, but this is the Stoic bottom line, not up for negotiation.

    No school has more goodness and gentleness; none has more love for human beings, nor more attention to the common good. The goal which it assigns to us is to be useful, to help others, and to take care, not only of ourselves, but of everyone in general and of each one in particular.
    Seneca On Clemency

    But this is our understanding. If someone else, “Selfishness is a virtue and we shouldn’t bother with caring about people, it’s all about me, me, me”

    We can debate them, try to change their mind, try to show them that they haven’t grasped the naturalistic understanding of the human condition, we can’t climb into their heads and change their minds.

    But at the end of the day, the selfish person is still a human, a member of the human race, our brother or our sister, and we care for them, even they hate us.

    It is down to the Stoic do what is right no matter what.

    The ethics of Stoicism is about what kind of person each one of US is, and how we vote, how we behave personally if elected, and laws we draft, is informed by this, Similarly when participate in debates about gun control or abortion or healthcare we behave as Stoics with Stoic values and Stoic clear thinking from the grounding of real, sensible and rational understanding of the world and how it works.

    Broadly, that precludes appealing to magic, miracles, divine intervention, or some imagined special status we have bestowed upon ourselves as the blessed, the elect, the infallible, divinely informed or the self-entitled.

    Not from self-interest and not from hatred or anger.

    Every moral issue is complex, and there are no black and white answers to any of them, but what is what is important is that we are moral decision makers…and the art of Stoicism is to be the best moral decision maker, which is hard work, takes time and effort.

    You can’t take the values, print them off and turn them into a constitution, and insist everybody understands and obeys them. Use it as some come of calculus or algorithm to formulate laws.

    You do the best you can, embodying those values, and dealing with people and each situation arises, to the best of your ability.

    Stoicism is all about mutual aid and cooperation, but it is not socialism because it doesn’t have any technocratic solutions of how countries, economies and government should be run.

    Stoicism is all about what you do, but it isn’t individualism, because you are only what you are at all because of those around you.
    As the title of Kai’s book says, it is being better yourself and building a world worth living in.

    It’s bottom up,

    Be the change you want to see in the world.

    Does that make sense?

  3. I really liked the concept of self-help being about asking the right questions.

    Footnote (5) has a short summary on moral relativism versus reason being universal, an issue I have been grappling with.
    I know buddhism assumes every human, though on the surface unique, has the same buddha nature as every other sentient being. This footnote seems to hold that in a similar fashion, while each person can have unique genes/upbringing/environment/era etc., the way their brain reasons is the same.

    If so, how do we deal with the observed reality that people analysing the same data can come up with different conclusions. It implies ……… that emotion filters all reasoning?
    If so, it may be objectively true that theoretically if it were possible, pure reasoning is the same for every human, but practically, it never happens.

    If instead, the argument is that each person applies the same reasoning skills but to their unique life, the outcome seems to be exactly the same as if morality was relative, regardless of definitions and assumptions.

    And finally, morality as a concept itself is the way humans describe how they do or should interact with other living beings. There may be smarter ways to go about this, but this just shifts the debate from objectively defining rules for morality to objectively defining rules for what is smarter.

    1. Ian Faulkner
      That is quite complex but the Stoics are realists.
      A foundational assumption is that the world is real and causal, and we constructed from it, rather than it being constructed by our minds.
      Something going on in the world is something going on in the world. What each of any one of us make of that does not change that.

      And among all the many possible interpretations and conclusions that any different group of people might draw, some are coherent, and others not. Some map onto reality, more or less accurately others are pure delusion and imagination, or simply a failure to understand what is going on.

      The lynch pin that holds the Stoic theory together is the human condition, which is what it is. What is materially good or bad for humans is not up for a vote.

      Things are good for you and bad for you regardless of what you might think.

      You may hold with every conviction you have, and all the best information you can muster that as a good parent you should inject your children with chlorox for their own health.

      You are simply wrong. The world decides if you are right or not, and it is the same for all humans.

      The Stoics would say, purely form the fact that you are a parent, it is your role to discover the reality of what good and what is bad, not only for yourself, but for everyone else.

      This is a big difference between Buddhism and Stoicism. Buddhists tend to Skepticism, the impossibility of knowledge and the priority of first person understanding.

      The Stoics as realists, as naturalists have third person understanding, and access to real knowledge of the real world.

      If your starting point of what is “good” is your private idea of “good” given your private understanding of how the world works, you can never move out of the confines of your own self defined and self-referential loop….

      Having the real world as the starting point, means that the Stoic can aspire to understanding outside themselves and to identify courses of action that are for the benefit of all…and they don’t do this by themselves, it is social project.

      There is the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”

      The Stoics would take that further it takes “The world to raise a child” with all the human expertise and knowledge that is contained within. The diversity of views raised from various perspective all inform this project, and are resolved through debate and dialectic.

      The world decides what is smarter, it’s the ultimate test for whether your thinking makes sense or not is to act upon and see what happens and discuss it with other people, to get a real idea of how it all fits together.

      It’s a big debate, the Stoics and Skeptics argued over this for 500 years.

      Can we know the world? The Stoics thought yes..

      1. Thanks for your reply James.

        If I have understood you:
        1. Groups after discussion are more likely to agree on something that is a closer definition to reality than an individual (not sure, I need to think about this some more as groups tend to suffer from ‘group think’, and most innovation comes from individuals). Does this not just elevate the issue from person A versus person B re who sees reality better, to group A versus group B?
        2. Either way, a group or person decides what is reality and what is delusion. There is no objective way of identifying who sees the truth beforehand to use as a predictor you can then plan for.
        3. The component of your reply that resonates however, is eventually reality will bite and then everyone will know the truth. I must admit, I have been using that line myself re the debates on Covid lockdowns, vaccines etc., and the general upheaval in the right wing of U.S. politics. My problem with that is that a lot of pain and suffering from innocent bystanders tends to occur.

        However, this discussion has been helpful.
        It seems to me moral relativism can only hold sway until reality bites, then one truth emerges. Whether this truth is strong enough to change one or everyone’s worldview would then be my next question? (E.g. gun law debates versus gun related deaths).
        While I acknowledge the great advances the Enlightenment and Greek/Roman thinking has provided to our modern lives, progress is slow, but I guess it is still progress, even with two steps forward and one step back over many years (decades?).

        1. I wish more people saw the world as you concisely wrote it Ian 🙂 “It seems to me moral relativism can only hold sway until reality bites, then one truth emerges” is a very good way of putting it.

        2. Ian

          The situation is rather that anyone can know what is actually going on, and this requires knowledge of how and why things come about. It involves experience and knowledge.

          So the idea of a “democracy of opinions about reality” doesn’t apply.

          If you are sitting on a horse, you are sitting on a horse, and if anyone thinks otherwise, they are just flat wrong. You just are sitting on a horse.

          The world for the Stoics is physical and causal, so some things are just not possible, they cannot be so. You can have as many theories as you like about the world, but ultimately, what the world is actually like, it the test.

          Sides effect of vaccines can be studied, and some people appear to have adverse reactions, so people can argue about how they want to deal with that. But the data is the data.

          Things like Qanon, and 5G causing Covid are simply not possible, they cannot be so. The world does not work like that.

          The Enlightenment actually moved away from this idea of a real causal world, and focused on measurements of experience, performing calculations on observations, This scientific skepticism has performed wonders in keeping magical thinking out of explanations of the world and let to huge advances in health, science in technology.

          However that “our perceptions are all we can know and the rest in unknowable” also suits conspiracy theorists, solipsists and moral relativists.

          “Everyone has their own truth” is only trivially the case, what is actually true is actually true. If your truth is not true, it is not the truth.

          You for example, can say nothing at all about the ethics of right wing politics if you think the truth is just whatever anybody thinks it is.. If you can’t say why the Holocaust was wrong, you can’t rationally object to Nazism at all. You can only boo at it, like you would boo at play you don’t like. You can only say you don’t like it, because nothing is any more than personal taste.

          Epictetus is scathing of the skeptical attitude. The last line is brilliant.

          If I were a slave of one of these gentlemen, even at the risk of being whipped to the bone every day, I would never stop tormenting him.

          ‘Throw a bit of oil into the bath, boy.’

          I’d take some fish sauce and go and pour it over his head.

          ‘What’s this?’—‘ I had an impression that was indistinguishable from that of oil; it was just the same, I swear that by your fortune.’—

          ‘ Here pass me the gruel.’

          I’d bring him a dish full of vinegar.
          ‘Didn’t I ask you for the gruel?’
          ‘ Yes, master, this is gruel.’
          ‘ But surely it’s vinegar?’
          ‘ Why that rather than gruel?’
          ‘Take some and smell it, take some and taste it.’
          ‘ Well, how do you know, if it is true that our senses deceive us?’

          If I had three or four fellow slaves who thought in the same way as I did, I’d soon make him explode with anger and hang himself, or else change his ideas.

          But as things are, men like this are making fun of us, they make use of all the gifts of nature while abolishing them in theory.

          Discourses: 2:20

          With gun laws, that the USA might be invaded by the Canadians, that everyone should be armed is very weak. That someone entirely unfit for military service “must have a weapon” is odd. That you have “rights” given to you a piece of paper is another weak idea. That America has a murder on a par with third world failed states is damning.

          But it’s a mess, if the bad guys are armed, what is seen as limiting the access of regular to guns is not going to go down well.

          So there, even if you have all the facts, convincing people of them is the hard part…which is another skill.

          Understanding yourself what is actually going on is one thing. Getting someone to understand you are talking sense is another art entirely, and you can’t climb into their heads to oblige them to see sense.

          You can only do you best to convince them that you are reasonable person worthy of being listened to..

          1. James, Again, thanks for the reply.

            I promise, this is the last reply. I need to take up a few more courses of study rather than keep on firing questions.
            Apologies if I missed the points you have been patiently making.

            I think where I am stuck is in two areas.

            Firstly, the ‘before’ stage of the timeline, before reality/science has provided logical evidence of the one truth, but it is still an issue/problem/opportunity, and there is a window closing which demands a decision now.

            Perhaps this is linked to the modern dilemma of alternative ‘facts’ and media opinion/spokespeople masquerading as experts. A person can’t be an expert in all areas themselves or spend the time to fully research every decision they make, can’t rely on the media to curate the data for them, and could never rely on politicians in any era.

            Secondly, with hard science disagreements such as ‘the earth is flat’, it is easier to rationally find the truth than for moral (behavioural) issues, which are not scientifically studied as much and especially not generally funded longitudinally, and where they are studied, are much harder to replicate to establish hard rules. Behaviour has too many variables that are hard to measure (e.g. action is measurable, intentions not so much) and as many economic theories have shown, the ‘lab tested’ version assumes away so much of the real world that its real world application is, dicey.

            So, it seems to me that even after I educate myself in Stoicism and do other upgrades to my thinking capability, in the cases of ‘before’ and ‘behaviour’, I am down to (subjectively) trusting my view over others.
            After, when data emerges, we will all know the truth.
            ‘Before’, or in situations which are too complex for previous data to hold sway, I need tools like Stoicism as they can guide me to a wiser subjective choice.

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