Philosophy

The Manual – Epictetus

The Manual – by Epictetus
Date read: 10/24/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Enjoyed the Ancient Renewal translation by Sam Torode. I’m always eager to read any new or updated translation of the classics. I’ve always found Epictetus to be one of the more inspiring Stoic philosophers. This is a great introduction to Stoicism for those interested in the philosophy. It’s also a great refresher for those already familiar. He discusses themes of impermanence, substance, expectations vs. reality, mental toughness, and authenticity.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Sphere of control = free, independent, strong
Beyond sphere = weak, limited, dependent

Impermanence is the nature of all things.

Expectations vs. Reality:

  • “In preparing for any action, remind yourself of the nature of the action.”

  • Going to a pool? Remind yourself of the usual incidents.

  • “Is some oil spilled or wine stolen? Say to yourself, ‘Accepting these annoyances is the price of my peace and tranquility. All good things come at a cost.’"

You are responsible for you:

  • “People who are ignorant of philosophy blame others for their own misfortunes. Those who are beginning to learn philosophy blame themselves. Those who have mastered philosophy blame no one.” 

  • Don’t blame another for your state of mind, your conditions is result of your own opinions and interpretations.

  • “Do not wish that all things will go well with you, but that you will go well with all things."

  • "Follow your principles as though they were laws.” 

Substance:

  • “Do not take satisfaction in possessions and achievements that are not your own…What, then, is your own? The way you live your life."

  • Cannot always choose your circumstances, but you can always act well in your current position.

  • “If you truly wish to become a philosopher, you must gain self-control, give up friends who are bad influences, and be prepared to face ridicule and scorn, and be willing to give up honors, offices, riches, and fame.” Not to say you shouldn’t acquire these things, but the true philosopher is never dependent on these things.

  • “If you can acquire riches without losing your honor and self-respect, then do it. But if you lose what is dearest to you, no amount of money can make up for it."

Humility = Harmony

  • “If you are praised by others, be skeptical of yourself. For it is no easy feat to hold onto your inner harmony while collecting accolades. When grasping for one, you are likely to drop the other."

  • “A philosopher is one whose thoughts and emotions are internally anchored…When she fails, she takes responsibility. When she succeeds, she smiles to herself."

Defer Judgment:

  • “It is not the person who insults or attacks you who torments your mind, but the view you take of these things.”

  • "Do not be fooled by how things first appear. With time and greater perspective, you can regain inner peace."

  • Observe subtleties, “Do not mistake your impressions for the whole truth."

Memento Mori:

  • “Continually remind yourself that you are a mortal being, and someday will die. This will inspire you not to waste precious time in fruitless activities, like stewing over grievances and striving after possessions."

Mental Toughness:

  • “If you are diligent and consistent, those who ridiculed you will come to admire you. But if you abandon the path near the start because of their laughter, you are truly worthy of scorn."

  • “If you find yourself acting to impress others, or avoiding action out of fear of what they might think, you have left the path."

  • Use the world and your current situation as a practice ground for your philosophy

Authenticity:

  • Fulfillment is found in a life best-suited to your attributes and abilities.

  • "Find significance within yourself.” Don’t lose your honor striving for perceived significance.

The Consolations of Philosophy – Alain de Botton

The Consolations of Philosophy – by Alain de Botton
Date read: 9/8/18. Recommendation: 7/10.

An introduction to some of the greatest thinkers including Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. Botton wraps each philosopher in the context of consolation for a different human struggle (Seneca = consolations for frustration). If you’re already into philosophy, it’s an interesting format you’ll find both strange and engaging. If you’re not, it provides an accessible introduction to the subject without requiring a college course on abstract thought.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Consolation for Unpopularity

Priority to be liked, rather than speak the truth. Laugh at modest jokes.

Socrates ultimate example of how to maintain confidence in an intelligent position which has met with illogical opposition.

Philosophy provided Socrates with convictions and rational (not hysterical) confidence when facing disapproval.

Philo, love; sophia, wisdom.

Not only the hostility of others that prevents us from questioning the status quo. Also, because we associate what is popular with what is right.

"We stifle our doubts and follow the flock because we cannot conceive of ourselves as pioneers of hitherto unknown, difficult truths." AB

Socrates encouraged us not to be unnerved by the confidence of people who fail to grasp complexities and formulate their views without rigour...established views don't necessarily emerge from faultless reasoning, but centuries of intellectual muddle.

Truth produced by intuition is like a statue without support.
Truth supported by reasons and an awareness of counterarguments ie like statue anchored by cables.

"If we are prone to burst into tears after only a few harsh words about our character or achievements, it may be because the approval of others forms an essential part of our capacity to believe we are right." AB

Two powerful delusions: we should always or never listen to the dictates of public opinion. Instead, strive to listen to the dictates of reason.

Consolation for Not Having Enough Money

Epicureanism suggests we are as bad at intuitively answering 'What will make me happy?' as 'What will make me healthy?'

Epicurus viewed philosophy as a tool to help us interpret distress and desire and help us avoid acting on immediate impulses and instead investigate rationality of our desires (rather than enter into mistaken schemes for happiness).

Sober analysis calms the mind.

Objects mimic in a material dimension what we require in a psychological one. The way we're enticed by commercial enterprises is by the sly association of superfluous objects with other, forgotten needs.

By understanding our true needs, excessive levels of consumption are destroyed by greater self-awareness and appreciation of simplicity.

"Mankind is perpetually the victim of a pointless and futile martyrdom, fretting life away inf fruitless worries through failure to realize what limit is set to acquisition and to the growth of genuine pleasure. [But at the same time] It is this discontent that has driven life steadily onward, out to the high seas..." -Lucretius

Consolation for Frustration

Expectations vs. Reality - We best endure those frustrations which we have prepared ourselves for and understand and are hurt most by those we least expected and cannot fathom.

Seneca's view of anger: Not from an uncontrollable eruption of passions, but from a basic error of reasoning.
-Frustrations are tempered by what we understand we can expect from the world.
-Greatest furies spring from events which violate our sense of the ground rules of existence.

"Rage is caused by a conviction, almost comic in its optimistic origins, that a given frustration has not been written into the contract of life." AB

"We must reconcile ourselves to the necessary imperfectability of existence." AB

"Not everything which happens to us occurs with reference to something about us." AB

Worst-case scenarios:
"If you wish to put off all worry, assume that what you fear may happen is certainly going to happen." Seneca
*bad things will probably happen, but they probably won't ever be as bad as we fear.

Wealth:
"Stop preventing philosophers from possessing money; no one has condemned wisdom to poverty." Seneca
-Stoicism (Seneca specifically) considers wealth a preferred thing. Not an essential thing or a crime.

"The wise man can lose nothing. He has everything invested in himself." Seneca

We might not be able to change certain events, but we are able to choose our attitude, which provides a sense of freedom.

Consolation for Inadequacy

"We ought to find out not who understands most but who understands best." Montaigne

"If I come across difficult passages in my reading I never bit my nails over them: after making a charge or two I let them be...If one book wearies me I take up another." Montaigne
-Wisdom doesn't require a specialized vocabulary, only makes an audience weary
-Writing with simplicity requires courage

"However modest our stories, we can derive greater insights from ourselves than from all the books of old." AB

Consolation for Difficulties

Pain is a natural, inevitable step on the way to anything good/fulfillment.

"The most fulfilling human projects appeared inseparable from a degree of torment, the sources of our greatest joys lying awkwardly close to those of our greatest pains." AB

Nietzsche was striving to correct the belief that fulfillment must come easily or not at all, a belief ruinous in its effects, for it leads us to withdraw prematurely from challenges that might have been overcome if only we had been prepared for the savagery legitimately demanded by almost everything valuable.

Philosophy = voluntary living in ice and high mountains

"The ice is near, the solitude is terrible–but how peacefully all things lie in the light! how freely one breathes! how much one feels beneath one!" Nietzsche

"Don't talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name all kinds of great men who were not very gifted. They acquired greatness, became 'geniuses' (as we put it) through qualities about whose lack no man aware of them likes to speak: all of them had that diligent seriousness of a craftsman, learning first to construct the parts properly before daring to make a great whole. They allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than the effect of a dazzling whole." Nietzsche

Endurance:
"Fulfillment is reached by responding wisely to difficulties that could tear one apart." AB

"Not everything which makes us feel better is good for us. Not everything which hurts may be bad." -AB

The Bed of Procrustes – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms – by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Date read: 8/18/17. Recommendation: 9/10.

Great introduction to Taleb's take on uncertainty, which he discusses in detail in his other books that make up the Incerto series: Antifragile, Fooled by Randomness, and The Black Swan. This book offers a succinct look into how we deal with what we don't know. Taleb examines our tendency to package and reduce ideas into neat narratives that fit within the constraints of our limited knowledge.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

Every aphorism here is a about a Procrustean bed of sorts–we humans, facing limits of knowledge, and things we do not observe, the unseen and the unknown, resolve the tension by squeezing life and the world into crisp commoditized ideas, reductive categories, specific vocabularies, and prepackaged narratives.

These aphorisms are standalone compressed thoughts revolving around my main idea of how we deal, and should deal, with what we don't know.

The person you are most afraid to contradict is yourself.

An idea starts to be interesting when you get scared of taking it to its logical conclusion.

To bankrupt a fool, give him information.

An erudite is someone who displays less than he knows; a journalist or consultant, the opposite.

Your brain is most intelligent when you don't instruct it on what to do–something people who take showers discover on occasion.

In nature we never repeat the same motion; in captivity (office, gym, commute, sports), life is just repetitive-stress injury. No randomness.

If you know, in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead–the more precision, the more dead you are.

When we want to do something while unconsciously certain to fail, we seek advice so we can blame someone else for the failure.

The most painful moments are not those we spend with uninteresting people; rather, they are those spent with uninteresting people trying hard to be interesting.

The characteristic feature of the loser is to bemoan, in general terms, mankind's flaws, biases, contradictions, and irrationality–without exploiting them for fun and profit.

You exist if and only if you are free to do things without a visible objective, with no justification and, above all, outside the dictatorship of someone else's narrative.

To be completely cured of newspapers, spend a year reading the previous week's newspapers.

The opposite of success isn't failure; it is name-dropping.

Modernity needs to understand that being rich and becoming rich are not mathematically, personally, socially, and ethically the same thing.

The fastest way to become rich is to socialize with the poor; the fastest way to become poor is to socialize with the rich.

You will be civilized on the day you can spend a long period doing nothing, learning nothing, and improving nothing, without feeling the slightest amount of guilt.

Someone who says "I am busy" is either declaring incompetence (and lack of control of his life) or trying to get rid of you.

To see if you like where you are, without the chains of dependence, check if you are as happy returning as you were leaving.

Modernity: we created youth without heroism, age without wisdom, and life without grandeur.

People focus on role models; it is more effective to find antimodels–people you don't want to resemble when you grow up.

People usually apologize so they can do it again.

It is those who use others who are the most upset when someone uses them.

The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.

My only measure of success is how much time you have to kill.

With terminal disease, nature lets you die with abbreviated suffering; medicine lets you suffer with prolonged dying.

Only in recent history has "working hard" signaled pride rather than shame for lack of talent, finesse, and, mostly, sprezzatura.

We are hunters; we are only truly alive in those moments when we improvise; no schedule, just small surprises and stimuli from the environment.

You are alive in inverse proportion to the density of cliches in your writing.

We unwittingly amplify commonalities with friends, dissimilarities with strangers, and contrasts with enemies.

True humility is when you can surprise yourself more than others; the rest is either shyness or good marketing.

For the robust, an error is information; for the fragile an error is an error.

Games were created to give nonheroes the illusion of winning. In real life, you don't know who really won or lost (except too late), but you can tell who is heroic and who is not.

Knowledge is subtractive, not additive–what we subtract (reduction by what does not work, what not to do), not what we add (what to do).

The best way to spot a charlatan: someone (like a consultant or a stock broker) who tells you what to do instead of what not to do.

They think that intelligence is about noticing things that are relevant (detecting patterns); in a complex world, intelligence consists in ignoring things that are irrelevant (avoiding false patterns).

The curious mind embraces science; the gifted and sensitive, the arts; the practical, business; the leftover becomes an economist.

The only definition of an alpha male: if you try to be an alpha male, you will never be one.

At any stage, humans can thirst for money, knowledge, or love; sometimes for two, never for three.

Love without sacrifice is like theft.

Our overreactive brains are more likely to impose the wrong, simplistic narrative than no narrative at all.

The mind can be a wonderful tool for self-delusion–it was not designed to deal with complexity and nonlinear uncertainties.

Counter to common discourse, more information means more delusions: our detection of false patterns is growing faster and faster as a side effect of modernity and the information age.

Thus my classical values make me advocate the triplet of erudition, elegance, and courage; against modernity's phoniness, nerdiness, and philistinism.