Thesis: “Evolving to the Profession of Being Human”

Thesis: “Evolving to the Profession of Being Human”


Author: Farida Nabibaks.

Evolving to the Profession of Being Human. An Individual Philosophical or Spiritual Practice as the Future for Philosophy



Writing this thesis has become the major activity that has kept me occupied for the last two years. Even when I was not writing, the central thought, however blurry and un-polished, was always haunting me. I am very grateful to have come to this closure of my decade of studies.

As a descendant of Surinamese Creoles from mothers’ side and East-Indian immigrants through my fathers’ line of heritage, and having created my home in The Netherlands, I have found myself being in between cultures. Due to this ‘being in between cultures’ I noticed that it is possible to shift towards whatever cultural paradigm is needed. But, understanding one’s own seems important to be able to keep an open mind towards the paradigms of others. This has led to the philosophical inquiry, which resulted in this thesis.

I have gone to great length to immerse the seemingly elusive and unusual central thought here portrayed in a common ground of understanding. This is the ground on which we meet, acknowledge and understand each other in post-modern Western society. It is nowhere my implication to impose my thought on the reader, although I realise that things sometimes seem absolute. If so, this is done to create a contrast to convey my point more clearly. In the end this thought is more of an appeal to the individual, yet related, holistic human being. I thus hope that my work will be met with, acknowledged and understood by you, reader, to whatever extend is necessary.

This thesis would not have been written without the help of the following people. I first would like to express my gratitude to my supervisor Professor Jan Bransen, who challenged me to do the best I can, which hopefully made my efforts worthwhile. I am also grateful for the guidance of Dr. Cees Leyenhorst, in the process towards the final status of the thesis. Thankful am I to Georgette Kempink and Bianca Janssen Groesbeek, who both encouraged me years ago and through the years to pursue the goal I once had set. I also thank Gerda van ‘t Spijker, and Lies Wijnen whom have always stood by me through the years. I am further thankful to Esther Kuipers for the professional graphic design of the cover and the layout of the thesis. Especially thankful am I to Walter Farquharson, for his corrections according to my English and to Mieke Blankert, who went through the text with a good eye for detail. Whatever faults there might still be in my writing, must be blamed on my own stubbornness, and not on behalf of their expertise.

Last but certainly not least, I thank my family, my husband, Wim, and daughters, Thalia and Vita, and my extended family and friends, whom unwillingly have had to do without my companionship for a great deal these last years.






Farida Nabibaks

Ede, June 30th 2011









Chapter I

I         The Crisis of Modernity and the Philosophy of Philip Pettit

§ 1.1          The Crisis of Modernity

§ 1. 2         The Philosophy of Philip Pettit

Chapter II

II   Epictetus Stoicism and Ancient Philosophical or Spiritual Exercises

§ 2. 1         Epictetus, the Stoic Philosopher

§ 2. 1. 1     The Stoic Worldview

§ 2. 1. 2     The Stoic Philosophy of Mind

§ 2. 2         The Philosophy of Epictetus

§ 2. 2. 1     The Profession of Being Human

§ 2. 2. 2     Epictetus on Emotions

§ 2. 2. 3     Differences between Mainstream Stoicism and Epictetus

§ 2. 3          Ancient Philosophical or Spiritual Exercises

§ 2. 3. 1      Ancient Spiritual Exercises


Chapter III

III  Spiritual Exercises as a Remedy for the Crisis of Modernity

§ 3. 1         Distinctions between Stoic Worldview and Modern ‘condition humaine’

§ 3. 2         The Profession of Being Human Today

§ 3. 2. 1     The View from Above; Creating Distance to Gain Insight or Knowledge

§ 3. 3         An Overview: The Reality we Live in is Co-Created by our Inner Attitude







            The Well of the Past


‘What is an individual? Wherein does his identity reside? […] By what, exactly, is the self defined? By what a character does, by his actions? Yet action gets away from its author, almost always turns on him. By his mental life, then? By his thoughts, by his hidden feelings? But is a man capable of self-understanding? Can his secret thoughts be a key to his identity? Or, rather, is a man defined by his vision of the world, by his ideas, by his Weltanschauung? […] To this unending investigation, Thomas Mann brought his very important contribution: ‘we think we act, we think we think, but it is another or others who think and act in us: that is to say, timeless habits, archetypes, which – having become myths passed on from one generation to the next – carry an enormous seductive power and control us from ‘ the well of the past’’.[1]

‘Thomas Mann: ‘Is man’s ‘self’ narrowly limited and sealed tight within his fleshy ephemeral boundaries? Don’t many of his constituent elements come from the universe outside and previous to him? … The distinction between mind in general and individual mind did preoccupy people in the past nearly so powerfully as it does us today…’ And again: ‘ we may be seeing a phenomenon which we would be tempted to describe as imitation or continuation, a notion of life in which each person’s role is to revive certain given forms, certain mythical schema established by forebears, and to allow them reincarnation’’.[2]

‘An important note: imitation does not mean lack of authenticity, for the individual cannot do otherwise than to imitate what has already happened; sincere as he may be, he is only a reincarnation; truthful as he may be, he is only a sum of suggestions and requirements that emanate from the well of the past’.[3]


Milan Kundera






Imagine yourself to be a space tourist[4], who sets on a journey in a Space shuttle to the International Space Station (ISS). After months of training, finally the day you have been waiting for, has come. You have been gazing at the immense sky, sprinkled with stars, since you were an infant, while wondering what it would be like to move about between them. Imagine your nerves racing up and down your spine through the bumpy space ride. Your spacecraft arrives miraculously on its destination. After its arrival, you look around and nothing is familiar. The ground has been literally swept away under your feet. Do you feel fear, anxiety, excitement? After months of preparing and imitating this unfamiliar act, you are finally floating around in space; this is the real thing. When you have accepted your unfamiliarity with the situation, you gather all your courage and look out of the small portal at planet Earth. Far away, beneath you, there is this blue sphere turning. It is one sphere, a Whole. The blue sphere looks so peaceful and … there are no boundaries to be seen! All its inhabitants, minerals, plants, animals and human beings, are, seen from space, all one. Earth turns, and turns, up to four times per hour a pattern of light and darkness is seen. ‘Time’ is a different notion in space. This pattern is the rhythm of day and night for the people on planet Earth. How insignificant you feel and how humbled are you by this experience. It is good to realize that you are part of the Whole and that this blue sphere is the only home you have.

On planet earth, on the other hand, people seem less busy with the infinitesimal part they play in a universal scope. As there were no boundaries to be seen from outer space, tribes and nations defend environmental boundaries, with such force, that through history this has often been a cause of distraction and war between them. Living ‘on the surface’ is our whole ‘universe’, the totality of what these tribes and nations know of and will re-invent over and over again. As peaceful as the planet looked from outer space, living on the surface of Earth is exactly the opposite. Defending one’s environmental boundaries, which is space and land that we have claimed to be our possession, seems essential. To defend ‘our’ land, is not an act of peace, but of war. It also means excluding fellow human beings. To be as peaceful or in harmony with ourselves and our environment as the tranquil sight of planet Earth from space, is perhaps the big challenge for our hurried society.

When examining the differences in angle in the above experience, three extrapolating notions appear:

1. Boundaries or no boundaries: Seen from space, there are no boundaries; land is not bound to certain special conditions; this is a human invention. From the surface of the planet, or from a national viewpoint, there are boundaries, you can travel from one end of a state to the other and with every border the cultural landscape changes.

2. One sphere, whole or not whole: Due to the (cultural) differences between tribes of human beings, they have difficulty understanding each other and their differences are met with wars rather then respectfully living together. Seen from above, planet earth is one sphere, a Whole, which means that every human being is part of this bigger picture, and, therefore a holistic being. On earth people’s cultural habits, religions and other differences, seem to estrange them from each other.

3. Peaceful or not peaceful: Viewed from space the planet seems peaceful, but on earth things are not so peaceful: throughout history people are constantly involved in quarrels, and at a larger scale at war with each other. In viewing the whole planet from a distance, people are definitely part of the whole planet and thus being intrinsically connected with All, while in everyday life people are individual beings who do not seem to be able to connect or relate to others and for that matter do not behave accordingly.

What is obvious in the above used thought experience, is that the point of focus to view an object, in this case from a distance, or from up close on the surface, gives completely different horizons on the topic. The distinction in the answers from both angles on the three notions here mentioned about planet Earth is the outcome. So, the theory we hold to whatever topic seems to change under different circumstances. The reality, or, in other words: what we think is real or true, can alter due to our different beliefs (which are seen from a different angle). Growing up and living in between cultures, as is my experience, gives one a good sense of different views and angles. Different cultures have different rules and one in between cultures, shifts from one horizon to another.

In this post-modern era, the mode of living in Western society is, for some time now, globally the leading paradigm. Human beings in the West, have become accustomed to their high economical and techno-scientific standards of living; and their standard has become the ‘right’ standard. With a technical or scientific explanation for everything in life, we have to admit that our own behaviour is still quite a mystery to us. As professor Long[5] says:


‘Despite our technological advances in mapping the brain’s neurons and synapses in neurophysiology human emotions are still to a great extent our thread of life. Love and hate, desire and aversion, elation and fear, these contrasting states appear basic to our human nature. Emotions can also be the source of our ruin. War, crime, family disputes, personal unhappiness are typically motivated by anger, jealousy, and hatred, just as altruism is typically motivated by compassion, love, or generosity’[6].


In this thesis I will argue for a more individual focus in the future philosophical practice. Not to feed on narcissism or egotism but to focus on an individual experience of living, as life is individually experienced, but, without losing sight of the whole of the community and larger.

In Chapter I the ‘Crisis of Modernity’ is unravelled; this is the start of this inquiry. Philosopher Philip Pettit is introduced. Philip Pettit also detects a crisis of Modernity; He even suggests alterations to secure a future philosophical practice to the ‘folk’, ordinary people. I will discuss the points of his philosophy that are most relevant to my thesis.

In Chapter II, we dive in the history of the ancient Greek STOA, with the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. Because of his Stoic basis and its importance for his philosophy, the Stoic Worldview is thoroughly discussed. Also in Chapter II philosophical exercises and their assets are brought to the discussion; Epictetus on emotions, and a distinction between mainstream Stoicism and Epictetus.

In Chapter III, the philosophical or spiritual exercises are seen in a remedial light to the crisis of Modernity. To be able to implement certain elements of Stoic philosophy into the post-modern Western way of living, it is necessary to examine and evaluate the grounds of the Stoics and of post-modern Western society. The paragraphs after that, explicit spiritual exercises are examined for a modern practice and the thought that the reality we live in is co-created by us.

In the overall conclusion, I will make a small resume and a comparison of the philosophies of Pettit and Epictetus to come to a conclusion on the questions here explored.






The Crisis of Modernity and the Philosophy of Philip Pettit


‘Most people imagine that philosophy consists in delivering discourses from the heights of a chair, and in giving classes based on texts. But what these people utterly miss is the uninterrupted philosophy which we see being practiced every day in a way which is perfectly equal to itself… Socrates did not set up grandstands for his audience and did not sit upon a professorial chair; he had no fixed timetable for talking or walking with his friends. Rather, he did philosophy sometimes by joking with them, or by drinking or going to war or tot the market with them, and finally by going to prison and drinking poison. He was first to show that at all times and in every place, in everything that happens to us, daily life gives us the opportunity to do philosophy.’



Every citizen of a certain society, born and raised in that society, is living according to that society’s rules, habits and cultural presumptions. Nowadays people think that they are free in their daily choices. Most people think that they do this rationally. They make their choices through the spectre of what is tolerable in the society and culture they live in. This has befallen on them by being part of that certain social group and its spectre or frame. This social frame, outlines the field of common daily live and has evolved out of historical and cultural custom. This spectre or scope becomes or has become the truth; it is that what people from a certain group, or culture, know, learned and have accepted as the truth. In general, people do not question this ‘truth’, because they are not aware of it being a variable concept.

On the other hand it is common knowledge that human life is for a great deal formed by habits. These habits are the result of one’s upbringing, the copying of role models and the repetition of actions of inhabitants of the social group. They are also due to the historical and cultural scope of life in that society. Individual habitual patterns of behaviour cannot be seen isolated from the habits of the group those individuals are part of. Habitual patterns are often deeply ingrained in human life, so much so that people do not seem to be aware of these patterns, nor are they able to change them easily[8].

In Western society people are also caught in a certain cultural frame containing rules, habits and presumptions of which the inhabitants are not immediately aware. The social context is taken for granted, it is not registered anymore, being such a fundamental part of what people hold to be true and normal in life.

Even when philosopher Philip Pettit says that we, people in Western society, are


‘questioning our presumptions’ or ‘doing philosophy in fields we are already theoretically engaged in’[9],


people may not be aware that certain presumptions, mental images, frames, or mental judgements they hold, can be


‘unseen and uninvited, in the dark of unreflective opinion’[10]


and for that reason cannot be questioned. Let me explain this. Pettit believes us to start our philosophical reflection with questions that are already puzzling to us, but he believes that when holding these questions to the light of philosophical reflection, we bring unseen, uninvited opinion to light. But in my opinion, what is uninvited and unseen and in the dark of unreflective opinion, is not that easily reflected upon, because of its hidden nature. We would be unaware of their existence, and for that reason we would deny their existence and not be able to bring them to the light of reason. We would probably not be able to acknowledge them as ‘our’ unseen and uninvited, dark opinions. This is exactly what Pettit thinks that one should avoid one’s presumptions to be through philosophical reflection. But I do not think that we can attain to tour hidden presumptions through theorizing only.

A solution would be to become aware of the fact that each individual, as an actor belonging to a certain social group, has unseen and uninvited, dark and unreflective opinions about certain ideas or topics of life in society, of which his behaviour is a reflection. But this individual behaviour reflects unseen, uninvited and dark unreflective opinions that live in society as a whole, because the individual is an integral part of the group one lives in. A philosophical approach can be of service for human beings to become conscious of their behaviour, provided that it contains of a practical experience to eventually have an impact in everyday life.


§ 1. 1


          The Crisis of Modernity


‘A person’s happiness is directly proportional to the discrepancy between their expectations of life and the reality of their situation’

Richard Mason[11]

In modern day Western society there seems to be a claim of autonomy towards man’s own behaviour and the control of one’s individual life. According to philosopher Joep Dohmen, post-modern man has completely lost track of what is important in life[12]. Today in the West, everything seems possible: one has multiple choices in life, one seems to be able to buy everything, change one’s appearance through surgery at will, and when one falls ill or some choices have gone wrong, there is just the right therapy or the right medication to get rid of one’s troubles. But, when looking more closely, Dohmen says that human life should consist of more than calculating and hunting down various pleasures in trying to exclude and withdraw from painful experiences[13]. He even believes that post-modern West-European society is ruled by a bunch of, in Dutch,




which can be translated as ‘Pompous Ego’s’,


‘who follow their own hedonistic schemes in the name of freedom’[14].


‘These contemporary autonomous individuals are ruthless consumers, they take whatever they need and more, without respecting fellow human beings, but with their own profit and glory in mind. The ‘Pompous Ego’ sees other individuals as disloyal and incompetent beings and he is in a permanent battle for rivalry and prestige’[15].


Overall this is a quite negative picture of an insensitive, self-centred individual, whose self-improvement and individual freedom does not seem in favour of the well being of society as a whole, but rather against it. Dohmen says that the most well known diagnosis for the phenomenon of the so-called ‘Pompous Ego’ is due to the crisis of Modernity. He explains that from the 18th century on the emancipation of citizens from different classical social forms and hierarchical orders has evolved. In Modernity there is still an ongoing separation of individuals from old authorization and moral boundaries, in which freedom as a social notion or concept is sought. This progressed from modern liberals like Mill, through the period of Enlightenment with Kant to the Romantics like Rousseau and Herder. In the second half of the 20th century the social notion of freedom and giving meaning to one’s personal life has become synonymous with autonomy. Authority is mistrusted and non-intervention is the evident claim[16]. Every attempt of authorisation is seen as new and unnecessary paternalism and is banned. With questions like: ‘who are you to tell me what to do or how to live my life?’ the ‘Pompous Ego’ came into existence. According to what Dohmen, calls the ‘myth of autonomy’ people think they choose and decide how to live their life all by themselves – without interference of others[17]. Dohmen cites contemporary philosopher Charles Taylor[18], when he says that


‘modern society has evolved from the fear of paternalism, being dominated by authority, to the megalomania of autonomy seen separately from our ‘history, nature and society’’[19].


According to Dohmen, Taylor, also thinks that a society of ‘self-fulfillers’, which seems identical to Dohmen’s ‘Pompous Ego’s’, with less and less attachments to old values, cannot continue the strong identification with the (political) community which public life needs[20].  To act as ‘free’ as is implied according to Dohmen’s description of the ‘myth of autonomy’, one needs enough resources, meaning money or financial freedom. This makes finances fairly important to the acting individuals. And, economical, social, scientific and technological developments anticipate or capitalize on this way of thinking. Dohmen again quotes philosopher Charles Taylor, who believes modern human beings to be

‘free individuals who can control themselves with their rational abilities and who are able to use science and technology to shape their world. Consequences of this are detachment of traditions and nature, which mounts into a culture of well accepted egoism via calculation of individual preferences and the opinion of a society that can be constructed’[21].


And further:

‘the tension between culture and nature, freedom and being connected to, attachment and detachment is already dominating (post) modern life for some centuries’[22].


Taylor also proposes in Sources of the Self; The Making of the Modern Identity, that the modern identity is built on a multitude of sources: e.g. the influence of Plato, Augustine, and Descartes, who introduces a disengaged Self which is no longer bound to the rules of nature. Ultimately, Taylor believes modern man to be in a ‘fundamental crisis of identity’, an acute form of disorientation, a lack of a certain paradigm or horizon in which the world can have a stable meaning. This means that there is a necessity of a certain relation between one’s identity and one’s orientation or horizon to give meaning to one’s life[23]. Taylor also says that the progressing individualization of modernity is noticeable in daily life through the dominance of a shallow and narcissistic ego, who solely declares who he is and lives his life as he wishes or sees fit. In this so-called authenticity and narcissistic self-realization, people cannot seem to transcend themselves. This egotistical concentration of one’s self brings forth a lack of solidarity and civil service and an instrumental relation with one’s environment and nature. Taylor further poses that an outline of values, a certain paradigm or horizon is essential for a culture that is a public community, and is indispensable for one’s identity. He believes that the search for pure subjective expressive fulfilment may make life narow and insubstantial[24].

In my opinion Dohmen and Taylor are right in their claim of the crisis of individual hedonism in post-modern Western society. I subscribe the problem of a crisis of Modernity. But I believe that, as much as one thinks oneself to be free to do as one pleases, one’s ideas and behaviour fit exactly in the spectre of the Western post-modern mode. In that way one is not free, but acts as is expected. Dohmen’s solution to this megalomania of autonomy is, in addition to philosopher Michel Foucault[25], that the individual is to reform his life according to the model in Antiquity of philosophy as therapy for the soul. Foucault has named this ‘care for oneself’[26] – and Dohmen takes it further. Their claim is that when one takes care of oneself on moral grounds and sculpts one’s life, the better one will interact with others in society. I further think that there seem to be unseen presumptions on various topics in the Western society, which are overlooked by the mainstream (moral) philosophical enterprise. There is an alienation from ourselves in the here mentioned reign of individual hedonism in post-modern Western society. Egoism and narcissism are held to be vices in this society, but paradoxically, these are exactly what is expressed in our society. How then is it possible that many human beings in Western society behave in this alienated, contradictory way? It seems that the human self-employment in Western society has steered itself out of touch with that what could be seen as the main goal for doing philosophy: individually living a good life. In my opinion this implies: the aim to become the best human being one can be, in a moral and responsible way and in accord with one’s fellow community members. Egoism and narcissism is in the end not desirable behaviour in society – hence the ‘Pompous Ego’s’. It seems, due to existing unknown underlying presumptions, that without philosophy and a practical exercise, which implies attention for the individual, egoism and narcissism is precisely the behaviour we cultivate!

I subscribe the crisis of Modernity and the ‘myth of autonomy’ that is part of its legacy to us today. Therefore I also subscribe the need for an individual care for oneself. My proposition is a philosophical exercise to practice and eventually lead a good life. In my opinion there should be room for the individual to benefit from philosophical reflection on one’s own behaviour and the mental patterns one holds to be true. The question is: how do we engage in philosophy, if philosophy is necessary in one’s personal life, when the aim is living a good life? This question will be explored in this thesis.






§ 1. 2


Scientific Claim of Philosopher Philip Pettit


‘Group agency among human beings does not emerge without effort; group agents are made, not born’


Philip Pettit[27]

A philosopher who also detects a crisis in the evolving post-modern Western society is Philip Pettit[28]. Pettit is a renowned contemporary philosopher, whose work has been accounted for being of great diversity, ascribing to many areas of philosophical thinking. Pettit writes on so many seemingly different topics because he sees them as interrelated, part of the human social enterprise. He sees these topics in the light of


‘the affairs of people in relation to one another, in relation to law, and in relation to government’[29].


This is in line with my opinions, as I displayed in the previous paragraph.

The work of Pettit is important for my case because, different than the mainstream philosophical debate, Pettit has his main focus on ordinary people and the importance of their social environment. Pettit also wants to implement a philosophical practice in ordinary daily life. This is precisely the aim of my thesis: to do philosophy, not only through theoretical debate, but also through a practice, which should be beneficial to the people and their social group. The emphasis of Pettit’s philosophy is on the contemporary scientific claim. He ultimately believes that science and every intelligible activity teaches people about life in the world and that it is important to understand that one should bring this knowledge into daily practice. He thinks it necessary to bring the scientific outlook in accordance with the everyday experience; to become in line with the scientific outlook on the world. He says that when doing philosophy, we reflect on topics that we are already engaged in. People can make their presumptions fit the scientific image of themselves and the world.

According to Pettit the Western philosophical enterprise is in danger. We should care more for doing philosophy, as philosophy is the instrument to reflect on ourselves, our lives and the world around us, and thus take better care of ourselves. He sees problems ahead if the philosophical scientific and theoretical claims become too theoretical and do not relate to ordinary people anymore. Society should be alert to prevent that philosophy should contain of systematic thought only[30], because the scientific and technological evolvements of this era may leave us no philosophical practice in a future Western society. What will we gain as human beings by giving up reflecting on ourselves, the world, and our behaviour through philosophy? The status of the contents of the writings of Dohmen and Taylor is not encouraging. We may get further alienated from what is important in life, while we feed on egotism, narcissism and greed instead of reflecting on a daily basis to take care of ourselves and the environment to keep them both sane and healthy. In his article ‘Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy’[31] Pettit foresees this degradation of philosophy in future if we do not change our approach from philosophy as a theory only to an approach in which philosophy can be integrated in the practice of the lives of ordinary people, the ‘folk’.

Overall Pettit’s view on different topics, which are of relevance for this enquiry, concludes 6 points.

1)           According to Pettit, we start our philosophical inquiry out of a desire to examine and reconstruct our presumptions, our mental judgements. Philosophy should connect the scientific image of ourselves and our world. As Pettit says,


‘philosophy is the theory pursued in areas where we find ourselves already theoretically committed’[32].


Pettit believes that, when we are engaged in doing philosophy, we cannot start from scratch, as unblemished white sheets of paper, because we always start already in the midst of things. The philosophical inquiry starts out of a desire to examine and reconstruct presumptions or mental judgements that already exists to a scientific perspective. The aim is to make them fit the scientific image of ourselves and our world. This would be the opposite of allowing our opinions to unconsciously exist, and therefore be


‘unseen and uninvited, in the dark of unreflective opinion’[33].


Pettit says that when doing philosophy, we try to bring our ideas of the manifest world of how things appear to be in accordance with the Scientific Worldview. Here Pettit considers the philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars[34] who tried to bring the human perceptive world in line with theoretical knowledge. People should be able


‘to expose them [their presumptions] to the light of reason’[35],


to bring them in line with, or establish a change which is coherent with the Scientific Worldview. Because of this Pettit does not agree with the existentialistic claim that


‘we can rebuild ourselves plank by plank at will’[36],


but, from another point of view than what Pettit suggests, this is precisely what I propose to do in this thesis.

The points of 2) the common wisdom or folk psychology, 3) the conversational stance, 4) social holism and 5) the self-regulation of the human mind, are topics that are linked to what I have described as the social context, frame or spectre in the introduction of this chapter. Human beings always live in parties of more than one individual. So, human beings always live in communities, in the presence of each other[37]. According to Pettit this statement on the social context of communities is important to take as the point of departure for the philosophical discussion. A definition on social holism is: people depend on interaction with one another in their possession of the capacity to think[38]. Pettit sees social holism as a non-superficial, changeable feature of human thinkers; it explains how human beings in conversation can claim to know immediately what they each have in mind with the use of words[39]. He believes that, though people are autonomous agents, they may still be able to use the capacity to think only on the basis of interaction with one another. They may be able to act autonomous only in one another’s company[40].

There is truth in these opinions, because, if human beings can only live in communities every detail of human life is imbedded in this social context. As humans only live in each others’ company, even when acting autonomous, they will do this in accordance with what is appropriate in the social context on autonomous behaviour. And this would not only consist of rules and patterns that are appropriate in the society at that particular time, but also of a historical evolving of rules and patterns. People pass on their habitual patterns to their children and children’s children, hence, a cultural context is born; a certain way of doing things that distinguishes one race or culture from another.

Pettit thinks that people each accept that our assumptions are a matter of common belief. In our common wisdom, the shared set of assumptions, beliefs, and desires – and how they relate to our behaviour – there is always an assumption of shared authority at work[41]. He thinks that to authorize a subject as a conversational interlocutor makes sense only if there are certain norms that a subject has to acknowledge to. The subject needs to recognize those norms, and needs to respond in the way, the ways of the group it is a part of, requires. What Pettit calls the conversational stance, is also an effect of the fact that people live in groups of more than one. It means that people listen to one another through conversation, in the course of belief formation and that they invest in one another’s responses. They are often ready to change their own minds in the light of what they hear from others. Conversation is therefore the means by which human beings recognize others and seek recognition from them. According to Pettit it is a forum in which we put our beliefs on the line and expose them to the reality test that others represent for us[42].

Another topic of Pettit, which is derived from people’s living together in communities, is his proposition of a self-regulating mind. The human mind is seen by Pettit[43] as a personal-level ability to understand rules and regulate its behaviour accordingly. It is a more or less mechanical basis for simple intentional systems and a self-regulating mind, which can express beliefs in words, identify truth-related restrictions when performed and do things intentionally with the aim of better acting up to such restrictions. Self-regulating minds can be held responsible for their actions. People act or adjust their actions in response to the restrictions, they believe to be required. Self-knowledge of one’s beliefs is the result of the ability to belief along the pattern that judgement sets out, whether by being automatically attuned to respond in that way or by a capacity to keep oneself in line with the group through intentional self-monitoring[44]. So Pettit thinks that the group agent must organize itself to an extend that all members can embrace the group judgements and exclude inconsistencies. In one’s self-regulation, one will prevent inconsistencies in one’s behaviour to become conform the rule of the group as a whole. There is an active part to play for every individual in the group of rational agents. Pettit says that if a creature is to be seen as an intentional agent, desires or goals (to act on) or beliefs (about the environment to guide its actions) are important. According to Pettit,


‘an agent will act to make the world fit a proposition he strives for. One will act for the realization of one’s desires, seeking to bring the world in line with them; and it will act in this way according to its beliefs, where its beliefs are brought into line by the world. This will be so, at any rate, within what we think as feasible limits and favourable conditions’[45].


But this individual action is only possible within the limits and conditions, which are given by the group or the laws of a certain society. The individual human being should or would do whatever is necessary to keep in line with judgements, which one needs to take on as true, coming from a certain frame or paradigm which is accepted by the group as a whole. One should also take responsibility for one’s behaviour, which is a huge responsibility for an insignificant human being in the social order of community. Pettit suggests that the human self-regulating mind, is able to regulate oneself to behave in an order that is socially restricted by rules of a higher authority. The self-regulating systems, that Pettit takes human beings to be, are programmed to obey to the limits set by a given society, to fit in that certain social setting, that is their place in the world. And, Pettit believes that they must be totally content with this.


‘But, group agency among human beings does not emerge without effort; group agents are made, not born’[46].


Meaning, a human being should have to work to get to the status of a fully self-regulated mind.

6) In his article ‘Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy’ Pettit states that we need a meditative dimension in our philosophical enterprise, and that he thinks that the meditative lessons are the centre of change for our practice. This topic is usually alien to a scientific or philosophical discussion. It cannot be grasped, cannot be verified, even touches the realm of religion, which does not belong to the scientific or philosophical discussion either. The phrase Pettit uses is:


‘it smacks of religion rather than scholarship or science’[47].


In this particular article the question is whether Existentialism or Quietism is capable of reflecting on our practical presumptions to make a difference in ordinary life. The conclusion is that Existentialism has lost sight of this interrelatedness of human beings and Quietism is perhaps more of an intelligent passing of time which does not seem attached to people’s daily lives. Pettit acknowledges that science and every intelligible activity teaches us about our life in the world; and it is important to understand that we should bring our knowledge, into our daily practice. Pettit suggests philosophy as a practical assumption, in the areas of reason, nature, mind, society, value and the rationalization of these fields. Since it is that when we examine our beliefs that we can begin to understand to what they lead, it is obvious that we will learn lessons from them. And the lessons Pettit proposes here, taught by philosophy, are meditative, methodological and moral.

With the meditative lessons Pettit means lessons that resonate and echo in one’s everyday awareness. To be able to do this one needs a discipline of the soul and of the mind, which is not taught in classrooms[48]. He thinks that if philosophical reflection is not allowed to have a meditative dimension, it really is vulnerable to systematic thought or of being absorbed into other disciplines[49]. He thinks it necessary to have more dimensions of philosophical encounter than on a professional nine-to-five-workday level. It is in the interest of ourselves and our philosophical enterprise to be able to challenge different poses of philosophical reflection which can resonate in our daily experience. As Pettit thinks that the meditative lessons are the centre of change for our practice; they are likely to change how people perceive and behave[50].

According to Pettit, there is room for new issues and surprising outcomes as technology develops and society changes. The methodological lessons should be on the practice of science; any cognitive story must make room for beliefs that are context-involving. The moral lessons implied by Pettit are part of normative ethics and political theory. They are implications to look at how the world may be expected empirically to be. Many of the issues in normative ethics are matters of well-established opinion or practical presumptions. An engaging moral role, trying to distillate lessons from fundaments of common, practical presumptions that are important to what sort of state and society we should be seeking, is what normative political theory is about.

The philosophy of Philip Pettit is on track with its aim for an incorporation of philosophy into daily life, the importance of social holism, and the introduction of a meditative dimension in a future philosophical practice.

But, there are some problems in Pettit’s philosophical theory in my opinion. One is that Pettit displays the vision that, would there have been


‘embraced beliefs at the origin of our practice-bound responses then they would have constituted a centre of control, which philosophy might have infiltrated and transformed’[51].


In other words: Human beings do not have an individual control centre that has beliefs on the fundaments of the practice of human responses. Pettit comes to this conclusion because the centre through which human related practices are controlled, is not easily taken-over by philosophy. Pettit states that:

‘the centre exists, paradoxically, at the peripheries where we find this or that particular transition of thought compelling and display it in what we say, in what we feel, or in what we do. It is distributed in the myriad points at which we find ourselves compelled to draw this or that conclusion and find ourselves able to defend the conclusion drawn under the pressure of discursive exchange with ourselves and others’[52]


which means, that the peripheries (as Pettit says) where people find transitions of thoughts displayed in their language and actions, is the conversational stance, which Pettit sees as the manifested core of human beliefs in their social behaviour. This is being exposed when human beings are challenged to defend conclusions which have been drawn in the interaction with others in the social group. Pettit’s vision is focused rather on the role of custom or deed, ethos or Praxis than on the role of word or logos[53]. Human beings’ habitual behaviour consists of strong historically – Pettit says biologically – formed patterns that are not easily controlled or overcome by human beings. But his conclusion that therefore the control centre of human related practices is only in the manifestation of their actions in a social discursive manner, need not be true, in my opinion. What if the centre of control in human related practices is what we unconsciously hold to be true, our presumptions and beliefs, and our dark and un-reflected opinions? I believe that the centre of control, manifested in our actions, custom or deed, are more unconsciously driven than we are aware of precisely because these customs or deeds are habitual, and therefore unknown to us. To illustrate this there is an example of a flashlight in a dark room of which is asked to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it is not.[54] With the scientific claim as his lead, Pettit takes that when reflecting or doing philosophy, we try to bring our ideas of the manifest world of how things appear to be in accordance with the Scientific Worldview. But, these are not dependent of one another. In my opinion we can, as philosophers, reflect on our ideas of the manifest world which might seem in accordance with the Scientific Worldview, without being conscious of certain, unseen and uninvited, dark unreflective opinions, existing in our mental patterns as individuals of a certain group. This is illuminated in the example of the flashlight, which cannot ‘see’ darkness. This would mean that these dark unreflective opinions exist also in the group as a whole, as each individual is an integral part of this group. I acknowledge that human beings actual behaviour is the core of what seems to have no control centre, but I belief that what is manifested is what people unconsciously seem to hold to be true[55]. And, paradoxically, what is manifested through our own behaviour, is visible, for everybody except for ourselves. We do not ‘see’ or are not aware of the outlines of the frame we see through or live in. If this is so for the individuals of a certain group, this means that the whole group or nation does not register the outlines of the frame it is ‘seeing’ the world through. This is, in my opinion, due to the unseen and uninvited, dark unreflective opinions people, and for that matter, nations have. And, as in the flashlight-example, by being dark unreflective opinions, people would not be aware of them, and therefore cannot acknowledge these unreflective opinions as their own.

In the scientific discussion on explaining human behaviour, a scientific outlook on the world is the point of departure, while the practical every-day life of human beings is sought to be in accordance with this scientific outlook. It almost seems to me that, from this scientific point of view, human beings with their flawed behaviour need to be restrained to live up to the scientific claim. Pettit’s focus on the group, is in my opinion, due to this scientific claim, not sensitive enough to the individual participation of each single human being the group consists of. I would rather start the philosophical enterprise with the human experience of life; without turning to ‘pure subjectivist expressivism’[56] and, without losing sight of the social character of human beings. Human beings live in groups, but the human experience of life is an individual one. This cannot be left out in the philosophical discussion.

My proposal is, that the ‘care for oneself’, as Dohmen suggests, is an individual philosophical exercise and is necessary for every human being to become aware of one’s inner mental patterns, before one would be able to regulate oneself well. Understandably, Pettit has conceived this theory to establish a model, to unfold the possibilities of the human mind, but I think that human beings first need to evolve to a more sophisticated level of understanding of themselves (and each other), and from there on evolve to a more sophisticated level of living well together. When this individual level of sophistication is established, the self-regulating minds are in my opinion not only theoretical models, but conscious human beings, who actually can regulate their own minds. To express my opinion on this, I will discuss an example by Dohmen – it was first used by Foucault – that highlights the importance of the social group even when one has attention for sculpting one’s life. But, as does Pettit, he omits the necessity of the individual contribution. In this example Dohmen illustrates how group action can improve or exceed individual performance. Dohmen speaks of the morale of the jazz-metaphor by Foucault as: the art of living is the art of living together[57]. The example is about jazz musicians in a jam-session, who exceed to great heights while playing together and inspire each other to perform beyond their individual reach. Dohmen posits that the ‘care for self’ is not in giving attention to one’s inner self, but lies in the interaction with other group-members.

The interaction with other group members is very important for beings, who always live in groups consisting of more than one. But in this particular example, one should not forget that a musician can only excel at a jam-session when he brings in his own knowledge of music to the group, before the interaction with the group can make him excel to great heights. When I would want to join them, being an unskilled musician, I doubt if the other skilled performers would gladly want me to join in. I would degrade their play and perhaps they would thank me for my enthusiasm, but sent me home or even get angry with me[58]. According to Pettit and Dohmen, in this example of Foucault, the interaction of a group seems to be the most important part, but it begins, in my opinion, with taking care of one’s own self, one’s skills. This would mean to sculpt one’s (moral) self. In Western society people are set to be masters in almost every field of knowledge, except for the field of their own life. To become a master of one’s own life individual attention to one’s self, other than in the manner of the ‘Pompous Ego’, is necessary. This individual attention includes to own up to the responsibility for one’s actions and to become conscious of one’s own mental patterns in life as a society-member.

The fundament for this idea of giving attention to one’s self – as Dohmen would say: sculpting one’s character or taking care of one’s self – was first revealed to me, when I encountered texts of Epictetus, a 1st century Greek and Stoic philosopher, who lived in Rome at the time. Epictetus thought that man cannot take responsibility for the way nature works nor for that what befalls him in life, but he can take responsibility for his ideas, thoughts and the way one looks on to the world – one’s inner mental patterns. In this manner one can make the best use of one’s innate abilities, become the best person one can be, which is taking on ‘the profession of being human’[59]. This is not an egotistical, solitary or individual attitude; its aim is to be of service to the group. To speak with Pettit: to become ‘self-regulating minds’ that see themselves as units that are an integral part of the social group. But, I would say, one would have to start with attention for one’s own self to become conscious of one’s behaviour, and to discover by what dark unreflective patterns one is driven. Then one could bring that to the light of reason, sculpt it with practical exercises, and implement it into one’s actions in social encounters.

A problem could be the presumption we hold on the semantics of the word ‘egotistical’. In society taking care of oneself, giving attention to one’s inner self seems similar to feeding egoism or narcissism, while, the first is positive attention to sculpt one’s moral self to become a strong responsible being in society and the latter is a negative flattering and feeding of a weak personality, one who is enslaved by its desires and greed. Taken in account that citizens of a certain culture or society live in a certain spectre, this means that it is our own Western spectre that brings forth these presumptions. We, the people, believe, due to historical and biological habitual patterns, that attention for oneself can only be an egotistical flattering of oneself. Most people have been taught from their early years on that they should not be egoists, thus not attend to themselves, but they should care for the well-being of others. One is trained in Western society not to tend to one’s inner state of mind. But without attention to ourselves, we do not seem able to be responsible for our own behaviour and, worse, we feed the negative flattering of weak personalities, as this is behaviour that emerges from society.

According to Dohmen the core of Foucault’s later philosophy was to enquire how a great variety of processes in the history of Western society – economical, technological, scientific and semantic processes – through all kinds of complex connections have produced what is known as a ‘personal identity’[60]. In Sources of the Self; The Making of the Modern Identity, Taylor also explains the history of what different outlooks made the horizon of the identity of modern man. All these various influences of e.g. the Romantics or subjectivist expressivism or instrumentalism, are assembled into what is the modern social context, the modern social spectre. This assembled social spectre, of which we are not conscious of all its facets, is the ground of what we hold to be true in society. This spectre also contains, as I have argued, unseen and un-reflected presumptions in society. What we hold to be true as a society about the ‘condition humaine’ (Fr), the human condition,[61] is in my opinion such a basic (unseen) presumption that sets our minds in a certain manner that colours our outlook on the world. This will be further explained in chapters II and III when introducing the philosophy of Stoic philosopher Epictetus and when a distinction between the Stoic Worldview and modern ‘condition humaine’ is made.

My proposal in this thesis is to incorporate meditative exercises in the philosophical enterprise, as Pettit already proposes. But with the distinction that these philosophical exercises should be part of an individual contemplation, and not only, as Philip Pettit suggests, an engaged, quizzical, rational dialogue between thinkers or subjects, belonging to a certain social group.

This proposal is not to withhold our attention from the social group or society as a whole, but to focus on the inner landscape of the individuals of which this society contains. Human beings live in a social setting and are inter-dependant of each other in various ways, but they each have an individual experience of life. This cannot be excluded in the philosophical discussion in my opinion. It also asks for a practical way of doing philosophy, seen from an individual point of view, but without losing sight of the individual’s social context.

In the next chapter I will introduce the philosophy of the Stoic Epictetus, which contains a theory that is to be incorporated to become a practical philosophy with the aim to sculpt one’s character. To understand where Epictetus comes from, I will start with an introduction on Stoic philosophy and the Stoic Worldview. Stoicism, in which the philosophy of Epictetus is imbedded, is important for the understanding of Epictetus, but the characteristics of his philosophy are quite unique, timeless and stand on its own.




Epictetus[62], Stoicism and Ancient Philosophical or Spiritual Exercises


‘God[63] made all human beings with a view to their happiness, their good condition. To this end he gave them means, giving each person some things that belong to himself and others do not. The things that are liable to frustration, removal, and compulsion are not his own, but those which are not liable to frustration are his own. As was right in one who cares for us and protects us like a father, he included the essence of good and evil among the things that are our own.’

                                                                                       Epictetus [64]



In the previous chapter an important point made by Philip Pettit is that it is essential for human beings to live in social groups of more than one. This means that every individual is an integral part of the community.

Epictetus, the 1st century Stoic philosopher, has quite a similar approach to human beings whom he also believes to be part of a social group, but, and this is common in Stoicism, as rational animals they are also a part of nature, of the harmony of the world at large. Epictetus believes that the individual human being who knows itself to be an integral part of the social group and at large of the world’s harmony, needs to train itself to be the best human being one can possibly be. In his opinion the individual finds its place in the social group and the world, not by dismissing the individual standpoint, but through individual contemplation and training of one’s moral character, as an integral part of the group or whole. When reading Epictetus, the appeal of his philosophy is that it is about ordinary human beings; everyone can do it, everyone can be of service to himself. And, one does not have to wait until one has enough theoretical knowledge in a far future, notwithstanding rank or background, one can start perfecting one’s life now!

Although the above has a reminiscence of a quote from a popularized self-help book, this is precisely what Epictetus would want his pupils to do and what is still the appeal to readers of his pupil Arrian’s notes of his lectures. In my opinion these lessons fit perfectly in post-modern Western world, because of this individual attention for human beings. The aim is, not to flatter a weak ego, but to examine one’s own life individually, sculpt one’s character to be of better service to the social group and the world at large. It is worth notifying that in the twentieth century the Cognitive Therapy[65] and RET- the Rational Emotive Therapy[66], which are therapies that can make people aware of their own mental patterns and learn to alter their behaviour, are based on Epictetus’ thought.

In this chapter the enquiry of Epictetus and his fundament, the Stoic doctrine, will be unfolded in three parts: the Philosophy of Epictetus; second: the Stoic Philosophy and third: Ancient Philosophical or Spiritual Exercises. After this brief introduction, I will first introduce Epictetus before exploring the Stoic Worldview, as it is the fundament of his philosophy and its horizon is distinct from a Christian point of view. In analysing Stoicism, three sub-paragraphs will emerge: 1) a brief disclosure of Epictetus as a Stoic; 2) The Stoic Worldview; 3) The Stoic Philosophy of Mind. In discussing The Philosophy of Epictetus, there is also a division of three sub-paragraphs: 1) The profession of Being Human; 2) Making Correct Use of Representations, and 3) Epictetus on Emotions. As Epictetus is said to be an original thinker, an extra paragraph is set on ‘Differences between Mainstream Stoicism and the Philosophy of Epictetus’. Then the spiritual exercises are exposed. This section ends with a conclusion, containing a resume of this chapter and what I think the philosophy of Epictetus can bring to the modern practice of doing philosophy.


§ 2. 1


Epictetus, the Stoic Philosopher


‘Inwardly, comforters of distraught people should say to themselves: ‘It is not what has happened that is crushing this man but the man’s judgement about what has happened’


The first century Greek philosopher, Epictetus[68] is a moralist, imbedded in Stoic tradition. His philosophical message focuses upon a single, generally anonymous individual. He believes that human beings have a place and a responsibility in the world. This could be attractive for post-modern men, because they need not feel as if they are victims, left at fate’s mercy. It is remarkable that Epictetus, who addressed himself as ‘a lame old man’[69] and has lived according to his own philosophical doctrine, remained living a sober life, while he could have begotten material wealth, status and power as did, for instance, Seneca[70], another famous Stoic.

All through history Epictetus’ Manual, containing maxims and rules as guides for good living, has been fairly popular. Ever since his pupil Arrian published the records of his teachings, he earned approval, from Emperors to the early Christian writers. The official attitude of the early Christian Church to all Greek philosophy was disapproving, but, according to Long, there are traces of Stoicism in Paul’s books of the New Testament. Formative Christian thinkers, especially Alexandrians Clement (c. 150-220) and Origin (c. 185-254) used much of it, particularly in the field of ethics. Origin even drew a striking contrast of Plato and Epictetus:


‘Whereas Plato is only in the hands of those reputed to be scholars, Epictetus is admired by ordinary people who have the urge to be benefited, and who perceive improvement from his words’[71]


This text exemplifies my earlier comment that Epictetus’ words could be beneficial to everyone, not withstanding rank or background, and one can start improving oneself now.

Neo-platonist Simplicius even wrote a commentary on the Manual in Athens in the sixth century AD. Translations of Epictetus’ work were also familiar in the seventeenth and eighteenth century; he became a household name for the European and early American intelligentsia. However, for much of the nineteenth and twentieth century, Epictetus was not a central figure anymore. He was then seen as a philosopher who was popularising Stoicism, lacking depth and creativity.  Long beliefs that Epictetus’ appeals to (Stoic) theology have been read in the light of Christianity. According to Long, Epictetus’ deepest ideas are very distinct from the main Christian message, even though there are notable parallels between his sayings and some of the New Testament.[72] This would be inevitable, in my opinion, when the leading paradigm in the eighteenth and nineteenth century from which any text could have been read, was the paradigm of Christianity. Long tells us, that the first translators of the whole of Epictetus’ work in English, Elizabeth Carter[73], combined, like many of her contemporaries and early modern predecessors, appreciation of the Stoic doctrine of divine providence and ‘excellent rules of self-government and social behaviour’ with strong criticism of – what they saw from a Christian paradigm as – the Stoics theological errors,


‘arrogance’ and ‘insults to human nature… by enjoining and promising a perfection in this life of which we feel ourselves incapable’[74].


The ‘perfection in this life’ here mentioned, is not a perfection, meaning ‘one does not err or never makes mistakes’ which is impossible and could be taken as an insult because it is only God in Christianity Who is perfect. This ‘perfection of life’ needs to be seen from the Epictetian-Stoic Worldview of being in harmony with the flow or intelligence of the world order, as Epictetus and Stoics thought human life was meant to be.

Perfecting one’s life would mean to accept natural events in life and take responsibility for the part of life one can be responsible for: one’s mindset and through this, one’s own habits and behaviour. Epictetus’ emphasis is not on perfection or ideal wisdom, according to Long, but on the shaping and improving the mindset of ordinary people like ourselves. He assumes that men are fallible, as he admits himself to be, but he also believes that human beings are innately and divinely equipped to live well, even in unfavourable situations, if they make their thoughts and desires, and not circumstances, responsible for how humans fare and act in relation to themselves and their society[75]. Long claims that Epictetus is original, not only for making use, as a Stoic, of the Socratic paradigm as a dialectical guide; he also gives his own personal twist to the Stoic standard conception of cosmic order and the human understanding of who they are and where they fit in[76]. On the one hand human beings are to accept the natural order of the world; accept things the way they are, and on the other human beings have the possibility to be responsible for their own mental capacities to coincide with the rational world order. Epictetus wants us to acknowledge that:


‘No state of the world could at any time have been different from what it is, nor could it have been better planned than the way it is’[77].


This is the ground on which Epictetus’ tree of knowledge stands. As Epictetus has for a long time been misunderstood by scholars because of his appeals to theology, it is important to explore this Stoic worldview which has been previously read in the light of Christianity.


§ 2. 1. 1


The Stoic Worldview


‘To treat nothing as a purely private interest and to deliberate about nothing as though one were detached, but as the hand or the foot, if they had reason and understanding of the [world’s] natural constitution, would never exercise impulse or desire except by reference to the whole.’


Epictetus’ theological appeal can be seen in the perspective of the Stoic Worldview, of which the essence of its teachings went back to Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus, the founding fathers of Stoicism in the third Century BC at Athens. Throughout Antiquity the STOA was represented in three periods: an early Stoic period, which was the era of the here mentioned founding fathers in the third Century BC, a middle Stoic period from c. 135 to c. 51 BC, which introduced Stoicism to the Roman world, and a late Stoic period in the Roman Imperial first and second centuries AD. Epictetus is a member of the late Stoics.

Stoic philosophy is of all the Greek schools the most ambitious in its quest for a system that would explain how human nature fits into the world at large. It is a holistic and systematic philosophy. The Stoics tried to make cosmic order relevant to human values. Its complexity is difficult to comprehend when seen from a monolithic point of view[79]. According to A. A. Long, a well-known specification of philosophy in late Antiquity is:


‘Philosophy is what people need in order to become properly themselves, to fulfil their natures, to achieve the happiness that is everyone’s natural goal’[80].


In our modern culture the Stoics are remembered only through a byword meaning: ‘repressing one’s emotion, showing indifference to pleasure or pain, and have patient endurance’. But the goal of Stoicism was to create a plan of the world that would be coherent, and would explain natural events, humans and understand reality (physics, ethics and logic) as manifestation of an all-pervading rationality or logos. Their ultimate goal was to create happiness in life. Eudaimonia translated with ‘happiness’ is the telos, the aim, in Stoic ethics. Stoicism views the world as a system that accepts both regulation and providence. God, the omnipresent active principle, prescribes and regulates everything in a causal sequence that leaves no room for events to occur otherwise than the way they do, but, there is space for human beings to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions. Because the Deity is rational and benevolent, this order is also the fulfilment of divine providence.

As Stoicism is a holistic system, there are several interrelated essential points in Stoicism, which I have brought down to 5 points to discuss here:

1) Happiness is ‘living in harmony’, a good condition, the same for all. Stoics believed that happiness was within the power of every human being and it is what people are made for by a Deity who is benevolent, completely egalitarian and universalistic. The general meaning of eudaimonia in Antiquity was quite different than what we understand as happiness nowadays. It was not seen as the secure possession of goods in life, like wealth, health, fame, fortune, that depend on chance. These goods lie outside of human power and are, especially in the ancient world, rarely begotten. The philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus and the Stoics consider happiness as a condition that depends on a person’s values, beliefs, desires and moral character. But only the Stoics claim happiness to depend wholly on an active state of mind. To live virtuously and to be happy as a Stoic, one needs an understanding of (one’s) nature which presupposes the truths of Stoic theology and physics. Happiness, in Zeno’s definition, is a person’s ‘good flow of life’ (Gr.: eurhoia biou) and he defined eudaimonia as ‘living in agreement’[81]. Thus happiness can be defined as ‘a good flow of life’ by ‘living in agreement’ with nature (as human beings are part of nature) and the nature of the universe. We achieve life in agreement with nature by conforming ourselves to the rules prescribed by a deity who governs the universe according to right and rational principles. The happy life then is presented as one in which we behave as members of a well-governed society at large.

The Stoic’s view of the world at large is that of a structure and pattern of activity that is not merely intelligible, but intelligent and prescriptive. And, very different than in Christianity, instead of being tainted by sin, human beings are innately equipped to perfect themselves by their own effort. There is no need for a divine act of grace or sacrifice[82].

So, Stoics’ reflection of happiness – what all human beings could have for themselves – is living in a ‘good flow of life’. They see this ‘good flow’ as a pattern of activity in which we ‘agree with nature’. This agreement can be achieved by conforming our mind and volition to the legislative principles that ‘reason’, has set to be right for the community of all rational beings. To live in ‘harmony’ is a relational notion. The social setting is very important in Stoic philosophy. Characterizing one’s unique position in the world, one’s gender, nationality, age, family relationships, status, profession and personality, in short the personae, is important in a human’s use of representations. One has to live in agreement with one’s social group, one’s environment and with nature to which one is already related because one is a part of life in the world. Stoicism sees this being related to in a wider, universal perspective. This is an important Stoic notion. To illuminate the Stoic thought, Epictetus makes an enlightening parallel with the navigator of a vessel; it is a Stoic’s wish to sail successfully through life as a navigator of a ship on life’s ocean. In doing so, he accepts good and bad weather as unavoidable conditions of the way things are. The Stoic would find it irrational and pointless to wish that circumstances were different than what they actually experience. But this determination, that things are the way they are, is balanced by providence; if the situation one is in, is providentially set and one is equipped with a mind that can understand this, then one has reason to accept everything that happens as inevitable, and also to see everything that influences one’s individual self as that which is right for one, and the opportunity for one to discover and play one’s human part in the cosmic plan. What is seen as misfortune, could be seen as challenges by Stoics and be accepted, even welcomed, to give them means to sculpt their rationality and dignity as full-fledged human beings.[83]

2) Stoics furthermore think that human beings only have a single nature: a rational one; and irrationality falls also under its department. Whereas Plato, and e.g. Kant, thinks that human beings have a dualistic nature – part physical, the part that seeks happiness in pleasure, and part rational, which belongs to the ethical domain – Stoics belief human beings to have a single nature, a rational one. For Kant it is this physical side which seeks happiness as in pleasure[84]. According to Long, the Stoic does not acknowledge human beings to have a dualistic nature. Stoics would say that it lies in the single nature of man to be capable of conforming or failing to conform to correct rational behaviour. Irrational behaviour is a defect of reason itself and not a manifestation of a different part of the mind that makes one not sensible to reason. The Stoics believe that it should be possible for every man to live in harmony with the natural flow of life. This is possible, as it is an innate quality of the single natured, rational human to live as is intended by an intelligence, a Deity, that rules the cosmic order of the world.

3) Stoicism also has its own opinion according to the human body and mind. The Stoic philosophy is holistic, as they tried to explain human nature to fit the world. Due to this holism Stoics also believed body and mind of human beings to be both material, and thus single natured. They did not treat the philosophy of mind as a different division than other topics like logic or physics and ethics. This is different from the modern approach of the philosophy of mind. According to Long the Stoics wanted to distinguish the soul from flesh and bones and at the same time explain the soul/body relationship as a physical interaction. They believed the philosophy of mind to shed light on the self. The self is to them a psychological and ethical concept[85]. The soul was identified with ‘breath’ (Gr.: pneuma) that penetrates every part of the body[86]. They saw, in spite of their ‘materialism’, a thought or an emotion as a mental event, whatever its actual relation to physical processes and structures. What can be seen as Stoic ‘philosophy of mind’, provides a most creative and distinctive tool for understanding and shaping individual selves[87]. Epictetus characterizes a Stoic’s purpose as ‘making correct use of representations’ (Gr.: phantasiai). It is the way in which individual beings perceive themselves, or what it is to have a first-person outlook or first-person experience on the world. This ‘self’ is something individual, a uniquely positioned viewer and interlocutor, a viewer that has interior access of a kind that is not available to anyone else. This ‘self’ is always with us[88]. This can be interpreted as an interesting way of viewing consciousness, of the individual perceiving of the subject, as the fundamental feature of the mind.

4) Stoics believe that body-awareness of non-rational and rational animals, is the first sense of self that they have. This sense of self starts with the awareness that this ‘instrument’, this body, belongs to them. Stoic philosophy contains a large part on the physiology of all animals, including human beings. They believed that this is the fundament of self awareness in living creatures. Living creatures become aware of the world and their group through their senses, but Stoics believe that they are first aware of their own physiological system, which they accept and feel as ‘their own’. It is what makes them experience their limbs and body parts as ‘this system’ that is different from ‘that system’ of which ‘this system’ has no sense, feelings or experience. According to the Stoics, the human body and soul are, physiologically speaking, inseparable from one another during an individual’s existence. In Stoicism there is no body/mind problem; they believe their relation to be necessarily interactive and part of the same system. The body needs the soul to be a living human body. The soul needs the body as its location and instrument for actualising consciousness. Prof. Long holds the Stoics responsible for the invention of this basic concept of self-perception or self-awareness. The Stoic idea is that an animal cannot have an affective attitude towards itself, unless it is aware of itself; unless it has the capacity to feel its body as something that belongs to itself. Long thinks that the modern word to which this relates to is: proprioception. This is defined as ‘that continuous but unconscious sensory flow from the movable parts of our bodies (muscles, tendons, joints), by which their position and tone and motion are continually monitored and adjusted’[89].  According to Long, the Stoics are interested in the principle that enables animals to function internally as well-organised wholes, coordinating their movements and ensuring that the use of their bodily parts, fits what is needed in their environment. Loss of proprioception, means loss of one’s sense of itself; it is only by their proprioception that human beings feel their bodies as property to themselves, as their own. Stoics saw animals as autonomous organisms, not conscious as we are, but responsive to themselves as having a proprioceptive self-awareness; holding a sense of self- experience of themselves as a whole organism. This means that this self-awareness is something that is felt and experienced from within the organism itself. To them, children and young animals have a lot in common. They thought that human beings could learn about ethics and the common needs of all animal species, including themselves, from animal behaviour. They had an opinion about how self-perception in human beings evolves from its ‘proprioceptive’ basis into the capacity to perceive oneself as a rational human being, what we would nowadays describe as a rational agent. This would imply that every normal animal, including the human being, is born with all that is needed in order to successfully be the kind of animal that it is.

Stoic philosopher Chrysippus said that


‘the first thing appropriate to every animal from the moment of birth is its own constitution and its consciousness (Gr. suneidēsis) of this’[90].


Stoic Hierocles, professor in the Roman Imperial period, even said that the first object of an animal’s aisthēsis is not anything external to an animal’s body but the animal itself. He wants to prove that animals experience their bodies and their certain powers (what makes them the sort of animal they are) from birth, and that such an awareness is a precondition of their experiencing anything else. He also says, probably against Aristotelians, that aisthēsis, the perceptual faculty of animals and humans, is for perceiving externals only, because, according to Stoics, sense-perception is not a faculty on its own, but a sensory ‘mode of representation’ (phantasia). Human thought is also believed to be a mode of representation, but a non-sensory one. Different is the Aristotelian meaning of phantasia: ‘the capacity to visualise’; this is the reason for the general translation into ‘imagination’. Aristotle’s philosophy of mind has no central consciousness in an animal’s life, whereas Stoics supposes that all animals have a kind of experience of their own organism and do so from birth on. Stoics made self-awareness basic to animal life. This sense experience is not unrelated to sensory operations, rather a prerequisite of it. It implies that seeing and hearing taking place in a body over there, is that creature’s seeing or hearing, it is distinct from my or your seeing or hearing[91]. Hierocles even used the Greek word oikeiosis, which expressed the relationship between the household members and the ownership of property, for an animal’s relation to itself as in ‘self-belonging’. This requires self-awareness. In my opinion, the proposal, that ‘proprioceptive’ capacities are basic for animals and humans to be able to monitor their lives, and that it could be that which human self-perceptive possibilities evolved from, is a plausible one. It underlines the interrelatedness of Stoic doctrine. This implies also that there is no body/mind problem in stoicism.

The explanation of self-motion of non-rational and rational animals is the next step from being aware of one’s own organism and to act or move as a whole organism. This includes an outline of how one can shape one’s self-perception, one’s mind, by reflecting and practicing an ethical disposition.

5) In, what could be called the Stoic philosophy of mind, they hold the self to be a psychological and ethical concept. This topic will be discussed as § 2. 1. 3 The Stoic Philosophy of Mind.



§ 2. 1. 2


The Stoic Philosophy of Mind

‘…For what is a human being? The part of a community, first the community of gods and human beings, and secondly of the one called closest to that, which is a small copy of the universal community’.



Due to their holistic vision of the world, nature and its living creatures, Stoics are committed to the view that non-rational and rational animals, human beings, are wholesome organism. They are therefore also committed to a unitary view of the mind. According to Long, Stoics think that self-motion of animals is the product of two faculties: phantasia and hormē (Gr., meaning ‘impulse’). The explanation on self-motion is as follows:


‘they [animals] are moved by themselves when a representation occurs within them which calls forth an impulse[93].


As is discussed in the previous chapter, a preconception for animals to be able to express self-motion is their proprioceptive capacity, the capacity of an animal to be sensitive to all its bodily parts as being part of itself, a self that functions as a whole organism. In this order Stoics hold consciousness experienced by the perceiving individual to be a basic feature of the mind. They believed that possession of a representational and an impulsive faculty is what distinguishes animals or ensouled beings from plants and inanimate creatures. In order for an animal to live, it has to have some sense of itself as the subject of its own experiences, e.g. cat-like, dog-like etc. This self-awareness is related to sensory operations, it is also related to the body. This is discussed previously. Long explains that the Stoics believed that the soul has a commanding part (Gr.: hegemonikon), located in the heart, the centre of an animal’s body. It commands what today would be called: sentient, being aware of, conscious purposed life as distinct from automatic bodily processes. There is no subject or ego over or above the hegemonikon; there is no place for a separate desiring or cognitive part. In their unitary view of the mind, Stoics insist on the complete rationality of the human hegemonikon, which they hold to be different than that of animals. The hegemonikon provides the Stoics with the concept of a unitary self, actively engaged as a whole in all moments of an animals’ experience[94].

The Stoics view the mind as a receptor, which is constantly being occupied by a sequence of representations. They believe that the external world and/or one’s internal condition constantly acts upon the mind and thus gives the experience of a constant stream of awareness[95]. All occurring sensations and feelings, recollections, imaginations, and all transient thoughts are classified as ‘representations’. Representations can be of sensory or non-sensory objects alike. As is said before, in Stoicism sense-perception is not a faculty on its own, but a sensory ‘mode of representation’ (phantasia) and human thought is believed to be a non-sensory mode of representation. For instance, all our concepts (ennoiai), which can be classified as non-sensory objects, are to Stoics also phantasiai (representations). These concepts are imprinted and stored as memories, and human beings can act on these imprinted and stored memories as one can act on a sensation or feeling on physical encounters in life. But representations do not always coincide with reality; e.g. a straight stick in water appears as a bent stick, while the stick is not bent at all. Thus representations can be false and misleading. But whether true or false, they always present something to the ‘commanding part’ of the soul, the hegemonikon. Stoics also believe that representations are tainted by individual content. There is an example of two dogs, one willing dog tied to a moving cart, which moves along happily, and an unwilling dog which needs to be dragged instead, to illustrate the distinction in experience of animals with different mindsets. The bottom-line is that the way the individual animal, rational or non-rational, experiences the world is largely due to its own mindset and on what representations it is used to act on. The way things appear to a creature, the representation it has, depends not only on what they encounter, but also on the kind of creature it is, and the kind of training and habit that it has had. [96] The unwilling dog, perhaps acts on a negative memory of walking alongside the cart, while the latter, which walks along happily, might have no such memory and might have been trained to walk along and get rewarded for it. This would illustrate that their mindset, training, habits or (in the case of humans) outlook on the world is more important than what is actually happening at the moment of encounters in everyday life.


Phantasiai (representations) à   à   à   à   à  Hormē (impulse)



*sensory modes of

representations:                                                                              actions

feelings                                                                                                     actions


sense perceptions                                                                                        actions

* non-sensory

modes of                                                                           actions


imaginations                                                                                             actions


Fig. 1. 1


In the human soul there is a third faculty besides representation and impulse, the power of giving in or withholding assent (Gr.: synkatathesis meaning ‘committing oneself’) to representations. This is the crux of Epictetus’ philosophy. With this faculty one can give in to representations to trigger an impulse for actions or not. Representations, thought-contents, as the fleeting contents of the mind are not judgements. Once a representation has occurred, it cannot be erased from the mind. But the occurrence of a representation does not mean that I, as a rational being, should act accordingly. Any representation is a part of my experience, but, I can choose it to be mine – my outlook, belief or commitment – or not mine, by giving or withholding my assent. As an individual I can learn to be in charge of this part of nature, this part of me, that I can be responsible of. I think that this is a very appealing idea. Epictetus characterizes the Stoic’s purpose as ‘making correct use of representations’ (Gr.: phantasiai).



§ 2. 2


The Philosophy of Epictetus

‘God[97] had need of animals’ making use of their representations, but of our attending to their use. For this reason it is sufficient for them to eat and drink and rest and procreate…For us, on the other hand, to whom he has also given the power of attending to things, these animal activities are no longer sufficient… God introduced man as a student of himself and his works, and not merely as a student, but also as an interpreter of these things.’





Epictetus himself, like Socrates, has not written a word for publication. One of his students Flavius Arrian wrote four volumes of Diatribes (Gr.); Discourses in translation, with material from Epictetus’ classes and the Encheiridion (Gr), translated as ‘Manual’ or sometimes ‘Handbook’, which is a summary of rules or set of doctrines that he distracted from the discourses. The former has long been seen as sermons or Diatribes, giving the impression that Epictetus should be seen as a preacher to human beings instead of a philosopher. Long believes that sermonizing is one of his styles to get his message across; a style he adopts in response to a specific audience. Long says that these ‘sermons’ can be seen as dialectical lessons, because of his persistently conversational idiom and his affection for Socratic dialectic. Apart from his Stoic background, Socrates is a main influence on his philosophy, as a model for life but also as a practitioner of philosophical conversation.

The Encheiridion, translated as the Manual, which contains maxim-like fragments of the Discourses, are meant to present Epictetus’ teachings in a more accessible and memorable form. According to Long, with this distinction Arrian emphasized that, the prescriptions of the Manual are grounded in truths displayed in the Discourses. These are cooncerning the nature of the world at large, human nature, and a rational mind’s dialogue with itself[99]. Epictetus addresses his instruction specifically to his students, relating it to questions and problems they face as would-be Stoics and as human beings engaged in social life. These Discourses are a blend of philosophy, pedagogy, wit, satire, and uninhibited dialogue. In contrast with some of his contemporaries, who have been interested in dream interpretation, magic, incubation in temples, and other practices, his mentality is rationalistic and down to earth. He believes that human beings are innately equipped to live life and to understand the world. Living well is possible when one lives by the right doctrines and constant self-discipline. This is not different from other philosophical schools in Antiquity, but Epictetus is creative in the pursuit of his goal. Although he starts by justifying divine providence, the real focus of the discourses is less on this than on what it means to be:


‘endowed, as human beings are, with the capacity to oversee themselves and to acknowledge their internal divinity, which is also the voice of objective reason and integrity, as their only autonomy’[100].


As our reasoning powers and moral sense are an offspring of the world’s intelligence or divinity, whose cosmic order is a pattern for harmony, we should try to be in line with it in thought and action. The core of Epictetus’ work is next in this inquiry.


§ 2. 2. 1


The Profession of Being Human


‘Study who you are. First of all, a human being, that is, one who has nothing more authoritative than prohairesis, but who holds everything else subordinate to that while keeping it unenslaved and sovereign.

Consider, then, from what creatures you are separated by possessing reason. You are separated from wild beasts, you are separated from sheep.’



The main point in Epictetus’ philosophy is, to quote Long:


‘Nothing outside the mind or prohairesis[102] can, of its own nature, constrain or frustrate us unless we choose to let it do so. Happiness and a praiseworthy life require us to monitor our mental selves at every waking moment, making them and nothing external or material responsible for all the goodness or badness we experience. Everything that affects us for good or ill depends on our own judgements and on how we respond to the circumstances that befall us’[103].


Long made a distinction of Epictetus’ philosophy into four principal concepts: freedom, judgement, prohairesis, mental faculty, and integrity.

1) Freedom as mentioned by Epictetus has nothing to do with the social or political concept we know these days. He speaks of a psychological freedom or a freedom of attitude from being restraint by any external circumstance or emotional reaction to external circumstances. This freedom is available to all human beings who are willing to learn about their nature and cultivate their own character, whether imprisoned, enslaved or a ‘free’ man.

2) Judgements, presumptions or preconceptions; Epictetus regards all mental states, including emotions, conditioned by judgements. Presumptions or preconceptions are important and have a preliminary role in Epictetus’ philosophy. In desiring or averting something one has formed judgements of what is good to want or bad to experience. Emotions are the outcome of these judgements. In this model there exists no purely reactive emotion, or a reaction that we cannot control on reflection. How we experience the world and ourselves, depends on our judgements, goodness, badness, etc. By giving evaluative judgements to neutral or indifferent circumstances, we make them either good or bad. For instance a death is a natural and therefore neutral event, to see it as ‘bad’ is a human conviction. We understand the representations in the exterior world due to our preconceptions, which we have from experiences that once befell us. After a bad experience with horses, this might be stored as data somewhat like ‘I do not like horses’ or ‘horses do not like me’ or even ‘I am afraid of horses’ in my mind. This will become relevant the next time I encounter a horse. I might think, feel and experience these judgements or preconceptions like ‘I am afraid of horses’ as being true or relevant, while this feeling is a repetition of the former (bad) experience that has been stored in my mind. When I realise that I am in front of a different horse, a patient one, not angry or frightful at the moment of my encounter with it (which encounter is taking place after my bad encounter with a particular horse), I might understand that my fear is irrational and need not be true. I just might have had a bad experience with one particular horse in the past which has been formed in my mind into a judgement that by encountering horses something fearful will happen to me. We take for a fact that this behaviour from a horse towards ourselves is possible, but, this is of course no guarantee that every horse we meet will behave in the same manner as the horse of my first encounter did.

3) Prohairesis, our mental faculty. It is in this domain that we have the possibility of freedom and are able to sculpt our moral character. Normally people identify themselves with all sorts of external things. When doing so, people are constrained, repressed and emotionally enslaved as a result of the mistaken attachments they make. Epictetus thinks this to be a certain recipe for disappointment, anxiety and unhappiness. He believes that human beings often behave ‘irrationally’, as is explained in the example of a negative encounter with a horse, but, as is discussed before, this is also a part of the rational mental faculty. People can learn to use their mental faculty properly and make the right moral choices. Epictetus says:


‘It is not things that disturb people, but their judgements about things’[104].


As far as is known, Epictetus is the only (Stoic) philosopher who made prohairesis a key term in this manner in his philosophy.

4) Integrity. The Stoic philosophy is also a social philosophy. This means honouring ones relations to family and social roles and other relations (e.g. part of environment and cosmic order). Living a good life, living together in society, and in harmony with life’s intelligible order is the aim of living.

Unlike non-human animals people are not simply receivers and users of their representations, they should study and understand them. Epictetus’ claim is that


‘freedom can be achieved by taking responsibility in the area of which they are capable of being autonomous by making proper use of mental impressions. Everything else is not in one’s power to change; one only needs to adapt himself by understanding the rationality within the world’s inevitable system’[105].


Prohairesis is the key to making correct use of representations. Prohairesis, is explained by Epictetus as our moral character, the essential self, the bearer of personal identity. It is a faculty formed by experience. It passes judgements on anything of which we have a representation. In other words, people experience the world as they are programmed, sometimes by earlier experiences. To function well and to live as our nature requires, we need to reflect on and evaluate the appearances that the world and our internal states generate in us[106]. Often representations overwhelm people; this makes it unable for them to reflect well before they act. Epictetus says more or less that we think or act along certain patterns – beliefs – which have become automatisms; a process of which we are not conscious. As a proposal to observe, examine and test one’s life, Epictetus brings up various philosophical exercises.

In the earlier mentioned parallel with the navigator of the vessel on life’s ocean, the navigator needs to accept the waves, their heights, duration, whether in a storm or not etc., and use his skills as a sailor to get him through. He cannot shape the waves as he sees fit or control the weather for the ocean to be calm, when sailing. In the same manner we, human beings cannot shape every aspect of our lives. We need to accept that the natural order of life is beyond our control. The part we are responsible for is our mindset, the judgements and preconceptions that we hold. Unhappy people, is his opinion, fail to get what they want or get what they do not want. Their desire for happiness is not in agreement with their immediate impressions of what they should seek or avoid. Wanting circumstances in the world to be different, e.g. controlling the waves, is irrational. The whole need to want to control external (material) things, that lie not in our power or control is irrational. Epictetus says that people are innately equipped with the kind of consciousness that enables them to understand their relation to the world and to live accordingly. People have the unique capacity to reflect on their impressions by asking what they tell them about themselves and the world[107]. The philosopher should be the first to link mere book learning and technical expertise with the achievement of ‘a mind in accordance with nature’ to become fully human. Professional philosophers are only worthy of the name if they have already fulfilled what Epictetus calls ‘the profession (epangelia) of being human’[108]. They could start to interrogate their representations and see whether their impulse to pursue this or that objective matches up with their desire for happiness. This is a life open for introspection. In this way people can take responsibility for the part of their life they have influence on: their outlook on or attitude toward their own mental impressions.

The central point in Epictetus’ doctrine is thus: value judgements, impulses or motivations which are not a correct response to situations are not caused by people being passive victims of other people’s behaviour or circumstances, but through their own misjudgement in thinking that harm is being done to them while they make themselves angry or jealous about things they do not have control over. In general we hold other people responsible for doing things ‘wrong’ and we presume that ‘they’ could resist unethical impulses. According to this theory people are responsible for their emotions, because that is what we have or could have control over: our mental outlook on the world[109].



§ 2. 2. 2


Epictetus on Emotions


‘…For if loss of the most important things is the greatest harm, and what is most important in each person is correct prohairesis, and someone is deprived of this, why are you still angry with him? My friend, if you must go against nature in your response to the plight of another person, pity him rather than hate him. Give up this retaliation and hostility.’


Human beings seem to possess a whole variety of beliefs, some unconscious or unarticulated, which specify their character and their psychology in actions. These beliefs define what kind of people they are, their personality or ‘self-image’, and even how their minds are supposed to work. A study by Ellen Langer[111] at Harvard shows that even a basic psychological attribute as our eyesight is not neutral but is established by who or what we happen to believe we are. A group of subjects were invited to become air force pilots for an afternoon on a flight simulator, but the context was made as real as possible. The subjects were asked to become pilots, not only to play the part. Beforehand they had a routine eye test, whilst later on, when they were in the midst of their flight they were shown the same signs as before in the eye test. The vision of nearly half of the ‘pilots’ was enhanced. Other groups of subjects, who were equally motivated, but who were not asked to be a pilot, showed no such improvement. The conclusion: by changing the sense of self, more precise sensory information can become available to consciousness[112]. By shifting their beliefs (they were to act as real pilots) the tested people could (unconsciously) act more as pilots, that what they were intending to be at that moment. This example shows that what we see as our self, our identity, contains core assumptions – or presumptions – which are cultural and psychological aspects of us that identify us as who we think we are as individuals. It also illustrates that our presumptions are not neutral; we react on what we think we are or what is needed of us. This is not a conscious action. Epictetus would fully agree with the conclusion drawn from the above mentioned experiment. As in this example, Epictetus believes that people’s emotional reaction to experiences or impressions is entirely ‘up to them (us)’, because that reaction depends on what people hold themselves to be and what value they give things. His point is that

a) people are naturally beings with desirous and emotional mentalities; and

b) people cannot fail to have desires and emotions corresponding to the way they judge the world. Epictetus beliefs us to be incapable of akrasia: of judging something to be good for us, and not going after it. Happiness or unhappiness is based on fulfilment or frustration of desires; getting or not getting what we judge to be good for ourselves. Non-Stoics (modern man) would place goodness in various external things, and important negative judgements as fearfulness to lots of impressions that we have. But, according to Stoics and Epictetus these are all false judgements. Epictetus beliefs one to be a slave of one’s emotions, whenever one gives way to anger or any other passion. In his texts and examples he focuses on the psychological strategies to overcome passions, for instance temptation, instead of moralizing about e.g. the badness of adultery. This includes controlling one’s imagination and being motivated to please one’s self and the divinity in oneself. This reflexive, inward focus gives way that we have a normative self, in our rational capacity, which is also the divinity as such. A good and happy life involves such cultivation or ‘pleasing’ of this normative self that it ideally becomes beautiful, liberated from all motivations that might result in unethical behaviour[113]. Epictetus beliefs, says Long, that due to the passions our performance is always reduced to the level of non-rational animals, and thus keeps us from fully executing our ‘profession’ as human beings. The passions are consensual mental actions and impulses, grounded in our entrenched beliefs about what is good for us or what we should want. Through these we are not capable of listening to reason, which is correct judgement. Epictetus confronts us with real-life situations, of which he holds the passions responsible:


‘Wherever I can change external things to suit my will, I change them; but if I cannot, I want to blind the one who is impeding me. It is a human being’s nature not to endure deprivation of the good, not to endure involvement in the bad. Then finally when I can neither change the material things nor blind the one who impedes me, I sit down and groan and abuse whomever I can, including Zeus and the other divinities’[114].


This behaviour may still sound familiar to people nowadays; it certainly sounds familiar to me.

Passion (pathos) comes from ‘wanting something (1) and (2) not getting it’, which then becomes grief (lupē). Epictetus takes grief to be the main emotion of which we need to rid ourselves. He wants human beings to train themselves to have the kind of motivations and responses that enlarges their well-being and social performance. To get this result, he teaches that


‘what depends on us is value-judgements, inclinations to act, desires, aversions, so, everything that is our doing. What does not depend on us is the body, wealth, glory, high political positions, so, everything that is not our own doing’[115].

Learning to discipline one’s desire consists of


‘learning to desire that everything happens just the way it does happen’[116], ‘keep our will in harmony with what happens’[117]

and to

‘be pleased with the divine government of things’[118],


learn to accept things as they occur and not strife to get things the way we would like them to be. The claim is that when we tremble with fear or shake with anger, we do so because we are experiencing or imagining something to which we have incorrectly imported the judgement that the object of our attention will be, or already is, harmful to us. We think this requires us to react a certain way. Anger is just as much a sign of weakness as is grief, for both have been wounded and have been surrendered to the wound. As is shown in fig. 1.1, a mental action has a sensory or purely imagined impression (phantasia) of something as its basis. Impressions are constantly presented to us, e.g. an insulting comment directed at us or an aggressive driver or a sexy body passing by. Their occurrence or content is not our responsibility, but we are responsible for our mind’s interpretative response to these impressions. Epictetus calls this the mind’s ‘assent’. To activate our ‘assent’ we need to observe ourselves first, then interpret and assess our entire character and mental disposition. The error in judgement is that these emotions are fundamentally mistaken in value: treating neutral external and bodily things that are neither good nor bad as if they are precisely good or very bad for us (while they are neither!). This triggers us to react to these things as being good or bad for us, while they lie outside of our mental control. For example: Death is a natural or neutral event in life; everything that comes into existence and is living, will one day die and be extinguished. But, it is our misjudgement of this fact, which makes it a bad thing. Therefore we have a negative emotional reaction towards death and dying of loved ones in particular[119]. Financial success, fame and political power, are also such indifferent things we give the wrong meaning[120]. According to Epictetus people can only secure their well-being, emotional health, and good social interaction if we detach our identity from everything that falls outside the mind’s self-determining capacities and volitions. But we need to be ensured of our fundaments, what we are and belong to; a part of the cosmic system, an integral part of nature. Epictetus presents Stoic impassivity (serenity) as the foundation of domestic love and social commitment. For him the passions are not only, not good (nor healthy) for a long-term well being as individuals, they are also responsible for the disruptions of human relationships.

To pursue the profession of being human demands training and expertise like an expert craftsman; like an expert musician who joins a jam-session, and by playing together the exchanging of expertise enhances the sound of the group of musicians[121]. Not only is Epictetus’ focus on the inner attitude and cultivating of one’s emotional character, he also has many examples of how to display them socially. By projecting our desires and emotions onto the external world, rather than on the rational performance of our roles as ‘professional’ human beings, we lose more than our autonomy, we lose the capacity to love others as distinct from simply wanting them or appropriating them or using them[122]. While we, non-Stoics, think that giving way to grief, and wanting to retaliate to get even, is not simply emotional but also natural and even reasonable! This could mean that every war we are fighting nowadays, e.g. the war on terrorism, would be based upon this passion/fear-theory and not on reasonable principles. In my opinion this is something to think about.


§ 2. 2. 3


Differences between Mainstream Stoicism and Epictetus


‘You are not flesh nor hair but prohairesis; if you keep that beautiful, then you will be beautiful’


Although Epictetus philosophy is imbedded in Stoicism, there are several differences between his personal philosophical vision and the Stoic view. Epictetus can be seen as an original thinker because he specified the ethical project of ‘making correct use of mental impressions’[124]. Epictetus’ philosophy is much more about care of the self than what was seen as necessary in mainstream Stoicism. For Epictetus Socrates was not an approximation to wisdom, but the paradigm of a genuinely wise human being. Whereas in Stoicism the ‘wise man’, sophos or sophronimos was normally used, Epictetus prefers the expression kalos kai agathos, the excellent man. The ideal Stoic sage was supposed to be pitiless an unforgiving, but Epictetus taught gentleness and tolerance towards those who err. He abides a philosophy for people who are fallible but completely committed to doing the best they can to live as free, thoughtful, self-respecting, and devoted family members and citizens[125]. The fact that he addresses each human individually, his individual responsibility, self-ownership, and self-determination, with the goal to devote one’s moral behaviour to family and society, has a more individual and generous character than generally in Stoicism. Long even thinks that the focus on Prohairesis and its intrinsic autonomy, which reflects the essence of each individual man, gives Epictetus’ philosophy a distinctively ‘existentialist’ dimension, because of this role it ascribes to individual responsibility, self-ownership and self-determination[126].

Another difference is the fact that Epictetus urges his students on the importance of what they can do to make progress now, instead of the normal emphasizing long-term goals in the sculpting of character in Stoicism. This asks for uncompromising self-respect and self-monitoring and treating every experience as the stimulus to live well, rather than be disappointed or frustrated.

In this inquiry Epictetus’ belief that people’s particular value judgements are at odds with their ethical preconceptions is of importance. People fail to achieve the happiness and just behaviour they naturally want. What they hold to be good, e.g. health or wealth, is not strictly good nor their opposites bad, because these are not only profitable or the opposite, harmful. They are presumptions adopted, from a certain outlook on the world, a view in which people gave a certain meaning to certain conditions. People can learn that lasting happiness does not consist in pleasurable sensations and absence of painful ones. So Epictetus’ claim is that passion (pathos) is ‘wanting something and not getting it’[127]. For postmodern men this can mean, according to Long, and I agree thoroughly, that our preconceptions – or presumptions – need to be articulated more precise than they are now and we need training to bring our newly articulated concepts in line with our actions[128].

To do this the focus must be shifted towards this proposal. And the intended training should be in line with this thought. This training is what I suggest as the philosophical or spiritual exercise.



§ 2. 3


Ancient Philosophical or Spiritual Exercises


‘One must produce the actions that are taught by discourses. The goal of discourse is actually actions. It is for the sake of them that the discourses were uttered (or written)… In fact, Chrysippus did not write on this subject [the nature of man] with the goal of being interpreted and understood, but so that one makes use of his writings in life’


A brief Introduction

According to philosopher Pierre Hadot[130], a philosophical practice was wide spread throughout Antiquity. Ancient texts were more of a living and animated discourse and were not principally intended to inform, but to form, to produce a certain psychic effect in the reader or listener. In all schools, whether Peripathetic (Aristotle’s), Platonic, Stoic or Epicurean, the theoretical discourse of the school to which the philosopher belongs was inwardly repeated and assimilated by the philosopher so that he could master his own inner discourse. His discourse will be ordered accordingly to fundamental choices and principles. The art of Socrates with his declaration:


‘an unexamined life is not liveable for man’[131],


has lived on throughout Antiquity. Socrates inspired his interlocutors to examine their lives through examining themselves; to be in constant dialogue with oneself and others. This dialogue does not stand on its own, but is in line with Socrates’ way of living and of dying. On his dying day, when asked the definition of justice, he responded:


‘Instead of speaking of it, I make it understood by my acts’[132].


The point was to question oneself, the apparent knowledge one thinks one has, and the values which guides one’s life. Pettit would agree with the Socratic statement; examining life is done in dialogue with oneself and others. In Antiquity the words of the philosopher are of service to the philosopher’s way of life, and his writing is an echo of these words. Philosophy then, consisted of a philosophical theory and a philosophical discourse which is a form of exercise of the philosophical way of life[133]. Hadot tells us that each school had its own therapeutic method, of which the goal was a profound transformation of the individual’s mode of seeing and being[134]. This life-changing effect was a ‘therapy for the soul’. Through serious studies and physical exercises one sculpted both one’s mind and body. Both sorts of lessons were given at the same place, the gymnasion[135].

This style of life is being formed


‘either in the order of inner discourse and of spiritual activity: meditation, dialogue with oneself, examination of conscience, exercises of the imagination, such as the view from above from the cosmos or the earth, or in the order of action and daily behaviour, like the mastery of oneself, indifference towards indifferent things and the fulfilment of the duties of social life in Stoicism’[136].


Faced with the overwhelming reality of life with worries, anxiety, suffering and death, with a different attitude towards life, one can experience inner freedom, tranquillity or happiness. These philosophical or spiritual exercises aim to bring about this transformation.



§  2. 3. 1


Ancient Spiritual Exercises[137]


‘Suppose you found yourself all of a sudden raised up to the heavens, and that you were to look down upon human affairs in all their motley diversity. You would hold them in contempt if you were to see, in the same glance, how great is the number of beings of the ether and the air, living round about you’

Marcus Aurelius[138]

For contemporary readers the word ‘spiritual’ has a negative ring to it due to its historical association to ‘spiritism’, which implies obscure, not scientific activities. According to the dictionary, ‘spiritual’ comes from spiritus (Latin): which is breath, life, soul, mind or spirit, and suggests a relation with the divine spirit or intellect of the All. Pierre Hadot uses the word ‘spiritual’ for these exercises, to explain a far wider horizon than when using the word ‘philosophical’. He believes the word ‘spiritual’ to imply that these exercises are the result, not of thought alone, but of the individual’s entire psychism[139]. ‘Spiritual’ reveals the true dimension of these exercises (Gr: askesis, melete). The individual raises himself up to the level of the objective; he re-places himself within the perspective of the Whole. According to Hadot,


‘it raises the individual from an in-authentic condition of life, darkened by unconsciousness and harassed by worry, to an authentic state of life, in which one can attain self-consciousness, an exact vision of the world, inner peace, and freedom’[140].


Such a spiritual exercise makes the necessary metamorphosis of our inner attitude possible. The teaching and training of philosophy was intended to transform all aspects of one’s being – intellect, imagination, sensibility, and will. Philosopher Joep Dohmen also believes spirituality to be strongly social. The spiritual human being is profoundly conscious of its relation with other beings and the world at large[141]. Dohmen also believes that the true purpose of human beings is in their universal relation. As is said earlier, transformation is the key notion in the practice of spiritual exercises. One needs to transcend from a daily routine of control, hedonism and narcissism, to being a conscious part of this relation with the All[142]. Spiritual exercises mostly correspond to the ‘I’ which concentrates upon itself and discovers that it is not what it had thought itself to be. It ceases to feel attached to objects it need not be attached to. This transformation of vision is not easy begotten but it is exactly what can be achieved through exercise. Little by little, exercise makes this metamorphosis of our inner self possible.

All Ancient philosophical schools had the same goal: to be a remedy for


‘the errors and passions that stem from purely reactive and conventional attitudes’[143].


There are several writings of different schools in the Roman and Hellenistic period we know of. However, Epictetus’ specific spiritual exercises are lost to us.  To present an idea of the what sort of exercises, there were, I turn to Plutarch[144]. He names a large number of treatises related to these exercises with titles as: On Restraining Anger, On peace of Mind, On Brotherly Love, On the Love of Children[145]. And through philosopher Philo of Alexandria[146], we possess two lists of actual spiritual exercises. They provide us with a picture of Stoic-Platonic inspired philosophical therapeutics. One of these lists consists of the following elements: research (zetesis), thorough investigation (skepsis), reading (anagnosis), listening (akroasis), attention (prosoche), self-mastery (enkrateia), and indifference to indifferent things. Other elements are successively: reading, meditations (meletai), therapy of the passions, remembrance of good things, self-mastery (enkrateia), and the accomplishments of duties.

Attention (prosoche) is the fundamental Stoic spiritual attitude. It is constantly being alert and present of mind; a constant alertness of the spirit. Due to this attitude, the philosopher is fully aware of what he does at every moment. Thanks to this spiritual watchfulness, the Stoic always has the fundamental principles ‘at hand’ (procheiron) so they can be accessible to the mind and eventually be used as a reflex, meaning: acting in the moment, without further thought. This attitude can also be defined as ‘concentration on the present moment’. It allows us to respond immediately to events, as if they were questions suddenly asked of us. This is the core to the spiritual exercises. It frees us from the passions, which are always caused by the past or the future. Attention for the present moment gives us access to cosmic consciousness, by making us attentive to the infinite value of each moment. It causes us to accept each moment of existence, from the viewpoint of the universal law of the cosmos as described by this universal of the cosmos. As an exercise to accept this cosmic principle, Marcus Aurelius, who is inspired by Epictetus, writes:


‘Everywhere and at all times, it is up to you to rejoice piously at what is occurring at the present moment, to conduct yourself with justice towards the people who are present here and now, and  to apply rules of discernment, so that nothing slips in that is not objective’[147].


We need to get the rules of life into our system (kanon), by mentally applying it to all life’s possible situations. In this process we associate our imagination with the training of our thought. Life’s events must be kept ‘before our eyes’ and must be seen in the light of the fundamental rule. This is known as the exercise of memorizations (mneme) and meditations (melete) on the rule of life. The exercise of meditation allows one to be able to cope with unexpected and dramatic events. It is an attempt to control inner discourse. In an exercise called praemeditatio malorum, poverty, suffering, and death is to be presented in the mind. Life’s hardship is to be confronted face to face, remembering that they are not evils, since they do not depend on us. When the time comes, this can help us to overcome events that are merely part of the course of nature. We further need persuasive formulae or arguments (epilogismoi) which are to be repeated to ourselves in difficult circumstances like moments of fear, sadness or anger. Other exercises like, self-mastery and fulfilling the duties of social life, are practiced forms which are to become one’s normal behaviour. In their analysis of human nature the Stoics recognized ‘pre-emotions’ (propatheiai), uncontrollable and sudden reactions when experiencing shocks, happening when hearing thunder, or bigger, when an earthquake would happen. These are instinctual reflexes which differ from fully fledged emotions. They also recognize ‘good feelings’ (eupatheiai) – wishing, caution, and joy – such emotions are rightful motivations[148]. The spiritual practice would consist of a daily routine of exercising. This could be: contemplation in the mornings on how one has to behave during the day, and decide on what will guide and inspire one. In the evening one should examine one’s self again, to be aware of one’s progress. The intellectual exercises, reading, listening, research, and investigation, could be based on texts of the poet or philosopher, the apopthegmata; these are food for meditation and memorization. The practical exercises are intended to create new habits. One made progress when one strived, by inner dialogue or by dialogue with others, as well as by writing, to finally come to a complete transformation of one’s inner climate and one’s outer behaviour in the world.




One should ‘not be impassive (apathēs) like a statue, but one who preserves his natural and acquired relationships, as a dutiful human being, son, or brother, or father, or citizen’.


According to Stoicism people are equipped to live a rational life, in accordance with nature, and this is what all people should seek as moral beings. Stoicism is not about making one’s own values, but learning to take the norms of nature as one’s own. Seeking to control life, social encounters or holding irrational beliefs and desires (e.g. according to generate wealth and social status) will lead to jealousy, fear or anger instead of happiness or harmony. To live in ‘harmony’ is a relational notion. One has to live in agreement with one another and in agreement with everything else to which one is already related. This is in line with the point contemporary philosopher Philip Pettit makes; he beliefs that human beings need one another’s company – people always live in groups of more than one – to live a normal social life[150].  Stoicism sees this being related to in a wider, universal perspective. Stoics view human beings as natures that are particles of the Whole[151]. The first field of training for the disciple, according to Epictetus’ writings, is liberating oneself from false conceptions of goodness and badness, and from frustrations and passions. The focus is first inwards. On the second field of training the focus is pointed outwards to our appropriate impulses in our relationship with others, the social environment[152].

The central point in Epictetus’ doctrine is that value judgements, mistakes in reasoning, impulses or motivations which seem wrong responses to situations, are not caused by what happens to people as passive victims of life or other people’s behaviour, but it is their own misjudgement about things that one has no control over. People are therefore responsible for their own emotions, because people can choose to give in to the emotions or not. The one thing people have control over is their own mental outlook or attitude on the world. This is culturally set; what is a sad and grieving experience in one culture e.g. a burial rite in The Netherlands, has a different approach to it than the almost festive procession, with music and dancing in New Orleans[153], where the life of the deceased is also celebrated. The correct use of representations is a human life that is open for introspection. Epictetus claims that one’s representations are one’s self, but they are not all that one is. Unlike

non-human animals people are not simply receivers and users of their representations, but students and interpreters of them. In his self-regulating minds theory, Pettit[154] also believes the non-human animals, which he calls routinised minds, to be intentional systems that represent things as they appear within what is possible in its perceptual and cognitive organisation[155]. Such a mind is a slave of its beliefs and cannot help but act in accord with them. Pettit believes human beings to have the ability to set aside their beliefs in favour of acting on some other assumption, because of their self-regulating character[156]. I believe that Epictetus’ point is that human beings have the possibility such a self-regulating rational mind, but that they are not fully making use of their capacities yet, because they are slave to their culturally passed on passions and thus use their self-regulating capacities only in the fixated cultural patterns or context they grew up in.

The claim is that people can achieve freedom by taking responsibility in the area of which they are capable of being autonomous: by making proper use of their own mental impressions, which is then liberated from the fixation of its cultural outlook or pattern. It is a freedom that is in favour of the well being of human beings or humanity as a whole plus the well being of the global environment. This point is exactly what in my opinion is needed in modern day philosophy (or life for that matter); a spiritual dimension where one can attend to one’s mindset and bring this in one’s social encounters and one’s environment; the world at large.

But, the implementation of these spiritual exercises will cause modern Western human beings to ponder on which horizon, paradigm or spectre this spiritual practice would commence. As the existence of human beings on earth already is being related to others, the environment – and at large – the world, the fundament for the best implementation would be a worldview which should be similar to the holistic Stoics’. The benefit is, that instead of making war and exhausting earthly resources, we could really take care of ourselves, and each other, and bring unity and abundance to the world. Through daily exercises on attention for the present moment, self-mastery, memorization and meditation on fundamental rules – the tools to transform one’s inner horizon or mental landscape – one can learn to bring forth different actions in social encounters in the world. This is the profession of being human in action. 
Chapter III


Spiritual Exercises as a Remedy for the Crisis of Modernity


‘Philosophy is just like any expertise or craft in having a specific subject-matter and rules for working upon that material. As are wood to the carpenter and bronze to the sculptor, so is each human being’s life for the technē tou biou (Gr.), but with this major difference. The other crafts work on externals, but the material for life’s expertise is one’s own life as such.’




In chapter I the philosophy of contemporary philosopher Philip Pettit is explained as a social holism. People always live in social groups of more than one individual. Pettit also beliefs that people learn and meet each other in the conversational stance, where they experience each others’ company. This philosophical idea is in line with that of Stoic philosopher Epictetus, with the exception that Epictetus’ philosophy is rooted in a Stoic worldview and he does not only acknowledge a social context for doing philosophy but also an individual one. For Epictetus there is not only holism on the level of one’s social group, but also a universal holistic view. Human beings always live in groups of more than one, true, but, human beings always live (as far as we know) on Earth in an ordered universe, which cannot be hostile towards human beings, because they are part of it. They are already related to family, the group, the environment, the planet, and the universe they live in. It is their rightful place: being a part of a bigger picture of life in the universe as we today know it exists. A further difference between the philosophy of Pettit and Epictetus’ is that Epictetus presupposes an individual spiritual exercise to accompany the theory to practice a good life. Although Pettit’s individual practices its theories and a good life, he thinks a meditative dimension indispensible for the philosophical practice, through encounters in the conversational stance, where the individual meets its fellow group members. This is a group action of which Pettit believes the individual regulates itself. I believe an individual spiritual exercise to be important as life is individually experienced. The example I used in chapter I to explain my point is Foucault’s Jam-session, where musicians reach a higher level of making music through improvising in this group session. My point is that before entering an improvisation as a musician, I need to know how to make music, how to play my instrument, in other words: be a master at my craft, otherwise I cannot join in nor be of service to the group, and we will certainly not stimulate one another to reach our best play!

Translated to everyday life’s situations, it can be said that an individual who is not a ‘player’ first, is at the whim of the groups attention, and is lead by whatever is unconsciously the driving force of this groups’ behaviour. Adolescent group vandalism or adolescent gangs terrorizing other groups are examples of this. The driving force in these groups often seems to be more about belonging to the group than wanting to vandalize the environment or terrorize others.

The ethocentric account of rule-following, that Pettit has developed, is based on the fact that the ethos of subjects is manifested in habits of response and practices of negotiation. In Pettit’s common mind this subject is entitled and responsible for being an authority of what the rules require of it. There is a kind of continuity between the intentional and social-structural, of which in certain conditions the latter is more noticeable. This means that actors who are welcome on the social scene are individuals, more or less autonomous, intentional, thinking subjects. The holistic commitment consists of the fact that the subjects are prepared to give as much authority to the leading preferences of their fellow group members as they give to their own. In this way a group of subjects or individuals with ‘unexamined lives’ are projectiles within which dark and un-reflected impulses can rule. An individual attention to oneself is to know what one is capable of and to know one’s own habits. This knowledge gives one a better understanding of oneself, one’s fellow human beings and group members. It is necessary to bring knowledge of oneself to the conversational stance, otherwise one is not aware of the power and depth of one’s contribution while following the groups lead in whatever topic emerges from the dark depths of this group’s joint psyche. What comes to mind is the saying: ‘the chain (in this case ‘group’) is as strong as its weakest link’. Knowing oneself, educating oneself makes one more than a mere weak link who acts out of unknown fear or anxiety. The aim is to practice ‘the profession of being human’, to become a master of one’s crafts, which is the practice of life, and reinvent one’s behaviour in the world.

Even when we obviously can learn a great deal from ancient spiritual exercises, it is not sensible to copy these ancient practices unadjusted. Stoic philosophy is a holistic philosophy. Stoics tried to fit all elements together for a certain cause; the place of nature, non-human en human existence in the whole of the cosmic picture or life. To take certain elements from the Stoic paradigm and implant them in the post modern paradigm, would, in my opinion not work as well as in the holistic Stoic view, because it would have no ground to root in. In my opinion the Stoic philosophy creates the basic value for human beings: for one to belong to a certain group, as living together is a relational notion, or belong to a certain society (nation) and the world. To make the spiritual exercises work in Western post-modern times, one must try to understand post modern basic values, to know whether these values need to be altered to be more in line with the strong Stoic basis of belonging to a certain group and ultimately to the whole of the world or universe. In taking the actions and behaviourism into scope: one can ask what our beliefs, presumptions and intentions are. Would our attitude be receptive of Stoic elements? Will the spiritual exercises have the results that we would want them to have, when we fundamentally differ from Stoics. The two paradigms, the Stoic and the Western post-modern paradigm, might be so far apart in beliefs and presumptions that Stoic elements with their specific fundament might not be able to root in post modern ground, I shall argue.

To be able to implement parts of Epictetus’ philosophy and spiritual exercises, it is necessary to focus on the cardinal differences between Stoicism in Antiquity and the basic modern paradigm. The distinction between these two worldviews is discussed in ‘Differences of Stoic Worldview and Modern ‘condition humaine’. We need to ‘wear different glasses’ or need to ‘see with new eyes’, to review common beliefs and translate them into different actions. These ‘new or different eyes’, need to be open and welcoming to what the Stoic worldview brings, for it has a very discriminating paradigm to what we are used to in the post modern Western world. This Stoic paradigm is a reminder of the versatility of philosophies in Antiquity, yet this paradigm is also the fundament of our techno-scientific world today (as it is part of our ancestry) and is therefore part of our heritage. ‘The Profession of Being Human Today’ is a paragraph in which the ancient ‘profession of being human’ is revisited; its values and service for human beings today. In § 3. 3, ‘An overall View: The Reality we Live in is co-created by our Mental Outlook/Inner Attitude’, through the insight that there are more possibilities than that what is common to us, our mental outlook and therefore ‘the reality we live in’ is discussed. To overcome the ‘Crisis of Modernity’ introduced in Chapter I, a conscious shift in focus on the world, our common beliefs, presumptions and judgements is necessary. We shall need to review where we stand in Western philosophy and what assets of our forebears, the spiritual exercises, are needed to consciously incorporate in post-modern Western philosophy.

In the following paragraph I will make a distinction between the two paradigms, and unravel what I think the Western post-modern paradigm, our ‘condition humaine’ is. Then I will propose an option to make Stoic elements work for post-modern human beings.


§ 3. 1


Distinctions between Stoic Worldview and Modern ‘condition humaine’


‘Cardinal truths are mere illusions of which man has forgotten that they were illusions; they are worn out metaphors that literally have lost their power’

Friedrich Nietzsche[158]

‘Try to imagine a single affiliation incorporating your political party, religion, form of therapy, cosmology, psychology, and fundamental values, an affiliation which unified all that might be involved in being, for instance, a Christian, Jungian, socialist, utilitarian, and believer in evolution and the Big Bang. Then you have a loose analogy to one of the leading Hellenistic schools in their most challenging phase and the reason for thinking of them as experiments in philosophical power’[159].


With these words Long tries to make us understand that for Stoics their beliefs and presumptions on various different fields in life were as coherent or holistic as they are differential to us. Being part of this providential universe, the Stoics propose that we do not have to confront a reality or value system that is already existing independent of our input. What we can control is our own mental outlook on the world. With the help of philosophy, we can work on ourselves, like craftsmen. It is up to us to decide, on the basis of rational reflection, what the nature of the world is; and to decide who we are, what matters to us, what value and description we can give to our experience. It is also up to us to decide what we want, and not regard ourselves as the passive recipients of desires, media pressures, or as the victims of other people’s exploitation. Thus Stoicism makes the proposal, that happiness or a good life depends on our making the most skilful use of ourselves and the circumstances, in which we find ourselves according to the plan of the intelligence of the cosmos. Stoics start their reflections by asking questions about the pre-cultural nature and psychological constitution of all normal human beings. How are we to imagine ourselves like bare selves, before culture and contemporary ideology began to shape us? This gives the starting point of ethics a universalistic scope. The bare self is anyone’s self, notwithstanding gender, status or ethnicity. By starting from the pre-cultural self, Stoics give themselves the space to ask what we can and should make of ourselves if we let our basic human nature rather than conventional ideology take charge of our values and human development. This is in my opinion an intelligent and powerful starting point, which should be appealing to the intellectual standard of Western post-modern society. Stoics believe human beings cannot live well without a comprehensive and realistic orientation to the world to have a sense of where they stand. Long says that Stoics tell us that:


‘we can decide between competing cosmologies, theologies, ecologies and political attitudes in order to feel at home in our environment. The assumption is not that such decisions will necessarily affect many of our day-to-day actions, but that they will have profound effect on how we view the meaning of our lives and on what responses to our situations it is rationally appropriate to give ourselves’[160].


Stoics believe all human beings from all cultures or time to be able to re-invent themselves to what they see as a ‘realistic and comprehensive worldview’. This is a profound statement and it makes Stoicism quite modern and timeless.

Whereas the Stoic Worldview is, as is explained in Chapter II, a holistic view, where even the human body and mind are interrelated, which tries to explain human place in the scheme of the universe, the post-modern worldview seems more like an analytically detachable scientific object which is segregated from ‘me’, the existent individual who experiences the ‘world’ as a world, a place to be, not a scientific object. This discrepancy is, I think, on the one hand, noticeable in the difference between what we ‘see’ in the scientific realm, the evidence of conclusions of certain scientific hypotheses, and on the other our individual experience in the flesh. In my opinion the discrepancy is that we are not trying to match these two visions, but we adopt the scientific claim as the true value and pay limited attention (or none at all) to our humane experience or its place in the scientific body of evidence. This gives us, post-modern Western people, a feeling of alienation, which we do not seem to overcome. We have even managed to segregate our minds from our bodies, in a body/mind problem, which is alien to, for instance, Stoics, when the human body and mind in fact function as one. Since Descartes[161] wrote his Meditations in 1641, the worldview in Western society can be described as dualistic, mechanical, scientific and separated. This outlook is still the leading social spectre, but has evolved into an individualized consumers society of which science; that what can be verified, and economical benefit, seem to have become the grounds or standards of good living. I will argue that our basis is, due to this Cartesian dualism, consolidated in, the so-called ‘state of nature’. This state of nature was posited by the English philosopher Hobbes[162]. He wrote in his Leviathan:


“during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man”[163].


In this state any person has a natural right to the liberty to do anything he wills to preserve his own life, and life is


“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”[164].


He believed that in the international arena, states behave as individuals do in a state of nature. Within the state of nature there is no injustice, since there is no law, excepting certain natural precepts, the first of which is


“that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it”[165];

and the second is


“that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself”[166].


From this, Hobbes develops the way out of the state of nature into civil government by mutual contracts. Hobbes described the concept in the Latin phrase: bellum omnium contra omnes (meaning: war of all against all) in his work De Cive.[167] In other words: the natural state is the state man is in before a central power kept him under its control. Man in this state is plunged on Earth, a hostile place, where a state of war reigns, and fellow human beings are one’s enemies. These are lethal and one needs protection from them. Man also needs to ‘get what one can get’ to have an advantage over others. Hobbes’ described state of nature seems still our basis of living together, our social contract, as this sounds familiar when compared to the description of Dohmen’s ‘Pompous Ego’s’ in chapter I of this thesis. The following words seem more embedded in, when seen in the light of, the state of nature:

These so-called ‘Dikke-Ikken’ or ‘Pompous Ego’s’


‘who follow their own hedonistic schemes in the name of freedom’[168].


These modern, autonomous individuals are ruthless consumers, they take whatever they need and more, without respecting fellow human beings, but with their own profit and glory in mind. The ‘Pompous Ego’ sees other individuals as disloyal and incompetent beings and he is in a permanent battle for rivalry and prestige[169].

If the state of nature is our legacy, our fundamental ground, no wonder we think we should get the better from other people or ‘win’ and gain (also economically) from them; and no wonder we still start wars, while intending freedom! This outlook does not help our previously established case that man needs to belong to a certain group and social life is already being related to such a group. Instead man seems to be alienated from that to which he belongs. According to Dohmen, what we hold to be the ‘condition humaine’ in post-modern society, gives modern man the scope, or outlook, that the human condition is fundamentally insecure and refers to the vulnerability of human life. Dohmen does not belief that this can be annulled[170], but this is precisely what the Stoics intend to do. From the natural state of the Leviathan of Hobbes on, the contemporary ‘condition humaine’ is a state of desolation, of lacking something, one is never flawless nor perfect, and in a state of alienation with the world around him. One does not seem to belong in the world and cannot manage with the resources one has got as a human being (e.g. wit, imagination) and one needs tools e.g. science and technology to help him get by. It seems difficult to ‘see’ what the reality is; this state we are in, is a thought pattern that we have been building on and is what we are culturally caught in and have been taught, verbally and (perhaps even more) non-verbally for hundreds of years on. We use words on autonomy in speech and on paper, but our actions are as we have just established. The same with sophisticated individualism while through study, developmental psychologist Colwyn Trevarthen[171] says that we need to feel ‘at home’ in a family circle or circle of friends and further, and we think ourselves to be rational beings but most of the time we act on emotional impulse (without even knowing it!). Our worldview seems to be one of alienation, individualism, autonomous and of emotional whim. According to Trevarthen, it is


‘all-important to a child’s sense of belonging to become at home in a community’[172];


it is a basic value that every child (and later adult) searches for in its family circle,



continues Trevarthen,


‘human consciousness is communitarian. It develops through cooperative awareness, and depends on communicating a personal narrative. The essential motive for cultural learning is a sympathetic, mimetic sense of being an actor having adventures in common sense with companions, not just imitating or sharing joint attention to objects and events: it is best to feel ‘at home’[173].


This basic feeling ‘at home’ is necessary to relate to family, one’s circle of friends, national pride or patriotism: one feels ‘at home’ in or related to the group one belongs to. This circle or group one feels ‘at home’ in or relates to provides one with the essentials for one’s identity. Pettit acknowledges this when he states that people only live in parties of more than one.

Another difference is that the Stoic sees the nature of the world as providential instead of the modern scientific claim that,


‘an agent will act to make the world fit a proposition he strives for. One will act for the realization of one’s desires, seeking to bring the world in line with them; and it will act in this way according to its beliefs, where its beliefs are brought into line by the world’[174]


we thus ‘we seek to bring the world in line with our ideas’ instead of adapting our ideas to the harmony of the world as in the metaphor of the vessel at sea, riding on the waves (of life).

These examples illustrate the differences in outlook of ancient Stoicism and the modern Western world. It should be obvious that the outlook on life from one or the other paradigm is completely different and it should be evenly clear that the presumptions and behaviour of the inhabitants of both paradigms are light years away from each other and will create different encounters or look upon circumstances differently due their distinction in ground.

First we should recognize that we are weak links in the conversational stance because of our legacy of the state of nature, which we unconsciously relive in social encounters, while Stoicism sees men as an integral part of life, ‘the limbs of one body’, related to their fellow group members, their environment and to the universal intelligence. We can bring change in the conversational stance as Pettit wants it, but in my opinion after we have acknowledged that we need to revise our attitudes and realise that we belong in this scheme of being an integral part of live on earth. We do not have to become Stoics, but, through spiritual exercises, we could bring conscious attitudes and actions into our individual lives and social encounters as they are not to be separated from one another.



§ 3. 2


The Profession of Being Human Today


‘What is finally most beneficial to the human being as a human being? Is it discourse on language, or on being or non-being? Or is it not rather to learn how to live a human life?’

Pierre Hadot[175]


Probably the most curious thing that Epictetus proposes in our pot-modern opinion, is that we can build up our lives ‘plank by plank’[176]. This is what Pettit opposes. Epcitetus believes that we can do so by getting round culture and traditions we are born in. This can be obtained through the profession of being human, but it demands, as each craft one masters, daily exercises. The idea to obtain this, is


‘The profession of life is also about the moral domain within its broader interest in a life guided by reflection on how best to shape our natural motivations and potentialities. The most astounding difference is that happiness lies in our mental resources that make ourselves, and not the state of the world, the controlling element of our flourishing. Our motivations are presumed to be set in self-benefiting and other-benefiting ways, by rethinking old values and by learning to cultivate a mind-set that rids us of the passions that lures us into contentment and makes us victims of unethical impulses’[177].


The thing to do, here suggested, is to train oneself through spiritual exercises to gain another option on life. This option is about to alter old entrenched patterns, due to wrong judgements, to create new mental patterns that are not lead by emotions. First one needs to observe one’s (current or old) patterns and behaviour. In his Italian Journey German poet Goethe wonders how his traveling through Italy by himself will affect him:


‘At present I am preoccupied with sense-impressions to which no book or picture can do justice. The truth is that, in putting my powers of observation to the test, I have found a new interest in life. How far will my scientific and general knowledge take me? Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes? Can the grooves of old mental habits be effaced? This is what I am trying to discover’[178].


This is precisely what is required here: to efface ‘the grooves of old mental habits’ to see our habits for what they are and observe what is outdated in our beliefs and habits and replace them for new or different ones to obtain a different attitude and different actions in life.

Modern people take themselves to be rational and theoretically oriented actors, but instead their actions seem to be that of more emotionally driven creatures. In this state of alienation we see enemies everywhere. Many wars would probably not start if we could look at our opponent with ‘different eyes’ and could realise that they are no different from us: they are also human beings.  By hurting our opponent, we hurt someone like ourselves. It is even so that due to an aggressive (and derived from that, greedy) attitude and mentality towards each other and planet Earth, the world is on the brink of exhaustion. As Marcus Aurelius implies, that ultimately human beings should


‘love others, because they are not only parts but the limbs of the same body’[179],


which would be beneficial to the individual (and gives meaning and purpose to its life) as well as for the group one belongs to, and in the end to the whole world (environment and world population). In this way this thought could take care of the crisis of Modernity and as such be an asset for contemporary human beings. When this Stoic thought makes sense to us, we could accept that we are creatures who ‘need to belong’, who need to feel ‘at home’ in the world. This reigning alienation could be ‘just a paradigm’, that we can overcome. We are related to family, friends and all other people – we could even embrace other nations with different cultures – who all belong to the human race and are one’s fellow inhabitants of planet Earth. ‘To belong to’ is ‘to care for’: to love ourselves and every other man, and our environment at large, the whole Earth. One could adopt a peaceful lifestyle and bring benevolent behaviour into the world, when:

a) One has accepted that one cannot change externals, not even by force, because this will lead to frustration, anger and grief (and one would want to retaliate and get even after that[180])

b) One has incorporated daily spiritual exercises to observe one’s own behaviour, to question one’s representations, impulses and actions

c) One questions and revises one’s judgements and presumptions and eventually re-invents one’s actions in social situations

Pettit’s remark that ‘there are no beliefs at the origin of our practice-bound responses and that they would have constituted a centre of control which philosophy would otherwise have infiltrated and transformed’, would not be regarded as true, because, Epictetus would say, the origin of our practice-bound responses lies in our (socially and historically formed) mental patterns. As is discussed before, Epictetus also explains human behaviour as follows:


‘By projecting our desires and emotions onto our bodies and the external world, and not on the performance of our roles as ‘professional’ human beings, we lose more than our autonomy; we also lose the capacity to simply love others instead of wanting them or appropriating them or using them’[181].


Once we give way to grief, blaming the system, or another authority outside of ourselves, as it were, what is put in danger is not only our well being as individuals but also our performance in relation to others: we would want to retaliate and get even. We probably even think this reaction to be not simply emotional, but also natural and even reasonable!

The following discussion of a text by Theodore Dalrymple[182], describes real-life situations that exemplify my point of the fact that often people see themselves as victims of life, due to their presumptions, judgements and beliefs instead of taking responsibility for what they can be responsible for in life; their inner mental outlook. In the article ‘The knife went in’[183], a prison doctor sketches situations from his real life’s practice, in which individuals emerge, who seem not to be able to take responsibility for their actions. Dalrymple begins with the remark that it is a mistake that all men want to be free. Because freedom entails responsibility and that is something the perpetrators would not want. They would, according to Dalrymple, happily exchange their liberty for a modest or illusory security. Dalrymple speaks of several inmates, one who has committed murder, another who breaks into houses and steals VCR’s, yet another who has a compulsion for stealing cars, and one who steals from churches. The language of the criminals was always quite passive, which showed how these people were trying to explain themselves to others to indicate their helplessness. Little of what they described is due to their own effort, choice or action. They became almost marionettes of happenings. The murderer who had carried a knife with him on the night of the stabbing, must have known from experience that he would at one point use it, as he was imprisoned before for violence, but in his way of speaking it was the victim of the stabbing who was the real author of this action: if the victim had not been there, he would not have stabbed him. It was beyond his control. Several ‘stabbers’ used the same language, according to Dalrymple, saying: ‘the knife went in’ as if it was unguided by human hand. That the long hated victims were sought out, and the knives carried at the scene of the crimes, was nothing; as if the inanimate knives had made the decisions themselves, that brought this unfortunate outcome. The evasion of the responsibility for their deeds in the criminals’ own minds was not different than seen in lesser criminals. A prisoner who broke in and stole valuables from churches, then afterwards burned them down, blamed the church authorities for their poor security, which caused and then reinforced his compulsion to steal from them. The church authorities should have known of his urges and taken the necessary precautions to prevent him from acting upon them. Another burglar demanded to know why he repeatedly broke into houses and stole VCR’s. He asked this aggressively as if ‘the system’ had let him down in not supplying him with the answer. Until he was ‘rescued’ from whatever psychological secret – which, when mended could lead him to the path of virtue – the blame would be on the doctor (Dalrymple) who was assigned to help the man. The prisoner who claimed to be under so strong a compulsion to steal cars, that it was irresistible, called it ‘an addiction’. He stole about forty cars a week and still considered himself a fundamentally good person because he was never violent to anyone. According to Dalrymple, an addict cannot help himself, his behaviour is a manifestation of an illness, characterized by an irresistible urge (mediated neuro-chemically and possibly hereditary in nature) to consume a drug or other substance, or to behave in a repetitively self-destructive or anti-social way; it has no moral content. So, the car thief was saying that his compulsive car-stealing was not only, not his fault, but the responsibility to make him stop from behaving thus was the doctor’s. Criminals often shift the responsibility for their acts to elsewhere, says Dalrymple. Expressions used by criminals at the time when these crimes were committed, are, for example, about their habitual loss of temper, which lead them to assault whomever displeases them, saying: ‘my head goes’ or ‘my head just went’. This means, according to Dalrymple, that they consider themselves to suffer from some illness or a cerebral pathology whose only manifestation is involuntary rage, of which it is the doctor’s duty to cure them. Quite often, says Dalrymple, has he been warned that unless he found a cure for their behaviour, or prescribe drugs demanded, they were going to kill someone. The responsibility when they do so, will of course be the doctor’s, not the prisoners’, because he knew what they were going to do, and did not prevent it. By giving this warning they have set themselves up to be victims rather than perpetrators. Violent criminals often use an expression like ‘my head went’ when explaining their deeds: ‘it wasn’t me’. Dalrymple says that the ‘Real Me’ is an immaculate conception, untouched by human conduct: it is that core of virtue that enables me to retain self respect whatever I do. The ‘Real Me’ has nothing to do with the ‘phenomenal me’, the ‘me’ that snatches purses, breaks into other people’s houses, beats up a wife and children, or repeatedly drinks too much and gets involved in brawls.

At first sight these stories seem grotesque and laughable. It seems as if these people cannot be serious about their ‘non-existing’ part in whatever crime they committed! Their individual morale has not withheld them from acting this way; they put the blame on someone else or circumstances. But apart from the fact that these stories seem absurd, Dalrymple already reveals that people think themselves different than they are or behave; a ‘Real Me’ is sort of an immaculate idea and not quite like how ordinary human beings behave, who, as Dalrymple says, repeatedly drink too much, gets into brawls or beat up wife and children. Not everyone snatches purses, steals cars and breaks into houses, but behaviour like drinking too much, getting into brawls or beating up others must sound familiar to most people and happens quite often. On a closer look, the offences mentioned here are perhaps still grotesque and absurd, but not unlike human behaviour in general. But for every human being to accept that this could be behaviour that each of them could manifest, is something that is difficult to acknowledge. Most people pass judgements on other human beings without questioning their own habits or their (sometimes destructive) beliefs that are passed on to their children or students, the next generation of society. Verbal abuse or worse, lashing out to our children or spouses and fellow citizens, is also an offence – even if it is not as severe –  as is the behaviour of Dalrymple’s murderer of whom ‘the knife went in’. How often do most of us not say: ‘you make me so angry’ or ‘I was so angry, I lost control over myself’ meaning an emotional state of which we do not feel it is the ‘Real Me’ that is acting, but as if we are taken over by our emotional state. As I have stated before, this behaviour is an effect of what we hold to be true in society, it is a reflection upon hidden presumptions, that lead to behaviour we cannot (meaning: is not acceptable to ourselves or society) expose as the impeccable ‘Real Me’ and for that reason will not own up to it. It seems to me that evasive behaviour according to owning up to the responsibility for one’s actions is the behaviour of most people, not only criminals e.g. in acting on his or her emotions, like being taken over by anger. As Charles Taylor says ‘a ‘triumph of the therapeutic’ can also mean a distinction from autonomy where the lapse of traditional standards, coupled with the belief in technique, makes people cease to trust their own instincts about happiness, fulfilment, and how to bring up their children. The ‘helping professions’ then take over their lives’[184]. It seems not the ideal picture, when technology and professional help would undermine the self-regulating capacities of individuals. The group does not always benefit from a modern techno-scientific outlook, so it seems from this passage by Taylor. It clouds their individual outlook to being able to take responsibility for their actions. To me this seems to be the case with Dalrymple’s patients.

As is cited in Chapter II, Epictetus writes on the origin of the passions:


‘Wherever I can change external things to suit my will, I change them; but if I cannot, I want to blind the one who is impeding me. It is a human being’s nature not to endure deprivation of the good, not to endure involvement in the bad. Then finally when I can neither change the material things nor blind the one who impedes me, I sit down and groan and abuse whomever I can, including Zeus and the other divinities’[185].


This means that one has a desire to manipulate the world to suit one’s will; if this is unsuccessful, a desire to remove impediments comes up; when this fails, frustration manifests itself in grief. The first desire is in Stoic sense a passion that is incorrectly judged as something external that would be good for me; when I fail to get this good, the incorrect judgement is, to be depressed when I fail to satisfy my desires. In this text there is also a phase that I would like to punish that or those whom I think withheld me from getting what I think is good for me (of which it is perhaps a misjudgement that it would be good for me). This is a pattern that I think anyone could recognize. It is also recognizable in Theodore Dalrymple’s patients; one can imagine their grief turning into anger or violence.

In the above discussed text Dalrymple’s judgement of the individual who is not taking responsibility for one’s actions, is not to be borne on the individual alone, as it is a code in our society –  one cannot behave in a certain non-expected way (without spiritual exercises and an evolving consciousness). One will be judged accordingly. It is therefore no option for an individual to behave in that certain manner and the individual cannot accept taking responsibility for its actions, because to become a ‘persona non grata’ to the whole of society, is not what a group member of society would want. One is, when rationalizing one’s behaviour somewhat like a ‘Real Me’, an immaculate idea and a core of virtue, but the ‘phenomenal me’, the one who is manifested in behaviour, might behave differently as one holds oneself or ones’ actions to be. Because we believe we are the ‘Real Me’, an immaculate idea and core of virtue, we cannot own up to the description of the ‘phenomenal me’ the – perhaps emotional – manner in which we really behaved. The self-regulating minds Pettit speaks of remind me of this first category; they seem ‘Real Me’ people to me, who, when thinking rationally would not resemble the ‘phenomenal me’, that what normal people really behave like. This ‘phenomenal me’ acts on presumptions living in society, which are not – yet – reflected on, because the individual, and the whole of society, are unaware of their existence. A prominent part of the spiritual exercises I propose is to begin to observe our individual behaviour and be true to ourselves about these observations.

Epictetus criticized Homer, and other classical poets, for their hero’s giving into emotional behaviour. In the following passage of Oedipus and his sons Eteocles and Polyneices, he criticizes their political conflict in what he thinks is due to their faulty judgements towards wanting the wrong things e.g. power and status:


‘Everything everywhere is perishable and easy to attack. Whoever sets his heart on any such thing must be disturbed, discouraged, a prey to anxiety and distress, with desires that are unfulfilled and aversions that are fully realized… Don’t we recall that no one does injury or benefit to another, but that the cause of these things is a judgement? It is this that does harm and wreckage; this battle and civic strife and war. What generated Eteocles and Polyneices was simply this – their judgement concerning power and their judgement concerning exile, taking the latter to be the worst of bad things and the former to be the greatest of goods. This is everyone’s nature, to pursue the good and to avoid the bad, and to consider him who deprives us of the one and inflicts us with the opposite as a foe and a plotter, even if he is a brother or a son or a father; for nothing is more closely related to us than the good. So if these things [power, etc.] are good and [exile, etc.] bad, no father is dear to his sons or brother to brother, but everything is full of wars, plots, and informers. But if correct will and judgement are the only good and incorrect will and judgement the only bad thing, what place is left for battles and contentions? About what things? About things that are nothing to us? With those who are ignorant, with those who are unfortunate, with those who have been deceived about what really matters?’[186]


Epictetus shows us repeatedly that people who are still unaware of their habits, act and react on this basis of the values and judgements that they take to be reasonable and natural. What he asks of us is to understand our emotions and manage them properly. First we should start to question what we find reasonable and natural. In order to help us do that, he offers us thought experiments[187].



§ 3. 2. 1


The View from Above; Creating Distance to Gain Insight or Knowledge

‘…the walls of the world open out, I see action going on throughout the whole void, … thereupon from all these things a sort of divine delight gets hold upon me and a shuddering, because nature thus by your power has been so manifestly laid open and unveiled in every part’



The ultimate spiritual exercise is the exercise where one has to do a thought experiment, and imagine a view from above, creating a distance between one’s own life on earth and an imagined broader vision of this life imbedded in the Whole of the cosmos, the totality of life. The purpose of this exercise is for one to shift from an individual vision dominated by subjective passions, to a more objective view of the world governed by the objectivity or universality of thought. This contemplation of the Whole, is also the training for death, and the elevation of thought. One rises from individual, passionate subjectivity to the universal perspective. The intention here is to cultivate ‘greatness of soul’ which is the outcome of the universality of thought[189]. From such a perspective physics, the contemplation of nature, becomes a spiritual exercise containing 3 levels:

1) physics as an contemplative activity; having its end in itself, providing joy and serenity to the soul, liberating it from day-to-day worries;

2) physics as a spiritual exercise can take on a form of an imaginative ‘over-flight’, causing to see human affairs as of little importance;

3) the next level is the view from above, which is a deepening of the experience of this imaginative overview but not only to imagine a wider view, but also to become one with the totality of all, ‘as though we die to our individuality and accede on one hand to the interiority of our consciousness and on the other to the universality of thought of the All’[190].

From this perspective, daily human affairs, seem futile. Marcus Aurelius wrote this text in his Meditations:


‘Don’t limit yourself to breathing along with the air that surrounds you; from  now on, think along with the Thought which embraces all things. For the intellective power is no less universally diffused, and does not penetrate any the less into each being capable of receiving it, than the air in the case of one capable of breathing it…you will make a large room at once for yourself by embracing in your thought the whole Universe, and grasping ever-continuing Time’[191]


This training of the soul is to get the soul accustomed to a broader vision. The task of the philosopher is to ‘strive constantly for one’s soul to embrace the universal totality of things divine and human’[192]. The philosopher must try to overcome time and being in his contemplation of the Whole. It is important to expand one’s mind to the greatness of the universal perspective. ‘Greatness of soul is the fruit of the universality of thought. Thus the whole of the philosopher’s speculative and contemplative effort becomes a spiritual exercise, insofar as he raises his thought up to the perspective of the Whole, and liberates it from the illusions of individuality’[193]. Hadot describes this like:


‘as though we die to our individuality; in doing so, we are granted, on the one hand, to the interiority of consciousness, and on the other, to the universality of thought of the All’[194].


This is a profound image and reminds me of Plato’s cave allegory, where the philosopher has to climb out of and overcome the cave and get a glimpse of the real Sun, the real Truth. But, in the end, it is the task of the philosopher to descend and return to the cave and educate his fellow citizens or ‘prisoners’ of their own limited circle of thoughts.

As the spiritual exercises were quite common in (late) Antiquity, I turn to Neo-Platonist Porphyry[195] in the third century AD, who insists strongly on the importance of these exercises. He states that the contemplation (theoria) which brings happiness, does not consist in the accumulation of discourse and abstract teachings, even if their subject is true Being. Rather, one must make sure one’s studies are accompanied by an effort to make these teachings become ‘nature and life’ within us. And the purpose of spiritual exercises by, another Neo-Platonist, Plotinus is not to know the Good, but to become identical with it, in a complete annihilation of individuality[196]. But one has to grasp this insight, to become identical with the Good through the annihilation of individuality, through an individual exercise, which is an individual experience. We cannot achieve this goal by exchanging theoretical knowledge or by blind trust alone, and, exactly this has survived as the regular mode of learning today. We exchange theoretical knowledge in all our educational systems and they’re based on a system in which we only reproduce knowledge. The quest for self-realization is a different attitude for oneself. The philosopher develops his strength of soul, works on his inner climate, transforms his vision of the world, and, finally, his entire being.

Although we do not have exercises of Epictetus, we have Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. As an exercise to observe and question ones judgements and presumptions; he writes:


‘What is enough for you?

- Your present value-judgement, so long as it is objective;

- the action you are accomplishing at the present moment, so long as it is done for the benefit of the human community;

- your present inner disposition, as long as it rejoices in every event brought about by causes outside yourself.’[197]


And further, to question ones representations and impulses, desires and aversions:


‘A rational nature is proceeding as it should if it fulfils the following conditions:

- If, in its representations [phantasiai], it does not give its assent either to what is false, or to what is unclear;

- If it guides its inclinations [hormas] only towards those actions which serve the human community;

- If it has desire [orekseis] or aversion only for things that depend on us, while
joyfully greeting everything allotted to it by universal nature’[198].


To question one’s presentations and actions and consciously alter them:


-‘Wipe out your presentations [phantasiai];

-Check your inclinations [hormai];

-Extinguish your desire [oreksin];

-Keep your directing principle [hegemonikon] under your control’[199].


And then consciously re-invent one’s judgements:


‘On what, then, should we exert our efforts? Only this:

- correct intentions;

- actions [prakseis] carried out in the service of the community;

- speech [logos] which could never be used to deceive;

- an inner disposition [diathesis] which joyfully greets each event like something necessary and familiar, since it flows from so grand a principle, and so great a source’[200].


The goal of these exercises is to put one’s desires in harmony with the will of fate and of universal reason, to become indifference to indifferent things (to love them equally) within us. This discipline makes one ‘relocate’ the totality of human life within a cosmic perspective, and experience or become aware of one being a part of the world. Marcus Aurelius even says:


‘we must love other people with all our hearts, for rational beings are not only parts but the limbs of the same body’[201].





‘We are also to extend love to those who do not behave justly towards us. We must keep in mind that they are part of the same human race as we are, and, if they commit injustice, they do so out of ignorance’[202].


Eventually one learns to imagine objects and events as if situated within the cosmic Whole, instead of defining them from a subjective view. Alternatively, we can recognize whether events are ‘up to us’ or that we are to accept their nature as of providence. We would certainly be more in a flow, in harmony with life. We would be less angry, frustrated and worried, we would not feel the need to get even with others who harm us (or of which we misjudge that they harm us).

Would we not truly create a better place if all human beings could express this behaviour?

The contemplation of the Whole and elevation of thought, which rises from individual, passionate subjectivity to the universal perspective, is the purpose in these exercises[203].



§ 3. 3


An Overview: The Reality we Live in is Co-Created by our Inner Attitude


‘The most worthy of experiences appear in us long before our soul is aware of this. And when we start to open our eyes for that which can be seen, that which is, we were already attached to the invisible…’


The following is a passage from the book Flatland; A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott. A story of multiple dimensions in mathematics is unfolded. The protagonist, A. Square, who is an inhabitant of Flatland a society of two dimensions, experiences more than he is used to. He visits no dimensional Pointland and one-dimensional Lineland with a Sphere from third dimensional Spaceland. At first he cannot even see or acknowledge Spaceland, because he has no reference to a third dimension. But, in the end he grasps the meaning of the possible existence of more dimensions than he can observe from his own two dimensional Flatland. The Sphere however, who knows himself to be more complicated than the petty two dimensional creatures, cannot believe that there would be such a thing as a Fourth Dimension. This is as if each inhabitant of the various dimensions sees only their own paradigm, what they are used to; to them it is their whole universe, while there could be other universes right in front of them without their knowledge.

A.Square (inhabitant of two dimensional Flatland):


‘ …I crave, I thirst for more knowledge. Doubtless we cannot see that other higher Spaceland now, because we have no eye in our stomachs. But, just as there was the realm of Flatland, though that poor puny Lineland Monarch could neither turn to left nor right to discern it, and just as there was close at hand, and touching my frame, the land of Three Dimensions, though I, blind senseless wretch, had no power to touch it, no eye in my interior to discern it, so of a surety there is a Fourth Dimension, which my Lord perceives with the inner eye of thought. And that it must exist my Lord himself has taught me. Or can he have forgotten what he himself imparted to his servant?

      Sphere (inhabitant of three dimensional Spaceland) (after a pause): …no one has adopted or suggested

the theory of a Fourth Dimension. Therefore, pray have done with this trifling and let us return

to business…‘[205]


This story can be seen as a metaphor of human behaviour in a certain social setting. As we live on earth and live our lives through certain presumptions and convictions, this is all we know and worry about, and it is all that is known to us. It is our truth. We have no knowledge of other dimensions or paradigms than our own. But, this does not mean that there could not be more dimensions or paradigms conceivable to us; that we could not experience live differently than we do now. According to Stoic philosopher Epictetus, human beings can sculpt their mental patterns to become their best (moral) selves, lead the best life one can notwithstanding their cultural and social spectre, by learning how to judge our mental impression rationally. Epictetus thinks that humans normally judge their mental impressions on irrational (or emotional) presumptions and judgements of natural or neutral events or encounters. If human beings could control their paradigm or understand how to ‘read’ their mental impressions through spiritual exercises, they could portray different actions or reactions in social encounters. This means that we, as individual human beings, should daily practice individual exercises to obtain a universal scope of ourselves, in relation to others and the world. This universal scope through individual attention to oneself, in the manner of an individual spiritual exercise, can change one’s way of living from egotistically to altruistic. There is a paradox here: we expect to attend to the social group, while we do not attend to ourselves, due to the negative cultural judgement of ‘giving attention to oneself’. But, as is said earlier, these unattended selves make weak groups who are easy targets for group manipulation. There is a difference in egotistical attention to oneself, which is a flattering of a weak ego, while attention to oneself, the care for oneself is far from egotistical attention but a sculpting of our moral self, and is only so labelled because we are not (yet) familiar with what spiritual exercises can mean to us.

It is not my intention to propose to re-establish ancient Stoicism as the leading paradigm here, it is just a different paradigm to try to explain the world, but I think that Epictetus’ philosophy can attribute to our awareness of being able to become more conscious of our multiple possibilities as human beings and to act accordingly in the world.

The idea that emerges from Stoicism and Epictetus is the appeal to selfhood, treating the moral domain as something we shall naturally internalize if we make happiness a project that depends on our making the most skilful use of everything at our disposal in various circumstances, and this includes our social environment. The profession of being human is about the moral domain within its broader interest in a life guided by reflection on how best to shape our natural motivations and potentialities. The most astounding difference is that happiness lies in our mental resources that make us the controlling element of our own flourishing, and not the outer state of the world. Our motivations are presumed to be set in self-benefiting and other-benefiting ways, by rethinking old values and by learning to cultivate a mind-set that rids us of the passions that lures us into contentment and makes us victims of unethical impulses[206].

In Plato’s Republic, there is a passage, which gives an indication of what Plato thought of educating a whole polis or nation. What is easily overlooked, is the fact that Plato talks about ‘a noble lie’ when unfolding his plan. From 414b on Plato speaks of ‘to indoctrinate the rulers themselves, preferably, but at least the rest of the community, with a single lie’[207]. Then Plato starts to give his explanation of his golden (rulers), silver (auxiliaries) and iron (farmers) and copper (other workers) citizens in his Republic. At the end of 415c-d he asks his companion if he knows tactics to make them believe this story. The answer is: ‘no, not for this particular lot, anyway, but for the immediately succeeding generations and all the generations to follow’. This should start us thinking of the origin of every belief that has survived as a certain truth on whatever topic in society. So in fact Plato says that, when we are trying to build a Republic, as the ruler or Philosopher King, one should be able to tell a ‘noble lie’, something that is not (yet) true, which, in several generations time, will become the truth when all will know nothing else than that what has once been the ‘noble lie’ as that which is the common ground of belief, that which everyone holds to be true. This story appoints that, whatever ‘story’ we believe, becomes our truth; the paradigm or spectre from which we view the world and, simultaneously we judge our representations accordingly: in the light of what we believe. Everything we do, think, judge, believe and even see, is seen from this belief’s outlines.

A psychological approach is very important in the inquiry into the behaviour of human beings. Underlying judgements, presumptions and motives are far more active in people’s actions and behaviour than most of us are aware of. A theory to explain our behaviour is just a means to an end. The emotional intrinsic individual attitude is more important than is yet admitted in the philosophical and scientific field. When going through an individual spiritual exercise one can conclude that autonomy is an illusion, people are not autonomous creatures (except for the part of what is ‘up to us’, the reaction on our mental patterns when we are conscious of them); we cannot be as sophisticated and autonomous as we nowadays think we are, when we are in fact thus embedded in the culture we are born in. What we hold to be ‘me’ or ‘we’ is made or created by the context of our family, the social group, the environment and what is just discussed through Plato’s ‘noble lie’, what we hold to be true in the society we are born in. These conditions create the boundaries for what we are and our preconceptions. There is not one truth (or paradigm) there are many possibilities that can all be true. These truths can exist simultaneously next to each other e.g. in different cultures. Whatever we believe, becomes our truth, and we act according to those inner beliefs and attitudes. Thus we participate in shaping and co- creating the world. Our actions reflect our beliefs and such actions trigger a response from others in the social encounter.
























‘Nowhere, beloved will world be within us. Our life passes in transformation. And the external shrinks into less and less. Where once an enduring house was, now a cerebral structure crosses our path, completely belonging to the realm of concepts, as though it still stood in the brain

Where one of them still survives, a Thing that was prayed to, worshipped, knelt before – just as it is, it passes into the invisible world.’

                  Rainer Maria Rilke[208]


The philosophy of Philip Pettit is a social holistic philosophy. He foresees an evolving of the role of philosophy in future. He already insists on reflection in people’s lives through a meditative dimension. He even believes this dimension to be the centre of change. But, he sees the scientific claim as the focus on the world and how the world may be expected empirically to be. This is perhaps inevitable because of the scientific paradigm we are imbedded in, but I think that I have argued that it is a way of seeing the world, as there have been many others – e.g. the Stoic Worldview –  and perhaps there will be many more modes of experiencing the world in future. Even though the philosophy of Philip Pettit is on its way to detect a need to evolve the manner of doing philosophy in future, there are some points that differ from the Epictetian standpoints I have here introduced as an option to evolve into the practice of philosophy for human beings.

1. Pettit states that human beings live in communities of more than one individual. The individual, the self-regulating mind – seeks to be in line with the group. Pettit believes the human mind to be a personal-level ability to represent constraints and rules for what they are and regulate its performance to the group’s satisfaction. He assumes that people are entitled to being authorities of the concepts to the contents they bring to the group. In my opinion people are alienated from themselves and need to be non–alienated from themselves to be of best service to the group. Epictetus thinks that people can individually give or withhold their consent to their representations (phantasiai) and bring this to the social encounters they have. This can be of service to the self-regulating minds of Pettit’s to give them their best chance of playing in the conversational stance.

2. Pettit also states that


‘an agent will act to make the world fit a proposition – a would-be goal – and will adjust to make its mind fit a proposition it accepts – a would-be fact’[209].


This means that one will act to the realization of one’s desires, seeking to bring the world in line with them, and will act in this way according to one’s beliefs, which are one’s beliefs due to (the scientific claim of) the world. So, Pettit believes one to seek to bring the world in line with one’s beliefs, while Epictetus seeks to bring the human mind in line with (the harmony of) the world – because, human beings cannot control the world or nature; the only part of nature that humans can control is their mindsets or mental patterns.


3. Pettit argues that:


‘group agency among human beings does not emerge without effort; group agents are made; not born’[210],


But, one could say, that it is due to the innate possibilities of human beings to become group agents, as people have the need to live in communities of more than one individual. In the same line is Epictetus’ statement that human beings are innately equipped to live the best human life possible, but one should sculpt and nurture one’s abilities to master this craft, to become a full-fledged human being. Daily spiritual exercises are to give human beings insight on their own behaviour and to sculpt one’s moral character or mental patterns accordingly. One is able to alter one’s inner mental view on oneself and one’s place in the world (nature) and in society, with attention to oneself through attention for the present moment, which frees us from the passions. Through exercises on memorization and meditation on what one sees as fundamental rules in life, one can obtain self-mastery. According to Epictetus, without these exercises, human beings do not make the most of their rational nature and behave irrationally, which is no different than non-rational animals, because we act automatically on old habitually and culturally entrenched paths of which we are unaware. While it is autonomy or social ‘freedom’ that we are seeking, it is exactly our autonomy and freedom that we lose when giving in to irrational behaviour. If we would want to live the suggested good flow of life, we would have to accept that we cannot control nature – as in the metaphor of the vessel on an ocean. Further we would have to take responsibility for the part of life we can control: our intrinsic mindset and accordingly, our outer behaviour in society and the world. A perfect life would then be, a life in which we behave as members of a well-governed society at large. From an individual point of view it it would be advisable to take ones’ place and responsibility to be a good global society member. And, one should not forget that according to Epictetus, human beings are innately equipped to perfect themselves by their own effort.

To become aware of our irrational behaviour and our emotional outbursts which are related to our biography and history as a culture, it can be said that the underlying – hidden – ground of the Western society is the ‘condition humaine’, lacking being best equipped to live a good life on Earth. In my opinion this makes one’s deepest feelings to be ‘not belonging to’ and ‘not being able to’, while with a shift of horizon or focus, we could feel – and eventually be – totally apt to live a life of ‘belonging to’ and being at home on planet Earth. Instead, people fall short in believing they are able to live a perfected life, which implies an examined and sculpted life. In my opinion, this is the next level in becoming more conscious beings: the ‘profession of being human’ in action. In my proposal the emphasis is not on ‘perfection’ or ‘ideal wisdom’; it is on shaping and improving the mindset of ordinary people like ourselves.

As is discussed throughout this thesis, human emotions are still to a great extent our thread of life, despite technological advances in mapping the brain’s neurons and synapses in neurophysiology. September eleventh 2001, is an example of what devastation emotions can cause. Long says that an acquaintance of his, a man of mild character normally, said to him that he felt like hitting someone[211]. We all know this kind of emotions, but normally we know it is better only to voice them instead of reacting on them. A few weeks ago in the Netherlands there was a devastating event of a 23 year old man, Tristan van der Vlis, who walked with a half-automatic machine gun through a mall – in Alphen aan de Rijn – and randomly shot and killed innocent passers-by, before committing suicide. He seemed to have carefully planned his actions out. We do not know exactly what he thought in that moment, but we can state that a certain inner mental state made him act the way he did. As Epictetus has taught us, emotions are judgements, coming from the mind and are manifested complex beliefs and propositional attitudes. The judgements of Tristan van der Vlis could not have been in line with an attitude to be the best human being he could be in harmony with others and the Whole, as is phrased by Marcus Aurelius as:


‘being the limbs of the same body’[212].


This inner mental state is what I propose to alter in the spiritual exercise to create different behaviour in the world.


Human beings are part of the structure of minerals, plants and the goal-directed mobility of animals, but their nature expresses itself in their minds. Humans also have the capacity to discover where they fit in the cosmic order and it is in their nature to organize their lives as a community of beings, cooperating in social objectives and respecting one another as rational participants. This nature equips human beings to become reflective, active, and able to contribute to and cope with situations they encounter.[213] Epictetus shaped the Stoic philosophy in the direction he thought needed emphasis most; in giving attention to one’s self, one’s own rational nature. From approximately 2300 years ago, ancient Stoics already rejected the idea that emotions are the manifestations of an irrational or rational component of our minds. They propose that emotions actually are judgements, coming from the mind in its motivational function and manifesting complex beliefs and propositional attitudes. Emotions are activities of a uniformly rational mind because only a rational mind could be subject to human emotions and only a rational mind can act irrationally, which means, can commit errors of judgement. An important point on emotions I want to cite here: ‘such emotions as anger and jealousy are basic errors of value judgement, mistakes in reasoning, impulses or motivations that exceed a correct and appropriate response to our situation. Such emotions are caused


‘not by what has happened to us, making us passive victims of other people’s behaviour, instead we make ourselves angry or jealous because we misjudge the harm we think is being done to us’[214].


So if this theory is correct, we are never to say that we were taken over by e.g. anger. We are responsible for our emotions as we are for everything else we do, because what is at stake here, is the control of our representations of any kind, to change the mental outlook on the world. This possibility, voiced in this thesis, is also our Western philosophical legacy (as is Stoicism). If we were to adopt a similar opinion now, we could have far more power of understanding and managing our emotions, than is expected from modern cultural conventions.




‘…An unspeakable horror seized me. There was a darkness; then a dizzy, sickening sensation of sight that was not like seeing; I saw a Line that was no Line; Space that was not Space: I was myself, and not myself. When I could find voice, I shrieked aloud in agony, ‘Either this is madness or it is Hell.’ ‘It is neither’, calmly replied the voice of the Sphere, ‘it is Knowledge; it is Three Dimensions; open your eyes again and try to look at it steadily.’

‘A. Square, inhabitant of two dimensional Flatland, experiences Three Dimensions’[215]


This passage is the moment when A. Square learns to perceive a new dimension, which he had not perceived before and of which he had no memory or outline. The only thing is, that he had to accept this as a possibility otherwise he could never have seen this as optional, nor would he have been able to perceive these new horizons. As we have seen in the last paragraph, the three dimensional Sphere, who is a more complex being, has more difficulty with the possibility of a fourth dimension. While A. Square, the inhabitant of Flatland, finally understands that there could be more dimensions than he knows of, perhaps even a fourth or fifth, the Sphere, who is used to his three dimensional world, Spaceland, has never given the possibility of a fourth dimension a second thought. It never occurred to him that there might be a fourth dimension, because he has never perceived it and, it has never been asked of him in the three dimensional society he lives in. Therefore he assumes that there cannot be such a thing as a fourth dimension… And with that answer, he is as firmly tied to his own beliefs as are the inhabitants of the ‘lesser’ dimensions: Pointland, Lineland and Flatland.


Imagine your first spaceflight, as you did at the beginning of this thesis. After you have flown to the ISS, you can view planet earth from this distance from space. The tranquil bluish sphere you see has great effect on you. There are no boundaries and nor are there storms raging as they do on the surface of Jupiter. It is a peaceful planet. It is also the home of minerals, plants, animals and human beings.

Think about what you would do when you got back on Earth. Would you want to take better care of this planet, your home? Or would you look upon every being you meet with ‘new eyes’ e.g., with the understanding that you are all parts of the same global family?

We could perhaps accept that human beings must be fully, innately equipped to live on earth, as it is our home. Or, perhaps I would consciously commit to my best behaviour through the profession of being human, to master the craft of being ‘me’ and to help create a more peaceful existence on earth.





- Abbott, E. A., Flatland; A Romance of Many Dimensions, Dover Publications Inc., (New York, 1997; First Published 1884)

- Bachelard, G., (1884-1962) French philosopher and poet, ‘Verbeelding en Materie’, Raster 116, De Bezige Bij, (Amsterdam, 2006), translated into Dutch by Piet Meeuse (translation from the French of: ‘Imagination et matière’, introduction of: L’eau et les Rêves: Essai sur l’imagination de la matière (1941))

- Blackburn, S., Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, oxford University Press, (Great Britain, 2005 (first published1994))

-  Bransen, J., ‘Anthropocentrism within Favourable Circumstances; Critical Notice of: Philip Pettit, The Common Mind, An Essay on Psychology, Society and Politics’ (Oxford, 1993). Published in Inquiry, (Sept.1994)

- Claxton, G., Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind; How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, HarperCollins Publishers, (New York, 2000 (first published 1997))

- Dalrymple, T., ‘The Knife Went In’. Published in City Journal, London, Autumn, (1994)

- Dijksterhuis, A., Het slimme onbewuste; denken met gevoel, Uitgeverij Bert Bakker, (Amsterdam, 2009)

- Dohmen, J., Het leven als kunstwerk, Koninklijke Wohrmann, (Zuthpen, 2008)

- Epictetus, Moral Discourses, Encheiridion and Fragments, Everyman’s Library, Aldine Press, (London, 1966), translated from the Greek by Elizabeth Carter

– Goethe von, J. G., Italian Journey [1786-1788], Penguin Classics, Penguin Books Ltd., (England, 1970) Translated from the German by W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer.

- Hadot, P., Philosophy as a Way of Life; Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., (1995) (Original title: Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique; etudes augustiniennes, Paris (1987); Translated from the French by Michael Chase)

-Hadot, P., What is Ancient Philosophy?, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, (2002) (Original title: Qu’est-ce que la philosophie antique?, Editions Gallimard, (1995); Translated from the French by Michael Chase)

- Kundera, M., Testaments Betrayed; An Essay in Nine Parts, Harper Collins Publishers, (New York, 2001) Original title: Les testaments trahis; translated from the French by Linda Asher. First published (1993))

- Long, A. A., Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, Clarendon Press, (Oxford, 2002)

- Long, A. A., From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, Clarendon Press, (Oxford, 2002)

- Long, A. A., Stoic Studies, Cambridge, University Press, (1996)

- Mason, R., The Lighted Rooms, Orion Books Ltd., (London, 2008)

- Muraven, M. and Baumeister, R. F., ‘Self-Regulation and Deception of Limited Resources: Does Self-Control Resemble a Muscle?’ Published in: Psychological Bulletin 2000, vol. 126, No. 2, 247-259. Case Western Reserve University, (Psychological Association Inc., (2000))

- Nietzsche, F., Waarheid en Leugen, Boom Kassieken, Uitgeverij Boom, (Amsterdam, 2010) (translated by Tine Ausma from the German from: Kritische Studienausgabe (first edition 1912); assembled by Pieter Mostert)

- Pettit, P., ‘Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy’ (published in: Brian Leiter, The Future for Philosophy, (Oxford, 2004)

- Pettit, P., and Jackson, J., ‘Folk Belief and Commonplace Belief’, Published in Mind & Language, Vol. 8 No. 2, (1993)

- Pettit, P., ‘Freedom in Belief and Desire’, published in The Journal of Philosophy, vol. XCIII, no. 9, (1996)

- Pettit, P., ‘Defining and Defending Social Holism’, Princeton University, (1998)

- Pettit, P. and McGeer, V., ‘The Self-Regulating Mind’, published in Language & Communication 22 (2002) 281-299

- Pettit, P., ‘Rationality, Reasoning and Group Agency’, published in Dialectica Vol. 61, No. 4 (2007), pp. 495 – 519

- Plato, Republic, Oxford University Press, (USA, 1983), translated from the Greek by Robin Watersfield

- Rilke, R. M., Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, Vintage, (New York, 1984). Translated from the German by Stephen Mitchell

- Taylor, C., Sources of the Self; The Making of the Modern Identity, Harvard University Press, (Cambridge Massachusetts, 1989)

- Taylor, C., Bronnen van het Zelf; de ontstaansgeschiedenis van de modern identiteit, Lemniscaat, (Rotterdam, 2007) (Translation of: Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self; The Making of the Modern Identity, Harvard University Press, (1989); Translated by Marjolijn Stoltenkamp)

- Trevarthen, C., ‘Learning about Ourselves, from Children: Why a Growing Human Brain needs Interesting Companions’; The University of Edinburgh; (2004)


[1] Milan Kundera (Brno, 1929), Testaments Betrayed; An Essay in Nine Parts, Harper Collins Publishers

(New York, 1996) (reprinted in 2001). (Original title: Testaments trahis, (1993); translated from the French

by Linda Asher)

p. 11. Text cited by Kundera: Thomas Mann’s Tetralogy, Joseph and his Brothers, written between 1962 and 1942

[2] ibidem, p. 12

[3] Ibidem, p. 13

[4] In sept. 2006 American Anousheh Ansari (1966, Iran) was the first female space tourist to travel to the International Space Station (ISS). She spent 8 days in the ISS participating in experiments. (Source:

[5] Anthony Arthur Long (b. 1937, England) is a naturalised American classical scholar and Professor of Classics and Irving Stone Professor of Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He was educated at University College, London, where he took a first class honours degree in Classics and was subsequently rewarded a PhD degree. In 1973 Long moved to the University of Liverpool to take up the post of Gladstone Professor of Greek, a position he held until he assumed his current position at Berkeley in 1982. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1992 (Source:

[6] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, Clarendon Press, (Oxford, 2002), p. 39

[7] Plutarch, Greek philosopher (c. AD 50-c. 120), Whether a Man should Engage in Politics When He Is Old, 26, 796d

[8] Joep Dohmen, Het leven als kunstwerk, Lemniscaat, (Zutphen, 2008), p. 178/179. This analysis on human behaviour is made on the grounds of Dohmen’s description.

[9] Philip Pettit, ‘Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy, published in Brian Leiter’s, The Future of Philosophy (Oxford, 2004) On p. 308 Pettit says that ‘Philosophy is the theory we pursue in areas where we find ourselves already theoretically committed.’

[10] Ibidem, p. 305

[11] Richard Mason (b.1978), The Lighted Rooms, Orion Books Ltd., (London, 2008)

[12] Joep Dohmen, Het leven als kunstwerk, Lemniscaat, (Zutphen, 2008), p. 176

[13] Ibidem, p. 203

[14] Ibidem, p. 26. The term ‘Dikke-ik’ is first used by Sociologist and philosopher Harry Kunneman, Voorbij het dikke-ik: Bouwstenen voor een kritisch humanisme (2005), mentioned on p. 20 of Joep Dohmen’s Het leven als kunstwerk. The translation is by me.

[15] Joep Dohmen, Het leven als kunstwerk, Lemniscaat, Zutphen (2008), p. 20/21. Dohmen cites Kunneman

[16] Ibidem, p. 24

[17] Ibidem.

[18] Charles Taylor (b.1931), Canadian philosopher who writes on a wide range of topics e.g. ethics, politics and social sciences.

[19] Joep Dohmen, Het leven als kunstwerk, p. 15/16. Dohmen cites philosopher Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1991

[20] Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self; The making of the Modern Identity, Harvard University Press, (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989), p. 510

[21] Charles Taylor, Bronnen van het Zelf; de ontstaansgeschiedenis van de modern identiteit, Lemniscaat, (Rotterdam, 2007) (Translation of: Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self; the Making of Modern Identity, Harvard University Press, 1998; Translated by Marjolijn Stoltenkamp), p. 10. Cited by Joep Dohmen in the introduction

[22] Charles Taylor, Bronnen van het zelf; de ontstaansgeschiedenis van de moderne identiteit, p. 11

[23] Charles Taylor, Bronnen van het zelf; de onstaansgeschiedenis van de moderne identiteit, p. 17

[24] Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self; The making of the Modern Identity, Harvard University Press, (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989), p. 511

[25] Michel Foucault, (1926-1984) French Historian and Philosopher

[26] The Dutch word Dohmen uses, is ‘Zelfzorg’; the English translation: ‘Care for oneself’ is my own.

[27] Philip Pettit, ‘Rationality, Reasoning and Group Agency’, in Dialectica vol. 69, no. 4 (2007), 495-519, p. 496

28 Philip Pettit (b. 1945) Irish born philosopher and political theorist, who excels at a broad range of topics. He was educated at Garbally College, the National University of Ireland, Maynooth and Queen’s University, Belfast. He was a lecturer at University College, Dublin, a Research Fellow at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and professor at the University of Bradford. Pettit was for many years Professorial Fellow in Social and Political Theory at the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University. He is the recipient of numerous honors, including an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland. He was keynote speaker at Graduate Conference, University of Toronto. Pettit is well-known for defending a version of republicanism in political philosophy. His book Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government provided the underlying justification for political reforms in Spain under Zapatero. Pettit detailed his relationship with Zapatero in his A Political Philosophy in Public Life: Civic Republicanism in Zapatero’s Spain, co-authored with José Luis Martí. Pettit holds that the lessons learned when thinking about problems in one area of philosophy often constitute ready-made solutions to problems faced in completely different areas. Views he defends in philosophy of mind give rise to the solutions he offers to problems in metaphysics about the nature of free will, and to problems in the philosophy of the social sciences, and these in turn give rise to the solutions he provides to problems in moral philosophy and political philosophy. Pettit’s corpus as a whole was the subject of a series of critical essays published in Common Minds: Themes from the Philosophy of Philip Pettit (Oxford University Press, 2007). (Source:

29 Philip Pettit, ‘Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy’, part of, Brian Leiter, The Future for Philosophy, (2004) p. 327




[30] Philip Pettit, ‘Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy’, published in Brian Leiter’s, The Future for Philosophy, (Oxford, 2004), p. 322. The actual phrase Pettit uses here is: ‘…If philosophy is not allowed to have a meditative impact, then it is really vulnerable to Kierkegaard’s jibe against systematic thought’.

[31] Philip Pettit, ‘Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy’, published in Brian Leiters, The Future for Philosophy, Oxford, (2004)

[32] Philip Pettit, ‘Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy’, part of, Brian Leiter, The Future for Philosophy, (Oxford, 2004), p. 308

[33] Ibidem, p. 305

[34] Wilfrid Sellars (1912-1989) analytical philosopher, whose work revolves around the difficulties of combining the scientific image of people and their world, with the manifest image, or natural conception of ourselves as acquainted with intentions, meanings, colours, and other definitive aspects of the human world. (Source: Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, (1994, 2005))

[35] Philip Pettit, ‘Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy’, Brian Leiter, The future for Philosophy, (Oxford, 2004), p. 305

[36] Ibidem, p 318

[37] Philip Pettit, ‘Defending and Defining Social Holism’, published in: Philosophical Explorations, nr. 3, 1998, p. 177

[38] Ibidem, p. 169

[39] Ibidem, p. 177

[40] Ibidem, p. 184

[41] Ibidem, p. 432

[42] Philip Pettit, ‘Freedom in Belief and Desire’, published in The Journal of Philosophy, vol. XCIII, no. 9, (1996), p. 430

[43] And co-author Victoria McGeer in ‘The Self-Regulating Mind’, published in Language and Communication 22 (2002) Canberra, Australia

[44] Philip Pettit and Victoria McGeer, ‘The Self-Regulating Mind’, published in Language and Communication 22 (2002) Canberra, Aurtralia, p. 293

[45] Philip Pettit, ‘Rationality, Reasoning and Group Agency’, published in Dialectica, vol. 69, no. 4 (2007); p. 496

[46] Ibidem

[47] Philip Pettit, ‘Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy’; part of, Brian Leiter, The Future for Philosophy; p. 322

[48] Ibidem, p. 322

[49] Ibidem

[50] Ibidem

[51]Ibidem, p. 320

[52] Philip Pettit, ‘Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy’, part of, Brian Leiter, The Future of Philosophy, (2004) p. 320

[53] Ibidem

[54] Ap Dijksterhuis, Het slimme onbewuste; Denken met gevoel, Amsterdam, uitgeverij Bert Bakker (2009), p 16. Source: Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Bosten: Houghton Mifflin, (1976), p. 23. Slanted letters by me

[55] See the discussion on Theodore Dalrymple’s article ‘The knife went in’ in Chapter III of this thesis.

[56] Terms used by Charles Taylor in Sources of the Self; the Making of the Modern Identity for so-called autonomous individuals

[57] Joep Dohmen, Het leven als kunstwerk, Lemniscaat, Zutphen (2008) p. 186/187

[58] This reminds me of my short career as recreational volleyball-player, a sport of which I do not have the talents needed to play satisfactorily. During a game one day the group would get more sulky and silent when it was my turn to play. Well intended coaching from other members made me feel more out of place than I already felt, for I could not do any of the good suggestions, because I was not a good, nor a talented player. There was no music in our play as a group due to my contribution and certainly no exceeded heights!

[59] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, Clarendon Press (Oxford, 2002), p. 225. The passage says: ‘It is our ‘profession’, as human beings, to transcend the brute behaviour of non-rational animals, and we do so by conforming to our rational nature. That requires us to treat ourselves in a manner to the way craftsman cultivate their professions’

[60] Joep Dohmen, Het leven als kunstwerk, Lemniscaat, Zutphen (2008), p. 52

[61] Ibidem, p. 154. Dohmen believes, in his quest for a form of philosophy as an art of living, that this is meant to be a remedy for people’s own attitude in life, their certain lifestyle, to make them more apt to the ‘condition humaine’ (Fr; meaning literally: de human state of being). Our human condition is fundamentally insecure and refers to the vulnerability of human life. According to Dohmen, this cannot be annulled.

[62] In this thesis, as voiced in this chapter, I will follow the line of thinking of prof. A. A. Long on Stoicism and Epictetus’ philosophy.

[63] Epictetus sees ‘God’, in a Stoic manner, not as a Christian. This is explained in this introduction.

[64] Epictetus, III.24.3, cited in Long, Stoic Studies, p. 196

[65] Joep Dohmen, Het leven als kunstwerk, p. 56.  A new form is: Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, MBCT, in which Mindfulness, a Zen-based training for attention in life, is incorporated. (Source:

[66] RET, the Rational Emotive Therapy has been established by psychotherapist Albert Ellis, who founded the Institute for RET in New York in the ‘70’s (nowadays: The Albert Ellis Institute). Psychologist Rene Diekstra (1946) has introduced RET in the Netherlands.

[67] A. A. Long, Epictetus, A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 253

[68] Epictetus (ca AD 40-60 – AD 135) was born in the Graeco-Roman city of Hieropolis, in today’s South-West Turkey. He was a slave in the household of Epaphroditus, hemzelf a freudiaan and the secretrary of the Emperors Nero and Domitian, but was granted to attend philosophical lecturers with upper-class Roman Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus. Rufus, whose Stoicism and resolute character displeased the paranoid emperor Nero (AD 54-68) was banished from Rome, returned after Nero’s death and suffered exile under Vespasian. Epitetus left Rome, after being freed by Epaphroditus, for Nicopolis, a city with metropolitan status and facilities. He lived here until his death. He then already had a status to have been visited by the Emperor Hadrian amongst others who sought conversation with him.. Epictetus also had a profound influence on Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, who ascended the throne in AD 161. That an ex-slave shaped a Roman Emperors’ deepest thoughts is a remarkable testimony of the power and usefulness of Epictetus’ words. (Source: A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, Oxford, Clarendon Press, (2002), Chapter I.2

[69] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 7; (translation from the Greek by Long) This phrase is from Epictetus, Discourses (Gr. Diatribai) 1.16.20-I. The whole phrase is:

‘What else am I, a lame old man, capable of except singing hymns to God? If I were a nightingale, I would do a nightingale’s thing, and if I were a swan, the swan’s. Well, I am a rational creature, so I must sing hymns to God. This is my task; I do it, and I will not abandon this position as long as it is granted me, and I urge you to sing this same song.’

[70] Lucius Annaeus Seneca (after 4 BC – AD 45), Roman statesman and Stoic. Lived in great wealth and enjoyed a hectic career, which included banishment to Corsica, for adultery with Julia Livilla, the niece of Emperor Claudius. His forced suicide provided an influential model of Stoicism in action. (Source: Simon Blackburn, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford University Press (1994, 2nd edition 2005)

[71] Origin, Against Celsus VI.2, cited in A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 260

[72] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 3

[73] Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806), daughter of an Anglican clergyman, published a translation of Epictetus’ Discourses in 1758, which was the leading translation until 1925 (Source: A. A. Long, Epictetus, A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 261/262)

[74] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 261

[75] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 264

[76] Ibidem, p. 26

[77] Ibidem, p. 22

[78] Epictetus, Diatriben, 2.10.4, cited in: A. A. Long: Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 233

[79] A. A. Long, Stoic Studies, Preface, xii

[80] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, Oxford, Clarendon Press, (2002)

[81] A. A. Long, Stoic Studies, p. 189

[82] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 147

[83] Ibidem, p. 22

[84] A. A. Long, Stoic Studies, p. 199

[85] Ibidem, p. 265

[86] Ibidem, p. 264

[87] A. A. Long, Stoic Studies, p. 264

[88] Ibidem

[89] Ibidem, p. 258. The term ‘proprioception’ is from neurologist Charles Sherrington. The definition from Oliver Sacks, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, 1987, p 53

[90] A. A. Long, Stoic Studies, p. 268

[91]  A. A. Long, Stoic Studies, p. 269

[92] Epictetus, Diatriben, 2.5.24-6, cited in: A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 201

[93] A. A. Long, Stoic Studies, p. 268 Long cites Origen, the Stoic philosopher, here.

[94]A. A. Long, Stoic Studies, p. 270

[95] Ibidem, p. 272. Long explains in a footnote that Stoic Hierocles has argued at length about the conclusion of the ‘continuity’ of an animal’s self-perception

[96] A. A. Long, Stoic Studies, p. 272

[97] Again, the ‘God’ here mentioned is seen from a Stoic point of view, and not from Christianity.

[98] ‘From: Epictetus, Discourses 1.6.12 – 20 = LS 63E

[99] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 9

[100] Ibidem, p. 27

[101] Epictetus, Diatriben 2.10.1-2, cited in A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 233

[102] Long translated the Greek word prohairesis into volition. Other translations are e.g. ‘moral choice’ in Charles Taylor,  Sources of the Self: The making of the Modern Identity, Harvard University Press (1989), (translation: Bronnen van het Zelf, Lemniscaat Rotterdam, 2009, translated by Marjolijn Stoltenkamp, p. 203)

[103] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, Oxford, Clarendon Press, (2002), Introduction, p. 1

[104] Epictetus, Encheiridion 5, cited in A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 213

[105] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 153

[106] A. A. Long, Stoic Studies, p. 276

[107] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2006, p. 244

[108] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 109

[109] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 380

[110] Epictetus, Diatriben, 1.18.5-9, cited in: A. A. Long, Epictetus, A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 251

[111] Langer, E, Dillon, M, Kurtz, R and Katz, M, ‘Believing is seeing’, unpublished paper, Harvard University, referred to in Langer, Ellen, Mindfulness: Choices and Control in Everyday Life, (London: Harvill, 1991)

[112] Guy Claxton, Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind; How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, p. 126

[113] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 36

[114] Epictetus, Discourse, 1.27.10

[115] Epictetus, Manual, I, 1, cited in Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 192

[116] Epictetus, Discourses, I, 12, 15; cited in Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 194

[117] Epictetus, Discourses, I, 12, 17; Ibidem

[118] Epictetus, Discourses, I, 12, 8; Ibidem

[119] In other cultures, e.g. in old Creole-Surinamese routines for funerals, there was singing and dancing to assure a safe passage for the deceased in its journey to the afterlife. Survivors were grieving, but appeared happy to prevent the deceased to become afraid. This is a different viewpoint than the Western view on death and funerals.

[120] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman  Philosophy,  p. 380/381

[121] The example of the jam-session is Foucault’s and is mentioned by Joep Dohmen, Het Leven als kunstwerk,

p. 172 and 186/187. The importance of being an expert musician before joining a jam-session and the analogy made here is mine.

[122] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 392

[123] Epictetus, Encheiridion, (3. 1. 40). Cited: A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 207

[124] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 34

[125] Ibidem, p. 33

[126] Ibidem, p. 34

[127] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 387

[128] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, ‘Introduction’ and chapter 3, ‘The Socratic Paradigm’

[129] Simplicius (6th Century AD) Neoplatonist, best known as commentator on Aristotle (Source: Simon Blackburn, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2005). He is here commenting on Epictetus’ Manual.

[130] Pierre Hadot (Paris 1922- Orsay 2010), French philosopher and historian of philosophy, specialized in Ancient philosophy. He was director at the Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences socials from 1964 to 1986 and was named professor at the College de France in 1982, where he held the Chair of History in Greek and Roman Thought  (chaire d’histoire de la pensee hellenistique et romaine). He became professeur Honoraire at the College in 1991. He was married to historian of philosophy, Ilsetraut Hadot. Hadot  identified and analyzed the ‘spiritual exercises’ used in ancient philosophy (preceding Michel Foucault’s interest for such practices in the second and third volumes of his History of Sexuality). By ‘spiritual exercises’ Hadot means ‘practices… intended to effect a modification and a transformation in the subject who practice them. The philosophy teacher’s discourse could be presented in such a way that the disciple, as auditor, reader, or interlocutor, could make spiritual progress and transform himself within’. Hadot shows that the key to understand the original philosophical impulse is to be found in Socrates. What characterizes Socratic therapy above all is the importance given to living contact between human beings. Hadot’s recurring theme is that philosophers should be judged by how they live their lives, what they do, not what they say; that philosophy is best pursued in real conversation and not through written texts and lectures; and that philosophy, as it is taught in universities today, is for the most part a distortion of its original, therapeutic impulse. He brings these concerns together in his book What is Ancient Philosophy? 

[131] Plato, Apology, 38a; cited in Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy? p. 35/36

[132] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p 23, cited in Introduction by Arnold I. Davidson

[133] Source: Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy? P. 178/179

[134] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 83

[135] Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy? P. 189

[136] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 31, cited in Introduction by Arnold I. Davidson

[137] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, chapter 3, is the basis of this paragraph

[138] Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, cited in: Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 98

[139] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, Chapter 3, p. 82

[140] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 83

[141] Joep Dohmen, Het leven als kunstwerk, p. 93

[142] Joep Dohmen, Het leven als kunstwerk, p. 93

[143] A. A. Long, Epictetus, A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, pg. 18

[144] Plutarch (c. AD 50 –c. 120) Greek born writer and middle Platonist. He was born in Boeotia, studied in Athens, and went to Rome. He spent his last decades as a priest at Delphi. His most famous work, the Lives, is intended to illustrate the workings of virtue and vice in the careers of great men, and had considerable influence on Shakespeare and other Renaissance men.

[145] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, Chapter 3 ‘Spiritual Exercises’

[146] Philo of Alexandria (c.20 BC-c. AD 50) Hellenistic philosopher. He was a member of a prominent Jewish family of Alexandria, and inaugurated the Islamic, Jewish, and subsequent Christian traditions of reconciling scripture with the teachings of the classical Greek philosophers.

[147] Marcus Aurelius, Meditation, 7, 54; cf 3, 12; 8, 36; 9, 6. Cited in Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life,

p. 84

[148] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 380

[149] Epictetus, Discourses 3. 2. 4. Cited in A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 384

[150] Chapter I of this thesis

[151] A. A. Long, Stoic Studies, p. 283

[152] A. A. Long, Epictetus; A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 115

153 The tradition arises from African spiritual practices, French and Spanish martial musical traditions, and uniquely African-American cultural influences. The tradition was widespread among New Orleanians across ethnic boundaries at the start of the 20th century. A typical jazz funeral begins with a march by the family, friends, and a brassband from the home, funeral home or church to the cemetery. Throughout the march, the band plays somber dirges and hymns. A change in the tenor of the ceremony takes place, after either the deceased is buried, or the hearse leaves the procession and members of the procession say their final good bye and they “cut the body loose”. After this the music becomes more upbeat, often starting with a hymn or spiritual number played in a swinging fashion, then going into popular hot tunes. There is raucous music and cathartic dancing where onlookers join in to celebrate the life of the deceased. Those who follow the band just to enjoy the music are called the second line, and their style of dancing, in which they walk and sometimes twirl a parasol or handkerchief in the air, is called second lining. (Source:


[154] And co-author Victoria McGeer ,‘The Self-Regulating Mind’, Language and Communication 22, (2002), 281-299

[155] Ibidem, p. 282

[156] Ibidem, p. 295

[157] Epictetus, Discourses, 1. 15. 3. Cited in A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 37

[158] Friedrich Nietzsche, Waarheid en Leugen;(translated blurp text here used: waarheden zijn illusies waarvan men vergeten is dat zij illusies zijn, metaforen die versleten zijn en letterlijk krachteloos zijn geworden); Boom Amsterdam, Kleine Klassieken, translated from the German by Tine Ausma; 2002 (1st edition 1912)

[159] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 19

[160] Ibidem, p. 32. Long calls this the comprehensive world-view

[161] French mathematician René Descartes (1596-1650), the founding father of modern philosophy. Descartes’ theory of knowledge starts with the quest for certainty, for an indubitable starting-point or foundation on the basis alone of which progress is possible. This is eventually found in the celebrated ‘Cogito ergo sum’: I think therefore I am. By locating the point of certainty in my own awareness of my own self, Descartes gives a first person twist to the theory of knowledge that dominated the following centuries. The metaphysics associated with this priority is the famous Cartesian dualism, or separation of mind and matter into two different but interaction substances. (source: Simon Blackburn, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, (2005))

[162] Thomas Hobbes (1588 -1679), English philosopher, who is best known for his work on political philosophy. His book Leviathan (1651), established the foundation for most of Western political philosophy from the perspective of the social contract theory. (Source:

[163] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ch XIII

[164] Loc. Cit.

[165] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ch XIV

[166] Loc.cit.

[167] Source on Hobbes: and Simon Blackburn, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, (2005)

[168] Joep Dohmen, Het leven als kunstwerk, Lemniscaat, Zuthpen (2008), p. 26. The term ‘Dikke-ik’ is first used by Sociologist and philosopher Harry Kunneman, Voorbij het dikke-ik: Bouwstenen voor een kritisch humanisme (2005), mentioned on p. 20 of Joep Dohmen’s Het leven als kunstwerk. The translation is by me.

[169] Ibidem, p. 20/21. Dohmen cites Kunneman

[170] Joep Dohmen, Het leven als kunstwerk, Lemniscaat (2008), p. 154

[171] Colwyn Trevarthen, born in New Zealand, for over 30 years professor of Child Psychology and Psychobiology at the University of Edinburgh (

[172] Colwyn Trevarthen, ‘Learning about Ourselves, from Children: Why a growing Human Brain needs interesting Companions’, University of Edinburgh, (2004), p 25

[173] Ibidem, p. 28

[174] Philip Pettit, ‘Rationality, Reasoning and Group Agency’, published in Dialectica, vol. 69, no. 4 (2007); p. 496

[175] From: Pierre Hadot, ‘La Philosophie est-elle un luxe?’, Le Monde de l’education (Mar. 1992), p. 91. Cited in: Pierre Hadot,  Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 32

[176] Philip Pettit, ‘Existentialism, Quietism, and the Role of Philosophy’, part of Brian Leiter, The Future for Philosophy, (Oxford, 2004) p. 318

[177] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 39

[178] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Italian Journey, [1786-1788], (England, 1970), p. 38

[179] See text that footnote 72 of the previous chapter refers to; See footnote 57 Chapter I

[180] This puts self-control as we know it in a different light. We are frustrating ourselves, even up to a point where we are declared ‘burned out’ and cannot stretch our mental control over exterior things (which we cannot have control over, because this is not ‘up to us’) any longer. This seems like muscular action, stretching the muscle of self-control until it cannot be stretched any more, but in this scenario it is mental action wrongly judged and used. (Source on the resemblance of self-control as muscular action: Mark Muraven and Roy F. Baumeister, ‘Self-Regulation and Depletion of Limited Resources: Does Self-Control Resemble a Muscle?’, published in Psychological Bulletin, (2000, vol. 126, no. 2, 247-259). The authors believe self-control to have limited resource; using self-control may reduce the amount of strength after several efforts of self-control. Subsequent attempts at self-control are more likely to fail.)

[181] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 392

[182] Theodore Dalrymple is the pen name of Anthony (A.M) Daniels (born 1949) an English writer and retired prison doctor and psychiatrist. He has worked for many years in the UK, and in several parts of Africa.

[183] Theodore Dalrymple, ‘The Knife went in’, published in City Journal, London, Autumn, (1994)

[184] Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self; The making of the Modern Identity, Harvard University Press, (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989), p 508

[185] Epictetus, Discourse, 1.27.10

[186] Epictetus, Discourses, 4. 5. 27-32, cited in A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 392

[187] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 393

[188] Lucretius (99/94-55/51 BC) Roman Epicurean, On the Nature of Things, 3, 16f, 28ff; cited in Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 88

[189] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 97

[190] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 99

[191]Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8, 54, 9, 32, cited in: Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 99

[192] Plato, Republic, 486a, cited in: Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 97

[193] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 97

[194] Ibidem, p. 99

[195] Porphyry (c. AD 232-305), On Abstinence from Animate Beings; cited in: Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 100

[196] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, Chapter 3, ‘Spiritual Exercises’, p. 101

[197] Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9, 36; cited in Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 196

[198] Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8, 7; Ibidem

[199] Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9, 7; Ibidem

[200] Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 3, 33; Ibidem

[201] Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7, 13; cited in Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, 198

[202] Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7, 22; cited in Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 198

[203] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 96

[204] Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863-1938), Italian Poet and dandy. Cited in Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) French philosopher and poet, ‘Verbeelding en Materie’, Raster 116, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam,  2006, translated into Dutch by Piet Meeuse (translation from the French of: ‘Imagination et matière’, introduction of: L’eau et les Rêves: Essai sur l’imagination de la matière (1941))

[205] Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, Dover Publications Inc., (New York, 1992). First published: Seeley & Co., Ltd., (London, 1884)

[206]  A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 39

[207] Plato, Republic, p. 414c, Oxford University Press, United States (1983; translated from the Greek by Robin Watersfield)

[208] From: The seventh Elegy, transl. Stephen Mitchell, published in The Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (New York: Vintage, 1984), p. 189. The original text: ‘Nirgends Geliebte, wird Welt sein, als innen. Unser Leben geht hin mit Verwandlung. Und immer geringer schwindet das Aussen. Wo einmal ein dauerndes Haus war, schlägt sich erdachtes Gebild vor, quer, zu Erdinklichem völlig gehörig, als ständ es noch ganz im Gehirne… Ja, wo noch eins übersteht, ein einst gebetetes Ding, ein gedientes, geknietes –, hält es sich, so wei es ist, schon ins Unsichtbare hin.’

[209] Cited in this thesis from: Philip Pettit, ‘Rationality, Reasoning, and Group Agency’, published in Dialectica, vol. 69, no 4 (2007), p. 496

[210] Philip Pettit, ‘Rationality, Reasoning and Group Agency’, published in Dialectica vol. 61, no 4 (2007), 495-519, p. 496

[211] This introduction is based on A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p. 377

[212] Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7, 13, Cited in Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 198

[213] A. A. Long, Epictetus, A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, p. 21

[214] A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus; Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy, p 380.

[215] Edwin A. Abbott (1838-1926), Flatland; A Romance of Many Dimensions, p. 64, (First published in 1884- Dover Publications, inc, New York, 1952,1997).


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