A Review of the Philosophy of Stoicism, Apple AirPods

Part 1: The Ethics of Stoicism

Context

People are problems. Knowledge limits experience, but experience doesn’t grant knowledge. But people represent themselves to know things. Sometimes they do, sometimes they do not. But in all situations a person must act.

They may have knowledge, experience, or none. They may do a right thing, or a wrong thing. They may be lieing. Stoicism is a philosophy of subjective ethics. This means its goal is to help that person decide what to do.

This recognizes that experience is recursive. One believes “Thing X” today, and may believe “Thing Y” tomorrow. The change in belief is fine, so long as it is not evil. The goal is to give tools for the subject to analyze stimuli (“things”) and choose an antecedent action.

 

Background

Stoicism is a Greek philosophy. The name comes from the Stoa Poikile, or painted porch. Named after an open market in Athens where the original Stoics used to meet and talk about how no one cares how they came up with the name.

Its signature proponent is Marcus Aurelius, and the relevant text is Meditations. In modernity, it is influential in practical philosophy. For example: cognitive behavioral therapy and similar models.

Goal

It concerns subjective well-being (or “happiness”). This means it is a eudaimonic philosophy. That term means it orders methods to produce happiness.

It focuses on virtue. Practicing virtue is good, disbarring virtue is bad. Good things are either a direct-practice or an indifferent-practice that supports general virtue-practice. It applies to ethics, as informed by logic and metaphysics/science. Virtue-practice should be an internalized goal. But, as a goal, it is only relevant when possible.

Consider a game of chess: You control your movements. You do not control your opponent’s. They may do, or not do, anything material. You observe their move, assess, and then move. But again you do not control your opponent; they do what they see fit. This cycle continues until the game is over.

If you make good moves, you may win the game. If you always make good moves, you may win more games. Here, the game is “happiness” and good moves are “virtue”. The goal is not winning a specific game. The goal of the stoic is to be a better player as, in the aggregate, they win more happiness, over the course of a life.

This is because the philosophy is eudaimonic. These sort of philosophies produce happiness by recursive behavior. The recursive behavior, in the metaphor, is “good playing”. The satisfaction comes from playing well, rather than winning.

Behind Good and Evil

The stoic views life as effort and luck. This because one needs both to harness opportunity. Effort gives capability to cultivate opportunity. Luck procures opportunity. The stoic then uses effort to “be ready” for luck-based opportunity.

Hellenic thinkers took a qualitative approach to virtue. Some behaviors were good (“eating”). Some behaviors were bad (“starving”). Some behaviors (“donating”) were more-good than lower, still-good behaviors (“spending”). Some behaviors (“cardinal virtues”) were better than even the more-good. Behaviors of no moral weight (ex. fashion) are neutral.

This leads to four substantive categories of behavior:

  1. Good,
  2. Prefer Good,
  3. Prefer Evil, and
  4. Evil.

Under this theory, someone will be happy if the are good or if they prefer good. Like Utilitarianism, this is an arithmetic assessment. All people do evil, but, under stoicism, if one does more-good they will still be happy.

Stoicism divides into tripartite study: ethics, metaphysics (“science”), and logic. That said, the focus is towards practical ethics.

 

Your God Is No Good Here

This is not religion.

“Practical Ethics”, or normative ethics, is not positive ethics. The term “Positive Ethics” refers to things how should be. The term “Normative Ethics” refer to how people behave. This means this field considers the standard norm of human behavior. This means that concepts are tangible, if relevant. ‘Moral Good’ is a tangible entity, or characteristic thereof.

This replaces the distinction between “is” and “ought” with “should”. The stoic should use their knowledge to the extent they have capacity to reason. This allows them to solve issues with virtue.

The should is determine by:

  1. Logic,
  2. Metaphysics (“Science”), and
  3. Ethics.

 

Logic

Perception is wrong. This is a simple sight, and that gives rise to an impression. But impressions may be false: one’s perception can be wrong.

Stoic logic categorizes two impressions:

  1. Unambiguous, or “Cataleptic”; and
  2. Ambiguous, or “Non-Cataleptic”.

An impression is cataleptic if it can only sustain one reasonable interpretation. Another term is “undeniable fact”. An example of catapeltic statement is: “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism, Idiots.”

But if a term is non-cataleptic one may reasonably disapprove of it. This is a term where the truth of its contents is not blatantly obvious or cannot be assessed. An example of a non-cataleptic statement is: “People Who Think Vaccines Cause Autism Are More Likely to Smoke Crack”.

 

Logic is Optimistic

Stoicism is fundamentally Aristotelian. That means people are, by nature, reasonable. Reasonable people make reasonable societies. Reasonable societies build and make progress.

This forms a “teleology” of societies leading to a larger goal. Stoics necessarily prefer this ideal society, but are fine with the alternative. This means stoics believe society and life to be improving over generations.

This is because each society is an accumulation of impressions. Consistent impressions (“murder was wrong”) lead to a general inference (“murder is wrong”). This inference makes the material conditions of society better.

 

Metaphysics (or Science)

Stoics thought that things are either corporeal or in-corporeal. Corporeal things are capable of scientific measurement. In-corporeal, obviously, are not. Building, the former is tangible (ex. “Spaghetti”) and the latter is intangible (ex. “Ghosts”).

This is consistent with existentialist conceptions of higher powers. Essentially, the god-figure has no tangible causality. This means that, if a god exists, it cannot effect human affairs. Fate, in this system, is explainable by antecedent causes and remote causality.

Nothing has a ’cause’ other than a ‘person’. But every ‘action’ done by a ‘person’ has a causal ‘effect’. This means that the future is never defined by the present. The future exists in the exploitation of existing rules, for greatest value. Concepts like “risk” are simply measures of human ignorance. These events are random, and effected by the human-of-record.

Ethics

There is a difference between fault and blame. Fault is causal (ex. “the joint rusted, it broke”) as, in the example, the joint is at fault (it broke) but one cannot blame the joint. This is because no reasonable person can rely on an unprotected joint to avoid rust. Blame is different. Blame requires one be at fault, and help create it.

Blame concerns actions that would not occur but for the person blamed. All “Ethics” is the “Philosophy of Blame”. If someone is to-blame they are responsible. Responsibility, legal or otherwise, forms the basis of moral liability.

This means Stoicism concerns only things people are to-blame for. One is to-blame if they disregard nature. One is not, if they live in accordance. This is subjective: it is “their nature”, and not a collective perception.

For example: someone is born with a natural, uncontrollable urge to have “Breakfast for Dinner”. One should generally support this expression. It would be immoral to prevent this expression, as this expression would be “Prefer Good”.

The calculus would only change if preventing it prevented harm to an intrinsic good. This is because harm to an intrinsic good (ex. “murder”) diminishes the aggregate ability of the world to practice-virtue. And, for the stoics, ethics is nothing more than the promotion of virtue-practice.

All this means there is a natural tendency to pursue:

  1. Our own interests,
  2. The interests of persons we care about, and
  3. The practicalities of day-to-day life.
 
Rephrased, this leads to three ‘disciplines’:
  1. Desire (pursue “Own Interest”),
  2. Action (pursue “Care-Interest”), and
  3. Assent (pursue “Collective Interest”.
 

Desire

Desire stems from causal relationships. These include: “if I eat breakfast for Dinner, I am happy.” It is a recognition of undeniable fact. The facts can be objectively true (“breakfast is good”) or subjectively true (“I would like it for dinner”).

This is because we pursue effects. We want to “Experience Breakfast” at any time. The effect is “eats breakfast”, but the cause is “at dinner time”. We weigh the cost of causes against the effect.

The resulting discretionary decision is desire.

Action

People presume other-actions to be reasonable. This means they suppose their actions to be reasonable. The discipline of action considers a range of behaviors. This means there is no correct response. Only a range of acceptable responses. This range is determined by culture and context, and is infinitely variable.

An “action” may be at fault in Context A, but not B. An example of this would be drunk-driving a bleeding orphan to a hospital. It would be a crime, if not the orphan.

 

Assent

When we “desire” a not-“action” but consent to its occurrence, that is “assent”. As ethics concerns “chooses in action”, “assent” is deciding to-act or not-to-act.

Stoicism concerns how to make the proper decision. This is because the “proper” decision is the “virtuous” one. People should assent to that decision, or do it themselves. The philosophy must balance “desire” and “action”. This is because there are times when actions should not be desires.

 

Determining Value

Most things do not matter. Something matters if they change value or value-potential. Examples of things that matter include: health, sickness, wealth, and poverty. If things do not effect value, they do not matter. Virtue-practice determines value. If an item doesn’t relate to virtue-practice, it does not matter. This means that, for example: your car does not matter, so long as it runs.

Therefore, anything unrelated to virtue-practice is irrelevant. It is a discretionary decision, and each decision is usually acceptable. In a religious sense, one may believe or disbelieve any god they choose.

 

Emotions

People feel many things; no one knows why. We have passions (consistent, directed emotions), inclinations (predilections), and feelings (hungry). Passions can be healthy (breakfast for dinner) or unhealthy (camping with Travis Vader). For Stoics, passions are not necessary reactions incapable of being suppressed. But a passion is necessarily not natural: it is learned through an assent to a common expression.

It is a “response” programmed to a “stimulus” accumulated over time. So, someone may be able to think “breakfast” and associate it “for dinner”. It is trained-in, and may be trained-out. So, it is distinguished from items like sexuality, which are not decisions people make.

This means that an emotion, “fear”, is distinguished from the physicality of anxiety. Anxiety is a response (“fight/flight”) and fear is a resultant consideration of circumstance. This means, on this system, fear is not a “desire”; it is the decision that comes afterwards.

This is the difference between the science of emotion and the philosophy thereof. We have responses we do not control. But we have actions that come afterwards. There’s a hurt (the “scientific”) then there is the pain of failing to avoid it (the “philosophical”).

The stoic concerns the philosophical. This means that anxiety is a feeling: it has a physical sensation. Fear is an uncertain expectation of something bad and harmful. The two are different. They almost always follow. But the stoic seeks to sever that association. Something may be “bad”, without being “wrong”.

A current bad does not create a future wrong. The past is a dead animal, and every second is an isolated incident. One delights over virtue, and avoids vice.

Today that will be put to the test.

Part 2: Apple AirPods

Context

I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And I fear no evil, for I bought a new pair of Apple AirPods. I like this store, because they sold me Apple EarPods in 2008. That year was a year in my life.

I remember things, I presume. But what I remember most was those Apple EarPods.

The Problem

In Mid-2018 I fell down the stairs while trying to jump down the stairs. This broke my Apple EarPods. I love Apple EarPods. I needed a new Apple Pod of some sort.

Unfortunately, as I am homeless, the HomePod was impracticable.

Research Methodology

I financed the new model, the AirPods, from my contact in the electronics salesman radioshack division. This peer reviewed me as I purchased the AirPods.

This is what is referred to in the venture capital world as a “score”. I walk out of the store, limping. And I realize, with a chill, something quite terrible.

I realize the other problem.

The Other Problem

I do not, and have never owned a phone or computer. I do not have Bluetooth.

Paraleptic Knowledge in Stoic Metaphysics

Stoicism is an intangible concept. It does not have Bluetooth.

Symbolic Logic

Even if Stoicism had Bluetooth, it has no local storage to download music. This is because it is an intangible concept, and not an iPod.

Ethical Chooses in Action

I needed to make a decision. I could have my servant return the headphones, or I could drop them now. I could leave them on the ground, which also doesn’t have Bluetooth.

Eudaimonic Calculus

I knew if I had to call the servant, I would have to give him the headphones. This means I would have to do two things. Dropping the Apple AirPods on the ground was one thing. 

Using the arithmetic of virtue-practice, I realized one thing is less than two.

Balancing the Stoic Disciplines of Desire, Action, and Assent

My desire was to be rid of the extraneous headphones. My action would be to drop them, and I therefore assent to them being on the ground.

My Decision

I walked out into the street and threw the headphones at a passing Dodge Ram.

 

REVIEW SCORES

STOICISM: Indifferent (5/10)

APPLE AIRPODS: Needs Bluetooth (??/10)

RADIOSHACK: Still open (6/10)

DODGE RAM: The worst (0/10)

 

For more reviews of academic philosophy/consumer products, check out our review of The Philosophy of Suicide and the Chicken Baconator from Wendy’s.

 

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