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I'm a 32-year-old web developer and amateur philosophy student who believes that philosophy has practical applications in life and in business. I live in Berlin, Germany.
In every affair consider what precedes and follows, and then undertake it. Otherwise you will begin with spirit; but not having thought of the consequences, when some of them appear you will shamefully desist. You will behave like children who sometimes play like wrestlers, sometimes gladiators, sometimes blow a trumpet, and sometimes act a tragedy when they have seen and admired these shows. Thus you too will be at one time a wrestler, at another a gladiator, now a philosopher, then an orator; but with your whole soul, nothing at all.

On the Nature of The Emotional Intelligence of Women

On average, women's brains have more of the "grey matter" that, roughly speaking, neuroscientists, to the extent that they have a rough, weak and flawed understanding of the human mind, associate with a kind of inter-personal emotional intelligence. 

Anecdotally, don't we all notice that a disproportionate number of women evince high measures of emotional intelligence? Don't we notice that women appear to possess a strong ability to perceive and affect the emotions of the people around them?

A different, but related question presents itself. Is an additional reason that women possess these emotional skills because they have been sharpened in the struggle with their own feelings in turmoil inside of them?

Martha Nussbaum writes of the Stoic understanding of feelings. 

"One reason that the Hellenistic thinkers ] believe that philosophy is the art best equipped to deal with human diseases is that they believe that philosophy -- reasoning and argument -- is what is required to diagnose and to modify the passions. This is so, they argue, precisely because passions such as fear, anger, grief, and love are not blind surges of affect that push and pull us without regard to reasoning or belief. They are, in fact, closely linked to beliefs, and are modified by the modification of belief."

It is a commonplace observation that women experience the world through a more feeling-tinged lens than men do. What if these additional feelings, and the education and process of reasoning with them, is what helps cultivate a stronger emotional awareness skillset in women?

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Women, Emotions, Passions, Skills

Utilitarian thinking is a form of despair

Medical painting of birth from france

Utilitarianism. Man has yet to invent a philosophy more poisonous to joy. Utilitarianism - which encourages us to count our “utils”, does not comprehend, and is unable to grasp, the strange relationship between suffering, pain, hard work and the painful birth-act of creation and true creative work. The shouting nurses, the panting mother, the squeeling baby, the blood stains on the blue hospital sheets and the strange alien sliminess of the umbilical chord. These are the messy scraps on the floor of the workshop of real joy. Utilitarianism can never understand or calculate how the last living senator of the free Roman republic, Cato the Younger, his army and his body a wreck, dehydrated in the deserts of North Africa, could be BLAZING with life -- a life that a man surrounded by all the imaginable utilitarian contentments cannot even touch -- indeed, is totally removed from. 

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Utilitarianism, Despair, Cato the Younger

Wealth, Poverty and Freedom

Zanchidiogenes

We’ve all heard the argument that "development" and "aid" are necessary before human beings can have “capability.” It is the idea that only people who have certain resources can be "capable" or "free." 

In the context of the ancient Greek world, critics sometimes note that Aristotle and Plato's schools had many young aristocratic students (Plato's included women, Aristotle's did not). The argument is that only aristocrats could afford the schole (leisure) to practice philosophy and to live lives of capability and freedom. And (the claim goes) the same is true today.

I would like to make at least three arguments against this claim. 

Many of the "aristocrats" of yesteryear would be poor by today's standards. Think of all the crazy technologies even many poor people have access to - cell phones, internet and combustion engines (say, on little motorbikes). The ancient Greek aristocrats lacked access to even basic medical care. A doctor today in Liberia has access to cheap treatments that would change thousands of lives in, say, ancient Athens. One in every four Athenians died from plague during the Peloponnesian War. If an ancient Greek aristocrat stepped into our world, he might only have a few pairs of clothes. He would have no knowledge of even rudimentary tech skills like typing. He might own a decent number of herd animals. In other words, material and skill wise he might be comparable to a land-owning farmer today in rural India or China. Yet despite their lack of technology and radical vulnerability to the ravages of disease these ancients still lived lives of great capability, freedom and philosophy. How do we explain that?

Many people rich by world standards today act in ways that, upon close inspection, betray a lack of capability and freedom. How many people do we know, who, despite great wealth and privilege by world standards, are -- when we really cut down to it -- unhappy? How many people do we all know who are trapped and enslaved to bad/diseased conceptions of the good and the good life? Isn't it ironic that for thousands of years poverty was praised and celebrated by traditions like Christianity as the path to capability and freedom? Today, we argue, in contrast, that virtue is impossible without money. (Or at least, too unfairly difficult to expect from people). Doesn’t this show a change in what we worship?

Poor people alive in the world today living lives of great flourishing, freedom and capability. To take just one example, Tibetan Buddhist monks live lives of poverty. But who would argue that their lives are impoverished? These monks fast for days - on purpose. In many ways, aren't these monks more capable and more free than, say, a Wall Street banker chasing deals and trying to keep up with the Joneses? 

I would also add a fourth argument about the ancient Greeks. In adding this fourth argument, I would also like to suggest a replacement for the image of capability/freedom/philosophy of Aristotle's giant aristocratic research university with, instead, Diogenes the Cynic on the streets of Athens living in a barrel, or Epictetus in his slave quarters in Italy, or Cleanthes the boxer, carrying water at night up to the Athenian agora so that he can stand around philosophizing with his Stoic friends by day. All of these men were poor, or even enslaved. It is inaccurate to claim that Hellenistic ethics/capability/freedom/philosophy is or was only for the "rich". 

I will also add an anecdote from personal experience. I was working in the Philippines in 2011 and 2012. Most people in poor countries live a rural life, and the pace of rural life is slow. In fact, many Filipinos I saw, and met, lacked many things, but free time was not one of them. The schole to practice philosophy is available to them, just like it was to the ancient Greeks, or the yogis of India. 

Life in poverty poses many difficulties. People in poor countries do lack things that make it challenging to achieve capability and freedom. Education is a big one. Law and order, culture and basic stability in family life are others. If we lose sight of the fact that many poor people have lived and do live lives of virtue, freedom and capability -- and there are wealthy people who do not -- we might pick the wrong methods when we try to help other people to flourish.

Epictetus, the Stoic slave, and Jesus both brilliantly invert the meaning of two contrasts: wealth and poverty, and freedom and slavery. Epictetus, at the court of Nero with his master Epaphroditos (Nero’s secretary of petitions) had a perfect vantage point to observe the cravings affecting the most powerful people in the world -- men and women who were slaves to their ambition, their jealousies, their status at court and their cravings for luxuries (#Ancient Roman 1st-World Problems). By contrast Epictetus reflected on the freedom and richness of his own inner world. The slave Epictetus was the true master -- a master of himself -- and the Roman masters were the true slaves -- slaves to their impoverished cravings for money and status.

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Aristotle, Plato, Epictetus, Freedom, Poverty, Wealth

Fresh start for Stoic Hacks

I suppose this blog is about to take a radical turn. I am going to write about trying to live a life as a Stoic philosopher in our world today.

What does that mean really? How is that different than what this blog was about before?

Although I never really got started on this blog, I originally conceived of it as a place where I would tell other people how they should live. 

One problem with this plan (a big one) was that I was unhappy. There is of course an irony in teaching people a way of life - in this case, an ancient version of the philosophical life - that one isn't really successfully practicing.

Isn't it often the case that we get so excited about giving advice to our friends, but we don't live by it ourselves? In the words of Plato, "he who would move the world, must first move himself." And the simple truth is that I hadn't been able to move myself. I will say, though, that I'm getting better at it. And it seems to me that I've been through enough, now, where I can write about the process of becoming a philosopher - and by that I mean (and more on this in a later post) - a free man. 

Nassim Taleb, a kind of new Stoic himself, writes about a kind of bullshit test, whereby he never buys stocks that analysts tell him to buy. Rather, he asks them, "what stock are YOU buying?" Taleb suggests we apply the same logic to visiting the doctor. Instead of asking the doctor, "what should I do?," try asking your doctor, "what would YOU do if you had this illness?" There can be quite a difference in the results, both from stock analysts and doctors. We tend to give very different advice to other people than the advice that we follow ourselves.

I would like to apply that same principle and virtue to my writing here. I'm not entirely sure what that will mean, exactly. I will discover it as I go. The point is, I really, truly aspire to practice philosophy in my life. Maybe some of my observations, inventions and discoveries along the way will be in some way useful, helpful, interesting or at least amusing to you, dear reader.

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What is the true self? Reflecting on the self through the eyes of Epictetus and Spinoza

On Saturday in the blue-sky summer sunshine I was out on the great lawn of Berlin's Tempelhof air field. I was with a friend and knows much more than me about philosophy, and Stoic philosophy, and Spinoza.

We talked about the self, and Epictetus's version of the self. 

Who are we, at our core? In one sense, we are our actions and our choices. Yet when we act according to the passions, when we are moved to act by forces external to us, or even internal to us, does it still count as us?

For example, a bully at school angers me, and I later take revenge. Now the bully has made me into an object passive before his action. I have become an extension of the bully and his activity. 

Or - to use an example of an internal movement - take hunger. An urge to eat floods through my mind. I act on it. In the moment I eat and I respond to my hunger, I am no different than an animal. There is nothing wrong with this per se. It is simply an observation that such an action is basically simply nature at work. I am a piece of nature. There is no "me" there.

Epictetus, and Spinoza, would argue that who we truly are is the small piece of ourselves that can step back and reflect on these movements - these forces external and internal that move us. After we are able to step back and reflect on them, we might be capable of modifying them. Therein lies our freedom, and our true self.

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