On Stoical exercise

I am writing to you from my inner citadel fortified by my moral purpose. My outer citadel is located on high ground in the Upper East Side.

Irene rains grayly outside.

Yesterday I was restless, but today I am calm. This can easily be explained: I have kept up with my philosophical exercises and have felt my strength return.

The unphilosophical life is the way of torpor and lassitude; the philosophical life is the way of vitality. A philosopher must be a warrior of the soul. He does not hope for reality to become other than it is; he assents to its being; he loves what is and cannot not be; he affirms whatever reality makes its appearance. Moreover, he does not say that nothing can be done; he thinks the right thoughts and acts according to his will.

In both modes, that of affirmation and that of action, he is thoroughly active. In all things, he is wise.

I. Hope is pessimism

Let us follow hoping’s thinking through to the end.

If I hope, then I posit a desire for an object ‘out there’ and onto the future.

If I desire that which is ‘out there,’ then my desire will be frustrated or fulfilled. Sometimes it will be frustrated, sometimes fulfilled.

If it is frequently frustrated, then I am dissatisfied.

If I am dissatisfied, then I harbor regret and wish for something else.

If I wish for something else, then I become less and less active and more and more passive.

As I become more and more passive, I become more and more desperate.

But despair is another name for pessimism.

Thus does hope become its opposite.

II. Stoicism is vitalism

The Stoics do not hope; they affirm.

1. Love of fate is the strenuous exercise of assenting to what is and cannot be otherwise. Love of fate is active; the mind is at work when it says ‘yes.’ It says ‘yes’ to this-ness and ‘yes’ to existence.

2. Love of action is the strenuous exercise of willing something when confronted with the proposition that there’s nothing to be done.

To be a vitalist is to maximize one’s powers in all one thinks and in all one does.

III. Love of Fate: A Dialogue

Philosophy is a practice consisting of a set of exercises. The exercises in III and IV, cast in the form of dialogues, are meant to stage the pull of our desires and the strength of our reason. Our reason must be exercised in the right way at the right time, time and time again.

“O life, O Irene, I wish it were otherwise.”

“It is so; it cannot be otherwise.”

“If only it were…”

“It is so; it cannot be otherwise.”

“If only I had…”

“It is so; it cannot be otherwise.”

“I want things to be…”

“They are so; they cannot be otherwise.”

“Perhaps it will pass–pass by, be over soon, not damage, leave us be.”

“It is so; it cannot be otherwise.”

“Why didn’t I…”

“It is so; it cannot be otherwise.”

“Why didn’t you…”

“It is so; it cannot be otherwise.”

“My mother she…, my father he…”

“It is so; it cannot be otherwise.”

“I only wanted to…”

“It is so; it cannot be otherwise.”

“Life is so unfair.”

“It is so; it cannot be otherwise.”

“It is so; it cannot be otherwise.”

“It is so; it cannot be otherwise.”

IV. Love of Action: A Dialogue

“There is nothing to be done, nothing that can be done.”

“I can do this here and now.”

“Here I sit and wait things out.”

“I can do this here and now.”

“I am dependent on him and her, on time, on world.”

“Of the world: you are no god. Still, you can do much, more than enough: you can do this here and now.”

“There is nothing of good that can be done.”

“You can do this here and now, this that is good.”

“You advise but endless activity. You tell me to move papers about.”

“I counsel: activity that is done for the sake of higher ends. Nothing? Prepare lunch. You believe in life. Go to.”

“And what of leisure?”

“Leisure is a form of activity: to begin with, the activity of contemplation. Amid contemplation, there comes a certain passivity but a passivity of a whole other order of being. In any case, you seek only to excuse yourself. Do not give in to weakness. When you excuse, you diminish your powers. When you act, you enhance them. Only ask, ‘What can I do, here and now?'”

V. Coda

Philosophy is a practice whose principle and purpose is integration: integration of self, of world, of self and world. As such, it consists of a set of exercises suited to our moods.

Last week I ranged about on the savanna. In my mouth there was blood-memory but no gazelle-reality. I ranged restlessly, tense yet listless. What now?

When life is hard, there is the exercise of strength. When life is easy, there is the exercise of joy. Montaigne:

When I dance, I dance.

And where there is life, there also is practice.