Stoicism, Kindness, and Small Gestures

Earlier this week, one of our dogs made the day - if only for a brief moment - of a young man who seemed quite down.  Amica is friendly with strangers by temperament, particularly so when she has a ball in her mouth, so when she saw a young man in an X-man t-shirt approaching sadly from the apartment building across the street, she greeted him as soon as he was close.  Tail wagging, she went right for him, and shoved her ball into his leg.  He reached out tentatively to pet her - she's a big, muscular, energetic dog - and when I said "she's showing off her ball to you," his face brightened, he smiled, petted her briefly, and strode off visibly changed in his body language.

That brought home to me important but often overlooked aspect of Stoic moral theory.  When you read the classic authors - Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius - you'll see a good bit of advice that one ought to display attitudes of kindness, friendliness, and cheerfulness towards others.  Is this merely about being "nice," observing social conventions, getting along and fitting in?   For classical Stoicism, the answer is No.  When genuine or authentic, such attitudes, feelings, and actions actually comprise an integral part of virtue or moral goodness.

I was particularly reminded of a discussion by an earlier writer, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was not himself a member of the Stoic school, but who admired and appreciated many of their doctrines.  His book, On Duties, presents Stoic moral theory systematically and in great detail.  In his discussion of the virtues - morally good states of character a person ought to develop and act in accordance with - he sets alongside justice a disposition we can call "kindness,"  "benevolence," or "charity" (he uses the terms benevolentia and beneficientia, "willing good" and "doing good" to another).  What my dog did, without giving it a thought, and in an admittedly small way, reflects what the Stoics think we ought to do - how we ought to act - with our fellow human beings.

Philosophy Pop-Up Sessions

This month, I started holding a new type of online event - Philosophy Pop-Up sessions - for my viewers, subscribers, supporters, and any other sorts of fans of my work.  These are a bit experimental in nature, and we're still sorting out precisely how they're going to work.

What I had in mind was to go live and interact with the participants for about 30-40 minutes or so.  I thought I'd start by discussing a thinker or topic for a few minutes, and then see what questions or comments the viewers had for me.  As a perk for my Patreon supporters, I let them know at the start of the month when the Pop-Ups are coming up, and poll them about which thinkers and topics they'd like me to tackle.  Everybody else finds out that a Pop-Up is coming up through my various social media posts that very day that I run it - that's how it's a "pop-up" in the first place!

I'm using Facebook Live for one monthly session, and YouTube Live for the other monthly session.  There turns out to be a bit of a learning curve for both of those platforms - a bit more for the Facebook than the YouTube version.  Next time around, I should have both of those formats more or less down pat, and be ready to roll right out of the video gate!   I should add that, even though I do have the same broad topic for both sessions, what I specifically talk about - and of course the questions and comments I reply to - are entirely different from session to session.

Both of those formats do record the session, so that those who couldn't make them in the live versions can watch or listen to them if they like.  Here's the Facebook Live videorecording, where I started out by talking a bit about Heidegger and his attention to mood or affectivity:

And here's the YouTube Live videorecording - a session that went on quite a bit longer (a bit over an hour)!  In this one, I started out by talking about how we might apply Heidegger's conception of finitude to the very activity of reading philosophy.


Ten Videos on Heidegger's "What Is Metaphysics?"

In June, just after I created my Patreon page to crowdfund my work in public philosophy, I ran a poll, asking my viewers, subscribers, and supporters which philosophical figures they were most interested in seeing me tackle next.

Surprisingly, Martin Heidegger came out on top, with Friedrich and Immanuel Kant in the number 2 and 3 spots!  So, later on on June, after wrapping up the last of the core concept videos on Aristotle's Categories, I started preparing to shoot videos on Heidegger.  I decided to go with his short and relatively accessible essay, "What Is Metaphysics?" (which you can find here, if you'd like to have the translation I prefer).

Before I actually do the work of producing videos, I never know exactly how many of them will be required to adequately cover a given text.  Sometimes - as was the case this time - my initial guess is a bit off, and I realize that I need to create some additional ones in order to get through all of the core concepts.  The total count ended up being ten this time around.  And here they are:

Why did I pick this particular essay - actually an inaugural lecture Heidegger gave in 1929 at the University of. of Freiburg - as the first work of Heidegger's I would tackle? (It's actually not technically the first, since I'd previously created a number of hour-long lectures in the Existentialism sequence years back - but it is the first that I've done through core concept videos)  It's a good piece, in my view, for introducing some of the key ideas of Heidegger's thought, without getting too deep in the details.

This work contains a discussion of what Metaphysics is and extends to, the contrast between intellectual and affective ways of grasping being, the revelatory importance of moods, anxiety as a mood that discloses beings and the nothing, the priority of the nothing and nihilation over negation,  the scope of logic, human freedom and action, and even some discussion of previous metaphysical interpretations.  So not every major theme of Heidegger's works, by any measure, but quite a few of them. . .

Video Series - Immanuel Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

Immanuel Kant is one key thinkers I focus on in my classes.  I'm not by any means a "Kantian" - in fact I disagree with him on a number of matters - but he is someone whose works I very much appreciate, and even enjoy grappling with.  He is also someone whose thought tends to be very difficult for students approaching him for the first time - or even rereading his works! - and in my view, this difficulty stems from two main sources:  his academic terminology and style, one the one hand, and the systematic structure of his thought, on the other.

The first obstacle for students is figuring out what Kant is actually saying - and it is entirely understandable that they would encounter serious difficulties and frustrations when attempting to make sense out of what they see on the page!  Once they do understand just what all the jargon means, then there is the further difficulty involved in wrapping their minds around what Kant is proposing, arguing, criticizing, distinguishing.

If you've ever tackled Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals - or if you'd like to try your hand at one of the most important and influential works of Ethics - then I have something you might find very useful, a series of 21 short videos covering the entirety of that very work!

Originally, I created these core concept videos to assist my face-to-face and online college students get more out of their study of Kant's deontological moral theory in my classes.  Some of the early ones in this series were actually recorded in the classroom.  Then, I began producing additional ones in front of my chalkboard in our old apartment in New York. The last nine videos were shot and uploaded more recently.  So, you'll notice that the later ones have higher video and sound quality - but the content is all quite solid!

Aristotle Didn't Say That! - On The Topic Of Criticism

The internet is full of fake quotations attributed to famous authors.  For some reason, Aristotle seems to attract more of these than most others, typically posted and then sometimes commented upon by people who know fairly little about him and his thought.  Here's a gem that has been making its way around the web - particularly in leadership, self-help, and personal development contexts:

Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.

This time around it happened to be cited by the Tiny Buddha site - using the quote as a springboard for what proved in parts an interesting article - starting, of course, by parroting an erroneous attribution that just a few moments' casual research would have revealed as such. 

Where does this quote actually come from?  Why couldn't it be from Aristotle?  Why would people unthinkingly accept and repeat that attribution.  Even if it is not from Aristotle, is there some value to the saying?  Those are some interesting questions that I'll answer below - though not in quite that order.

Just Reached 100 Videos On Stoic Philosophy!

In the last two weeks, I have released five short videos discussing key ideas of Cicero's Stoic Paradoxes.  Here's where two main focuses of my work in recent years come together.  One of these involves studying, applying, and teaching about Stoic philosophy.  The other is producing popular online videos on a wide range of thinkers, texts, and topics in philosophy.

Adding in those Stoic Paradoxes videos to the many others I have created brings the total today to exactly 100!  I don't expect to rest on my laurels - I'll be producing many more! - but I do feel that reaching that number is a significant milestone that deserves some celebration.

You can find all 100 videos assembled in one massive YouTube playlist - Ancient Philosophy: The Stoic School - but for those who would like that list broken down into categories, you can find some of those below.  In addition to that - for any viewers who would like to support my ongoing video production - I'll put in a plug for my new Patreon page.

Patreon Crowdfunding - Why I Created My Page

As some readers may already know, I recently made a Patreon page to support my work creating free high-quality philosophy content online.  The resources I've created - videos, blog posts, articles, handouts, even free courses, among others - have helped tens of thousands of people all over the world understand difficult philosophical ideas, thinkers, and texts.

That work demands considerable time, energy, and thought on my part - and I've been happy to devote all three of those over the last six years, not least because I see (and in many cases, read) how much of an impact resources I've developed and offered to the public for free have had on so many people's grades, minds, and even lives.

Actually, I can't take most of the credit for this impact on learners.  What allows me to create materials explaining philosophy to others is precisely the existence of those brilliant philosophers and rich texts that I focus upon!  Provided I do my own job well, it is really Plato, or Hegel, or Epictetus who is doing the heavy lifting  (as I've discussed in another post here).

Viewers, subscribers, and social media followers have been expressing gratitude for the work that I do, and some of them have been suggesting that I create a Patreon page to allow them to support that ongoing work in tangible ways.  So that's precisely what I've done - you can check it out here, or watch my video about it here.   If you enjoy my work or find it useful - and you want to give something back - or if you recognize the value it brings to many other people - and you want to help me continue and expand it - then you should consider becoming one of my Patreon supporters!