Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 14 — Epicureans, Cynics, and Stoics (Summary & Notes)

“Stoicism is a direct and explicit ancestor to some of our current forms of psychotherapy.”

(In case you missed it: Summary & Notes for Ep. 13:

Ep. 14 — Awakening from the Meaning Crisis — Epicureans, Cynics, and Stoics [55:45]

  • In the Hellenistic era (post-Alexander the Great) people are being moved around and newly belonging to far flung empires and distanced from your government. People around you are worshipping different gods, etc. The deep connections you had to your polis (city-state), environment, culture, and history are being lost.
  • You’re experiencing domicide. (“the destruction of home”) There’s physical domicide (destruction of your house) but also cultural domicide.
  • The Hellenistic period is known as the “age of anxiety.” The art becomes more frenetic, realistic, built around extremes.
  • “While Greek culture is spread all over the world it’s also thinned. It loses its depth.”
  • Syncretism increases. Religions start to integrate and merge in new ways.
  • Mother-goddesses also start to become more prominent (e.g. the mother goddess Isis), because when you experience the loss of home there’s nothing that means ‘home’ to you more than ‘mother.’
  • The Hellenistic philosopher Epicurus said “Call no man a philosopher who has not alleviated the suffering of others.” So he introduced a therapeutic aspect to wisdom. The philosopher is now the physician of the soul. Someone who can cure you of existential suffering.
  • The Epicureans diagnose that our main problem is fear. And there’s a distinction between fear and anxiety/eagerness. (Paul Tillich talks about this in his book The Courage To Be) Anxiety is when the threat is nebulous and you don’t know what to do, fear is when the thread is clear/direct/identifiable.
  • The Epicureans famously said: “Where I am, death is not. Where death is, I am not.” You can’t ever be afraid of your own death because by definition your nonexistence never involved (or involved) you at all.
  • The Epicureans said you should focus on the thing that gives you meaning in life: friendship. That the ability to obtain meaningful relationships is crucial.
  • The Stoics have a different diagnosis of the problem and a different prognosis for the answer. “Stoicism is a direct and explicit ancestor to some of our current forms of psychotherapy.”
  • Plato was one of Socrates’ students, but another was Antisthenes. The Socratic method involved dialogue but Antisthenes’ involved confrontation. And one of Antisthenes’ disciples was Diogenes, who did a kind of performance art version of this confrontation method of question that was meant to shock you. to insight. Trying to be as provocative as possible.
  • Diogenes famously “lived like a dog” outside of Athens, in a barrel.
  • Diogenes was a Cynic. And the Cynics believe that it’s not just out setting our hearts on death that causes us to suffer, but that we set our hearts on all sorts of things that causes us to suffer. “When we set our hearts on the wrong things those things fail us, and that’s how we suffer.”
  • Instead, focus on things like: the natural world (the patterns of nature) and moral laws.
  • “Guilt is your distress at having realized you have broken a moral principle; shame is your distress at having violated a purity code.” (Purity codes often involve not leaving parts of yourself out in the world, hence things like excrement, farting, clipped nails, spitting, and unmade beds as examples of things that violate purity codes)
  • Very often we confuse purity codes with moral codes. i.e. our disgust reaction (purity code-based) is triggered by moral judgment (which should be reason-/evidence-based). This is what Diogenes was trying to do. He did nothing immoral when he, say, masturbated in public. But other people in the marketplace were doing things that we culturally acceptable but immoral. Big difference.
  • Diogenes’ disciple was Crates and Crates had a disciple Zeno (different from the Zeno of ‘Zeno’s Paradoxes’). Zeno was deeply influenced by the Cynics but he also really liked Plato. He saw that there was value in the argumentation. So he sought to integrate the rational argumentation and reasoning of Plato with the provocative aspects of the Cynics. He would walk up and down a Stoa (a covered colonnade in Athens) teaching this new integration.
  • Zeno felt the Cynics were focusing too much on what we were focusing our hearts to than the focusing process itself.

Next up: Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 15 — Marcus Aurelius and Jesus (Summary & Notes)

List of Books in the Video:

  • Paul Tillich — The Courage to Be

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