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Category Archives: Dialectics

How do you handle SLANDER?

by December 7, 2020

In the ancient Greek world, they cared about what others thought of them… really cared. In fact, there was a term for it: Kleos.
Kleos is often translated to “renown”, or “glory”, but this interpretation misrepresents this essential and insightful term. Kleos is actually related to the word “to hear” and carries the implied meaning of “what others hear about you”.
Odysseus at the house of Alcinoos

Odysseus at the house of Alcinoos… telling his tales

The emphasis, you probably noticed, is on what people hear about you, rather than the actual act itself. This is a little strange to our modern ethical sensibilities…because your kleos -potentially- doesn’t have to have been honestly deserved. Indeed, the wily Odysseus often gets it by trickery or straight out lies!
The second issue with the concept of kleos is equally frustrating. We don’t actually have any control over what people say or hear about us, which I think we may all agree is a bit unfair… How can we be defined by what we can not control? Perhaps those ‘others’ may be talking us up, regaling folks with our fantastic tales and praising our positive attributes… or perhaps not.
What, then, can we do with our reputation?
This is something the ancients discussed at length, especially the Stoics. The Greek philosopher Epictetus confirmed that, “Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”

Epictetus – the slave stoic philosopher…

Meanwhile Marcus Aurelius laments in his diary, The Mediations, “Now they see you as a beast, a monkey. But in a week they’ll think you’re a god.”
But dealing with slander or bad gossip doesn’t just happen to philosopher-kings or philosopher-slaves… even the humble workings of Classical Wisdom isn’t immune to a bit of libel now and then.
Indeed, just the other day your editor saw a blog by one of our previous guests accusing us of having some sort of “extreme agenda” because our recent Symposium featured a diversity of ideas. Some even came from a different political background! We aren’t sure what elaborately erroneous mental obstacles they had to jump through to arrive at such an unsustained opinion… but the end result is still slander.
It’s hard to read something untrue… and it’s also hard to know how to respond. Sadly, we also know we aren’t alone, that at one point or another, we will all suffer this misfortune.
And so, with that in mind, we ask your advice and opinion, dear reader, as this week’s question:
How do you handle Slander? What can we do with bad gossip? Is there a way to improve our Kleos?
As always you can comment below or write me directly at [email protected].

What Makes a Good Friend?

by November 23, 2020

It’s that time of year again… the holiday season is upon us and we get the opportunity to really think of our friends and family. Historically it’s a time to come together, to reinforce those bonds with gifts and toasts and sometimes too much wine.
And, if we are lucky, we actually like those people and if we don’t… well, it’s a little trickier.
Of course this year, things may be quite a bit different depending on where in the world you are. Here in South America, we are getting a bit of summer break from never ending pandemic, but I imagine for many of you reading this, the situation is less optimistic.
Instead of clinking glasses, you might be clicking zoom invites. The continuous rotation of holiday parties has been contracted to a few small gatherings or replaced with familiar faces Brady Bunch boxes.
But that doesn’t mean that those relationships have to go unnoticed or un-nourished. Indeed, it is the exact opposite… It is exactly the moment to discuss what makes a good friend and how to be one.
This is something the ancients thought about… a lot.

Aristotle and Phyllis

Aristotle spent a great deal of time contemplating friendship, especially in his Nicomachean Ethics. He outlines three different types of friends, though clarifies that only one is truly good.
The first is the friendship that is useful or beneficial (to sumpheron, in the Greek). It’s not exactly good in itself, but because it leads to or produces something that is more valuable. This might be a friendship found with work mates, at the gym or at a book club.
Then there is the friend that is “good” in a pleasurable or pleasant (to hedon) manner. While Aristotle does not think that pleasure is the highest good (indeed it can be bad!), he does allow that some pleasures or being pleasant is a sort of goodness that common sense agrees with. This might be your golf partner, or drinking buddy. The kind of friend with whom you get together for coffee and have a pleasant chat… but perhaps don’t discuss Aristotle.
The last is the one we are after… the “good” that we can call intrinsically good, noble or fine (to kalon), one that is based on virtue. This is the BFF, the mate you can call at any time for any reason, who appreciates you for who you truly are. It is a friendship in the fullest sense.
Strictly speaking, however, it does mean that both parties have to be virtuous, which has its own set of complications… and perhaps it is here that we should propose our inquiry of the week. Now that we have identified the type of friend we are trying to understand, we ask:
What Makes a Good Friend? And how can you be one?
As always, you can comment below or write me directly at [email protected].

When is it time to QUIT?

by November 16, 2020

“Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.” – Ross Perot
“A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.” – Richard Nixon
“Of all the stratagems, to know when to quit is the best.” – Chinese Proverb
“Quit while you’re ahead.” – Proverb
Most well meaning advice often ends up being contradictory. Indeed, the actual suggestions can be mutually exclusive!
The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse takes the cheese. Opposites attract and yet birds of a feather flock together. Idle hands make devil’s work, but apparently there’s no rest for the wicked.
So, too, is quitting confusing.
Motivational posters in career offices and high school gyms the world over tell us we should never give up… and yet, at some point or another we all do. You might even say… that not giving up -at times- can be downright stupid.

Are you feeling motivated yet?

If Sisyphus had had a choice, for instance, he most definitely would have quit the whole rock pushing race a long time ago.
The question then is:
When is it time to Quit? How do we know when to stop?
As always, you can write me directly at [email protected] or comment below.

How Can We Train our Character?

by November 3, 2020

“I can’t imagine how anyone can say: ‘I’m weak’, and then remain so. After all, if you know it, why not fight against it, why not try to train your character?” “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank
Some books are well worth a reread… and this one is no exception. Many times throughout the last 7 months of quarantine, occupied in our interior apartment, I have thought of Anne Frank, and so I found myself delving into her world and thoughts once more.
Her presence of mind and thoughtful insights, written in a clear and elegant style, would no doubt make Marcus Aurelius proud. Her dedication to improving herself, despite her situation, is nothing less of incredible… and is something regularly espoused by the Stoics.
Not to mention the excellent practice of keeping a diary in the first place!
Meditations title page

Title page of an 1811 edition of Meditations – the diary of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, translated by R. Graves.

Indeed, many of her thoughts would fit in beautifully in Meditations or Epictetus’ Discourses.
“How noble and good everyone could be if, at the end of each day, they were to review their own behavior and weigh up the rights and wrongs.” – “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank
This was written by a 15 year old who has been inside for 2 years, only a month before she was taken away to her death…
Anne’s words are powerful, not only because of the tragic and raw perspective from which she writes, but also because they are true. We should review our own behavior every night. We should consider the rights and wrongs we have done… and we should train our character to be good.
And this brings us to today’s mailbag…
What makes for ‘Good’ Character? How can we train ourselves? What traits should we develop? And how do we discover what those are?
As always, you can write me directly at [email protected] or comment below.

Classics Rock Star

by October 23, 2020

NB**Today is the LAST DAY you can get tickets to our Inaugural Symposium, as well as all the recordings of the event…You can get the Two Day Pass for only $22.50 (that’s less than 2 movie tickets!) See below for details.
You will want to watch because we have a genuine Rock Star of the Classics World presenting this weekend… a brilliant classicist and storyteller who will be discussing Philosophers, Kings and Philosopher Kings.**
Symposium Spotlight: James S Romm
James Romm is an author, reviewer, and the James H. Ottaway Jr. Professor of Classics at Bard College in Annandale, NY.
He specializes in ancient Greek and Roman culture and civilization. His reviews and essays have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the London Review of Books, the Daily Beast, and other venues.
On top of all that, James is quite prolific. Indeed, he has so many cool books, it’s sort of hard to know where to start… You may have heard him on Classical Wisdom Speaks talk about Dying Every Day. We discussed his work on Seneca at the Court of Nero as well as his thoughts on How to Die.
But before you rush to conclusions that Dr. Romm is of the morbid sort, he’s also delved deeply into Herodotus, Greek Plays, and perhaps most famously, Alexander the Great in his popular work, Ghost on the Throne.
James’ most recent book is “How to Give”… To give and receive well may be the most human thing you can do—but it is also the closest you can come to divinity. So argues the great Roman Stoic thinker Seneca (c. 4 BCE–65 CE) in his longest and most searching moral treatise, “On Benefits” (De Beneficiis). James Romm’s splendid new translation of essential selections from this work conveys the heart of Seneca’s argument that generosity and gratitude are among the most important of all virtues.
For Seneca, the impulse to give to others lies at the very foundation of society; without it, we are helpless creatures, worse than wild beasts. But generosity did not arise randomly or by chance. Seneca sees it as part of our desire to emulate the gods, whose creation of the earth and heavens stands as the greatest gift of all. Seneca’s soaring prose captures his wonder at that gift, and expresses a profound sense of gratitude that will inspire today’s readers.
Complete with an enlightening introduction and the original Latin on facing pages, How to Give is a timeless guide to the profound significance of true generosity.

See Dr. James S. Romm Speak LIVE
This weekend James will present on Philosophers, Kings and Philosopher Kings… he will also take part in a thrilling panel discussion on the concept of Power…and I’m not certain he will agree with the other speakers. It should most definitely be interesting!
Whether you can watch LIVE on the day, or enjoy the videos whenever it’s convenient, you will have FULL access to the event.
As I mentioned, you can get the two day ticket for only $22.50! All you need to do is use this code at checkout:
Click here to get your tickets:
Hope you can join us!

Do we NEED to hear Opinions we don’t like?

by October 19, 2020

I’m going to start off today’s mailbag with a Dare.
Whatever side of the political spectrum you happen to find yourself…next time you are watching the News, I dare you to watch your opposing side’s channel for at least 5 minutes.
If you get your current events from CNN or MSNBC, for example, switch on Fox News or click on the New York Post. If you read the Washington Times, then check out the Washington Post. Apply this to whatever local outlet in whichever country you find yourself!
That doesn’t sound too tricky, I hear you say… but there’s a catch…
You need to 1: Not shout furiously at the screen.
And 2: Practice a bit of healthy Skepticism (the ancient kind) and suspend judgement.
One of the more recent Media charts by Ad fontes Media (NB: Ad Fontes is a Latin expression which means “[back] to the sources” (lit. “to the sources”)
That means you have to watch and actually take it seriously.
This is important – you need to try to understand the best version of your opponent’s argument. This is called ‘Steelmaning’ their position (as opposed to ‘strawmanning’, which is attacking the weakest version of their point. This will help strengthen your own understanding of the issue).
You might already do this! As a Classics lover you probably are already predisposed to finding the nuance in this messy political climate…
Perhaps, indeed, this missive would be best forwarded to friends and family still learning the Skeptic ropes… A bit of ancient wisdom for modern minds wouldn’t go amiss these days! And in preparation for the inevitable questions to this little dare – or should I say philosophical exercise – we come to today’s mailbag question…:
Do we NEED to hear Opinions we don’t like? What is the Importance of Differing Views? And why should we try to be objective in the first place?
As always you can comment below or write me directly at [email protected].
I’ll be particularly interested in your comments, because it’s a topic I’ve had to discuss a lot recently when explaining our upcoming Symposium (taking place THIS Saturday). You see, I’ve tried hard to ensure we have a diversity of ideas represented. Indeed, one of the speakers is from the Ayn Rand Institute, which sometimes provokes a bit of a response.
For those wanting a recap, the Russian “Atlas Shrugged” author Ayn Rand (the philosopher behind the philosophy of Objectivism), was heavily influenced by the Classics, in particular by Aristotle. Nowadays she is sometimes dismissed as a darling of the right… but I feel this does Rand an injustice.
Watching her speak you can tell her mind is working on another plane from the rest of us… Being a genius doesn’t necessarily make Ayn right (think of the many philosophies proposed over the centuries!), but it does mean that you will certainly learn something by considering her ideas because she has a completely different perspective on things. Her views might reinforce some of your opinions or contradict them, but either way it is you, the reader, who will benefit from the experience.
Take, for example, her book on Capitalism…
The foundations of capitalism are being battered by a flood of altruism, which is a major cause of the modern world’s collapse…or so says Ayn Rand, a view so radically opposed to prevailing attitudes that it constitutes a major philosophic challenge. In this series of essays, Ayn Rand presents her stand on the persecution of big business, the causes of war, the default of conservatism, the evils of altruism, and the nature of individual rights.
It is considered a challenging new look at modern society by one of the most provocative intellectuals on the American scene.
Classical Wisdom Symposium attendees will have the pleasure of hearing Aaron Smith of the Ayn Rand Institute speak on Sunday on Morality and Political Power.
Smith, who has a PhD in philosophy from John Hopkins University and specializes in ancient Greek philosophy, will discuss the need to interrogate and sometimes radically rethink our conception of morality.