Timing and Effort . . .

One must not apply oneself to resolving “difficulties” at the stage when the situation has become difficult. Rather, we are shown, one anticipates the predictable arrival of this stage and pays close attention to things while they are still easy to manage.

Neither should one desire immediately to realize any “great projects”; instead, always begin at the incipient stage of things, which, as such, constitutes a promise of development.

-Francois Jullien channeling some Daoist wisdom, above all from the Laozi (the Daodejing) in his book In Praise of Blandness: Proceeding from Chinese Thought and Aesthetics, as translated by Paula Varsano (page 43).

A recent post by Bogdan is what put me in mind of that particular passage.

Of the Stoic Fundamental Distinction (#1)

What’s within your control & what isn’t. What depends on you & what doesn’t. If you’ve much familiarity with Stoic philosophy, perhaps even superficially, you’re likely familiar with those phrases, two different ways of marking the same, ever so crucial difference.

It’s above all in Epictetus that the distinction features so prominently. The “Enchiridion,” a.k.a. “Handbook,” a.k.a. “Manual” of Epictetus opens with it, as does the much longer, nuanced, and contextualized Discourses of Epictetus. The distinction recurs frequently throughout, and Epictetus is clear that it’s the most important thing to have near at hand (so to speak), ready to call to mind at a moment’s notice.

This distinction is also emphasized, to great effect, in the very recent and practical Stoic activities of the Modern Stoicism team and Donald Robertson (also member of that team), such as the now well known Stoic Week events. It can also sometimes be used as part of a Logic-Based Consultation process, or in philosophical counseling / consultation / coaching more generally.

The two phrases I mentioned at the outset in fact translate the same Greek expression. The key part of that expression is the phrase eph’ hēmīn (ἐφ’ ἡμῖν). This is what’s usually translated as “within our control” or “depends on us.”

I thought it might be worth considering some of the different ways, including the two already mentioned, in which this distinction might be translated into English. (I’m going to use singular forms rather than plurals such as “our.”)

  • What’s within your control & what’s not within your control.
  • What’s in your power & what’s not in your power.
  • What depends on you & what doesn’t depend on you.

The above three are all quite common and standard. Each is a perfectly good translation, so far as translations go. Part of what interests me is the subtle, or maybe even not so subtle, shifts of meaning that go with each.

I would be very interested hear anyone else’s reflections on the shifts in meaning among the above three ways of phrasing it. Even if you don’t know a thing about Stoicism! I’m curious about the way those sound in English, to anyone.

  • What’s on you & what’s not on you.

This one is very colloquial. As when someone says “That’s not on me,” or “That’s on him now,” etc., referring either to control over something, responsibility for something, or both. At the moment, I’m not sure if I’ve read this one elsewhere, or if it’s just something I came up with. (I feel like others must use it sometimes though, it seems too obvious….)

  • What you have authority over & what you don’t have authority over.
  • What’s in your possession & what’s not in your possession.
  • What’s your responsibility & what’s not your responsibility.

These last three are, well . . . they’re at least much less common. At the very least, Epictetus plays with these possible senses of the words, as you’ll see if you read the Discourses with them in mind (even the first chapter of the first book). They’re a little different than the first four, but, I have to think they are part of what Epictetus means.

If you’re into Stoicism, or for that matter if you begin to learn about it, I humbly suggest that sometimes you try sort of rotating through all these different ways of expressing the Stoic fundamental distinction.

Has anyone read other ways of expressing the distinction? Does anyone have other ways that you like to think of it yourself, when using this distinction in your own life?

About That Aristotle Quote (#1)

“For happiness is at once the thing most beautiful, best, and most pleasant.”

The above quotation from Aristotle, which as of writing this is displayed on this site’s Home page, has always struck me. It’s one of those things you hear that immediately sticks in your mind, and periodically resurfaces from memory, unbidden, as you go about life.

It’s also a passage that many of us never encounter, even if we study or otherwise learn about Aristotle’s account of ethics, because it’s from his book Eudemian Ethics, which seems only rarely to be read.

In any case, the statement speaks somehow to the importance of philosophical methods, ideas, and ways of living. These are, after all, aimed at happiness, or at least they were during the ancient period, as well as today in philosophical consultation and counseling.

Examine your emotions and thoughts . . .

“Constantly test your mental impressions – each one individually, if you can: investigate the cause, identify the emotion, apply the analysis of logic.”

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.13 (trans. Hammond)

It’s helpful to remember that the emperor Marcus Aurelius, when he wrote his “Meditations,” was writing to himself as a form of (Stoic) philosophical exercise, and never intended these to published or read by others. In fact the title that comes with the manuscript is not “Meditations,” but “To Himself.”

Three Types of Reasoning: Cognitive, Emotional, Behavioral

The theory of Logic-Based Consultation (LBC) and Logic-Based Therapy (LBT) makes a distinction between emotional reasoning, behavioral reasoning, and cognitive reasoning. The decisive factor in separating these three is the conclusion.

But before going any farther, I just want to make clear that, as a client,

(1) You don’t need to know this stuff in order to meet with a philosophical consultant, and (2) You probably won’t need to learn it as part of an LBC process.

As a client, you don’t need to know this stuff in order to meet with a philosophical consultant

Even so, it might be interesting to read about, and it might help clarify how and why individual philosophic consultation works. So without further ado . . .

Cognitive Reasoning

Cognitive reasoning is what you probably think of when you think of reasoning. It’s also what we tend to focus on in the study of logic. What happens in cognitive reasoning is that, on the basis of one or more beliefs, called “premises,” you infer another belief, called the “conclusion.” And this inferring of a conclusion from one or more premises is called, somewhat unfortunately, an “argument.” When the conclusion is a belief – or something else highly cognitive such as a thought, opinion, assertion, etc. – then the reasoning is cognitive.

The phrase ‘cognitive reasoning’ is really shorthand for reasoning that’s cognitive only.

In truth, all three types are cognitive. Emotional and behavioral reasoning have cognitive components as well as emotional or behavioral components (respectively). The phrase ‘cognitive reasoning’ is really shorthand for reasoning that’s cognitive only.

Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning has been defined as “reasoning that can originate or sustain an emotion.” [1]

Its premises are cognitive. For example, the belief: “I failed that exam.” (The premises might also contain emotional or behavioral components, but they don’t need to.)

Its conclusion, however, will be both cognitive and emotional. For example, the conclusion may include (a) the belief “I am a failure,” (b) a strong negative “rating” of oneself, and (c) the psycho-physical affect of anger.

(Other posts will explore emotions and emotional reasoning in more detail.)

Behavioral Reasoning

Behavioral reasoning might be defined analogously as “reasoning that can originate or sustain a behavior.” It has also, perhaps more informatively, been defined as reasoning “that prescribes behavior and is linked to action.” [2]

As with emotional reasoning, behavioral reasoning’s premises are cognitive. (Again like emotional reasoning, the premises might also contain emotional or behavioral components, but they don’t need to.) For example, the belief that “I am going to fail this exam.”

The conclusion is both cognitive and behavioral, containing (a) a belief that prescribes some course of action, and (b) an impulse or motivation toward taking that action. For example, the behavioral prescription “I shouldn’t both to study,” along with an impulse or motivation not to study.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the prescribed action will in fact be taken.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the prescribed action will in fact be taken. Other behavioral prescriptions and impulses/motivations may override it. The same student might also believe that if she doesn’t study, she will forever worry that maybe she would have passed the exam after all, and this may lead her to study despite the prescription and impulse not to.

(Other posts will explore behavioral reasoning in more detail.)

Simple examples compared:

Emotional

“I failed that exam.” So, “I am a failure” + [negative rating of oneself] + [mental-physical experience of anger]

Behavioral

“I am going to fail this exam.” So, “I shouldn’t both to study for it” + [impulse/motivation not to study]

Cognitive only

“Socrates is a man.” So, “Socrates is mortal.” (I know, this is a silly example. But it’s a silly classic.)

By the way . . .

All the examples in this post have “hidden” or “suppressed” premises. I’ll discuss that important topic in other posts.

Works cited

[1] Elliot Cohen, Logic-Based Therapy and Everyday Emotions, p. 4.

[2] Elliot Cohen, Logic-Based Therapy and Everyday Emotions, p. 83.

The Process of Logic-Based Consultation

Logic-Based Consultation (LBC) typically requires at least two, but not more than six, meetings. It depends on the complexity of your life issue, and perhaps on other factors such as how thoroughly you wish to explore it, how many “fallacies” we discover, how interested you are in exploring new perspectives, et cetera.

We can think of the LBC process as having six steps:

In Step 1, we work on identifying the “logical structure” of the patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting that are involved in your concern. First, I need to gather information, so we have a good conversation about the larger picture and the relevant small details. Our first one or two meetings will likely be dedicated to this. After those meetings, I attempt to work out a logical analysis of the patterns. I also begin the work of Steps 2 through 6.

If I was able to learn enough from our first meeting, then at our second meeting, I can present you with my findings, to see if it seems right to you. If this account of your reasoning pattern is right, you’ll recognize it. (These are not “repressed” things, only “suppressed,” or unnoticed and unexamined.) If it’s not right, we’ll fix it. This is all still Step 1.

After that, we move to Step 2, which is to locate any logical errors in these patterns. I look for such errors in advance, between sessions, so when we meet it’s more a matter of pointing out to you where they are.

Step 3 is to “refute” these errors. This really means two things. One is just seeing that the errors are errors. The other is to really understand how and why they are errors. This part can be really interesting (in a good way).

Step 4, which is fairly simple, involves identifying a “guiding virtue” or “guiding excellence” which corresponds to each error we found and refuted in Steps 2 and 3. I usually explain what this means once we get Step 4.

In Step 5 we find some a philosophical perspective you can use to replace the error. It’s important that this perspective resonates with you. These perspectives can be ideas taken from specific philosophers, or they can be ideas we invent.

Step 6 is action-planning and taking action. This can mean different things depending on what your goals and concerns are. Maybe it’s some course of action, or change in behavior, that you want to implement in your life. Maybe it’s a philosophical exercise to integrate your new perspective into how you think and feel. It depends on your specific goals.

These steps aren’t necessarily carried out in strict sequence. Often we’ll cycle back through some of them, especially if your issue is complex, or if we need to revise something.

If you’d like to know more, have any comments or suggestions, or wish to arrange a session, please get in touch by phone (text, call) or email.