Judy Stove, editor of Stoicism Today, throws a haymaker!
As I hope everyone can see (thank you, Judy), this Substack is not "mine", it belongs to a community of passionate Stoics. If you'd like to write on this Substack, there are some requirements, but they are few and I would invite you to reach out to me about regular contributions if you're interested.
Judy, here are my responses to you:
"...The most obvious response here is that Stoic Nature does not, as a matter of principle, make mistakes or unplanned outcomes. If it did, the cosmos would not be ordered (which is what “cosmos” means), but subject to random effects of unknown causes."
This is the heart of where my issue lies.
The cosmos has evolved towards stability. You believe there is consciousness, a "universe brain" if you will, that has guided our universe to this stable state. I do not.
I believe the cosmos (our universe) still exists only because it is stable and that stability is mere happenstance; an outcome of randomness which, doubtless, few other universes arrived at. The universe is stable because it is, and we see that as special because we were able to arise as a species only within a stable universe. So we stand here and say "wow, this seems ordered!" because it does, but only because it must seem that way in order for us to be here to think such a thing.
So Nature doesn't make mistakes, I agree. But it doesn't make decisions either because Nature isn't conscious, it is simply a stable system within which we exist. Randomness can happen within a stable system (like any homeostatic environment, things can go awry), and I think that's what human consciousness is.
Stoicism is a lens through which to see the world, it's nothing more than that. We all get to a point in our lives where we have to decide what we believe about the universe we live in, and I think Stoicism is a very excellent lens, but I think it's important that we never forget we're wearing these glasses when we start making statements about what is absolutely true... like, "the universe is conscious".
I really appreciated @Judith's extensive response to Tanner's question and look forward to his response. Well written Judith!
Cards on the table – I am secular and a Stoic, which poses a problem of incompatibility for me with some of the spiritual elements of Stoicism. I have spent the last couple of months studying Traditional Stoicism so as to possess a knowledge of the ancient antecedents of the philosophy I now follow. In this time, I have developed a particular interest in what unites Stoics with substantially different base assumptions.
What Tanner has done in questioning some of the Traditional dogma (and I applaud him for this) is make room for debate and in doing so reminds us that knowledge is not immutable. There is no doubt that Traditional Stoic beliefs are a comfortable fit for some but spirituality can not be a prerequisite to all Stoic practice lest we purposefully exclude those whose consciousness can not countenance such views.
Judy, your response talks past this point and seems to assume a single form of Stoicism. As such you are defending Traditional Stoicism with reference to Traditional Stoic assumptions which is circular and has an inevitable and self-congratulatory outcome. I don’t believe it is necessary or even particularly useful to engage in a winner takes all battle of perspectives. Tanner’s challenge is an exciting one. Stoicism as a living philosophy, needs to adapt carefully and defend any modifications. My own Stoicism, minus the spirituality, is still a rich and complex philosophy that is centered around Reason and Virtue as the only good.
Stoicism is capable of providing anyone with the capacity for Reason, with sound ethical guidance and the potential for a rewarding, sustainable, social existence. Traditional and non-Traditional Stoic practice meet at Virtue and result in better people and a better world. So perhaps, hang up the boxing gloves and accept that Stoicism is flexible and robust enough to flourish with divergent views.
Very well put together. Great read
A great reply!