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Coffee & Wisdom 02.62: Eupraxsophy Three Times Fast Part 3

David Breeden is speaking all week about Eupraxsophy.


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Hello, I’m David Breeden, I’m the Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a historically humanist congregation. And this is Coffee and Wisdom. This week we have been looking at eupraxsophy, which I cannot say three times fast, but ideas about how to live a secular or non-religious life, religiously, if you will. One of those ideas does come from a man by the name of Paul Kurtz. He is the one who took the idea called Secular Humanism and ran with it, writing such books as The Fullness of Life, that I have over here. Also, it mentions that he is the author of The Humanist Manifesto. Not entirely true there, but that’s the way book covers work. But he did indeed figure strongly in two of the humanist manifestos. Eupraxsophy means good practical wisdom. What he was shooting at here is, how do we live a secular life that is mindful and has an ethical and moral core to it that is statable: “A eupraxsophy is a non-religious life…” says Paul Kurtz, “…life stance or worldview emphasizing the importance of living an ethical and exuberant life, and relying on rational methods such as logic, observation and science (rather than faith, mysticism or revelation) toward that end.” So there you see the project that he is going after. What this is really referring back to is what are known as “The “Eudaimonic Schools” of the ancient Greeks and Romans.” That is, those philosophical schools that existed previous to being shut down by the Christians during the Roman Empire period when Christianity was taking over the empire. Epictetus, one of the stoic philosophers, has this to say: “We must not believe the many who say that only free people ought to be educated. But we should rather believe the philosophers who say that only the educated are free.” Epictetus there, one of the stoic philosophers from the first century of the Common Era. You see where they are going with this: Knowledge is Power, if you will, and to be eudaimonic in life, we need to educate ourselves in such a way that we can understand the questions of morality. One of the people who took this idea and ran with it, it was Pierre Hadot, (who) lived from 1922-2010. He was a classical philosopher and an historian in Paris at the College de France. He first became a Roman Catholic priest as a young man, but he quit that in disillusionment. He did not see the Roman Catholic Church being what it said it was. He began looking for truth in pre-Christian philosophy. We know historically that Christianity, one of the sayings goes, is what you get when you put Judaism together with Greek philosophy. That’s a little bit broad, but it does have a lot of validity to it. So what do we do if we look at what the Greek philosophers then going into the Roman Empire period, what were they talking about? What were they doing? Hadot’s Central Thesis is that “ancient philosophy was a bios or a way of life,(maniere de vivre), “…a way of living.” It wasn’t about the abstruse how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It was about how do we live a decent life on this planet, given the reality. One of his major books on this is called What Is Ancient Philosophy. He wrote several. There are two Hadots out there, the very scholarly one who is reading the classical texts for very specific reasons. Then there are those texts that are talking about this idea of how Greek and Roman philosophy can teach us bios, how to live. What is Ancient Philosophy, I think, is probably the most accessible of the group. If you’re particularly interested in Marcus Aurelius, The Inner Citadel is the book for you. He also has one called The Veil of Isis, which goes back to Heraclitus. A famous saying by Heraclitus that nature loves to hide. What does nature mean in Western philosophical thinking tradition? Good question. And that’s the book about that. There is a series of interviews called The Present Alone is Our Happiness. This should remind you of a lot of contemporary looks at mindfulness, Buddhism, accept, etc. The Present Alone is Our Happiness. The ancient Greek philosophers, especially the Stoics, would agree with the Buddhists, etc., that the only time we can actually affect is this moment. How do we get into the moment to act morally and ethically? is the question. Is Pierre Hadot, from that book I mentioned, What is Ancient Philosophy, he says, “All Hellenistic schools seem to define wisdom in approximately the same terms: first and foremost, as a state of perfect peace of mind.” That’s what we’re going for, a perfect peace of mind. “From this viewpoint, philosophy appears as a remedy for human worries, anguish and misery brought about, for the Cynics, by the social constraints and conventions.” He’s going to go through the four main schools. ” the cynics by the social constraints and conventions; for the Epicureans, by the quest for false pleasures; for the Stoics, by the pursuit of pleasure and egoistic self-interest; and for the Skeptics by false opinions.” OK, well, we’ll make that a little clearer here in a few moments. “Whether or not they laid claim,” he says, “…to the Socratic heritage, all Hellenistic philosophers agreed with Socrates that human beings are plunged in misery, anguish and evil because they exist in ignorance. Evil is to be found not within things, but in the value judgments which people bring to bear upon things. People can therefore be cured of their ills only if they are persuaded to change their value judgments. In this sense, all these philosophies wanted to be therapeutic.” There is the big word for Pierre Hadot, therapeutic philosophy. We don’t think of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers as going for some kind of self-help, but indeed that is the argument. That’s just a really smart self-help. “Notice that all of the major Greek philosophies remain as words in English:” the Cynics, the Epicureans, the Stoics and the Skeptics. Now, those words are no longer used as the actual practitioners of those philosophies use them, but it is interesting that they are still out there, usually in a form that is in some way contradictory to the actual philosophies, which does get a little bit confusing for people. Let’s take a little for instance. This is Marcus Aurelius, who I mentioned yesterday, a Roman emperor and stoic philosopher. He has this to say: “We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone to turn your back on someone. These are unnatural.” Notice the argument here. This is going considerably beyond the love your neighbor kind of thing, saying that we are necessarily all in this together and it is actually unnatural to, in some way, hate, work against, obstruct our fellow human beings. He has this to say as well, a nice metaphor: “What is not good for the beehive cannot be good for the bees.” Notice that this is turning upside-down the way we tend to think in American society today in which we have individual rights, we’re the one bee and then what is good for that one bee is good for the whole beehive. Rather, the ancients were turning that upside-down saying: “what is good for the beehive is good for the individual bees.” Quite a different way of thinking actually, and a much more social and communal way of thinking, I think you will agree. Habot has this to say, “From the point of view of the imminence of death,…” Death is coming. “…one thing counts and one alone: to strive always to have the essential rules of life present in one’s mind and to keep placing oneself in the fundamental disposition of the philosopher, which consists essentially in controlling one’s inner discourse, in doing only that which is a benefit to the human community and in accepting the events brought to us by the course of the Nature of All.” I do want to break that down because I think this is really essential to understanding what the ancient Greeks and Roman philosophers were about. So, “Death is inevitable,…” All right, that’s coming. “…one thing counts and one alone to strive always to have the essential rules of life present in one’s mind.” What are the essential rules of life? That’s why we all have to be philosophers from this viewpoint. “…and to keep placing oneself in the fundamental disposition of the philosopher,…” You got to be a philosopher. “…which consists essentially…” He’s going to tell you then what you’ve got to do as a philosopher, “…controlling one’s inner discourse and doing only that which is a benefit to the human community and in accepting the events brought to us by the course of the Nature of the All.” So, I’ll break that down a little more. “Controlling one’s inner discourse, Doing only that which is of benefit to the human community, Accepting the events brought to us by the course of the Nature of the All.” That is what is therapeutic about ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, especially stoicism, Hadot would argue. “Controlling one’s inner discourse?” Guess what? Yes, if you know Buddhism, that is exactly what Buddhism is first about, is controlling that monkey mind, that voice that goes on in our heads that is lying to us. As Alan Watts would say, it’s a movie that we didn’t produce that’s being played in our minds that convinced us that certain things are real, that actually are not real. So first off, controlling the inner discourse that also includes especially for Stoics, that’s bad. That’s bad. That’s bad. The kind of ideas that we project out onto things. Second, doing only that which is a benefit to the human community, very central to ancient thinking. There’s no individual in ancient thinking, much like ancient Chinese thinking. In the Western world, there is rather the individual living into the responsibilities of the community. So doing only that which is a benefit to the human community and accepting the events brought to us by the course of the nature of all. I mentioned yesterday that that was central to the Eudaimonic Schools is, first you have to decide what kind of universe you live in. You have to decide that because there are lots of options of what kind of universe we live in. Some of them are controlled by God, others have no God at all, etc. You have to decide what kind of nature it is, nature of the all. and then from that you can derive philosophical, moral and ethical ideas. That’s why Hadot claims that “ancient Greek philosophy was designed to be therapeutic.” And what that leads to is eu-dai-monia, eudaimonia, which means “human flourishing,” when you add all of that up. But it is an individual’s responsibility to study and know what the truth is, which also means spiritual practices. This is where Pierre Hadot goes to with this idea. The little illustration you’re seeing here is from a medieval Catholic way of doing, of meditating. But Hadot started tracing the ideas that he knew quite well from Roman Catholicism back into Greek pre-Christian philosophy. That’s what we will be looking at tomorrow, is what Hadot discovered as he began to look at how the Roman Catholic ideas of meditation actually traced back to this idea of a eudaimonic philosophical stance. So, more tomorrow. Tonight, 7:00 Central Time: What not to say to a burning bush. We will look at the third chapter and fourth chapter of Exodus to see what the burning Bush has to say to Moses, what Moses has to say back, and what that meant for ancient Hebrew theology. The theme for our month of April is: Becoming. That’s coming up tomorrow, by the way. We will be talking about the ideas of becoming, how we become, how we be, etc. And guess what? Yep, that goes right along with this idea of eupraxsophy. So, more tomorrow and we’ll see you tonight or tomorrow. Thank you. Bye.

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