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Reflections on Nature: True Freedom is Self-Mastery

'What, then, is that which makes a man free from hindrance and makes him his own master? For wealth does not do it, nor consulship, nor provincial government, nor royal power; but something else must be discovered. What then is that which, when we write, makes us free from hindrance and unimpeded? "The knowledge of the art of writing." What, then, is it in playing the lute? "The science of playing the lute." Therefore in life also it is the science of life. You have, then, heard in a general way: but examine the thing also in the several parts. Is it possible that he who desires any of the things that depend on others can be free from hindrance? "No". Is it possible for him to be unimpeded? "No." Therefore he cannot be free.'

- Discourses of Epictetus 

If we accept the doctrine that we should only worry about the things we control, since it is in the things we control that our emotions are expended the most productively, and that otherwise, we are wasting energy if we cannot influence or change the outcome, it logically follows that we should not worry about those things which are partially or wholly due to circumstance and the judgements of others. The Stoic concept of freedom is not a freedom from external restraints but a freedom from internal distress. Only the latter results in self-mastery. The Stoic freedom is self-mastery: deliberating before you act instead of being conditioned to act on impulse. The freeman uses his/her executive functions to mediate between his/her emotions and external stimuli while the slave, and this is only in an analogous sense, instinctively acts on every emotion that is provoked in him/her. 

Side Note: I don't think Epictetus meant that wealth and status should not be desired and pursued at all, only that they should not be pursued as ends in themselves, as if they will bring permeant tranquility. 

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Comment by Sophia Lucifer on January 7, 2017 at 10:33pm

The perception of Stoicism that most people have is a caricature of the philosophy. They think of the man who tries, and perhaps somehow manages, to not feel pain in the face of intense heat or cold, or sickness or wounds; who is also indifferent to pleasure. I turned to the actual men who taught and practiced the philosophy, and although I did find a certain indifference to pleasure and pain, it was not the most important thing. The most important thing was to live in accordance to Nature. Reason is valued as much as it is because the fundamental "nature of Nature" is Logos, or Reason. The Logos was evident to the ancients in the structure of the cosmos as they understood it, a cosmos that resembles the horoscope used in astrology. The Logos is evident to us as the mathematical basis for reality as understood by astrophysics. I desired to proceed beyond an intellectual understanding of the Nature of the Stoics, to a more mystical perception. Nature to the Stoic is not only Logos, but it is the World Soul or Anima Mundi. Every part of the World Soul participates in the character of the entire Soul, and in humanity it is the faculty of reason that corresponds to the Logos. Mysticism is an expression of the human longing to become one with God, or in this case the Anima Mundi. When we begin to have a mystical perception that the World Soul and I are one, then every event that occurs, and every thing that happens to me, is seen as nothing else but the action of the Soul, the Soul that I myself am, and acceptance of every action and event is a form of religious devotion. The religious devotion that is implicit in the dry theories of Stoicism ensures that the thoughts of a man like Marcus Aurelius are not dry thoughts, but are felt to be extremely human, and expressive of humanity at its best. We feel the nobility of the mind and heart of Marcus Aurelius, and the example of the finest expression of humanity draws us to want to emulate him. We are drawn to the life of reason by the image of the true man, much more than the wish to escape suffering through a philosophy.

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