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Modern Stoic Fallacy #1 – Episode 56


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The Missing Evidence is Evidence I recently decided to start covering Modern Stoic Fallacies periodically. I have been combatting some of these fallacies for years on Facebook, in my blog, and on my podcast. However, I typically only mention them briefly and haven’t provided much analysis. All of these fallacies have the same goal: to justify removing Stoic physics from the holistic system the ancient Stoics created to make Stoicism compatible with agnosticism and atheism. Before I go any further, I will repeat what I have stated numerous times before. I support the development of a modern, agnostic version of Stoicism? However, there is a condition. A modern, agnostic version of Stoicism must not be built on a foundation of fallacies that distort, misrepresent, and discredit the traditional theory and practice as the ancient Stoics created it. I fully support Modern Stoics, like the late Lawrence Becker, who openly stated he intended to abandon Stoic physics to create a “new” synthesis of Stoicism. I do not support those who claim their new synthesis is essentially the same as that produced by the ancient Stoics or what it would have become if the Stoa remained active into modern times. Those assertions are wishful thinking at best. Some of my listeners might wonder why I am spending time refuting Modern Stoic fallacies. That is a fair question. I believe these Modern Stoic fallacies must be refuted for three reasons. First, those entirely new to Stoicism may wrongly assume these fallacies are supported by historical facts, scholarship, or logical thinking. They are not. Second, Traditional Stoics need to understand these Modern Stoic fallacies do not discredit or refute the deeply spiritual form of Stoicism they know and appreciate from reading the Stoic texts and recognized Stoic scholarship. Finally, these fallacies unintentionally opened the door to other newly minted adaptations of Stoicism that bring disgrace to the tradition of the ancient Stoa. Some of these fallacies are repeated so frequently on social media platforms they become memes. One pervasive example most anyone who has been on Stoic social media platforms has seen is, “Stoicism is not a religion.” While that statement is factually accurate, it is used to infer something false about Stoicism. I will covert that in a future episode. The first fallacy I will tackle is what I call The Missing Evidence is Evidence Fallacy. This fallacy proposes the possibility some of the ancient Stoics were agnostics. Curiously, rather than offering evidence supporting this possibility, the author speculates that the evidence might exist in Stoic texts no longer available to us. In other words, he wants to leave open the possibility that missing Stoic texts might lend credence to his hope that some of the ancient Stoics were agnostic about the providential nature of the cosmos. Again, I call this The Missing Evidence is Evidence Fallacy. This Modern Stoic fallacy is not repeated as often as others on social media. I hope that is because many people see the errant reasoning used in this fallacy and understand the unintended consequences of its use. Nevertheless, like most Modern Stoic fallacies, this one serves a specific purpose—it attempts to justify removing Stoic physics, which includes the concept of a divine and providential cosmos, from Stoicism. Here is the source of this Modern Stoic Fallacy: Only about 1% of the ancient Stoic writings survive today, at a rough estimate.  We have substantial texts from only three authors: Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.  They were all late Roman Stoics and we have only fragments from the early Greek Stoics, including the founders of the school.  (Also some important ancient secondary sources, especially in the writings of the Platonist Cicero.)  None of these Stoics appear to have been agnostics themselves but others may have been.[1] To be fair, this is not the whole argument presented by this Modern Stoic to ...

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