Self-Mastery

One of the most common fallacies is equivocation. When it has to do with concepts derived from cultures with a different language than English, it happens by making an argument in English based on the English meaning of a term translated from another language. One example is to claim moderation is untenable because it would mean you would need to be moderately moderate. Moderation is one translation of the Greek word sōphrosynē. In English we use the term “moderation” to mean limiting excessiveness and not merely to limit. There is no one English word that exactly translates a word from another language. Meaning is dependent on context, the way a word is used in its context. Dictionaries and lexicons list the way words are used in various contexts. A word doesn’t “mean” all of those things but is used in all of those ways. A person who practices moderation has a way of thinking about actions that maintains an even balance.

I heard someone decry “self-mastery” within the context of the Socratic tradition as meaning not to have emotion at all. What comes to mind is the Star Trek character Spock. The common criticism of Stoicism has more to do with Vulcan culture than Greek culture. It is true that early Stoics talked about the “extirpation” of the passions, while later Stoics taught the control or moderation of the passions by a rational mind. Again, we use the word apathy to mean not caring about someone or something. Being dispassionate in the Stoic sense has more to do with making a proper judgment about the value of things. In the example I heard on a podcast, the critique used the situation of crying at a mother’s funeral. There’s a difference between feeling sad expressed by crying and becoming dysfunctional with sorrow. If we want to be functioning and flourishing humans, we can’t make ourselves dependent on what is outside of our control. If life is not worth living without some particular person or condition of life, then chances are you are going to find yourself without it and no longer be able to function in life.

When we want to make a point in an argument or defend our position, it is a fallacy to misrepresent the view of the opposition and thereby to make fun of it. We might make ourselves seem authoritative and therefore believable, but something is true not because of the authority of a person or even by the number of people who believe it to be true.

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