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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stoicism: Placebos need not apply

Zeno (Photo by Shakko)
A recent Scientific American article illustrated the downside of distilling an obscure title such as "Personality Trait Predictors of Placebo Analgesia and Neurobiological Correlates" into a sensationalistic headline such as "Placebos Work Better on Stoics."

Although catchy, the latter version leads the reader far astray from the original meaning of Stoicism.  The chirpy tone of its opening line ("Aches and pains getting you down?") makes Stoicism itself sound like little more than a
quick fix.  What a far cry this is from the Stoic ideal of "moral and intellectual perfection" (makes even a Zeno-clone want to clench a fist)…

Speaking of Zeno (of Citium), he was the one who purportedly "founded" Stoicism back in the third century BCE.  His Stoic school of philosophy "laid great emphasis on goodness and peace of mind gained from living a life of virtue in accordance with nature."  He himself had been schooled by the famed Cynic, Crates of Thebes.  One "lesson" went like this:  Crates asked Zeno to carry a pot of lentil soup around Athens.  While this was occurring, Crates deliberately smashed the pot.  Splattered all over with lentil soup, Zeno began running off in embarrassment.  Crates then asked him:  "Why run away…  Nothing terrible has befallen you!"

Years later, Stoicism was still going strong – so strong that Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius became an avid proponent.  His literary opus (twelve books' worth), Meditations, contains this hardy quote:  If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this that disturbs thee, but thy own judgment about it.  And it is in thy power to wipe out this judgment now.

No need for sugar-coated placebos within this stalwart philosophy…

Copyright November 27, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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