ON NOT DOING ANYTHING THAT DESERVES A SNEER

1 Jan

In the following quotation from William B. Irvine’s book on Stoic philosophy A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, substitute the phrase “the art world’s approval” or “art world status” for every instance of the phrase “social status” to understand my purpose in posting this. My emphasis.

“Stoics value their freedom, and they are therefore reluctant to do anything that will give others power over them. But if we seek social status [the art world’s approval] we give other people power over us: we have to do things calculated to make them admire us, and we have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavour. Epictetus therefore advises us not to seek social status [the art world’s approval], since if we make it our goal to please others, we will no longer be free to please ourselves. We will, he says, have enslaved ourselves.

If we wish to retain our freedom, says Epictetus, we must be careful, while dealing with other people, to be indifferent to what they think of us. Furthermore, we should, in other words, be as dismissive of their approval as we are of their disapproval. Indeed, Epictetus says that when others praise us, the proper response is to laugh at them…”

“… Marcus [Aurelius] agrees with Epictetus that it is foolish for us to worry about what other people think of us and particularly foolish for us to seek the approval of people whose values we reject. Our goal should therefore be to become indifferent to other people’s opinions of us. He adds that if we can succeed in doing this, we will improve the quality of our life.

Notice that the advice that we ignore what other people think of us is consistent with the Stoic advice that we not concern ourselves with things we can’t control. I don’t have it in my power to stop other people sneering at me, so it is foolish spending my time trying to stop them. I should instead, says Marcus, spend this time on something I have complete control over, namely, not doing anything that deserves a sneer…

Any of this ringing any bells, artists?

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