5 Reasons Hypatia of Alexandria Should Be Better Known

Hypatia (born c. 350–370 CE; died 415 CE) was a Hellenistic Neoplatonist philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, then part of the Eastern Roman Empire. Very few things are known about Hypatia of Alexandria because none of her personal works survived. But there are at least 5 things worth knowing about her.

1. Hypatia of Alexandria was described as beautiful but this fact was rarely brought up in comparison to how intelligent she was. Hypatia was also politically savvy and was quite popular with the Christians and the pagans. She was so beloved by masses that she had political authority among the elites in Alexandria.

2. Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, who was a mathematician, and like father like daughter Hypatia became very adept in mathematics. In fact, she is one of the first female mathematicians whose life is reasonably well recorded. Philostorgius, a Christian historian, stated that Hypatia outshined her father in mathematics. While no original works of Hypatia’s have survived, it is known that she did edit existing text of Ptolemy’s Algamest.

3. Hypatia was known to construct astrolabes and hydrometers. Astrolabes were used to figure out the altitudes of astronomical bodies and were also used to navigate with regard to latitude. Hydrometers were used to measure the density of different fluids in ancient times. Hypatia also practiced astronomy but at the time astronomy wasn’t distinguished from the field of mathematics. Astronomy was just as mathematical as geometry was but no one ever distinguishes geometry from mathematics.

4. Hypatia’s death wasn’t caused solely by religion. Her death was caused by politics and religion wrapped up tight around each other. She was an adviser to Orestes who was in a political feud with the bishop of Alexandria, Cyril. Despite Hypatia’s great popularity with the Alexandrian people, Cyril made many attempts to undermine her credibility. Eventually, she lost the needed political protection and a mob of fanatical Christians murdered her gruesomely.

5. Hypatia was a Neoplatonist like her father. She believed that evil did not exist but was rather the privation of good. So when she saw people around her who behaved selfishly or foolishly, she knew that it was because they were ignorant about the universal truths, mathematics, and the Forms. Like any good Neoplatonist, she found peace through seeing the mathematical and astronomical truths of everything. Sure, she saw how souls were corrupted around her by baser things like lust for wealth or power. But probably in the hardest of times throughout her life, she believed that every soul could be rationally perfected, if not in this life, then in the next.

Can you be a conspiracy theorist and follow Stoic philosophy?

Can you be a Stoic and subscribe to some conspiracy theory? Yes, but only if your conspiracy theory makes sense and doesn’t merely try to poke holes in the official theory. There have been conspiracies in the past with few people involved like Charlie Wilson’s War. During Charlie Wilson’s War, the United States Congress hid their plan from the public to arm Afghani rebels with weapons to stop the Soviets from taking over Afghanistan. This plan was a successful Cold War strategy and it was later disclosed to the public. The United States also secretly created and funded the Manhattan Project to develop a nuclear weapon to use on Germany but when Germany surrendered, the bomb was used on Japan since they wouldn’t unconditionally surrender. When a group of Senators planned to assassinate Julius Caesar their conspiracy was almost revealed when Mark Antony went to tell Caesar but Mark Antony was ambushed. Notice that these conspiracies were known after the fact and there wasn’t a decades long official version that competed against the existence of a conspiracy theory. All of these conspiracies were quickly known and were quickly indexed under official versions of what happened. Another interesting thing about these conspiracies is that none of them were created by a person or group of people cackling with sharp teeth and a forked tongue. They were normal people who had varying personalities and different agendas. Of course, that’s not what we usually mean when we talk about conspiracy theorists, though.

The problem is with many of the conspiracy theories that you hear about on the Internet and even on the radio is that they’re largely or completely made up. I used to think conspiracy theorists were merely incorrectly filtering data until I realized that many of them just make things up out of thin air or deliberately leave things out. There are videos of Building 7 falling on the day of September 11th, 2001 in NYC but the footage doesn’t begin until after the roof begins to collapse. Why would they not show the roof collapsing part? Because they want it to look like a perfectly symmetrical controlled demolition. If they showed the whole footage, then it wouldn’t mesh with the controlled demolition narrative.

It disturbs me that there are people who believe that Hollywood celebrities and politicians are trafficking children and drinking their blood in some kind of Satanic ritual. What is problematic about the QAnon conspiracy theory is that followers of QAnon actually believe that there is a large group of people in our country that are super evil. In addition, they think that anyone who follows or supports certain celebrities and politicians might be in on the conspiracy or are sheeple. And that kind of mentality means that it’s going to be virtually impossible to have a rational dialogue with QAnon followers.

Stoicism is all about avoiding passions aka negative emotions. Passions are based on irrational judgments. The stronger the irrational judgments, the stronger the passions. If you think there is a big bad supernatural force out there bent on culling humanity or turning frogs gay (like Alex Jones claims), then you’re going to suffer. If everything you see is only something bad or leading to something bad, then you’re going to suffer. But the Stoics knew that even bad guys can be forgiven because if you looked at the whole history of their life, you’d know that they lived in circumstances and made unwise choices that created maladaptive behaviors. You never see Qanon conspiracy theorists humanizing anyone that they paint as evil. No, they’re just pure evil with one dimensional personalities. Nothing human about Hollywood celebrities.

Just to get to the gist of it, conspiracy theorists are basically judging things entirely incorrectly. First, they simplify humans as pure evil when they’re in positions of power. Conspiracy theorists also simplify politicians or celebrities as only having one goal or one agenda. Second, conspiracy theorists are irrationally judging events as part of something bigger that they can’t actually prove. The best conspiracy theorists can do is poke holes in any official version of any big event or set of events. Every theory, no matter how good, will always have some holes. If your theory is swiss cheese and you’re trying to point out that there’s a hole in someone’s cheddar cheese because of just one bite, then you might want to think a little harder about the validity of your own theory.

Stoics do not believe in evil or an evil force. Stoics believe that there is only the good and the privation of good. Stoics are similar to Platonists except that Stoics think that good is present in only a corporeally existing soul. Virtue is the only good and vice is the only bad. Bad is simply the privation of good. Being bad means lacking practical wisdom. Bad means lacking wisdom, lacking justice, lacking courage, and lacking temperance. A bad person can be super intelligent and still be a complete fool. I agree with the Stoics that people aren’t ever voluntarily evil since if anyone knew how great life would be if they lived with arete and excellence, then they’d obviously choose the virtuous life.

So if you want to follow Stoicism, then read history and try to understand how actual conspiracies were put into action. Also read about human behavior and see if people could actually pull off a fake moon landing. Human beings are complex individuals with multiple interests and different agendas. Information leaks super easily in most government and private institutions. A Stoic would know that because a Stoic must learn about human behavior and they must keep themselves from believing fanciful ideas, no matter how nice they sound or how evil they sound. It might be possible that a conspiracy theorist gets something right eventually but it won’t be because they had the correct premises for their conclusion.

Sage Advice for a Breakup

You’ve been in a romantic relationship for a few years but now you’re hurt since your loved one has announced that they no longer want to be in a relationship with you. The obvious result is feeling your heart ache, an emptiness in your soul, and your shoulders feel heavy. What once was, what you might’ve taken for granted, is now gone and you realize how much that person meant to you. So how would a Stoic Sage handle a situation like this? What kind of sage advice would they give?

Some sage advice has already been offered by Marcus Aurelius,

How much more damage anger and grief do than the things that cause them.

Meditations XI, 18 (Hays translation)

Marcus Aurelius is suggesting that if something painful happens to you, whether it’s too cold outside or someone broke your heart, it’s best not to increase the damage by grieving endlessly. Endlessly grieving over the end of a relationship isn’t going to bring it back, it’s taking you away from productive goals, and it’s causing you more harm than the initial sting of the breakup.

I would like to point out that grieving isn’t bad in itself. It is important to grieve when you lose a loved one. But there is a point where grief is helpful to moving on and when it is harmful to moving on. At some point you’re going to have to move on. A Stoic is supposed to accept the situation as it is, learn from previous mistakes, and move forward on their voyage to a life of virtue. Many of us will endure hardship, some more than others, and we have to learn to accept our past and present and then emotionally prepare for even more difficult situations that could present themselves.

The founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium lost all of his wealth in a shipwreck. But Zeno saw his shipwreck not as a loss but as an opportunity. Diogenes Laertius wrote:

[Zeno] is reported to have said, “I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered shipwreck.” A different version of the story is that he was staying at Athens when he heard his ship was wrecked and said, “It is well done of thee, Fortune, thus to drive me to philosophy.”

Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Eminent Philosophers Book VII

So the idea here is that Zeno was able to see a loss as a gain. His shipwreck allowed him to explore philosophy and eventually create the philosophy known as Stoicism. The Stoics believed that we should judge all external events as irrelevant to our eudaimonic happiness. When adverse situations like breakups or job loss rear their ugly head, it’s time to look towards the beauty of other opportunities that can emerge from their loss. Now that you’re single, you can write that poem you always wanted to write. Now that you got laid off, you can use the opportunity to find a different job that offers a different experience and new skillsets.

One more thing to note is that the Stoics believed that we’re social beings and we thrive on being social. So if you’ve experienced a breakup, be social. Hang out with an old friend you might’ve stopped hanging out with when you started your romantic relationship. Go online and see how others cope with breakups. There’s plenty of Stoic groups on Reddit and Facebook that have other fellow Stoics suffering from breakups. Make new friends.

I hope I gave some sage advice (I am no sage!) on how Stoicism can help you with something as complex as a breakup. The Stoics knew that anger and grief can only add to the pain of loss. Part of getting over loss is acceptance with what fate has handed you. Stoics like Zeno knew that if you look at the positive that results from a negative, it helps neutralize the negative experience. Also being social helps. Talk to old friends, meet new friends, and see how others moved on.

What is the meaning of life for a Stoic?

Anyone who is familiar enough with Stoicism has probably heard of the Stoic motto live in agreement with nature. In fact, the Stoics believed that virtue consisted of a life in harmony with nature. So to live in agreement with nature meant that one will live a virtuous life. So what is the Stoic idea of the meaning of life? Well, for a Stoic, the meaning of life is to live a virtuous life.

But is it that simple? Yes and no. A life of virtue needs to be explained. First of all, virtue consisted of four different virtues known as justice, temperance, practical wisdom, and fortitude. Practical wisdom meant understanding the true nature of good and bad. The Stoics believed that good and bad could only reside in our rational soul and all things external to the rational soul of a person are neither good nor bad, but indifferent, which means they make no difference to our wellbeing or eudaimonia. Our rational soul consisted of our will and judgment and so our judgment and will do make a difference to our wellbeing. Temperance is a virtue that concerns overcoming our irrational belief that externals like wealth and health are good when they are merely preferred, and make no difference to our wellbeing. Fortitude is a virtue that concerns overcoming our irrational belief that externals like poverty and sickness are bad, when in fact they are dispreferred but make no difference to our wellbeing. Finally, justice is the virtue that requires us to be kind and fair towards others.

But we’re not entirely done with unpacking what a virtuous life in agreement with nature entails. Not only did the Stoics believe that a virtuous life led to eudaimonia, or wellbeing, but they also discussed how pathos is a result of foolishness or amathia (amathia means lack of wisdom). Zeno of Citium defined pathos as “a bad feeling that is a commotion of mind which is repugnant to reason and against nature.” For example, fear or dread is a result of our false belief that some event or thing is bad or evil. Lust is desire based on the false belief that some external event is good. But only a virtuous soul can be good and only a vicious soul can be bad. So the Stoics believed that a virtuous life, which entailed eudaimonia, also entailed a life free from pathos, also known as apatheia. Apatheia is the cause of much confusion with regard to Stoicism. Apatheia =|= apathy. Apathy tends to mean a state of carelessness about anyone or anything. But the Stoics didn’t believe that. Apatheia, for the Stoics, meant a soul that isn’t disturbed or doesn’t suffer from irrational beliefs and irrational expectations. Because of the Stoics belief in justice, they were required to be concerned with their fellow human beings.

So for the Stoics, the meaning of life is living simply in harmony with nature, which entails a life of virtue, which entails a life of wellbeing (eudaimonia), which entails a life of apatheia, free from suffering. The Stoics believed in living simply in harmony with nature as the meaning of life but there is so much to unpack from that and even more than what this article has covered.

Did Friedrich Nietzsche Reject Stoicism?

I don’t believe that it’s easy to say that Nietzsche wasn’t a Stoic. Nietzsche did actually believe in the principle amor fati, something which Epictetus and other Stoics clearly did believe in. The confusion about Nietzsche outright rejecting Stoicism is this popularly referenced quote by him concerning the Stoics,

You desire to LIVE “according to Nature”? Oh, you noble Stoics, what fraud of words! Imagine to yourselves a being like Nature, boundlessly extravagant, boundlessly indifferent, without purpose or consideration, without pity or justice, at once fruitful and barren and uncertain: imagine to yourselves INDIFFERENCE as a power—how COULD you live in accordance with such indifference? To live—is not that just endeavouring to be otherwise than this Nature? Is not living valuing, preferring, being unjust, being limited, endeavouring to be different? And granted that your imperative, “living according to Nature,” means actually the same as “living according to life”—how could you do DIFFERENTLY? 

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Ch. 1, 9

Nietzsche is essentially stating that the Stoics have put themselves in a contradiction. Since the Stoics believe that living in agreement with Nature means living a life of virtue, Nietzsche is saying that their whole metaphysical foundation of virtue ethics contradicts the nature of the universe, which has no goal of benevolence or justice. Nietzsche is asserting that the Stoics are actually wanting to live differently than nature because actual nature is pitiless and without remorse. Another contradiction that Nietzsche perceives about the Stoics is that if nature is in essence a certain way, then it’s impossible to live differently than nature, and one must have to live in accord with nature no matter what one does, virtue or vice.

A few things I would like to point out are that 1) Nietzsche doesn’t just critique Stoicism, he critiques all philosophers and their metaphysics before him. So he’s not singling out Stoicism since Nietzsche goes after practically every philosopher before him throughout his essays. 2) Nietzsche isn’t deliberately destroying Stoicism, and he’s not trying to eliminate all Apollonian philosophies. Apollonian thinking means that one is a follower of Apollo, the God of the sun, who represents rationality and order. Nietzsche thinks philosophy has followed this path for far too long and he introduces the Dionysian way of thinking. Dionysius is the god of wine and drunkenness, but also represents irrationality, instinct, and creativity. Some mistake Nietzsche as completely rejecting rationality and order, but he actually believes that one should not prefer one over the other with regard to Dionysius and Apollo.

So when Nietzsche attacks Stoicism, he’s not attacking the ethics of Stoicism, he’s attacking the metaphysics of Stoicism. In fact, he attacks the Epicurean metaphysics, the Kantian metaphysics, the Platonic metaphysics, pretty much any philosophy where Nietzsche believes a philosopher has made the world in their image. And it is all based on Nietzsche’s will to power theory, which I won’t get into right now, but he thinks that all philosophers impose their will on the world, instead of actually knowing the world, which he is fairly skeptical of.

So is Nietzsche actually an anti-Stoic? No because Nietzsche did believe in virtue, he did believe in a rigidly determined world, and he believed in amor fati to give his virtues and responsibilities more weight. One might ask, “but isn’t that asserting metaphysical truths or some truth?” Nietzsche would probably respond that it’s his perspective and it’s his story and he would believe that his story needs to be told just like every philosopher before him, but the difference that sets him apart is that he’s asserting as a story, not a truth about reality.

Nietzsche could be classified as a virtue ethicist, like the Stoics. Nietzsche’s first group of virtues sound in line with Stoic and Aristotelian thinking: courage, generosity, temperance, truthfulness, honor, justice, and friendship. But what sets him apart is his second set of virtues: style, depth, taking risks, playfulness, solitude, health, strength, and egoism.

I think that Nietzsche didn’t actually outright reject Stoicism. He rejected most of the metaphysical project of Western philosophy up until his life. He thought philosophers before him made the world in their image. But he did think a Stoic perspective was the right approach. He believed that it was best to love how the universe unfolded and to deliberately will a universe that repeats exactly as it is while willing a universe where one lives the same life as they did before ad infinitum. Not only did Nietzsche embrace some of the Stoic virtues but he also embraced their welcoming of adversity. I’ll close this article with a famous Stoic-sounding line from Nietzsche:

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Do Stoics Care about Results?

I have noticed that there is this occasional confusion about whether Stoics care about results since they believe that virtue is the only good. Well, Stoics do care about consequences because if you’re intending to do good, you need to know what the results of those intentions are. There’s an old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, a Stoic would hope that their intentions aren’t foolish or lacking in practical wisdom and would prevent such amathia (foolishness). In fact, it is said that the wise person uses morally neutral things, like their wealth, health, and reputation, correctly while a fool squanders their wealth or health. So, for a Stoic, and an Aristotelian or a Platonist, a “good intention” can’t really be good if it lacks wisdom. It’s not enough to be compassionate if your compassion means you’re helping someone who is taking advantage of you or someone else. Sometimes the best way to help others is not to help them at all.

Stoics are also not deontologists. They do not believe that any rule is categorical or good in itself. Just like how caring about consequences doesn’t make you a consequentialist, caring about duties doesn’t make you a deontologist. Stoics do have commitments to help others and to be kind and fair to others. But, unlike Kantian duties, they’re not hard and fast rules and are subject to change given the circumstance that the wise person thinks appropriate.

For those not familiar with Stoic virtue, it is similar to Plato’s virtues: justice, practical wisdom, temperance, and courage. The Stoics thought just like Plato that all four virtues work interdependently. If you’re an extremely intemperate person, you might steal someone’s phone, an injustice, since you couldn’t control your impulse to desire it. It’s also foolish since you lack the practical wisdom to know that a phone isn’t good in itself but is a mere indifferent. If you lack courage, you might run away from helping someone who needs help (with the ability to help them) because you shy away from difficulties, which also means you lack practical wisdom because justice (fairness/kindness) is the true good and viewing a difficulty as bad is false.

So Stoics weren’t born yesterday. Being virtuous doesn’t mean you’re unconcerned with external situations because the virtue justice means that you should help others. Also, the wise person uses externals like their wealth properly for the sake of virtue. The wise person knows when wealth serves as a means to virtue and when it is distracting from virtue. So Stoics know that results are important but they recognize that results aren’t up to us. Stoics can intend to do the right thing and they can use all their wisdom to bring about results that comport with their kindness and fairness but they also recognize that fate can change the results in a way that the wise person didn’t intend. But Stoics are empiricists and they should learn to minimize miscalculations.

Is Stoicism a Religion?

Is Stoicism a religion? It really depends on what you mean by religion.  But if you ask a person who takes Stoicism seriously as a philosophy, they’ll probably get indignant and be like, “Stoicism is not a religion! It’s a philosophy!” And they’ll be ironically quite religiously zealous about that fact. 

Religion to many in the West is tainted by the existence of monotheistic religions that tell you that you have to believe in their deity and that belief in their deity, by itself, is actually a virtue.  So even though you could probably find a sociological definition of religion that is so wide that Stoicism could fit in it, just like the Super Bowl with all of it rituals could, it’s not practical to say that Stoicism is a religion. 

Stoicism is a philosophy and, like a religion, it does have tenets that if violated won’t put you in hell, but will prevent you from being a Stoic. Let me give you an example of Stoic beliefs that one must basically have to be a Stoic.  You must believe that virtue is the only good.  Does this mean that if you don’t believe this, then you’re a bad guy?  No, of course not.  I mean, according to Stoicism everyone is bad except for the Sage.  But if you don’t at least believe that virtue is the only good, then you can’t really call yourself a Stoic.  I mean, you can if you want to but you’re not a Stoic in the sense that Chrysippus or Zeno was a Stoic.  Since it’s America, or some other free country, you can call yourself a Stoic even if you’re wrong. No offense. 

If you have successfully made the case that Stoicism is a religion by now, good for you.  But it’s not going to be a very convincing religion when you consider the next tenet of Stoicism:  virtue is sufficient for happiness. This is by far the hardest thing to swallow and makes people want to avoid Stoicism as a belief system.  Some Stoics avoid the word happiness and simply use the word eudaimonia. But I think the word happiness, like the word love, is so gigantic in English that it encompasses the word eudaimonia, translated as the good daemon or good spirit.  That’s why sometimes you see the phrase eudaimonic happiness, which is specifying the kind of happiness.  Eudaimonic happiness is simply the kind of rational happiness a virtuous person would have, the kind of happiness one would have when they’re not disturbed (in a state of apatheia).  Eudaimonic happiness is everlasting unlike hedonic happiness, which comes and goes like the tides of the seas.  But to me, this suggests why most people have a problem with thinking of Stoicism as a religion.  The monotheistic religions promise you an afterlife and rely on rewards in the afterlife.  But Stoicism is saying something radically different than these religions by making one’s reward in the here and now and not promising an afterlife.  Stoicism is saying, counterintuitively, that if you can be a good person in the here and now, then you can be happy.  And that doesn’t mean the kind of happiness where you’re like, “Oh I’m having an orgasm right now!”  It’s the happiness that you have when you feel calm while all of your friends are losing their minds because your house is on fire.  It’s the inner calm.  It’s like you’re always in the eye of the hurricane, while those around you turbulently orbit you.

So I think Stoicism could be called a religion and there’s a pretty good case for making that claim. But I wouldn’t call it a religion because Stoicism makes no promise of an afterlife, since an afterlife can’t be guaranteed. And for that reason, I call it a philosophy.

The Cheese Compass

There are two kinds of Stoics.

But before I get into that, I’d like you to imagine a spectrum. On one side we have an Epicurean take on life, which represents the world view that “The point of life is simply to avoid discomfort and chase pleasure”. We’ll call this the “cheese” side, for short. And on the other, we will put the Stoic stance, that “Virtue is the only good”. While the Stoics had the big four of Justice, Courage, Temperance, and Wisdom, many other virtues were shuffled in under these, like benevolence, patience, honesty, and many other admirable qualities. As you could imagine any two integers, there are infinite decimal places between these two broad categories. Each situation, each moment, you could be asking yourself if you wish to live a life of purpose, or chase moments of fleeting pleasure. You could observe with this compass those moments when what you are doing is purely self-serving, and use this cheese to contrast what behavior may be more beneficial to the wider rings of affinity, the human family outside of you, and its future.

You could imagine any would-be Stoic, nay, every moment of a would-be Stoic, on the above mentioned spectrum. Let’s call it the “Cheese Spectrum”. Now let me be clear for a moment, I don’t support the use of these terms to attack, critique, judge, or even measure, to their face (or behind their back), any person alive or dead, a practicing Prokopton or not, by these terms and this spectrum. But it’s a mighty useful tool for assessing your own motives and behavior. Are you living up to your expectations of yourself? Do you have a compass for reaching higher heights of what you can do to make the fishtank you swim in better, safer, more full of love and gratitude? This Cheese Spectrum is such a compass, a scale for weighing, and an arrow for more positive action.

In the absence of good role models in your daily surroundings, this spectrum may be supplemental, even a creative writing exercise that lets you dig deeper. But chances are good it may help you spot virtuous behavior you previously weren’t noticing in your surroundings before, because they didn’t come gift wrapped with a Stoic Momento Mori coin! Those sweet and thoughtful things others around you do, often thanklessly. In this way, this spectrum may help you spot good teachers, learn better ways of handling certain tough situations, and maybe even finding greater depths of virtue than what might be possible without such a comparative study. A brief glance at the first chapter of Meditations runs through a variety of Marcus Aurelius’s favorite and most revered teachers, and he notes them, not by clunky abstract virtues that are more suitable as profound umbrella terms (yes, I mean the Four Virtues), but in nuanced ways that describe how these role models handled themselves and especially others in the tiny moments.

Just as an example, maybe you find yourself resisting communicating with someone, because you are worried the results won’t be good for you. Suddenly the Cheese compass starts blinking or beeping at you! It alerts you that your desire for self-preservation is obstructing making a better life for that person. “But what could be more virtuous?” you ask yourself. Then you realize that your avoidance is due to neglecting something you offered to do for them, annnnd forgot. In On Benefits by Seneca, he says that it’s a great benefit to anticipate other people’s needs and fulfill them before asking, but should they begin to ask, attempt to respond as if you intended to do it all along and they just caught you just as you were about to do it. Maybe you can’t make up for forgetting before you talk to them, but you decide you can start the conversation before they have a chance to ask, apologize before they have a chance to be upset, and because it’s kindness, prepare yourself to accept any discomfort they feel about it, even if directed at you, and for even more virtue (which sometimes means granting cheese to others!) plan to sweeten the pot in some way, making it even better than your initial offer, so that you can package this delight right alongside your admittance of guilt. Missed promises are a simple, but all too common hurdle in any relationship, and failing others can make them think you are careless or negligent. But when aiming yourself back towards virtue, even in disappointing others, the “right thing” to do just popped out with a little creative imagining of “what could be more virtuous?”, and only got better when you asked yourself, “but what more can I do than that?”, which is the ultimate guide to using this compass. I hope this helps you mold your less virtuous behavior into something nobler, righting yourself, or as Marcus Aurelius says, “Strait, not straightened”. Let these things usher your way to greater fulfillment.
1. Observe an action, yours or others, and mark it on this spectrum (is this just cheese?),
2. Fill in the blanks around it, always asking “But what more can I do to make it better?” and 3. let that guide your actions.

So, there are two kinds of Stoics: those who practice virtue, who make their practice daily, or even moment by moment, and those who spend more time in the cheese.

Formal and Informal Fallacies

Wikipedia summarizes the distinction between formal and informal fallacies,

A formal fallacy can be expressed neatly in a standard system of logic, such as propositional logic, while an informal fallacy originates in an error in reasoning other than an improper logical form. Arguments containing informal fallacies may be formally valid, but still fallacious.

Wikipedia contributors. (2020, October 9). Fallacy. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:07, October 14, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Fallacy&oldid=982577448

To understand formal fallacies, we must first understand examples of formal logic. Good examples of formal logic include modus ponens or modus tollens. Modus ponens and modus tollens involve conditional statements like if and then. So the if part contains the antecedent and the then part contains the consequent. So, “It is Monday” is the antecedent and “It rains” is the consequent in the following conditional, “If it is Monday, then it rains.” An example of using modus ponens would be “If it is Monday, then it rains. It is Monday. Therefore, it rains.” An example of modus tollens would be “If it is Monday, then it rains. It is not raining, therefore it’s not Monday.” Occasionally people get formal logic wrong. An example is affirming the consequent. Given, “if it’s Monday, then it rains,” it does not follow to say, “it rains, therefore it’s Monday” since it could also rain on Tuesday. Another example is denying the antecedent. Given, “if it’s Monday, then it rains,” it does not follow to say, “it’s not Monday, therefore it doesn’t rain” since it could still rain on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The bizarre thing is that a formal argument can be valid but informally fallacious. So say you’re given two choices, A or B and you can only pick one but not the other, it’s usually referred to an exclusive OR. So if you choose A, then you can’t have B. So A, therefore not B. Also, not B, therefore A. It’s totally formally valid. So if a candidate said, “You either don’t care about the future or you would vote for me for President.” That’s actually formally valid. Basically it’s setting up the conditional, if you care about the future (which most people do), then you’ll vote for candidate A for President. The only problem is is that it’s a false dilemma since you’re not actually forced into just those two choices. It’s a false dilemma because it omits other possible options. Since it’s a false dilemma, then it is informally fallacious even though it is formally valid. Sure, if you only have two options, then in terms of formal logic, you know if one is false the other must be true in A or B situation.

People are actually pretty good at formal logic. They use it all the time and the only time they screw it up is when they’re in a logic class since sometimes you have to look at some complex sentences. Most people know that if you can only have either A or B, if you choose one you can’t have the other. But most of the time people commit informal fallacies, which usually means confusion over meaning, being lazy and using circular reasoning, thinking that there’s 2 or 3 choices when there’s more. To avoid informal fallacies requires a lot of attention to detail since some terms are loaded like “communism” and some terms are more straightforward like “dentistry.”