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Beyond Stoicism: Benefism.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines stoicism as indifference to pleasure or pain.

The capitalized word Stoicism refers to the philosophy of the Stoics.

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Epictetus: Stoic Philosopher

Stoicism is experiencing a resurgence in the modern world as a way to manage desires, expectations, and impulses in a culture full of temptations.

Simple self indulgence has become effortlessly accessible to many of us who live in the developed world.

In my case, If I feel any discomfort or boredom at any time I can access endless distraction through my computer, phone, tablet, or smart television screen.

Any physical craving for food can be satisfied quickly and easily at convenience stores, restaurants, drive throughs, and by delivery.

Stoicism can teach us how to manage cravings and counter self indulgence through the practice of becoming indifferent to desire.

This is simply not my way.

All my life I have been enchanted and inspired by fairy tales.  Stories of kind-hearted, noble, and beautiful young women who are assisted by the powers of Good are my favorites to this very day.

When I was a Senior in high school, and I was encouraged to think about my future and what I would like my life's work to be, I came to the conclusion that if I could create a magical dream job it would be Stand-Up Philosopher.  I thought I came up with this title myself until I discovered the work of Alan Watts, and I realized that he had been given that title long before I thought of it.

It's fine, really, because I realized many years ago that any truly good idea I have ever had was thought up by someone else first. I learned to accept my lack of originality as confirmation that my ideas were good because they were shared by people I considered to be wise.

As a philosopher, I search for questions whose answers will support the growth of goodness.  If Stoicism, which teaches indifference to pleasure and pain, leaves me cold and uninspired, what would I like to practice instead?

The answer is Benefism: the study and promotion of the most good for the most people, without force or coercion.

I believe that  only so much order and progress can be achieved by forcing people to behave. The current human condition requires laws, taxes, and consequences to manage the challenges that arise when human beings live in society with each other.  That's just the reality we have to face.  The question I am asking is this,

"What would we like instead?"

It is a very good idea to consider the ways that each of us can promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for the most people while causing the least harm.

Today I issue a call to Benefism by encouraging the development of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness as described in my favorite fairy tale, "The Philosopher's Stone," by Hans Christian Andersen.

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Illustration from Andersen's The Philosopher's Stone

We are living in interesting times, and although we may struggle with the reality of man's inhumanity to man, that doesn't mean that we can't dream of a world that combines truth, beauty, goodness, and liberty.  Let's all think about what a wonderful world would be like, and then take steps to make that dream come true.


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