I started this blog back in February when I thought there was going to be a spring Stoic week. It has been dormant since the week was postponed. But, at last there is a Stoic week starting next Monday.
My reason for participating is that I’ve been interested in Stoicism for many years, and use it as a tool in my own life. I’ve also been writing a novel about a Stoic philosopher.
I have rather less interest in, and respect for the “science” of Psychology than I have for Stoicism.
The last post on the Stoicism Today blog, by Donald Robertson, nicely illustrates why I find it difficult to take Psychology seriously. This is not a criticism of Mr Robertson, but the discipline he studies:
A lot of psychological research seems to consist of setting the subjects questionnaires. Only psychologists don’t seem to be very good at using language. Rubbish In Rubbish Out. Of what value are the answers if the questions are vague, ambiguous or meaningless?
Since the Exeter Stoicism project is a collaboration between philosophers and psychologists, I would have thought the philosophers could have made a valuable contribution by teaching the psychologists some rules of verbal logic, but from Mr Donaldson’s questionnaire, it would seem that this hasn’t happened.
The inaccuracies start with the title of his blog post “on a scale of one to ten“, but maybe an accurate title: “How Stoic are you on a scale of -29 to 85” just didn’t sound good to Mr Donaldson.
It’s the multiple choice answers which make me question the value of the results: “Strongly agree; Slightly agree; Agree; Neither agree nor disagree; Disagree , Slightly disagree, Strongly disagree”.
I can agree with a statement. I can disagree with it. I can have no opinion (neither agree nor disagree), or if it is a complex statement I can partially agree with it, disagree with it, or have no opinion.
But for the life of me, I cannot see how I can “slightly agree” with the statements posed, any more than I can be slightly pregnant, or slightly human, or slightly believe in God.
Take question 4, for example: “It can sometimes be a good thing to get angry when people are really rude selfish or inconsiderate”. I happen to agree with this statement (one way in which I am not Stoical). But how could I “slightly agree” with it? What would that mean? That I only agreed with it at weekends? That I only agreed with it in the afternoons, but never before breakfast?
The “How Stoical Are You” questionnaire poses an interesting conundrum. Stoics are supposed to be logical. To tick the “Strongly” or “Slightly” boxes is to accede to the illogicality of the questionnaire. So if someone ticks the”Strongly disagree” box in answer to the above question, are they more or less Stoical than someone who ticks the more logical “disagree” box?