Scout Mindset

A framework for thinking

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

🏛️ Theory

Scouts survey the territory attempting to see things accurately. They’re explorers. Soldiers want to win. They’re fighters.

Julia Galef writes about the scout vs soldier mindset in reasoning

For the soldier, arguments are weapons. They’re meant to beat the enemy into submission and defend their existing beliefs. We’re all familiar with this dynamic in rowdy political conversations. 

For the scout, arguments are tools. They can point the way – or lead one astray. A scout genuinely wants to believe the truth. They vigilantly apply curiosity and fair mindedness to question their own and others’ beliefs.

This same metaphor comes up in Seneca. Here’s he is talking about his use of Epicurus:

“The thought for today is one which I discovered in Epicurus; for I am wont to cross over even into the enemy’s camp – not as a deserter but as a scout.” (Letters, 2)

Seneca is constantly quoting Epicurus in his letters, despite the fact that the two of them come from different schools.

Seneca notes the differences between the two philosophies and is careful to distance himself from Epicureanism. But he learns from the school nevertheless.

One heuristic that’s stuck with me is to never “devalue and dismiss” – don’t completely reject an idea because it comes from an unpopular source. In academia, you see this often. Thinkers are evaluated by their prestige and people are quick to devalue and dismiss an idea if it comes from a source that lacks it. But one should avoid such a quick reaction until you’ve scouted out the camp itself. Skepticism may be justified, complete dismissal may not. 

Action

Throughout the day, take on the scout mindset. Try to see the world as it is.

A specific tactic: see if you can get valuable information from a source you may have written off or dismissed.

🎯 Action

Throughout the day, take on the scout mindset. Try to see the world as it is.

A specific tactic: see if you can get valuable information from a source you may have written off or dismissed.

🎧️ Listen to Michael Tremblay talk with Julia Galef about Stoicism and how to think better:

📰 An older piece on how to stay calm in the age of information:

🎧️ Michael and I take notes from Seneca and see what we can learn from Epicureanism about friendship, pleasure, and riches:

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