Orr was the most stoic leader the world of sports has ever seen.

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In the National Hockey League of North America during the late 1960s and early 1970s, one of the most important players is said to have been the Boston Bruins defender, Bobby Orr. In a period replete with players who were not only technically talented, but also physically imposing, it was the mild-mannered Orr who reportedly emerged to be one of the sport’s dominant characters.

As mathematician and executive coach Boyd Falconer describes him, Orr was the epitome of a “cool leader.” Never was this better exemplified, Falconer informs, than when Orr incurred a series of debilitating injuries. During this period, despite his physical ailments, Orr continued to navigate and inspire his team by setting a courageous example to his teammates. In bringing his fellow players up to his level, Orr is remembered by Falconer as the greatest player of the period:

Orr was the greatest player of his time but possibly more importantly he was most stoic leader the world of sports has ever seen…Orr commanded respect in the most stoic way possible – he led by example (Boyd Falconer, 2017).

What is being quantified?

Falconer here opens considerations to the possibility that when evaluating the stature of a hockey player, any greatness that the player might exhibit should also take into account their leadership qualities. Whilst technical aptitude is probably integral to any estimation of a player’s greatness, seemingly for Falconer what could be more valuable, or “more important,” for a team, is a player who can lead in a stoic manner.

As we see in the above citation, a hierarchy is presumed by Falconer regarding the ways in which a player could be characterised as behaving stoically. In positing the “most stoic” way that a player might command respect, Falconer discusses “leading by example.” What is correlatively implied in this context therefore, is that there are also less stoic ways of being.

We should not automatically assume that these less stoic ways of being would necessarily engender less respect. It could be the case, for example, that “Orr commanded respect in a mildly Stoic way.” This would describe a similar set of circumstances if the important parameter in such a focus was the amount of respect that resulted, rather than the way in which that respect resulted. Having introduced this qualification, it must be noted however that given the tone of Falconer’s argument, the presumption is seemingly that there is an intimate causal relationship between “being more stoic,” and the amount of respect that eventuates from such stoicism.

Falconer’s method of singling out a particular way of being – “leading by example” – as here the “most stoic” way of being, could be said to have relatively contentious foundations. On the one hand, it can be noted that leading by example was indeed installed by generations of ancient Stoic philosophers as pivotal to the Stoic personality. The later Stoic philosopher of the ancient eras, The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, states in his Meditations that an individual should participate in “no more roundabout discussion of what makes a good man.” Rather, in fulfilling what it means to be stoic, and guiding one’s fellow citizens accordingly, the individual should simply “be one [a good man].” The earlier Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, similarly calls in Discourses (as recorded by the ancient Roman historian and philosopher, Arrian) for a recognition of the virtue that manifests from setting a good example for others via one’s actions and demeanour.

On the other hand, however, it is difficult to position the act of leading by, or setting an, example, as the most stoic way to engender respect. Falconer’s identification of this Stoic principle is to be commended. However, there are subtleties within how the Stoics arrive at this principle which cannot remain unaddressed, if one wishes, as Falconer does, to boldly characterise it as the “most stoic.” Primarily I direct our attention here to how, for the Stoics, the inclination to lead by example is itself conditioned by the Stoic mandate of distinguishing between what is, versus what is not, in one’s control.

One instance of the discussion of such a theme is found in the work of Epictetus, in particular during the first section of his Enchiridion. For Epictetus, the internal aspects of the self which are in one’s control, such as one’s decisions and feelings, are separated from the external aspects of one’s existence which are not in one’s control. Epictetus demands that these externalities, including bodily phenomena, gossip about oneself, and so on, are aspects of our lives to which one should remain indifferent. If one focuses only on what is in their control, the individual lives a life in accordance with their nature that sets a good example for others.

Given that leading by example is not the way of being on which a Stoic focuses, but rather a consequence of one living this Stoic mandate, Falconer’s positioning of leadership as the most Stoic way of being is somewhat destabilised. I am not suggesting that Falconer’s portrayal is straightforwardly discounted, indeed I find his argumentation to be relatively engaging. However, what is required from Falconer is further clarification on how stoicism occurs in the individual, particularly given that it is from this impression of stoicism that Falconer characterises Orr as the most stoic leader that world sports has seen.

The adventurous quality of this globally comparative component of Falconer’s portrayal is readily apparent. This is because the different leadership requirements comprising the various sports around the world must surely make any comparability between their respective leaders an incredibly difficult proposition. Falconer’s method in conceptualising a hierarchy of “Stoic sports leaders,” a hierarchy atop of which sits Orr, is to embed degrees of stoicism within what being a leader is perceived to entail. Orr is said to be the particular kind of leader that he is accordingly, because he is the most stoic of the leaders.

When discussing individuals as more, and therefore correlatively as less, stoic, Falconer establishes stoicism as something that individuals (leaders) possess to varying degrees or amounts. Hockey players, and sports leaders, can as a result be judged to have either more or less stoicism than their fellow players or leaders. Furthermore, the greater amount of stoicism a player or a leader is deemed to have, the more important a player or a leader they are interpreted to be.

With notions of more or less stoicism come the implications of quantification. What is being quantified by Falconer is stoicism. Stoicism is the parameter that is reported to be comparable between players and leaders, and therefore to be measurable. The concern regarding this quantification, though, is that Falconer has not clarified how he is measuring the stoicism that he compares between Orr, and other leaders of sports teams.

If stoicism is quantifiable, there must be measurable units of stoicism which comprise its quantification. These units, in being counted, aggregated, and compared, condition there being a quantity of the thing or the experience in question. Measurable units of quantified stoicism are not, however, identified by Falconer.

How, then, might we consider whether Falconer could possibly identify measurable units of stoicism?

Can stoicism be quantified?

Henri Bergson posits that the tendency to quantify things or experiences derives from social influence. This is because such quantification occurs through the measures and representations that have been installed by the institutions, perspectives, and languages, of human, collective existence. The sciences, and the social sciences, exemplify this quantifying tendency, in symbolising the world via calculable, comparable data. The integration of the sciences and the social sciences could therefore be helpful in determinations of Falconer’s possible identification of measurable units of stoicism.

What must also be taken into consideration, though, is Bergson’s complementary concern that from this tendency are said to emerge quantifiable constructions of features of the world and our experience of it that might not really be quantifiable. This speaks to the tension between (i) what is perceived to be the socially constructed quantification of a thing/experience, versus (ii) what is presumed to be the real-natural state of a thing/experience.

In terms of stoicism, we can review four positions which operate from within this tension. This will allow us to appraise how Falconer might identify the units which comprise a stoicism that he assumes is quantifiable, and the responses that he would face. Click on each position below to expand/contract its supporting argument:

1. Extreme social constructionist. The social construction of stoicism misrepresents what is real-natural about stoicism.

i. Falconer engages studies of stoicism to evidence the measurable units of stoicism.

ii. [Science study “y”] studies the physiological changes that are experienced when stoicism is reported to be experienced…or…[Social science study “z”] studies the behaviours that a society has defined as indicating stoicism.

iii. Does [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] identify measurable units of these physiological changes or behavioural patterns that comprise stoicism?

If no…

iv. Falconer does not identify measurable units of quantified stoicism.

If yes…

v. Falconer identifies measurable units of quantified stoicism.

The extreme social constructionist responds…

vi. The sciences are socially constructed institutions/perspectives.

vii. Socially constructed perspectives misrepresent what is real-natural about the world.

viii. [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] is a socially constructed perspective of stoicism.

ix. Even if measurable units of quantified stoicism are posited by [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”], such units misrepresent what is real-natural about stoicism.

x. The stoicism that Falconer quantifies misrepresents what is real-natural about stoicism.

This position is that scientific experimentation, techniques, perspectives, and theories, could have been developed in myriad ways, depending on relevant social influences. Consequently, the resulting scientific results must be dependent upon how society has shaped them. This contingently social factor in the production of scientific truths is contrasted from what are posited to be the necessarily timeless truths or realities of the world. By looking at stoicism through a contingently socially constructed lens (the sciences are interpreted to be such lenses), the extreme social constructionist’s position demands that the measurable units that might be posited scientifically regarding stoicism, never represent stoicism as it really, naturally is.

2. Exclusive social constructionist. The social construction of stoicism is all that stoicism ever is.

i. – vi. as per position 1.

The exclusive social constructionist responds…

vii. Stoicism is also a social construction.

viii. If stoicism is a social construction, and the sciences are social constructions, the scientific study of stoicism measures the only reality of stoicism.

ix. Does [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] identify measurable units of this stoicism?

If no…

x. Falconer does not identify measurable units of quantified stoicism.

If yes…

xi. Falconer identifies measurable units of quantified stoicism.

This position is that stoicism is a concept that societies have created. Societies define the criteria for what comprises stoicism accordingly. These criteria, either physiological, behavioural, or both, are the signs of stoicism. If a society conceives of stoicism by such signs, and stoicism is considered to be nothing but its social conceptualisation, then the measurement of these signs is duly interpreted to measure stoicism’s reality.

This differs from the extreme social constructionist position that is presented above in one key regard; the exclusive social constructionist avoids the supposition of a separate natural reality of stoicism that the social construction of it must explain, access, or discover. Rather, for the exclusive social constructionist, stoicism is a concept that is believed to only ever have a social reality.

This latter point presents the greatest issue with this position. Will it be adequate for Falconer (or indeed for anyone), to state that stoicism is only a contingent, social construction, with no other reality? If Falconer wishes to argue that stoicism has a reality beyond how a society has come to conceive of it, Falconer then needs to tackle the contestation in position 1 from the extreme social constructionist.

3. Real-natural social constructionist. The social construction of stoicism is a part of what is real-natural about stoicism.

i. – vi. as per position 1.

vii. What is socially constructed is a part of what is real-natural.

viii. If what is socially constructed is a part of what is real-natural, [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] is a part of what is real-natural.

ix. Does [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] identify measurable units of stoicism.

If no…

x. Falconer does not identify measurable units of quantified stoicism.

If yes…

xi. Falconer identifies measurable units of quantified stoicism.

This position is that what is real-natural expresses itself in social ways. Society, which is a part of what is real-natural, declares through its languages and customs (including its scientific studies), that this feature (stoicism) of what is real-natural is quantifiable. The social construction of stoicism in quantifiable terms is a part of what is real-natural about stoicism. This interpretation resolves the problem of a real-natural world that social perspectives only misrepresent, as found in the extreme social constructionist’s position.

If what is social is real-natural, and vice-versa, then not only is the social construction of stoicism a part of what is real-natural, but also, what is real-natural about stoicism is a social reality. If the real-natural, as society, is said to conceive of stoicism quantifiably, and to identify stoicism’s measurable units, then what is real-natural about stoicism is that it is quantified via measurable units.

Not incidentally, this position intersects most coherently with what might be referred to as the “realist” position. The realist would posit that our scientific impressions of what is real-natural do accurately represent what is real-natural. This point must be qualified with the observation that the realist might baulk at the definition of scientific production merely as a contingent, socially constructed, institution. Given that Counting sheep is occupied with Bergsonian-inspired concerns regarding the tendency to socially (mis)construct all features of the world quantifiably, this realist position, in avoiding themes of social constructionism, is not included in these considerations.

4. Incorrect real-natural social constructionist. The social construction of stoicism is a part of what is real-natural about stoicism, but is incorrect about stoicism.

i. – vi. as per position 1.

vii. What is socially constructed is a part of what is real-natural.

viii. If what is socially constructed is a part of what is real-natural, [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] is a part of what is real-natural.

ix. Does [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] identify measurable units of stoicism.

If no…

x. Falconer does not identify measurable units of quantified stoicism.

If yes…

xi. Falconer identifies measurable units of quantified stoicism.

The incorrect real-natural social constructionist responds…

v. [Science study “y”] or [Social science study “z”] is a part of what is real-natural and is incorrect that stoicism is quantifiable.

vi. Falconer does not identify measurable units of quantified stoicism.

Alternatively, the interpretation might be that what is real-natural, socially posits that stoicism is quantifiable when actually it is not. The curiosity in this position is that what is real-natural is presenting as a social form of the real-natural, which in perceiving a feature (stoicism) of what is real-natural, is incorrect about that feature (stoicism) of what is real-natural.

What is forwarded in this position is not that incorrect socially constructed quantifications of stoicism represent a mutual exclusion between (i) the social, scientific, perspective/construction of stoicism, and (ii) what is real-natural about stoicism. Instead, as per position 3, both the social construction of stoicism, and what is real-natural about stoicism, are simultaneously social and real-natural. Whilst units of measurement do not exist for this feature (stoicism) of what is real-natural, what is socially constructed is not said to be excluded from what is real-natural when conceiving of stoicism incorrectly (quantifiably).

Rather, what is being forwarded in this position is that what is real-natural comprises all possible social perspectives/constructions of this feature (stoicism) of what is real-natural. Every social perspective/construction, according to this position, comes from nowhere but from what is real-natural, after all. One of these perspectives/constructions is that which posits that stoicism is quantifiable, even when there are actually no measurable units comprising such quantification, and therefore no quantification of stoicism whatsoever.

A reason that such units of measurement do not exist, and that the quantification of stoicism is incorrect, could relate to the way in which stoicism manifests. Falconer perceives a difference in the degree or size of the stoicism that manifests. However, for this position it could be stated that stoicism emerges environmentally, structurally, and circumstantially. With each set of different circumstances comes a different kind, rather than a different magnitude, of stoicism.

If the kind of stoicism that manifests is contingent upon the environment in which it manifests, there can be no standardised units across differently manifested stoicisms. This problematises the possible quantification of, and comparison between, an individual’s manifestations of stoicism over time. Similarly it contests the possibility of comparing the stoicism between different individuals. Each instantiation of stoicism is instead qualitatively incomparable, if it is deemed to manifest circumstantially.

Rather than describing Bobby Orr as the most stoic leader in world sports, therefore, if Falconer was to be receptive to this immediately preceding position, he would need to recognise the incomparable ways in which stoicism manifests. Whilst, as we have seen above, Stoic philosophy standardises the ways in which one can be considered to be stoic, there are no indications within its texts of the measurable units of this stoicism. Stoicism is simply measurable, or apparent, according to one living a virtuous, happy life. If Orr was said to be leading others virtuously, and happily, then accordingly he could be characterised as a stoic leader. The most Orr could be expected to be, is incomparably stoic.



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