'Stoicism on the German GMX Radio Station'

Stoicism on the German GMX Radio Station

For those German Stoics out there, you might find this recent feature on GMX radio interesting. It includes an interview with Jules Evans.

Here is the link to Helene’s website, which contains the interview: Helene’s Website.

'Stoic Comedy is not an Oxymoron' by Michael Connell

‘Stoic Comedy is not an Oxymoron’
How you can help create a Stoic comedy show

‘Laughter, and a lot of it, is the right response to the things which drive us to tears’ – Seneca

I’m currently trying to write a stand up comedy show about Stoic philosophy, and I’m hoping you can help.

Why do I need your help?

Is it because Stoics are emotionless robots? Is creating comedy around such cold, austere philosophy too difficult?

No, that’s not it at all.

I think some of the ancient Stoics were quite funny (perhaps without meaning to be).

When reading the discourses I sometimes smile at how tough Epictetus was on his students, and there’s a sort of black humour to some of Marcus’ Meditations.

While I can’t prove it, I’m sure many of the ancient Stoics had good senses of humour. For a start, Chrysippus died from laughing too hard.

And looking at more modern thinkers, Albert Ellis could be hilarious.

Listen to some of his lectures on Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (which is pretty much just a stripped down version of Stoicism) and you’ll hear points where he gets huge laughs from his audience. People attending his Friday night therapy sessions would sometimes describe him as a Stand Up Philosopher.

No, Stoics can definitely be funny.

Just as with a bit of study you’ll find that Stoicism isn’t about becoming emotionless, you’ll also find it’s not about becoming humourless.

Still, writing a Stoic comedy show hasn’t been easy.

I’ve only been getting into Stoicism for the last couple of years, whereas I’ve been doing stand up for over a decade.

Writing this show I’d often find myself facing what I thought was a conflict between what was Stoic and what was funny.

For example, comedy is often about getting worked up over external events – the exact opposite of what Stoicism teaches.

Think about all those comedians with routines about annoying telemarketers or how frustrating it is to open a packet of peanuts. That’s not very Stoic.

We don’t tend to laugh at what’s logical and rational, and being logical and rational is what Stoicism is all about.

In the show I want to explain the basics of Stoicism, but how could I do that if these idea were too logical to be funny? I want people to laugh at what I’m saying, not just sit there nodding in agreement.

Even worse, for a while I worried that if, thanks to practicing Stoicism, I stopped getting upset about things I’d also lose my ability to find inspiration for comedy routines.

A lot of people argue that comedy comes from comedians turning feelings of anger, sadness or frustration into comedy. Think about all those cliched “tears of a clown” stories you hear about comedians with depression.

If practicing Stoicism meant I wouldn’t experience those feelings as much, where would I get inspiration for my comedy?

After a bit of thought, I figured it out…

Stoicism says the solution to your problems lies within you, and I’ve found a lot of comedy is in there too.

Instead of criticising the outside world (e.g. ‘Airline peanuts are stupid. Opening them makes me frustrated…’), in the Stoic comedy bits I’ve written I’m criticising irrational reactions to the outside world (e.g. ‘I’m stupid. I make myself frustrated opening Airline peanuts…’).

Examining my own irrational beliefs like this has helped me write some routines that I’m really pleased with.

I think it’s also helping me become more Stoic. Looking at my irrational beliefs and making fun of them is kind of like the disputing technique used in CBT.

And the best part of mining my irrational thoughts for comedy inspiration?

I’ll never run out of material.

I don’t know if a Sage wouldn’t make a good comedian, but I’ve certainly got a lot of crazy to draw from.

The other challenge of writing Stoic comedy is that audiences aren’t very familiar with Stoic ideas.

Sometimes I’ve written a routine about how I reacted irrationally to something, and when I perform it for the first time the crowd will just stare at me because they see my reaction as normal.

For example, if I’ll say I was being crazy for getting upset about a delayed flight. The crowd will stare at me like ‘Well, of course you’d be upset when things don’t go your way…’

Usually I can fix the routine and get a laugh by just taking more time to explain why my reactions were irrational. “Would getting angry make the plane leave on time?” etc.

Sometimes though, I just can’t seem to get people to understand why some way of thinking is irrational.

For the last couple of months I’ve been trying to write a bit about how weird it is to think other people can control your emotions.

In the bit I point out that if you say telemarketers make you mad people nod and agree, but say extraterrestrials make you paranoid and SUDDENLY YOU’RE CRAZY.

To me, that’s a great concept that I should be able to get a lot of laughs out of, but so far every time I perform that routine people just stare at me.

I keep rewriting it and trying to set it up so the audience gets why thinking other people can control your emotions is crazy, but so far I’ve had no luck.

The key to unlocking the comedy in these bits is to more clearly explain the Stoic idea in the setup (external events don’t make you feel anything, etc.), so I’m constantly searching for simpler, more concise ways to express key concepts.

If you’re a member of a Stoicism Facebook group or Subreddit might have seen me posting questions like “What’s a simple way to explain the concept of Eudaimonia?”.

I’m slowly making progress.

Despite the odd failed joke, I’ve been working on this Stoic show for about six months now and have come up with some short routines around Stoic ideas.

I’ve been developing them at comedy clubs and even performed a few on a community television show I was on (you can watch them by clicking on this link, or watch below).

While I’m generally quite pleased with how most of these routines turned out, the show was produced under very tight deadlines and I think all of them could be improved.

You can think of the clips on youtube as an early draft of the show I’m working on now.

Some of those bits I’ve scrapped entirely, some I’ve developed and made longer, and then I’ve written new pieces. Currently I’m putting these pieces together and trying to mold them into a show.

At the moment the show mainly focuses on the dichotomy of control.

I talk about how everyone strives for a life of flourishing, that there are things beyond your control,

That your beliefs are in your control, that changing your beliefs will change your emotions (this is the same video as the first one at the top of the post).

And that with practice you can come to joyously embrace life no matter what it throws at you.

My hope is to eventually film the show and make it freely available on YouTube.

From there I’d love to bring the show to comedy clubs and festivals, and maybe even combine it with a workshop on Stoic basics and deliver it in schools.

I’ve been talking to a producer (same guy who directed the community TV show I did the Stoic spots on) and we’ve got a tentative plan to film the special mid year.

At this stage I don’t know if the filming will actually take place – working in the media is a great lesson in what you don’t control – but I’m fairly confident I can get it shot at a decent community TV quality level.

Once the show is filmed though, there will be no way I’ll be able to make changes.

Even shooting at a community TV studio takes a lot of time and money, and I’m only really going to get one shot at filming this thing. So before that happens…

I want your input.

I want this Stoic comedy show I’m writing to be an amusing introduction for people unfamiliar with Stoicism.

There’s no way I’ll be able to give a complete overview of Stoicism in a single comedy show, but hopefully with enough input I can make sure I hit some of the major points and avoid making any major mistakes.

I want to make this show accurate as well as funny, so let me know your thoughts.

What are some mistakes other introductions to Stoicism make that I should avoid?

Too much focus on happiness (people say this about William Irvine’s book)?

Too much history (do I really need to say the Stoics hung out on a porch)?

What are the major goofs I should watch out for?

What point(s) should definitely be included in an introduction to Stoicism?

The dichotomy of control?

The Logos?

Epictetus’ fondness for beards?

What topics, concepts and ideas can I simply not leave out?

How would you clearly and concisely explain that point?

Brevity is the soul of wit. Try to explain the concept you’re suggesting as simply, and with as few words, as possible. Give it to me “explain like I’m five” style.

Concrete, real world examples are a real help. Like in this routine (as above) where I use late trains to explain the idea that it’s our thoughts that make us upset not events.

If you have a humorous way to explain a key Stoic concept I’d love to hear it, but don’t worry about being funny (that’s my job).

Just let me know what I should avoid, what I should include and a simple explanation of what you’re suggesting I put in the show.

If you have any thoughts I’d love to hear them. You can contact me via Twitter, Facebook, comment under my youtube clips, or just shoot me an email at Michael@michaelconnell.com.au.

Michael Cornell began getting laughs at the age of three in his back yard with the Hills Hoist acting as stage and curtain, and he hasn’t stopped performing since.

At the age of thirteen Michael added juggling to his already extensive talents and spent several years busking and touring with various small circuses. Then, in January 2000, Michael entered the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Class Clowns Competition and launched his comedy career.

Winning competitions such as the Class Clowns Competition (a search to find Australia’s funniest high school student), and the TREV Campus Comedy Competition (a similar search for the funniest university student), helped Michael become an established performer on Melbourne’s comedy scene.

Over the years Michael has performed everywhere from the set of Rove [live] and Her Majesty’s Theatre, to the main stage of the Melbourne Town Hall and the Telstra Dome during half time. Michael has produced hit shows at festivals such as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the New Zealand International Comedy Festival, The Melbourne Fringe Festival, and more. He is regularly in demand as a corporate entertainer, a speaker at high schools and universities, and as a performer at comedy venues across Australia.

Michael’s sensitive, intelligent and hilarious routines are beautifully developed to make everyone laugh, and are clean enough not to offend anyone.

'The Porch and the Cross: Stoicism and Christianity' by Kevin Vost

The Porch and the Cross

by Kevin Vost

From Atheism to Catholicism

     There is quite an interesting history of the intersecting courses of Stoic philosophy and Christian theology. Seneca’s own elder brother, the governor Gallio, is quoted within the pages of the New Testament itself (Acts 18: 14-15), where he refuses to hear a case against St. Paul. There was once even a book claiming to have correspondence between Seneca him­self and St. Paul, but it was found to be unauthentic. Epicte­tus made only a few passing comments about Christians in his writings (recall that he died long before the Bible had been assembled), but lessons from his Enchiridion were incorporated into some ancient monastic rules. Indeed, some medieval Christian writers would even “Christianize” the Enchiridion by substituting, for example, the name of St. Paul when Socrates was mentioned! Although Marcus Aurelius’s reign was marked by some persecution of Christians, it is un­likely that he himself instigated it — but his failure to stop it may point to the limitations of the Stoic philosophy, or at least, to Marcus’s limited knowledge of the Christian faith.

     Some early Church Fathers, such as St. Justin Martyr, Origen, praised the lives and lessons of Musonius Rufus and Epictetus. Tertullian described Seneca as “often ours” in his sentiments. In the Middle Ages, Scholastic schoolmen were also well aware of Seneca, who wrote in Latin. Blessed Humbert of Romans cited him three times in his Treatise on the Formation of Preachers, a tome designed to guide the new Dominican Order in the most effective means to spread the gospel of Christ, and we will see (in a later chapter) that St. Thomas Aquinas would cite him in many places within the Summa Theologica.

    The Stoics also had a very influential role regarding my own personal journey back to Christianity. Since my early 20s, I had been a big fan of Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy because I knew it worked. I also respected the Stoics because I knew they were its main precursors. There was no doubt in my mind that these three ancient sages (Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius – I had yet to encounter Musonius Rufus) knew far more of value about the human mind, emotion, and behavior than any gaggle of modern behaviorist or psychoanalytic psycholo­gists.

   Oddly enough, though, while Ellis was an avowed athe­ist, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus were, in their own ways, believers, one and all. (I figured at the time that nobody’s perfect.) Though we tend to think of the ancient Greeks and Romans in terms of their classic polytheistic pantheon of Olympian gods, some of the Stoics were much more likely to speak of God with a Capital “G.” They did not know Christ, but their reason led some to a belief in one God, which they sometimes referred to as Zeus, or Nature, or Providence, as well. Epictetus, in particular, though, spoke of God in personal terms. Recall this “lame old man’s” hymns to God at the start of this chapter (a citation from Epictetus’s Discourses 1.16). And here’s an anonymous epigram found in the writings of St. John Chryso­stom: “Slave, poor as Irus, halting as I trod, I, Epictetus, was the friend of God.”  It was when I had obtained that leisure which Seneca advised that I found myself freer to focus on my own moral purpose à la Epictetus — and before long, to say of all things and events around me, like Marcus Aurelius, “This has come from God.”

     Actually, though, I profited greatly from two groups of ancient Greek wise men bearing gifts: not only the Stoics, but also the Aristotelians. In the next chapter, we’ll turn to a modern Aristotelian, a contemporary of Albert Ellis, who had actually once debated Bertrand Russell. It was in revisiting his thoughts in my early 40s that I was soon drawn back to Aristo­tle, over to St. Thomas Aquinas, and all the way up to Christ, the same path that this Aristotelian had taken in his 90-plus years of life.

TRUTH BOX #7

Divine Ideas

God is one and the same with Reason, Fate, and Zeus.

     The Stoics were no atheists. Though there were, of course, no new Darwinian atheists at the time of their philosophi­cal heyday, there were indeed materialistic atheists of other schools, such as the Atomists, most notably Democritus and Leucippus, who saw all of reality as composed of at­oms moving about according to chance, leaving no room for the soul or for spiritual beings. Other philosophers, like the Epicureans, most notably Epicurus himself and Lucretius, drew from the Atomists; and, while still believing in gods, paved the way for further atheism by arguing that the gods were uninterested and unable to intervene in our affairs. They also denied an afterlife.

     The Stoics did not deny the spiritual realm, and some saw the reality of a single God. Aided by reason but lack­ing in divine revelation, they had varied conceptions of God that captured pieces and parts of the truths of His nature.

     God was considered a spiritual and active principle that gives shape and meaning to a primary passive principle of undifferentiated matter. The ancient Greeks, you see, had a conception of an eternal universe (“existence exists”) and perceived God as a First Cause in terms of changing mat­ter, rather than bringing the universe into existence ex nihilo — that is, out of nothing. The Stoics had rather vague and sometimes conflicting understandings of God as the shaper of the cosmos or universe (which was believed to periodically perish in cataclysmic fire and then begin anew); as the “soul” of the universe; or as the universe itself. Some held, therefore, a rather panthe­istic view that everything is God, or a part of God. Some saw Him as synonymous with Nature or with Fate. Others at times, especially Epictetus, did see God as a personal, father-like figure interested in our existence.

    Regardless of their rather varying and rather murky concepts of God, the Stoics acknowledged him based on reason alone. They also deduced from his existence our need to live lives of virtue and self-control, and they developed very effective tech­niques to help us achieve this. There is still much that good Christians and all people can learn from those teachers on the porch.

Kevin Vost, Psy.D. taught psychology at the University of Illinois at Springfield and at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee. An author of books on memory and on Thomistic philosophy, Dr. Vost has studied the Stoics since the 1980s. These excerpts are adapted from parts of chapter 7 “Stoic Strivings: The Slave, the Lawyer, the Emperor, and God” in his memoir From Atheism to Catholicism:How Scientists and Philosophers led me to Truth (Our Sunday Visitor, 2010) which is available here. He is now completing The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living (Angelico Press, 2015) which will highlight the lives, lessons, and legacies of Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius.

'On Stoic and Danish Happiness' by Tue Søvsø

Social Oikeiosis
Why Denmark Might Have Got its Policies Right
From A Stoic Point Of View

by Tue Søvsø

Hipp Hipp Hurra!

I grew up in the western part of Denmark in a village a couple of miles outside a little town called Ringkøbing. Statistically this should make me one of the happiest people on this planet. Not only has Denmark on several occasions been proclaimed the happiest country in the world – most recently by the 2013 World Happiness Report published by the UN – but in 2007 Ringkøbing was even proclaimed the happiest city in Europe.

            Looking back at my childhood I must admit that I did not really notice this extraordinary happiness, which allegedly surrounded me. And maybe that is not all too surprising. After all these happiness surveys only tell a tiny bit of the story about human happiness. Nevertheless all this talk about my happy home country has got me thinking. Denmark is in many ways a quite pleasant country to live in – if you do not mind all the rain and wind and the long winter nights – so it might well be that Danes really do feel a significantly higher satisfaction with their lives than e.g. their German neighbours. But what could be the reason for this and what kind of happiness would this amount to? Being already interested in Stoic ethics this is where I turned for answers and Stoic views on human nature did prove themselves to be an inspiring model for thinking about human happiness.

            With its strong intellectualism and focus on an ideal and presumably unattainable form of human happiness Stoic ethics might not seem like the most suitable model for analysing a modern society of normal human beings. But at the core of these doctrines lies a conception of human nature which is far closer to the everyday reality of actual societies. The Stoics, like Aristotle before them, thus basically thought of human beings as rational animals, which therefore, just like other animals, have an instinct for self-preservation and care for their offspring. Their share in reason, however, sets them apart from other animals and lets them develop a thirst for knowledge as well as a far more sophisticated sociability than any other animal species. According to the Stoics, and all their contemporary philosophers, the key to happiness was to live in accordance with this nature. This means that whereas animals reach their goal in life just by preserving the existence of themselves and their offspring, humans have to go further than that.

            Since reason is the distinctive trait of human nature the full realization of this rational potential is what ultimately leads to happiness. Attaining a perfect understanding of all things will thus necessarily lead to a life in accordance with this knowledge, i.e. to a life in accordance with nature – a life that to the outside is characterized by perfect conduct in all its aspects. Compared to this complete revision of our intellectual and moral life nothing else has real value. Perfect knowledge being all but unattainable this doctrine is what informs Stoicism with its strong idealistic strand.

            Despite this very clear rejection of everything besides perfect knowledge and virtue as being without value, the Stoics also had a good deal to say about the road towards this ultimate goal. A central part of this moral development is the proces of oikeiōsis,which basically describes the recognition of certain things as belonging to oneself and therefore desirable. It is the social aspects of this process of recognition which is interesting to us in this context. Reason thus lets human beings realize that they are not only connected to their own offspring but also to a number of other humans through a range of different relations and ultimately this sense of relatedness extends to the entire human race due to the fact that we all have a share in reason. Human beings therefore have a far more generalized need to care for others than animals do and this is the reason why we live in societies. Satisfying your social instinct on an incomplete stage of insight not embracing the entire human race will of course not result in happiness- just like the gradual expansion of our knowledge will not until it reaches its completion. But advancing on the road towards virtue will lead to some sort of satisfaction which is at least preferable to just giving up and quitting the whole pursuit of an actual completion of our nature.

            It is this intermediary kind of happiness, or perhaps more correctly, satisfaction that has in particular attracted me about Stoicism. First of all I really like the fact that Stoicism thinks of happiness as practically unattainable but nevertheless as the only sensible thing for a human being to pursue. This somehow fits very well with my experience of happiness and moral conduct. Secondly, and more relevant to the present topic, I feel convinced that the Stoics, and Aristotle before them, were really on to something when they described human beings as “social animals with a share in reason.” Contrary to Aristotle many Stoics took a keen interest in observing the development of this nature in children and as a father of two I can recognize quite a lot of what they are saying. Just like most animals we start out with a need for food and care closely tied to our mother but as time goes by and our horizon expands other people start playing a role in our lives and new things become pleasant and important to us as we get to know more. As adults we end up having multiple and complex needs but they canstill reasonably be said to reflect the same three aspects of our nature: corporeal, intellectual and social.

            Let us now return to the question I posed at the outset of this discussion, namely whether there is an explanation why Denmark, looking at the society from a Stoic point of view, should be more successful than other countries in promoting the happiness of its citizens. Adopting the Stoic conception of human nature Denmark – and its Scandinavian neighbours with their quite similar welfare state structures – does in fact look quite suitable in meeting at least two of the basic needs of its citizens. Organizing society around the systematic redistribution of material resources the Scandinavian welfare states thus have two major advantages seen from the perspective of Stoic intermediaries. Firstly, it guarantees a high degree of security both in terms of material resources, health and security from crime, that is to say, it effectively helps the citizens to meet their basic corporeal needs. Secondly, the welfare state offers a systematic and quite efficient way of showing the care for others that our social nature impels us to show.

            This is not to say that the welfare state can replace the personal act of caring for others but the scale of human society simply makes it impossible to care for everyone we meet. This was true of ancient society and it is even more true of modern society with its increased mobility and modern media constantly reminding us of the desperate needs of so many of our fellow human beings. No individual can meet the needs of all his fellow human beings but this is nevertheless what our nature instinctively urges us to do. By creating a system of general redistribution within society where each citizen by paying his/her taxes is taking care not only of his/her own needs but also those of others, the welfare state offers a relief of the frustration created by the gross contrast between what we can do and what we would like to do. It is in this sense that I am claiming that the Scandinavian welfare state might be contributing to the realization of the social nature of its citizens and thus to their happiness in the intermediary Stoic sense.

            This is all very far away from Ancient Stoicism and probably neither Zeno nor Seneca would recognize their wisdom-based happiness anywhere in all of this. The study of Ancient Stocism, however, is one thing, Stoically inspired reflection on human happiness another. What I am suggesting is that Stoic ideas about human nature offer a fascinating perspective on how we can best organize our societies in order to secure the best conditions for human happiness. On this general, political level wisdom only plays a very modest role. The pursuit of wisdom, and thereby the pursuit of individual happiness, remains a personal concern for each and every one of us. All that society can do is to offer the best possible conditions for this pursuit. Whether Danish society is particularly successful in providing these conditions is hard to say, but to me the alleged Danish happiness makes sense if we look at it from a Stoic perspective. And likewise: Stoicism definitely makes sense from the perspective of a modern day Dane.

Tue Søvsø, born 1986, grew up in a village near Ringkøbing in the western part of Denmark. He studies Latin and Greek at the University of Copenhagen and is currently writing his Master’s thesis on human sociability and philosophical argument in Cicero De finibus.

'A Free Book: Stoic Notes by Rymke Wiersma'

A Free Book: Stoic Notes

Stoic Notes Cover

by Rymke Wiersma

Stoicism is usually associated with enduring the world as it is rather than changing it. Nevertheless, a stoic attitude to life is primarily an active attitude, with the aim of ‘living well’. The Stoics were far ahead of their time with their ideas about equality between people, cosmopolitanism and the denial of the existence of conflicts of interest. These and other ideas from Stoic ethics are both challenging and supportive, not only for striving for personal happiness but also for improving the world, in other words improving relationships between people.

We can therefore obtain inspiration from the Early Stoa in at least two ways: by learning to deal ‘stoically’ with setbacks, and by finding out about what Stoics mean by a good life.

Not just the Stoics, but also the Cynics and the Sceptics were a source of information for the notes in this book. A book about personal happiness and improving the world, and how these goals can strengthen rather than obstruct each other.

Real happiness is not caused by circumstances but by the activity of thinking. It is not achieved by consuming or navel-gazing, but by an active commitment to living well, and therefore by a commitment for a better world.

All the same, there is at least one very favourable circumstance that can affect you: coming into contact with the ideas behind stoicism.

Stoic Notes – Click Here to Download the PDF

The translation is by Stuart Field, and is also available from the Atlanta website

Rymke Wiersma (Middelburg 1954) studied philosophy in Utrecht for a few years after being trained as a social worker. Together with a small collective she established a printing house, which later became the publishing house Atalanta. Its target audience are ‘thinkers’ as wel as ‘doers’. Rymke writes: “A lot of people who want to change the world go about it rather impulsively, while the people who delve into philosohpy often forget the we are not solely spectators, but also actors on the world’s stage. Atalanta tries to reach both these groups of people with it publications.

'Is Vegetarianism Stoic?' – by Steven Umbrello

Is Vegetarianism Stoic?

 Vegetarianism

As a student of Stoicism, I began, like most practitioners, by adopting its basic tenets. I learned to practice mindfulness, negative-visualization, acceptance of inevitability and of course emotional control. However, as Stoicism begins to become part of my everyday life I look for new ways to integrate it into my daily physical practices, such as my diet and exercise. But what exactly do the Stoics say about our diet? What do they say we can and cannot eat?

I have been a vegetarian for over a year now after I had an epiphany – there was no good reason for me to support the killing of animals so that I may sustain myself. I realized that I could survive, and perhaps even attain greater health, by avoiding a meat-based diet. I made this decision independently of Stoic ideology, however I’m sure that Stoicism had something subconsciously to do with it. However, after a full year of being a vegetarian I wanted to know if what I was doing is actually aligned with Stoic teachings. Is it Stoic to be vegetarian?

I consulted Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) to see if he held a similar stance on a vegetarian diet as I hold and I was surprised by his answer. Seneca admitted that he was influenced by the Pythagoreans abstinence of meat. Seneca says that Sextus, a Pythagorean, believed that humans were perfectly capable of eating a healthful diet without resorting to the spilling of blood. It appears that he was so influenced by their beliefs that he adopted them for his own use, saying that:

I was imbued with this teaching, and began to abstain from animal food; at the end of the year the habit was as pleasant as it was easy. I was beginning to feel that my mind was more active; though I would not today positively state whether it really was or not. Ep. 108. 22.

Unfortunately, Seneca eventually abandoned the practice of abstaining from meat to avoid being associated with a political group of vegetarians. Regardless, I can’t see why he would not have continued the practice otherwise.

We see that Seneca’s dabble in vegetarianism was not necessarily Stoic in origin, but rather a derivative of Pythagorean practice. So again we have to ask, is vegetarianism Stoic? Musonius Rufus (c. 30 AD – c. 101/2 AD), the famed Stoic teacher of Epictetus, has something to say about a Stoic diet and eating meat. He believed that we should eat those things that are easy to attain such as fruits, vegetables and herbs. By doing this we are better able to properly nourish our bodies without having to take the lives of animals. Peerlkamp, who collected the fragments of Rufus’ sayings, iterates something very similar to that of the Pythagorean Sextus:

Eating of flesh-meat he [Musonius Rufus] declared to be brutal, and adapted to savage animals. It is heavier, he said, and hindering thought and intelligence; the vapour arising from it is turbid and darkens the soul, so that they who partake of it abundantly are seen to be slower of apprehension. (Haarlem 1822)

So when we ask the question “Is vegetarianism Stoic?” we can safely say yes, at least according to Musonius Rufus.

I find it comforting to find Stoic doctrine that affirms my already held beliefs. But we have to remember that the Stoics require each individual to arrive at their own conclusions. Musonius Rufus may have advocated vegetarianism in a Stoic diet, but that does not mean you must be vegetarian to be a Stoic. I don’t eat meat, not because Musonius said not to, but because I think that it is right not to. I believe doing what you think is right is Stoic enough!

 

References

Hornblower, Simon, Anthony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, ed. The Oxford Classical    Dictionary. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Rufus, C., and J. Venhuizen Peerlkamp. C. Musonii Rufi Reliquiae Et Apophthegmata.  Kessinger Publishing, 1822.

Seneca, Ep. 108. 22.

Steven Umbrello is an undergraduate student of philosophy of science at the University of Toronto, and has been a practicing Stoic for most of his young adult life.