STOICON in New York, a Preview – Part II
by Massimo Pigliucci
STOICON, the by now annual gathering of people interested in the theory and practice of Stoicism, is moving from London to New York, this year (and who knows where else in future editions, fate permitting). The event is scheduled for 15 October, and you can find more information here, tickets here, and even cheap accommodation with a fellow Stoic, here.)
The purpose of this post (and of the one that preceded it) is to give you an idea of what the event will be like by introducing all our speakers and what they will be talking about, so that you can better appreciate some of the leading figures behind the Modern Stoicism movement (is that what it is?), as well as give your reasoned assent to the impression that this is a conference well worth attending…
Let’s resume our gallery of speakers with Jules Evans, host of the last two STOICON events in London. He is interested in therapeutic practices from ancient philosophies and wisdom traditions, how individuals and organisations use them today, and how they inform public policy ideas about well-being, ethical resilience, flourishing and transcendence. His first book, Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations, explored how people are rediscovering ancient Greek and Roman philosophies and how Greek philosophy (particularly Stoicism) inspired Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It’s since been published in 19 countries and was a Times book of the year. At STOICON ’16 Jules will talk about his work teaching Stoicism in companies, prisons, mental health charities and sports teams — including his work with Saracens, the European champions of rugby. Imagine if Greco-Roman philosophy was as widely known and practiced as Buddhism and Yoga…
Next up is Bill Irvine, author of the popular and influential A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. In graduate school and shortly thereafter, Bill’s research interests were like those of most philosophers. He was into “pure philosophy” — that is, in topics that are traditionally dealt with in philosophy and that are of interest primarily to professional philosophers. His doctoral dissertation was on phenomenalism, and his first publication was “Russell’s Construction of Space from Perspectives.” Since then, however, he has lost interest in “pure philosophy.” Instead, his research can best be described as hybrid of topics that lie on the border between philosophy and something else. Bill looks, in a philosophical manner, at things philosophers don’t normally look at. Many of his articles, for example, are on the ethical issues involved in finance. His first two books were on the ethical and political aspects of parenting. His book on desire has a philosophical component, but also a scientific and religious component. At STOICON ’16 Bill will talk about “Becoming an Insult Pacifist.” The Stoics spent a lot of time thinking about insults. Their goal in doing so was not to become proficient in inflicting them, but to lessen the harm they experienced when they were the target of them. As a result of their research, the Stoics advocated insult pacifism: when insulted, we should do nothing in response. We should simply carry on as if nothing happened. Alternatively, if we are feeling clever, we can respond to an insult by insulting ourselves even worse than our insulter did. We can, in other words, engage in self-deprecating humor. Bill has experimented with both of these strategies and in his talk will report on the results of these experiments. Insult pacifism, he has found, is effective because it catches insulters off guard. In his talk, Bill will also explore the psychology of insults. What is it that causes us to insult others? And how can insults — mere words — cause so much pain? It is an exploration that leads us to one of the core dilemmas of the human experience: it is hard to live without human companionship because we will experience loneliness; and it is hard to live with human companionship because we will thereby become the target of insults. The Stoics thought they had a solution to this dilemma: live among people and enjoy their company, but refuse to play the social hierarchy game.
We will also feature Cinzia Arruzza, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. Her research interests include ancient metaphysics and political thought, Plato, Aristotle, Neoplatonism, feminist theory and Marxism. Cinzia is the author of Dangerous Liaisons: The Marriages and Divorces of Marxism and Feminism, an accessible introduction to the relationship between the workers’ movement and the women’s movement, investigating the questions Why does gender inequality exist? and How does it relate to capitalism? At STOICON, Cinzia will give a talk on “Let us take care of ourselves: Stoic exercises and Foucault.” Stoic philosophy included both a set of complex theories and claims about a way of life, which the Stoic student would try to achieve through a set of practices. These included a number of exercises aiming at enabling the Stoic student to live and embody Stoic philosophy, in spite of the several occasions of perturbation presented by the world around us. To live a Stoic life meant to assimilate oneself, as much as possible, to the Cosmic reason and to the Reason common to all human beings. Michel Foucault, however, adopted the Stoic exercises within his theory of subject formation, trying to answer a different question: how can we take care of ourselves in such a way as to become beautiful selves and as to rethink the relation between individual subjectivity and collective political action?
Tim LeBon, our next speaker, is an experienced and accredited cognitive behavioral (CBT) therapist, psychotherapist, life coach, philosophical counsellor, author, and tutor in private practice in Central London. He specializes in helping people with depression, anxiety, decision-making, emotional issues, low self-esteem, stress, procrastination, creating a more meaningful life and relationships. Tim’s latest book is Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology. Everybody wants to be happier and fulfill their potential, and for years many self-help books have claimed they know the answer. However, only in the last two decades has Positive Psychology started to provide evidence-based ideas that have been scientifically shown to work. In the book Tim shows his readers how they can use the tools coming from Positive Psychology to achieve their goals. At STOICON ’16 Tim will talk about “Trump for President? A Stoic Response.” Imagine Donald Trump becomes President. For those who disagree with his policies, what would be a good Stoic response? As a Brit who has just witnessed the varying strong emotions following after Brexit, Tim feels that Stoicism has a lot to offer to help us cope with events we don’t like. This workshop will present five Stoic strategies for dealing with adversities and then apply them to the result of the US Presidential election. In the interests of political balance, Tim will also explore how those who support Trump could best cope with Clinton becoming President.
Next: Don Robertson, a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist, trainer, and author who specialises in the treatment of anxiety and the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and clinical hypnotherapy. He is the author of many articles on philosophy and psychotherapy in professional journals, as well as a number of books. Don’s background in academic philosophy has helped him to appreciate the relationship between modern psychotherapy and ancient philosophy, a subject that he has frequently written about and lectured upon in training courses and professional conferences over the years. Don has published the excellent Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, a guide to finding a happier way of life that draws on the ancient wisdom of the Stoics to reveal lasting truths and proven strategies for enhanced well-being. By learning what Stoicism is, Don maintains, you can revolutionize your life, learn how to — properly — ‘seize the day’, how to cope in the face of adversity, and how to come to terms with whatever situation you’re in. At STOICON ’16 Don will talk about “Stoicism, mindfulness, and cognitive therapy.” The concept of “mindfulness” is popularly associated with Buddhism, although the English word didn’t gain widespread use as a description of a meditation practice until the late 1970s. There’s a great deal of evidence that mindfulness-related practices employed in modern cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can have measurable benefits for our mental health. In the Stoic Week handbook, and the Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training (SMRT) course, Don has made extensive use of mindfulness and CBT techniques as a way of applying Stoic strategies to daily living, reaching thousands of participants around the world. His talk will provide an overview of some of this work, its findings, and some of the ways in which practitioners have successfully combined elements of Stoicism, mindfulness, and cognitive therapy in practice.
Our next to the last entry is about Gabriele Galluzzo, a Lecturer in Ancient Philosophy. In the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter, UK. Gabriele’s research interests focus on ancient metaphysics and its relationship with a number of other philosophical disciplines, including philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics and ethics. He is also interested in how ancient thought has influenced and can still make a contribution to contemporary philosophical debates. He has published extensively on Aristotle’s metaphysics and its reception in the Middle Ages and in contemporary philosophy. At STOICON ’16 Gabriele will talk about “Poor but happy? Aristotle and the Stoics on external goods.” Can we really be happy without health, money or friends? The Stoics famously claimed that we can, while Aristotle argues that we need at least some of these things to be happy. Who is right? Is Aristotle’s position more realistic? Or is there something to be said in favour of the Stoic view? The workshop will present and compare different approaches to external goods and bring out their consequences for our life and wellbeing.
Dulcis in fundo, as the Romans used to say, we will feature a special remote appearance by Lawrence Becker, the author of A New Stoicism. Larry is an American philosopher working mainly in the areas of ethics and social, political, and legal philosophy. He is the author of books and journal articles on justice, Stoicism, reciprocity, property rights, and metaethics. He was an associate editor of the journal Ethics from 1985-2000, and the editor, with the librarian Charlotte B. Becker, of two editions of the Encyclopedia of Ethics. Larry is a Fellow of Hollins University, where he taught philosophy from 1965-1989, and is Professor of Philosophy Emeritus from the College of William & Mary, where he was the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor in the Humanities and Philosophy from 1989-2001. At STOICON ’16, he will be joining us via Skype and chat with me on “Posidonius and Stoic ethics-in-action.”
Posidonius was a Greek Stoic philosopher, politician, astronomer, geographer, historian and teacher native to Apamea, Syria. He was acclaimed as the greatest polymath of his age, though unfortunately his vast body of work exists today only in fragments. Posidonius attempted to create a unified system for understanding the human intellect and the universe which would provide an explanation of and a guide for human behavior. For him, philosophy was the dominant master art and all the individual sciences were subordinate to philosophy, which alone could explain the cosmos. Posidonius was the first Stoic to depart from the orthodox doctrine that passions were faulty judgments and posit that Plato’s view of the soul had been correct, namely that passions were inherent in human nature. In addition to the rational faculties, he taught that the human soul had faculties that were spirited (anger, desires for power, possessions, etc.) and desiderative (desires for sex and food). Ethics was the problem of how to deal with these passions and restore reason as the dominant faculty. And Larry will take it from there and talk about why Posidonius’ insights are still very much relevant to the practice of modern Stoics.
Join us for STOICON ’16, it promises to be a great conference for anyone interested in Stoicism, and a splendid opportunity to meet fellow students, not to mention some of the leading figures in the modern effort to spread one of the most useful practical philosophies of all time.