A Modern Stoic Clinic

Epictetus: ‘A philosopher’s school is a clinic’. 

Stephen J. Costello, Ph.D.

The Dublin Philosophy Clinic Logo

In the split second between stimulus and response lies a small space of freedom, which is our power to choose. That is why the philosopher gets off the bus. That is why Diogenes went looking in the city, carrying a lamp in broad daylight, saying ‘I am looking for a human being’. We must get off the merry-go-round and think for ourselves. We are born once only, twice is not permitted us. Because there is no guarantee or safety-net there for us, our lives are precarious and precious. We hunger for things that will give us sense and security, for meaning and purpose. We stockpile wealth and weapons. We feed on mood-altering substances like alcohol, drugs and celebrity. But there is an alternative path from an ancient pedigree: philosophical practice.

Seneca: ‘The point is, not how long you live, but how nobly you live’.

I founded The Philosophy Clinic in order to address and provide answers to the current crisis of meaning. Drawing on the wealth of worldly wisdom in the Western Socratic and, in particular, Stoic tradition, it aims to bring profound and practical philosophy to bear on issues of everyday life. Modern living has placed a great strain and stress on many people who are experiencing fragmentation and frustration, emptiness, existential distress and ethical confusion. There is a longing for guidance and growth, wholeness and healing. The Clinic aims to cater for such a context.

Cicero: ‘Truly philosophy is the medicine of the soul’.

The Greeks conceived of philosophy as a therapy of the soul and the site of spiritual/existential exercises. This understanding and interpretation reflects that of The Philosophy Clinic and infuses all our work. Courses and classes are offered to all those who hear the call and summons of Socrates to ‘Know Thyself’.

Epictetus: ‘Empty is the argument of the philosopher which does not relieve any human suffering’.

Our aim is to form more than to inform. We understand philosophy to be the ancient consolation and a way of life. Particular attention is paid to the practice of Prosoche, or awareness (attention) as the basis of all meditative practice; experiential exercises; group-work; Socratic dialogue; and journaling, are all part of the format and structure of the Clinic.

Marcus Aurelius: ‘Let your every deed and word and thought be those of one who might depart from this life this very moment’.

I offer Socratic therapy in the form of logotherapy and existential analysis to individuals and groups while philosophical counselling and coaching is offered by Barre Fitzpatrick to individuals, corporate clients and groups. Both members of the team consult to the corporate sector, myself through the Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland: School of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis (www.logotherapyireland.com) and Barre through Stride (www.stride.ie).

I had invited Jules Evans over to Dublin for a ‘Saturday with Socrates’ day where he spoke on his book, Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations. I gave a paper on a logotherapeutic reading of Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy. That was my first contact with the ‘Stoicism Today Team’ in Exeter University. Three Saturday seminars have since followed: both drawing on Stoic philosophy, especially on Marcus Aurelius.

In the first seminar I gave an overview of Stoicism, laying out the core concepts, and introduced the central themes in Marcus’ Meditations. I spent a short time showing some similarities between Stoicism and Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy, which became the basis for a short article on the subject. My co-facilitator led the participants into an experiential exercise of prosoche which became concretised in a philosophy walk later in the day, after which they were introduced to the three disciplines of the soul (desire, judgement and action). The day ended with advice on journaling, a meditation and the Stoic practice of retrospection. The format consisted of group work, a lecture, a walk, and experiential exercises and meditations, as well as writing and questions. We felt the day was a great success and received some incredibly positive feedback.

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