Stoic Week 2017 Report (part 2) by Tim Lebon

A strong positive relationship between Stoicism and well-being has been documented in previous Stoic Week reports.   This year the emphasis has shifted to quantifying the relationship between Stoicism and positive character traits. To this end we asked the thousands of people who took part in Stoic Week to complete the CIVIC character scale in addition to the four scales previously used.

2860 people filled in questionnaires measuring degree of Stoicism (SABS 3.0), Life Satisfaction, Positive and Negative Emotions and Flourishing. In addition, 820 people filled in the CIVIC questionnaire which gave us a large enough sample to draw meaningful conclusions.

This article excerpts from the findings derived from analysing questionnaires from the start of Stoic week. Upcoming reports will discuss the effect of taking part in Stoic Week (part 3), summarise participant feedback and suggest future directions of research.

If you’d like to read the full 27-page version of the Stoic Week 2017 report (part 2), you can click here to download the report.

Stoicism and Positive Character Traits

If you are a Stoic, you would certainly hope that there is a strong relationship between being a Stoic and having positive character traits. For the Stoics, eudaimonia is based on possessing core positive character traits called “virtues”, particularly the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, justice and self-control (or moderation).

If you are a Stoic you might well also expect there to be a strong relationship between being Stoic and having the virtues. However, to my knowledge this is the first time anyone has tried to show that this is actually the case.

We chose to use the CIVIC scale (discussed in the full report) for our research this year and are grateful to its co-author, Vincent Ng for his co-operation and assistance. The CIVIC Scale identifies 29 positive character traits (similar to Peterson and Seligman’’s “strengths”) and 8 character cores (similar to virtues).

Before you go any further, please take a moment to consider these 3 questions.

  1. How many of these 29 character traits do you think are positively associated with Stoicism?
  2. Which of these 29 traits do you think is most positively associated with Stoicism?
  3. Which of the 29 traits do you think is most negatively associated with Stoicism?

I asked a number of experts on Stoicism these 3 questions. The consensus was as follows:-

  1. Most if not all of these character traits will be positively associated with Stoicism.
  2. Emotional Awareness is likely to be most positively associated with Stoicism. Fairness, Self-Control, Perspective-Taking, Gratitude, Bravery, Meaning/purpose and Persistence should also feature well.
  3. Probably none are negatively related to Stoicism, though perhaps spirituality and humour might not be so closely linked as others.

In examining the data from Stoic Week, we found that

  1. All of 29 positive character traits in CIVIC are positively associated with Stoicism
  2. Zest is the character trait most positively associated with Stoicism
  3. Trick question, they are all positively associated! Humour is the least positively associated, but note that even the lowest ranking trait is still positively associated. This means that the caricature of the Stoic as dour and humourless is not supported. The more Stoic you are, the more humorous you are likely to be.

Stoic “Zest”?

So the Stoic experts got it right, mostly. . . . Stoics are likely to possess more than the average person of all of these positive traits, and emotional awareness is amongst those most highly correlated with being Stoic.  However none of the experts suggested “zest” would be strongly associated with Stoicism. This finding merits closer examination.

What exactly is meant by  “zest”? The dictionary defines zest as “great enthusiasm and energy”. The CIVIC scale identifies zestful individuals using these 12 questions or prompts:

  • I typically look forward to each new day.
  • I feel excited to start each day.
  • I am brimming with excitement about life.
  • I always look forward to what the day brings.
  • I have great enthusiasm for life.
  • I eagerly anticipate each day’s activities.
  • I try to live each day to the fullest.
  • I typically feel ready to take on what life has in store for me.
  • I hardly ever feel half-hearted about my activities.
  • I typically don’t dread starting my daily activities.
  • I generally approach my daily activities with energy.
  • I have enthusiasm for my daily activities.

These seem to capture very well both enthusiasm and energy, perhaps with a touch of joy and resilience thrown into the mix. Significantly, zest has been identified as one of the more important character traits, being positively associated with life satisfaction, positive emotion, engagement and flow and meaning (LeBon (2014), p. 71).

We have, of course, identified a correlation, rather than a causal connection, so we cannot say whether being Stoic causes great enthusiasm and energy, or vice-versa, or perhaps something else causes both Stoicism and zest. The next report, on the impact of Stoic week, may shed some light on whether Stoicism plays a causal role in increasing zest. If so, this would be a significant and novel finding.

Stoicism and the Virtues

CIVIC also measures 8 broader character qualities, which they call “character cores”, which have a number of constituent character traits.

Some of these CIVIC character cores clearly bear some resemblance to the Stoic cardinal virtues, though this resemblance should not be overstated. All of these character cores were found to be quite strongly and positively with Stoicism

Rank CIVIC Character Core Association with Stoicism
1 EMPATHY 0.51

Stoicism, then appears strongly positively associated with each positive character traits as well as every broader character cores (virtue). There remains the question of whether Stoicism is strongly linked with virtues in general.

A correlation coefficient of .6 was found to exist between SABS scores (measuring the degree of Stoicism) and an overall measure of character or virtue (as measured by adding up a participant’s CIVIC item scores). This compares favourably with the  correlation coefficients for life satisfaction, emotions and flourishing, which in past years have been found to be .37, .42 and .46 respectively.

Stoicism and Well-Being

The relationship between Stoicism and well-being has been well documented in previous reports. This section summarises the findings and answers questions that interested readers are likely to ask.

Q: In the past you’ve found significant correlations between Stoicism (as measured by SABS) and the various well-being measures. Has this been replicated?

A: Yes, indeed it has.

  Flourishing Emotions (SPANE) Life Satisfaction (SWL) Average well-being
STOIC ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOURS 0.47 (.46) 0.43 (.42) 0.36 (.37) 0.48 (.42)

Table 6 Overall association of Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours with various scales

Table 6 above gives the overall correlations between total SABS scores and the various well-being scales (2016 results are in brackets). This result has now been replicated with large samples over 4 years.

Q: OK, so that looks like a solid finding, at least for the sort of people who take part in Stoic Week.  Stoics are still happy. I remember that in previous years you also listed how Stoicism was associated with particular emotions, as measured in the SPANE scale. What were these results this year?

A: As in 2016, there is a significant positive association between Stoicism and each positive emotion and a negative correlation between every negative emotion and Stoicism. There is some variation between this year and last in terms of the relative size of the correlation for each emotion, so we should not be too confident in saying which emotions are most associated with Stoicism, though it seems pretty clear that the association is large for contentment and relatively small for fear.

Q:  All this talk of correlation coefficients is a bit confusing for me. Can you just tell me how much difference it makes to my happiness whether I am Stoic or not?

A: Remember that these findings do not necessarily imply causation, so we can’t say that being more Stoic makes you more happy. However we can look at the group of people who are in the top and bottom 10% in terms of Stoicism and compare their well-being scores on the various scales.  

Q: Last year you found quite a strong relationship between age and Stoicism – the under 18s were by far the least Stoic and Stoicism increased gradually with age, with the over-55s being the most Stoic. Has this been replicated?

A:  This relationship has been repeated in 2017, although the under 18s are not quite as un-Stoic as they were last year, as illustrated in Table 9 below.

This year we also looked at the average well-being of each age group. A similar pattern emerges, with the over-55s being the happiest and the under 18s being the least happy.

Q:  Last year the USA proved to be the most Stoic and the UK least. Is this still true in 2017?

A: Once again the Americas proved to be the most Stoic, though (admittedly from a small sample) South America took over No. 1 spot from USA.  The UK and Europe is a few points behind. To put this into context, the difference between regions is not that great, as shown in table 10.

Region Average SABS score 2016 Comparison % Average well-being
South America 170 165 2 23
USA 166 166 44 22
Canada 165 164 10 23
Australia 166 161 5 23
Europe 162 162 19 22
Africa 162 161 1 21
UK 161 159 15 22
Asia 159 160 3 20

 Table 10: Relationship between geographic region and degree of Stoicism

Q: Have gender differences changed at all?

A: Data from 2016 suggested that men were marginally more Stoic, averaging 164.5 on the SABS scale as opposed to 161.5 for women. In 2016 this gap of 3 points had reduced to 2 – the figures in 2017 were 165 and 163 respectively

Q: Finally, in the past you’ve told provided a big table suggestive of the “active ingredients” of Stoicism. Did you do that again?

A: Yes, the full details are in Appendix E.  These are the most active Stoic ingredients in terms of correlation with average well-being.


These findings replicate previous research about the relationship between Stoicism, life satisfaction, flourishing and the emotions. For the first time we can also say that there is evidence to support the view that Stoicism is associated with virtues and positive character traits, as measured on a validated contemporary scale, the CIVIC.  A surprising, but very positive, result is that zest turns out to be the character trait most associated with being Stoic.

Tim LeBon is the author of Wise Therapy and Activate Your Potential With Positive Psychology.  He can be contacted via email at  His website is

From The Three Petaled Rose by Ronald Pies

This post is a summary of Dr. Ronald Pies’ talk at the STOICON 2017 conference.

My book, The Three-Petalled Rose, attempts an analysis and synthesis of three great spiritual traditions: Judaism, Buddhism, and Stoicism. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I have called this synthesis “JuBuSto.” This was also the topic of my presentation in Toronto this past Fall. I began my book by proposing that “…the synthesis of Judaism, Buddhism, and Stoicism can create a healthy, fulfilled and flourishing life.” Here, I review the main themes explored in my book and lecture.

First, I discussed a theme common to all three traditions; namely, that our happiness and fulfillment in life is critically dependent on the quality of our thinking.  I suggested that, in effect, we create our own happiness by thinking “good” thoughts– and create our own misery by filling our minds with “bad” thoughts.  More specifically, Judaism emphasizes rational understanding, without which we are spiritually and emotionally “lost”. Thus, I cited the Talmudic teaching of Rabbi Elazar that,  “…any person who lacks understanding eventually goes into exile…” Similarly, the Buddhist text, the Dhammapada teaches us that “we are what we think…..with our thoughts we make the world.”  I also cited the Thai Buddhist Master, Ajahn Chah (1918-92) as saying,

We want to be free of suffering…but still we suffer. Why is this? It’s because of wrong thinking. If our thinking is in harmony with the way things are, we will have well-being.

In the Stoic tradition, too,  pride of place is given to thinking clearly.  Epictetus reminds us that

It is not he who gives abuse….who offends us; but the view that we take of these things as insulting or hurtful…” and urges us “….not to be bewildered by appearances.

Moreover, all three spiritual paths emphasize that we often sabotage our chances for living the “good life” through our own distorted thinking. Echoing the views of many modern cognitive-behavioral therapists, Rabbi Dr. Joseph Gelberman tells us that, “Of all the tyrants in the world, our own attitudes are the fiercest warlords.”

Similarly, the Buddhist monk, Chagdud Tulku teaches that

Hell is the reflection of [the] mind’s delusion, of angry thoughts and intentions and the harmful words and actions they produce.

He adds—once again sounding much like our modern cognitive therapists:

It’s our failure to understand the essential nature of an emotion as it arises that gets us into trouble. Once we do, the emotion tends to dissolve.

Indeed, we are often our own worst enemies, as the great Buddhist sage, Santideva (7th c. AD), put it:

Eager to escape sorrow, men rush into sorrow; from desire of happiness, they blindly slay their own happiness, enemies to themselves.

I went on to discuss “the common bond of humanity” as an idea central to all three of our traditions. Thus, Judaism teaches us that we are all created “in the Divine image”, and that, as Rabbi Moseh Lieber puts it,

 …we must treat people properly because all people play a role in God’s plans; nobody was created for naught, be it a fool, an ignoramus, or even an evil person. They are all part of the Divine Scheme…

Similarly, Buddhism emphasizes the essential unity of mankind, and, indeed, all sentient beings. This attitude is expressed in the concepts of Buddha nature, suffering, and compassion. As B. Allen Wallace puts it,

…all sentient beings, including humans, are endowed with Buddha-nature…[defined as] the potential for full awakening…

All human beings experience suffering (dukha), and thereby have the opportunity—indeed, the obligation—to cultivate compassion for every other human being. This concept is also stressed in Stoicism, and is given a rather spiritualized treatment in the writings of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations:

All things are woven together and the common bond is sacred…for there is one Universe out of all, one God through all, one substance and one law, one common Reason of all intelligent creatures, and one truth…

The importance of moral obligations appears as a prominent theme in all three traditions, and is intimately connected with the achievement of a “flourishing life.” That is, living ethically is not merely an obligation; it is also a kind of portal into the realm of self-realization. To put it in more colloquial terms, if you live ethically, you will live well and fully. Thus, the Talmud teaches us that “The reward of a good deed is a good deed”—in effect, behaving ethically is its own reward. Furthermore, as Rabbi Alexander Ziskin observes, fulfilling a commandment “…is a time to feel great joy at your relationship with God.”

Among the elements of Buddhism’s “Eightfold Path” are right speech, right conduct, and right vocation,  all considered under the rubric of sila (the code of conduct that leads to virtue). Sila, in turn, is the key to living the fulfilled life, according to Buddhist teachings.  As Wallace succinctly puts it,

The Buddhist view is simple: non-virtuous behavior leads to misery, virtuous behavior leads to joy.

The Tibetan Buddhist nun, Thubten Chodron defined the essence of the Buddha’s teachings with equal brevity: “…it is to avoid harming others and to help them as much as possible.”

For the Stoics, too, the key to living “the good life” lies in living the morally responsible life. Every other notion of “the good” proves to be illusory. Thus, Seneca writes in one of his letters, “A good character is the only guarantee of everlasting, carefree happiness.” Similarly, Epictetus argues that “The good for human beings lies in this one thing alone: for each of us to perfect our moral character…” In sum, the JuBuSto tradition emphasizes that only by living ethical lives can we achieve genuine happiness and become fully human.

All three of our traditions stress the importance of reducing, or modulating, what I have termed “desires and attachments.” While none of the traditions argues for the total elimination of desires, each admonishes us to “detach” ourselves from intense and overwhelming cravings. From the Jewish perspective, probably nobody has put the matter more clearly than Maimonides (ca. 1135-1204), in The Guide for the Perplexed: “All the difficulties and troubles I meet [in daily life] are due to the desire for superfluous things…the more I desire to have the superfluous, the more I meet with difficulties.”

Maimonides the rationalist is joined by Nahman of Bratslav (1772-1810), the mystic, in pointing to the dangers of excessive attachments and desires. Nahman tells us that, “Worldly desires are like sunbeams in a dark room. They may seem solid, but the person who tries to grasp a sunbeam finds nothing in his hand. The same is true of all worldly desires.”

The Buddhist tradition is, if anything, even more focused than the rabbis on the dangers of “grasping onto things” (upadana). As Ajahn Chah puts it,

The extraordinary suffering is the suffering that arises from what I call upadana, grasping on to things.  This is like [receiving] an injection with a syringe filled with poison.

At the same time—and in this, the rabbis would  concur—Buddhism teaches that there’s nothing inherently wrong in enjoying life’s pleasures, or even indulging in an occasional luxury. In fact, as Tibetan Buddhist nun, Thubten Chodron, points out, “…it’s attachment that makes us restless and prevents us from enjoying things.” In effect, we become so fixated on the object of our attachment that we can barely appreciate it.

Buddhism goes on to teach us that the way to reduce excessive attachment is by realizing the impermanence of everything—including, of course, our own lives.  As Aitken Roshi tells us, “Renunciation is not getting rid of the things of this world, but accepting that they pass away.” (italics added)

The Stoics, too, emphasize simplicity, lack of pretension, and non-attachment to fame,  fortune and status symbols. For the Stoics, the only real “good” in life is virtue. As Marcus Aurelius puts it,

There is but one thing of real value—to cultivate truth and justice, and to live without anger in the midst of lying and unjust men.

It follows, then, that acquiring possessions, wealth, honor, prestige, and influence are merely illusory goods. But like the rabbis and the Buddhist sages, it is not “things in themselves” that are judged unworthy of the fully-developed person; rather, it is our intense attachment to these things. Thus, in describing his father, Marcus Aurelius writes,

 My father enjoyed, without pretension or self-indulgence, the luxuries that his fortune lavished upon him; but when these were not available, he never seemed to miss them. (1.23).

I next discussed the attitude of the three traditions toward impermanence and mortality. All three recognize that our earthly existence is alarmingly short (though a proper understanding of life might lead us to be far less “alarmed”). In the Jewish tradition, we are put here on earth in order to refine our moral character and serve God. As Rabbi Moshe Lieber teaches us,

Life is a fleeting opportunity to gather [spiritual] treasure; once the time is up, [one] can no longer earn anything.

Given that we never know when our “time is up,” we must treat every day as if it were our last. Thus, as Rabbi Lieber puts it, the righteous person

…must always assume that today is the last day of his life and not push off his repentance. Hence, he will spend all his life in perpetual self-improvement.

Similarly, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches us that,

Life’s ultimate meaning remains obscure unless it is reflected upon in the face of death…[Judaism’s] central concern is not how to escape death but rather, how to sanctify life.

This teaching is very close in spirit to the Buddhist teaching in the Dhammapada:

Neither father, sons nor one’s relations can stop the King of Death…[One] who is virtuous and wise understands the meaning of this, and swiftly strives with all his might to clear a path to Nirvana.

Buddhism, however, takes a somewhat different attitude than Judaism when it comes to placing value on our earthly existence. Whereas in Judaism, life is sanctified and valued as an opportunity to perfect ourselves in God’s ways, Buddhism sees earthly existence in more detached terms—not fundamentally different than other things governed by anicca (impermanence). Thus, Ajahn Chah writes,

Suppose you were sick and had to go into the hospital. Most people think, “Please don’t let me die, I want to get better.” That is wrong thinking, [and] it will lead to suffering. You have to think to yourself, “If I recover, I recover; if I die, I die.” This is right thinking…

Though this is not the typical attitude of Judaism—at least in modern times—I noted a similar sentiment in the viduy prayer in Judaism, said when the person is near death; i.e., the righteous Jew says to God, “May it be Your will to heal me. But if death is my lot, then I accept it from Your hand with love.”

 Thus, both Judaism and Buddhism share with Stoicism a certain reserve toward earthly existence, as expressed by Marcus Aurelius: “[T]he one who lives longest and the one who will die soonest lose just the same.” But for Marcus, as for the rabbis and Buddhist sages, this equanimity does not relieve us of our ethical responsibilities. Marcus admonishes us,

Since it is possible that you may depart from life this very moment, regard every act and thought accordingly.

By this, Marcus means that we must live honorably, reasonably, and in accordance with Nature, at all times. He cautions us,

Don’t act as though you’ll live to be a thousand…in what remains of your allotted time, while you still can, become good. (4.17).

Seneca sums up the Stoic view of mortality when he writes, “The man whom you should admire and imitate is the one who finds it a joy to live, and in spite of that, is not reluctant to die.”

I went on to explore the importance of gratitude in the three traditions, and found that each places great importance on this quality of mind. In the Talmudic tradition, gratitude is expressed for whatever one has been allotted in life, as when Ben Zoma asks, “Who is rich?” and replies, “One who rejoices in one’s portion.”

Perhaps reflecting a much earlier Stoic teaching, the 13th century sage, Jacob Anatoli taught that, “If a man cannot get what he wants, he ought to want what he can get.” (Toperoff 1997, p. 197). In the Jewish tradition, it is impossible to conceive of “the flourishing life” without the capacity to feel thankfulness and gratitude. I cited the Yiddish proverb about being grateful: “If you break a leg, be grateful that you didn’t break both legs!” Or, as a cartoon by Mankoff in the New Yorker put it—showing a woman standing next to her worried-looking husband—“But why not be happy about all the diseases that you don’t have?”

In Buddhism, too, gratitude (katannuta) is a foundational virtue. This is summed up in the saying attributed (perhaps spuriously) to the Buddha:

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little; and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick; and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so let us all be thankful.

And, as Phillip Moffit observes, gratitude yields additional rewards. It becomes part of a “virtuous cycle” and is an integral part of the flourishing life:

Cultivating thankfulness for being part of life blossoms into a feeling of being blessed, not in the sense of winning the lottery, but in a more refined appreciation for the interdependent nature of life. It also elicits feelings of generosity, which create further joy

 For the Stoics, gratitude is summed up in Seneca’s teaching, which sounds remarkably like Jacob Anatoli’s comment:

It is in no man’s power to have whatever he wants; but he has it in his power not to wish for what he hasn’t got, and cheerfully make the most of the things that do come his way.

And, I took note of Cicero’s gratitude, in the midst of his old age, for the “…supreme satisfaction to be derived from an old age which has knowledge and learning to feed upon…”

Finally, I explored the foundational value of self-restraint, and in particular, the necessity of controlling our anger. All three of our traditions would concur in arguing that no one who seeks a flourishing life can give vent to uncontrolled anger. The rabbinical tradition emphasizes the virtue of being slow to anger, and recognizes that the total elimination of all angry feelings is virtually impossible for all but a few saints and sages—and even some sages doubt that the complete eradication of anger would be entirely a good thing. The rabbis also recognized the element of narcissism in unbridled anger, which is compared to “worshipping idols.”

Similarly, in the Dhammapada, the Buddhist tradition holds that,

A man is not on the path of righteousness if he settles matters in a violent haste. A wise man calmly considers what is right and what is wrong, and faces different opinions with truth, non-violence, and peace.

Buddhism holds that patience is the antidote to anger and aggression, and urges us to look deeply within ourselves to find the real cause of our anger. As Thich Nhat Hanh observes, “You yourself may have created the hell inside you.”

The Stoics, too, saw intense anger as a genuine evil—even one that could “beget madness,” as Epicurus put it.  Furthermore, the one who is overcome by anger forgets important truths about our place in the overall order of things. As Marcus Aurelius observes,

I cannot be angry with a brother or resent him, for we were born into this world to work together like the feet, hands, eyelids and lower rows of teeth…


Whenever you lose your temper or become upset about something…you’re forgetting that everything is what your opinion makes it, and that the present moment is all you have, to live and lose.

Modified and condensed from The Three-Petalled Rose (iUniverse), 2013. References available upon request to the author (

Ronald Pies is the author of Everything has Two Handles: The Stoic’s Guide to the Art of Living and The Three-Petalled Rose.


The Dispassionate Life by Margaret Graver

This post is the transcript of Professor Gravers’ plenary address at the STOICON 2017 conference

Remembering the conference theme, let’s start with the word “professional.” What associations do we have with this word? What expectations does it place on us? Are those reasonable and fair expectations, and if so how do we equip ourselves to meet them? These are questions I invite you to reflect on during the talk.

Meanwhile here is another set of words to think about. Unmoved, apathetic, calm, impassive, serene, unflappable, tranquil, unfeeling, placid, unsentimental, unemotional, unruffled.

Where are we on these words? If you are like me and like my students, you can easily identify several of these words as negative words that you would not want to hear applied to yourself. Others are more complimentary; some might even be neutral. But the point of interest here is that if you make the effort to strip away the positive or negative valence of these words, all of them mean pretty much the same thing: they describe a person who doesn’t respond emotionally in situations where many people would. So this is the first challenge for this group. Let’s see if we can make the effort to get past some of those preconceived notions of what people ought to be like, and think clearly about what concepts underlie our words.

My topic for this afternoon is the dispassionate life, defined for the moment as a life that is not susceptible to usual emotions (anger fear grief) in the kinds of situations that most often trigger those responses. My objectives are two.

First, I want to probe this very notion of a dispassionate life. What actually does it mean? I maintain that although this idea of a dispassionate life sounds like just one idea, in fact it is more than one. I want to go back to the origins of this idea in Greek philosophy, show you a little of the history of it, and begin to sort through the different things “dispassionate” can mean. I think this operation is extraordinarily important for the group that’s assembled here. Some people may be here precisely because they are interested in getting closer to a life free of emotional disturbance. Others may be sceptical about Stoicism precisely because they think such a life would be wrong. Either way, we need some clarity on what the ancient Stoics had in mind when they put forward their claim that the best human life would be dispassionate.

Second, I mean to share some information about techniques that were on offer in ancient texts for bringing oneself closer to the dispassionate life. These hold considerable theoretical interest, whether or not we think that any of them would actually be helpful for a modern person.

It’s worth pointing out that while virtually all the Greek philosophers were strongly interested in mental health, they weren’t the equivalent of our mental health professionals. They were theorizing about human beings generally, not about people who were in crisis or were having highly unusual emotional problems. So what I say here should be thought of as relating to ordinary mental health.

With that said, let me take you back to ancient Greece. In the next thirty minutes or so, I want to walk you through three different groups or schools of philosophers, each of which advocated for its own version of the dispassionate life. First will be the Cynics, kynikoi or dog-philosophers, associated with Diogenes of Sinope; second the Epicureans and their predecessor Democritus; and third the Stoics.

Ancient Terms For Emotion

We’re going to need some terminology. Our word “emotion” is a class term, it names the category whose members are anger, grief, fear, delight, eagerness, and whatever else we think is of that kind. If we look for equivalent words in Greek as spoken in the fourth century B.C.E., we find two possibilities.

One is pathos, etymologically ‘a way of being affected’; corresponding to the Latin word affectus. The other is tarache, etymologically ‘a disturbance’, for which the Latin equivalent is perturbatio.

In what follows I will not attempt to distinguish these two terms. Some authors favor one or the other, but as far as I can tell the meaning is the same or at least near enough to allow for the comparisons we’ll be making here.

The same goes for two terms that are derived from the emotion words: apatheia, from pathos, which I’ll usually translate “impassivity” and similarly ataraxia, from tarachē, which I’ll usually translate “non-disturbedness”. For our purposes today, both these terms mean essentially “absence of emotion.” These two terms alternate in the record for the three philosophies we’ll be looking at.

An Objection

Now, before I go any further, let’s check in with the opposition. Not everybody in the ancient world favored the idea of a dispassionate life. The philosophers who called themselves Peripatetics had objections to it, and so did many of those who called themselves Platonists—though Stoics were also heirs of Plato in their own way. A leader of the post-Platonic Academy, a philosopher by the name of Crantor, put the case against apatheia in terms we can all recognize.

Crantor was writing around 300 B.C., in a consolatory essay—that is, a kind of open letter addressed to someone recently bereaved, offering them the comforts of philosophy. Crantor’s consolation must have said, as most of these pieces do, “it’s OK to cry for a while, anyone would”—but then he turns philosopher and adds,

I cannot by any means agree with those who extol some kind of impassivity (apatheia). Such a thing is neither possible nor beneficial. I do not wish to be ill, but if I am, and if some part of my body is to be cut open or even amputated, let me feel it. This absence of pain comes at a high price: it means being numb in body, and in mind scarcely human.

For Crantor, then, the experience of emotion is both a necessary and a desirable part of being human: eliminating it is “neither possible nor beneficial.” We need to have sensations of grief when calamities befall us, just as we need to feel pain when our bodies are injured. Otherwise we would have lost the responsiveness to stimuli that is essential to human nature: we would be “numb in body, and in mind scarcely human.” This is a powerful objection. It’s one that has occurred to me and I’m sure equally to you and to everyone who has an interest in ancient Stoicism. As we go forward, I want you to keep that objection in mind.

The Cynics: the Thickened Skin

Let’s get started then with our dog-philosophers. Kynes are ‘dogs’; hence kynikoi or Cynics. The English word “cynical” is related but not at all helpful in trying to understand these people.

What you need to know is that there was a succession of public personalities showing up in various Greek cities under this label: Antisthenes, a pupil of Socrates, is often named as an important influence, but Diogenes of Sinope was the iconic figure, and others followed in his footsteps including Crates of Thebes and his life-partner Hipparchia, Bion, Menippus, and various others on into the Roman empire.

These are mostly solitary figures, not a school as such, and not a fully developed system of philosophy either. What held them together was a handful of slogans and practices that point to a distinctive ideology. The Cynics imitated Diogenes in living what they considered to be a life according to nature. That is, a completely no-frills life, with possessions at an absolute minimum: no house, clothing only as required by the cold, the simplest possible food, such as can be acquired by begging in the street. Sleeping on the ground. No shoes, ever. No career, no religion, no use of money, no marriage: all of those things are products of convention, not of nature. It is the life of a dog, completely unembarrassed, all the body functions performed in public, unconstrained by any cultural expectations.

What’s to be gained by this sort of life? Positive ideals for the Cynics are expressed in terms like karteria, toughness; ischus, strength; sophrosyne, self-control; autarkeia, self-sufficiency; parrhesia, speaking one’s mind – but above all, karteria. Going without shoes wasn’t just a matter of avoiding all the cultural baggage that shoes represent. If you walk barefoot long enough, eventually the skin of your feet will become hard and tough, and you won’t feel the stony ground.

And along with those, over and over, apatheia, the very hallmark of Cynicism. Antisthenes imitates Socrates’ impassivity and thus becomes “the first founder of Cynicism”; Diogenes of Sinope is characterized by impassivity more than any other trait; Bion of Borysthenes takes up the accoutrements of the Cynic and thus is converted to impassivity.

What sort of impassivity is this? We can take our cue from the exercises Cynics used in training. There were physical exercises – for instance embracing marble statues in the dead of winter, to train one’s body to endure the cold. Analogous to these were the mental exercises. My favorite: requiring a pupil to carry a stinky piece of cheese through a crowded city street, until he learns not to be embarrassed by it. In a word, manageable discomforts, regularly repeated, as a means of toughening oneself up, to a point at which even much greater calamities are no longer felt.

The approach reminds me quite strongly of a practice that’s known to have been around in Athens at the same time as Diogenes, though not specifically linked to him or any of the Cynics. This is the pre-rehearsal of future ills, an idea known already to the playwright Euripides, as you see in this fragment preserved from one of his lost plays. No doubt it was old even for him – “I learned this from a wise man,” says the character, as if it had already been around for a long time. In this technique, one is supposed to ponder daily every calamity that can happen — the premature death of a family member, the loss of one’s home, and so on – the idea being that if some such event comes to pass, one will be ready for it and not emotionally destroyed by it.

Those familiar with modern cognitive behavioral therapy will recognize the idea of desensitizing oneself to a stimulus by repeated exposure to it under controlled circumstances.  So this is one version of the dispassionate life. We can refer to it as “the thickened skin”. Apatheia in this conception is a matter of hardening the boundaries of the person, to make us less responsive to stimuli. It is the psychological equivalent of the toughened feet of the Cynic, and it is an important part of what Diogenes was after.

This brings me back to the objection of Crantor, to the view that apatheia is neither harsh nor beneficial, that it’s better to be able to feel things. What do the Cynics have to say to this? Do they concede that their approach “means being numb in body and in mind scarcely human”?

Quite the contrary! Their response is to turn the tables. Why should anyone say that the feet of human beings are naturally tender, as if we were all born wearing shoes? Why not say rather that toughness is our natural state? For them, the asceticism that restores that toughness is “a short-cut to happiness”: if people find that road too difficult, it may not be the Cynic apatheia that is to blame, but the softening influence of our cultural institutions. Such is the Cynic conception of impassivity.

The Atomists

The goal of Democritus’s ethics was a good state of mind, euthumia, defined as “a calm and stable existence, not disturbed by any fear or superstition or any other emotion.” Notice the terminology: a state free of both emotion, pathos and disturbance, tarache; also, the emphasis on fear and superstition as the main sources of disturbance. But there’s another word here that interests me: calm. That word is actually a metaphor in Greek: calm, galene, is the condition of a lake or the sea when it is without waves, not stirred by any gale or storm. That metaphor is used also by Epicurus, and I maintain that it is the key to the atomists’ approach. For this reason my nickname for Dispassionate Life #2 will be STILL WATERS.

Let’s reflect for a minute on this image of the tranquil lake. Why are the waters still? Is it because there is a hard shell on the lake that protects it from anything that might stir it up? No, the water is open to the sky. It could be moved, if some gust of wind sprang up – but in fact there is no wind, not today.

And that is the Epicurean contention. The vast majority of Epicurus’s arguments were aimed at convincing the hearer of four things: first, that there is no reason for superstitious fear of divine powers – gods do exist, but not the sort of gods that could ever hurt us or even interact with us. Second, that death cannot harm us: we merely cease to exist, and what’s the harm in that? Third, that everything we really need for life is obtainable without strenuous effort, and fourth, that poverty, physical discomfort, and even pain are not such a big deal that we need to be anxious about them.

The scientific side of Epicureanism, their theories about atoms and void, are all directed toward these ends. For instance, using atomic physics to supply explanations for lightning and thunder, so that we don’t need to believe that God is out to get us; or explaining what happens at death in terms of the physical dissolution of the human psyche, so that we see how little we have to worry about.

That’s just a quick sketch of Epicurean thought, but it’s enough to give us a sense of how Epicurus might respond to the objection put by Crantor. Crantor’s complaint had been that the dispassionate life is a bad idea because it makes us insensitive, “numb in body and in mind scarcely human.”

Epicurus can respond that on his understanding of ‘dispassionate,’ the natural sensitivity of the human being is still fully operational. It’s just that the Epicurean has a correct understanding of the world and realizes that there is no reason be disturbed by it. The Epicurean mind is a quiet pool not because it can’t feel the wind, but because it realizes that no wind is blowing.

In fact Epicurus needs that water to be able to move with the breezes, for two reasons: first, because we rely on sense-perception to give us information about the world, and second because we rely on our capacity for pleasure and pain to guide our actions.

And this leaves us with a question. Given that the Epicurean’s mind is capable of being distressed, what if something happens that even Epicurus recognizes as a real source of mental pain. Because such things can happen in his world. At the very least, the death of friends or family members is a real loss to the Epicurean. Can Epicurus say, then, that the dispassionate life remains available in all circumstances?

Well, it seems there was a back-up plan. We have it in a passage of Cicero, talking about the Epicurean approach to grief management. The term is “redirection”.

As for the means of easing distress, Epicurus holds that there are two: distracting the mind from the thought of suffering, and redirecting it to the contemplation of pleasures. For he claims that the mind is capable of listening to reason and following where reason leads. Reason forbids us to direct our attention toward what is troubling, draws us away from painful thoughts, and dulls the vision with which we contemplate our sufferings. From all of this it sounds the retreat, and urges us rather to concentrate on pleasures of every sort.

In a word, Epicurus relies on a kind of visualization technique, drawing on our capacity to manipulate our inner attention. It is in a way the inverse of the old pre-rehearsal of future ills strategy. Rather than confronting painful thoughts in an attempt to desensitize oneself, Epicurus favors turning the mind away from them and focusing on the pleasurable elements of our experience.

Impassivity and the Stoics

I now want to set both Dispassionate Life #1 and Dispassionate Life #2 in relation to the Stoic conception of apatheia or impassivity. Of course that very phrase brings to mind the notion that’s out there in the culture of what it is to be a Stoic. We’ve all heard it, how Stoics are or want to be impervious to pain, something like the rock of Gibraltar, or my personal favorite, J.C. Taylor’s “Stoic pig.”

That reading of Stoicism and emotion was around even in the Roman world. The portrait of Cato in Lucan’s Pharsalia is a kind of parody of that sort of stoical Stoic – not very different from the “Stoic pig”. But the real Stoics didn’t see it that way. Here’s Seneca in one of his essays:

There are things that strike the wise person even if they do not overthrow him, such as physical pain, loss of a limb, loss of friends and children, and during wartime the calamity of his fatherland in flames. I do not deny that the wise person feels these, for we do not endow him with the hardness of stone or of iron. To endure without feeling what you endure is not virtue at all.

Seneca is very clear that the rock-of-Gibraltar notion of impassivity is the Cynic notion and not the Stoic conception at all. For Seneca, the Cynic position does indeed “go beyond human nature.”  In the Letters on Ethics, he draws an explicit comparison between Stoic and Cynic understandings of apatheia:  

Our position is different from theirs, in that our wise person conquers all adversities, but still feels them; theirs does not even feel them.

And in fact Seneca frequently goes out of his way to remark that the wise person “feels” not just adversity but all kinds of things. His is a sage who blushes, trembles, laughs and cries, gets irritated and can turn white as a sheet. Often what Seneca is talking about is involuntary feelings that occur in the absence of assent, sometimes called ‘pre-emotions’, ‘protopassions, or ‘first movements.’

I should explain that the early Stoics worked with a careful analysis of mental events in terms of the beliefs one is committed to with each type of response. Even the simplest action reflects a judgment that one’s situation calls for a certain kind of response. And affective responses, which include the emotions, likewise reflect a judgment that ones situation calls for such a response because there is value in it — because something good or bad for oneself has just occurred or is about to occur. But some reactions occur without any judgment having been made at all.

Fans of Epictetus will find the same idea in Fragment 9, where he says that “even the wise person’s mind necessarily responds and is contracted and grows pale for a little while” but  “not because he opines that something evil is at hand.”

So this gives a kind of answer to Crantor’s complaint.  But so far it is only a partial answer. A response that doesn’t commit you to anything is unobjectionable but necessarily also brief, trivial and ineffectual. That’s not all of what Crantor is after when he says “let me feel it.”   It also doesn’t touch the depth of Stoic concern about the ordinary emotions.

To get the real answer, we have to talk about the value term that is implied in affective response. And now at last we are ready to talk about dispassionate life #3, and to give it its name …

The Well-Placed Heart

A well-placed heart is a heart that is set upon those objects that are of genuine value for a human life. What are those objects of value?  The Stoic position, and a constant theme in Seneca and Epictetus, is that there are two different classes of object that matter to a human being, but that they matter in very different ways.

One thinks first of what are called external objects, which is to say, objects  external to one’s own sphere of control, also called indifferents. Examples include the money and resources a person controls, what other people say about them, and in general how people around them might behave.

This kind of object will often be quite appropriate for a Stoic to try to get or to avoid, following what accords with our nature or is contrary to it. But it is a central postulate of Stoic ethics that external objects are neither intrinsically good nor intrinsically bad for us. They do not in themselves make the difference in what sort of life a person has. For this reason they are also referred to as indifferents.

In contrast to these are things within our sphere of control, what I like to call integral objects of concern. Integral objects are features of one’s own character and conduct: whether one is kind, whether one is fair, whether one behaves well in whatever situation presents itself. It is this sort of object that Stoics regard as the true goods and bads of human life.

Now, a basic descriptive claim of Stoic psychology is that it is the external objects that are the typical objects of the emotions we experience. The experience of fear necessarily involves thinking that something outside your sphere of control is a threat to your well-being. Grief necessarily registers a loss that you can’t do anything about.

The ancient Stoics reasoned that because these kinds of objects are not the true goods of human life, the ordinary emotions are simply wrong and stand in need of correction.

On the other hand, if the response is toward integral objects, it can be fully justified. The objection isn’t to the feeling itself—the ability to feel things is part of our design. The problem is the misjudgment of value that underlies typical emotional reactions. It’s like the old saying: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

The Stoic sage, what I refer to as the Person of Perfect Wisdom, has this right, doesn’t react emotionally to things that aren’t integrally important, but does experience deep and urgent feelings when the object is own activity and that of friends. These are the feelings designated “good emotions” or eupatheiai. It seems that the Stoic sage had not only the trivial pre-emotions but also quite a range of vigorous, full-scale affective responses toward integral objects of concern, objects both within herself and within her perfected relationships. The ancient reports list numerous examples: various forms of joy in response to the many good aspects of the wise person’s life; powerful motivations to do good or to form good relationships; aversions from any action that doesn’t belong in a good life.

But is that category of feeling accessible also to us? Can a person who isn’t the sage, who hasn’t perfected her rational nature, train her sights on those proper objects of concern and respond to those in the way that the Stoic sage would?

In the first instance, the answer has to be no. After all we aren’t people of perfect wisdom, and our friends aren’t either. Even our best ideas and efforts are still susceptible to error; they have to be different from what a perfect mind would experience. But this is a place where I think the modern Stoic might push back against the ancient position.

In the last chapter of Stoicism and Emotion, I take the view that even if the original Stoics didn’t fully articulate this part of their philosophy, the position they take on the emotions does have room for ordinary people to have some powerful and important feelings about the integral objects of concern.

Because the fact is, the emotions of familiar experience are not solely concerned with objects external to our sphere of control. Very often they are directed also, or even primarily, at integral objects, through a phenomenon that I’ll call “compounding.”

This is something I can access from my own inner experience as I imagine you do in yours. My grief for the loss of my mother is very much compounded with sorrow over the ways I might not have come through for her. My frustration at meeting resistance from a colleague is very much compounded by  distress that I haven’t been able to establish good communication with that person. And I wonder whether that integral component might not be the real driver in many if not all of our most serious anxieties and griefs, even angers, just as it is in some of our greatest satisfactions.

But we’re a mess: our motives are always very mixed, and often unknown to us. What we have on our hands, then, is not a project in eliminating or shielding ourselves from circumstances that tend to trigger emotions. It’s rather about purifying our response to them. And that’s not going to come about just through desensitization or visualization exercises.

Affective response implies a judgment of value: If I read the system correctly, the only viable approach within Stoicism is to work on the way we make judgments – that is, to take up the challenge of improving our reasoning abilities.

We’ve heard the word “reason” a lot today – and as far as I’m concerned we can hardly hear it too much. It’s a much needed corrective to what’s coming at us from the surrounding culture, where appeals to reason are scarcely to be heard anymore. For Stoics, ancient and modern, reason is the most essential of all our capacities, it’s the central fact about human nature and the only thing that can make us happy.

And while we are none of us perfectly rational, it is quite possible to improve our rational activity, through study, through self-examination, through  values clarification of the kind Chris Gill was talking about earlier.

The nightly self-examination that Seneca describes in writing about the management of anger is just one element of a process that requires a great deal of work in every moment of our lives.

As we begin to think more clearly about what really matters for a human being, the emotions begin – at least begin— to fall into line.

So there is a certain kinship with the Epicurean approach. We’ve seen how Epicurus taught his followers to think of their mind as a calm lake, realizing that the usual objects of fear are not really anything to worry about. Similarly, it is very important for the developing Stoic to come to the realization, through philosophical reasoning, that many of the things we might have thought were major concerns really aren’t that important.

And, remarkably, the Cynics are here as well. You remember that positive values for the Cynics included especially karteria or toughness and its correlate, ischus or strength.  You remember also the Cynic claim that it is the strong and tough condition that is the natural one for human beings. These claims have their counterpart within Stoic thought, in the way that Stoics think about how reason operates.

A central concept of Stoic physics is that of tonos or “tension”: the tight connections among those rational principles that hold the very universe together. But there is also tonos within the human mind. That psychic “tension” is understood as a grasp of central truths and values and as the ability to establish relations between those truths and values and our action-guiding beliefs.

As a characteristic of persons, Chrysippus speaks of eutonia or “good tension,” or more colorfully, of “having good tendons.” He writes,

In the case of the body we speak of tensions which are either ‘lacking in tension’ or ‘good tensions,’ referring to the way our tendons are when we are or are not able to perform tasks. In the same way, perhaps, the tension of the mind is called a ‘good tension’ or a ‘lack of tension.’ For…. by analogy, there is some such way for the tendons to be in the case of the mind. It is in this connection that we say, metaphorically, that some people are ‘without tendon’ and others ‘have tendons.’ One person retreats in the presence of what is frightening, another slackens and gives way when rewards or penalties are offered, and there are many similar cases ….

“Tension” here is a metaphor. We’re not talking about strength of body, nor even about strength of will as that phrase is usually understood. The essential Stoic idea is not about suppressing feelings that you have, but about learning to care more about the things that are worth caring about. Strength of reason gets the priorities right, and therefore gets the emotions right. That is a quite distinct understanding of what it is to live a dispassionate life.

In closing I’ll take us back to our word “professional.” I hope that in the talk today I’ve given voice to some of the thoughts that occur to you when you read this word professional: thoughts maybe about being calm and focused on what you’re trying to achieve; thoughts about your own abilities and the things you can control; thoughts about what really matters.

I wish you all well as you consider the ways you might take something back from this conference to your own place of work, and I thank you for your attention.

Margaret Graver is Aaron Lawrence Professor in Classics at Dartmouth College.  She is the author of Stoicism and Emotion and Cicero on the Emotions: Tusculan Disputations 3 and 4, and the translator of Seneca’s Letters on Ethics .  She gave the keynote address at Stoicon 2017.

The Red Band: A Stoic Criticism of the Red Pill by Vadim Korkhov

The Red Pill is the title of a movement and part of a broader movement called Men’s Rights Activism (MRA).  In recent years, its presence has escalated rapidly on the internet in parallel with right-wing nationalism.  Its major presence is on the social media and news site Reddit.  There, it holds a moderated discussion board where men come both to learn of its principles and teachings as well as seek advice for their own circumstances.

Red Pill, and the “Manosphere” (the collection of doctrines that springs from MRA), believe themselves to be inheriting an ancient masculine tradition whose roots go back to Stoicism, and the principles therein.  Red Pill claims to reflect Stoic teachings and values but falls far short of them, using them merely to establish clout.  Here I will go about explaining theRed Pill, both in its explicit claims and in its implicit ones, and demonstrate that it is little more than an outlet for disaffected and frustrated men, eager to blame others for their ills and desperate to cling to principles that further their anger.

What Red Pill Truly Is.

Red Pill has few comprehensive and systematic doctrines.  To sort out its guiding principles, one has to read their extensive literature and view YouTube videos by gurus.  Based on outward claims by its authorities, Red Pill is admittedly not a philosophy, but rather a “praxeology”.  Despite sounding like it was derived from Ancient Greek, and therefore lending more credence to the Red Pill claim of inheritance from ancient tradition, praxeology is a coined term from the 19th century that was supposed to refer to the science of human action.  The term never came into much use by science and was instead adopted by the Austrian School of Economics, from which much modern American right-wing economics is derived.  This is another nod to Red Pill as a derivative of broader right wing political movements.

As far as Red Pill claims not to be based on principle, but action, its goal is simple and spelled out on its Reddit sidebar. Red Pill is an amoral strategy to maximize sexual opportunity for a man with a woman.  In this, it prescribes a set of techniques, directed both outward with action, and inward to character building, that it believes will vastly enhance sexual opportunity for men.  The approaches espoused by Red Pill are nearly all derived from the Seduction Community (also called Pick-Up Artists – PUA).  But whereas PUA was solely interested in maximizing sex, Red Pill demands more.  In fact, Red Pill despises PUA, calling it a traitor to masculinity.

Red Pill believes that men have lost touch with their masculinity due to the shift in the social expectations of modern Western culture, and that these masculine features are those craved by women.  These features include a strong unshakable character and leadership quality, among others.  These have been lost in the quest for equality of the sexes, which women don’t actually want, despite the claims of feminists.  And that if only men would seize upon their masculinity, without apology, they would gain the adoration of women.  Thus, from the outset, Red Pill quickly distorts its claim of being merely a set of actions.  It is, indeed, a philosophy.

The core of the assertion of Red Pill is the implication that men have surrendered themselves to feminism, and that feminism is really just a disguised effort to subvert domination by men for domination by women.  In their view, feminism is really nothing more than a subversion of the positive role of masculinity which has transformed men from their rightful place as leaders of civilization to its servants, so that women can replace them as leaders.  This is called the “Feminine Imperative” and the demands of equality are nothing more than a test (“shit test”) to see which men are brave enough to resist it and gain a woman’s admiration for the defiant act of courage.

In their view, it was men who built Western civilization into the greatness that it is, and that, despite some flaws, the old social order is preferable to the new social order of feminism. Red Pill waxes nostalgically about the old social order of masculine dominance, hoping to restore it so that men may take more leadership of themselves and their social spheres.  But until that happens, each man must restore this social order within themselves and their immediate circle.  There is no claim to justice here. Red Pill derides what it believes is feminism’s attempt at usurpation of the man for the favor of woman, while it hypocritically asserts man’s leadership to the expense of a woman’s will and liberty.  Each is just a faction, aiming to assert power and nothing more.

Reading Red Pill tracts and literature, as well as the many threads on message boards, one notices the recurrent theme of men’s anger and resentment.  There is the premise of bitterness of men who believe they have suffered humiliation and stagnation at the hands of women, and their inability to compete with women.  They are drawn to Red Pill for its easy answer of casting blame on others – women.  It is not that men have done wrong, so they say, but that men have been made to believe the lies of the feminine imperative, and Red Pill will reveal these lies to them.  The truth will be revealed and it will be terrifying but liberating, and will finally allow man to assert his will when he was once just a slave.

The origin of the term “red pill” is from a scene in the film The Matrix, where the character Neo must decide if he wants to learn the unpleasant truth by swallowing the red pill, or accept a pleasant lie by swallowing the blue pill.  Many men who have been indoctrinated into Red Pill become angry at themselves for being victims of lies for so long.  Their leaders actually encourage this anger, advising neophytes to use it for good purpose, such as in exercise or leadership.  They once again betray their lack of awareness of Stoic doctrine, which says that anger is a destructive and not a useful emotion.  Conspiracy theories like to take simple truths and make them more elaborate.  The simple fact is that most of these men have had bad relationships with women that they’ve generalized upon all women, and are determined to take revenge by taking a position of dominance over them — cruel dominance if necessary.

Dominance is the key feature of Red Pill, whereby all aspects of a relationship with a woman are measured by who makes decisions and who has power, and how to play power games to divert as much power onto the man.  One adage holds that the one who cares least about a relationship controls the relationship.  There is no room for a relationship built on mutual benefit or cooperation – only obedience.

One cited power structure is the “captain and first mate” scheme.  The man is the captain of the ship – the household – and the first mate is the woman.  Both are leaders of the household and while the first mate can discuss orders with the captain, the captain’s orders are final.

Both men and women are caricatured.  Men are defined as “Alpha”, “Beta”, “Omega”, in order of leadership role.  Women defined as seeking wealth and social status by attachment to powerful men – never love – and to use their sexuality as leverage.  The terms “alpha male” and “beta male” are derived from zoology referring to social animals where a single powerful male is solely allowed to mate with all the females of the group.  The wisest alpha male realizes how to leverage his desirability to women by his social status, just as the wisest woman leverages her sexuality for a man’s social status.

Both genders are expected to be “hypergamous” – to leave their partners once they no longer serve their useful purpose and seek others.  Although women are usually accused of this more, Red Pill encourages men towards this same behavior.  For women, their biological agenda is to seek out the fittest male with which to produce fit children, and also to provide for her and these children.  For men, the goal appears to be to find a woman to satisfy his sexual cravings with enthusiasm, and most of all without complaint.

To gain sexual favor with women, there are a wide assortment of tricks and tips, all adopted from PUA, which strive to subvert a woman’s judgement to have sex with a man without getting to know him well.  Readers who are interested are free to seek out relevant sources of information on Seduction, and it is beyond the scope of this article to elaborate on them.  Although some tactics are clearly aimed at self-improvement, such as integrity, character, and confidence, many are gimmicks such as the best approaches, controlling the “frame” of a conversation, and sexual escalation.

One aspect, often called “inner game”, involves focusing on one’s inner demeanor, confidence, and poise so as to increase one’s attractiveness with the opposite sex, but not to better oneself for its own sake.  Thus there is the reliance on an external – the value judgement of a woman.  Lost in this advice is the focus on the person of the man, his character, his value as a human and not merely a sexual object, and his value as a productive member of society.  Most proscriptions devolve to the appearance of social status, wealth, and power, not virtue, since that’s all that RP believes women care about.

Once again, despite its claims, Red Pill does not understand Stoicism.  Social status, wealth, and power are typical externals that are derided by Stoicism as being wasteful endeavors that are largely outside one’s power, yet Red Pill encourages their pursuit.  If they were really interested in applying Stoicism to approaching the opposite sex, one might imagine they would advise sticking to one’s virtue and integrity while eschewing material goods and vain reputation, and letting those women who value those things come to you.

How The Red Pill Is Not Stoicism.

Red Pill believes itself the inheritor of an ancient masculine philosophical tradition, specifically Stoicism.  But what it is actually doing is selectively using and misusing some aspects of Stoicism to gain standing for its flawed doctrines.  While some of its approaches have a hint of Stoicism, they are very selective, with Stoicism often serving as a point of awe and admiration by Red Pill practitioners.  In actuality, it does not resemble Stoicism despite its claims in the following ways:

  • There is no appeal or effort towards justice. Red Pill is just an amoral sexual strategy.  It cannot be amoral and also Stoic because, in Stoicism, virtue is regarded as the sole good.  Feminism is claimed to be an injustice, but Red Pill simply wants to replace it with the old social order of the domination of men in place of the domination of women.  It favors a social order based solely on obedience of one group to another, with contrived justifications such as “men built civilization.”  There is no effort made to justify obedience for deserved reasons, such as wise leadership.
  • There is no appeal to wisdom. There is only a striving towards superficial wisdom, like approaches and conversational framing.  Nor is there insistence on gaining to know a woman as a person, and not as a sexual target. Red Pill generally sees wisdom in narrow terms of what is immediately useful, without any long term foresight.
  • There is almost no mention of the dichotomy of control. The only mention of the dichotomy of control is that if one approach fails, try another.  However, little is offered on alternatives to standard Red Pill dogma.  For the most part, if you fail at something, it is just your fault for being either too stupid or too weak to apply Red Pill methods properly.  This is demonstrated when men ask for advice from others in message boards, where they are usually derided for weakness or lassitude.  This tends to discourage advice seeking and favors posts on boasting success
  • There is no sense of community. The community is nothing more than a sexual marketplace, where people are selling sex for wealth and status, and social bonds nothing more than goods and services in a market.  Outside of the sexual marketplace, society is nothing more than a game of dominance, with some having more power than others, and some commanding, whether or not they deserve that privilege, and others obeying, whether or not they deserved this subservience.

On the other hand, Red Pill does resemble Stoicism in the following ways, which makes it appear as if one derives from the other, and in this way, may make it attractive.

  • Courage is favored. A true alpha male is one who is not afraid to be daring.  He stands up to adversity and intimidation.  No woman is out of one’s league, and no challenge is impossible.  This factor is one of the most pushed in Red Pill circles.
  • Temperance is encouraged. Men do not whine and cry “like women” and accept, with calm reservation, whatever situation they’re in.  There is also a strong focus on athleticism, albeit less for one’s health and more for one’s attractiveness with women.  On the other hand, temperance is betrayed when men are encouraged to gain social status, wealth, and power, and not necessarily for personal benefit, but to be attractive to women.
  • There is some allowance for the Stoic principle of Providence. One commonly repeated maxim is that a woman is never “yours” but only borrowed for a time, until she is another man’s.  But here there is a betrayal, because this also discourages long term relationships, the very antithesis of community.  Stoicism at least only acknowledges that a family can be ended with death, but not so casually disposed of as divorce or lack of interest in the partner.

To summarize, Red Pill only resembles Stoicism in its regard towards some internalized goals of the man – character and strength of will – in order to maximize his perceived attractiveness in the eyes of women.  Internalized goals of personal improvement are only incidental to the goal of sexual attractiveness, and therefore, nothing more than vanity.  The pursuit of virtue is not the primary motive, only sexual attractiveness is.  What few virtues are cultivated are also incidental.  There is an obsessive focus on vanities and externals, including sex itself, which is not only an external but depends also on the cooperation of another who is entirely outside of one’s control.  The focus on externals explains why many Red Pillers are inherently insecure and constantly seek to put down others who challenge them.

Dr. Vadim Korkhov is a critical care physician who works in the ICU of a major urban hospital in the US.  He developed an interest in ancient Greece and Rome from an early age, and earned a BA in Classical Civilization from NYU.  He developed an interest in philosophy from a colleague, in more recent years, which led to his immersion in Stoicism.