Are Virtuous People Happy? Why The Ancients’ Views Are Still Sensible by Rafael R Pereira

We know that the relationship between morality and happiness constitutes a major difference between ancient and modern moral theories. It seems evident to many of us that these orders of consideration are distinctive: a person can be unhappy by acting morally. However, a basic premise of eudaimonist ethics involves the thesis that the virtues make us happy, constitutively or instrumentally. This essay will discuss how this view can still make sense. To this end, we will attempt to apprehend eudaimonia first from the standpoint of considerations about who we are, our identity or true nature, and second from the way we relate to the world. As we will observe, this second aspect is related to the ancient concept of fortune or tuké.

Ancient authors, particularly Aristotle and the Stoics, understood eudaimonia as the best possible life for the specific kind of creatures humanity represents. We are fundamentally rational agents; hence, the good life is one in which we can best develop and exercise our rational capacities. The conception of eudaimonia, therefore, connects the good life to considerations of identity and interprets it teleologically: what we really are is not the inception; it is a point of arrival, something we must strive to become (Robertson 2013: 31).

It makes perfect sense within this conceptual framework to cognize that our lives will be better if we are virtuous because, in precise terms, virtues entail the updating of our rational capacities. The good life is one in which we flourish as rational agents, becoming excellent human beings. Evidently, this inference is vastly different from the way we comprehend happiness in modernity: as a pleasant emotional state or a subjective sense of well-being. The incongruity of the thesis that virtues contribute to happiness appears attributable, therefore, to conceptual confusion or to a translation error if we so prefer. The definition posited by the ancient philosophersis simply not what we now signify by the term happiness.

I will try to demonstrate in this essay that it is still reasonable for us to believe that virtuous people are happier. Ancient and modern views are not so divergent after all. The first important point to note is that both eudaimonia and modern happiness encompass certain objective and subjective elements. This thesis is defended by Richard Kraut in his paper “Two Conceptions of Happiness”. According to Kraut, both ancients and moderns understand happiness as a positive attitude toward living when such a life satisfies certain standards that are considered to be good. In other words, happiness is vested in a life that embodies something valued by the individual. The ancient and modern conceptions are different merely in their emphasis. Such values ​​are independent of our individual preferences in the former notion: we should desire them. In the modern version of the idea, the individual is free to choose a personal tenet of a good life. In both cases, our lives must meet certain standards, objective in eudaimonistic conceptions and subjective in modern terms (Kraut 1979: 168).

 That eudaimonia contains subjective elements can be illustrated by recalling Aristotle’s belief that a virtuous person takes pleasure in acting virtuously (NE 1099a15). That the modern conception of a good life incorporates objective elements can be elucidated by the known example of a woman who believes she has a perfect family and then discovers her husband has another family elsewhere. In this instance, the woman’s life is not good according to the pattern she has set for herself. Thus, happiness cannot solely be subjectively understood in modernity. If it could, we would have to maintain that the woman led a happy life even though she was deceived.

We can thus say that the eudaimonia of the ancients is a type of moderate objectivism, whereas modern happiness represents moderate subjectivism. If the two conceptions are not so different, as Kraut maintains, then the thesis that virtue is a constitutive element of happiness must still somehow be reasonable. This essay focuses on fortune or tuché, a concept crucial to eudaimonist conceptions, to demonstrate this point.

Both Aristotle and the Stoics sought to distance themselves from the position commonly associated with Solon, who stated in a famous passage by Herodotus that fortune was the principal component of eudaimonia, and that is why a person’s happiness could only be asserted after death (Herodotus, H. I-32). Aristotle and the Stoics rejected this view, possibly because they thought that a life subjected to tuché would be akin to the existence of leaves in the wind and would not do justice to our nature as rational agents. In opposition, both the Stoics and Aristotle postulated a notion that would minimize the effects of fortune or even eliminate them altogether, as will be discussed later in the paper. Their strategy was to make what we do, and not what happens to us, the key element of a good life. Eudaimonia, in fact, is often described as a kind of activity rather than as a state. Aristotle illustrated this point by defining eudaimonia as the “activity (energeia) of the soul according to virtue” (NE 1098a-17). Explaining the stoic position, Julia Annas comments that our telos is not happiness; rather, it is “to be happy.” Hence, it is something we do, not a state of affairs (Annas 1993: 396; Cf. Didymus, 77.16–27). Understood in this manner, happiness becomes something fundamentally dependent on ourselves and cannot be easily taken away from us. Fortune’s role is thus minimized.

 In this sense, our flourishing as rational agents transforms the way we relate to the world. Ancient philosophers generally believed, as do many moderns, that our nature incorporates two dimensions: one active, associated with reason; another passive, associated with emotions or pathé. We are simultaneously agents and subjects of experiences. This point can be illustrated by the etymology of pathos, which derives from the Greek verb páskho (to suffer, to be affected by). The same occurs with the terms afeto in Portuguese and “affection” in English, derived from affectus, the participle of the Latin verb afficio, “to affect.” Thus, we are subjects of experiences, in large part through our emotions. Passions are how the world affects us, and we consequently relate to the world in two ways: we act on it through reason, and we are affected by it through our passions.

 We must learn to handle the world in a more rational way to become good rational agents, which entails becoming more active and less passive. However, our condition as subjects of experiences is not eliminated in the process. We will always be affected by fortune, but this dimension can also be rationalized. It has been noted that the world works on us through our passions. Both Aristotle and the Stoics distinguished between irrational and rational emotions, although they disagreed on their significations. We all have emotional reactions that could be considered irrational, for instance, a fear of cockroaches, anger at the television remote control, or an affinity toward people who treat us badly. There are situations, however, in which our emotional reactions can be rationally justified. This rationalization is possible because, unlike the moderns, the ancients conceived of emotions in a cognitive manner, associating or identifying feelings with beliefs about values ​​or about reality (Nussbaum, 369–72). We can thus conform to reason the ways in which the world affects us.

 Aristotle and the Stoics, however, disagreed on how this validation was accomplished. Aristotle defended a position that could be labeled the stance of harmonization, in which affections must be educated to listen (akouo) to reason. The Stoics, on the other hand, considered emotions linked to false value judgments (pathé) as fundamentally different from rational emotions (eupatheiai). The false adjudications thus disappear during the acquisition of the virtues. This divergence between the two ancient schools in the manner in which our affective existence should be rationalized can cause dissimilarities about the emotions that may be considered rational. In the Aristotelian view, certain emotions such as envy are never rational (NE 1107a11), but there may be good reasons to feel anger, fear, or sadness. In the Stoical conception, such emotions are always irrational (unless they are treated as proto-passions or involuntary physiological reactions occurring before the value judgment that generates the passions; Cf. Seneca: Ep. 99.15–6).

Stoicism may be apprehended as the radicalization of certain Aristotelian premises. As observed above, both positions consider virtue as the main component of a good life and minimize the role of fortune. Aristotle, however, thought that the latter could not be completely eliminated: virtue is necessary for eudaimonia and it is not possible to be happy without it, but it is not sufficient in itself. External and bodily goods such as health and wealth also contribute, albeit in a secondary role, to happiness (NE 1099a32). The Stoics, on the other hand, held that virtue is both necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia. There are several ways to understand this divergence. I prefer Irwin’s elucidation: the thesis of necessity implied the premise of sufficiency for the Stoics; thus, the Aristotelian position is inconsistent (Irwin 1986: 213). When we recognize that virtue is a different type of value that is incommensurable with the worth of other goods, as implied in the thesis that virtue is a pre-condition of happiness, we cannot avoid the rationale that it also becomes the only relevant good for eudaimonia. If we allow virtue to mix with other types of values for the composition of a good life, there is no way to guarantee that it will always prevail in cases of conflict. Inevitably, some amount of external goods will become more important for happiness than virtue. Thus, the passive facet of our nature, our condition as agents of experiences, will outweigh our active dimension as rational agents. The Stoics would thus maintain the necessity of making virtue the only component of a good life to guarantee the special status of virtue as a value incommensurable with other goods. Obviously, our condition as subjects of experiences is not eliminated; that would be impossible. The world continues to act on us, but this aspect is irrelevant in itself for a good life, according to the Stoics. Happiness is not primarily vested in what we do and less consigned in what happens to us, as Aristotle claims. It consists only in what we do.

We are now in a better position to understand the continuing validity of the view that virtuous people are happy. This point is sometimes based, as in Kraut’s paper, on Aristotle’s position that acting virtuously is pleasurable. However, Aristotle’s stance is not an efficacious means of apprehending the relationship between virtue and happiness. First, it appears to work best on hedonistic conceptions, and Aristotle was not himself a hedonist. Second, as was common in the ancient world (including the Stoics), this thesis is based on an analogy between moral deliberation and the model of skills or technai, and that is not how happiness is usually understood today. However, as contended in this essay, the relationship between virtue and happiness is also related to the role discharged by fortune in a good life, and this method is more promising as a means of making the virtue-happiness relationship intelligible for contemporary views. This essay attempts this task based on an association between suffering and what we will call “psychic vulnerability”.

 It is easily contemplated that relating to the world more rationally would make us less psychologically vulnerable to events. Ancient doctrines have already made this point, which is particularly clearly enunciated by the Stoics, who emphasize the peace of mind or the tranquility (ataraxia) of virtuous people in handling misfortunes. We place ourselves in a fragile position when we are passive; we become more subject to suffering and find it difficult to cope with circumstances. Being rational and active makes us mentally and emotionally stronger. This aspect forms the base of the recent congruence posited between Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) by authors such as Donald Robertson (Robertson 2010). This approximation is possible because CBT shares the ancient cognitivist view of emotions. Much of our psychic suffering results from emotions generated by false beliefs. Our flourishing as rational agents makes us mentally and emotionally healthier and better equipped to deal with the setbacks in our lives.

Therefore, the thesis that virtuous people are happy is still sensible. The virtuous are less prone to the suffering caused by psychic vulnerability.As Kraut elucidated, this connection is possible because eudaimonia and what we identify as happiness are not so different after all. Both have subjective and objective components. Thus far, we have discussed the subjective facet of ancient conceptions such as the Stoic notion of ataraxia, but the objectivity contained in modern happiness is also a crucial point. It enables us to explain, for instance, why a person whose state of tranquility was achieved through drugs or medication would not be considered to be happy: the usage of medications compromises our rational agency and the way we connect to the world. The notion of ​​flourishing, the view that happiness is comprised of a life that is apt and good for the type of creature we represent, continues to make sense in modernity, albeit in a weakened version of the robustness the rationale offered to the ancient philosophers.

Nevertheless, it is important to attend to the limits of this approximation. As previously noted, a difference in emphasis certainly prevails between the modern and ancient viewpoints. This distinction should not be underestimated. It has been iterated above that eudaimonistic conceptionsare grounded in moderate objectivism, whereas modern happiness is founded on moderate subjectivism. To ascertain the relevance of this divergence, we may reflect that a type of moral realism founds the eudaimonia of the ancients: objective and true goods exist independently of our personal preferences; these must be incorporated into our existence if we want our lives to be worthy. The subjective element of these conceptiosn is denoted by the fact that we must be educated to appreciate such values (Aristotle NE 1104b10-7). In this essay we postulate that freedom (eleuteria, libertas) is the most important of these goods, both for Aristotle and the Stoics. The preservation of our integrity as rational agents is what really matters to our existence. To be passive is to be controlled by external events and to become a slave to fortune. The Stoics highlighted this issue clearly (Seneca Ep. 66.14-7, 92.2; Epictetus Disc. I-25.23; III-20.8; III-24.60; IV-1.36), as did Aristotle, for whom autarkes was the most important component of eudaimonia, even though it was not the only one. If the good life is vested in our flourishing as rational agents, it is perfectly comprehensible that freedom in the sense of a kind of autonomy or rational integrity is the central component. The subjective dimension of these conceptions thus occupies a subordinate place. Just as the pleasure of virtuous actions is a secondary feature of Aristotle’s non-hedonistic ethics, the stoic perspective of ataraxia must be interpreted as the state of mind of the free person. Freedom is the crucial value.

 If taken seriously, the recent revival of eudaimonist conceptions, particularly Stoicism, should not merely be construed as a means toward more happiness in the modern sense. Eudaimonia and modern happiness are different. The point of being rational cannot be reduced to a matter of becoming resilient or to the more tranquil conduct of our lives. The resumption of ancient notions should rather be viewed as a mandate to modify our conception of happiness. It should then lead to a more refined reflection on the definition of a good life and result in the particular contemplation of the place of freedom and integrity in such an existence. However, such reflection is facilitated once we understand that the distance between the ancient and modern notions of happiness is not so big. The stance that virtuous people are happy remains current and intelligible.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Annas, Julia. 1993. The Morality of Happiness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Aristotle. 1984a. “Nicomachean Ethics” (NE). In The Complete Works of Aristotle, volume 2, Edited by Jonathan Barnes, 1729–1867. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Didymus, Arius. 1999. Epitome of Stoic Ethics. Edited and translated by Arthur J. Pomeroy. Atlanta-GA: Society of Biblical Literature.
  • Epictetus. 1956. The Discourses (Disc). Translated by W. A. Oldfather. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Herodotus. 1987. The History (H). Translated by David Grene. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • Irwin, Terence. 1986. “Stoic and Aristotelian Conceptions of Happiness.” In Schofield, Malcolm. & Striker, Gisela. The Norms of Nature: Studies in Hellenistic Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kraut, Richard. 1979. “Two Conceptions of Happiness.” In: The Philosophical Review, 88, no 2.
  • Nussbaum, Martha. 1994. The Therapy of Desire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Robertson, Donald. 2013. Stoicism and the Art of Happiness. London: Hodder & Soughton.
  • Robertson, Donald. 2010. The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT). London: Karnac Books ltda.
  • Seneca. 1969. Letters from a Stoic (Ep). Translated by Robin Campbell. London: Penguin Books.

Rafael Rodrigues Pereira is a philosophy professor at the Federal University of Goias (Ufg), Brazil. He has published many papers about Stoicism and contemporary virtue ethics. He is also a member of the GT Epictetus in Brazil with Aldo Dinucci, a group related to the National Association of Philosophy Students (Anpof), and dedicated to studies about Stoicism.

This article was produced with the support of the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (Cnpq), Brazil.

Stoic Wisdom: Moral Injury and Stoic Resilience by Nancy Sherman

This essay is drawn from Nancy Sherman, Stoic Wisdom: Ancient Lessons for Modern Resilience (2021) Now available in hardback, electronic, and audio formats at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

Greco-Roman Stoicism is a natural fit for the military. Yet it’s in tension with what many experts now acknowledge as a pervasive psychological fact of war and after war. And that is moral injury. The leading research and clinical mental health professionals working on war-related moral injury define it as “a syndrome of shame, self-handicapping, anger, and demoralization that occurs when deeply held beliefs and expectations about moral and ethical conduct are transgressed.”[i]  Transgressions can arise from the point of view of the agent (as perpetrator), from the behavior of others (as victim), or by being close-up witnesses, say as immersed war journalist or photographer.

Consider Toronto Star photojournalist Paul Watson who was in Somalia in 1993 and took the Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph of Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland —a bloodied corpse, bound, and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by the Somali rebels. As Watson aimed his camera, what he is sure he heard Cleveland whisper was: “If you do this, I’ll own you forever.”[ii] The photo ended up being instrumental in the pull out of American forces from Somalia under President Clinton. But the guilt of having taken the photo tormented Watson for decades. It was as if Watson’s camera shot was one of the shots that killed Cleveland.                            

Moral injury is a trauma response to a severe moral conflict or challenge. It’s related to post-traumatic stress (PTS) with overlapping symptoms, yet distinct from it in that moral threat, and not overwhelming life threat, is the trigger. The potentially injurious experiences have to do with breaches of morality, not breaches of safety. The emotions that manifest moral injury can burrow deep, like guilt, shame, resentment, and a sense of betraying and being betrayed. They are part of a broader palette of emotions that philosophers call “reactive attitudes”. They are testaments to the fact that we hold ourselves and others to account.

Service members wield the most lethal of weapons in high-stakes situations. Those who are conscientious wrestle with what they do and what they leave undone and what they leave behind. While moral injury may be especially traumatic in the military, it also exists in civilian life, even when lethal weapons aren’t wielded. There are lessons to be learned for everyone in how Stoicism “makes peace” with moral injury.

Take this case of a naval aviator, recounted by New York Times correspondent, C.J. Chivers in his book The Fighters.  Layne McDowell was meant for a cockpit. He had wanted to fly since junior high, and the Naval Academy, unlike the Air Force, took a gamble on a guy that had just had a knee injury. He graduated in 1995 with a 3.84 GPA and soon discovered he also had the physiology to withstand 9-G’s over time in the “spin and puke” centrifuge. He could physically endure and had made peace with willful self-defensive killing of enemy combatants in what he took to be “just war” ways. But one event early in his career unhinged his sense of moral calm. It was a midday strike on a radio-relay site in northern Kosovo in May 1999. Intelligence imagery was grainy. In order not to alert Serbian forces, he had to go south of the target and make a quick turn back. Aircrews now had less time to locate and verify the target. Serbian Air Defense opened up fire and that took McDowell’s attention away from the targeting screen.         

“I felt good about the release. Then clouds obscured the target until about 13 seconds to impact. At that time I began having doubts about the target. It didn’t look right, but in those 13 seconds, I didn’t say anything, and we took out what we were targeting with 2 GBU [guided bomb unit]-12’s.”

Dread started to mount. Back on the carrier, McDowell looked at the strike footage on a big screen. The bomb had struck not the target but a carport next to a house. McDowell saw signs of civilian occupation, and unmistakably, four bikes, two of which were child-sized.

There were never any legal proceedings or Navy follow-up to determine if and who and how many civilians and children may have been killed in the strike. But he carried the moral burden in a repetitive intrusive dream in which he did his own after-incident investigation. The dream replayed again before he deployed to Iraq in 2005. The building he bombed was somehow still standing but there was thick dust everywhere, insulation and wires dangling, boards littered all over the ground. The smoke was thick and it was hard to make out who, at all, was in the structure. He aches to turn back the clock, to be given time to steer the bomb to an empty field. But he can’t. In the structure, he definitely saw a small boy huddled in the corner, coated in dust, severely injured but still breathing. He knew the face. It was McDowell’s own son, Landon. “He lifted the boy to his chest, tightly for a hug, cupping his hand behind the child’s little head, to hold it. The back of his skull was gone.”

The case I have retold, drawn from American journalist C. J. Chivers’s The Fighters,[iii] is not one of collateral killing of noncombatants, but of accidental killing. Unlike some collateral killings that may be justified as necessary militarily or excused as part of eliminating a serious threat, accidents like these, all too numerous in war, are never justified as necessary or eliminative killings. There is no military good to be achieved: killing the noncombatant is not part of a proportionality calculation.

Still, the accidents may be legally or morally excusable—due to poor intelligence, sudden blinding by enemy air fire, unpredictable shifts in flight patterns or cloud cover. This is the fog of war that McDowell faced. And yet innocents were horribly wronged. As the aviator who dropped the ordnance, McDowell carries the moral burden.

This is a stunning case of military moral injury.  But can a modern military Stoicism rooted in ancient teachings find room for moral injury? Can a Stoic, bent on the calm that comes with discipline and virtue, leave space for the anxiety of perceived or real failure, or anger at those who make sport of war and take innocent civilians as their prey? Can civilians also learn how to forgive themselves for making mistakes or for accidents which have more to do with bad luck than with failures of moral responsibility?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. I pose them as an educator teaching civilians and military who serve and will serve, here and abroad. Some will serve not as public servants, but in private capacities, in their workplace and communities, and in their homes. The answer to these questions has ramifications for all: When we teach Stoic texts, are we reaping the right lessons? Can we construct a healthy modern Stoicism, grounded in ancient wisdom, that recognizes moral injury and the possibility for post-traumatic growth?

The Stoics don’t talk about moral injury, per se, but they do talk about moral distress. And they teach that such distress has no place, at least in the personality profile of the ideal moral person. Here, they embrace a teaching from Socrates:  the only real harm is for you yourself to become unjust, and that is not a possibility for the truly virtuous person. A truly good person, teaches Socrates in the Apology, cannot be harmed in life or death. That is the kind of impregnability that virtue affords. Virtue is sufficient for happiness, as Socrates taught.

So, you might say, the Stoics draw a bright line rule for a sage’s behavior: A sage can do no wrong by definition, for a truly virtuous person cannot do wrong. And so, if you are a sage, and you can’t do wrong, then there is no room for moral anguish or angst. Since it is only the anguish of wrongdoing, of perpetrating wrong, that counts as real moral distress.

But what if you are not a sage? After all, we are told that a sage rises only as often as the phoenix, and that’s only every 500 years. It’s an ideal, and probably an impossible one to apply in our non-ideal, imperfect world. What if you are, like Seneca, the famous Roman Stoic and advisor to Nero, says he always is, just a moral progressor, aspiring to become better but subject to error, misevaluations of what is really worthy, caught in struggles with those in power who compromise moral autonomy and self-rule? For many of us, the compromises may not rise to the level of imperial court intrigue, with execution, poisoning, banishment, imprisonment, and enforced suicide looming in the background or foreground. But the basic condition of not being sin-free and yet aspiring to become better is, in part, what has appealed to readers of Seneca throughout the ages, in the Hellenistic world and the Judeo-Christian period that followed, and now. And it also is part of the implicit appeal of Stoicism for the military. For the military culture is one not only of unbridled can-do-ism, but of constraint and chains of authority that squeeze autonomy and force choices that leave moral detritus in their wake.

So where do we find this thread of moral aspiration in Stoic writings? We first have to go back to Plato where Socrates appears again as a foil against a less noble character. The tale which I am about to retell sets up a challenge posed to the Stoics by a famous expositor/editor of Stoic texts.

We have to go back to the very conclusion of Plato’s Symposium,a banquet in honor of the god Eros.  Alcibiades, the morally flawed and disastrous military leader who betrayed Athens to the Spartans, bursts into the drinking party and addresses his love encomium directly to Socrates, his idealized and beloved moral tutor. Socrates, he confesses, is the only one who can really hold up a mirror to Alcibiades’s own errant ways and bring on the tears of shame. The anguish and shame are often excruciating, especially when Alcibidades is in Socrates’s presence. For at those moments, confesses Alcibiades, he shows me my flaws.   “Ah—,” he says knowing his audience, “you didn’t think I had it in me, did you? Yes, he makes me feel ashamed.”[iv]

The “tears of Alcibiades” becomes a famous challenge for Stoic thought: Shouldn’t we allow in moral distress as a launching pad for moral improvement? It is Cicero who poses the challenge. Not himself a Stoic but a Roman redactor, that is an editor and most important preserver of the texts, often attracted to Stoic ways, Cicero insists in the Tusculan Disputations that Cleanthes, the second of the three Greek patriarchs of the Stoic school—they are: Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus—doesn’t take the problem seriously enough: “It seems to me that Cleanthes does not take sufficiently into account the possibility that a person might be distressed over the very thing which Cleanthes himself counts as the worst of evils.” And then Cicero reminds his readers of this Symposium passage and Alcibiades’ distress before Socrates and his desire to be more virtuous: “What are we to say about this, Cleanthes? Surely you would not claim that the circumstances which occasioned Alcibiades’ distress was not really a bad thing?” (Cicero, 2002, 3.77, 34–35).

Cicero zeroes in on the same point later in the Tusculans: “Suppose a person is upset about his own lack of virtue—his lack of courage, say, or of responsibility or integrity. The cause of his anxiety is indeed an evil!” But the anguish, the guilt or shame, is an “impulse toward virtue itself,” he says. (Cicero, 2002, 4.61–62).

In a really insightful moment, Cicero admits that it can be an “all too vigorous impulse” that can lay us low. His therapeutic counsel is not to dismiss the cause of distress, but to control what we show, at least when and where we show it—very Roman advice about decorum, and military counsel as well. But if the core cause and object of distress is our own wrongdoing, then we should seize the moment as an occasion for moral aspiration. It is a first step and impulse toward moral growth and repair.

Now let’s return to our aviator case in Kosovo. Maybe there is some degree of culpability in this horrible accident. Whether or not there is, what we know is that Lane McDowell holds himself responsible. So, too, do so many service members that I have interviewed and written about over the years, who come home from war when their battle buddies do not. They hold themselves morally responsible—for being on leave the day when improvised explosive device (IED) blasts ripped through the Army vehicle of a best friend; for having squatted rather than stood on the roof the second the insurgents took aim; for having given permission to a squad mate to get out of the Humvee to relieve himself in a spot that ended up being booby-trapped with mines; for having permissive rules of engagement that allow to put some risk on civilians for the sake of a high-stake mission, but then the civilians ends up being totally innocent children; for having restrictive rules of engagement that transfer risk onto troops, and then seeing your buddies killed when you are not at all sure if the civilians you saved were really noncombatants.

Survivors’ guilt, accident guilt, holding yourself morally responsible for events in which you may not even be causally responsible, for thinking you should have omniscience, or at least be less fallible, about who was who and what was what on that day, is how service members carry the burden of care for each other. The guilt may be fitting of good character and care. You don’t just feel grief; you feel you could have done something differently. Agency steps in to fill the horrible void. I write a lot about this moral landscape and its interface with Stoic grit in my new book, Stoic Wisdom and also in earlier books, Stoic Warriors, as well as in Afterwar and the The Untold War.  Still, the self-blame can be too harsh and unfair. The right therapy in these cases involves redrawing the lines around agency and accountability. It’s a case where letting go is understanding the limits of control. It’s also a case where compassion and mercy may have to come from others so you can learn to show it toward yourself.

This very lesson about Stoic social grit is most profound, even if disturbing, in another Roman Stoic text, and that is Seneca’s play Hercules Rages. Hercules, blinded and crazed by a spell cast by a jealous and vengeful stepmother, Juno, has just finished his labors and pierced through Hades to rejoin his family. But at the moment of that long-awaited reunion, Hercules unwittingly murders his family. His self-blame is unremitting and suicidal. He did the deed. He could’ve and should’ve done otherwise. Hindsight bias—as psychologists call it—torments him.

Fast forward and listen carefully and you can hear our own servicemembers struggling with the accidents of war, bad intelligence, the forced choices, and blinding that lead to horrific tragedies. The struggle may have to do with conduct in war, but also cause, that at first seemed just but not so any more.  Or achievable, but no longer. Or their service honorable or patriotic, but less so as missions seem futile and war partners whom they are supporting feckless and led by corrupt political leaders.

In this Stoic play, it is a father and a buddy who intervene to help Hercules find self-compassion: “The grief is yours. The guilt your stepmother’s. Bad luck is not your fault,” says his father.  Hercules’s closest friend is far more direct: “Use your heroic courage” to show yourself mercy.  

You might say this is a surprising Stoic lesson. It’s not about what we we’ve been taught to associate with Stoic resilience—namely, go-it-alone tough, macho grit. Rather, it is about a different kind of grit—of learning to accept the trust and love of others in order to rebuild inner strength.   I see this as a critical Stoic lesson for service members I’ve worked with over many decades, some returning to my classes, unraveled by the horrors of war, trying to make moral sense of their role in what they’ve done, seen, and suffered.  Some are looking for answers as they sit in my classes. Others end up writing about their wars, as journalists, who return to where they deployed as young Marines or soldiers, with a new perspective on their wars and if the fight was worth it.

As I’ve said and we know, the emotions that travel with moral injury—shame, guilt, moral despair, and sometimes, a shattered sense of moral identity may be all too apt—the sign of a soldier’s humanity.  But the self-punishment may nonetheless be profoundly unfair—not just because it doesn’t always track real or precise culpability, but because the moral burdens are shouldered disproportionately by the too few who serve in the military in this country.

Heroic courage, in Seneca’s play, requires letting others in to help vanquish the self-rage—in Hercules’s case, a caring father and a wise and benevolent friend.

The role of a benevolent buddy in self-forgiveness is, in fact, part of a protocol used by leading VA clinical and research psychologists Brett Litz (of the Boston VA and BU) in treating veterans for moral injury.    At a critical juncture in the therapy, patients are asked to imagine an “empty chair” in the room, a place and space for a trusted and benevolent friend, someone with moral authority, who might help you reclaim a sense of lost goodness. The hope is that you might begin to see a glimmer of yourself through their eyes. Or you might be asked to reverse the stance: imagine yourself as the compassionate friend to whom a buddy can turn when he’s “stuck” in the way you are, wracked with guilt and the self-harm that often follows. Would you be merciless in your blame? Would he be merciless in his toward you?

The Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, Adam Smith, himself influenced by the Stoics, dubbed this kind of exercise “changing places in fancy.” Smith saw it as a way of building empathy, the connective tissue that allows us to share our humanity.

Service members are good at sharing humanity—up close and personal. A fighting force depends on it. March and drill depend upon it. But warriors often view the inner war as not needing the same social capital.  That is a mistake. And it’s not one that modern Stoics should make.

Marcus Aurelius is prescient on just this point. He jots his meditations as notes to himself at nightfall during the Germanic campaigns along the Danube. The intimate killing of the battlefield is likely on his mind: Picture a dismembered hand and head lying apart from the rest of the human trunk, he writes. That’s what “man makes of himself . . . when he cuts himself off” from others with whom he is connected.  The image is graphic. It’s one modern warriors know all too well.

Marcus draws a moral and psychological lesson from it, embedded deep in the foundations of Greco-Roman Stoicism. We are “at home in the world,” a stock Stoic phrase, when we recognize our mutual dependence. When we bring others close in, closer into ourselves—as a lesser known Hierocles put it, describing how we should bring outer circles of friends closer to the center point—the self.

Still the idea of Stoic social grit and mutual interdependence is a counterpoint to an image many service members conjure up of Marcus, a gilded and grand solo horseman, astride his glorious steed. The equestrian sculpture, still in Rome, may befit the honor due an emperor. But the emperor himself, writing his own breviary after a long day’s campaign, knows he is no lone horseman.  “We have come into the world to work together.” 

 With these words in mind, now look again at Marcus’s outstretched right hand in that very monumental statue. Maybe he is reaching out to others, holding out a hand. When I teach to the executive leadership of the military, 4-star admirals and generals—I stress that military leaders must acknowledge the real moral anguish suffered by many who go to war (including themselves) and that showing compassion is a way to teach self-compassion. This could not have been more painful when I was at the Pentagon observing the suicide review boards run by then Army Vice-Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli at the height of the suicide epidemic within the military.

Finally, are there other critical Stoic texts that address the themes of forgiveness and mercy? The idea of having erred and finding a way forward as moral aspirant is nowhere more evident than in Seneca’s essay On Mercy, addressed to Nero.In writing it, Seneca says he holds up “a mirror” for Nero to better see his ways. But the mirror is one Seneca holds up to himself, as well. As public spokesperson for the court, Seneca is also expressing the hope of the greater public that the tyrant will somehow show restraint, especially in the wake of having just murdered his half-brother Britannicus (at age 14) to thwart his claim to the throne. The essay’s shadow twin is Seneca’s play, the Trojan Women. In the essay, we see the promise of mercy. In the play, we see the wasteland of an after-war world bereft of it.

Mercy makes good on the gentler side of Stoicism, lost on critics, protests Seneca, who see only Stoicism’s sturdy austerity. Mercy is Andromache’s plea to Ulysses in the concluding scenes of Trojan Women. The Greeks, despite their victory, find themselves once again stuck without the right winds to set sail. And following a familiar script, Calchas, the Greek priest, recommends Hector and Andromache’s young baby son, Astyanax, be sacrificed and, too, that Polyxena, the young daughter of Priam and Hecuba, be slaughtered as a war bride on Achilles’s tomb by his proxy, his son Pyrrhus. The children must bear the crimes of their forefathers. The ghost of Achilles kills his young bride and a baby boy is thwarted from becoming a warrior who can reignite another cycle of the Trojan war.

The future Trojan warrior boy must face his fate. But his mother, Andromache, is in a mortal battle with Ulysses to protect her innocent child. She has hidden him in her husband Hector’s tomb, a place safe from enemy destruction. She begs Ulysses for mercy, for kindness, for herself as a hostage of war and as a mother whose child is her only comfort. The boy is no threat, she pleads, too young and without any power or backing to rearm a city. The boy may be a royal, but he is as good as a slave now: just put a yoke on his “royal neck.” (Seneca, 2010b, 748).

To kill the little boy is a crime of war, protests Andromache, and the atrocity will be pinned not on the gods but on you, Ulysses. But a Greek warrior, set on vengeance, cannot stay the impulse. Anger, as Seneca once again teaches, can’t be stopped, once set in motion: “I wish I could be merciful. I cannot,” answers Ulysses. (Seneca, 2010b, 764). The transmission of war, across generations, will go on, in violation of war’s permissions. Once the appetite for warrior anger is whet, it knows no bounds. Innocent children, killed by mistake or vengeance, are war’s pawns. Ulysses, the wily warrior, cunning strategist, cannot find a strategy for showing mercy, once the warrior mode grabs hold.

What we next see is the stunning consequence of the rage: a little boy forced to step off the steep embankment that was once the site of his grandfather Priam’s watchtower. The boy’s body shatters with the impact of the plunge. His corpse is mangled, his skull cracks open, brains spurt out, a little boy pulverized as if by a high impact bomb. Pleas of leniency, entreaties to restrain a victor’s revenge, reminders that these children are victims, not contributors to war, the impotency of a ghost warrior groom—all reminders that though the aggression of the war is over, none of this stays the hand of ruthless rage.  This is an ancient play, but it is replayed in the mind of our naval aviator, Lane McDowell, in the wake of his own accidental bombing of what he believes were young children.

Still, this is a strange play, we might think, for a Stoic moralist of calm. Or maybe not, for it’s a cautionary tale about excessive punishment and the difficulty of staying the impulse of raging revenge in war. But it is also about leniency in the face of overzealous punishment, whether directed at an external enemy or the enemy within. We hope Ulysses might hear the plea for mercy, for the sake of a mother and a child. But also, for the sake of himself and his troops. For maybe he will come to feel guilt, and his soldiers, too, for what they have done to an innocent. Maybe the guilt will wrack them for years to come and be the next feared Trojan War, but this one an inner war, that is fought over and over and over.

Mercy is, of course, far more elusive than anger. It requires discipline: first you have to vanquish anger, so there is space to heal. Guilt is self-anger. Self-mercy may be its therapy. And it may come from others. Even in death, as Rubens depicts, in a famous portrait of Seneca’s forced suicide, where Seneca, with bulging veins, is gathered at his side by friends. But so, too, was another Stoic icon, Socrates, famously depicted in Plato’s Apology as surrounded by friends in his final moments just before he drinks the poisonous hemlock.  Each is facing the ultimate challenge. And their Stoic grit is bolstered by others who sustain them in life, and in death.


[i] (B. Litz, and Leslie Lebowitz, Matt. J. Gray, and William Nash, 2016) 21.

[ii]  The story is retold in “The Body of an American,” a play by Dan O’Brien. I saw the play at Theater J in Washington in March 2016.

[iii] Chivers (2018, pp. 6–24, 119–121). I am grateful for correspondence and conversation with Chris Chivers about this account in the The Fighters.

[iv] Plato (1989, 216a–b). See the insightful study of Graver (2007, pp. 191–211).

References

  • Chivers, C. J. (2018). The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. NY: Simon & Schuster.
  • Cicero. (2002). Cicero on the Emotions: Tusculan Disputations 3 and 4 (Graver, M. ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Graver, M. (2007). Stoicism and Emotion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Litz, B., and Leslie Lebowitz, Matt. J. Gray, and William Nash. (2016). Adaptive Disclosure: A new Treatment for Military Trauma, Loss, and Moral Injury. New York and London: Guilford
  • Plato. (1989). Symposium. Indianapolis: Hackett.
  • Seneca. (2010). Hercules Furens. In E. Wilson (Ed.), Seneca: Six Tragedies. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Sherman, N. (2021). Stoic Wisdom: Ancient Lessons for Modern Resilience. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Sherman, N. (2015). Afterwar: Healing the Moral Injuries of Our Soldiers. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Sherman, N. (2010). The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of our Soldiers.New York, NY: W.W. Norton Press.
  • Sherman, N. (2005). Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Nancy Sherman is University Professor and Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. A New York Times Notable Author, her most recent book is Stoic Wisdom: Ancient Lessons for Modern Resilience. Other books include Afterwar, The Untold War (a NYT editors’ pick), Stoic WarriorsMaking a Necessity of Virtue, and The Fabric of Character. In the mid-nineties, she served as the inaugural Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy. She has written for the NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times and contributes frequently to many other media outlets in the U.S. and abroad.

Stoicism Today: Selected Writings on Audible

We are delighted to announce the release of the audiobook versions of Stoicism Today: Selected Writings Vol. I & II, beautifully narrated and produced by Linda Sonrisa Jones. Volumes one and two, edited by the Modern Stoicism blog’s first editor, Patrick Ussher, contain some of the best writing featured on the blog from 2012-2016. You can find the audiobooks on Amazon and on Audible and more information about each volume is below. 

Audible: Volume I, Volume II
Amazon: Volume I, Volume II

Volume I: From Stoic ethics to emotions, from Stoic mayors and mindfulness to practical philosophy, parenting, psychotherapy and prisons, from Star Trek and Socrates to Stoic lawyers, literature and living in general, this book brings together a wide-ranging collection of reflections on living the Stoic life today. You’ll read advice on coping with adversity, reflections on happiness and the good life and powerful personal testimonies of putting Stoicism into practice. But you’ll also read about the links between Stoicism and psychotherapy, Stoicism and mindfulness meditation and the unexpected places Stoicism can pop up in modern culture. 

Volume II: Stoicism, the classical philosophy as a way of life practised by the Greeks and Romans, continues to resonate in the modern world. With over forty essays and reflections, this book is simultaneously a guide to practising Stoicism in your own life and to all the different aspects of the modern Stoic revival. You will learn about Stoic practical wisdom, virtue, how to relate wisely to others and the nature of Stoic joy. You will read of life-stories by those who practise Stoicism today, coping with illness and other adversities, and of how Stoicism can be helpful in many areas of modern life, from cultivating calm in the online world to contributing new solutions to the environmental crisis. And, just like the ancient Stoics did, key questions modern Stoics often ask are debated such as: Do you need God to be a Stoic? Is the Stoic an ascetic? Containing both practical wisdom and philosophical reflection, this book – the second in the Stoicism Today series – is for anyone interested in practising the Stoic life in the modern world.

Friendship and the Stoic Character in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations Book 1 by Anthony Di Mento

In Book One of The Meditations, Marcus Aurelius gives thanks to several people who have been edifying role-models or who have advanced aspects of Marcus’ education in some way. In doing this he reveals a lot about what is important to him. This suggests a line of inquiry into book one. Of all the possible things that he could have nominated, what does Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, have to be thankful for – what is important to him and what is he grappling with? The answer suggests a great deal about the person Marcus was or aspired to be.

This article looks at two particular areas that Marcus was thankful for and that were important to him.

The first area concerns the creation of character. Marcus recalls people who have displayed character traits that he is grateful to have observed, and which he himself appears to want to cultivate. A by-product of this exercise of giving thanks is that Marcus presents us with a catalogue of character traits and social qualities that a Stoic ought to strive to embody. From these traits and qualities it is possible to draw an outline of the “Stoic” character. This article sketches out a composite picture of the Stoic’s character as suggested by Marcus’ various observations in Book One.

The second area concerns friendships, and how to conduct and improve interpersonal interactions with others. These are central concerns for Marcus’ conception of the Stoic character and book one contain several insights into this topic. There is a human scale in Marcus’ reflection and inquiry regarding these interpersonal interactions- as opposed to an analysis of how to govern as an emperor or how to conduct a military campaign. This attention to how the Stoic conducts and improves friendships is part of what makes Marcus Aurelias, Emperor of Rome, such an affecting figure. This article draws out certain rules or guidelines concerning how to be a friend.

The Stoic Character

Much of Marcus’ reflection in Book One records his admiration for the temperament and demeanor of the people he names. Marcus is a keen observer of how people behave and how they express their character. While it is artificial to ascribe all of the identified characteristics to one person, a composite picture of a Stoic’s character taken from book one might look something like the following.

The Stoic is courteous, even-tempered and carries themselves with an unself-conscious dignity. All of their activities are done without ostentation. Their lifestyle is simple without the usual habits of the rich, and they perform duties energetically but without fanfare or fuss. They present with good cheer in all circumstances.

In decision making they are deliberate, methodical, decisive and consistent. They consider issues carefully and having come to a considered decision they proceed with a fixed purpose and in a calm and steady way.

They are plain speaking and when required they express approval quietly and undemonstratively. They are not prone to anger or jealousy and they are generally imperturbable and bear difficulties and setbacks with an emotional equanimity.

But, none of the above means that the Stoic is morose or despondent, or is a difficult person to relate to on a personal level. Instead, the quality of their interactions with others is an important and persistent concern for Marcus. The Stoic is generous, affable, gracious, kind, sympathetic, sincere and has an agreeable sense of humour. They are capable of being sanguine. There is an underlying empathy and care and concern for others. They are conscious of the emotions of others and are not harsh, blustering or unnecessarily critical in their dealings.

The result is a mature and finished personality. A Stoic will be recognisable for their strength of character and for their full and indomitable spirit.

How the Stoic is a Good Friend

The Stoic character discernible from book one is very aware of the importance of friendship and of broader social interactions. The Stoic is not looking to cultivate a solitary resilience. Instead, the aim is to fully occupy their place in society. To that end the Stoic’s interactions with friends and others are conducted with some care and attention. The Stoic implements approaches and practices intended to cultivate friendships and to foster courteous and mutually dignified social exchanges.

These approaches and practices can be considered as falling into two streams. One stream concerns the Stoic’s general temperament and demeanour. It can be reasonably accepted that the Stoic character summarised above is easy to get along with. Empathy and concern for others, along with the qualities of affability, graciousness, kindness, sympathy, sincerity, forgiveness, truthfulness and an agreeable sense of humour are all characteristics that are generally coveted in a friend. Sextus for example had an intuitive concern for his friends and an agreeable manner with all.

The second stream provides guidelines and rules about how to act with others. The guidelines, or rules of etiquette, found in book one can be grouped into the following topics of guidance.

First, avoid arrogance. The Stoic does not flaunt their knowledge or their status. They do not make others feel inferior and they are tolerant and courteous with everyone, whatever their social level and whatever their education level. Everyone is given their due. Arrogance is avoided, for example, by speaking plainly without speechifying or pretentious language and the Stoic does not parade their learning- they wear it lightly. Importantly though, a Stoic’s knowledge and their ultimate reliance on clear reasoning is always evident. It underlies all of their activities and decisions, but it never needs to be overtly deployed. The Stoic also makes themselves more approachable and avoids arrogance by their simple dress and lifestyle, without the usual displays of the rich.

Second, do not unnecessarily find fault (which is to some degree an attempt to appear superior). If the Stoic thinks they perceive an error, then they look for tactful, subtle ways to offer correction when the opportunity arises and they are patient when providing an explanation.

Third, remember others have their own pressures. The Stoic knows that others have their own demands and pressures and they accept without complaint that others may not always be available to meet. The ability to accept this is an instance of the Stoic’s core of self-belief and of their confidence in the affection of friends (more on this later).

Fourth, never be too busy. As mentioned above, the Stoic accepts without complaint that others may not always be available for them. But the Stoic does not adopt the converse of this rule in their favour. Only when strictly necessary (which is rarely), would the Stoic turn people away by saying “I am too busy.” The underlying reasoning is that no one should avoid or defer the duties obligations due to society on the excuse of urgent affairs. The very notion that we owe such social duties or obligations appears to be of central importance for Marcus. He is reminding himself about the obligation to make an effort with others regardless of whatever other inclinations he might have to avoid that contact. Perhaps Marcus perceives that this issue requires his particular attention given his special position. It is not hard to imagine that as emperor he could have easily avoided his duties and obligations (and pursued other interests) without having had to give any explanation or account of himself at all. Later emperors provide examples of this approach. Marcus is aware of the temptation and works against it.

Fifth, accept favours. Marcus thanks Apollonius for teaching him how to respond to the challenge (for some) of accepting favours. The particular quality of the favours he was concerned with has been variously translated as “pretended,” “apparent,” things that are “thought to be favours,” or just “favours”. The quality underlying the favour of course makes a difference. But it appears that in passage 8 Marcus is saying that the Stoic should receive favours without appearing compromised and without lowering self-respect. Nor should unfeeling indifference or insensitivity be evident in the acceptance or possible rejection of the favours.

Sixth, work at friendships. Relationships involve work. Marcus saw an example of this from Catulus who taught Marcus not to dismiss criticisms from friends even if unreasonable. In response to such criticisms the Stoic should work to restore or improve that friend’s opinion of them. This “leave no friends behind” approach underscores the importance the Stoic places on friendships- even in response to an unreasonable rebuke, the Stoic should make effort to restore the relationship. Arguably, this can only be done based on a recognition of, and a sense of duty around, the importance of human connection coupled with a forgiving and selfless approach to others.

Overall, the Stoic’s social dealings with others are conducted with courtesy, respect and patience. The Stoic is kind, sympathetic and sincere. The suggested etiquette to be applied towards friendships in combination with the Stoic’s general temperament and demeanour help them to be a good friend and citizen. It leads to enduring friendships that are not capricious or short-lived in a burst of extravagance.

Remarkably, Marcus’ discussion about friendships never descends into a judgmental examination about what to expect from others. It does not become a discussion about how to evaluate the worthiness, or otherwise, of friends. Nor is it a counsel about surrounding ourselves with “suitable” friends. They are taken as they are – without demands or expectations. Instead, the area of concern is internal to the Stoic. The explanation for this apparent magnanimity may be as simple as appreciating that Marcus is manifesting a clearsighted focus on the things that he can control. In contrast, the attitude and attributes of others, including friends, are outside his control (and are things that will at times be challenging to accept).

Confidence in the Affection of his Friends

None of the above-mentioned qualities come at the expense of self-respect and none diminish or undermine the Stoic’s own overall attitude and approach. So, the Stoic is forthright and speaks plainly in expressing his opinion, including criticism. Also, while they are on guard to ensure they do not make others feel inferior, this does not mean that others come to doubt the Stoic’s strength and abilities.

This maintenance of personal integrity links into a particularly insightful comment about friendships, being that the Stoic should have confidence in the affection of his friends. This confidence underpins the Stoic’s preservation of his personal integrity even while addressing the challenges of agreeableness. 

Initially, the insight seems to have an aspirational quality to it – confidence in any endeavor is usually something to continually strive for and is intermittently elusive (except perhaps for the self-deluded). But looked at another way, this confidence is eminently logical rather than aspirational. After all, if someone implements the etiquette practices and displays the sort of temperament referred to above, then they would have a sound rational basis for being confident about the affection of friends.

Furthermore, the suggestion that the Stoic should have confidence in the affection of others is itself very sound advice about how to be a good friend. In a sense it could be listed as a seventh item in the guidelines for conduct referred to above. A Stoic who embodies this confidence is not cloying or unctuous and avoids verging into the dreaded territory of being needy. Instead, they can graciously accept compliments without excessive shows of false modesty, and they can accept criticism without undue defensiveness or hurt feelings, and without feeling as though their fundamental identity has been attacked and that they are about to be cast out from the protection of the tribe. Similarly, they can provide their friends with meaningful compliments and constructive criticism (in the plain-speaking fashion referred to above).

Conclusion

An underlying message in Book One is that developing character is an active endeavor that requires, or at least benefits from, self-aware deliberation. Marcus undertakes a process of reviewing the character elements that he has observed in others and of identifying the traits that he values. He is undertaking a form of self-analysis regarding the life experiences that have influenced the psychological development of his personality and character.

As a result of Marcus’ exercise of delving into his origin story, we get to see a fairly detailed picture of what a Stoic character looks like. Some personality traits are firmly identifiable. The Stoic is not extravagant and not carless, and they are resilient and confident. However, there are some points of tension. So, while it is possible to detect a tendency to being solitary or reserved, this does not override the energetic approach to the performance of duties and obligations. At times Marcus appears to be willing himself to fulfill his obligations and duties- instead of resolving all such matters in his favour by deploying his powers as emperor. Similarly, while the Stoic has a strong tendency to critical thinking and methodical rationality, this is not imposed on others and nor is not at the expense of maintaining a friendly and sociable outlook.

But there are limits and the pursuit of agreeableness should not be at the expense of other core Stoic values. This comes out in the discussion about having confidence in the affection of your friends. The version of agreeableness or affability that the Stoic practices does not equate to simply trying to “fit in”. For example, the Stoic does not participate in the popular pastimes tacitly used as opportunities to form social bonds. Specifically, given the era, they are not interested in chariot racing or gladiatorial contests. The Stoic therefore avoids distorting or undermining their character and better judgment for the sake of being merely or superficially sociable. Importantly, the Stoic’s confidence gives each friend a chance to show the best qualities of their friendship (and perhaps to make mistakes).

Anthony Di Mento studied English Literature and Philosophy at the University of Sydney. He has encountered Stoicism as an effective and salutary philosophy for life. Other current areas of study include economic systems and critical thinking skills. He lives and works as a pastry chef and lawyer in Sydney, Australia.

Meet Our New Modern Stoicism Team Members

Over the last several years, we have expanded the team for the Modern Stoicism organization by bringing on new members. Each of them brings not only interest in and enthusiasm about Stoic philosophy, practice, and community with them, but also valuable skills, knowledge, and experiences. All of them have been making substantive and welcome contributions in a variety of manners, in some cases behind the scenes. Our expanded team now has 14 members, which not only spreads the work around, but also allows us room and range to take on additional projects devoted to helping people study and practice Stoicism worldwide.

After writing the post two weeks back announcing that Harald Kavli was coming on as Assistant Editor of Stoicism Today, I realized that we could probably use a post telling you, our readers, about all of the new team members we have added over the last several years (and that our About The Team page was sorely in need of updating as well!). This long-overdue update takes us back all the way to Piotr and Andi, who have been contributing members of the team for several years. More recently Phil, Eve, and Brittany joined the team as well, and the most recent addition is indeed Harald.

I asked each of them to provide a short introduction of themselves to you, and with no further ado, here they are!

Eve Riches

I’m so excited to be a part of the Modern Stoicism team and I am convinced that Stoicism can help anyone to live the good life. I’m passionate about bringing Stoicism to people who might never pick up a philosophy book, including children, teenagers and people from a non-academic background. Stoicism has given me so much in terms of helping me live well with disability, so it has been a real honour to be able to share that experience with others. I’m particularly interested in Stoic ethics, and also the importance of self-care in our contribution to the greater good.

Brittany Polat

I am thrilled and honored to be joining the Modern Stoicism team, which continues to be so instrumental in bringing Stoicism to people all over the world. As Stoics, we can offer a different vision of life that is rare in the 21st century: a principled but non-strident way of dealing with the complex problems facing our society. Just as ancient Stoicism once did, modern Stoicism provides an intellectually rigorous framework for answering our most important questions, not just theoretically, but practically. Stoics lead the way in showing that a life of reason and virtue can also be a life of action and engagement. What a privilege it is to continue the noble tradition of Zeno, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius as we shape and share Stoicism for a new era. I look forward to working with Modern Stoicism and with modern Stoics everywhere, who are making the world a better place in their own inspiring ways.  

Talking Tranquility with Brittany Polat

Phil Yanov

Hi, I’m Phil Yanov and I’m here to help people run great meetings. And – I’m a Stoic. I love events where people can learn things and make the changes in their lives that they want. I feel like Modern Stoicism has the unfair advantage of having some of the best minds of our generation working to advance the understanding of how Stoicism can help all of us through uncertain times. I am delighted to be the bat boy… or Zoom boy for these heavy hitters. There are so many brilliant people on the Modern Stoicism team and my job is to make sure the megaphone is working when they are ready to share. For that adventure, I am all in. If you want to talk about Stoicism, I can be reached on Twitter, LinkedIn, or on the web.

Andi Sciacca

I like to think of myself as an advocate for access, education, and equity – and a proud #MKEpreneur.  I am most fulfilled when I can help others leverage learning opportunities in ways that help them connect and flourish.  As a person who does a great deal of work in leadership and board positions, I find that there are plenty of opportunities to practice Stoicism in my work.  The most important aspect for me is found in the constancy and the solidness of regular study coupled with the application of what I am learning through that practice.  Whether I’m reading Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus, or reviewing a comment from someone in an online course, or a post on Stoicism Today written by someone applying Stoicism to their lives – whatever the source, there is an undercurrent of substance that steadies me.  I’ve found exceptional value in the study of Stoicism and the ways in which it has helped me understand the pursuit of a good life and the willingness to accept what that life brings. 

Piotr Stankiewicz

My journey with the Stoics began in 2006 when I first realized that Stoicism is the platform I may use to put my life on track. Over time it turned out that many folks out there are interested in my Stoic adventures. Hence a number of books followed, first in my native Polish then in English (see here). At the end of the day the best way to strengthen one’s Stoicism is to discuss it with others — so here I am. Somewhere on that path it dawned on me that the ideas I develop and preach differ quite a bit from the hardline, orthodox Stoicism. I embraced that notion and thus the concept of reformed Stoicism originated. I believe that in the 21st century, in the time of unfathomable advancement and colossal challenges, we need a new way to narrate the Stoic premises and promises. That’s exactly what I propose. Besides Stoicism I write books on other topics and I keep testing yet new waters. I believe that in doing so I stay faithful to what I wrote in the book on Stoicism and creativity, i.e. that the two don’t need to contradict each other. Shoot me an email any time — my contact info is all here.

Harald Kavli

Hello! Many of you got introduced to me in a post just a little while ago. I am currently trying to finish my master’s thesis, in which I try to answer whether virtue is sufficient for happiness. My main interest in Stoicism is probably ethics, but I am also getting more and more interested in their logic. I have also studied Ancient Greek and my long-term goal is to translate Epictetus’ Discourses at some point. 

So, please welcome all of the new and newer members of the Modern Stoicism organization team! You’ll be seeing quite a lot of them and the fruits of their involvements in the years to come.

The STOIC – July 2021

THE STOIC is a monthly online publication of The Stoic Gym. The Modern Stoicism organization is partnering with the Stoic Gym (and if you look at the teams for both, you’ll see some overlap in membership).

THE STOIC magazine, July 2021 DOING STOICISM, THE EASY WAY

  • CHUCK CHAKRAPANI Can you do Stoicism the easy way?             
  • SHARON LEBELL Shift your attention to flourish          
  • JONAS SALZGEBER Focus on the present moment          
  • LEONIDAS KONSTANTAKOS Be better        
  • BRITTANY POLAT Tame your mind        
  • MEREDITH A. KUNZ Use Stoicism as an antidote  
  • PIOTR STANKIEWICZ It’s better than you think: 80/120 rule          
  • ELBERT HUBBARD The story of Marcus Aurelius [4]       

PLUS

  • Stoic every day (Quotes for every day of the month)      
  • Our regular features

READ THE ARTICLES OR GET A FREE SUBSCRIPTION