Interview with STOICON 2020 Speakers – Christopher Gill

Professor Christopher Gill | Classics and Ancient History | University of  Exeter

We finish our series of interviews with the speakers for the upcoming STOICON, which takes place virtually starting just a bit later on today!  Registration is now closed, but here is the link where you can view the schedule of events. Our final interview is with Christopher Gill.

As a side-note, don’t forget that STOIC WEEK starts this coming Monday. You can enroll in the 2020 Stoic Week course here.

Stoic Week is a free online course based on ideas and practices drawn from the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. Modern Stoicism has been running Stoic Week since 2012.  Thousands of people have reported increases in understanding of Stoicism and well-being after participation. This year the theme is “Stoicism during a Pandemic”. No previous experience is required, but we do recommend you devote about 30 minutes each day to Stoic practice during Stoic Week.

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

I’ve been a university teacher and researcher on ancient philosophy, including Stoicism, for many years. I’m now retired but still very actively involved in writing on Stoicism and presenting Stoic principles as a basis for life-guidance. Along with several others in the Modern Stoicism movement, I was closely involved in starting Stoic Week, the blog ‘Stoicism Today’, and the annual ‘Stoicon’ conference in 2012-13. I’ve been especially concerned with helping to write the Stoic Week handbook and with setting up Modern Stoicism as an organization. I’m really pleased that these and other Stoic activities have become so well-established and that so many people across the world find them a valuable part of their lives.

How do you currently make use of Stoicism in your work?

I’m currently writing a book on the central ideas of Stoic ethics and their significance for modern moral philosophy. Although Stoicism has a big following today as a basis for life-guidance, it doesn’t have the same importance among those working on modern moral theory, and I’m trying to bring Stoic ethics more fully into that debate. Previously, I’ve written more about specific Stoic thinkers, especially Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, and their interpretations of Stoicism. For instance, I wrote the introduction and notes for the Oxford World’s Classics translations of Epictetus and Marcus.

When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?

Although I’ve known about Stoic philosophy since I was a student, I only gradually realized its significance for modern thought and life, mainly through teaching Stoicism alongside other ancient philosophies in a third-year university course on Greek and Roman ethics that I taught for several years. I found that Stoic ideas struck a chord with me and the students in a way that was not so much the case with Aristotle, and the Epicureans, for instance. This paved the way for my involvement in the applied Stoicism movement towards the end of my career in university teaching.

What’s the most important aspect of Stoicism to you?

Three Stoic ideas strike as especially important. One is that happiness depends not on health, property, or even the welfare of our loved ones, though these things have real value and importance, but on developing the virtues (wisdom, courage, justice, and self-control) and making these central to our lives. Another is the belief that all human beings are fundamentally motivated to take care of themselves and others of their kind, and that the best way to do this is to develop towards virtue and virtue-based happiness. Also, all human beings are fundamentally capable of doing this, whatever their social and educational background or their individual differences of character and failings. Thirdly, there is the idea that human beings form an integral part of nature as a whole and that we should work to build into our own character and life the order and wholeness that is part of nature. (I think this idea can be very helpful to us in trying to live in a more environmentally sustainable way.) All three ideas are very profound and have many implications at the philosophical and practical level. 

In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?

I think Stoicism matters today because it is a deep and complex philosophical framework, which was worked out by different thinkers over five centuries in the ancient world and thought about for another two thousand years since then. But there are some specific ways it can speak to us now. The appeal to fundamental ideas about human nature and values can serve as a powerful alternative to some strong currents today, including a focus on narrow commercial or economic value and the fascination with what is ‘now now’ and big in social media. I think the Stoic idea that all human beings are, essentially brothers or sisters and fellow-citizens is a powerful antidote to some modern forms of xenophobia and exclusionism. And as mentioned earlier (in 4), I believe that the Stoic view that human beings form an integral part of nature as a whole can give a broader philosophical basis for trying to live a more environmentally sustainable life.

How has Stoicism affected the way you live your life?

Stoicism has helped me to try to connect more closely theories and ideals and the way I live each day. It has helped me respond with more resilience to serious difficulties, such as the death of my wife ten years ago (she was twelve years younger than me and we had four sons together). I asked myself: ‘what is the use of studying all these philosophical ideas if you cannot draw on them at tough times?

What’s one of your favourite Stoic quotations and why?

Well, how about this one from Marcus Aurelius, relevant to the point I’ve just made:

‘Be like the headland, on which the waves break constantly, which stands firm, while the foaming waters are put to rest about it. “It is my bad luck that this has happened to me”. On the contrary,  say, “It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without getting upset, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future … Surely what has happened cannot prevent you from being just, high-minded, self-controlled, thoughtful, self-respecting, free, and the other qualities whose presence enables human nature to maintain its character”’. (Meditations 4.49)

And here’s another from Marcus:

‘Whenever you want to cheer yourself up, think of the good qualities of those who live with you: such as the energy of one, the decency of another, the generosity of another … There is nothing so cheering as the images of the virtues displayed in the characters of those who live with you, and grouped together as far as possible. So you should keep them ready at hand’. (Meditations 6.48)

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Stoicism?

First of all, follow ‘Stoic week’ (Oct 19-25 this year), and the Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training Course, when this is run next (keep an eye on the website: http://modernstoicism.com). Then, read one of a number of really helpful books on living a Stoic life, such as John Sellars, Lessons in Stoicism, Donald Robertson’s Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, or Massimo Pigliucci’s How to be a Stoic. Then read Epictetus’s Discourses and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations (you may find the Oxford World’s Classics translations helpful). Cicero’s On Duties (sometimes called On Obligations) is also a useful guide to Stoic ethics.

Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

I think I would stress that Stoic ethics aren’t just a pathway to personal tranquillity and self-therapy (though they can be that). They also provide a framework for living an active and engaged social life; in the ancient world this was the side of Stoic ethics that was most often stressed. Care for yourself and care for others were seen as the two core human motives, and ones that are not in competition with each other.

Interview with STOICON 2020 Speakers – Andi Sciacca

We continue our series of interviews with the speakers for the upcoming virtual STOICON 2020, with our last mid-week post, this one with Andi Sciacca. STOICON is coming up this Saturday, and you can see the schedule here.

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

I like to think of myself as an advocate for access, education, and equity – and a proud #MKEpreneur.  I’m currently leading the development of The MKE Food School – a center for learning, innovation, community-building, and resource-sharing, working to create the space for an inspired and inclusive conversation around Milwaukee’s community table.  I also teach for the Milwaukee Institute of Art + Design and lead the graduate curriculum for the Food Business School of The Culinary Institute of America.  I am most fulfilled when I can help others leverage learning opportunities in ways that help them connect and flourish.

How do you currently make use of Stoicism in your work?

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.  Most often, my application of Stoicism in workplace environments is evidenced through the act of reminding myself of what we find in Epictetus, Enchiridion, 17: 

Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s.


So often, in workplace environments, especially when stressors can be high and our efforts can feel out of balance, we see ourselves as independent operators with identities that are our own, or roles / privileges / titles we need to defend and protect.  When this occurs, we can be quick to forget or criticize the goals or even be resentful of the group / team.  As a person who is self-employed and engages in a good deal of contract and freelance work, when I find myself struggling with operational models that are externally enforced, I call on this quote to remind myself that today I might be a governor – and tomorrow a private person – and the next day, wear the cloak of the poor – so the best thing I can do is be accepting of what comes my way and focus on acting the part required of me for that project or that task.  This doesn’t mean I surrender all agency or take the approach of apathy – it means that I act as needed while trusting the ability to choose indifference

When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?

My first introduction to Stoicism was as a member of my high school’s academic decathlon team in the mid-1980s.  We had passages from Epictetus in our study packs, and I remember being drawn to them – especially given the intellectual stress of that preparatory process – while sensing that there was something for me to study and learn that went far beyond the decathlon experience.  Then, as an undergraduate, I worked on translations from Cicero as part of a Latin course, and I again felt like there was a resonance in what I was reading and struggling to translate.  However, I didn’t pursue anything further as a course of philosophical investigation until I was introduced to Donald Robertson’s Stoic Mindfulness & Resilience Training course five or six years ago.  It was then that I really found my “home” in Stoicism and now, I look forward to Stoicon, Stoicon-X, Stoic Week, and the SMRT course every year – and find new reasons and new resonances each time.

What’s the most important aspect of Stoicism to you?

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 SMRT, 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 that 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 actually creates a sense of comfort and connection that my previous habits of trying to control everything – or spending all of my time directing externally-focused emotional traffic – did not afford.     

In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?

I believe that one of the most significant ways we know that Stoicism matters today can be found in the evidence we see of ways that we can choose to approach the impact of the kinds of issues we are grappling with as a global community.  From the devastating effects of the pandemic – to a fractured social fabric and collective outcry over responses to issues of access and equity – any kind of study or practice that encourages us to focus on what is within our control actually gifts us a unique kind of agency.  Again, returning to Epictetus, within us, we find our destruction and our deliverance.  When we acknowledge that we have the ability to frame our understanding of things that are outside of our control within a larger way of being connected to the world, we can focus on the pieces we can control and we can choose to act with the goal of making the good life more accessible for others and for ourselves.

As Marcus Aurelius says in his Meditations:

Your ability to control your thoughts—treat it with respect. It’s all that protects your mind from false perceptions—false to your nature, and that of all rational beings. It’s what makes thoughtfulness possible, and affection for other people, and submission to the divine.

How has Stoicism affected the way you live your life?

With each new investigation and exploration, I have been challenged to work on so many of the ills of modern personhood.  I’ve become more compassionate, more genuinely engaged, less judgemental, less prone to overreaction, and less likely to take things personally than at any point in my life prior.  I’ve learned the incredible value of the concept of indifference and preferred indifference and find myself modeling a more generous way of being in the world with others.  I’m less convinced of my own “right” to something and more collaborative and comfortable in being one of many working for a common goal.  I am only at the beginning, still, even after five years of working at it – but I am so much further along than I was when I started and look forward to continuing to practice the kinds of skills and tools that have helped me thus far.

What’s one of your favourite Stoic quotations and why?

One of the Stoic quotations that has been guiding me most lately – especially given the extra time to work and reflect on my desires for personal growth – would be from Enchiridion 13:

If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things. Don’t wish to be thought to know anything; and even if you appear to be somebody important to others, distrust yourself. For, it is difficult to both keep your faculty of choice in a state conformable to nature, and at the same time acquire external things. But while you are careful about the one, you must of necessity neglect the other.

I find, at this point of my life, that I am drilling down to the essential and working at making my life into something more productive and more conformable to nature – less connected to externals (whether possessions or the opinions of others) – and more based on seeking to live a good life.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Stoicism?

While it is always wise to go to the source and read the works from the classic Stoic thinkers, there are so many supportive communities a person might engage in – including social media groups on FaceBook, local and virtual chapters of The Stoic Fellowship, and even simple conversations with others.

Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

If a bit of promotion is allowed, I will say that I am pleased to be able to contribute to three Stoic-connected events this year, and they are as follows:

  • Stoicon 2020 – October 17, 2020 – presenting on the topic of The Stoic Heart: Stoicism and Relationships
  • Stoicon-X Midwest 2020 – October 24, 2020 – participating in a panel on Organizing Stoic Meetups and Groups Panel: Tips, Best Practices, and Experiences – Moderated by Greg Sadler
  • Stoic Salon – November 4 – a Stoicon-X event – presenting on the topic of Stoic journaling

I would also encourage anyone reading this to register for Stoic Week 2020 – beginning on October 19th. 

Interview with STOICON 2020 Speakers – Greg Lopez

The Science Factory – Gregory Lopez

We continue our series of interviews with the speakers for the upcoming virtual STOICON, which will be taking place virtually this year on October 17. Here is the link where you can register and view the schedule of events. Our next interview is with Greg Lopez

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

I’m the founder of the New York City Stoics, co-founder and board member of The Stoic Fellowship, co-facilitator of Stoic Camp New York, co-author of A Handbook for New Stoics, and am on the Modern Stoicism team.

How do you currently make use of Stoicism in your work?

That depends on what you mean by the question! Stoicism and philosophy is not my main jam. I’m currently a lead editor for Examine.com, a website that provides unbiased information about the evidence base for nutrition and supplementation. I also do some data science work and run online experiments for Spark Wave to improve people’s psychological well being. So, if the question’s about my day jobs, I make use of Stoicism as a personal practice to stay focused while attempting to help others.

But if the question’s about my Stoicism-specific work, I’d say that I have a few main goals. One is to help myself learn Stoicism by facilitating the New York City Stoics practice and reading groups. My main reason for starting the NYC Stoics in 2013 wasn’t because I knew much about Stoicism, but because I knew I’d learn better if I had to facilitate a group on it! 

Another reason I started the NYC Stoics is that I find in-person interaction to be rewarding, and I wanted to meet more people who were into Stoicism. This idea influenced my decision to co-found The Stoic Fellowship with James Kostecka and Nick Guggenbuehl. The main goal of The Stoic Fellowship is to help Stoic groups around the world grow and connect with each other. 

The final way I use Stoicism in my Stoic-related work is to try to make it more practical, practicable, and clear. That’s the aim of the projects I’ve worked on with my friend and collaborator, Massimo Pigliucci: Stoic Camp New York and A Handbook for New Stoics.

When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?

Over a decade ago, I started volunteering for, and ultimately became president of, an organization that taught techniques from one of the first forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) — Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). There, I learned that Stoicism heavily influenced REBT and CBT, and became interested in learning more about it. After some more exploration, I found out that people were looking to practice Stoicism in the modern world, such as The New Stoa and The International Stoic Forum. While I found these groups edifying and interesting, I had more of an interest in learning and talking with other aspiring Stoics in person, which led me to start the NYC Stoics.

What’s the most important aspect of Stoicism to you? 

Epictetus’ Discipline of Action. Too many people think that Stoicism’s a life hack to improve resilience and feel better. In Epictetus’ three-phase training system, that’s only the first step, though! The big reason Epictetus cares about reducing people’s passions (the subset of emotions that hamper reasoning) isn’t that they feel bad, and I doubt he’d want Stoicism to foster resilience in a vacuum (who wants a world filled with resilient assholes?). Instead, the reason to temper one’s passions is to become a better human being. Passions get in the way of that by pushing reason to the side and making us not truly care about other people. By tempering passions, Epictetus would claim you literally become more human. The only reason to become more resilient in Stoicism is to pave the way for becoming a better human being. 

In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?

I think having a philosophy of life is really important for most, if not all, people. Thus, the primary way Stoicism matters today is as a philosophy of life.

As Bill Irvine eloquently explains in his introduction to A Guide to the Good Life, if you don’t have a philosophy of life, “there is a danger that you will mislive—that despite all your activity, despite all the pleasant diversions you might have enjoyed while alive, you will end up living a bad life.”

There are many philosophies of life, and I’m not sure I agree with the underlying premise of many Hellenistic philosophies that there’s a single “right” way to live based on living according to nature and pursuing The One Supreme Good. But I do agree with the notion that having a somewhat coherent philosophy of life is pretty important.

How has Stoicism affected the way you live your life?

In two ways, both associated with Epictetus’ Discipline of Action. The first is that it encourages me to be more helpful to other people and take more action in the world than I may otherwise. This matters to me because I buy the Stoic argument that humans do best when we try to cooperate.  Second, it helps me remember that I share the flaws I see in other people, which helps me focus more on improving myself rather than judging others.

What’s one of your favourite Stoic quotations and why?

A quote from Seneca from Letter 71 since it nicely summarizes my thoughts on why a philosophy of life is essential, and sometimes helps me take the bigger picture into account: “The reason we make mistakes is because we all consider the parts of life, but never life as a whole… When someone does not know what harbor they are aiming for, no wind is the right wind.” 

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Stoicism?

 Marcus and Epictetus’ Handbook are common starting places for many people since they want to read the original texts, and those two works have lots of pithy, quotable lines. But because they’re so pithy, they’re also easily misunderstood. I suggest starting with a strong modern summary instead. That way, you can dive into the primary texts with a bit more understanding of Stoicism as a broad, coherent philosophy of life as opposed to a set of catchy quotes and easy life hacks.

Also, Stoicism is currently the “default” Hellenistic philosophy for many people since it’s the one talked about the most. If you’re interested in Stoicism because you’re attracted to practical life philosophies, I encourage you to “shop around” a bit by looking at other philosophies of life. By reading a bit more widely to start with, you’ll learn some interesting things about Stoicism (for instance, there’s some evidence in Book 3 of Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations that the Stoics didn’t invent the famous premeditation of adversity exercise, but it may have actually been the hedonistic Cyrenaics!) and also get a better understanding of what different philosophies of life work. While Hellenistic philosophies themselves have a lot to offer, looking at modern philosophies like existentialism and older ones like the various forms of Buddhism may also be of interest.

But as a final tip: once you read enough, choose one philosophy and actually practice it. Reading a bunch of texts without actually trying to practice their espoused philosophies could make your ship of life rudderless.

Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

If you want to reach out to me, the best way is through my barebones personal website. You could also follow me on Twitter or reach out to me on LinkedIn, but I’m not active on social media, partly due to social media aversion. As a Stoic exercise, I’m aiming to be a bit more active on social media, so if I announce it publicly, maybe I’ll actually be more motivated to do so!

Interview with STOICON 2020 Speakers – Chuck Chakrapani

Chuck Chakrapani - Wikipedia

We continue our series of interviews with the speakers for the upcoming virtual STOICON 2020, with a mid-week post (we’ve got a lot of speakers, so we’ll be publishing these on both Saturdays and Wednesdays for a bit!), this one with Chuck Chakrapani

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

You can approach Stoicism from many perspectives: as a scholar whose aim it is to understand and explain the nuances of the philosophy, an academic whose aim it is to teach others, as a professional helper such as a therapist whose aim it is to find what would help others, or as a dabbler with no special interest in Stoicism.

I come to Stoicism with the question, “What is this for?” It’s a eudemonic philosophy, and its aim to achieve happiness, the good life. So, the parts I am truly interested in are those that will help me and others to live a more effective life.

How do you currently make use of Stoicism in your work?

My work at the moment is bringing applied aspects of Stoicism to anyone who can benefit from it. For this purpose, I edit and publish a monthly digital magazine, THE STOIC, which is entirely free. Because many of the ancient Stoic works are translated in terse prose, it is difficult for modern readers to follow. So, I have been re-expressing ancient Stoic classics in modern and plain English. I have written a dozen of such books and more to come. Most of it can be read for free on my website thestoicgym.com. I have also been writing books such as Unshakable Freedom and How to be a Stoic When You Don’t Know How to. The aim of these books is to make Stoicism relevant to the times we live in with modern examples and applications. All my current work has one purpose: to make ancient Stoicism accessible to anyone who can potentially benefit from them

When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?

I accidentally came upon To Himself (more widely known now as Meditations) by Marcus Aurelius when I was still in my teens and became interested in his philosophy. It was much later that I realized that it was a philosophy called Stoicism.

What’s the most important aspect of Stoicism to you? 

The most important aspect of Stoicism is breathtakingly simple. Some things in life are under our control, and others are not. We can achieve the good life by simply working on what’s under our control. Nothing can stop us. It is not some nonsensical motivational stuff, but a profound meditation on why we are unhappy and troubled.

In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?

Practically all primary sources of Stoicism are of the Roman era – in particular, the first the first 150 years, CE. This period saw cruel and blood-thirsty emperors like Caligula, Nero, Tiberius, and Domitian. Arbitrary exiles and executions were common. Although Stoicism is a philosophy of happiness, the main concern at that time was how to cope with what was happening and still thrive.

We have a comparable situation today. The pandemic, the rise of dictatorial regimes around the world, extremes of opinions supported by endless conspiracy theories – taken together, our times are as unsettling as the first two centuries.

The Stoic philosophy showed a way out then. It does now as well.

How has Stoicism affected the way you live your life?

Stoicism illumines my path when I lose it. “Some things are up to us, and others are not” is the North Star that guides me in times of trouble.

What’s one of your favourite Stoic quotations, and why?

“Some things are up to, and others are not.” Why? You can scour one hundred volumes on philosophy without ever coming across a more profound and life-changing idea than that.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Stoicism?

Read Epictetus’ Manual (Enchiridion). It will take less than two hours. If you like it, read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. If you are not profoundly affected by either of them, then forget about Stoicism. It is not your way.

Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

Yes. Remember what Seneca said: “Above all, learn to feel the joy.”

STOICON-X Events Coming Up Worldwide

As many of you know already, Stoic Week is coming up next month, running from Monday, October 18 to Sunday, October 25. The Stoic Week course is now open for enrollment here. The main Stoicon conference will be taking place virtually on Saturday, October 17.

In addition to that event, there is an entire season of Stoic events ahead, available virtually, called Stoicon-Xs. These were originally smaller local events for those who could not make it to the main Stoicon (or who wanted a bit more after the main Stoicon in the same city where it was hosted). In this year of pandemic, like Stoicon itself, the Stoicon-Xs have gone virtual (with the exception of the , and that means that they offer much wider access than the local in-person events.

The first of these Stoicon-X events has already taken place. That was Stoicon-X New York, earlier this month. If you missed it, you can still watch videos of the talks provided by Donald Robertson and Brian Johnson.

We have, by my count, eight more Stoicon-X events lined up in October and November (including one later today), so you might want to clear some space on your calendar.

Each of the events has a page with more information, so feel free to check them out. Then you can see the event schedule, activities, and all the other particulars. These all look like great Stoicon-X events!

Stoicon-X Alberta

Saturday, October 3, 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM Mountain Time. Organizer: Jeff Rout.

Speakers include Korey Samuelson, Deena & Tim Mills, Jean-Luc Deschênes, Dan Ripley, and Jeff Rout. More information available at the Facebook event page. Event is free.

Stoicon X New England

Saturday, October 10, 12:00 PM -6:00 PM Eastern Time. Organizer: Pete Fagella. Virtual event.

Speakers include Donald Robertson,  Marc Deshaies, Pete Fagella, Zeph Chang, Michael Maune, and Greg Sadler. Conference includes talks and journaling activities. Event costs $15-20. More information available at the Eventbrite page.

Stoicon-X Midwest

Saturday, October 24, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM Central Time. Organizer: Greg Sadler. Virtual event.

Speakers include Kai Whiting, Meredith Kunz, StoicDan, Matt Van Natta, Andi Sciacca, Greg Lopez, Kevin Smith, Gabriel Blott, Fred Arzola, and Piotr Stankiewicz. Conference includes talks, panel discussions, and lighting-round talks. Event is free. More information available at the Eventbrite page.

Stoicon-X Brazil

Sunday, October 25, 9:00 AM -7:00 PM Brasilia Time. Organizer: Claudia Torres. Virtual Event.

Speakers include Kelvio Santos, Dan Hayes, Greg Sadler, Mateus Carvlho, Joao Leite Ribeiro, Donald Robertson, Greg Lopez, Breno de Malgalhaes Bastos, Danilo Costa Leite, Alexandre Pires, Donato Ferrara, Kai Whiting, Rafael Rodriges Peraira, Eduardo Boechat, Aldo Dinucci. Event is free. More information available at the Eventbrite page.

Stoicon-X Moscow

Saturday, October 31, 8:00 PM Moscow Time, held at the bookstore Falanster. Organizer:  Stanislav Naranovich. This is an in-person event.

Speakers include: Olga Alieva, Kirill Martynov, Viktor Zatsepin, and Stanislav Naranovich Conference includes talks and a presentation of the Russian translation of A Guide to the Good Life. More information available at the Facebook event page.

Stoicon-X Stoic Salon

Sunday, November 1, 2020 at 4:00 – 8:00 PM Glasgow/London Time. Organizer: Kathryn Koromilas. Virtual event.

Speakers include: Donald Robertson, John Sellars, Andi Sciacca, and David Fideler. The event includes talks, panel discussions journaling exercises, and an invitation to participate in a 28-day journaling/writing challenge. More information available at the Stoic Salon page.

Stoicon-X Australia

Friday, November 6, 6:00-8:00 PM – Saturday, November 7, 10:00 AM-3:00 PM – Sunday, November 8 10:00 AM-1:30 PM , Australian Time (precise details about time-zone coming soon). Organizer: Sharline Mohan. Virtual Event.

This event spans an entire weekend, and includes talks, panel discussions, breakout chats, and workshops. Speakers include Ashley McCole, Matteo Stettler, David Moss, Shannon Murray, Simon Drew, Sharline Mohan, Sarah Lawrence, and Judith Stove. More information available at the Brisbane Stoics Meetup event page.

Stoicon-X Los Angeles

Saturday, November 14, 10 AM – 2 PM. Organizer: Justin Kitchen. Virtual event.

Speakers include Greg Lopez, Matt Gomez, Kiko Suura, Juan Torres, Quinnie Lin, Lillian Doyle, Corey Moore, Justin Kitchen. More information available at the event page.

Stoicon-X Orlando

Saturday, November 21, 1:00 PM – 4:30 PM Eastern Time. Organized by StoicDan. Virtual event.

Speakers include Donald Robertson, Brittany Polat, Tim Iverson, and StoicDan (Florida). The conference includes talks, a walk-through of the Painted Porch, and a drawing for free Stoic books at the end of the event. More information available at the Meetup page for the event.

THE STOIC Magazine, October 2020

STOIC cover image

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 theme of this issue is ‘WALK THE STOIC PATH’. Contributors include many prominent modern Stoics: Sharon Lebell, Kai Whiting, Meredith Kunz, Piotr Stankiewicz, Flors Bernard, Erik Rankin, and Chuck Chakrapani. If you’d like to read the articles, or to subscribe, click here.

In this issue…

  • STOICON AND STOIC WEEK
  • CHUCK CHAKRAPANI. The art of being civil 
  • SHARON LEBELL. Rise to the work of a human being
  • JONAS SALZGEBER. Manage your expectations 
  • MEREDITH KUNZ. Think like a Stoic, change your brain 
  • ERIK RANKIN. Practice political civility
  • FLORA BERNARD. Reap the benefits of philosophy 
  • PIOTR STANKIEWICZ. Why Stoicism needs updating 
  • KAI WHITING. Is there a case for God?
  • Stoic every day: Daily quotes for the month 

And much more!

A Case for a Philosopher-King by Michael Patrick Mulroy

In a 2019 Gallup poll, forty-seven percent of Americans rated U.S. moral values as “poor” and 36 percent of Americans rated them as “only fair.” In the last three years, 77 percent of those polled believe our moral and ethical values are getting worse.

These beliefs extend across political and religious beliefs, and across economic and educational levels. As a country, we believe we are becoming less moral and less ethical. Even as we lost faith in ourselves, the world’s view and trust in the United States has also gone down by as much as fifty percent in some reports.

Morals and ethics are the core of any society. They constitute a nation’s culture. They affect how we behave as neighbors or as allies, in grammar school or law school, on Wall Street or Main Street, in peace or in war. Instant connectivity and complexity arguably make moral beliefs and ethical practices more relevant than they were in the pre-Internet era. They are our bulwarks against chaos, and perhaps even social dissolution. Honesty, integrity, empathy, selflessness, moral courage, and ethical practice hold us together as a nation. They are worth sustaining and defending.

American political leaders must help influence altruistic morality. They must both drive and demonstrate the highest ethical standards. They must do so not because they are better than that rest of us, but because for better or worse they are the official face of our country. They are empowered by the American people to make decisions on our behalf, not for their own benefit. Our leaders must set a positive example, but far too many do not. We need to teach our children, some of who will be the next generation of political leadership,  based on examples of those individuals who held the highest standards of morals and ethics.

From Socrates to BuddhaGandhi to Mandela, from Malala to Mother Teresa, Christina Noble to Nadia Murad, people on every continent and in every culture have set examples of altruistic moral belief and ethical behavior that we all should seek to emulate and who we should teach our children about.

My father was someone that I always looked to for guidance. I sought to emulate his beliefs and his actions. He was a former Jesuit Catholic priest turned professor and scientist. My father led by word and by deed. He taught me ethics and morality through the study of philosophy, especially that of Socrates. 

In early human cultures, supernational beliefs dominated. Two and half thousand years ago—and then within the matter of a few decades—three individuals changed that and made us responsible for our own destiny. They were Siddhatta Gotama (or the Buddha) in India, Kǒng Qiū (or Confucius) in China, and Socrates of Athens. Their ideas still shape our moral beliefs and our collective understanding of ethics. They encourage us to consider the best ways to build a just society, to live a good life, to pursue empathy and altruism. 

Socrates is best known as being one of the founders of Western philosophy. He was also a soldier that fought in the Peloponnesian War. Socrates’ bravery in battle was matched only by the courage of his ideas. He encouraged people to rationally question every part of their lives. His philosophy was considered subversive to those who had the power. To these fearful critics, Socrates was a one-man philosophical insurgency. They put him on trial and sentenced him to death in 399 BCE. He famously continued to teach his students as he sipped the poison that killed him.

Plato was one of his students. He was from the wealthy aristocracy, perhaps even descended from a King. Yet he followed the often disheveled and lowly Socrates, a man who placed almost no value in the material wealth that Plato’s family held dear. Plato refused familial pressure to take a position of power, eschewing personal benefit. He went on to create some of the most impactful philosophical works of mankind. One of those works was  The Republic, the book my father used most when teaching me. 

In The Republic, Plato uses allegories to describe ethical constructs. The Allegory of the Cave and (as I took from it) the requirement that those who are educated should teach others. The allegory of the Ring of Gyges and (as I took from it) the idea that even when no one can see you, you still have an obligation to do the right thing. He also describes the ideal society, Kallipolis, and the concept of the just and ethical leader or what he calls the “Philosopher-King“. 

Plato’s ideal ruler would be a person who would be not just intelligent but an intellectual; a person who serves others and who lives a life of modesty, no matter how wealthy they might be. Historians have debated who if anyone has ever met the standard set by Plato. One person often referenced as a true philosopher-king is Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was the last of the Pax Romana or good emperors of Rome. These were emperors chosen by merit for their intellect and integrity. Aurelius was born into an aristocratic family in the Roman Empire in 121 CE. He could have had all the luxuries of the aristocracy. Instead, he chose the life of an ascetic, even sleeping on a straw mat instead of the ostentatious trappings of royalty. He could have followed any philosophy but he chose Stoicism, a philosophy that focused on being just to one another, and chose to focus on the teachings of Epictetus, a former slave.

Stoicism emerged in approximately 300 BCE when a ship sank off the port city of Piraeus in Greece. A man named Zeno was on that ship, along with all of his possessions. He swam ashore and walked into a bookstore where the bookseller was reading out loud from the dialogues of Socrates.

Zeno was fascinated and asked the bookseller where he could find a man like Socrates to learn from. The bookseller said nothing and simply pointed to a man walking by named Crates, a philosopher from the nearby city of Athens. Zeno followed him and eventually became his student. He studied under Crates and started the Stoic School in Athens.

Aurelius became the leader of the Roman Empire in 161 CE and served until 180 CE. He ruled perhaps as much as 20 percent of the world’s population, from England to Egypt and from the straits of Gibraltar to the Bosporus. This was an enormous area with a vast diversity of people and interests. During this time, Rome faced many challenges to include a pandemic, massive inequality in wealth, unending wars, and major internal civil unrest leading to sometimes violent uprisings.  

Adjusting for the era, Aurelius had more wealth than perhaps anyone ever has had or will have. He had access to all the prurient pleasures that anyone could ever want. He had nearly absolute power over his empire and the people that lived in it. He owned Rome. He could have had anything he wanted without question. Instead, he chose to live a life of modesty. Instead of pursuing personal benefit, Aurelius chose to become the best person he could be. He did so without the expectation that he would ever achieve his objective.

He wrote of his struggles in his personal journal, his Meditations. These were private thoughts about the Stoic philosophy, focusing on self-criticism for the purpose of self-improvement. Many of these books were written while Aurelius was on military campaigns preparing for battle.

Many people, me included, learned about Aurelius while serving in the military. The former Secretary of Defense and four-star Marine General James Mattis, known for having a personal collection of over 7,000 books,  famously carried a copy of Meditations throughout his deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. [1] Meditations has likely been on every military reading list since being published, making the U.S. Department of Defense’s “Book of the Year” in 2017.

Aurelius epitomized the virtues of a soldier. He expected and demonstrated mental and physical toughness, integrity, and the courage needed to be a warrior and to lead warriors. When Rome was threatened by the tribes of the north, he led from the front to defend the empire. He became one of the best military leaders of any generation. He endured all the same hardships of his soldiers. Aurelius refused to take leave and return to the comfortable trappings of Rome. In doing so, he saved Rome.

But Aurelius was more than just a philosopher for the warrior class. He was a leader for everyone to emulate. He also firmly believed that educated people had a duty to educate others:

Humans have come into being for the sake of each other, so either teach them or learn to bear them.

Meditations 8:59

Americans should not ‘bear’ to have our next generation not educated on those who we believe are examples for others to emulate, be it Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, John McCain, or John Lewis, be it Harriet Tubman, Mary Walker, Rosa Parks or Jane Addams, or many more. 

When our schools eventually return to normal we need to fully integrate moral debate and courses on ethical practice into our curricula. And we need to do more than just teach subjects needed for a vocation. We need to teach from the ready and numerous examples of people who served altruistic purposes.

America needs to directly address its crisis of morality and ethics. After all, we are not Rome being ruled by an all-powerful Emperor, even if benevolent; we are a democracy led by leaders that we elected. Perhaps we will never have a true philosopher-king (or queen), but that doesn’t mean we should not try to make them. 

We also need to address the issues of those that are in government that do not have the ethics necessary to serve. We need to pass sweeping and strong laws and regulations on government ethics to enforce the checks and balances of our democracy, to ensure there is no undue enrichment of leadership, and to ensure that those in power are held accountable for their actions or lack thereof. This will be the first step to turning our perception of ourselves around and for our children to have faith in the government they will inherit and trust in their fellow citizens.

If we fail to shore up the moral and ethical bulwarks of our society we will have to live with the consequences. We will almost certainly watch our international reputation continue to wane. We will continue to lose our way and fracture at our many seams. A philosopher-king like Aurelius—American democratic leaders like Aurelius—can help us change course and save us from ourselves.

Dedicated to my father Michael Joseph Mulroy

Michael “Mick” Patrick Mulroy is the co-founder of Lobo Institute, a private firm consulting, advising, and teaching on current and future conflicts. Mulroy is a former United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East. He is a retired Central Intelligence Agency Paramilitary Operations Officer and United States Marine. In addition, he is a Senior Fellow for National Security and Defense Policy at the Middle East Institute, a member of the Board of Directors for Grassroots Reconciliation Group, and an ABC News National Security Analyst.


[1] Fiasco, Thomas E. Ricks, discussed in the Armed Forces Journal, August 1, 2006.

Interview with STOICON 2020 Speakers – Donald Robertson

We continue our series of interviews with the speakers for the upcoming virtual STOICON, which will be taking place virtually this year on October 17. Here is the link where you can register and view the schedule of events. Our next interview is with Donald Robertson.

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

I’m a cognitive-behavioural therapist and I write books about philosophy and psychotherapy.  I’m hosting the Stoicon virtual conference this year.  I began studying Stoicism, and then writing articles about it and giving talks, etc., about 20-25 years ago.  I wrote a book about Stoicism and CBT in 2010 and then became involved with the Modern Stoicism organization in 2012 when Christopher Gill put together the first group of people responsible for running Stoic Week.  At the moment, I’m in the middle of writing a graphic novel about the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.

How do you currently make use of Stoicism in your work?

I’ve used Stoicism for many years now as part of my coaching, CBT, and training work.  CBT was originally inspired by Stoicism and every therapist knows the famous quote from Epictetus: “It’s not things that upset us but our opinions about them.”  That encapsulates what came to be known as the cognitive theory of emotion.  So I draw on the parallels between Stoicism and CBT not only in therapy but also in (preventative) emotional resilience training.  Although, at the moment most of my time is spent writing books and articles on Stoicism, and giving talks, or rather, due to the pandemic, online webinars.

When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?

After leaving college, I studied philosophy at Aberdeen university in Scotland, way back in 1992.  I studied Plato and Aristotle, history of Indian philosophy, and was particularly interested in the concept of ancient philosophy as a way of life.  However, Stoicism wasn’t part of the undergraduate curriculum.  So it was only after graduating, when I began my postgraduate studies in philosophy and psychotherapy at Sheffield University that I began reading Pierre Hadot’s excellent books on philosophy as a way of life and realized that the Stoics were pre-eminent in this tradition.  I quickly also realized that Stoicism encapsulated an ancient model of psychotherapy.  At the time, some academics were strongly opposed to this idea: that ancient philosophy entailed a form of psychotherapy.  However, to me that showed a profound ignorance of the historical evidence — and it’s anachronistic insofar as it stems from their tendency to view ancient philosophy as if it were comparable to modern academic philosophy, i.e., something more bookish rather than a whole way of life.  The medical (or therapeutic) metaphor for ancient philosophy was extremely common, particularly in the Socratic dialogues of Plato, and in Stoic writings.  Philosophy is repeatedly described as resembling a medicine for the mind and doctors as physicians of the soul.  Epictetus says the philosopher’s school is like a doctor’s clinic and Chrysippus, the third head of the Stoa, wrote a famous, but now lost, book On Therapeutics, which we know described Stoic “therapy of the passions”, or psychotherapy, in detail.  So it seemed obvious to me that Stoicism was relevant to my research, and clinical work, in the field of psychotherapy.

What’s the most important aspect of Stoicism to you?  

Stoic virtue ethics.  That’s the cornerstone of ancient Stoic philosophy.  It’s also the basis of Stoic psychotherapy.  The Stoics have the advantage of being able to go somewhere that modern psychotherapy dares not tread: into the realm of moral values.  However, it also seemed intuitively obvious to me that if irrational and unhealthy ways of thinking underlie most of our emotional problems that these beliefs, in turn, are rooted in toxic values.  For instance, placing too much rigid importance on what other people think of you obviously plays a role in social anxiety disorder, and some forms of depression. Those are the sort of toxic and incoherent values the Stoics sought to question, through their use of philosophy and the Socratic Method.  The Stoics believed that “virtue (or moral wisdom) is the only true good” — someone (the Sage) who firmly grasps that, on the basis of rational argument, and lives consistently in accord with those radical values is, I think, going to be profoundly emotionally resilient as a consequence.  

In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?

Resilience is the Holy Grail of mental health research.  By “resilience”, psychologists today mean the ability to endure stressful life events, such as bereavement, divorce, job loss, sickness — or a pandemic! – without suffering lasting psychological damage as a result.  Resilience literally means the ability to “bounce back” from misfortunes, or setbacks, and perhaps even grow stronger as a result.  Cognitive-behavioural therapy, like all psychotherapy, as the name implies, is “remedial” – it treats emotional damage that’s already happened.  Resilience training is “preventative” (prophylactic).  As everyone already knows: prevention is better than cure.  Stoicism offers a way of expanding CBT into a framework of psychological skills, and a broader philosophy of life, that’s preventative of long-term emotional distress or psychopathology.  Stoicism, in short, offers us this Holy Grail of a method of training in in lasting, or even lifelong, emotional resilience.

How has Stoicism affected the way you live your life?

My full-time job for several years now has basically involved talking and writing about Stoicism.  Stoicism has also helped me work with clients, and train groups, in a broader range of philosophical concepts and psychological methods for achieving resilience.  It’s also helped me profoundly.  I’m a much happier and more resilient person today, I think, than I ever was in the past, and that’s certainly due to my love of Stoic philosophy.

What’s one of your favourite Stoic quotations and why?

Ha! I like the passage in book 1 of The Meditations where Marcus explicitly states that his Stoic mentor Junius Rusticus introduced him to the need for undergoing philosophical psychotherapy or, as he calls it, “therapeia”.  (At least, that’s helped me make the case for everything I mentioned above.)  My favourite quote really is Marcus’ description of the Stoic ideal, as exemplified by another tutor, Sextus of Chaeronea, as being “free from passion and yet full of love (philostorgia)”, by which he means free from irrational/unhealthy passions and full of rational/healthy ones. 

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Stoicism?

Read the ancient sources, starting with Plato’s Apology, and including Xenophon’s Memorabilia and other Socratic dialogues, and Cicero, as well as the famous three Stoics: Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.  Follow Modern Stoicism on social media, read the Stoicism Today blog, attend the virtual conference, and participate in Stoic Week.

Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

Yes, I think that we need Stoicism now, in particular, because the Sophists have taken over the world.  By that I mean politicians, the news media, and social media, are dominated by political propaganda and sensationalism, designed to create fear, provoke anger, and cloud people’s judgement.  We live in the Information Age.  The Sophists have evolved from men talking to groups of students in the agora, or the Athenian gymnasia, and saying whatever evoked the biggest round of applause.  They’ve been superseded by sophisticated algorithms that reward content that gets the most likes, or provokes the most comments.  We have a moral duty to ourselves, and to society in general, to arm ourselves with philosophical reasoning and challenge misinformation, and sophistical rhetoric, that harms the interests our loved ones, our nations, and the common welfare of mankind.  I think the key to this is the Stoic philosophy of anger.  We need to learn to wise up and see through the many ways we’re being manipulated today, especially the ways in which we’re baited by the media into responding to their propaganda with anger and hatred, e.g., by scapegoating particular groups of people.  Socrates and the Stoics took the philosophy of revenge very seriously because they clearly understood its toxicity.  The Stoics excel at what I call “counter-rhetoric”, learning to step out of the vicious cycle of emotive rhetoric by gaining “cognitive distance”, i.e., separating value judgements from objective facts.  That’s the essence of Stoic wisdom

Interview with STOICON 2020 Speakers – William Irvine

About William B. Irvine

We continue our series of interviews with the speakers for the upcoming virtual STOICON 2020, with a mid-week post (we’ve got a lot of speakers, so we’ll be publishing these on Saturdays and Wednesdays for a bit!), this one with another author that will be familiar to many, William Irvine.

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

I see myself primarily as a teacher. Some of my teaching activities take place in a college classroom, teaching philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, USA. The rest of my teaching is in the form of an outreach effort. As a philosophy professor, I have the freedom to explore subjects that interest me and then report my findings to a larger, non-academic audience. This outreach teaching takes place in the books I write.

How do you currently make use of Stoicism in your work?

As a writer, I encounter lots of setbacks. The computer I write on might get
cantankerous, and the articles and chapters I am writing might not “jell” properly. Subsequently, there are the setbacks that arise in trying to get a work published. Practicing Stoicism has provided me with a wonderful tool for dealing with these setbacks, and for keeping my cool as I do.

When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?

I first encountered Stoicism in college. The encounter took place in a logic class, when the Stoics were identified as the “discoverers” of the inference rule modus ponens: Given that P and “If P, then Q” are true, Q follows. I encountered and became interested in the Stoic philosophy of life, in the early 2000s, while writing my book, On Desire: Why We Want What We Want (Oxford University Press, 2006).

What’s the most important aspect of Stoicism to you?

Stoic psychological insights are, for me, the philosophy’s most important aspect. They were the preeminent psychologists of their day. Furthermore, it is only in the last half century that modern psychologists have rediscovered many of their insights.

In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?

Because human psychology has not changed in the last two millennia, Stoic psychological techniques remain as effective as they were in the ancient world.

How has Stoicism affected the way you live your life?

Thanks to my practice of Stoicism, I have become much more appreciative of the world in which I live, and much more aware of and open to the many small delights it has to offer.

What’s one of your favourite Stoic quotations and why?

“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” Although none of the ancient Stoics actually said this, they could and should have. It is great advice, no matter what predicament you find yourself in. If I were going to get a tattoo, this is what it would say. (The quote can be found in Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiography. He attributes the quote to Squire Bill Widener of Widener’s Valley, Virginia. Widener, a shadowy figure, was likely a born Stoic.)

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Stoicism?

You are living during the Great Stoic Renaissance—lucky you!—meaning that there are lots of books that can get you started, including my Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (Oxford University Press, 2008).

Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

Nope

Interview with STOICON 2020 Speakers – Massimo Pigliucci

We continue our series of interviews with the speakers for the upcoming virtual STOICON, which will be taking place virtually this year on October 17. Here is the link where you can register and view the schedule of events. Our next interview is with Massimo Pigliucci.

How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

I am a biologist and philosopher, teaching at the City College of New York. I was born in Monrovia, Liberia, grew up in Rome, Italy, and moved to the United States three decades ago. I live in Brooklyn, New York, with my wife Jennifer, also a Stoic practitioner. In fact, we met at Stoic Camp-New York two years ago!

How do you currently make use of Stoicism in your work?

My work consists chiefly of writing, teaching, and public speaking. All of these are activities were I most certainly do not control the outcomes. It is not up to me whether my agent or publisher will like my next book, and even less so whether the book will do well or not once it is published. It is not up to me whether my students will respond well to my efforts and learn what I’d like them to learn. And the reaction of the audience at a public talk is also most certainly not up to me.

What is up to me? My own considerate judgments, endorsed values, and decisions to act or not to act. So in all the above cases I apply Epictetus’ dichotomy of control and make a concerted effort to internalize my goals, shifting my focus from outcomes to intentions and efforts. So long as I am satisfied with my work, I need to be prepared to accept whatever result with equanimity.

When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?

I can tell you the exact date: September 5th, 2014! I had been going through a bit of mid-life crisis, some personal issues (divorce, my father’s death), as well as a transition to a new job and a move to a new city. While not unusual, that sort of things, especially when combined, can take a toll.

So I was looking for a new framework to replace my secular humanism, which I had adopted since I was a teenager and had left the Catholic Church, but which just didn’t seem to offer me any practical guidance on how to navigate what life was throwing at me. After briefly considering Buddhism, it occurred to me that the answer would likely lie in virtue ethics. So I began to study Aristotle, and then Epicurus. Neither of whom clicked, for different reasons (Aristotle is too aristocratic, Epicurus counsels against socio-political involvement).

Then, on that day back in 2014, I saw on my Twitter feed Modern Stoicism’s call to celebrate Stoic Week. And I thought, what the hell is Stoic Week, and why would anyone celebrate the Stoics? But I remembered that Stoicism too was a type of virtue ethics, and that I did enjoy reading Marcus Aurelius in college, and translating Seneca from Latin in high school. So I signed up. And here we are.

What’s the most important aspect of Stoicism to you?  

The fact that it is a coherent and eminently practical philosophy of life. Internal coherence appeals to my analytical side, as both a scientist and a philosopher. And practicality is what I came here for.

Of course, Stoicism itself began as a syncretic philosophy, a hodgepodge of teachings that Zeno of Citium picked up from the several philosophers whose schools he had attended in late 4th century BCE Athens. Then Chrysippus, the third head of the Stoa, came in and cleaned up things a bit, delivering much of what today we know as the Stoic system. Even so, Stoics disagreed among themselves on certain matters, and their ideas evolved throughout antiquity. They still evolve today. But always with a keen eye toward coherence and practicality.

In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?

It is one of a highly viable philosophies of life on offer, like Buddhism, or Christianity (I consider religions to be a type of life philosophies). I am tempted to say that Stoicism is particularly tailored for our times, characterized as they are by major political upheavals and threats to human welfare on a global scale. But in reality Stoicism has always been useful to people, because it has been the case throughout history that many things are not under our control, and setbacks — even at a very personal level — have been a stable feature of human existence. So the teachings of Stoicism have always been relevant, and will remain so.

How has Stoicism affected the way you live your life?

It has changed it dramatically, from the onset. After weeks from beginning my practice my own friends and relatives noticed in me a more calm demeanor and a different perspective on things. And those effects have only been amplified by years of daily practice.

It has also drastically changed my work, actually. While I still write about philosophy of science, more and more of my academic and public output is about Stoicism, which I would never have guessed just a few years ago. And unlike my previous writings, which were fun and hopefully interesting, but not really practical, what I write and say about Stoicism positively touches many people’s lives. It is a great feeling, and one that has provided additional meaning to my life.

What’s one of your favorite Stoic quotations and why?

One of the very first things I’ve read from Epictetus:

I have to die. If it is now, well then I die now; if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived – and dying I will tend to later.

Discourses I, 1.32

I thought: wow, this is both funny and eminently practical. Who is this guy? And why have I never heard of him, despite getting a PhD in philosophy and taking courses in ancient thought?? I was hooked immediately, and why I have my own disagreements with Epictetus, which I detail in my new book, A Field Guide to a Happy Life: 53 Brief Lessons for Living (Basic Books, 2020), we have been inseparable ever since.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Stoicism?

Four things. First, join a local Stoa or an online forum, where you can get guidance from more advanced practitioners.

Second, don’t just read the ancient sources, but also don’t limit yourself to the new offerings. Examine and study both. Stoicism has a long intellectual tradition, so it pays to see what Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and the others were writing. But by the same token, it is a living philosophy for the 21st century, so it is good to get acquainted with the writings of modern Stoics, including Larry Becker, Don Robertson, John Sellars, Bill Irvine, and others.

Third, practice, practice, practice. As Epictetus says: “If you didn’t learn these things in order to demonstrate them in practice, what did you learn them for?” (Discourses I, 29.35)

Lastly, don’t fall for the sort of corruption of Stoicism that I refer to as $toicism and Bro’icism. They are at odds with the actual philosophy, and they will not lead you to a eudaimonic life.

Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

There is much more to be said, but I guess I’ll see you at Stoicon!