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Subscribe to the Modern Stoicism YouTube channel to receive notifications when we upload new videos. We’ve recently made some improvements and added a lot of content from Stoicon 2017 and 2018.
Every year since 2012, the Modern Stoicism team, in conjunction with many other people and organizations, facilitates Stoic Week and puts on a major international conference, Stoicon. We’ll have more information and details appearing in the upcoming weeks to come, but for the present, there’s already some news to announce about what we’ll be offering this year for Stoic Week and Stoicon. We also have some appeals and suggestions about Stoic Week and smaller Stoicon-X events and conferences. Please consider becoming a patron of Modern Stoicism, if you want to support our work.
Stoicon is the world’s largest gathering of people interested in and (in many cases) identifying with Stoic philosophy and practices. This year, it is being organized by John Sellars to take place in London. Information about tickets and registration will be forthcoming within the space of the next several weeks, but the date has long been set for Saturday, September 29.
The conference will take place in the University of London’s Senate House, in Bloomsbury, with the generous support of the Institute of Philosophy and the Institute of Classical Studies of the University of London.
Our keynote speaker will be:
Other speakers include:
A series of workshops will also be offered in break-out sessions. Workshop leaders will include Donald Robertson, Tim Le Bon, Chris Gill & Gabrielle Galluzzo, Greg Sadler & Andi Sciacca, Walter Matweychuk, and Greg Lopez.
There are a number of Hotels near the venue where one can book accommodation if required. The Imperial Hotels group run a number of large hotels, including The Tavistock Hotel and The Royal National Hotel. A range of smaller hotels are located on Bedford Place, including The Penn Club. So if you are planning on attending this international gathering, keep an eye out for tickets (coming soon), and start looking into travel and accomodations
Stoic Week 2018 will take place this year Monday October 1st– Sunday October 7th. So you can now definitively mark your calendars, if you plan to observe Stoic Week this year (and, of course, you should!).
As always, we will provide a handbook, an online class, and a number of other resources so that individuals, groups, and institutions can try living like a Stoic for that week, on their own, through a virtual community, or with others in small groups.
Like Stoicon, Stoic Week has been going on since 2012 – you can read the story of it here. Each year has seen a growing number of individual participants as well as participating institutions and organizations. Stoic Week involves a number of different but complementary goods.
First, by following the course and handbook, participants do really get an opportunity to learn about Stoicism and try it in practice. Many participants who are already well versed in Stoicism – myself included – take the week, the exercises and reflections, as a opportunity for a well-needed “tune-up” of one’s Stoic discipline.
Second, it offers a great opportunity to connect up with, and share stories, insights, experiences, and questions with other people equally interested in Stoicism. For some, this takes place through local communities, such as Stoic meetups, university or community groups, or events scheduled to celebrate Stoic week. For others, the online class provides this personal engagement.
Third, for those who want to host a Stoicism-related event, talk, or even a Stoicon-X conference, Stoic Week offers a great time to draw attention, boost participation and interest, and get some free publicity for whatever it is you’re putting together. Whether it be get-togethers to work through the Stoic Week class together, workshops, lectures, special sessions of a meetup, or any other event, we are happy to include yours in our listings of worldwide scheduled events,
Fourth, one main activity of the Modern Stoicism organization is gathering data to determine whether studying and practicing Stoicism can be scientifically demonstrated to improve the lives of those who do so. The Stoic Week class offers us an opportunity to do precisely that. You can read about that research here.
Stoicon-X events are smaller regional conferences or events, featuring speakers and workshops for those who want to learn more about Stoicism and its contemporary applications. Like the main conference, these are a great place to meet and have conversations with fellow modern Stoics. The idea behind Stoicon-X is that, for those people who can’t make it to the main Stoicon conference, there could be smaller, locally organized events they could participate in.
For those who might be interested in planning and hosting a Stoicon-X, we have developed a set of very useful and thorough guidelines – you can download them here. Stoicon-X events don’t have to be all that large – they can feature just a few talks, workshops, or other activites – the key is that they are well-organized for their participants.
Right now, we don’t have any information about upcoming Stoicon-X conferences for 2018. If you are planning or hosting one, please contact me , and I will make sure that your Stoicon-X gets into our comprehensive listings of events for this year.
If you want to support Modern Stoicism’s work please consider becoming a patron:
Information on the line-up of speakers and subjects of talks at this year’s Stoicon 2017 Modern Stoicism Conference in Toronto.
Stoicon 2017 is coming up soon, on October 14th! It is being held in the metropolis of Toronto this time around. (After New York City last year, and several in London in previous years.) At the time of writing, about 75% of the available tickets for the all-day conference have already been purchased. So if you would like to go to Stoicon, you will definitely want to act now to avoid missing out!
This year’s conference is on track to be the largest gathering of Stoics in history. Last year’s Stoicon had over 330 delegates attending, and this year we’re expecting closer to 400. It is a great opportunity to hear some excellent talks on Stoicism by established and upcoming authors, speakers, and researchers – and to get to ask them questions about their talks. You also have your choice of several longer, more intensive, hands-on workshops applying Stoic philosophy to the challenges you face. You’ll have chances to meet and interact with the speakers – as well as with the other participants.
I can tell you personally – as someone who attended and provided a workshop at last year’s Stoicon in NYC – that it was an amazing conference! Even as someone who has been studying, teaching, and applying Stoicism for years, I really enjoyed the the plenary talks and learned something from each of them. Getting to meet and talk with writers on Stoicism whose works I’ve benefitted from was wonderful. I had conversations with literally dozens of other participants – some of them practicing Stoics, some of them people just interested in Stoicism and trying to find out more about it, and even some who were already contributing to the modern Stoic community online!
We have a great line-up of speakers providing talks and workshops:
Prof. Margaret Graver, from Dartmouth University, is our keynote speaker. She is the author of Stoicism and Emotion, Cicero on the Emotions: Tusculan Disputations 3 and 4 , and a number of important articles on ancient philosophy.
Donald Robertson is one of the founding members of the Modern Stoicism organization, the developer of a number of online courses on Stoicism, and the author ofThe Philosophy of CBT: Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy, Build Your Resilience and Stoicism and the Art of Happiness.
Prof. Christopher Gill is another of the founding members of the Modern Stoicism organization, an Emeritus Professor of Ancient Thought at the University of Exeter, and is the author of Naturalistic Psychology in Galen and Stoicism, The Structured Self in Hellenistic and Roman Thought, and Personality in Greek Epic, Tragedy, and Philosophy: The Self in Dialogue
Prof. Massimo Pigliucci is K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York, and is the author of a number of books, most recently, How to be a Stoic.
Tim LeBon another founding member of the Modern Stoicism organization, is a practicing CBT psychotherapist and philosophical counselor, and the author of Wise Therapy and Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology
Thomas Jarrett, LCSW, is a former Combat Operational Stress Control Officer in the US Army, an Albert Ellis Institute Fellow, and the developer of Stoic Resilience and Warrior Resilience & Thriving Training training programs.
Dr. Ronald Pies is a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, author of Everything has Two Handles and Don’t Worry—Nothing Will Turn Out All Right!: The Optipessimist’s Guide to the Fulfilled Life
Dr. Chuck Chakrapani is a psychologist and data scientist, the founder of the Stoic Gym, and the author of Unshakable Freedom: Ancient Stoic Secrets Applied to Modern Life
Ryan Holiday is a marketing and motivational expert, the editor of the Daily Stoic site, and the author of The Obstacle is the Way, Ego is the Enemy, and The Daily Stoic.
Stephen Hanselman is a literary agent representing thought leaders and academics seeking a broad readership, and the co-author of The Daily Stoic.
Sharon Lebell is a musical performer and composer, author of The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness
Dr. Greg Sadler is a practicing philosophical counselor and ethics consultant, the producer of over 100 videos on Stoicism, and the editor of Stoicism Today
Andi Sciacca is director of curriculum and program design for the Food Business School, the COO of The Big Mind Institute of Education and Messaging, and co-founder of the MKE Stoic Fellowship
Dr. Walter Matweychuk is a practicing REBT therapist, teaches at New York University, and is the author of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: A Newcomer’s Guide
Prof. William O. Stephens teaches at Creighton University and is the author of Marcus Aurelius: A Guide for the Perplexed and Stoic Ethics: Epictetus and Happiness as Freedom
You can find out about the schedule – and get tickets (before they run out!) – for Stoicon 2017 here. If you’d like to see some of the previous talks and workshops, check out the videos of last years Stoicon in NYC. If you’ve got an interest in living or learning about the Stoic life in today’s world, this is an event you won’t want to miss!
Stoicon-x events are smaller conferences organized around the world to complement the main Stoicon 2017 conference in Toronto and Stoic Week 2017. The goal of Stoicon-x is for local Stoic groups to put on their own mini-conferences in their own areas. You can read our tips and guidelines for putting on your own Stoicon-x events.
Stoicon-x Toronto will be held on October 15th, the day after the main Stoicon 2017. Tickets for this event are available here.
You don’t need to be attending the main Stoicon 2017 conference to come to Stoicon-x. It’s a completely separate event, organized by some of the same people. In addition to a few fixed keynote talks, there will be slots for lightning talks of 5-10 minutes. Any attendee (that means you!) can sign up to present a lightning talk on a topic related to Stoicism of their choosing, time permitting. Networking will follow. So if you have something to say about Stoicism or just can’t get enough of Stoicism come along to Stoicon-x Toronto!
This Stoicon-x event will be held at Room # TRS1-109 (7th floor), Ted Rogers School of Management, 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario.
9.30am – 10am Registration and coffee
10am Introduction: The Popularity and Relevance of Stoicism Today
Donald Robertson, author of Teach Yourself Stoicism
10.15 am Keynote 1: Achieving Personal Freedom Through Stoic Principles
Dr. Chuck Chakrapani, author of Unshakable Freedom: Ancient Stoic Secrets Applied to Modern Life
10.45am Morning break (15 min.)
11am Lightning Presentations on Modern Stoicism
12pm Afternoon break (15 min.)
12.15pm Keynote 2: ‘People Learn while they Teach’: The Whys and Hows of Building a Local Stoic Community Greg Lopez, Founder of NYC Stoics and Director of Membership for The Stoic Fellowship
12.45pm Closing: Donald Robertson (15 min.)
1pm – 1.30pm Networking
NB: Please note that the details of this event may be subject to change.
The answer to this question is certainly ‘yes’, as I’ll go on to explain. It might seem puzzling why anyone should think there is a contradiction, but people sometimes do think that. For instance, at the 2015 Stoicon, Vincent Deary, a British health psychologist and well-known writer, was critical of the idea of modern Stoicism. Deary assumed that being Stoic, under modern conditions, meant accepting your situation in life, whatever this was, even if this was the result of social injustice. He praised a client of his, an elderly widow, who responded to her situation in a rebellious and angry spirit, because she saw it as the result of injustice, rather than what he saw as the ‘Stoic’ response of putting up with this. The ancient Stoics did urge us to accept, in a calm spirit, things that are genuinely inevitable – above all, the fact of our own future death and that of other people, including those close to us. But this does not mean that we should accept unjust situations, which are not inevitable and are the result of deliberate human action. On the contrary, the Roman Stoics, in particular, were well-known for challenging what they saw as political injustice – in that sense, they were well-known for being political activists and they can provide models for us in this respect.
The key to understanding Stoic thinking on political involvement – like much else in Stoic ethics – is their theory of ethical development. The Stoics believe there is a pattern of life-long ethical development that is natural for human beings – that expresses human nature at its best – and we should do all we can to take this process forward. This pattern consists in two, interconnected strands. In one strand (centred on value), we gradually gain a better understanding of the virtues, what these involve, and how to embed these in our lives. (The Stoics thought there were four generic virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and self-control, and that these were interconnected and inseparable.) Also, we gradually recognize that living in line with the virtues is what really matters in human life – what brings us real happiness.
The second strand of ethical development centres on our relationship to other people. The Stoics believed that, alongside the natural motive of self-preservation, there is a second natural motive, namely to care for others of our kind. The instinct, found in all animals, including human beings, to love and care for our children, is a clear example of this motive. As we develop, human beings express this motive in more complex and rational ways, which also express a growing understanding of the virtues. This leads to two main kinds of outcome. One is social involvement (in family, communal, or political life), in a form that expresses understanding of the virtues. Another is the recognition that all human beings – because they are all capable of this process of rational, ethical development – are, in a sense, brothers and sisters to us, or fellow-members of a single world-community. Although different Stoic sources emphasize one or other of these outcomes, they are often seen as compatible or mutually supporting. Social or political involvement in a specific, local context is achieved in the best way (the way that expresses the virtues), if it is combined with recognition of the fundamental kinship or co-citizenship of all human beings as rational agents.
This Stoic theory of ethical development makes sense, I think, of their thinking on political involvement. Our evidence for their ideas on this topic is rather limited, and, as with other topics, different Stoics seem to have interpreted these ideas in somewhat different ways. But there are some consistent themes. First of all, the Stoics thought that, other things being equal, we should get involved in community and political life in our specific or local context – unlike the Epicureans, for instance, who thought such involvement was likely to undermine our own peace of mind. Secondly, our involvement should be carried out in a way that also expressed and promoted our understanding of the virtues (wisdom, courage, justice, self-control). Thirdly, our involvement at a local level should also reflect the recognition that, although different kinds of people have different claims on us, all human beings as such have a kinship and in a sense co-citizenship with us. These principles have a direct bearing on the sense in which Stoicism encourages us to be political active; it also has a bearing on how far one can be a Stoic and also a political activist, which usually means challenging the established political order in some way. I’ll give some examples of how the ancient Stoics put these ideas into practice and then discuss how they might help us to formulate our own approach now.
First, were ancient Stoics active in politics and if so how? In looking at this question it’s worth bearing in mind that, for much of the time that ancient Stoicism was most active (from the third century BCE to the second century CE), Greece and later Rome were ruled by kings or emperors, even though at other times, Athens had been a democracy and Rome a republic. It’s also worth noting that, for the most part, and unlike some other ancient philosophies, Stoicism did not consistently recommend one form of government as the best one absolutely. Rather, they maintained that, whatever context we find ourselves in (with exceptions noted shortly), we should be involved politically in a way that is consistent with our specific situation in life, character and talents, and our ethical principles. In Hellenistic Greece (that is, third to first century BCE), the main options were either involvement in local or community politics or being a philosophical advisor to a king, and some Stoics played both these roles.
Also, simply being a philosophical teacher in Athens was regarded as a kind of public or political role. It’s worth remembering that this often meant teaching and arguing in a public place, such as the colonnade or Stoa after which the school was named. In Rome, a number of members of the political élite adopted Stoicism as their philosophy, and combined this with various forms of political involvement. These included being a leading politician and general under the Republic (Cato the younger, first century BCE), advising an emperor (Seneca, advisor to Nero, first century CE), and being the emperor himself (Marcus Aurelius, second century CE). At the other end of the social scale, Epictetus, an ex-slave (first-second century CE), took on the role of a philosophical teacher; he had no direct involvement in politics, but taught many students who went into political life. So, ancient Stoics seem overall to have practised what they preached, and to have become involved in politics to the extent that was feasible in their context and personal situation.
How far did this involvement express distinctively Stoic values? And did it lead them to engage in political activism, that is, challenging political authority on the grounds of injustice? This is, in fact, a very well-marked feature of political life in the late Roman republic and Empire. It mainly took the form of exemplary gestures, designed to signal moral disapproval of a given political ruler or regime, typically a dictator or emperor. Although Stoicism did not reject sole rule as a constitutional form (or indeed any given constitutional form), they rejected tyrannical abuse of power, seeing it as an exercise of injustice in the political sphere. This is the common thread underlying a series of famous exemplary gestures.
Cato committed suicide (in 46 BCE), in a very deliberate and obvious way, rather than submit to what he saw as Julius Caesar’s illegitimate and unjust replacement of the Roman republic by dictatorship. A number of Roman senators, such as Helvidius Priscus and Thrasea Paetus (both first century CE), signalled their disapproval of the injustice of the emperor in power, for instance, Nero or Domitian. They did so by refusing to attend the senate, by remaining silent there, or walking out in protest – and these gestures were recognized as challenges to the regime and often led to exile or execution. (There was in fact a general expulsion of philosophers in 89 CE under Domitian, in response to this kind of attitude.) Seneca’s attempt to retire from his role of Nero’s adviser, when it was clear his attempt to control Nero’s excesses had failed, was taken as a gesture of disapproval and led to his enforced suicide in 65 CE. These are clear cases where Stoic principle (the refusal to be complicit in an unjust political order) led certain Romans from being politically active to being political activists, using exemplary gestures in the way that Gandhi did successfully in his campaign of passive resistance to the British rule of India which he saw as unjust.
This passage of Marcus Aurelius Meditations sums up the two features of Stoic political thought considered so far. ‘… through him [Severus] I have come to understand Thrasea, Helvidius, Cato, Dio, Brutus, and have grasped the idea of a state based on equality before the law, which is administered according to the principles of equality and freedom of speech, and of a monarchy, which values above all the liberty of its subjects’ (1.14). Marcus refers to a number of the well-known Stoic activists I have just discussed. Marcus also sums up his own credo as an emperor. Although not all Stoics would necessarily have shared this approach, it clearly represents a Stoic type of ideal, namely Marcus’ attempt to play his role in life (as an emperor) in a way that was consistent with expressing the virtues in a political context.
What about the Stoic idea of the brotherhood of humanity or co-citizenship in the world? What role did this play in their political thinking? Sometimes it provides a kind of objective or broader framework for more localized political action, placing this in a broader moral framework: as in this quotation from Marcus. ‘As Antoninus, my city and fatherland is Rome, as a human being, it is the universe. It is only what benefits these cities which is good for me’ (6.44.6). At other times this idea is brought more directly into moral or political decision-making. Antipater, one of the Hellenistic heads of the Stoic school (in 159-129 BCE), argued that when we are doing business, for instance, selling a house, we should be open and honest about the faults of the property, even if we make less money, bearing in mind that all those involved are members of the brotherhood of humankind and deserve just treatment (Cicero, On Duties 3.52). Cicero (106-43 BCE), though not a Stoic himself, sometimes adopted Stoic principles; he maintained that anyone who becomes a tyrant (unjust ruler) puts himself outside the brotherhood of humanity or the ‘body’ of rational human agents. More controversially he maintained that this principle justified the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE (On Duties 3.22-28, 32). These examples give us some idea how the idea of the brotherhood of humankind was used to support both political involvement and social and political activism in the sense I am considering here.
Finally, what lessons can we learn from Stoic thinking and practice on this subject that might help us today? I would not want to suggest that Stoic political principles provide a straightforward answer to any given political question, for instance how we should have vote in the British referendum on our membership of the EU (June 2016) or the recent US presidential election (November 2016), but they certainly can provide ideas on which we can reflect in making such decisions. In particular, I think the Stoic idea of the brotherhood of humankind or co-citizenship of the world has a special value for us in the present political climate. Many of the most intense debates today on both sides of the Atlantic centre on how we should respond to the claims of refugees from war-zones, how we should respond to people who want to become immigrants in our country, or how we should treat people whose religion is different from our own, or from that prevalent in our country.
I think the Stoic idea of the brotherhood of humankind can help to place these questions in a broader perspective and can lead us to recognize that treating whole classes of people who differ from us in one of these ways as somehow less than human or wholly outside the boundaries of our ethical concern is morally unacceptable. More generally, I believe the Stoic approach of locating questions of political involvement and activism within the broader framework of human ethical development is a helpful one. I think there is considerable value in trying to view one’s life as an on-going project of ethical progress, centred on bringing together our growing understanding of the virtues and of how to treat other people better; and that this view can help us to adopt a more thoughtful and constructive view of political engagement than is often held.
A. Long and D. N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, Cambridge, 1987: sections 57, 67, also 59D.
Chapters by M. Schofield (ch. 22) and C. Gill (ch. 29) in C. Rowe and M. Schofield, The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought, Cambridge, 2000.
Griffin, Seneca: A Philosopher in Politics, Oxford 1976 (1992).
This post is the transcript of Professor Gill’s presentation at the STOICON 2016 conference. The video of talk can be viewed here.
Chris Gill is Emeritus Professor of Ancient Thought at the University of Exeter. He has written extensively on ancient philosophy. His books which focus on Stoicism include The Structured Self in Hellenistic and Roman Thought and Naturalistic Psychology in Galen & Stoicism.
Audio recordings from Stoicon 2016, available for download as MP3 files.
Stoicon 2016 was a huge success!
You can now download MP3 audio recordings of the talks below… Here’s the opening talk by Massimo Pigliucci called “Stoicism 101”.
You can download the files by right-clicking on the speaker’s name and selecting the Save link as… or Download option from your browser’s context menu.