Stoicon, Stoic Week, and Stoicon-Xs in 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 2018 – London

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:

  • Professor A. A. Long, one of the leading scholars of Stoicism in the English-speaking world during the last fifty years

Other speakers include:

  • Professor Catharine Edwards, Roman historian and noted expert of Seneca
  • Antonia Macaro, author of More than Happiness: Buddhist and Stoic Wisdom for a Sceptical Age
  • Kai Whiting, who works on Stoicism and sustainability, and has written for the Stoicism Today blog
  • Dr Liz Gloyn, Classicist and author of a recent book on Seneca, The Ethics of the Family in Seneca
  • Dr Piotr Stankiewicz, from the University of Warsaw and a member of the Modern Stoicism team

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

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

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:

Save The Date – Stoicon 2018 In London!

Big news everyone – After two years in North America (Toronto last year and New York City in 2016) – Stoicon is returning back across the Atlantic to London this year!

The world’s largest gathering of modern Stoics is slated to take place on Saturday, September 29, at Beveridge Hall in Senate House, London. John Sellars has taken the lead in organizing Stoicon 2018.  The conference is co-sponsored by the Institute of Philosophy and the Institute of Classical Studies of the University of London.

Three invited speakers have been confirmed at this point:

Our keynote speaker this year will be a familiar name to everyone engaged in serious study of Stoic philosophy, A. A. Long!  He is probably best known to many of our readers as the author of EpictetusA Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, but has been making major contributions to study of ancient philosophy for nearly half a century.

Antonia Macaro is our second invited speaker.  She will be discussing selected themes from her recent book More than Happiness: Buddhist and Stoic Wisdom for a Sceptical Age.

Kai Whiting, an interdisciplinary researcher who has been adapting Stoicism to sustainability issues, will speak about Stoicism in relation to material possessions, consumerism, sustainability, and environmentalism.

We will be announcing the full roster of speakers and the specific titles of their talks as more details get sorted out.  You can also expect, however, that members of the Stoicism Today team will be there, some of them to provide short plenary talks, and others to give longer, more in-depth workshops and talks in the break-out sessions.

As in past years, International Stoic Week will follow Stoicon, running from Monday, October 1 to Sunday, October 7.  That’s an excellent time to schedule or to attend Stoic Week events (we’ll be listing all of them here on the Modern Stoicism site and in the Stoicism Today blog).

So if you belong to a local group, institution, or organization, and you’d like to have something to attend with other people interested in Stoicism during Stoic Week, now might be a good time to put the proverbial “bug in their ear” – suggest that they organize an event, or have their membership work through Stoic Week together.

We are also hoping that – as in previous years – there will also be a host of smaller Stoicon-X events around the same time for those who can’t attend Stoicon, or who want to get in on still more Stoic gatherings.  Stoicon-X events took place on four continents last year – Australia, Europe, South America, and North America!

If you’re interested in putting together a Stoicon-X event for the Fall, you should take a look at the guidelines and helpful suggestions drawn up by the Modern Stoicism team.  It’s also great to know that the Stoic Fellowship is also there to support organizations that want to host a Stoicon-X event!

Much more information will be coming out over the course of the next eight months leading up to Stoicon and Stoic Week (and hopefully, a lot of Stoicon-Xs and Stoic Week events).  But for the present, save the dates on your calendar!

Resources From Stoicon 2017 Now Available!

As has been the case each succeeding year, we had some excellent talks and workshop sessions at Stoicon 2017 and the Stoicon-X that followed the next day.

It was hosted in Toronto, and had over 400 attendees – it’s still growing in numbers each time – but the worldwide Modern Stoic community is far vaster than that, so until now, those who weren’t able to go to the actual events have largely had to be content – for the time being – to peer in through the media of one video (my workshop presentation) and a few summaries and transcripts (those by Massimo Pigliucci and William Stephens).

We are very happy to announce that we have now assembled videos, handouts, slides, and other resources from Stoicon 2017 into one place.

Here’s where you can find all of that material!

You’ll also find some bonus material, from the Toronto Stoicon-X – videos of some of the “Lightning Round” talks that participants gave there.  We hadn’t originally planned on videorecording those, but decided to right on the spot – and I shot them with my low-tech flipcam – so they’re a bit less polished.  But the talks are very engaging, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy them as much as we did at the event!

Stoicon Starts Today – Stoic Week In Two Days!

As this post goes out today, we are gathered in Toronto for Stoicon 2017! About 400 people are expected to participate, here to listen to talks and participate in workshops delivered by fifteen speakers on all manner of things Stoic.  The conference theme this year is Stoicism at Work, so quite a few of the talks and workshops focus on that aspect.

Stoicon is also a great opportunity to meet and network with people from all over the world interested in Stoicism.  Representatives from a number of the member organizations of the Stoic Fellowship will be there.  Many podcasters, bloggers, video producers, and other content producers who focus on Stoicism will be attending as well.  I can attest, from the experience of last year’s Stoicon in New York City, that you can easily spend the entire day between the talks and workshops, on the one hand, and in conversation after conversation, on the other hand!

If you wanted to go to Stoicon, but weren’t able to, don’t worry overmuch about missing out.  We have plans to videorecord all of the plenary talks, and some of the breakout sessions will be recorded as well (you know mine will – in my main YouTube channel).  I’m also asking each of the presenters to contribute a guest post covering their talk or workshop, which we will publish later on in Stoicism Today.

Keep in mind as well that there are also a number of Stoicon-Xs this year, as well as a number of events all over the world during Stoic Week itself – check out the list below!

And that brings up . . . Stoic Week itself.  If you haven’t already enrolled in the free online Stoic Week course, here’s the link.  This is a chance to “live like a Stoic” (the original title, years back) for a week, applying Stoic practices, engaging in exercises, studying passages from Stoic texts, and having conversations with others (if you like) about each day’s activities.  Even if you’ve gone through it previously, it’s a great opportunity to give your Stoicism a “tune-up” – I do it every year myself!

Stoic Week starts this Monday, October 16, and runs to the following Sunday, October 22.  Check out the free course – this year’s theme is particularly timely – “Self-Renewal”.

Stoic Week Events Coming Up:

Sunday October 15, 9:30 AM – Toronto, Canada –   This Stoicon-X event will take place at Room # TRS1-109 (7th floor), Ted Rogers School of Management, 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Organized by Donald Robertson. Features a number of speakers, many of whom will be giving “lightning talks” about Stoicism.  Tickets and full information available here.

Monday-Friday October 16-20 (four days), 5:00 PM – Poughkeepsie, USA – Marist College will kick off Stoic Week with a talk by Brendon Boldt, followed on subsequent days by a Stoic Walk with Mr. Boldt and Prof. James Snyder, a Stoic Meditation session, and a Wrap-Up session with Mr. Boldt and Prof. Snyder,   Contact Brendon Boldt for more information.

Monday October 16, 6:00 PM – New York City, USA – The Stoic School of Life will be hosting a discussion at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, “On Moral Luck”. Full details available here.

Monday October 16-20 (each day), 6:00 AM – Slippery Rock, USA – Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania will be hosting its third annual “Live Like a Stoic for a Week” morning activities  This event is open to the public. Contact Dr. Andrew M. Winters for more information.

Monday October 16, 7:00 PM – Toronto, Canada – The Stoic Circle will be meeting for their inaugeral session as a guild of Stoic practitioners.  They will also be kicking off Stoic Week together.  Full details available here.

Tuesday October 17, 7:30 PM – Chicago, USA – The New Acropolis will be hosting a talk by Greg Sadler, “Applying Stoic Philosophy In Your Workplace: 5 Useful Practices.” Full details available here.

Tuesday October 17, 5:00 and 7:00 PM- Differdange, Luxembourg – Miami University Dolibois European Center is hosting two events on the same evening. Brian Domino will lead a discussion about Stoicism and school work, and Stoicism and Work in general. Full details available here.

Wednesday October 18, Time TBD – Edinburg, Scotland – The Scotland Stoics will be hosting a meeting, precise details TBD at this time

Wednesday October 18, 7:30 PM – Chicago, USA – New Acropolis Chicago will be hosting a second talk, by Gil Sommer, “Can We Trust Our Feelings?”  Full details available here.

Thursday October 19, 6:00 PM – Milwaukee, USA – The MKE Stoic Fellowship will be hosting a Stoic Week event.  It will be a facilitated discussion, led by Greg Sadler, Andi Sciacca, and Shaun Miller.  Full details available here.

Friday October 20, 6:30 PM -Altamonte Springs, USA – The Orlando Stoics will be hosting a special meeting to celebrate Stoic Week, meeting at the Altamonte Drive Panera Bread.  They will be discussing excerpts from contemporary Stoic literature.  Full details available here.

Saturday October 21st, 2:00- San Leandro, USA –  The Redwood Stoa will be hosting a Stoicon-X event at the Hayward Weekes Branch Library, Hayward, California in the John and Alice Pappas Room.  Organized by James Kostecka. Admission is free for this event, and details are available here.

Saturday October 21st, 10:00 AM – London, Great Britain –  This Stoicon-X event will take place at the Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London.  Features talks by a number of speakers, including founding members of Modern Stoicism. Organized by Dr. John Sellars  Tickets and full information available here.

Sunday October 22, 5:00 PM – New York, USA – The New York City Stoics will be hosting a Stoic Week Wrapup at the Onassis Cultural Center.  Full details available here.

Sunday October 22, 3 PM – London, Great Britain – The London Stoics will be meeting at Royal Festival Hall to discuss Book 2 of Epictetus’ Discourses and to follow up about the London Stoicon-X.  Full details available here.

Press Release – Stoicon, Stoicon-Xs and Stoic Week 2017

As we gear up for Stoicon, Stoicon-X events (this year on 4 continents!), the Stoic Week course, and a number of events worldwide celebrating Stoic Week, we – the members of the Modern Stoicism organization – have a short press release ready to send out.  You can download the Press Release for Stoic Week here.

Please feel free to share this press release with any media outlets who you think would be interested in knowing about and publicizing Stoic Week 2017, the Stoicon and Stoicon-X conferences and events, and the work of the Modern Stoicism organization.  All of these are definitely newsworthy, and we hope to spread the word as widely as possible!

We will be updating – and that means significantly expanding! – the list of events worldwide during or around Stoic Week.  If your organization, institution, or group is planning an event, make sure to get the full information of the event sent to us, and we’ll get it into our list.   And the same goes if your organization, institution, or group is engaging in Stoic Week together – send us that information, and we’ll add you to our listing!

Get Your Stoicon 2017 Tickets Today!

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!

Upcoming Stoicon-x Events In 2017

At present, there are three confirmed Stoicon-X events coming up worldwide during or around Stoic Week (mid-October).  Not only are they in different countries, but they are on different continents as well.

The idea behind Stoicon-X is that, for those people who can’t make it to the main Stoicon conference (this year, in Toronto – tickets are still available), there could be 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.

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, there are three main upcoming Stoicon-X conferences that have been brought to our attention.  If you are planning or hosting one, and don’t see it here, please contact Greg Sadler, and he will make sure that your Stoicon-X gets into our comprehensive listings of events for this year.

Stoicon-X Brisbane, Australia – October 7, 10:30 AM- 3:15 PM.  This event will take place at the Mitchelton Library, 37 Heliopolis Parade, Mitchelton QLD 4053, Australia. Tickets available here.

Stoicon-X Toronto, Canada – October 15, 9:30 AM – 1:30 PM.  This will take place at Room # TRS1-109 (7th floor), Ted Rogers School of Management, 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario.  Tickets available here.

Stoicon-X London, Great Britain – Date, Time and Location TBA at this point.  More information will be forthcoming in future posts.

Right After Stoicon in Toronto: A STOICON-x Event!

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!

Location for Stoicon-x Toronto 2017

This Stoicon-x event will be held at Room # TRS1-109 (7th floor), Ted Rogers School of Management, 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario.

Full Schedule for the Event

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.

Can you be a Stoic and a political activist? by Christopher Gill

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.

Further Reading

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

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”.

Stoicon 2016 Logo

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.

  1. Donald Robertson
    Stoicism, Mindfulness, and Cognitive Therapy
  2. Julia Annas
    Is Stoic Virtue as Off-putting as it Seems?
  3. William Irvine
    On Becoming an Insult Pacifist
  4. Lawrence Becker
    Stoic Ethics-in-Action
  5. Debbie Joffe Ellis
    Albert Ellis, A Model of Resiliency, Compassion, and Stoicism in Action
  6. Christopher Gill
    Can you be a Stoic and a Political Activist?
  7. Cinzia Arruzza
    Let us Take Care of Ourselves, Stoic Exercises and Foucault
  8. Jules Evans
    Stoicism as a Wellbeing Intervention in the Workplace, prisons and Mental Health Charities
  9. KEYNOTE – Ryan Holiday
    The Daily Stoic: Practical Philosophy for Pragmatic People