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?