As an organization, we have been fortunate at Modern Stoicism to enjoy considerable continuity over the years. Quite a few of the original team members are still actively involved in the organization and its activities. A few have since moved on to other projects and prospects, but in their place more team members have been added.
I myself joined the team in Spring of 2016, taking over as editor of Stoicism Today by invitation of the original editor, Patrick Ussher, seconded and welcomed by the other members of the team at that time. As I mentioned in my first blog post way back then, Patrick had done an excellent job in building up the readership and stock of writings of the blog, and was leaving it in great shape.
After putting in a bit over five years as editor, and discussing the matter with the Modern Stoicism team – and even more importantly with Harald himself – I am happy to announce the news that Harald Kavli will be assuming the role of assistant editor of Stoicism Today as of today. This also means that he becomes another of our recent additions, expanding the Modern Stoicism team. Harald is a colleague, collaborator, and friend of mine, and I have every confidence in his capacities and commitment. Before introducing you, our readers, to Harald in a bit more detail, I’d like to say a little about why I wanted to bring him on and in.
Modern Stoicism As An Ongoing Project
It is clear that there is at present – and for the foreseeable future – a real need for an organization like Modern Stoicism ltd. Interest in Stoicism worldwide continues to grow and show no sign of even slowing down. We have not hit the “peak Stoic” point that we have wondered about and discussed at previous Stoicon conferences. Each year, Modern Stoicism plans and provides that big central Stoicon conference, followed by Stoic Week, with a handbook, an online course, and a number of other activities. In recent years, we have added a 4-week Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training online course as well. And Modern Stoicism also gathers data and engages in research focused on whether and how Stoicism demonstrably helps those who study and practice it.
There are a number of partner organizations to Modern Stoicism. Some of these are worldwide, like the global Stoic Fellowship. Others are based in particular places, like the many local communities within the Stoic Fellowship, or the Aurelius Foundation based in London. Others exist largely online, like the Stoic Gym that publishes The Stoic each month. There is a good bit of overlapping membership and leadership between all of these organizations. So there’s a lot going on – and Stoicism Today plays a role in publicizing not just the events and activities of Modern Stoicism, but also these other organizations as well.
Modern Stoicism has ben growing and expanding over the years as an organization, taking on additional projects and functions, coordinating a good bit of work worldwide, continually asking how we can bring this life-changing philosophy to more and more people. Over time, it became clear that the team needed to expand, bringing in additional members to put their talents to work, shouldering their share of the tasks, and contributing their own ideas and insights.
The work involved in editing the Stoicism Today blog is considerable, and I have been carrying it on as a volunteer all these years, often remaining just a few steps ahead of our publication schedule. One reason to bring on an assistant editor is to spread the continuous work of responding to enquiries, providing suggestions for improving drafts, editing the actual posts, corresponding with authors, and writing needed copy (just to name a few of the tasks) out over two people. It’s not just a matter of sharing work, though. that expression “two heads are better than one” holds not just for generating ideas, or putting in work, but also for copyediting and formatting.
Like any other organization, if we are thinking long-term, Modern Stoicism has to also prudently bring in “new blood”. We need to bring on and integrate new team members who are younger, and at earlier stages of their own education and professional development. That’s good succession planning, ensuring continuity to the organization if and when team members inevitably have to move on. But it’s also – in my view – good to have more minds and voices involved in editing Stoicism Today. We need every so often to add fresh ideas and perspectives, and I am sure that Harald will bring them as assistant editor.
I have no plans for the immediate future to step down as editor of Stoicism Today, but I do think that it would be good for me to do so eventually. Organizational roles like editor shouldn’t remain vested in one particular person for too long. I hope and am willing to serve for several more years, but my intention is for Harald at some time to assume the position of editor (and at that time to be a bit more prudent than I have been and bring on an assistant right off the bat!)
Why Harald In Particular?
Speaking of prudence – that is, practical wisdom, one of the Stoic virtues – it would be quite reasonable for you, the readers of Stoicism Today, to ask: ok, we get why you should bring in an assistant – but why this person in particular? And that is an excellent question. I am going to provide here in print more or less the same case I presented orally in our most recent meeting of the Modern Stoicism team.
Among the many qualities that Harald have, several are particularly relevant to his being an excellent prospect for assistant editor. One of these is a substantive commitment to Stoicism as a philosophy of life. We don’t have anything like an orthodoxy requirement or test in the Modern Stoicism organization – if we did, we’d be going against the very philosophy itself, as Seneca himself pointed out in his letters! But it does make sense that the editorial staff of a blog or online journal focused on Stoicism ought both to be knowledgeable and to have some appreciation for and commitment to the philosophy. All of those apply to Harald.
I first met him online, over email and Skype, when he was the founder and organizer of the local meetup for Stoicism in Norway, the Oslo Stoics. We had a number of conversations about all sorts of aspects of Stoicism, and then were able to meet up face to face at Stoicon when it was held in London in 2018. In fact, we made the time between events for me to interview Harald about his project of translating Epictetus into Norwegian (you can watch that interview here).
As time went on, Harald and I began not just discussing, but collaborating on a research projects, some of which focus specifically on Stoic thinkers, texts, and ideas (we’re actually presenting one of those, on prohairesis in Aristotelian and Stoic traditions this coming week, at the annual Aristotle and the Aristotelian Tradition conference). You get to know a person quite well when working together in that way, and meeting weekly by Skype for in-depth conversations.
Among the many qualities Harald possesses that will serve him well in this new role is that portion of the virtue of Courage that the Stoics identified as “industriousness” – philoponia, in Greek, literally a “love of toil”. He also has an excellent wit, an openness and inquisitiveness about perspectives in philosophy and practical life, and a knack for working ideas through. Harald also brings solid editorial experience to the position, from his previous work with the Norwegian philosophy journal Filosofisk Supplement (mentioned below)
So I’m very happy that he accepted the invitation to join the Modern Stoicism team and to take on this new position of assistant editor. You’ll be seeing quite a bit of Harald in the months and years to come, and getting to know him through his work. I thought it might be good to start out with a short interview, and asked him to write responses to the questions below.
A Brief Interview With Harald
Question: What got you interested in Stoicism originally?
Answer: I more or less stumbled into it about 7 years ago. I think I first encountered Stoicism while I was googling philosophical counseling and read a blog entry about Stoicism from a Norwegian philosophical counselor. I have always been a bit neurotic and anxious, as well as quite irritable, so the first thing that got my interested was the idea that there can be a gap in between an event and a reaction, and that we have some kind of control over how we react to events. The first Stoic that I read was Marcus Aurelius, and reading him gave me a completely new outlook on life. I also tried cognitive-behavioral therapy around that time, so I also picked up Robertson’s book on CBT and Stoicism quite early on.
Q: Has your interest(s) in Stoicism changed over the years? How so?
A: In the beginning, Stoicism was merely a toolbox for mental wellbeing for me, but that changed after I began studying philosophy at the University of Oslo. I think that the Stoics have a lot to say regarding contemporary philosophical problems, for instance on human agency and freedom of the will, as well as their ethics and theory about the emotions. So, I would say that my interest has gotten deeper and more theoretical than it used to be. At the same time, I do not think that a theoretical interest in philosophy is necessarily in conflict with a practical approach.
Q: You have some wide interests in philosophy. Would you say that you’re primarily a “Stoic”, more of an eclectic or pluralist, or somewhere in between?
A: I don’t think that I’ve encountered any other philosopher or philosophical school that has influenced my way of thinking as much as the Stoics have. I do, however, recognize that there are plenty of value to be found outside of the Stoa, and that there are some questions that the Stoics did not write about directly, or that they did write about it, but that the texts in which they did so are no longer extant. There are also a few places where I disagree with the Stoics, for instance when it comes to ethical questions regarding animals. I agree with Kai Whiting that we should try to include all sentient life in our circles of concern. I am, however, a bit hesitant to call myself a Stoic until I (hopefully) reach the point where I have understood them more completely. I am currently writing my master’s thesis on the sufficiency debate, that is, the debate on whether virtue is sufficient for eudaimonia or whether virtue need some external goods in addition. The Stoics thought that virtue is sufficient, while the Aristoteleans disagreed. I still haven’t been able to say which side of the debate I agree with, all though I tend to favor the Stoic side for several reasons that I hope to write about in the future.
Q: Do you engage in any Stoic practices regularly? If so, which ones – and what do you get out of them? If not, why not?
A: Not as much as I should, but when I do, I tend to do some version of the evening meditation. I think that exercises like the evening meditation is a great way to get a little bit more control over the monkey-mind.
Q: You’ve been reading Stoicism Today regularly for quite a while. What kind of posts are your favorite to read and why? Are there any ideas you have for what Stoicism Today could add in the coming years?
A: I really like the breadth of the topics and approaches, and it is a bit hard to say what my favorite thing to read is. There have been several really good entries in the past, from both academic philosophers as well as laypeople, and the topics vary from current affairs to timeless discussions, and from the theoretical and to the practical. What I would like to see in the future, is a few more entries dealing with what we do know of the old Stoa.
Q: Taking on an editorial position is, as you know from previous positions, a considerable amount of work. What motivated you to volunteer and take on this new position?
A: I used to be the editor of a small student-run philosophical journal affiliated with the University of Oslo. It was a great way to improve my writing, both by writing myself and from reading other people’s texts while trying to help them to get the text as good as possible. I believe that working for Stoicism Today will do the same. Also, I really think that Stoicism Today is a great way to bridge the gap between the ivory towers of academia and people outside of academia and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to closing that gap. While I do think that philosophy sometimes demand an attention to detail and some esoteric exploration that tend to alienate both most people outside of academic philosophy, as well as academic philosophers that are not specialists in the questions that are discussed, I think that philosophy ought to be something that is available to the public, and that academic philosophers should not only publish for the selected few.