Nope, Jordan Peterson Ain’t No Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci

People have been asking my opinion – from a Stoic perspective — about Jordan Peterson for a while now, and the time has finally come. The impetus derives from a recent article by Justin Vacula published here in the Stoicism Today blog, which takes a cautionary positive approach to Peterson, and draws parallels between his views and our philosophy. In this post I wish to push back against Vacula’s interpretation, explain why I think Peterson is not a good point of reference for Stoic practitioners, and more generally ponder what does it mean for X (where X is a person, a fictional character, or a position) “to be Stoic.”

First, though, a few preemptive caveats. Peterson, to my and Vacula’s knowledge, does not claim to be a Stoic, nor does he acknowledge any influence of Stoicism on his writings. So this is rather an exercise in whether, and to what extent, his ideas are “Stoic” in the broad sense of the term.

Also, several people, including Vacula, keep repeating that it is “un-Stoic” to criticize, and even more so to “insult” other people. They get that from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, where he repeatedly reminds himself to keep calm when dealing with annoying others, and to look first at his own shortcomings. This is certainly good advice, but it seems like we forget that the Stoics were very vocal in their criticism of other people’s philosophies (the Epicureans, the Aristotelians, the Academic Skeptics), as well as political positions (heck, Cato the Younger started a war to oppose Julius Caesar!). Not to mention that Epictetus often refers to his students as “fools.” What distinguishes Stoic criticism is not its alleged gentleness, but the fact that it is supposed to be done virtuously, that is in the pursuit of truth or justice (or both), and by deploying good arguments and whatever empirical evidence happens to be germane to the issue at hand.

Okay, now back to Vacula’s portrait of Peterson and his alleged Stoic leanings. Peterson is important because he is influential. As Vacula (and a recent New York Times article) points out, his YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, his 12 Rules book is an Amazon bestseller, and countless young people feel inspired by him. So, he is a cultural force to be reckoned with, and that’s why we are doing the reckoning. The question at hand is not whether there are some similarities between what Peterson writes and what the Stoics teach. Such similarities are indubitably there. Then again, “pick yourself up and do the right thing,” or “endure what life throws at you” are not exclusively Stoic concepts. They are found pretty much everywhere, in one form or another, from Christianity to Judaism, from Buddhism to Confucianism. And yet I’m not aware of anyone making the argument that Peterson is a Stoic-Christian-Judeo-Buddhist-Confucian. The issue, rather, is whether there are sufficient deep similarities between Peterson and Stoicism. I will argue that not only the answer is no, but that the sort of worldview Peterson advances is, in fact, anti-Stoic.

The first bit of Petersonian advice we encounter in Vacula’s post is “clean your room and get your life in order.” Which is good advice, the sort that my mom used to give me. But that didn’t make her a Stoic. The crucial part of the Stoic advice is that it tells us how to get our life in order: by practicing the four cardinal virtues of prudence, courage, justice, and temperance; and it explains to us why we ought to do it: because virtue is the only thing that is always good (it can’t be used for bad, by definition), as argued by Socrates in the Euthydemus.

Peterson, by contrast, gets this imperative from his adoption of Carl Jung’s views about the perennial opposition between logos and eros, where logos represents order, and it is masculine, while eros represents chaos, and it is feminine. From which Peterson further derives that it is both good and natural for men to control women (order has to overcome chaos). Why is it natural? Because Peterson buys wholesale the most crude version of evolutionary psychology, according to which gender roles have been pretty much fixed since the Pleistocene. From this perspective, according to Peterson, the apogee of American cultural life was back in the ‘50s, and we ought to get back to that place.

But all the above, so far as I can tell, is a lot of pseudoscientific and pseudophilosophical nonsense. Jung pretty much invented wholesale entirely un-empirical concepts like archetypes, espoused certifiably pseudoscientific notions like that of “synchronicity,” and liberally borrowed from mythology and Eastern mysticism (he compared the logos-eros dichotomy to the yin-yang one). There is not a shred of evidence to think that any of this is a decent description of the actual human condition, and particularly of the differences between men and women (not to mention that there is no mention of other genders, which Peterson, again pseudoscientifically, simply denies out of existence).

As for evolutionary psychology, it is a rather controversial discipline, about which I have written in depth – as an evolutionary biologist – in both Making Sense of Evolution and Nonsense on Stilts. Suffice to say here that while some evopsych research is certainly well done and interesting, the field is highly speculative at best when it comes to the evolution of gender roles. And as any Philosophy 101 course will teach you, even if gender roles evolved by natural selection that tells us zero of interest about how we ought, ethically, to reconsider them in contemporary society. As evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker once put it, he chose a life without children in order to dedicate himself to his writing and his friends. And if his genes don’t like it, they can go jump into the lake.

As Vacula acknowledges, Peterson puts a lot of emphasis on how to climb social hierarchies, which he regards as natural and inevitable (the second characteristic obviously does not follow from the first one). He thinks that women ought to be dominated by men, and he maintains that white privilege is a myth. This is one of the most un-Stoic aspects of his thinking. The Stoics were among the first cosmopolitans, thinking that women ought to be educated in philosophy because they are just as capable as men, that all humans are equal, and that our duty is to cooperate – not compete – with fellow human beings. They imagined an ideal society, in Zeno’s Republic, that is very far from the capitalism that Peterson prefers. Indeed, it looks like an anarchic utopia, where wise men and women live in harmony because they finally understood how to use reason for the betterment of humankind.

Vacula, in his positive take on the Peterson-Stoicism connection, did not comment at all on political and social involvement. Probably because Peterson does not come out particular well in that department, and he certainly doesn’t come out as Stoic. Here he is, from 12 Rules:

Have you cleaned up your life? If the answer is no, here’s something to try: start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today… Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city? … Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.

This sounds deceptively Stoic, but the deception is dangerous. First off, notice that we are told not to go out and make noise about changing the world until our own household is in perfect order. Well, then, since it will never be (we are not sages), I guess we are not authorized to invest time and energy into questioning our social systems and try to change them for the better. How convenient, for someone who clearly benefits from said social order.

Peterson’s advice plays into one of the worst stereotypes about Stoicism, that it is an inward-looking, quietist philosophy. But it is not. The virtue of justice requires us to try to change things for the better, for everyone. Historical examples like those of Cato the Younger, as well as recent ones lie Nelson Mandela (who was inspired by Marcus’ Meditations) are obvious pointers. When Peterson tells us that self-improvement is “more important than any possible political action” he is simply wrong. For Stoics the two go hand in hand: we improve ourselves as we improve the world, and vice versa. Cosmopolitanism, not egoism.

Vacula then claims that another similarity between Peterson and the Stoics is that they both tell us to overcome obstacles by way of a strong mindset, and to be courageous. And isn’t endurance a Stoic attribute? Is courage not a Stoic virtue? Yes, but Stoics believe in the unity of virtue, which means that one simply cannot talk about courage as isolated or distinct from justice (and prudence, and temperance). But as we have just seen, there is little if any talk of justice in the Stoic sense in Peterson. Being courageous for a Stoic doesn’t just mean to “pick up your damn suffering and bear it,” as Peterson puts it. That’s yet another false stereotype about Stoics: the stiff upper lip caricature. We are supposed to endure because it is the virtuous thing to do in order to be able to help others, not to show ourselves just how tough and “manly” we are.

Speaking of manly, Peterson is very popular in the “men’s rights” movement. These are people that are appropriating a distorted view of Stoicism as they love to point out that virtue comes from the Latin “vir,” meaning man. They seem to forget two other crucial bits of information. First, that “virtus” was the Latin translation of the Greek arete, which simply means excellence, and is not limited to men. Second, as I have already pointed out, that the Stoic virtues are a package. One is not virtuous if one is courageous but lacks justice, temperance, or prudence.

Peterson does say a number of fairly sensible things, like:

If a lot of human beings have done something terrible, you can be sure that being a human being that you’re capable of it. … Had you been there [in Nazi Germany], the probability that you would have played a role and that wouldn’t have been a positive one is extraordinarily high.

Indeed. But this is far from an original concept. It’s what philosopher Thomas Nagel famously described as “moral luck” in a classic paper published back in 1979, and of which Peterson seems to be entirely unaware.

Vacula praises Peterson for questioning popular opinions, again drawing an analogy with the Stoics in this respect. But questioning popular opinions is not an intrinsic good, it depends on which opinions one is criticizing and why. And here we come to the infamous case that actually catapulted Peterson to fame: his public criticism of Canada’s bill C-16, because of its stultifying political correctness. The bill added gender expression and identity to the list of criteria one cannot not be discriminated by in accordance to the Canadian Human Rights Act. Peterson claimed that C-16 would compel him to use a student’s preferred gender pronoun or face criminal prosecution. This is simply and utterly false. Here is the full text of the bill, so you can check for yourself.

What about Peterson’s cool head in the face of hostile (and certainly unprofessional) questioning by the host of a famous Channel 4 interview that went viral, thus further increasing his fame? Good for him, but as Don Robertson often remarks, that’s stoicism, not Stoicism. It’s always commendable not to lose one’s temper, but this is not a philosophical position, it’s just commonsense.

Vacula is somewhat regretful that Peterson initially rejected the “men going their own way” (MGTOW) movement, only belatedly agreeing that they have a point in wanting nothing to do with relationships and marriage because, you know, society and the law are so unfair to men these days. Setting aside that it is entirely ludicrous to even suggest that women in contemporary society are unjustly preferred over men (I guess that’s why there is still so much violence against women, pay inequality, discrimination when it comes to hiring and promotion, etc. etc. etc.), it is most certainly un-Stoic to want to create divisions from other human beings. Every Stoic we know of has emphasized the importance of relationships, and Seneca has gone so far as suggesting that marriage (or a committed relationship, in modern terms) is a major occasion to become more virtuous and to help another human being to do the same.

There are a number of other decidedly un-Stoic aspects of Peterson’s opinions, like his strange idea that conversation is made possible with men (but impossible with “crazy” women) by the always present threat of violence:

I know how to stand up to a man who’s unfairly trespassing against me. And the reason I know that is because the parameters for my resistance are quite well defined, which is: we talk, we argue, we push, and then it becomes physical. If we move beyond the boundaries of civil discourse, we know what the next step is. That’s forbidden in discourse with women. And so I don’t think that men can control crazy women. … There’s no step forward that you can take under those circumstances, because if the man is offensive enough and crazy enough, the reaction becomes physical right away. Or at least the threat is there. (full transcript here)

What sort of cardinal virtue, I wonder, is Peterson deploying here?

The Stoics were great logicians. They believed that one has to make careful arguments based on empirical evidence in order to arrive at the best judgment a human being can muster. And arriving at good judgments is the whole point of one of Epictetus’ three disciplines, the discipline of assent. Here too Peterson fails miserably. I mentioned above his reliance on mythology, which he takes from Jung. One interviewer finally asked him why people should believe in myth. Here is his response (longer transcript in the article by Robinson linked below):

Well, what are you going to take seriously, then? You’re going to take nothing seriously. Well, good luck with that, because serious things are coming your way. If you’re not prepared for them by an equal metaphysical seriousness, they will flatten you.

This is an egregious example of really, really bad reasoning. Peterson is committing not one, but two logical fallacies that I train my students to spot and avoid. First, the idea that if one does not take myths seriously then one does not take anything seriously is an obvious non sequitur; it simply does not follow. Second, the suggestion that serious things are coming (which serious things, by the way?) is a red herring, a distraction. Sure, “serious” things may be coming (e.g., financial collapse, environmental catastrophe, nuclear war?), but that has nothing at all to do with whether it is sensible for people to take myths seriously or not.

But at least, says Vacula, Peterson rails against the damn post-modernists. Surely the Stoics would agree, as they battled the post-modernists of their time, the Academic Skeptics. As a scientist and philosopher I am no fan of post-modernism (see chapters 10 and 11 of my Nonsense on Stilts), but here is a pretty good example of post-modernist obfuscatory language, let’s see if you can guess the author:

Procedural knowledge, generated in the course of heroic behavior, is not organized and integrated within the group and the individual as a consequence of simple accumulation. Procedure ‘a,’ appropriate in situation one, and procedure ‘b,’ appropriate in situation two, may clash in mutual violent opposition in situation three. Under such circumstances intrapsychic or interpersonal conflict necessarily emerges. When such antagonism arises, moral revaluation becomes necessary. As a consequence of such revaluation, behavioral options are brutally rank-ordered, or, less frequently, entire moral systems are devastated, reorganized and replaced. This organization and reorganization occurs as a consequence of ‘war,’ in its concrete, abstract, intrapsychic, and interpersonal variants. In the most basic case, an individual is rendered subject to an intolerable conflict, as a consequence of the perceived (affective) incompatibility of two or more apprehended outcomes of a given behavioral procedure. In the purely intrapsychic sphere, such conflict often emerges when attainment of what is desired presently necessarily interferes with attainment of what is desired (or avoidance of what is feared) in the future. Permanent satisfactory resolution of such conflict (between temptation and ‘moral purity,’ for example) requires the construction of an abstract moral system, powerful enough to allow what an occurrence signifies for the future to govern reaction to what it signifies now. Even that construction, however, is necessarily incomplete when considered only as an ‘intrapsychic’ phenomena. The individual, once capable of coherently integrating competing motivational demands in the private sphere, nonetheless remains destined for conflict with the other, in the course of the inevitable transformations of personal experience. This means that the person who has come to terms with him- or herself—at least in principle—is still subject to the affective dysregulation inevitably produced by interpersonal interaction. It is also the case that such subjugation is actually indicative of insufficient ‘intrapsychic’ organization, as many basic ‘needs’ can only be satisfied through the cooperation of others.

It’s from Peterson’s Maps of Meaning, in the section entitled “The Great Father.” And as far as I can see – and I looked hard – there is no meaning in the above (if you think you can do better, by all means, please translate into English). It could easily have been produced by the online postmodern generator. How is procedural knowledge generated by “heroic behavior”? What on earth is “intrapsychic conflict”? Why does all of that necessitate “moral revaluation”? What does it mean to “brutally rank order” behavioral options (as opposed to nicely rank order?)? Which behavioral options? Why is “war” in scare quotes? How can it be both concrete and abstract? Are outcomes “apprehended”? By whom? Why is “moral purity” in scare quotes? Oh no, wait! Now “intrapsychic” is in quotes too. Because it means something different from intrapsychic without quotes? What does it mean to be subject to “affective dysregualtion”? And now even “needs” is in scare quotes? (Oh, and “phenomena” is plural, not singular.)

Finally, the Stoics practiced humility, because we are all unwise, always making mistakes, everyone of us metaphorically drowning because we still have not gotten to the surface, where the sage dwells. Not so Peterson, who is absolutely convinced of the immense value of his discoveries. In a letter to his father included in Maps of Meaning he writes:

I don’t know, Dad, but I think I have discovered something that no one else has any idea about, and I’m not sure I can do it justice. Its scope is so broad that I can see only parts of it clearly at one time, and it is exceedingly difficult to set down comprehensibly in writing.

Well, I can agree on two things: whatever he saw, he did not see it clearly. And he certainly did not convey it comprehensibly.

I hope to have marshaled enough evidence to show that Jordan Peterson is no Stoic, and that his philosophy is, in fact, anti-Stoic. Why, then, is he so influential? Why are we spending so much energy and time talking about him? I really can’t do any better than put the answer as commentator and critic Nathan Robinson did recently in what is the best and most in-depth critique of Peterson I’ve seen so far:

If you want to appear very profound and convince people to take you seriously, but have nothing of value to say, there is a tried and tested method. First, take some extremely obvious platitude or truism. Make sure it actually does contain some insight, though it can be rather vague. Something like ‘if you’re too conciliatory, you will sometimes get taken advantage of’ or ‘many moral values are similar across human societies.’ Then, try to restate your platitude using as many words as possible, as unintelligibly as possible, while never repeating yourself exactly. Use highly technical language drawn from many different academic disciplines, so that no one person will ever have adequate training to fully evaluate your work. Construct elaborate theories with many parts. Draw diagrams. Use italics liberally to indicate that you are using words in a highly specific and idiosyncratic sense. Never say anything too specific, and if you do, qualify it heavily so that you can always insist you meant the opposite. Then evangelize: speak as confidently as possible, as if you are sharing God’s own truth. Accept no criticisms: insist that any skeptic has either misinterpreted you or has actually already admitted that you are correct. Talk as much as possible and listen as little as possible. Follow these steps, and your success will be assured.

You know what Socrates used to call this sort of person? A sophist. And he didn’t mean it as a compliment.


P.S.: since I’ve been exposed to Peterson’s supporters a number of times over social media, I can anticipate some of the obvious objections: (i) If you think that I mischaracterized him or quoted him out of context, it is entirely useless to simply say so and walk away. Please, provide a detailed explanation of why you think so, as well as a better, more fair interpretation of the same passages I quoted, or the same notions I described. (ii) If you think Peterson is being criticized out of “envy” then you have no idea of critical discourse works. It’s still a criticism, and it needs to be answered, regardless of the real or imaginary motivations you attribute to the critic. (iii) If your response is along the lines of “yes, but he has made a difference for many young people,” that may be true, but there are positive differences and negative ones, and there are good and bad reasons why young people are influenced. The goal here is to steer them toward the good ones and away from the bad ones.

P.P.S.: please stop using lobsters as idealized examples of how human beings should behave, just because they are hierarchical animals. It’s really, really bad biology (and bad science is another un-Stoic thing). Lobsters are invertebrates, incredibly evolutionarily remote from us. And they don’t have shoulders. Plus, those t-shirts really look silly.


Massimo Pigliucci has a PhD in evolutionary biology from the University of Connecticut and one in philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He teaches philosophy at the City College of New York, and his latest book is How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life. He blogs at How To Be A Stoic.

Author: Gregory Sadler

Editor of Stoicism Today, president of ReasonIO, adjunct professor at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design | Sadler's Lectures podcast - | YouTube channel with 1700+ philosophy videos -

57 thoughts on “Nope, Jordan Peterson Ain’t No Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci”

  1. A really good critique. I have a few caveats to it:

    1- The last quote by Nathan Robinson implies that Peterson does little listening. He’s one of the best listeners that I’ve ever known. He’s the only person that immediately changes from a speaker mode to a listening mode when others start talking, even if they interrupted him.

    2- It’s fairly well established that the pay gap between women and men is not due to gender discrimination. Peterson does have some good points on this topic, based on empirical research.

    3- I think he was excessively portraied as a kind of mysoginist. Peterson often talks of competent women, and he does not box them into a gender role. He always acknowledges gender differences from a scientific point of view, specially pointing out psychological differences in personality, his area of expertise.

    The points about Peterson’s epistemology are fair, but the ideological critique was a bit too bitter in my opinion.

  2. Regardless, of the criticism disabled in this article , Peterson has done more for the modern stoic movement and christianity than anyone has done in quite a while. Stoics should be thankful for Peterson…IMHO

    1. A couple of thoughts–how has Peterson done anything for Stoicism? The article convincingly explains that Peterson isn’t promoting Stoicism. He’s promoting Petersonianism. And a lot of what Peterson says is at best common sense that is not limited to Stoicism, and at worse empty psychobabble directly opposed to Stoic virtue.

      And why should Stoics be grateful for any expansion of Christianity? Is Stoicism tied to Christianity? All the Stoic writers we admire so much were pagans.

      I would appreciate, and I look forward to, your response.

  3. I’m sorry, but you can’t just claim that “he thinks that women ought to be dominated by men” without any proof, or direct quote, or hyperlink to a video of him saying anything remotely like this. This is a blatant mischaracterization of his views. It shows that you either haven’t read or viewed any of his works, or you are misunderstanding him on purpuse. Please take your audience seriously.

    1. I concurr. The article started good, then with this misrepresentation, willing or unwilling, why should the rest of your article be taken seriously?

      Edit it out and do it properly, if you want to retain intellectual honesty in front of your audience. Because otherwise you are disrespecting your own pursuit of comparison in philosophical takes. Deeply dissappointed. I was really interested in reading this article.

  4. You write: “And as far as I can see – and I looked hard – there is no meaning in the above (if you think you can do better, by all means, please translate into English). ”

    I think you are being very uncharitable. I think it’s pretty easy to give a rough translation, something like this (although I changed some of the obvious meanings to render the whole thing a little more plausible, not just meaningful):

    When people go out and do good, they often do so in a specific set of circumstances, and what they learn from that experience is not easily expressible as general principles. In fact, the implicit knowledge they gain in such episodes when made explicit can conflict from that which is gained in other episodes. So in order to sythesize this knowledge into a unity, moral reflection and reasoning is required. This reasoning can show a conflict
    not just between the particular episodes, but also with more general moral principles that are currently held, whether it is one individual trying to put his beliefs into a reflective equilibrium, or a group, or an entire society. In the case of an individual, a typical example will involve the conflict between short term and long term goods, and solving this problem will require vivid representation of long term goods at the current time. And just as a person conflicts with himself at different times, he conflicts with others at a given time and also must be able to integrate all of these different goods in a way that is compatible with his own natural motivational structures. In many cases this alignment should fall out somewhat naturally, in that social cooperation is necessary to achieve even totally individualistic goods. But importantly, not always.

    The kind of reasoning here fits fairly well with moral and political philosophers like Rawls and Nagel. There are allusions to something like Rawls’s method of reflective equilibrium, and the comparison of a person’s interests at different times with that of the interests of two different people is very reminiscent of Nagel’s idea in “The possibility of altruism”.

  5. I have been reading Dr. Pigliucci in Skeptical Inquirer for many years, so I appreciated his critical analysis of Peterson from the specific viewpont of Stoicism. The criticism, by various commenters, of Dr. Pigliucci’s essay on the suggestion that he had a political axe to grind was unhelpful but not, it seems, unsurprising. Very tedious. Whether one appreciates the views of Dr. Peterson, or not, the critique of his post-modern anti-post-modernism, was bang on. One, only needs to listen to JP circle for 2 hrs. around a definition of truth on the first Sam Harris podcast JP guested, to find a slipperiness to his philosophy.

  6. Massimo’s criticisms of Peterson are well taken. I agree that Peterson is not a Stoic. But a few of the blog’s more critical observations seem a little overblown. And for all of Massimo’s diligence, our friend has overlooked some of the more Stoic aspects of what Peterson has to say.

    The blog’s shortcomings are understandable because of the challenge that Peterson poses to clear understanding. Peterson’s presentations are all over the map; some of his ideas are “complicated” (in fact, this seems to be one of his favorite words) and haven’t been integrated into a particularly coherent message; the lack of definition creates quite a few contradictions and makes it easy to read something maleficent into his views.

    As someone has already suggested, Peterson’s greatest ideas aren’t so original and his original ideas aren’t all that great — or a least not that I can tell.

    But Massimo may have gone too far in characterizing Peterson’s chaos vs logos image as representing men and women. I think he’s actually talking about masculine and feminine qualities that we all share, despite our gender. Peterson’s view that we exist on the cusp between chaos and logos actually parallels Stoicism, if you take chaos to be the source of the impressions that our judgement (logos) is meant put into proper order.

    Massimo is right that Canada’s C-16 bill contains nothing about criminal prosecution. Peterson agrees. But the Canadian Department of Justice uses the Ontario Human Rights Code as its guide to implementing and enforcing the law. The code imposes penalties for infractions and holds employers liable for the behavior of their employees. There’s been a huge debate about what this actually means, but you can’t dismiss Peterson’s argument simply by reading the C-16 bill.

    I also don’t think Peterson is arguing for a return to the ’50s, given his support for equal opportunity in the workplace for men and women. It’s the effort to produce equal outcomes that he opposes.

    And I don’t think he’s saying women should be controlled by men. The message I see in his writings is that men shouldn’t be subordinate to women (and that women don’t actually want their men to be subordinate).

    Here’s a small point. Last I checked, the Latin word “virtus” was a reference to manly virtue on the battlefield. It wasn’t simply a Roman translation of arete. I suspect that “virtue” retained virtus’s original manly qualities right up until the Puritans turned it into something pompous. But it has long been a poor translation of arete.

    The most Stoic thing I see in Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life” appears under Rule 4, which encourages personal efforts to improve character and achieve an integrated life. This is the chapter that culminates with the Sermon on the Mount, and I recall that it contains an inspiring passage about realization and integration that I (sadly) cannot find at the moment. So I’ll substitute the following passage, from the bottom of page 106. What Peterson says seems almost worthy of Marcus or Hierocles:

    …”it’s a mistake to aim for a better life, if it comes at the cost of worsening someone else’s. So, you get creative. You decide to play a more difficult game. You decide that you want a better life, in a manner that will also make the life of your family better. Or the life of your family, and your friends. Or the life of your family, and your friends, and the strangers who surround them. What about your enemies? Do you want to include them, too? You bloody well don’t know how to manage that. But you’ve read some history. You know how enmity compounds. So you start to wish even your enemies well, at least in principle, although you are by no means yet a master of such sentiments.”

    Peterson’s most Stoic expressions seem to emanate mainly from Existentialism, and from Nietzsche in particular. We might do well to take these parallels on board in a broader sense.

    My own Stoic journey has brought me to the realization that this excellent, transforming philosophy’s approach to life is reaffirmed by a wide range of other disciplines, whether it be Existentialism, CBT, the findings of modern neuroscience, Buddhism, Taoism or the Judeo-Christian tradition.

    Maybe the best thing to do would be to set Mr. Peterson aside and come up with a new philosophy that begins with Stoicism but distills the best aims, ideas and practices of the others into a scientifically valid method for living your best life. If we were to accomplish that, we could thank Peterson for providing a catalyst as we quickly and decisively leave him behind.

    1. I wish I could say it better myself. The obviously defensive CCNY professor was at best inexact and incomplete and at worst, inaccurate and dismissive of the stoic elements of Dr. Peterson’s popular writings and thoughts to date.

      One need only look to the modern Justus Lipsius to find another synthesis of ancient Stoicism with Christianity, where being in accordance with Nature via reason is akin to being Good… Or Godly.

      Stoicism itself, replete with neoStoics, pseudoStoics and the like, needs all the help it can get if they expect our application of four cardinal virtues of courage, prudence, temperance and justice to get them anywhere today. 12 Rules is a much better way to start than thinly veiled professional jealousy.

      In the beginning of his loose critique, Dr. Pigliucci says that Peterson is important because he is influential. That is not only false, it is illogical. And unfortunately so, from one who professes to be so logical, as a modern Stoic. Again, Dr. Pigliucci is wrong. Peterson is not important because he is influential. Dr. Peterson is influential because what he is saying is important. People are thirsty, not for ancient philosophy replete with incomplete understandings. People are thirsty for the message that they can do better and be better despite being in an often terrifying, often terrible world – full of suffering – as imperfect but perfectly capable participants in manifesting Logos or Truth. And, as a clinical psychologist, Peterson knows well that it is easier for people to act our way into a new way of thinking than it is to think our way into a new way of acting. People practical, as well as potentially profound expressions.

  7. I’ve been a fan of Prof. Pigliucci’s work for a few years now, so I am confident that any careless analysis on his part is best explained by overconfidence and misinformation, rather than willful ignorance or sheer stupidity. I’m disappointed that Prof. Pigliucci seems to be so eager to jump on the anti-Peterson bandwagon rather than engage seriously; still, it’s never too late. If it’s any consolation, I think it’s perfectly understandable that so many errors have been made. Most of Peterson’s work is unwritten, and so it would take a massive commitment (at least 100 hours of YouTube viewing) to get a comprehensive understanding of his views. It also does not help that the mainstream press has consistently misrepresented him.

    I will take up the first of Prof. Pigliucci’s suggestions, and lay out some of the ways in which he has mischaracterized and misunderstood Peterson’s thought.

    1. “Peterson, by contrast, gets this imperative from his adoption of Carl Jung’s views about the perennial opposition between logos and eros, where logos represents order, and it is masculine, while eros represents chaos, and it is feminine. From which Peterson further derives that it is both good and natural for men to control women (order has to overcome chaos).” Attributing this inference to Peterson is flat-out incorrect. This is what Peterson actually thinks: 1) In Western literature and mythology, males are represented by order, and females are represented by chaos. This is a purely descriptive claim, and he is careful to not make any evaluative judgments about this claim. Rather, his claim is the more modest one that this characterization must mean something about what people are like (since why else would it appear again and again?). 2) Both chaos and order have a positive and a negative element. Order is both good (rules, norms, predictability, stability, etc.) and bad (tyranny, rigidity, etc., usually manifesting as OCD in individuals or totalitarianism in the state); chaos is both good (novelty, new opportunities for learning, new life, etc.) and bad (unpredictability, danger, confusion, etc., usually manifesting in the individual as an addiction or recklessness, and in the state as lawlessness or anarchy). 3) Peterson’s normative claim (albeit, it is a therapeutic one, rather than a moral one) is that the ideal position that individuals, relationships, groups, states, etc. should aim for is the border between order and chaos. For instance, a good workplace is one where there is both order (predictability, stability) and chaos (opportunities for challenges and learning); similarly, a good state (i.e. a democracy) has both order (stable laws, formalized procedures for elections and policymaking, etc.) and chaos (new ideas, new people, new policies, etc.).

    2. “Why is [men controlling women] natural? Because Peterson buys wholesale the most crude version of evolutionary psychology, according to which gender roles have been pretty much fixed since the Pleistocene. From this perspective, according to Peterson, the apogee of American cultural life was back in the ‘50s, and we ought to get back to that place.” Not only has Peterson never made any of these claims, he in fact argues the opposite. He has repeatedly criticized the feminist claim that human history is nothing but a long story of men oppressing women (from which one might infer that this relation is natural in some sense). Rather, he argues that human history is more accurately characterized as men and women mostly working together, being equally oppressed (albeit in very different ways) by nature. This implies (though I have not heard him state this implication explicitly) that men controlling women is in fact unnatural. As well, Peterson has stated that the historical and oppressive (by nature, that is) inability of women to control their reproduction was a problem that didn’t get solved until the 1960s, so it is bizarre to think he somehow wishes for a return to the 1950s.

    3. “[T]here is no mention of other genders, which Peterson, again pseudoscientifically, simply denies out of existence.” And later: “And as any Philosophy 101 course will teach you, even if gender roles evolved by natural selection that tells us zero of interest about how we ought, ethically, to reconsider them in contemporary society.” A lot depends on how we define “gender” here. But rather than speculate on the possible interpretations of these claims, I will instead limit my comments to an articulation of Peterson’s actual views. Peterson does not deny the existence of intersex people. But he thinks, as a matter of biological taxonomy, that there is no good reason to go from the fact of these people’s existence to the claim that our categorization of sex or gender should change to accommodate this. As I’ve said elsewhere, we don’t think we should re-define “human” simply because some humans are born without some characteristics that we take to be normal or prototypical, e.g. colour vision. Similarly, Peterson does not deny the historical and cross-cultural breadth of gender expression, but again, he does not think this warrants a reconceptualization of the gender binary.

    4. “[Peterson] thinks that women ought to be dominated by men, and he maintains that white privilege is a myth.” I have already debunked the first half of this claim. The second half is badly mischaracterized. I’ve explained this elsewhere on this blog, so I will merely quote that at length here:

    “As for his rejection of the notion of “white privilege”: It’s far more nuanced than a casual observer would think. His point isn’t to deny the fact that some people have certain unearned and undeserved advantages over others; he actually repeatedly acknowledges this fact (both about himself, and as a general point about human societies). Rather, he takes issue with characterizing this fact in racial terms. That is, it’s not that there’s white privilege per se, but rather that there is majority privilege; whites happen to be the majority in certain places. From a social scientific perspective, it’s not obvious that any advantages they have are better explained by their whiteness rather than their being part of the majority. (It’s almost obvious that it couldn’t possibly be explained by whiteness per se; would there still be white privilege in a society that was exclusively white?)

    And obviously there is no white privilege in China, or India, or Nigeria. … To call the advantages white people in the West have “white privilege” rather than “majority privilege” implicitly accepts an underlying theory about the merits of explaining large-scale social phenomena in exclusively racial terms. That is both a bad approach to social science (since no feature of a society can be explained according to a single cause, let alone race) and an endorsement of identity-based approach to politics (which he rejects on both left and right…) … “Majority privilege” is a better concept because it explains the advantages white have in the US, but also the advantage that ethnic Japanese people have in Japan. And it also acknowledges the sorts of unfair disadvantages faced by many black people in America. So … denying the existence of “white privilege” does not imply [as many are quick to casually assume] rejecting the reality of disadvantages faced by many black Americans.”

    So, sure, it is true in a sense that Peterson thinks white privilege is a myth. Given his arguments, which I have summarized above, is this not a plausible social scientific position to take?

    5. “[N]otice that we are told not to go out and make noise about changing the world until our own household is in perfect order. … How convenient, for someone who clearly benefits from said social order.” But later: “If you think Peterson is being criticized out of “envy” then you have no idea of critical discourse works. It’s still a criticism, and it needs to be answered, regardless of the real or imaginary motivations you attribute to the critic.” I would only say here that Prof. Pigliucci should follow his own wise advise; he ought to challenge Peterson’s view about the moral importance of self-improvement “regardless of the real or imaginary motivations [he] attribute[s] to the critic.”

    6. “Peterson claimed that C-16 would compel him to use a student’s preferred gender pronoun or face criminal prosecution. This is simply and utterly false. Here is the full text of the bill, so you can check for yourself.” Where to begin? Though I am not a lawyer, I do have a JD from a Canadian law school, so I am in a position to correct some mistakes here. (There’s a reason we leave the lawyering to the lawyers, and not to people who know how to find and read legislation.) I should begin by saying that Peterson did indeed misunderstand the legislation. What he was concerned about was, in fact, already law in Ontario, as of 2014. His concern was this: The Ontario Human Rights Commission (an administrative tribunal that deals with claims of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code, which applies in workplaces, government agencies, hospitals, universities, etc.) includes gender identity/expression as protected grounds; however, the Commission’s internal policies (which is uses to inform its interpretation of the Code, found here: strongly suggest that failing to use a transgender person’s preferred pronouns constitutes discrimination on the basis of gender expression.

    Taken together, this implies that anyone for whom the Code applies (such as Peterson, given that he is a university professor in Ontario) is required by law to use a transgender person’s preferred pronouns. Failure to do so could result in a complaint being brought before the Commission, which could issue an order in the form of a suspension, fine, or “training” program. Failure to abide by the order would ultimately result in a criminal conviction for contempt of court. (Prof. Bruce Pardy of Queen’s University Law School rightly pointed out that while this sort of outcome is extremely rare in practice, that is only the case because people typically abide by the Commission’s orders. This, however, does not change the fact that, structurally speaking, the requirement to use a transgender person’s preferred pronouns is ultimately backed by a threat of incarceration.)

    What Bill C-16 risks doing is extending this interpretation of “discrimination on the basis of gender expression” to the Criminal Code of Canada and the Canadian Human Rights Act. As a matter of judicial practice, courts (especially within sub-national jurisdictions) typically strive to interpret the law in a manner that is maximally consistent. Tribunal decisions from the Commission may (as they often do in other contexts) end up informing courts’ interpretation of “gender expression” in the context of the Criminal Code or CHRA. While there is no evidence of this occurring thus far, it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to be concerned about.

    So I agree that Peterson misunderstood Bill C-16, but I do think his underlying concern is quite fair. And lets be clear about this: His underlying concern was not the very use of transgender people’s preferred pronouns, but rather the mandating by law of a particular kind of speech. He has been consistent about this from day one, and he right to point out that this is the most sweeping form of mandated speech ever in Canadian legal history (if not the common law world). As someone trained in law, I am much less concerned about the motive of the law, and much more concerned about how it might develop and be applied in other contexts (since this is, after all, how the common law works).

    7. “Peterson initially rejected the “men going their own way” (MGTOW) movement, only belatedly agreeing that they have a point in wanting nothing to do with relationships and marriage because, you know, society and the law are so unfair to men these days. Setting aside that it is entirely ludicrous to even suggest that women in contemporary society are unjustly preferred over men (I guess that’s why there is still so much violence against women, pay inequality, discrimination when it comes to hiring and promotion, etc. etc. etc.), it is most certainly un-Stoic to want to create divisions from other human beings.” There are a number of empirical mistakes here. If Prof. Pigliucci thinks that men are never disproportionately disadvantaged by the law, then it is only because he doesn’t know the literature on the criminal justice system (with respect to charging, sentencing, and conditions of incarceration) and the family courts (with respect to divorce settlements and child custody disputes). He might also do well to look into the actual statistics on domestic violence (which men suffer at virtually the same rates as women) or on the actual causes for inequality in pay (it turns out that very little of the disparity is would be explained by outright prejudice). He might wave his hand and dismiss all this as nonsense; but the facts are the facts whether he (or I, or anyone) likes them or not, so he may as well look into them for himself.

    On the final point, I would actually suggest that perhaps one the most central claims in all of Peterson’s work is that we should not “create divisions from other human beings.” More specifically, he is fundamentally opposed to doing anything (e.g. interpreting history, writing laws, characterizing others) on the basis of group characteristics precisely because this encourages us to think along tribal lines and creates dangerous and needless divisions between us. He thinks the proper unit of analysis is the individual, which is why he sees a danger in, say, assessing disparate social outcomes on the basis of group characteristics. I suspect this is why he initially was so critical of MGTOW; that he now understands the basis for their position does not imply he accepts it… Obviously, right?

    8. “There are a number of other decidedly un-Stoic aspects of Peterson’s opinions, like his strange idea that conversation is made possible with men (but impossible with “crazy” women) by the always present threat of violence.” This seems like a very fair criticism, but if you listen to the entire discussion with Prof. Paglia, and understand a little more about how Peterson thinks, this no longer appears so “strange”. To begin, he is speaking in purely descriptive terms; he is discussing how men and women have evolved psychologically. He is saying that, throughout our evolutionary history, males and females have learned/developed/adopted (or whatever) different mechanisms for dealing with conflicts or status disputes. Males typically competed against other males, and disputes were ultimately resolved with violence or the threat of violence. Females typically competed against other females, and disputes were ultimately settled with actual or threatened reputational harm. This is his reading of the literature; if you think this is wrong, empirically, then make a case. But Peterson is careful not to draw any normative conclusions on the basis of this.

    His point is just that, as a matter of fact (which may be fairly disputed), males and females did not directly compete against one another in our evolutionary history. So our evolutionary history gives us little information about the best way (from an adaptive perspective) to resolve disputes between males and females. Because males and females do compete against one another in liberal, capitalist societies, individuals are often unsure how best to address conflict. It seems that females have recently figured out that reputational damage works relatively well to manage male misbehaviour (e.g. #MeToo), but males have little at their disposal to manage female misbehaviour (e.g. legitimate violence, i.e. the police, is often ineffective, and reputational damage seems to have become largely taboo). I suspect that the intuition at this point is to find some trouble in the idea of “female misbehaviour”, but I would suggest that to deny this (which you may not, so I make no accusations here) is textbook sexism. History, life experience, and frankly, justice, force us to accept that women are fully human, with the agency, and the whole range of moral failings and psychological weaknesses, that come with that.

    9. On Peterson’s “post-modernist obfuscatory language”: Peterson teaches a fourth year undergraduate psychology course on Maps of Meaning at the University of Toronto. I suppose all we can glean from Prof. Pigliucci’s response to the except from the book is that he would have struggled in Peterson’s class. There’s nothing wrong with that. Einstein struggled with basic economics; it’s perfectly reasonable that Prof. Pigliucci is at his best as a philosopher and/or as a biologist. As with any advanced undergraduate course, I would normally suggest that one do some background reading before jumping in and trying to understand a complex idea (especially when doing so without any context). Nonetheless, I will attempt to explain, in plain English, what this particular excerpt means:

    “Procedural knowledge, generated in the course of heroic behavior, is not organized and integrated within the group and the individual as a consequence of simple accumulation.” “Heroic behavior” refers to the behaviour of an individual who voluntary confronts what they don’t know. But here Peterson is talking about procedural knowledge. So what this means is something like “Learning how acquire a complex skill is not just a matter of learning how to do all the constituent elements of the complex skill.”

    “Procedure ‘a,’ appropriate in situation one, and procedure ‘b,’ appropriate in situation two, may clash in mutual violent opposition in situation three. Under such circumstances intrapsychic or interpersonal conflict necessarily emerges.” Procedures (a) and (b) are among the constituent elements of the complex skill. So: “Sometimes the constituent elements of the complex skill conflict with each other in novel situations. This will make us confused or angry.”

    “When such antagonism arises, moral revaluation becomes necessary. As a consequence of such revaluation, behavioral options are brutally rank-ordered, or, less frequently, entire moral systems are devastated, reorganized and replaced.” I believe Peterson means “moral revaluation” as something like “determining what you value more.” Reconsidering how you rank various personal values could result in the adoption of a completely new moral system. Again, he means all of this descriptively, i.e. people, as a matter of fact, make decisions about what they value, rank those values, and then pursue them accordingly.

    “This organization and reorganization occurs as a consequence of ‘war,’ in its concrete, abstract, intrapsychic, and interpersonal variants. In the most basic case, an individual is rendered subject to an intolerable conflict, as a consequence of the perceived (affective) incompatibility of two or more apprehended outcomes of a given behavioral procedure.” Negative emotions often reveal a conflict between competing values/goals, and this leads us to re-evaluate what to value and how to rank those values. Sometimes we do this revaluation by thinking philosophically (“abstract”), by seeing what serves us best emotionally or psychologically (“intrapsychic”), or by seeing what serves us best in our relationships with others (“interpersonal”).

    “In the purely intrapsychic sphere, such conflict often emerges when attainment of what is desired presently necessarily interferes with attainment of what is desired (or avoidance of what is feared) in the future. Permanent satisfactory resolution of such conflict (between temptation and ‘moral purity,’ for example) requires the construction of an abstract moral system, powerful enough to allow what an occurrence signifies for the future to govern reaction to what it signifies now.” Rough translation: “Psychological and emotional challenges often arise when our short-term goals conflict with our long-term goals. To resolve this, we need an abstract moral system that will help us to reconcile our short-term and long-term goals.”

    “Even that construction, however, is necessarily incomplete when considered only as an ‘intrapsychic’ phenomena. The individual, once capable of coherently integrating competing motivational demands in the private sphere, nonetheless remains destined for conflict with the other, in the course of the inevitable transformations of personal experience.” Rough translation: “Having that abstract moral system is inadequate even from the perspective of the psychological well-being of the individual. Even once an individual reconciles their short-term and long-term goals, the goals of an individual will, in the course of living, conflict with the goals of other individuals.”

    “This means that the person who has come to terms with him- or herself—at least in principle—is still subject to the affective dysregulation inevitably produced by interpersonal interaction. It is also the case that such subjugation is actually indicative of insufficient ‘intrapsychic’ organization, as many basic ‘needs’ can only be satisfied through the cooperation of others.” Rough translation: “Having an abstract moral system that reconciles short-term and long-term goals will still result in emotional or psychological difficulties if that system of values/goals is not reconciled with the values/goals of others.”

    In the language of analytic ethics, I would suggest that, in this except, Peterson is making a psychological case for an impartial account of our reasons for action (along the lines that Nagel (1970) and Parfit (1984) made, i.e. impartial across time and across persons) without making a commitment as to whether what ultimately grounds our reasons is our desires or some set of objective values. In other words, he thinks that an impartial account of our reasons for actions is (contrary to the view of most philosophers and economists) not only not too demanding, but rather necessary for maximal psychological well-being. In another way, one might look at this sort of claim as a revivification of the Kantian supposition that rationality and morality coincide.

    10. There are a smattering of various guilt-by-association claims throughout: “Jung pretty much invented wholesale entirely un-empirical concepts”; “Peterson is very popular in the “men’s rights” movement”; “Peterson initially rejected the “men going their own way” (MGTOW) movement, only belatedly agreeing that they have a point…” Truly, these points do not warrant a response. Ad hominem arguments have no relevance here.

    I do appreciate Prof. Pigliucci’s attempt to weigh in on Jordan Peterson, but he has woefully underestimated the subtlety and complexity of Peterson’s thoughts. I hope I have gone some of the way to highlighting this subtlety and complexity, and I do hope Prof. Pigliucci takes some more time to read and listen closely. There is so much to learn, even if you (as I do) ultimately disagree with all of it.

    1. A well-reasoned critique of Dr. Pigliucci’s loose critique of Dr. Peterson…
      Until the very last bit where absolutism is invoked out of thin air where, although “there is much to learn from Peterson”, suddenly all of it is disagreed with. Not some, or something specific, or even most. But ALL of it? Nonsense.

      1. It’s not a “very good critique”. It’s laughably silly. The idea that “women weren’t oppressed because nature oppressed everyone” is simply ahistorical. Nature didn’t deny women the vote, property rights, inheritance, legal protection from rape, bar them from jobs and politics or silence them or bar them from places of worship. Patriarchy is a thing, lobsters.

        1. These historical facts need some context. In the Western context, what you are referring to are a set of norms, laws, and practices that characterized parts of the Western world for a brief period of time between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries. So the feminists are perfectly reasonable in critiquing features of this historical period.

          But what is “ahistorical” is inferring that they characterize all of human history. Even most feminists (including Marx and Engels) argue that human history prior to the advent of agriculture (a period that covers more than 90% of the time in which homo sapiens existed on this planet) was largely egalitarian and communal (and non-patriarchal).

          The sorts of concerns you raise are undoubtedly modern. In the West, virtually no one anywhere ever voted, with the exception of a small percentage in ancient Greece and Rome, and a similarly small percentage in post-revolutionary France, England, and America. For instance, when suffragists first argued for women’s right to vote in English parliament (in the 1860s), fewer than 10% of English men had the right to vote. When women’s suffrage became law in England, still fewer than 50% of men had the right to vote. Similarly, it has not been uniquely women, but in fact almost all people, who have been barred from participating in politics. Jews (both male and female), for instance, had no civil rights anywhere in Europe until the late 18th century, and in most of Europe, until the mid-19th century.

          Further, I am not familiar with any religion that bars women from places of worship; rather, it has been mostly universal that religions segregate male and female worshipers. But whether that is oppressive or unfair in any material way is a separate question. Women also had legal protections against rape long before feminism. Most religions punish it quite harshly. Moreover, in much of the United States, as early as the 18th century, rape was punishable by execution.

          If patriarchy “is a thing”, then the thing it is is a conspiracy theory. Replace “men” with “Jews” and “patriarchy” with “Jewish cabal”, and you’ve got classic 19th- and 20th-century antisemitism. The argumentative structure is identical: The powerful cultural and economic positions are disproportionately held by a particular group of people; therefore, these people must have created and held these positions in order to pursue their own interests at the expense of everyone else. Of course, this is plausible on its face, but, as with antisemitism, this theory of patriarchy fails because 1) it is empirically false (since it fails to predict and then explain the ways in which males are disproportionately disadvantaged, e.g. premature death, suicide, military conscription, substance addiction, workplace injuries, and incarceration) and 2) because it is pseudoscientific (since it is not falsifiable, i.e. under what conditions could a particular group disproportionately hold power and not be taken to be inherently oppressive?).

          With respect, I would suggest that my comments could only appear “laughably silly” with an extremely narrow and selective reading of history.

  8. Ah, looking a bit further into the matter, it looks as if a teacher could actually go to jail if she would not comply with the non-monetary part of the punishment meted out to her by the Ontario Humn Rghts Comission.
    Human Rights Comissions are apparently able to turn that non-compliance into a “Contempt of court” that could lead to jail time

  9. I’m a stoicism neophyte, so can you please inform me if the stoics had some version of the principal of charitable interpretation? If so I think you’re eschewing it in the passage you ridicule as postmodern sophistry. I think I have a pretty good idea what he’s talking about in that passage. Even if I’m wrong I think a couple of minutes of back and forth and a concrete example or two would clarify it. I agree with you that it’s vague enough to give him latitude to dodge much pushback, and that this is a rhetorical trick he uses too frequently, but I don’t think it’s meaningless or nonsensical.

  10. What a disappointing combination of crude superficiality with politically correct condescension. Just lost respect for the author as an academic, as he betrays either an unawareness of his own inability to comprehend the topics he criticizes Peterson about, or else a deliberately disingenuous oversimplification of the same. Good luck Dr. Pigliucci finding respect for such writing among the carefully well-informed.

  11. “Peterson claimed that C-16 would compel him to use a student’s preferred gender pronoun or face criminal prosecution.”

    Unless you can dig up a link to Peterson saying anything to the contrary, I think he feared the Human Rights Commission (a place very unlike the courts) and not appearing in a real court (with defense lawyers, appeals and the usual checks and balances).

    Human Rights Commissions are kangaroo courts.

    Witness Ezra Levant (who’s way too right wing for my tastes) tell them exactly that 10 years ago (he won, btw)

    As for c-16 the Ontario Human Rights Commission tells it like this:

    “Is it a violation of the Code to not address people by their choice of pronoun?
    The law recognizes that everyone has the right to self-identify their gender and that “misgendering” is a form of discrimination.
    As one human rights tribunal said: “Gender …may be the most significant factor in a person’s identity.[…]
    Refusing to refer to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity, or purposely misgendering, will likely be discrimination when it takes place in a social area covered by the Code, including employment, housing and services like education. The law is otherwise unsettled as to whether someone can insist on any one gender-neutral pronoun in particular.”

    Short version: “Refusing to refer to a trans person by […] a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity […] will likely be discrimination when it takes place in […] education.”

    That is: in a setting like education a teacher in Ontario can be asked to appear in front of the OHRC. She can be forced to pay some money and forced to pen a “I’m so sorry I was wrong”-letter and she might lose her job (yet not as a direct consequence of c-16).
    She will not get a jail sentence. People owing money in Ontario usually have stuff repossesed, they’re not going to debtors prison.

    People smarter than s have discussed this at length:

    C-16 is rather misunderstood.
    When Rambukkana (a teacher) tells Lindsay Sheperd (a crying assistant guilty og showing a class a short video clip of Peterson discussing c-16) “So the thing about this is, if you’re presenting something like this, you have to think about the kind of teaching climate that you’re creating. And this is actually, these arguments are counter to the Canadian Human Rights Code. Even since … C-16, ever since this passed, it is discriminatory to be targeting someone due to their gender identity or gender expression.” he’s not rght. Rambukkana is misrepresenting the law. He probably would not be able to get the OHRC kangaroo court to call in Sheperd. Even if he really wanted to.
    This is discussed at length in

    With all due respect. Unless someone is able to dig up better links, I think “Peterson claimed that C-16 would compel him to use a student’s preferred gender pronoun or face criminal prosecution.” should be amended.

  12. Why does something titled “X number of rules to achieve (.. Fill in the blanks…) ” often make a best seller or get lots of hits on the internet? 😁

    Massimo could you please give a philosophical argument on this? I’m not saying all of them are bad, just the thought of Socrates saying “10 ways to become the wisest person in Athens” is very entertaining. 😊

  13. “As a scientist and philosopher I am no fun of post-modernism…”

    You are “no fun of post-modernism”?

    If that’s a clever test to see who read to the end, nicely played.

  14. It was good to read something so coherent and well written. Thank you. For one of the previous commenters to wager that a stoic like yourself is making these arguments to maintain your academic position, status, and funding is stunningly insulting (and has nothing to do with your arguments). Take it like a stone!

    1. @JeffW,

      My point was that the author would be censured by his colleagues and department if he wrote in favour of Jordan Peterson. This is not an attack on the integrity of Massimo or his commitment to Stoicism, but the current political climate.

      I’m sure Massimo would be as upset as Jordan Peterson were he to be told particular Stoic philosophers were to be removed from the syllabus on account of their being “dead white males”. This is the current reality and how high the stakes are.

      1. Indeed, I’ve talked with academics who claimed modern Stoics weren’t an oppressed protected group, and thus one needed not listen to them or read them. So this is not idle speculation, but a very real possibility.

  15. I wrote my response in the form of an article:
    The short version: while Jordan Peterson does not identify as a stoic, the author seems to be using this for an anti-Peterson article. I am disappointed by the author and do not think that this piece represents a true search for wisdom.

    To better understand both Jordan Peterson and the strongest empirical critique of his ideas, I would recommend listening to the second discussion between Peterson and Sam Harris.
    As far as stoicism goes, I would recommend reading one of the classic stoics and deciding for yourself who adheres more to stoic principles and who does not.

  16. How worried should the left be about Peterson? Despite his significant influence, I’m tempted to say “not very”. His pronouncements are so vague and unintelligible that not even his most ardent ‘believers’ can articulate them. It is possible that he’s stirring up sexism in a particular sub-group of bitter men but I can’t help thinking it’s fairly benign. One thing that’s clear is that Peterson is a media whore. Perhaps, the best thing to do is to simply stop writing about him.

  17. Jordan Peterson’s good ideas are unoriginal, and his original ideas are bad. It’s unfortunate that his omnipresence in media must give rise to so many rebuttals, but I’m thankful to read such a careful one, especially in a well-organized Stoic voice. Thank you!

  18. I listen to a self-improvement podcast aimed at men which I usually find very good and JP has been on a couple of time. But I’ve found it a struggle to get to the end because he spends so much time going on about identity politics, cultural Marxism and post-modernism before getting to his advice, which is ok, common sense, but sometimes a bit trite and superficial and nothing that can’t be found elsewhere without all the political garbage. My observations since then are that he is somewhat of a hypocrite who doesn’t practise or embody what he teaches. He complains about identity politics but then goes on and on about male victim hood. He seems to promote small ‘c’ stoicism but seems to take himself very seriously indeed and goes on a twitter rant when his book is criticised in a review, talking about ‘slapping’ the reviewer and finishing with an ‘f*** you’. He often criticises other peoples ideas as not being backed by ‘a shred of evidence’ yet promotes the ideas of Carl Jung, not someone particularly known for his scientific rigor. Young men will be much better served if they put down JP and pick up Marcus Aurelius instead.

  19. Statements such as a claim that proposing there are only 2 genders is unscientific made it really hard to continue reading the article. I should have listened to my gut instincts as clearly yhe authors emotions and wishfull thinking git the best of him.


    Early this past spring, the White House Council on Women and Girls released a much-anticipated report called Women in America. One of its conclusions struck a familiar note: today, as President Obama said in describing the document, “women still earn on average only about 75 cents for every dollar a man earns. That’s a huge discrepancy.”

    It is a huge discrepancy. It’s also an exquisite example of what journalist Charles Seife has dubbed “proofiness.” Proofiness is the use of misleading statistics to confirm what you already believe. Indeed, the 75-cent meme depends on a panoply of apple-to-orange comparisons that support a variety of feminist policy initiatives, from the Paycheck Fairness Act to universal child care, while telling us next to nothing about the well-being of women.

    This isn’t to say that all is gender-equal in the labor market. It is not. It also isn’t to imply that discrimination against women doesn’t exist or that employers shouldn’t get more creative in adapting to the large number of mothers in the workplace. It does and they should. But by severely overstating and sensationalizing what is a universal predicament (I’m looking at you, Sweden and Iceland!), proofers encourage resentment-fueled demands that no government anywhere has ever fulfilled—and that no government ever will.

    Let’s begin by unpacking that 75-cent statistic, which actually varies from 75 to about 81, depending on the year and the study. The figure is based on the average earnings of full-time, year-round (FTYR) workers, usually defined as those who work 35 hours a week or more.

    But consider the mischief contained in that “or more.” It makes the full-time category embrace everyone from a clerk who arrives at her desk at 9 AM and leaves promptly at 4 PM to a trial lawyer who eats dinner four nights a week—and lunch on weekends—at his desk. I assume, in this case, that the clerk is a woman and the lawyer a man for the simple reason that—and here is an average that proofers rarely mention—full-time men work more hours than full-time women do. In 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 27 percent of male full-time workers had workweeks of 41 or more hours, compared with 15 percent of female full-time workers; meanwhile, just 4 percent of full-time men worked 35 to 39 hours a week, while 12 percent of women did. Since FTYR men work more than FTYR women do, it shouldn’t be surprising that the men, on average, earn more.

    The way proofers finesse “full-time” can be a wonder to behold. Take a recent article in the Washington Post by Mariko Chang, author of a forthcoming book on the wealth gap between women and men. Chang cites a wage difference between “full-time” male and female pharmacists to show how “even when they work in the same occupation, men earn more.” A moment’s Googling led me to a 2001 study in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association concluding that male pharmacists worked 44.1 hours a week, on average, while females worked 37.2 hours. That study is a bit dated, but it’s a good guess that things haven’t changed much in the last decade. According to a 2009 article in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, female pharmacists’ preference for reduced work hours is enough to lead to an industry labor shortage.

    The other arena of mischief contained in the 75-cent statistic lies in the seemingly harmless term “occupation.” Everyone knows that a CEO makes more than a secretary and that a computer scientist makes more than a nurse. And most people wouldn’t be shocked to hear that secretaries and nurses are likely to be women, while CEOs and computer scientists are likely to be men. That obviously explains much of the wage gap.

    But proofers often make the claim that women earn less than men doing the exact same job. They can’t possibly know that. The Labor Department’s occupational categories can be so large that a woman could drive a truck through them. Among “physicians and surgeons,” for example, women make only 64.2 percent of what men make. Outrageous, right? Not if you consider that there are dozens of specialties in medicine: some, like cardiac surgery, require years of extra training, grueling hours, and life-and-death procedures; others, like pediatrics, are less demanding and consequently less highly rewarded. Only 16 percent of surgeons, but a full 50 percent of pediatricians, are women. So the statement that female doctors make only 64.2 percent of what men make is really on the order of a tautology, much like saying that a surgeon working 50 hours a week makes significantly more than a pediatrician working 37.

    A good example of how proofers get away with using the rogue term “occupation” is Behind the Pay Gap, a widely quoted 2007 study from the American Association of University Women whose executive summary informs us in its second paragraph that “one year out of college, women working full time earn only 80 percent as much as their male colleagues earn.” The report divides the labor force into 11 extremely broad occupations determined by the Department of Education. So ten years after graduation, we learn, women who go into “business” earn considerably less than their male counterparts do. But the businessman could be an associate at Morgan Stanley who majored in econ, while the businesswoman could be a human-relations manager at Foot Locker who took a lot of psych courses. You don’t read until the end of the summary—a point at which many readers will have already Tweeted their indignation—that when you control for such factors as education and hours worked, there’s actually just a 5 percent pay gap. But the AAUW isn’t going to begin a report with the statement that women earn 95 percent of what their male counterparts earn, is it?

    Now, while a 5 percent gap will never lead to a million-woman march on Washington, it’s not peanuts. Over a year, it can add up to real money, and over decades in the labor force, it can mean the difference between retirement in a Boca Raton co-op and a studio apartment in the inner suburbs. Many studies have examined the subject, and a consensus has emerged that when you control for what researchers call “observable” differences—not just hours worked and occupation, but also marital and parental status, experience, college major, and industry—there is still a small unexplained wage gap between men and women. Two Cornell economists, Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, place the number at about 9 cents per dollar. In 2009, the CONSAD Research Corporation, under the auspices of the Labor Department, located the gap a little lower, at 4.8 to 7.1 percent.

    So what do we make of what, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call the 7 percent gap? You can’t rule out discrimination, whether deliberate or unconscious. Many women say that male bosses are more comfortable dealing with male workers, especially when the job involves late-night meetings and business conferences in Hawaii. This should become a smaller problem over time, as younger men used to coed dorms and female roommates become managers and, of course, as women themselves move into higher management positions. It’s also possible that male managers fear that a female candidate for promotion, however capable, will be more distracted by family matters than a male would be. They might assume that women are less able to handle competition and pressure. It’s even possible that female managers think such things, too.

    No, you can’t rule out discrimination. Neither can you rule out other, equally plausible explanations for the 7 percent gap. The data available to researchers may not be precise; for instance, it’s extremely difficult to find accurate measures of work experience. There’s also a popular theory that women are less aggressive than men when it comes to negotiating salaries.

    The point is that we don’t know the reason—or, more likely, reasons—for the 7 percent gap. What we do know is that making discrimination the default explanation for a wage gap, as proofers want us to do, leads us down some weird rabbit holes. Asian men and women earn more than white men and women do, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Does that mean that whites are discriminated against in favor of Asians? Female cafeteria attendants earn more than male ones do. Are men discriminated against in that field? Women who work in construction earn almost exactly what men in the field do, while women in education earn considerably less. The logic of default discrimination would lead us to conclude that construction workers are more open to having female colleagues than educators are. With all due respect to the construction workers, that seems unlikely.

    Graph by Robert Pizzo
    So why do women work fewer hours, choose less demanding jobs, and then earn less than men do? The answer is obvious: kids. A number of researchers have found that if you consider only childless women, the wage gap disappears. June O’Neill, an economist who has probably studied wage gaps as much as anyone alive, has found that single, childless women make about 8 percent more than single, childless men do (though the advantage vanishes when you factor in education). Using Census Bureau data of pay levels in 147 of the nation’s 150 largest cities, the research firm Reach Advisors recently showed that single, childless working women under 30 earned 8 percent more than their male counterparts did.

    That’s likely to change as soon as the children arrive. Mothers, particularly those with young children, take more time off from work; even when they are working, they’re on the job less. Behind the Pay Gap found that “among women who graduated from college in 1992–93, more than one-fifth (23 percent) of mothers were out of the work force in 2003, and another 17 percent were working part time,” compared with under 2 percent of fathers in each case. Other studies show consistently that the first child significantly reduces a woman’s earnings and that the second child cuts them even further.

    The most compelling research into the impact of children on women’s careers and earnings—one that also casts light on why women are a rarity at the highest levels of the corporate and financial world—comes from a 2010 article in the American Economic Journal by Marianne Bertrand of the University of Chicago and Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz of Harvard. The authors selected nearly 2,500 MBAs who graduated between 1990 and 2006 from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and followed them as they made their way through the early stages of their careers. If there were discrimination to be found here, Goldin would be your woman. She is coauthor of a renowned 2000 study showing that blind auditions significantly increased the likelihood that an orchestra would hire female musicians.

    Here’s what the authors found: right after graduation, men and women had nearly identical earnings and working hours. Over the next ten years, however, women fell way behind. Survey questions revealed three reasons for this. First and least important, men had taken more finance courses and received better grades in those courses, while women had taken more marketing classes. Second, women had more career interruptions. Third and most important, mothers worked fewer hours. “The careers of MBA mothers slow down substantially within a few years of first birth,” the authors wrote. Though 90 percent of women were employed full-time and year-round immediately following graduation, that was the case with only 80 percent five years out, 70 percent nine years out, and 62 percent ten or more years out—and only about half of women with children were working full-time ten years after graduation. By contrast, almost all the male grads were working full-time and year-round. Furthermore, MBA mothers, especially those with higher-earning spouses, “actively chose” family-friendly workplaces that would allow them to avoid long hours, even if it meant lowering their chances to climb the greasy pole.

    In other words, these female MBAs bought tickets for what is commonly called the “mommy track.” A little over 20 years ago, the Harvard Business Review published an article by Felice Schwartz proposing that businesses make room for the many, though not all, women who would want to trade some ambition and earnings for more flexibility and time with their children. Dismissed as the “mommy track,” the idea was reviled by those who worried that it gave employers permission to discriminate and that it encouraged women to downsize their aspirations.

    But as Virginia Postrel noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Schwartz had it right. When working mothers can, they tend to spend less time at work. That explains all those female pharmacists looking for reduced hours. It explains why female lawyers are twice as likely as men to go into public-interest law, in which hours are less brutal than in the partner track at Sullivan & Cromwell. Female medical students tell researchers that they’re choosing not to become surgeons because of “lifestyle issues,” which seems to be a euphemism for wanting more time with the kids. Thirty-three percent of female pediatricians are part-timers—and that’s not because they want more time to play golf.

    In the literature on the pay gap and in the media more generally, this state of affairs typically leads to cries of injustice. The presumption is that women pursue reduced or flexible hours because men refuse to take equal responsibility for the children and because the United States does not have “family-friendly policies.” Child care is frequently described as a burden to women, a patriarchal imposition on their ambitions, and a source of profound inequity. But is this attitude accurate? Do women want to be working more, if only the kids—and their useless husbands—would let them? And do we know that more government support would enable them to do so and close the wage gap?

    Actually, there is no evidence for either of these propositions. If women work fewer hours than men do, it appears to be because they want it that way. About two-thirds of the part-time workforce in the United States is female. According to a 2007 Pew Research survey, only 21 percent of working mothers with minor children want to be in the office full-time. Sixty percent say that they would prefer to work part-time, and 19 percent would like to give up their jobs altogether. For working fathers, the numbers are reversed: 72 percent want to work full-time and 12 percent part-time.

    In fact, women choose fewer hours—despite the resulting gap in earnings—all over the world. That includes countries with generous family leave and child-care policies. Look at Iceland, recently crowned the world’s most egalitarian nation by the World Economic Forum. The country boasts a female prime minister, a law requiring that the boards of midsize and larger businesses be at least 40 percent female, excellent public child care, and a family leave policy that would make NOW members swoon. Yet despite successful efforts to get men to take paternity leave, Icelandic women still take considerably more time off than men do. They also are far more likely to work part-time. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), this queen of women-friendly countries has a bigger wage gap—women make 62 percent of what men do—than the United States does.

    Sweden, in many people’s minds the world’s gender utopia, also has a de facto mommy track. Sweden has one of the highest proportions of working women in the world and a commitment to gender parity that’s close to a national religion. In addition to child care, the country offers paid parental leave that includes two months specifically reserved for fathers. Yet moms still take four times as much leave as dads do. (Women are also more likely to be in lower-paid public-sector jobs; according to sociologist Linda Haas, Sweden has “one of the most sex-segregated labor markets in the world.”) Far more women than men work part-time; almost half of all mothers are on the job 30 hours a week or less. The gender wage gap among full-time workers in Sweden is 15 percent. That’s lower than in the United States, at least according to the flawed data we have, but it’s hardly the feminist Promised Land.

    The list goes on. In the Netherlands, over 70 percent of women work part-time and say that they want it that way. According to the Netherlands Institute for Social Research, surveys found that only 4 percent of female part-timers wish that they had full-time jobs. In the United Kingdom, half of female GPs work part-time, and the National Health Service is scrambling to cope with a dearth of doctor hours. Interestingly enough, countries with higher GDPs tend to have the highest percentage of women in part-time work. In fact, the OECD reports that in many of its richest countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S., the percentage of the female workforce in part-time positions has gone up over the last decade.

    So it makes no sense to think of either the mommy track or the resulting wage differential as an injustice to women. Less time at work, whether in the form of part-time jobs or fewer full-time hours, is what many women want and what those who can afford it tend to choose. Feminists can object till the Singularity arrives that women are “socialized” to think that they have to be the primary parent. But after decades of feminism and Nordic engineering, the continuing female tropism toward shorter work hours suggests that that view is either false or irrelevant. Even the determined Swedes haven’t been able to get women to stick around the office.

    That doesn’t mean that the mommy track doesn’t present a problem, particularly in a culture in which close to half of all marriages break down. A woman can have a baby, decide to reduce her hours and her pay, forgo a pension, and then, ten years later, watch her husband run off with the Pilates instructor. The problem isn’t what it used to be when women had fewer degrees and less work experience during their childless years; women today are in better shape to jump-start their careers if need be. The risk remains, however.

    It’s not at all clear how to solve this problem or even if there is a solution, especially during these fiscally challenged days. But one thing is clear: the wage-gap debate ought to begin with the mommy track, not with proofy statistics.

    Kay S. Hymowitz is a contributing editor of City Journal, the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys


    What’s Up with Jordan Peterson?
    My responses to the psychologist’s “Rules for Life”.
    Posted Feb 01, 2018
    Jordan Peterson is the reigning self-help guru. The genesis of his best-selling (a term thrown around but in this case true) book, 12 Rules for Life (link is external) was a Quora post in response to the question, “What are the most valuable things everyone should know?” He listed 42 “rules for life.” Fifteen evoked a response in me: four in substantial disagreement. 11 in substantial agreement.

    Here, I quote them unedited plus my response. Then I offer my own 6 Contrarian Rules for Life.

    Where I have significant disagreement

    JORDAN PETERSON: Nothing well done is insignificant.

    MARTY NEMKO: But what about the opportunity cost? For example, people spend time primping a report, doing home repairs to unnecessary tolerances, not to mention perfecting their golf swing. The right advice is to select the appropriate degree of care based on the opportunity cost. For example, “Would spending an extra hour polishing this report be a better use of my time than what I otherwise could be doing?”

    JP: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.

    MN: You could spend a lifetime trying to get “your house in perfect order.” That’s true whether it’s literally your house or your personal behavior. The right advice is to get started on your efforts to improve the world rather than waiting until you’re “perfect” or close to it. Of course, work on yourself but get your house in order sufficient only to the extent needed for you to start to make a difference externally.

    JP: Dress like the person you want to be.

    MN: Mixed reaction. True, dressing the part can be a positive self-fulfilling prophecy: You feel and act more like your aspired-to self, and other people—lookist, shallow species that we are—tend to treat you as you look. But too many people spend too much time on their veneer. You can gift-wrap a bad product but it’s still a bad product. Most of your focus should be on improving your substance, not your packaging, even if some people would get seduced by your appearance. You want to aspire to quality not hype. Alas, the latter is increasingly the American Way. Marketing is among the fastest growing occupations (link is external). Yuck.

    JP: Be grateful in spite of your suffering.

    MN: Yes, be grateful for the good, but excessive gratitude leads to passive acceptance of the status quo. Both Christianity and Buddhism encourage passivity: gratitude, faith, inevitability. We have more control over our existence than religion would have us believe. As they say, luck favors the well-prepared.

    Where I substantially agree

    JP: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

    MN: Right. Keeping up with the Joneses, materially, careerwise, or avocationally, serves no purpose. Your benchmark should be, as Peterson says, you.

    JP: Imagine who you could be and then aim single-mindedly at that.

    MN: Yes, most people must focus. Only brilliant people can dabble yet achieve significantly in multiple areas.

    JP: Don’t let bullies get away with it.

    MN: I agree. We like to believe that kindness is repaid but, in the real world, people are more likely to treat you fairly if you’ve invoked a measure of fear. That’s true not just with bullies: If your boss, romantic partner, or friend knows that you won’t take crap, they’re more likely to treat you well. For example, in negotiating salary, instead of following the standard advice to let the employer make the first offer, which often is a lowball, on average, you’ll do better by firmly asserting that you need (Insert a number that is on the high side of fair.)

    JP: Make at least one thing better every single place you go.

    MN: Good advice. I’d phrase it as, “Keep your antennae ever out for opportunities to make a difference.”

    JP: Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.

    MN: That’s obviously true, but what’s meaningful? My definition of the life meaningfully led is: Spend as much time as possible using your best abilities toward meeting an under-addressed need that if addressed would make a big difference, for example, tutoring gifted kids in a blue-collar school.

    JP: Ask someone to do you a small favor so that he or she can ask you to do one in the future.

    MN: I agree. An additional reason to ask for a favor is that it makes the person more likely to want to do more favors for you. That’s commitment bias: The person wants to feel it was wise to have given you something. So s/he chooses to do more for you, which reinforces the “correctness” of having bestowed the first favor.

    JP: Make friends with people who want the best for you.

    MN: Right. It’s absurd how many people stay friends with people who, at minimum, are mainly out for themselves or, worse, who get off on making you dependent or feeling inferior to them.

    JP: Do not try to rescue someone who does not want to be rescued, and be very careful about rescuing someone who does.

    MN: Right. Your effort is likely better directed elsewhere. Even if the person wants to be rescued, it’s often a long and not particularly successful slog, not the most productive use of your time, and if you succeed, it creates more dependency or even triggers the bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you phenomenon.

    JP: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

    MN: Right. Laissez-faire parenting too often leads to life-damaging entitlement, drug abuse, and/or laziness. Children need relatively firm limits. Just be sure that those limits aren’t undue and that, at the earliest age possible, you explain the reasons for those limits, listen to any objections, and then render a wise decision.

    JP: Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated.

    MN: Yes, there rarely is a reason to be bored. Look for opportunities to do the most you can, not the least you can get away with. And when someone in authority has shirked, that’s a particularly good opportunity to make a bigger difference than you otherwise would have.

    JP: Read something written by someone great.

    MN: Yes. For example, I must spend a lot of time in my car. I distract myself from the ever-worsening traffic by listening to an audiobook. My current focus is biographies. I recommend Mencken: The American Iconoclast (link is external).

    My 6 contrarian rules

    Be judgmental. Discernment is among homo sapiens’ most distinctive and valuable characteristics. It is core to what has enabled us to accomplish so much more than any other species. Yet today’s egalitarian ethos has fogged us into devaluing judgment: “All music is worthy. It’s merely a matter of perspective..” Garbage! Mendelsohn’s Violin Concerto (link is external) is simply better than Eminem’s Foolish Pride (link is external).

    Be elitist. This is a corollary of the previous. Spend your time and money on the people not who have the greatest deficit but those with the greatest potential to profit. As every battlefield medic knows, to save the most lives, you must use your limited resources where they’re likely to make the biggest difference. So fight to work with people you respect. Hold out for relationships with superior people. Donate your money to causes that have proven helpful to those with unusual potential to improve the world.

    Work hard. Mediocre people tell us not to work hard but work smart. Of course, try to work smart but, except if you were a fool to begin with, working smarter may add only trivially to your productivity. You’ll likely produce far more of value by adding an extra hour or three to your actual work time—Playing on Facebook during the workday doesn’t count. And productivity matters, a lot, much more than “the pursuit of happiness.” I could be happy eating, watching NetFlix, and having sex all day but my life would have been much less worthy than if I were working most of the time on something I’m good and that is important. (See my thoughts above on meaningfulness.)

    Recreation is overrated. If you’re doing work you’re good at, you probably derive nearly as much pleasure doing it as when watching TV, playing sports, whatever. But what about those work-life-balance advocates’ warnings about health? If you were hooked up to a stress meter, you’d probably be as relaxed doing that work as when recreating

    Accept that you’re at least half genetic. If you’re phlegmatic, it’s not a good use of your time to try to make yourself bubbly. If you’re intellectually lackluster, spending time on “brain-building” activities is likely to be a poor use of your time. If you’re hot-tempered, all the techniques in the world are unlikely to keep you from going from zero to 60 in two seconds. After just moderate effort to improve, it’s better to accept that about yourself and make all efforts to put yourself in situations and with people that are unlikely to make you explode.

    Never look back. Always take the next step forward. Classical psychotherapists insist that we must pore over our malaise’s childhood roots but, fact is, we quickly derive lessons from our past, perhaps even without thinking about it. Certainly, continuing to look back is more likely to mire you in the past than to help you move forward Take the next step forward already!

    Not covered in Peterson’s Rules are his views on how men are treated today. I strongly recommend you watch minutes 39:45 to 45:20 of his BBC interview.

  22. A lot of straw man arguments are put forth in this article.
    I cannot get rid of the impression that the author simply dislikes Peterson’s political views, so that the entire article is based on an appeal to motive.
    No matter, whether one agrees or disagrees with Peterson’s political views, there can be no doubt that his approach is in line with ancient Stoicism (cleaning your room, focus on the present).

    When bringing politics into Stoicism (which I think has no business there), it is good to remember that there is no historic example where Stoics sided with the political Left of their time. All known Stoics sided with the “Optimates” (conservative faction of Cicero, Cassius, Cato), none sided with the “Populares” (Caesar, Gracchi brothers) in the Roman civil war. Stoicism has always been a rather conservative philosophy. I would not go as far as saying that liberal views are in principle incompatible with Stoicism, but they can hardly be defended by Stoic philosophy with a historical perspective in mind.

    1. There is no such thing as “liberal” and “conservative” in ancient Roman politics any more than there is a right and left. Those distinctions didn’t arise until the 18th Century and you would be mistaken to insert modern biases, political or otherwise, into ancient notions. You also don’t know the identities of every Stoic who sided with any Roman Republic factions, or even that any besides Cato sided with any of them. You’re making lots of claims without any real knowledge of them.

  23. While I find these articles interesting and useful for making aspects of Stoicism more defined for me, I earnestly hope that the Modern Stoicism blog does not simply become a place where we discuss whether or not Jordan Peterson or other specific people are Stoic.

  24. Thank you for the thoughtful analysis. I found especially insightful your highlighting of the Stoic position that the virtues cannot be practiced in isolation from one another but by necessity are a package deal: Justice requires courage which requires self-control which requires understanding and insight – take one out and it falls apart.

  25. Thank you for this article. I make no defense of Jordan Peterson, having neither listened to him or read anything written by him. I know of him only by others opinions of him, pro or con. However, I infer from reading this article that being a conformist and politically correct is Stoic. And to question and challenge feminism, cultural marxism, or any other tenets of establishment cultural indoctrination is wrong or evil and un-Stoic? Is life in America really better today than, say, in the 1950s? As already indicated, I’m no follower of Peterson, but if political correctness is a litmus test for being Stoic, count me out. As for the author of this article, I see that he is an educator at the City College of New York. I suspect he knows which side of political correctness his bread is buttered on.

  26. Reading this article made my tea taste better, the air more fresh in the room and the corners of my eyes turn delightedly upwards and I assented to it all with a grin. Thank you Mr Pigliucci, such a nice way to start a morning.

  27. Thought-provoking piece.

    Aren’t we all a lot more than our philosophy/‘ontology’?

    I think it’s pretty obvious that JP isn’t solely a Stoic, evidenced best and simply by his theological narratives and use of metaphorical truth.

    He has described himself recently (which is always a good place to start), as politically a ‘British’ Liberal, temperamentally high in openness and high in conscientiousness (which rsspectively would lean to the traditional left and to traditional right), philosophically, as an individualist (as opposed to a collectivist of the left or of the right), and metaphysically an American pragmatist strongly influenced by psychoanalytical thinking of Freuf/Jung.

    Thanks again for the article, it’s made me realise that we need a much rounder definition of who we are and how we think – and indeed calling oneself a stoic covers only part of that explanation for the modern nuanced world.

  28. Just disappointed by author, that is all.
    Maybe I’m wrong but it feels like another political attack.
    Character assassination is the tactic of those with the weakest position

    1. I agree and would add misrepresentation of Peterson’s arguments, for example interpreting his dictum “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world” as “we are not authorized to invest time and energy into questioning our social systems and try to change them for the better” What is being called for here is the “invest[ing] time and energy” in self-examination of how WE are enabling the injustices of our social system and doing something about that instead of in the essentially vacuous exercise of naming ‘others’ such as Trump supporters as the root of the problem. It is basic Stoicism to attend to what is under your control rather than bloviating about the ‘faults’ of others. Using an assumed ‘ethical superiority’ as a cudgel to beat out the brains of your opponents is neither Stoic nor virtuous.

      1. “You just don’t understand…” argument. It’s like Massimo predicted all of these, and you’re all just determined to embarrass yourselves and prove him right.

  29. Interesting read and well constructed rebuttals and perhaps Jordan Peterson isn’t a stoic . However, l’d wager your standing in your academic department, access to research funding etc would compel you to side in opposition to Peterson and write a piece like this. To do otherwise would risk your position and status.

    I would direct you to the recent Munk debate featuring Jordan Peterson. I call into question the moral standing, virtue and logical coherence of his opponents based upon the arguments deployed and personal attacks. So often this proves to be the case with his critics – of which there are more than enough.

    ‘A goose is not frightened by cackling nor a sheep by bleating, so let not the clamour of a senseless multitude alarm you’

    Epictetus The Enchiridion.

    1. I’m thinking of a phrase it Latin. It goes something like “argumentum ad hominem.”

    2. How come we keep debating about whether Jordan Peterson is a Stoic or not, when he never said he was one? Andy

      1. “How come we keep debating about whether Jordan Peterson is a Stoic or not, when he never said he was one?”

        Exactly. It’s funny there’s a whole mirror of this discussion that’s already played itself out in the Christian corner of the web, i.e. (obviously) “Is Jordan Peterson a Christian?”
        Short answer: no. Funny but true answer: Peterson doesn’t want to answer the question.

        Peterson affirms a concept of a logos as an ontological basis while establishing firmly in nearly all other aspects that he is a pragmatist.

        Got that folks? He’s told you what he is: he’s a pragmatist.

        He says this over, and over, and over, again … begin now practicing the principle of charity and interpreting him in light of that – starting first of all with why, in his telling, a logos matters if we are doomed to the limits of pragmatism. IOW: because pragmatism, therefore logos.

        If you went to Peterson and came away thinking of him “because Peterson’s Jung, therefore Peterson’s logos”, you have neither understood Peterson, nor logos.

    3. It would have served you well to read the article you replied to:
      “If you think Peterson is being criticized out of “envy” then you have no idea of critical discourse works. It’s still a criticism, and it needs to be answered, regardless of the real or imaginary motivations you attribute to the critic.”

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