New Video: Insights from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations

A 20 minute talk by Christopher Gill, professor of Ancient Thought at the University of Exeter, on the philosophical project and aims of Marcus Aurelius.

Questions covered include: what is at the core of Marcus philosophical project in writing his meditations? And how ‘Stoic’ was Marcus Aurelius? philosophical method? Includes discussion of key passages for understanding the aims of the Meditations as a whole.


Places to Discuss Stoicism on the Web

Here are just three great places you can discuss Stoicism on the web:

1) this active ‘Stoicism’ discussion group on Facebook which has over 340 members….

2) The Reddit discussion group on Stoicism (updates from this group are also updated automatically on our sidebar).

3) And, of course, the wonderful International Stoic Forum!

Stoics are not Unemotional!

This Perspectives piece first appeared on Donald Robertson’s blog (Copyright © Donald Robertson, 2012), and draws on his forthcoming book Teach Yourself Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013).

 Stoics are not Unemotional!

Cartoon © Christoph Neger, reproduced with artist’s kind permission.

The misconception that Stoics are unemotional like robots, or like the Vulcan “Mister Spock” in Star Trek, is so widespread that I’ve decided to put together some brief notes to summarise the opposing view, taken with modifications from my book Teach yourself Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013).

The founder of Greek Skepticism, Pyrrho of Elis, was jokingly said to be so apathetic, or indifferent to the world, that his followers had to chase around after him to prevent him walking off cliffs or into the path of speeding horse-drawn wagons.  That joke was never made about the Stoics because, by contrast, they were well-known for their active engagement in family life and politics.  Likewise, the Epicureans made the attainment of tranquillity, or the avoidance of pain, the goal of life, and saw no intrinsic value in fellowship with other human beings.  This often led them to withdraw from politics or family life, and even to live in relative seclusion.  By contrast, the Stoics, for whom tranquillity is only good when it accompanies the virtues of wisdom and justice, believed that fellowship with the rest of mankind is natural and fundamental to the goal of life, which entails “living in agreement” with reason, the Nature of the universe, and the rest of mankind.  In fact, the founding text of Stoicism, Zeno’s Republic, centred on his “dream” of an ideal Stoic society, consisting of enlightened and benevolent friends, living in harmony together, under the patronage of Eros, the god of love.

Continue reading “Stoics are not Unemotional!”

Perspectives: 'Stoic Spiritual Exercises' by Elen Buzaré

Elen Buzaré, who has studied Stoicism for almost 20 years, has written a concise manual which modernises ancient Stoic therapeutic exercises. Reproduced here, with kind permission of the author, is an extract discussing both Stoic techniques in examining thoughts, or ‘impressions’ also the idea of ‘getting your desire right’. Elen also started this French language forum for practising Stoics.

To read the fascinating extract from Elen’s book, Stoic Spiritual Exercises (© Elen Buzaré, 2012) please click here. 

New Video: 'Stoicism Today: so far and in the future'

A discussion between Christopher Gill, Professor of Ancient Thought at the University of Exeter, and Patrick Ussher, PhD Student at the University of Exeter. Topics covered include: what we can learn from the last Stoic Week, what we hope to do for the next Stoic Week, and what the project should aim for long-term.

Please comment on the discussion and add your ideas for what Stoicism Today could do in the future!

On the Psyche: An International Conference to celebrate the work of Professor Christopher Gill

On the psyche: studies in literature, psychology and health is an international conference to celebrate the work of Professor Christopher Gill, from the Department of Classics and Ancient History, at the University of Exeter, and builds on his studies of the psyche and the self in the ancient world.

In three impressive volumes he has integrated literary approaches with ancient psychology and medicine, from Homer and Plato to the Stoics and Galen. He has additionally addressed the question whether some of these approaches may contribute to improving our own lives and wellbeing.

The conference presents papers on the development of the psyche from Homer to tragedy and Plato, on the underworld, on medical and philosophical debates on psychology ; on modern medical understanding of ancient wellbeing; on happiness, hope and truth, and freedom, and on Neoplatonic approaches to the self and the human relationship with the divine.

Professor Gill will be retiring at the end of 2013, but will keep very much alive his interests and work in ancient philosophy, and its implications for the modern day.

For more information, and to book, click here.

Stoic Week 2012: The Student View

Christopher Thompsett, first year undergraduate student of Classics at Exeter University, offers his view of the Live like a Stoic trial, 2012. This report will be published in the forthcoming journal Pegasus, published by the Classics Dept. here at Exeter.

Stoic Week: The Student View

Christopher Thompsett

 From the 26th November to the 2nd of December 2012, volunteers worldwide participated in the first ‘Stoic Week’, an endeavour which would put to the test the philosophical school of Stoicism in applying its ethical theories to contemporary life. ‘Stoic Week’ was set up as a satellite of the Classics and Ancient History Department’s recent work on Health and Wellbeing in the Ancient World, which is considering what may be learned from the Ancient World’s practices in psychotherapy and diet for modern day living. The team which organised it included Professor Christopher Gill, Professor of Ancient Thought here at Exeter and Dr. John Sellars, lecturer in philosophy at Birkbeck in London. Making the work truly interdisciplinary, however, was the involvement of leading psychotherapeutic professionals, such as Dr. Donald Robertson, author of The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (which examines the Stoic roots of this therapy), and Tim LeBon, author of Wise Therapy, who, among other things, provided wellbeing surveys and questionnaires for the measurement of any psychological benefits. What started as a project for students taking Roman Philosophy here ended up attracting interest from all parts of the world, with 130 officially taking part. In this report, I hope to give some personal reactions to the events of the week in which we followed Stoic principles, reactions from fellow students, and also those who shared their experiences online through the blogosphere and in the press.

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Perspectives: Core Ideas of Stoic Ethics in Marcus Aurelius Part Two

Perspectives: Core Ideas of Stoic Ethics in Marcus Aurelius Part Two (of two)

 An Illustrative Reading: Meditation 3.11

 The relevance of these ideas to the Meditations can be brought out in two, complementary ways. One is by examining in some depth a single passage, which shows how Marcus draws on these ideas and also how he weaves them together into a connected sequence. The other is by discussing in more general terms certain recurrent – and sometimes striking and distinctive – ways in which he treats each of these themes. First, let us look closely at this passage (3.11):

 Continue reading “Perspectives: Core Ideas of Stoic Ethics in Marcus Aurelius Part Two”

The Core Ideas of Stoic Ethics

Core Ideas of Stoic Ethics in Marcus Aurelius: Part One

A positive reason for seeing Stoicism as influential on Marcus is that most of the Meditations are strongly reminiscent of Stoic ideas, even if Marcus does not use technical Stoic vocabulary and sometimes recasts these ideas in his own distinctive ways. We can identify at least five features which were seen in this period as distinctive of Stoicism; and they match strongly marked themes in the Meditations. One is the idea that the virtuous life is identical with the happy life (that virtue is all that is needed to ensure happiness). Other things widely regarded as good, such as health or material prosperity and even the well-being of one’s family and friends, are seen as being irrelevant for happiness; they are ‘matters of indifference’, even if they are naturally ‘preferable’.  A second theme is that emotions and desires depend directly on beliefs about what is valuable or desirable; they do not form a separate (non-rational) dimension of psychological life. The emotions and desires most people form are seen as shaped by mistaken ethical beliefs and in this sense as being psychological ‘sicknesses’. A third theme is that human beings have an in-built natural inclination to benefit others. This inclination, if properly developed, is expressed both in full-hearted engagement with family and communal roles and in a readiness to accept all human beings, as such, as part of a ‘brotherhood’ or ‘cosmic city’ and as proper objects of ethical concern. These three ideas add up to a highly idealised view of human ethics and psychology, one that ancient critics thought was over-idealistic and unrealistic. None the less, the Stoics maintained that all human beings are fundamentally capable of progressing towards the ideal state of complete virtue and happiness, though they admitted that no one had perhaps achieved this completely. Hence, ethical life, for Stoicism, consisted in an ongoing process or journey towards this goal, a journey for which their methods of practical ethics were a means of support.

Continue reading “The Core Ideas of Stoic Ethics”

Ancient Healthcare and Modern Wellbeing: Introductory Video

Ancient Healthcare and Modern Wellbeing

A new, 10 minute, introductory video on the Ancient Healthcare and Modern Wellbeing project here at the University of Exeter’s Classics Department, discussing the work being undertaken both on finding insights from ancient psychotherapeutics texts (as found in Stoicism) and from ancient texts on preventative medicine (as found in the 2nd Century doctor Galen and his text On Preserving Health).