We’re now just two days away from the big STOICON 2021 conference! If you don’t have your ticket for the event yet, you can click here to get it (the ticket price is any level of donation you’d like to make).
We’re continuing our established tradition of publishing interviews with the Stoicon speakers, workshop providers, panelists, and organizers. That way people interested or planning to participate in Stoicon 2021 can get to know them a bit before the conference. This interview is with Gabriele Galluzzo, who will be on our Ask The Experts panel at the STOICON event!
To see the schedule for Stoicon, or to get your ticket for this event – donations for tickets support the continued work of Modern Stoicism, Ltd – click here and you will be taken to the Stoicon 2021 Eventbrite site.
We’re very happy to have you here. Please introduce yourself and your work to our readers.
Thanks for having me here. My name is Gabriele Galluzzo and I teach ancient philosophy at the University of Exeter in the UK. I work on ancient metaphysics, mainly Aristotle, and the way it has shaped Western thought through the ages, including our modern age. Since 2013, I have taken an active part in Modern Stoicism, running workshops at various events, and I am one of the people who help with the management of the network and company.
What first interested you in, or attracted you to Stoicism?
My first encounter with Stoicism was obviously professional. Stoicism is widely studied in all ancient philosophy programmes at universities (at least in Italy, where I studied). As an ancient philosophy scholar, I developed an interest in Stoic metaphysics, logic and philosophy of language, as some sort of valid alternative to the Aristotelian tradition that is at the centre of my research. I also have many chances to teach Stoic ethics in undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Over the last ten years or so, I have learned to discover the ethical dimension of Stoicism as well, and got interested in a few ideas and notions that could be applied to our life (and in comparing Stoicism to other ways of understanding the role of human beings in the world).
How does Stoicism figure into your work?
I never published on Stoicism per se. Actually, that’s partly untrue, because I have a chapter on Stoic metaphysics in a booklet I published a few years ago as a textbook for Italian universities (in English, the booklet would have the rather obscure title “A Short History of Ontology”). But Stoicism has always been with me in some sense, because, as a young scholar, I explored connections between the Christian Fathers (especially Augustine) and Hellenistic philosophy, including Stoicism. Although my research does not mainly focus on Stoicism, some of my research projects for the future do feature Stoicism in a more substantial way than past ones.
How has Stoicism affected or improved the way you live your life?
This is a difficult one. In many ways, I suppose. Key aspects of Stoic philosophy, such as their notion of character building, their encouragement to offer thought-out and mediated responses to circumstances, but also in general their idea that a virtuous character is the full expression of human nature, have greatly influenced my way of thinking and my day-by-day life. I do not consider myself a fully committed Stoic, I am equally fascinated by Aristotle’s ethics, both in those respects in which it is similar to Stoicism, but also in those it which it differs. But, it is a fair competition, and Stoicism has certainly changed the way I now look at the things I was mentioning before. On the other hand, my interest in Stoicism remains intellectual. In other words, I am deeply fascinated, at a more technical level, by the subtlety and depth of their philosophical arguments and the way they justify their beliefs. When I look at Stoicism in this way, as an object of study, I am more detached, I guess, and I identify to a lesser degree with their actual claim. But the two attitudes seem to co-habit nicely in me, at least so far.
If you had to pick one, what would you say is the most important aspect of Stoicism?
For me, it is their notion of character and character building. We often think of character as something we get somehow at birth, something that shapes our personality and cannot be changed. We often hear people say ‘that’s my character, there is nothing I can do about it’. The Stoics (like Aristotle), by contrast, insist that our character can and should be shaped by our thoughts, beliefs and capacity to reason about what we and other people do. They strongly object to the idea that there is no good or bad character, and advocate self-improvement and character building. Another idea I particularly cherish is their preference for the mediated, thought-out response to situations as opposed to an instinctive, immediate response. I think this allows for a deeper consideration of events and circumstances and ultimately makes us more compassionate, kind and benevolent.
As an ancient philosophy, is Stoicism still just as useful and relevant in our late modern world?
Certainly. Stoicism, and many ancient schools of thought for that matter, is a healthy cultural shock to so many assumptions we make in our society, such as for instance the view that happiness is a subjective state of contentment or excitement. Against this, Stoicism claims that happiness crucially links with objective norms and standards, which are ultimately determined by human and cosmic nature. This is just one example, of course; if only because Stoicism calls into question people’s and society’s assumptions, it is certainly useful.
Do you have a favorite Stoic passage or quote? What is it, and why is it your favorite?
Another difficult one. Perhaps, it’s Marcus Aurelius’ “The best way to avenge yourself is not to become as they are” (Med. 6.5). I like it because it is a slightly paradoxical quote and a very Socratic one. It is paradoxical because revenge is not admitted by Stoics as it stems from a bad emotion, but not to mould your character on other people’s vices (and so not to take revenge on others) is a paradoxical form of revenge for Marcus. I say it is Socratic because Socrates claims that injustice and misbehaviour harms more the people who do it than those who suffer from it. I think Marcus is going in the same direction.
What topics do you plan or anticipate to talk about at Stoicon?
I think I should be a member of the ‘Ask the Experts’ panel. It is the first time I am member of this particular panel and I am not sure I qualify as an expert. But I really look forward to it.
Are you excited for Stoicon 2021? Is it Stoic, or not, to be “excited”?
I think the Stoics would allow us to be joyful. We rejoice at positive things, and Stoicon is one of those. Perhaps ‘excitement’ suggests an uncontrolled emotional movement of our mind, and that would not be Stoic, as they Stoic sage’s emotions are calm and medium pitched, as it were. Perhaps, it depends on what we mean by ‘excitement’…Anyway, I am excited for it!
Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?
No, I do not think so. Thanks for having me.