Video: Roundtable Discussion from Stoicism for Everyday Life Event


The full round-table discussion (one hour long) from the Stoicism for Everyday Life event at Birkbeck, University of London, on November 30th. Participants included Prof. Chris Gill chairing Julian Baggini, Jules Evans, Antonia Macaro, Richard Sorabji, and Mark Vernon.

Questions covered in the fascinating discussion and debate include: Can Stoicism be revived as a guide to life today? Should Stoicism be revived today? How much of Stoicism do we have to embrace if we try to revive it? Can we establish via evidence its effectiveness?

Adapting Stoicism today raises many interesting questions – join in with your view on the debate below!

More videos and resources from the London event will be published shortly.


6 thoughts on Video: Roundtable Discussion from Stoicism for Everyday Life Event

  1. Steven says:

    Good to see this again on video – I have fond memories of the event!

  2. Nigel Glassborow says:

    It is amazing with what ease the Logos and the Stoic science was brushed aside by some members of the panel. As Mark Vernon suggested one needs to look at life from the perspective of the Stoics of old in order to understand what they were getting at.
    For instance, we now talk of the ‘qualities’ of solid, liquid, gas and energy and those of old talked of the ‘elements’ of earth, water, air and fire. The difference is mere words. So we now have a better understanding of such matters. But the Stoics of old were right to claim that all that exists is made up out of a finer ‘element’ – science is in part catching up with their observations by way of quantum science having discovered aspects of the ‘passive’ nature of the Divine Fire.
    What science has not yet recognised is the involvement of the ‘active’ nature of the Divine Fire, albeit that they find themselves having to refer to aspects of their discoveries in terms that relate to ‘consciousness’. But then science is not equipped to investigate and understand the nature of the ‘the universal governor and organiser of all things’.
    There is much that can be said regards the continued relevance of Stoic science, but most important is to recognise that we are not only looking at the creation and evolution of our planet, but in talking of the Divine Fire we are talking about how the Universe is manifested here and now.
    ‘There are two general principles in the universe, the active and the passive. That the passive is matter, an existence without any distinctive quality. That the active is the reason which exists in the passive, that is to say God.’ (Lives of Eminent Philosophers’ Diogenes Laertius Volume II – LXVIII.)
    Note that Zeus is ‘existing’ – that is, everything that exists exists in the experiential moment. Everything is manifested as a flow of change in the Now. As Chrysippus stated – the Past and Future do not exist.
    For the Stoic, God is ever present in the here and now for if God was not present in the ‘passive matter’ there would be no ‘organising principle’ and so nothing would be manifesting for us to be experiencing life – we would not exist but for the presence of God.
    It is only with a full recognition that we are ‘a spark of the Divine Fire’, and are as actors cooperating with the ‘Playwright’, that we can really start to understand how we should live. We are not only responsible for our lives and how we live them, but as ‘sparks of the Divine Fire’ we are responsible for how we contribute to the whole.
    Without this recognition the ‘Stoic Practice’ will be misunderstood and will be meaningless and pointless. This is why CBT will only ever offer at best a temporary ‘fix’ for depression and anxiety.
    In the long term, people need a framework for understanding the nature of the Universe and how they fit into it – and this requires the use of ‘reason. Not the ‘scientific method’, not ‘absolute proof, not logic. True reason, in days gone by and still today, involves the best level of knowledge one can muster, logic and a degree of faith.
    And throughout history, across racial divides, the wise have all concluded that what exists exists because of some form of ‘consciousness’ or state of being that manifests what is.
    Stoicism offers one framework of many for visualising the individual’s involvement with the whole and this gives purpose to life. It also offers guidance on how to manage one’s life and it is this part that many borrow from. But without the overall framework, or a similar framework of belief, the practice will achieve little.
    An atheist who ‘loves their neighbour’ does not claim to be a Christian. People who learn to understand and use their emotions properly may have learnt from the Stoics, but without the whole Stoic framework they are not Stoics.
    Stoicism is a reasoned belief in Zeus (to use what is but a word) as understood through the Stoic science.
    Maybe the above is not very ‘politically correct’ because it is not ‘inclusive’ of the non-believers who made up the panel. If people want to learn what Stoicism is today then they need to talk to the Stoics who take on board the whole package – the believers. And as we believers will have all arrived at our individual positions from different angles it would be interesting to see where we are at – after all as good Stoics we will all have our own individual opinion as to what understanding is required to be a Stoic. But as Stoics we will all have a belief in ‘the universal governor and organiser of all things’.

    • Alice says:

      I completely agree with your point about modern science merely giving new words to what people have already known and been defining for 1000s of years. Robertson Davies expresses it very well in one of the Cornish Trilogy but I can’t remember where exactly! Essentially he says science is just a rewording of old truths, but science is more absolute and certain of its truth and often dismisses other ways of seeing the world as childish and superstitious.
      On a different point I feel that one can live a stoic life without believing in the divine. I don’t believe in a separate entity known as God but I do believe that all natural beings are connected. It’s that sense you get when you meditate and seem to leave your self. For me that is enough to feel a real connection to stoicism

      • Alice says:

        Also I think the idea of detachment is being taken to something of an extreme here. Perhaps total detachment is what Stoics and individuals such as Buddha encouraged and this is a way to peace, but also a little upsetting for those left behind. Something more restrained may be the key: al-anon and other support groups for addicts’ families encourage “detachment with love”, which is essentially not getting involved in the drama of those who upset your balance. People often say it was their practicing of this that first encouraged their loved one with an addiction to seek help. Detaching, paradoxically, makes you a better partner/friend and person in general as it removes you from all the bitterness of trying to hurt others or of needing their approval. You can just be a good friend instead.

        • Patrick Ussher says:

          I agree, Alice. I think there is a lot of confusion about the Stoic emphasis on ‘what is in your power and what is not’. The Stoics might say that a family member is out of your control (you can’t control your sister!) but how you act in relationship to that person is in your control (Epictetus does actually say this), and that it is up to you to act with wisdom, kindness and love.

          • Nigel Glassborow says:

            I feel that there is much confusion regards many Stoic ideas often due to the words used.
            The idea of total detachment is not something Stoics call for. The talk is in fact about ‘attachments’ which might, in some cases, be better viewed as possessiveness. ‘Attachment’, as Stoics use the word, does not lead to ‘detachment’, but to non-attachment or non-possessiveness with possibly non-attachment being more technically correct and non-possessiveness adding to the concept when applied to people.
            A similar misuse of words is the use of the word ‘happiness’ when it comes to translating ‘eudaimonia’. ‘Happiness’ comes from the root ‘Hap’ and so suggests happiness is all down to chance. The more appropriate word, and certainly the Stoic aim, is to achieve ‘contentment’ – and contentment can be learnt by using Stoic ideas.
            As to Alice’s ‘On a different point I feel that one can live a stoic life without believing in the divine. I don’t believe in a separate entity known as God but I do believe that all natural beings are connected’ I would make three points.
            1. It is possible to live a life emulating the Stoic way by cherry picking some of our ideas.
            2. To ‘be’ a Stoic requires an acceptance of the Stoic ideas about the Divine Fire – ‘the universal governor and organiser of all things’.
            3. In Stoicism ‘God’ is not a separate entity. God is just another word used to try to describe that which we Stoics call the Divine Fire, of which we are taught we are a ‘spark’. The Stoic ‘god’ is very much here with us now for we are part of it – Stoicism may be seen as a pantheistic philosophy where we are part of the overall oneness of the Divine Fire – that is the living ‘conscious’ Cosmos as a whole. There is no separateness between the Stoic ‘god’ and mankind.
            And this need to accept the whole Stoic framework demonstrates a weakness in such practices as CBT where only some of the principles are used. The Stoics of old emphasised that Stoicism is a philosophy ‘in the round’. That is, it can only be really useful if taken as a whole. All the Stoic ethics and all the training will fall short of real success if one is not taught about one’s place in the scheme of things – and this needs the understanding of and the acceptance of the Stoic view of mankind’s relationship to the whole that gives purpose to the ethics and the practices.
            And just as the Stoics of old used the Greek and Roman religions to approach the Divine Fire, so today’s Stoics can use any of the World religions that recognise a deity or a Oneness or they can work out their own practices to try to harmonise with the whole. But if one wants to be a Stoic one cannot be an atheist. Such would be to deny all that the Divine Fire is and so would be to deny Stoicism.
            Finally, I suspect that Alice’s ‘separate God’ is just a negative understanding of the use of the word ‘God’. As Seneca advises, try to see the whole nature of Stoicism and don’t get hung up over the use of individual words. It is the intent that counts.

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