Introduction to Stoicism

Introduction to Stoicism


Stoics and Moral Philosophy - The 8 Principles of Stoicism

The Stoics were a group of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers who followed a realistic but morally idealistic way of living. The philosophy of life was developed by Hellenistic Greeks about 300 BCE and was eagerly embraced by the Romans. The Stoic philosophy also had a strong appeal to Christian theologians of the early 20th century, and it has been applied to spiritual strategies for overcoming addictions. As Australian classicist Gilbert Murray (1866–1957) said:


How One Struggling Entrepreneur Found Solace In The Ancient Philosophy Of Stoicism

I tend to write often about the stress of entrepreneurship and the toll it often takes on a founder's overall health and mental well-being.

It isn’t a particularly fun subject, but it is an important one.

Not a day goes by that I don’t receive an email or LinkedIn message from a fellow entrepreneur who is struggling with anxiety, fear, depression, or emotional exhaustion.

When people struggle with prolonged emotional stress, they seek out ways to mitigate its effects. For some, it’s overeating. For others, it may be something more insidious like excessive drinking or self-medication.

I’ve learned, however, that you can never find solace in external action. Instead, you have to find ways to shift your mindset and the way you perceive the world.

Over the past few months, a number people have written me to ask my advice on how to accomplish this shift.

My answer is always the same: do what I did and embrace the ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism.

My introduction to Stoicism came in the form of a New York Times article about Vice Admiral James Stockdale.

Stockdale, aside from serving as Ross Perot’s running mate back in the early 1990s, was one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the Navy.

In 1965, his plane was shot down over Vietnam, and he ended up as a prisoner of war for the better part of a decade.

As with many other American P.O.Ws, he was subjected to torture and long periods of solitary confinement.

Before his capture, Stockdale had read and largely memorized first-century philosopher Epictetus’ classic treatise “The Enchiridion,” also known in English as “The Handbook.”

As he parachuted down into the Vietnamese countryside, he remarked to himself “Five years down there at least. I’m leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.”

Throughout his time in captivity, and despite all of the isolation and torture, Stockdale remained remarkably resilient and did not succumb to crushing despair as many of us would in his situation.

His secret weapon, he later shared, was the Stoic philosophy preached by Epictetus.

At the time I read the NYT article, I was struggling with the stress of a new baby, holding down a full-time job, and launching a startup.

Sure it was challenging, but in the scheme of things, it paled in comparison to the struggles that people like Stockdale faced. Why then was I having such a hard time?

I decided to buy a copy of The Enchiridion and see what it had to offer. After all, if Stoicism could help Stockdale keep his sanity throughout eight years of torture at the Hanoi Hilton, perhaps it could help me handle the rigors of entrepreneurship.

An Entrepreneur’s Philosophy

Stoicism, at its core, reminds us that life and everything in it, is impermanent. Focusing on our circumstances or pinning our happiness on the attainment of possessions is a surefire recipe for disappointment.

The Stoics, such as Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, instead encourage us to free ourselves from the control such pursuits exert over us and focus on the things that are in our direct control: our thoughts, feelings, and desires.

In this sense, Stoicism is uniquely suited to serve the needs of entrepreneurs.

After all, entrepreneurs such as myself tend to fall victim to what is known as hedonic adaptation.

Put simply we are driven by the pursuit of certain goals or rewards that, once attained, lose all value to us.

This, in turn, leads us to ever more grand pursuits and leaving us chasing an unattainable satisfaction.

Stoicism teaches us to avoid this satisfaction treadmill, which I believe is at the heart of most entrepreneurial angst.

In helping us to identify what we can control in our lives and to find happiness in what we already have, Stoic philosophy allows us to mute the terrible emotional roller coaster that is entrepreneurship.

The beauty of Stoicism is its practicality. It doesn’t ask much of its adherents. Instead, it teaches us to process and come to terms with exactly where we are at the moment.

In fact, Stoicism encourages us to recognize that we alone are in control of our emotions, and can turn the obstacles we face into opportunities.

As I navigate the ever-changing world of entrepreneurship, I find myself returning time after time to a quote from Marcus Aurelius.

"Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way."

It’s hard to miss the inherent beauty of this sentiment, and it’s the reason why I have a bust of Marcus Aurelius in my office. It reminds me daily that the obstacles we face while building a business can serve as guides.

Any entrepreneur looking for a practical framework to help them navigate the uncertainties and challenges they encounter would be well served to look into Stoicism. My recommendation would be to pick up a copy of The Enchiridion,or Ryan Holiday’s fantastic “The Obstacle Is The Way.” Both books are quick reads that provide a solid overview of Stoicism and how it can be applied in your daily life.

This way of thinking has changed my outlook on life and business, and it can do the same for you.


Introduction to Stoicism

You’re probably already a stoic in someway. It’s part of our culture. Influenced by Socrates and emerging in Ancient Greece in the 3rd century BC, it’s a foundation of Christianity, is maybe the first psychology, contributed to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, guided a Roman Emporer, and has become increasingly popular in recent years, through events like Stoicon, Annual Stoic Week, and a flurry of new of popular books and articles.Could it really be a guide to the best possible life?This introduction to Stoicism will mix two things: what the Stoics of Ancient Greece and Rome actually said – the original doctrines – and how this might be interpreted and be useful today.IN the first part, I’ll look at the Ancient Stoics – Marcus Aurelius (Meditations), Epictetus (Discourses), Seneca, and Zeno and in the second part, I’ll look at Stoicism in practice, especially through William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.The Greek Stoics divided Stoicism into three parts: logic, physics, and ethics. None of these terms, though, meant what they do today.Logic was formal logic, but also rhetoric, language, poetryPhysics mostly meant the study of God and the world – essentially how things work.They also broke all of this into two parts: theory and practicePhilosophy, importantly, needed to both studied and practiced, learned and executed. Exercises, reflection, and self-improvement were fundamental.Then & Now is FAN-FUNDED! Support me on Patreon and pledge as little as $1 per video: http://patreon.com/user?u=3517018

Episodes

Baby Boomers VS Millennials: A History of the Coming Revolution

This is a tale of three revolutions. Revolutions past &ndash twin revolutions that served as lessons. The second was a counter-revolution, a result of not learning those lessons. And the third, well it begins in 2030, but stirrings of it are already being felt.

I look at the causes of revolutions and state crises in the past, looking specifically at the English Civil War and the French Revolution, to argue as historian Jack Goldstone does, that we're following a dangerous path to potential revolution. The Baby Boomers were the most heavily invested in generation in history but as the population boomed, debt has grown with it. Millennials, on the other hand, are underinvested in, under-housed, and are experiencing wage stagnation.

This is a tour of generational debt, neoliberal revolution, tax cuts, plague, stagnant incomes, Kings, the guillotine, and more.

There&rsquos a growing consensus on both sides of the aisle: neoliberalism has failed. And history teaches us that if peaceful social solutions designed to mitigate against excess and injustice aren&rsquot implemented, then more chaotic, violent, and revolutionary solutions will inevitably follow.

Then & Now is FAN-FUNDED! Support me on Patreon and pledge as little as $1 per video: http://patreon.com/user?u=3517018

5 Useful Things I&rsquove Learned from the Existentialists

Philosophy is often too abstract, but the Existentialists are known for being (a bit) more practical occasionally. Here are 5 useful things we can learn from the Existentialists and existentialism, specifically Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus.

Laugh at yourself (looking at Dostoevsky&rsquos Notes from Underground and Camus&rsquo Myth of Sisyphus)

Stop Thinking (looking at Kierkegaard&rsquos &lsquoleap of faith&rsquo, &lsquopassionate action&rsquo, and &lsquosubjective truth&rsquo)

Be Creative (looking at Nietzsche and Heidegger, authenticity, the &lsquoThey&rsquo)

All of our Projects are Connected: Treat them like Rocks (looking at Sartre)

Turn off Autopilot (Looking at Kierkegaard and &lsquodouble reflection&rsquo)

Full article: http://lewwaller.com/5-useful-things-.

Then & Now is FAN-FUNDED! Support me on Patreon and pledge as little as $1 per video: http://patreon.com/user?u=3517018

Being Us: Communities, Organisations, & Politics of Authenticity

The pursuit of an authentic self is often compared with the desire for uniqueness, of individuality, of creative freedom. But does this mean, as some have argued, that &lsquoauthenticity&rsquo itself is an individualistic, egotistical, narcissistic, and self-absorbed concept? After all, &lsquobe yourself', to thine own self be true, and &lsquofollow your heart&rsquo all conjure up the idea of stepping away from the crowd, not towards it, of living a life for yourself, not for others.

If we are an authenticity-seeking species, if we crave our own independence, have a desire to be the master of our own choices, need creative freedom, what does this mean for our politics? What does it mean for social life, for businesses and organizations?
Does &lsquobeing you&rsquo &ndash rather than pursuing &lsquoduty&rsquo, for example &ndash result in a narrowing of focus just to yourself as an individual? A loss of a broader social vision?

The philosopher Charles Taylor describes this as a horizon.
Does the horizon shrink to focus just on yourself? Do we each have a separate horizon? Are our values relativistic? Or do certain things transcend this horizon? Are certain horizons shared? Does the shared pursuit of timber in the town disappear once the residents go their separate ways?
How do we think about societies that still share horizons, that consist of individuals pursuing both their own authentic interests and dutifully respond to the needs of the wider community?

Then & Now is FAN-FUNDED! Support me on Patreon and pledge as little as $1 per video: http://patreon.com/user?u=3517018

Being You: The History and Philosophy of Authenticity

Who are we? How do we find out? What is it to find our authentic selves? What can we learn from the history and philosophy of authenticity?

Today, supposedly, we&rsquore free. Free, to do what makes us happy, to be anything we strive to be, to choose our own paths. We even feel free from parts of ourselves &ndash that our emotions are something separate from us, that there&rsquos a real us beneath them, a supra-inner rational core that transcends everything outside of it, that is somehow higher than fleeting emotions that make us do things that aren&rsquot really us.

The history of the search for authenticity has sought to understand this true core of human experience. It has been approached in many ways. Sometimes as a revolt against the outer layer, against standards given to us by society. Other times as taking off a mask. Or rejecting reading a script someone else has written for us, whether god or the bible or society and its rules
Philosopher Jacob Golomb writes that &lsquothe concept of authenticity is a protest against the blind, mechanical acceptance of an externally imposed code of values.&rsquo

The history of authenticity tells us much about the modern world. For Jean-Jacques Rousseau, discovering our authentic self meant removing the masks society encourages us to wear, about confessing why we really say or do certain things.

Kierkegaard encouraged us to take passionate leaps of faith, to find subjective truths that were meaningful for us, to take action, to make difficult either/or choices.

Nietzsche knew that the death of god meant that humans were free to create their own values, to pursue the will to power creatively, to break free from the chains others imposed on us. We should love our fates - amor fati - but give style to our characters.

Heidegger thought authenticity meant facing our own deaths, as beings-towards-death, overcoming our own anxiety, and stepping away from the 'They' to create something unique and lasting in the world

And finally, Jean-Paul Sartre argued that we are, above all us, free to choose who we are, what we do, and what meaning we attach to the world and its objects. We have a piercing, lucid, and powerful consciousness that can explore the world and our own characters, and not using that reflective power, not interogating our own traits, beliefs, and actions meant we'd be living in 'bad faith', inauthentically ignoring our true human potential.


Raised in Atlanta in a Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jewish household, his early studies included rabbinical training. [1] He graduated from Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1926) and took his doctorate in classics in 1930. He was fluent in Yiddish, German, ancient Hebrew, ancient Greek, Latin, French, and Italian, and well-versed in other languages. [1]

His most productive years were spent at Columbia University, where he was a colleague of Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling. [1] There he bucked the prevailing classical methods of the day—textual criticism and grammar—presenting classics, even in translation, as worthy of study as literary works in their own right. [1]

He embraced television as a tool for education, becoming a telelecturer and a pundit on broadcast television. He also recorded classical works on phonograph and tape. [1]

His daughter Rachel Hadas is a poet, teacher, essayist, and translator. [1] With his first wife, he had a son David Hadas (1931-2004), a professor of English and Religious Studies at Washington University and Jane Streusand.

Hadas is credited with two celebrated witticisms:

- "This book fills a much-needed gap."

- "Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I'll waste no time reading it."

  • Sextus Pompey. 1930
  • Book of delight, by Joseph ben Meir Zabara translated by Moses Hadas with an introduction by Merriam Sherwood. 1932
  • History of Greek literature. 1950
  • History of Latin literature. 1952.
  • Greek poets. 1953
  • Ancilla to classical reading. 1954
  • Oedipus. translated with an introd. by Moses Hadas. 1955
  • History of Rome, from its origins to 529 A.D., as told by the Roman historians. 1956
  • Thyestes. Translated, with an introduction by Moses Hadas. 1957
  • Stoic philosophy of Seneca essays and letters of Seneca.. 1958
  • Hellenistic culture: fusion and diffusion. 1959
  • Humanism: the Greek ideal and its survival. 1960
  • Essential works of Stoicism. 1961
  • Old wine, new bottles a humanist teacher at work. 1962
  • Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Modern abridgment, 1962
  • Hellenistic literature. 1963
  • Style the repository. 1965
  • Heroes and gods spiritual biographies in antiquity, by Moses Hadas and Morton Smith. 1965
  • Introduction to classical drama. Foreword by Alvin C. Eurich. 1966
  • Living tradition. 1967
  • Solomon Maimon, an autobiography / edited and with a preface by Moses Hadas. 1975

Discography Edit

During the fifties, Hadas recorded several albums of Latin and Greek works on Folkways Records. [2]


A Guide to Stoicism, From One of NYC’s Greatest Stoics

Stoicism: one of the most practical, undersold and misunderstood practices in Western history. (Photo: Getty)

As a student and proponent of stoicism, I was incredibly excited to see the New York Times not only publish an article about stoic philosophy last month but watch as the article become of the most emailed and viewed pieces on the entire site. At the same time, as a writer on this topic, I also had an embarrassing human reaction: jealousy. Why did Professor Massimo Pigliucci get this opportunity and I didn’t? Why are things so unfair?

Of course, this is selfish—and like most selfish things, also short-sighted. Because this article almost certainly introduced tens of thousands of people to a topic I care about, people who would be better of for it, and perhaps eventually check out my work. Most importantly though, here was someone that I could reach out and learn from, someone that without having published, I would not have known either. And so with stoicism, we learn to fight these negative reactions and attempt to counteract them with positivity, with excellence or with virtue.

I ended up sending an email to Massimo, who is a professor of philosophy at CUNY-City College and he was kind enough to consent to an interview. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to interview Gregory Hays, one of the translators of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations and considered this an opportunity to pick up where that chat left off. (and ironically, I ended up getting featured in the Times myself for totally unrelated reasons shortly after). I suppose it’s fate.

Tell us about your introduction to stoicism. Which book/philosopher did you read first? How old were you? How did it strike you?

Must have been Marcus Aurelius, when I was in high school in Italy. You see, there you have to take three years of philosophy (if you enroll in the type of high school called a “scientific lyceum,” which I did), and of course you start with the pre-Socratics and keep going through late modern philosophy. The Stoics were not a large part of the curriculum, but we read them, especially Seneca (also in Latin classes) moreover, the concept of Stoicism was familiar to me from studying Greco-Roman history, both in middle and high school.

The whole thing struck me initially as interesting, but a bit alien. I suppose I was under the (misguided, as you know) impression that Stoicism was a kind of Spock-like attitude toward life, and as much as I loved the homonymous Star Trek character, I just couldn’t see myself (or anyone else, really) actually practicing the thing.

“[T]here is a widespread skepticism, if not disdain, in our circles for anything that smells too much of practical utility — gods forbid that philosophy actually be useful to people outside the ivory tower!” Mr. Pigliucci said.

What do you think the biggest misperception of stoicism is?

What I call the Spock Syndrome, the idea that Stoicism is about suppressing emotions, going through life with a stiff upper lip. As you know, it is nothing of the kind. Stoics considered theirs to be a philosophy of love (an emotion!) toward all humankind as well as nature itself, and they were very concerned with social action (unlike, say, the Epicureans).

What the Stoics taught was to acknowledge our emotions (which are, after all, inevitable), but also reflect on them and their sources, distancing ourselves from them enough to be able to give (or, as the case may be, withdraw) our “assent.” That way we begin to cultivate positive emotions (like a concern for others), and reject as unhealthy the negative ones (like envy, or anger).

How did your New York Timesop-ed How To Be A Stoic come about and what has the response been like?

I had published another article in the NYT last year, on the difference between science and pseudoscience, what in philosophy is known as the demarcation problem, which is close to my academic specialty and scholarship. The more I thought about Stoicism, the more it seemed like the topic would be appropriate for a second op-ed, especially since The Stone had recently published a piece critical of Stoicism.

So I wrote to Simon Critchley, the managing editor of The Stone, pitching the idea. He liked it, and after the usual back and forth editorial bouts, the piece got published.

The response was surprising: the NYT editor wrote to me the day after publication, saying that my essay was the most emailed, and the 7th most read piece on the entire New York Times site, which is astounding. As a result, I was approached the same day by several major publishers asking me to “turn” the op-ed into a small book. As you might imagine, it doesn’t quite work like that, but my agent and I are now working on a proposal for such a book, loosely inspired by the NYT piece.

I’ve often wondered if part of the reason stoicism is less popular with academics is because it tends to be a toolkit designed for a world very different than the ivory tower. Do you find there is any truth in that? How has stoicism helped you in academia and as a professor?

Oh yes, very much so. As much as I love being an academic philosopher (which for me is a second career, after more than 20 years as a practicing biologist), there is a widespread skepticism, if not disdain, in our circles for anything that smells too much of practical utility — gods forbid that philosophy actually be useful to people outside the ivory tower!

Indeed, it is in part as a reaction against this attitude that recently I started an online magazine (scientiasalon.org) devoted to nudging professional academics to explain to the general public what they do and why it is important, or just cool.

Massimo Pigliucci is a professor, author, skeptic, stoic and host of the “Practically Speaking” podcast. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

But back to Stoicism: my interest in it, and my practice of it, have not so far either helped or hindered my academic career. They have largely been on the side of it. But things may be about to change: this coming Fall I will be teaching a course on ancient and modern (practical) Stoicism at City College, after which I will take a sabbatical to travel in Italy and Greece to deepen my understanding of that philosophy. We’ll see…

Tell us about your stoic meditation practice. It sounds like you have a very interesting 21st century adaptation of it.

Oh, I doubt it’s original. It is my personalized version of what is recommended by the folks at Stoic Week, or by authors like Donald Robertson (in Stoicism and the Art of Happiness).

Basically, I begin with a morning meditation which includes a few components (depending on how much time I have before going to work): certainly a contemplation of the challenges that I expect to face during the day, during which I remind myself of which of the four cardinal virtues (courage, self control, equanimity and wisdom) I might be called to exercise.

I then visualize Hierocles’ Circle, an exercise in which you begin with yourself, then gradually expand your circle of concern to your family, your friends, your fellow citizens, and the world at large.

Next, I do a premeditatio malorum, a visualization of some bad thing that might happen that day. This can be as simple as getting irritated on the subway by inconsiderate fellow riders to my own death (I suggest people don’t start with the latter, and don’t do it often, as it can be disturbing). The point is to get acquainted with those “dispreferred indifferents,” as the Stoics called them (indifferent to one’s virtue and moral character), so that one is better prepared if and when they actually happen (this is similar to techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy to deal with one’s fear, techniques that were, in fact, directly inspired by Stoicism).

Finally, I pick one Stoic saying that I particular like (I have an ever growing spreadsheet of them, available for public use) and read it over a few times.

I also engage in an evening meditation, just before going to bed. This takes the form of a Marcus-style philosophical diary (not for publication!), during which I revisit the events of the day, asking myself the three famous questions posed by Epictetus: What did I do wrong? What did I do (right)? What duty’s left undone?

What is your favorite quote or line? Perhaps one you think of most often?

It’s hard to have a single favorite, but this one, in my mind, both captures one of the essential points of Stoicism (the distinction between things we have control over and things we cannot control and therefore should not worry about), as well as the Stoics’ sense of humor:

“I have to die. If it is now, well then I die now if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived – and dying I will tend to later.” (Epictetus, Discourses I, 1, 32)

As I mentioned earlier, a small book on “how to be a Stoic,” followed by a larger project to be carried out during my sabbatical. The first book will be about Stoicism as a modern practical philosophy, updated to the 21st century. In the second project, which at the moment is a bit more fuzzy, I’d like to write about the times and lives of four of the “Roman” Stoics: Cato the Younger, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. This will not be primarily either a historical or a biographical project (though both history and biography will figure into it), but a philosophical one, in which I will try to see what moderns can learn from the writings and actions (and, as the case may be, failures) of these four famous Stoics. Should be fun, fate permitting!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview on stoicism with Professor Pigliucci and if the topic interests you at all–and I promise it can change your life–I strongly suggest you pick up one of the original texts such as or . Here are two quick introductions I’ve done on stoicism, as well as a TEDx talk, and of course, reddit.com/r/stoicism is also a great resource. You can also check out the Professor’s new site, HowToBeStoic.org


The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics

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  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Online publication date: May 2006
  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online ISBN: 9780511998874
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL052177005X
  • Subjects: History of Philosophy, Classical Studies, Classical Philosophy, Ancient Philosophy, Philosophy
  • Series: Cambridge Companions to Philosophy
  • Collection: The Cambridge Companions to Philosophy and Religion

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

Book description

This unique volume offers an odyssey through the ideas of the Stoics in three particular ways: first, through the historical trajectory of the school itself and its influence second, through the recovery of the history of Stoic thought third, through the ongoing confrontation with Stoicism, showing how it refines philosophical traditions, challenges the imagination, and ultimately defines the kind of life one chooses to lead. A distinguished roster of specialists have written an authoritative guide to the entire philosophical tradition. The first two chapters chart the history of the school in the ancient world, and are followed by chapters on the core themes of the Stoic system: epistemology, logic, natural philosophy, theology, determinism, and metaphysics. There are two chapters on what might be thought of as the heart and soul of the Stoics system: ethics.

Reviews

‘… a splendid guide to what is currently going on in work in the Stoics.’

Source: Journal of African Christian Thought

‘… useful … The contributions are well written and together form a comprehensive introduction to Stoicism.‘

Source: Practical Philosophy

'There is nothing but good to say of this book. For a start, it is excellently organized … it should go without saying that the quality of the scholarship is outstanding … the chapters are very easy to read, and yet draw you on to improve your grasp of the topic and the pertinent issues … No knowledge of ancient languages is assumed, but the clarity of the contributions means that even hardened scholars will profit from the book … there could be no better introduction to Stoicism than this book.'


6. Contemporary Stoicism

The 21st century is seeing yet another revival of virtue ethics in general and of Stoicism in particular. The already mentioned work by philosophers like Philippa Foot, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Martha Nussbaum, among others, has brought back virtue ethics as a viable alternative to the dominant Kantian-deontological and utilitarian-consequentialist approaches, so much so that a survey of professional philosophers by David Bourget and David Chalmers (2013) shows that deontology is (barely) the leading endorsed framework (26% of respondents), followed by consequentialism (24%) and not too far behind by virtue ethics (18%), with a scatter of other positions gathering less support. Of course ethics is not a popularity contest, but these numbers indicate the resurgence of virtue ethics in contemporary professional moral philosophy.

When it comes more specifically to Stoicism, new scholarly works and translations of classics, as well as biographies of prominent Stoics, keep appearing at a sustained rate. Examples include the superb Cambridge Companion to the Stoics (Inwood 2003), individual chapters of which have been cited throughout this entry an essay on the concept of Stoic sagehood (Brouwer 2014) a volume on Epictetus (Long 2002) a contribution on Stoicism and emotion (Graver 2007) the first new translation of Seneca’s letters to Lucilius in a century (Graver and Long 2015) a new translation of Musonius Rufus (King 2011) a biography of Cato the Younger (Goodman 2012) one of Marcus Aurelius (McLynn 2009) and two of Seneca (Romm 2014 and Wilson 2014) and the list could continue.

In parallel with the above, Stoicism is, in some sense, returning to its roots as practical philosophy, as the ancient Stoics very clearly meant their system to be primarily of guidance for everyday life, not a theoretical exercise. Indeed, especially Epictetus is very clear in his disdain for purely theoretical philosophy: “We know how to analyze arguments, and have the skill a person needs to evaluate competent logicians. But in life what do I do? What today I say is good tomorrow I will swear is bad. And the reason is that, compared to what I know about syllogisms, my knowledge and experience of life fall far behind” (Discourses, II.3.4-5). Or consider Marcus’ famous injunction: “No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such” (Meditations, X.16).

The Modern Stoicism movement traces its roots to Victor Frankl’s (Sahakian 1979) logotherapy, as well as to early versions of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for instance in the work of Albert Ellis (Robertson 2010). But Stoicism is a philosophy, not a therapy, and it is in the works of philosophers such as William Irvine (2008), John Sellars (2003), and Lawrence Becker (1997) that we find articulations of 21st century Stoicism, though the more self-help oriented contribution by CBT therapist Donald Robertson (2013) is also worthy of note. All of these authors attempt to distance the philosophical meaning of “Stoic”—even in a modern setting—from the common English word “stoic,” indicating someone who goes through life with a stiff upper lip, so to speak. While there are commonalities between “Stoic” and “stoic,” for instance the emphasis on endurance, the latter is a diminutive version of the former, and the two should accordingly be kept distinct.

Perhaps the most comprehensive and scholarly attempt to update (as opposed to simply explain) Stoicism for modern audiences comes from Becker (1997), though a more accessible treatment is offered by Irvine (2008). One of Irvine’s major contributions is shifting from Epictetus’ famous dichotomy of control to a more reasonable trichotomy: some things are up to us (chiefly, our judgments and actions), some things are not up to us (major historical events, natural phenomena), but on a number of other things we have partial control. Irvine recasts the third category in terms of internalized goals, which makes more sense of the original dichotomy. Consider his example of playing a tennis match. The outcome of the game is under your partial control, in the sense that you can influence it but it is also the result of variables that you cannot control, such as the skill of your opponent, the fairness of the referee, or even random gusts of wind interfering with the trajectory of the ball. Your goal, then, suggests Irvine, should not be to win the game—because that is not entirely within your control. Rather, it should be to play the best game you can, since that is within your control. By internalizing your goals you can therefore make good sense of even the original Epictetean dichotomy. As for the outcome, it should be accepted with equanimity.

Becker (1997) is more comprehensive and even includes a lengthy appendix in which he demonstrates that the formal calculus he deploys for his normative Stoic logic is consistent, suggesting also that it is complete. There are three important differences between his New Stoicism and the ancient variety: (i) Becker defends an interpretation of the inherent primacy of virtue in terms of maximization of one’s agency, and builds an argument to show that this is, indeed, the preferred goal of agents that are relevantly constituted like a normal human being (ii) he interprets the Stoic dictum, “follow nature” as “follow the facts” (that is., abide by whatever picture of the universe our best science allows), consistently with Stoic sources attesting to their respect for what we would today call scientific inquiry, as well as with an updated Stoic approach to epistemology and (iii) Becker does away with the ancient Stoic teleonomic view of the cosmos, precisely because it is no longer supported by our best scientific understanding of things. This is also what leads him to make his argument for virtue-as-maximization-of-agency referred to in (i) above. Whether Becker’s (or Irvine’s, or anyone else’s) attempt will succeed or not remains to be seen in terms of further scholarship and the evolution of the popular movement.

That movement has grown significantly in the early 21st century, manifesting itself in a number of forms. There is a good number of high quality blogs devoted to practical modern Stoicism, such as the Stoicism Today, maintained at the University of Exeter. There is also a significant presence on social networks, for instance the Stoicism Group on Facebook.


1. Introduction

Greek and Roman philosophers did not recognize philosophy of mind as a distinct field of study. However, topics now considered central to philosophy of mind such as perception, imagination, thought, intelligence, emotion, memory, identity, and action were often discussed under the title Peri psychês or On the Soul. This article surveys some of the ideas held by the ancient Stoics addressing the soul and related topics which roughly correspond to themes prevalent in contemporary philosophy of mind and philosophical psychology.

A. Philosophy of Mind and the Parts of Philosophy

The ancient Greek concept of soul differs in many ways from the modern (post-Cartesian) idea of mind. Contemporary thinkers tend to sharply contrast the mind and body. When we think of mind we think primarily of cognitive faculties and perhaps our sense of identity. The Greek concept of the soul is much broader and more closely connected to basic bodily functions. The soul is first and foremost the principle of life it is that which animates the body. Although the soul accounts for our ability to think, perceive, imagine, and reason, it is also responsible for biological processes such as respiration, digestion, procreation, growth, and motion. Perhaps the closest we come to a Cartesian concept of the soul in ancient Greek thought would be Plato, the Pythagoreans, and their successors. Stoic psychology represents the other end of the spectrum: a corporeal or physicalist model of soul.

Since there is no clear subject in Stoicism corresponding to contemporary philosophy of mind, evidence must be gleaned from various departments of the Stoic philosophical system. The Stoics divided philosophy into three general “parts”: Physics, Logic, and Ethics. Teachings regarding the soul can be found in all three parts. In physics the Stoics analyzed the substance of the soul, its relationship to God and the cosmos, and its role in the functioning of the human body. In logic the Stoics developed a theory of meaning and truth, both of which are dependent upon a theory of perception, thinking, and other psychological concepts. Here the Stoics developed a sophisticated theory of mental content and intentionality and wrestled with the ontological ramifications of such a theory. Finally, in ethics the Stoics developed a complex theory of emotion and a psychology of action that ultimately had a great impact on their moral philosophy. The development of one’s cognitive faculties was believed to be inseparable from ethics. In short, Stoic psychology was central to Stoicism as a whole.


I didn't write this book Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus did&mdashor rather, his student Lucius did. Nor did I translate the words in this book my colleague Cynthia King did. I am listing it here because of the role I played in editing and publishing the work. Also, it is a must-read for any modern Stoic.

A Simplified Chinese-language edition has been published by Beijing Green Beans Book Co., Ltd

A Korean-language edition has been published by Tornado Publishing

A Japanese-language edition has been published by Hakuyosha Publishing Co.

A Spanish-language edition has been published by PAIDOS

A Romanian translation is forthcoming.

A Korean-language edition has been published by Kachi Publishing Co.

A Polish-language edition has been published by Wydawnictwa Akademicke I Profesjonalne.

A Simplified Chinese-language edition has been published by China Youth Press.

An Italian-language edition has been published by Donzelli Editore.

A Greek-language edition has been published by Nefeli.

A Complex Chinese-language edition has been published by China Times.

A Japanese-language edition has been published by Hakuyo-sha.

A Spanish-language edition has been published by PAIDOS.

A Russian-language edition is being published by Eksmo

A Spanish-language edition (for North, South, and Central America) is being published by Editorial Oceano de Mexico