Stoicism, Buddhism, and Existentialism: two conversations

IMG_8224I’m considering editing a book on the similarities and differences among a number of philosophies of life, sort of a guide to choosing your own philosophy, after actually learning a bit about it. The idea came from two video conversations I’ve had over the last year about Stoicism, Buddhism and Existentialism.

The first one was published on 2 February 2016, and features a dialogue between yours truly and Daniel Finke, moderated by my colleague and friend Dan Kaufman (of the Sophia philosophy channel), on Stoicism and Buddhism. Daniel and I talk about Stoicism as a philosophical alternative to standard religions, and about what it means to adapt an ancient philosophy of life to modern times. We discuss the Stoic and Buddhist idea of accepting the truth about the world, even when it is harsh or unpalatable, which includes confronting regret, fear, and death itself. We then talk about applying Stoicism and Buddhism to the social sphere, and finally about how to interpret the concept, common to both traditions, of radical self-sufficiency. Here is the full video:

The second dialogue was published on 5 April 2017, and it is with my friend and colleague Skye Cleary, where we confront Stoicism and Existentialism — still under the moderation of Dan Kaufman. We begin by explaining the basics of both philosophies, and then discussing the various roles we play in life and how Stoicism and Existentialism treat them. We get into the well known example of the seasick Stoic philosopher to explain the difference between what we can and cannot control, and move on to the very different types of psychotherapies that have been inspired by the two philosophies. We tackle suicide, which Camus famously dabbed “the only serious philosophical problem,” surprise the viewer by explaining that Stoics considered their approach to be a philosophy of love, and end with a discussion of what happens when practicing virtue becomes near impossible. The full video is here:

8 thoughts on “Stoicism, Buddhism, and Existentialism: two conversations

  1. labnut

    I’m considering editing a book on the similarities and differences among a number of philosophies of life, sort of a guide to choosing your own philosophy, after actually learning a bit about it.

    That is a rather good idea!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. labnut

    I have just compared my two go-to volumes of philosophy – Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy and Anthony Kenny’s New History of Western Philosophy.

    Both are broadly organised chronologically according to the major ages of philosophy. But Kenny additionally breaks out the same major topical themes in each age of philosophy. I found this very useful.

    Which motivated me to suggest that a similar thematic comparison of belief systems would be very helpful.

    For example, after an introductory chapter describing the major belief systems, you could devote a chapter to each of the following themes, describing how each belief system treats the topic.

    1) God(s)

    2) founding figures

    3) suffering

    4) theodicy

    5) ethics

    6) meaning

    7) purpose

    8) hope

    9) practices

    10) appeal

    I have included (10) appeal, because it has become apparent to me that each belief system has its own special kind of appeal. Each belief system has its own flavour, a mixture of belief, ritual, symbols and practice which gives it special appeal to certain people.

    This could be the subject of another essay where you invite people contribute their own ideas.


  3. dsferrara

    Why not including Epicureanism? Or even dandyism (it was never organized systematically as a philosophy, but it has offered a model for some people along the last centuries)?

    (Speaking about dandyism and the idea of a “life as a work of art”, I think this was the reason Pierre Hadot never agreed totally with Michel Foucault’s notion of “the care of self”, since the former thought it was something really close to a dandy conception of life. Dandyism was quite important in Italian culture, as is attested by the examples of D’Annunzio and Malaparte, and I suspect it was one of the roots of Existentialism as well. Camus described dandyism as a “degraded asceticism”. Perhaps you should discuss a little bit dandyism in your book, even if with the intention of dismissing it.)


  4. Massimo Post author


    Well, there are lots of other philosophies out there! I discuss only these two here because I found nice colleagues willing to engage in dialogue. As I said, if we get around putting together a book there will be much more!


Comments are closed.