How to Be a Stoic: the video

As readers of this blog probably know, my new book, How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life (Basic Books) has been published. It is a practically-minded exploration of Stoicism by way of an ongoing (imaginary) conversation I have with Epictetus — my favorite Stoic teacher — while on an (actual) series of walks in Hierapolis, Rome, and Nicopolis, the places were the slave-turned-teacher spent his life.

As part of the standard series of interviews, podcasts, etc. connected to the book release, I had a long, in-depth dialogue about the process of writing How to Be a Stoic, as well as its content, with my friend Dan Kaufman. Below is the link to the video, in which Dan asks me good questions about why we need a philosophy of life to begin with, and whether modern Stoicism is an ecumenical philosophy from a religious point of view. We also talk about the relationship between Stoic virtues, disciplines, and areas of inquiry, about the Cynics as “the monks of Stoicism,” the dichotomy of control, and my recent “Dear Abby” column from a Stoic perspective. Enjoy!

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Categories: Epictetus, Modern Stoicism

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5 replies

  1. I’m at chapter 7 and can’t wait to get home to continue. The video will be a nice complement. Cheers, Massimo!

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  2. Massimo: Have you ever written a more extensive post here on why Epictetus is your favorite Stoic? [If you haven’t, could you do something when you have a chance? That said, it’s no rush; don’t … er, break a leg! 😉 ]

    When I was in college, it was for me most likely Marcus. That’s probably from my interest in history going with the classical languages degree, and debates over, even though he was the first “Good Emperor” to have a natural-born son available for succession, whether he shouldn’t have adopted someone else anyway.

    Per my Tweet about Stoicism, Christianity, and “co-opting” perhaps being better than “interrupting,”

    Epictetus has faded for me since reading selections from the Enchiridion all those years ago.

    Zeno, of course, influenced Philo and — most likely through Philo or followers as an intermediary – John. So, in that way, Stoicism interested me more in divinity school.

    After that, my interest waned sharply when I made my “deconversion.”

    It’s picked up again primarily to the degree Zeno was influenced by Crates — but wouldn’t go down the full Cynic road.

    Otherwise, while perhaps not as rejecting as Dan may be, I otherwise see Stoicism through a somewhat Humean lens. That said, per Hume, we can move beyond the theoretical paucity of rationality we have at ground, so the “is” of everyday human nature doesn’t have to be an “ought.”

    But, beyond Hume’s “passion,” or the pretty similar “sentiment” of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., I — per the voice that Paul reportedly heard? I like to “kick against the sticks.” If only Zeno had listened a bit more to Crates, I think today.

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  3. Socratic,

    I’ve written about what I like about the three Roman Stoics here: http://tinyurl.com/zh59vml. But there is a full explanation of “why Epictetus?” in the book…

    As for Hume, did you see this post here? http://tinyurl.com/km3arqj

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  4. I had read the Hume piece, but thanks for refreshing my memory. It is that “flexibility” that is part of what keeps him important today — because that keeps him relevant.

    And, I’ll keep an eye on the book for more on Epictetus then. As for the “three Stoics” link? I was never enamored with Seneca. I think his Neronean links may have been part of it, as well as other issues at which you hint. That said, how much do we blame Aristotle for Alexander?

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  5. The main thing, with longer years of hindsight, that I appreciate about Stoicism is the focus on ataxaria — one that it of course shares with Epicureanism and Cynicism, but something that is not really a focus of Aristoteleanism or Platonism. Aristotle never really floated my personal boat, and I never had to read any of him in Greek. As noted elsewhere, besides the obvious Stoicism connections, within the Pauline corpus of the New Testament, I long saw things like the “resurrection body” as being connected to middle Platonism. But, I’ve moved beyond that today.

    Rather than unperturbedness, my takeaway from the first three philosophies is run through the filter of the 20th century to say that striving to be one’s own true self is a key part of being detached in that way.

    As for the three philosophies first mentioned, as I get older, I like kicking against the sticks more and more. We know which philosophy that is. That said, Stoicism does offer elements of a philosophy of cogitation and mulling things over, which I salute. Epicureanism, to the degree it is about “avoiding pain” as part of its methodology, appeals to me less as I age.

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