Sign up for my free email course on Epictetus

You can now sign up for my new email course on the Stoic Handbook of Epictetus.

You’ll receive one email per week for a year.  The Handbook is divided into 53 passages so each email contains one passage with my commentary underneath.  So the entire course lasts about one year.

Just enter your email below and you’ll immediately receive the first welcome email.

The Stoic Handbook

Epictetus enchiridion poster

Sign up today for our free email course on the Stoic Handbook. You'll receive weekly emails with my commentary on passages from Epictetus.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Book Review: How to be a Stoic (2017) by Massimo Pigliucci

How to be a StoicNB: See my video below for a discussion of the twelve practical techniques listed at the end of this book.

Massimo Pigliucci is an important voice in the modern Stoicism movement. Instead of lecturing readers on academic philosophy he’s chosen to provide them with a practical guide to living like a Stoic in the real world. He shows that Stoicism can provide a philosophy of life consistent with a modern scientific worldview, and with atheism or agnosticism as well as different forms of religion. He provides many vivid examples of everyday situations in which Stoic philosophy was found helpful in his own life. He also draws upon many examples from the lives of other individuals to make his point that adopting Stoic attitudes and behaviours can contribute to a more fulfilled and emotionally resilient way of living. For that reason, I think that both newcomers and people who are familiar with the philosophy will potentially obtain something of value from reading this book.

The main part is divided into three sections.  These deal respectively with training in mastering our desires and emotions, organizing our actions around a coherent moral goal, and learning to withhold our assent from initial misleading impressions.  Pigliucci concludes by describing a list of a dozen Stoic exercises:

  1. Examine your impressions, checking whether they place too much value on external things outside your direct control.
  2. Remind yourself of the impermanence of things.
  3. The reserve clause, which means adding the caveat “fate permitting” to every planned action.
  4. How can I use virtue here and now?
  5. Pause and take a deep breath, waiting for strong emotions to abate naturally rather than acting rashly when we’re upset.
  6. Other-ize, getting beyond personalization by considering how we’d feel about our misfortunes if they befell another person.
  7. Speak little and well – the Stoics were known for speaking “laconically”, like Spartans.
  8. Choose your company well.
  9. Respond to insults with humour.
  10. Don’t speak too much about yourself.
  11. Speak without judging, just stick to the facts and remain objective.
  12. Reflect on your day, by reviewing events each evening in a constructive and dispassionate manner, looking for areas in which you can improve.

I would suggest some people might actually benefit from reading these first.

The Stoics believed that the wise man is naturally drawn to writing books that help other people and they would surely see How to be a Stoic as a fitting attempt to reprise their timeless wisdom for the 21st century.

Why I don’t allow Trolling in my Stoicism Group

Stoic AwardEvery few weeks someone will post a comment in my Stoicism Facebook group that goes something along the lines of “If you guys are into Stoicism then I don’t see why you should censor posts just because they’re offensive.”  Or they might just say “Suck it up” or  “You guys aren’t real Stoics, you’re all just f*** snowflakes” or words to that effect.

Sometimes they’re just messing around and being facetious – or just plain trolling the group.  Sometimes, though, I think people actually do mean this sincerely, although on closer inspection the reasoning behind this obviously doesn’t make any sense at all.  I’ve responded to this a few times in detail, explaining why I think they’re mistaken but I think the time has come to write a short blog post so I can just share the link rather than reinvent the wheel and explain the following points every time this idea comes up.

The beautiful and good person neither fights with anyone nor, as much as they are able, permits others to fight… – Epictetus, Discourses 4.5

So here are my reasons for not allowing people to be verbally abusive or insulting toward other group members in my Stoicism forum:

  1. Not everyone in the group is a Stoic.  As I write there are over 40,000 people in my group.  They’re all ages (from 13 up), different genders, nationalities, and from different cultures and religions.  And they’re not all Stoics.  Some are Epicureans, or Buddhists, or existentialists or Nietzscheans or whatever.  Some of them are just people vaguely interested in Stoicism who want to learn a bit more.  So the premise of the argument above that everyone in the group is Stoic is obviously false.
  2. No Stoics are perfect Sages.  The Stoics said that the Sage is as rare as the Ethiopian Phoenix, which according to legend was born every 500 years.   So there probably aren’t any in our group.  The Stoics admitted they were all imperfect and fallible, even the founders of the school.  So all Stoics sometimes falter and get upset about things because they’re human beings and not perfect Sages.  That doesn’t stop them aspiring to inch closer to that ideal, though.
  3. Even Sages have feelings.  It’s a popular misconception that Stoicism is unemotional and that the ideal is to have no feelings or never to get upset.  The Stoics actually had a sophisticated psychological theory that clearly distinguishes between voluntary and involuntary emotional reactions to events.  So even if we did have a perfect Sage in the group they would still potentially experience propatheiai or automatic flashes of emotional in response to certain things being said or done.   It’s natural that they’d prefer not to have to expose themselves to that repeatedly when they’re trying to have a discussion if it potentially gets in the way.
  4. It’s not about hurting feelings.  The main reason for preventing verbal abuse isn’t to protect someone’s feelings, actually.  As moderator, it’s more about the fact it disrupts the group and prevents people from being able to discuss things rationally.  It would be as if we were trying to have a philosophy seminar and someone ran into the room, jumped on the table and started screaming random insults.  You say “Um, can you maybe stop, or leave?”  And they say “Ha!  You bunch of snowflakes, I thought you were meant to be Stoics – see how I’ve managed to upset you all, frauds!” or whatever.  Well, nobody is actually crying.  The most upset person in the room is probably the crazy person standing screaming on the table.  Everyone else is too busy thinking “What a nutcase!” to take it personally.   It’s the same with trolling.  Nobody really cares.  The irony is that trolls get upset really easily themselves and that’s probably why they assume everyone else is a “Snowflake”.  It’s classic psychological projection.   The real reason for banning them or asking them to leave is just so that everyone else can get on with what they’re trying to discuss without distraction.
  5. It’s not ethical.  Stoicism is a virtue ethic.  The goal of life is to be virtuous and that includes acting with justice, fairness, and kindness toward others, regardless of their race or gender or religion.  (Stoics are ethical cosmopolitans.)  So screaming abuse at people online flies completely in the face of Stoic ethics.  It’s definitely not the sort of behaviour ancient Stoics were talking about when they said that people should act honourably and with affection toward other human beings.  So it’s part of Stoic ethics that we would both avoid acting like this ourselves and, within reason and where nothing prevents us, politely discourage other people from behaving in a vicious and aggressive manner, although whether they do or not is ultimately outside of our control.  (It’s what Stoics call a “preferred indifferent”, something they don’t get upset about but would gently attempt to prevent or change.)

So there you go, if you’ve got to the end of this hopefully it’s at least given you something to think about.  The ground rules of my forum prohibit verbal abuse against other group members and these are the reasons for that policy.  Hope you understand and please treat other people with respect.  Thank you.

Stoicism and Parenting (Stoic Mums and Dads)

Poppy

I have a seven year old daughter and since she was born I’ve been interested in how Stoicism relates to parenting.  People sometimes ask me if there’s anything “out there” on Stoicism for parents.  There are a growing number of resources online so I thought it was time to do a blog post listing some of them in one place, for convenience.  Please let me know of any articles or other resources that I’ve missed and I’ll try to add them to this post!

First, though, I thought I’d say a little bit about kids’ books…  Poppy is only seven but we discuss philosophy a lot.  She loves the Percy Jackson movies and so I’ve told her lots of stories about Greek mythology.  There are lots of great kids’ books available.  She particularly likes the Early Myths series by Simon Spence.   Her favourite Greek legends are about Hercules and she’s heard them hundreds of times!

Talking about Greek myths led to stories about Greek philosophers.  Most of the best anecdotes are about Diogenes the Cynic (not all suitable for kids!) and Socrates.  There are some great kids books available on Diogenes (Poppy calls him “the Dog”) and Socrates by M.D. Usher.  There’s also a great series of books for small children called Little Stoics.  Poppy watches Kids YouTube and she told me one day that she wanted to make her own videos.  So we started doing some book reviews.  She’s done videos on Diogenes by M.D. Usher and the Little Stoics series.  We’re hoping to do another soon on M.D. Usher’s Wise Guy, about Socrates.

Articles / Video / Podcasts

Here are some article from the Modern Stoicism blog Stoicism Today:

Some more articles from the web:

One of Xenophon’s Socratic dialogues has Socrates talking to his eldest son Lamprocles about his relationship with his mother.  I wrote an article analyzing the philosophical content from a Stoic perspective.

Parenting: What Socrates Said

People often ask about Marcus Aurelius’ relationship with his son Commodus, so I wrote a fairly detailed article discussing this from a historical perspective.

Why did Marcus Aurelius Allow Commodus to Succeed Him?

Groups and Blogs

Three Ideas the Stoics Learned from Socrates

Life of Socrates CoverSocrates was a hugely important precursor of ancient Stoicism. We’re told that Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school, was inspired to become a philosopher after a chance reading of Book Two from Xenophon’s Memorabilia of Socrates. Emulation of Socrates as a role model was clearly central to later Stoicism and perhaps goes right back to Zeno himself. Epictetus makes far more references to Socrates than to any other philosopher.  We’re even told that the Stoics referred to themselves as a Socratic sect.

In this article, I’ll look at three key ways in which Socrates inspired Stoicism.  See my longer article on Socrates in Stoicism for more information, and lots more examples, though.

You may also be interested in my new Crash Course on Socrates. It’s completely free of charge and only takes about twenty minutes to complete:

1. It’s not things that upset us but our judgements about them

Men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the things: for example, death is nothing terrible, for if it were, it would have seemed so to Socrates; for the opinion about death, that it is terrible, is the terrible thing. (Encheiridion, 5)

This is probably Epictetus’ most famous quote.  It was often taught to clients in Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) and early Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT).  Many people think of it as distinctly Stoic.  However, it’s a recurring theme in the Socratic dialogues.  As it’s found both in the dialogues of Plato and Xenophon, it’s likely to have come from Socrates himself.  Indeed, as you can see, Epictetus immediately follows this by using Socrates as an example.  Epictetus notes that death cannot be intrinsically frightening because Socrates, and others, are not afraid of death.

Socrates employed the same simple little argument himself.  If everyone doesn’t have the same emotional reaction to an event then the way we feel is probably determined by the way we think about it.  For example, in Book One of The Republic, Plato portrays Socrates discussing old age with his elderly friend Cephalus.  Cephalus notes that most people tend to complain about old age being a cause for misery but he disagrees, and he quotes a famous saying from Sophocles to show he disagreed as well.  So Socrates and Cephalus jointly conclude that what matters is how we think about it, as those who approach old age with a positive attitude live with greater calm and happiness, like Cephalus.

Socrates himself was remarkably indifferent to the notorious temper tantrums of his young wife, Xanthippe.  In one of Xenophon’s dialogues, he’s shown giving his eldest son, Lamprocles, advice about how to remain calm when his mother is being difficult.  Socrates refers to the fact that actors aren’t upset when, on stage, other actors scream and yell abuse at them.  Although Xanthippe has a sharp tongue, Lamprocles has no doubt that she loves him, and Socrates draws his attention to the fact he’s responding to the superficial impression her behaviour creates rather than to his knowledge of her good intentions.  It’s not the other person’s behaviour that upsets us, he explains, but the way we think about it.

2. Model the behaviour of wise men

When you are going to meet with any person, and particularly one of those who are considered to be in a superior condition, place before yourself what Socrates or Zeno would have done in such circumstances, and you will have no difficulty in making a proper use of the occasion. (Encheiridion, 33)

Epictetus often advises his students to contemplate the behaviour of role models and to emulate them, particularly that of Socrates.  However, this practice also comes from Socrates himself.  Xenophon, for example, places great emphasis on the way that Socrates improved the character of others by the example he set in his own life.  He even goes so far as to say that the memory of Socrates continued to help improve others after his death:

Indeed, even to recall him now that he is gone is no small help to those who were his habitual companions and who accept his views. (Memorabilia, 4.1)

Socrates frequently advises his students to seek out wise and virtuous individuals as friends.  He clearly believes that good friends are far more important in life than possessions or money.  That’s because he believed that we can learn most by sharing the company of good people and observing their behaviour.  Socrates usually claimed to lack knowledge of virtue himself, and his attempts to arrive at verbal definitions of the virtues often end inconclusively.  Nevertheless, he believed that virtue could be acquired by emulating the example set by others:

As for his views about what is right, so far from concealing them, he demonstrated them by his actions. (Memorabilia, 4.4)

3. The unexamined life is not worth living

Socrates in this way became perfect, in all things improving himself, attending to nothing except to reason. But you, though you are not yet a Socrates, ought to live as one who wishes to be a Socrates. (Encheiridion, 51)

The Stoics believed that we should live mindfully, paying continual attention (prosoche) to our ruling faculty (hegemonikon).  This is also derived from their interpretation of Socrates.  The Stoics place considerable emphasis on our ability to admit our weaknesses and fallibility, by reflecting on and criticizing our own character, in a constructive manner, in order to continually improve ourselves.

This then is the beginning of philosophy, a man’s perception of the state of his ruling faculty; for when a man knows that it is weak, then he will not employ it on things of the greatest difficulty. […] But Socrates advised us not to live a life which is not subjected to examination. (Discourses, 1.28)

Epictetus relates this to what he called The Discipline of Assent, through which Stoics train themselves to question their initial impressions of things, and to suspend strong value judgements of the kind that cause emotional distress.

The third topic concerns the assents, which is related to the things which are persuasive and attractive. For as Socrates said, we ought not to live a life without examination, so we ought not to accept an appearance without examination, but we should say, Wait, let me see what you are and whence you come; like the watch at night (who says) Show me the pass (the Roman tessera). Have you the signal from nature which the appearance that may be accepted ought to have? (Discourses, 3.12)

The signal from nature that he’s talking about is what the Stoics call an “Objective Representation” (phantasia kataleptike).  They basically meant that we should ensure we’re viewing events in an objective and matter-of-fact way, without projecting our (strong) value judgements onto them.  In particular, they sought to avoid confusing external things –such as health, wealth, and reputation – with the highest good, and goal of life, which the Stoics, and apparently also Socrates, identified with virtue (arete).

It is his duty then to be able with a loud voice, if the occasion should arise, and appearing on the tragic stage to say like Socrates: Men, whither are you hurrying, what are you doing, wretches? like blind people you are wandering up and down: you are going by another road, and have left the true road: you seek for prosperity and happiness where they are not, and if another shows you where they are, you do not believe him. Why do you seek it without? (Discourses, 3.22)

We can only live wisely, though, by continually reflecting on the way we’re employing reason in daily life, from moment to moment.

Why I am a Stoic and an Agnostic

Six years ago I wrote an article entitled “God or Atoms” about the question as to whether a modern follower of Stoicism can be an agnostic or an atheist.  At the start I emphasized the following:

None of these Stoics appear to have been agnostics themselves but others may have been. What matters is whether they, and other Stoics, would have accepted that someone else could potentially be both an agnostic (or atheist) and a Stoic.

Stoic Zeus MemeWell, little did I know how much uproar that would cause!  Since I published it I’ve been periodically bombarded with comments, emails, and messages online from some surprisingly angry people who feel very strongly aggrieved because they claim I erred by (allegedly) saying that the ancient Stoics were atheists or agnostics.  That, of course, is not what I said.  We’re all familiar with religious fundamentalism in Christianity, Islam, and other world religions but it turns out that some individuals also want to approach Stoicism in pretty dogmatic (modern sense of the word) manner.  I was somewhat taken aback by the ferocity of the backlash against my (imagined) transgressions, especially coming from other Stoics as we’re all meant to be pretty chill about these things, basically.  Among other things, I was apparently a liar, a fraud, a bigot, and a charlatan, because of my views.  Here’s a typical example of one email (from a barrage of seven sent in one day) that I received from one particular aggrieved individual who somehow perceived my personal agnosticism as “bullying” and aggressively “arguing down” his own “theistic” conception of Stoicism:

The funny part is that when I first came across you my impression was that you were a self serving egotistical person who had no real interest in Stoicism other than to promote your own business by using [Stoic Week] to give yourself some credibility. But I decided that as I did not really know you I would set such ideas aside and address you according to what you said. And what you, together with a number of other people, said came across as an attempt to argue down (bully?) any person that questioned the limitations of the Stoicism being presented, especially any person who addressed the theistic nature of Stoicism.

(For what it’s worth, my previous businesses, which were a CBT clinic in Harley Street and a psychotherapist training school in South London, had virtually nothing to do with my work on Stoicism, which I’ve now been studying for well over twenty years.  And Stoic Week is a registered non-profit project run by volunteers.  I can easily just ignore comments like these, and far worse that I’ve received, but I am concerned about other people, especially newcomers to Stoicism, being hounded and bullied online by some of the same individuals.  That’s something that moderators, where possible, should step in to prevent. )

Over the past six years, I’ve received quite a lot of emails, PMs, and other comments like that, from various strangers on the Internet.  (By the way, it never ceases to  amaze me how well some people think they can read your mind and judge your character without ever having actually met you.)  According to some of these (pretty angry) “religious” Stoics, I was being dishonest, and  misrepresenting things on purpose, and refusing to answer questions or back up my claims.  In fact, I spent many hours answering their questions about this topic online, probably far too many hours, trying to explain that my position was not what they seemed to believe!  I have a policy, though, of politely withdrawing from conversations when people begin introducing personal attacks, like calling me a liar and stuff, which is what tended to happen when things got heated.  One of the criticisms repeated many times by one of my most vocal critics was that my previous article didn’t include any references to modern scholars.  I heard that a lot.  Well, the article was actually intended to provide my own commentary on the primary sources.  It contains dozens of references to passages in ancient texts, and it’s pretty big already, so I didn’t want to turn it into something the size of a doctoral thesis by adding more and more commentary from modern academic authors.  It was just meant to be a short blog post!  Nevertheless, he was wrong.  It does, in fact, contain references to about six or seven modern authors/scholars who have written on Stoicism including Pierre Hadot, Frank McLynn, C.R. Haines, and John Sellars.

I got bombarded with angry comments about this again yesterday, though.  So as it keeps coming up periodically I decided to sit down and write a statement explaining as clearly as possible my attitude toward religion, in relation to Stoicism.  That way I can hopefully just send this to the people who want to argue about it rather than getting drawn into endless heated debates.  (So if you want to find me, I’ll be in the garden listening to the radio and eating watermelon.)  Anyway, once and for all, here are my personal opinions on this…

I do not hate religion.  I’ve always been fascinated by it, in fact.  I am an agnostic, leaning toward atheism, but I’m also very interested in and place great value upon all world religions.  As a teenager I read the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Gnostic corpus from Nag Hammadi, which I studied very closely, and many Christian mystical texts such as The Cloud of Unknowing, The Imitation of Christ, Pseudo-Dionysus the Areopagite, St. John of the Cross, and so on.   It was actually my interest in Neoplatonism, Christian mysticism and Gnosticism that led me to study Stoicism.  However, I was also particularly interested in Buddhism.  As a student, I meditated daily, attended Buddhist retreats, and was secretary to the university Buddhist society.  (I even have a Buddhist tattoo!)  I practised yoga and read many yogic texts.  Over the years, I also studied the Dhammapada, Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Tao Te Ching, Chaung Tzu, and even the I Ching, and countless other Oriental scriptures.  In fact, although my first degree is in philosophy, I also took courses in cultural anthropology, because I was interested in shamanism and animism.  In addition, in the History of Religions department, I studied Buddhism and Hinduism, mainly focusing on the Gita and Dhammapada.

And not much has changed.  I’ve had a lifelong fascination with comparative religion, which endures to this very day.  It was first inspired by reading Rudolph Otto’s The Idea of the Holy.  The only major tradition about which I have to confess my ignorance is Islam because my studies in philosophy meant I didn’t have time to attend classes on it at university.  As I noted earlier it was my interest in Neoplatonism and Gnosticism that led me to become interested in Stoicism, around the time I finished my philosophy degree, in 1996, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to immerse myself in studying the Stoic literature to this day.

However, I’m agnostic.  I don’t know for certain whether God exists, whichever god that might mean.  I think he probably doesn’t, because I don’t see much evidence of it, so I lean toward atheism.  I don’t, however, hold that view strongly, because I might be wrong.  I don’t believe that anyone can know with certainty that God exists and so I view it as ultimately an indifferent question with regard to the goal of life, because it seems to me to requires speculation or a judgement based on probability.  And so I don’t really mind whether anyone agrees with me or not in that regard.  It’s a matter of indifference to me.  (So I’ll be glad when I’ve finished writing this piece if it means I don’t have to keep arguing with angry people on the Internet about it!)  😉

With regard to Stoicism.  I have always accepted (like everyone else) that most of the ancient Stoics believed in a provident God called Zeus.  Cleanthes, of course, wrote a famous Hymn to Zeus, in which he literally instructed his Stoic students to sing hymns of praise to Zeus, their divine father, creator, and benefactor:

Most glorious of Immortals, mighty God,
Invoked by many a name, O sovran King
Of universal Nature, piloting
This world in harmony with Law,—all hail!

Now, I cannot honestly say with certainty that “all of the ancient Stoics” believed in this for the simple reason that only about 1% of the Stoic literature survives, and there were loads of Stoics, with different beliefs, in different countries, spanning a period of half a millennium.  Stoicism was, and still is, a philosophy not a religion.  Perhaps others will disagree with my definition of the word “religion”, which is fine, but by that I mean that Stoicism encouraged its followers to question their assumptions very deeply, using the Socratic method, which inevitably meant that the school tolerated considerable disagreement about stuff like theology.  (Sorry but the fact is it did.)  Traditionally Stoicism also believed in divination, because it followed from their conception of Zeus as provident, organizing and planning the world in a causally determined manner, that the future could be predicted by priests who knew how to read the entrails of sacrificial animals and whatnot.  (Like tea-leaf reading but a bit messier.)

What is more, they say that divination in all its forms is a real and substantial fact, if there is really Providence. And they prove it to be actually a science on the evidence of certain results: so Zeno, Chrysippus in the second book of his De divinatione, Athenodorus, and Posidonius in the second book of his Physical Discourse and the fifth book of his De divinatione. But Panaetius denies that divination has any real existence. (Diogenes Laertius)

Strangely, though, even the most ardent proponents of “traditional Stoicism” today don’t seem to go so far as to employ ancient divination.  Ancient Stoics were also free to reject the whole concept of divination, though, because philosophical beliefs are based on reason and subject to constant questioning, whereas religious beliefs, according to my definition at least, tend to be based primarily on faith, divine revelation, or cultural traditions.  For what it’s worth, that would mean that some types of Buddhism might be better described as a philosophy rather than a religion, although there are other forms of Buddhism that appear to me more like the Judaeo-Christian religions.  (Buddhism is a huge and very diverse tradition, of course.)

There were certainly Greek philosophers who rejected or at least radically questioned belief in the gods.  (No, seriously there were; such as Theodorus the Atheist for a start, who was a contemporary of Zeno of Citium.)  So given the paucity of evidence to the contrary I would say it’s possible that at least one or two guys out of the thousands of ancient Stoics may not have been 100% sure that God exists but, again, whether they did or not is basically indifferent to me.   We know that most Stoics were pantheists who believed the whole universe was a single, perfectly rational, living organism called Zeus who cared providentially for humankind.  I don’t believe that.  We do also know that some famous ancient Stoics didn’t believe that either and substituted other theological beliefs instead, which happens to confirm that the school tolerated diverse opinions and was not rigidly doctrinaire in this regard.

Example #1: Aristo of Chios rejected the importance of theology completely and was considered a renegade or “heterodox Stoic“.  Cicero says he was “in a state of complete uncertainty” about whether or not God was alive (“animate”), because he denied God could have sensation (presumably because he has no eyes or ears, etc.) and Aristo also couldn’t conceive of his form.   However, although he was considered a “heterodox Stoic” he was still labelled a “Stoic”.  There is no reference to Aristo actually leaving the school or joining another school.  (Indeed, Marcus Aurelius was inspired centuries later to commit his life to Stoicism after reading Aristo’s books.)

Example #2: Boethus of Sidon was a famous Stoic best known for having totally rejected Stoic pantheism but, again, there’s no indication that he was booted out of the school for that.  He wrote several books on Stoic theology and philosophy of nature.  We know he believed in provident God but not the pantheistic Zeus of the early Stoics.  He believed that instead of permeating the whole cosmos, God dwells far away from us in the sphere of the fixed stars.  That was okay because Stoicism was always a philosophy and encouraged Socratic questioning and not a religion based primarily on faith or tradition, or if you prefer it wasn’t a rigidly orthodox and doctrinaire type of religion.

So can you be a Stoic and be an agnostic or even an atheist?  The short answer is that I think it’s an indifferent question.  If someone managed to persuade me that I couldn’t call myself a “Stoic” if I happen to be agnostic then I’d probably say “Sure, fine, I’ll just call myself something else” and it wouldn’t really ruin my day too much, to be honest.   (I’m still waiting to be persuaded.)  However, as it happens, I believe that the ancient Stoics considered the central doctrine of their philosophy, as we’re repeatedly told, to be their definition of the nature of the good: virtue is the only true good.   It seems to me that as long as you believe that then you’re pretty much a Stoic, whatever else you believe, within reason.  It’s all good!  It’s crystal clear from the ancient Stoic texts that the definition of the supreme good as virtue was the central doctrine of their school.  Cicero calls it the cornerstone of their whole philosophy, for example.

Suppose, hypothetically, that there were such a thing as a modern-day agnostic Sage, someone exceptionally wise, just, courageous, and temperate, who called himself a “Stoic” but who happened to feel it’s impossible to be certain whether or not God exists.   He believes that Darwinism and modern scientific cosmology provide a sufficiently plausible explanation for why things around us look almost as though they were designed by an invisible craftsman to work the way they do.   So he rejects Zeno’s use of the Argument from Design, in other words, and doesn’t accept that it conclusively proves a provident God exists, called Zeus, who planned everything and cares about humankind.  (How many people today do actually believe in the Argument from Design apart from Christian fundamentalists?)

Let’s suppose we had a time machine and could send our perfect “Stoic” back in time to meet Marcus Aurelius.  So he’s perfectly wise and just, courageous and temperate, but he’s not sure about the whole Zeus thing.  Would Marcus Aurelius say: “Get out of here you fake, you’re not a real Stoic!”  I don’t know.  Neither do you.  I’d guess probably not, though.   Why?  Because he was a philosopher, first and foremost, and not a religious fundamentalist.  Marcus, like other Stoics, believed that virtue is the only true good, and that someone virtuous is therefore good, and could be a Sage, perhaps even if they happen to be uncertain whether Zeus is real or not, or to agree with Zeno and Cleanthes on the theological details.

As most people who have actually read The Meditations tend to notice, Marcus refers to “God or atoms”, or a similar trope, about ten times.  (C.R. Haines, his translator, says nine but I’m pretty sure I spotted another one he missed.)  Example: “Recall once again this alternative: if not a wise Providence [God], then a mere jumble of atoms…” (4.3).  Similar figures of speech are also found in Seneca and Epictetus, all three of our major surviving sources for Stoicism, so personally I take that to suggest this was most likely a very well-known Stoic argument and probably came from an earlier source all three share in common.  (As the other two don’t appear to have read Seneca’s philosophical writings, I doubt they were just deriving it from him.)  I appreciate other people may believe these passages could be interpreted differently but my belief is that Marcus is saying to himself that even if he didn’t believe that the whole universe was being planned and organized by a provident God called Zeus, who cares about humankind, even if it was all just the chance product of the random collision of atoms, like many people believe today, Stoic Ethics would still be rational and justified in that world.   In his “God or atoms” passages, Marcus says that even if we live in a godless world just the random aimless collision of atoms, it doesn’t matter, as long as we are not aimless ourselves but have virtue as our goal (9.28), because we have our ruling faculty (hegemonikon) to guide us using reason (12.14), and we can still view ourselves as part of the whole and akin, like a brother, to all other rational beings (10.6), therefore we would still have no reason to complain or feel harassed (8.17; 9.39).  The people who want to argue that Stoic Ethics is inconceivable without belief in God either just completely ignore these and other related passages or they tie themselves in knots trying to interpret Marcus as meaning the opposite of what he actually said, ten times.

How on earth, you may ask, could Marcus possibly believe that Stoic Ethics might be plausible without reference to God?  (Or at least people who are really religious sometimes say that.)  Well, blow me down if the Cynic philosophy, from which Stoicism itself emerged, didn’t consist of a fundamentally similar ethical doctrine, that virtue is the only true good, without any reference to theology.  (As did other ancient philosophies.)  Diogenes the Cynic is variously portrayed as saying that the gods don’t exist, that they do exist, or that he’s not sure.  He didn’t care, basically.  The Cynics, funnily enough, had a notoriously cynical (small c) attitude toward all forms of religion, which they sneered at in all sorts of ways.  Diogenes thought it was hilarious, for example, that people would pray for good health rather than just adopting a healthy way of living.  He reputedly used a wooden statue of the god Hercules as firewood to cook his lentils.  (Hercules was originally a Greek hero and demi-god, incidentally, but according to some versions of the myth Zeus granted him an apotheosis, making him a god in his own right.)  The Cynics, the legendary forerunners of Stoicism, were generally perceived as thumbing their noses at all forms of religion and as regarding the question of God’s existence with fundamental indifference, because it was totally irrelevant to their conception of virtue and their philosophical way of life.

Marcus quite possibly, at least in my reading of the evidence, started off as a Cynic before becoming a Stoic.  He certainly knew Cynics and had read about Cynic philosophy, which he mentioned in The Meditations.  So the notion that you could believe in virtue ethics without bringing God into the equation would hardly have come as a massive surprise to him, contrary to what some people might want to tell you.  He knew fine well that lots of philosophers, throughout the centuries, held broadly similar ethical views to his own but didn’t use the existence of Providence as justification for them.  As mentioned above, his private letters appear to state that he was finally convinced to dedicate his life to philosophy after reading Aristo of Chios, a Stoic who totally rejected the study of theology.  So these observations probably explain why Marcus keeps banging on about “God or atoms” in his private notes: he’s reminding himself that even if doubts do creep into his mind about religion, it shouldn’t cause his Stoicism to waver.  He knows, from the example of countless other philosophers, that he still has sufficient reason to live virtuously with or without Providence looking over his shoulder.

Moreover, Marcus and the other Stoics didn’t live in a bubble.  They knew about  other philosophies.  Marcus had also studied Platonism and Aristotelianism under private tutors in the imperial household for years and he’d read Cicero and Lucretius the Epicurean, and presumably a load of other stuff we’ve never even heard of because he was a highly-educated and intelligent man, with a lot of books at his disposal.  He wasn’t a dunce.  He knew that Skeptical counter-arguments could easily be used to challenge traditional  arguments for belief in the existence of God, like the Argument for Design.  (“Everything looks like it must have been designed by someone, therefore it was.” – really?)  He clearly believed in God but he also realized some people didn’t and that Skeptical arguments had been widely circulated for many centuries that could challenge or refute the traditional Stoic reasons for believing in Providence.  So, presumably like many Stoics before him, he bolstered his Stoicism by providing himself with the argument that even if someone logically persuaded him that Providence doesn’t exist and the world is just the pretty side-effect of a load of atoms bouncing around, like the Epicureans and other atomists said, it doesn’t really matter because he could still carry on being virtuous and a Stoic anyway, as long as he follows his own nature, by living in accord with reason.

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems fairly obvious to me that’s what he meant when he says repeatedly that whether “God or atoms” explain the universe, either way he should follow Stoic Ethics .   (See my previous article by the way for all the references to these passages, and everything else I’ve mentioned.)  I think that’s why the Stoics were able to consider individuals like Socrates, Pythagoras, and Diogenes the Cynic to be wise and virtuous even though they didn’t share the same theological beliefs as the Stoic school.  If Socrates or Diogenes the Cynic walked into Epictetus’ school and said “Hey can I be a Stoic?” would Epictetus boot them out saying “No because you’re not certain that Zeus exists and is provident, get lost!”  I don’t know.  Neither do you.  I’d guess probably not, though.  In fact, the Stoics believed Cynicism offered a “shortcut” to virtue, compared with ordinary Stoicism.  It’s pretty tricky, though, for anyone who wants to portray the assimilation of Stoic theological doctrines as mandatory to explain how a way of life that completely ignores those doctrines came to be be held up as a shortcut to Stoic virtue.

The ancient Stoics believed that virtue is the only true good, and that’s the central doctrine or cornerstone of their whole philosophy.  I think virtually all of them must have believed in a provident God called Zeus but there might have been one or two, over the 500 year period we’re talking about, who weren’t sure because they were doing philosophy and using the Socratic method of questioning rather than just indoctrinating their students into religious dogmas based on the teacher’s say-so.  None of the Stoics claimed to have that kind of absolute authority.  None of them claimed to be wise: that’s why it’s called the Stoic school and wasn’t (except for a short spell) named Zenonism after Zeno (Zenon in Greek), its founder.  There is no Stoic pope.  You do philosophy and if you arrive at the same conclusions as them then you might as well call yourself a Stoic.  I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but if you want to be a Stoic you’re going to have to actually do philosophy.  Turns out Stoicism is not a personality cult like Epicureanism or Pythagoreanism were (sorry guys!) and you might actually have to think for yourself rather than just rote learn the sayings of the founders and repeat them like a parrot.

What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover. (Seneca, Letter 33)

Epictetus is even more emphatic.  He repeatedly warns his students that reading the books of famous Stoics such as Chrysippus and committing their teachings to memory is just another vice, a sort of intellectual vanity, unless they actually learn to think for themselves and apply philosophical reasoning in daily life.  He says that the real evidence of having learned Stoicism should be visible in someone’s ability to master his fears and desires, like the physique of an athlete is evidence of their training.  We should judge him by the signs of virtue he exhibits in life, not by his ability to recite a catechism of “orthodox” Stoic dogmas – indeed, that would be absurd.

In any case, by the time Marcus Aurelius was around the whole Stoic movement was pretty loosely defined and leaderless but he was still famous, even in his own lifetime as a “Stoic” philosopher.   If Marcus  Aurelius woke up one day and said “Hmmmm…  God or atoms?  You know, I’m not 100% sure about that bit anymore but I still agree with the rest of it” would people have stopped calling him a Stoic?   Probably not, right?  As long as he still lived like a Stoic, exhibited the Stoic virtues, and was committed to the belief that virtue is the only true good.  To hear some people talk these days, you’d think there were “Stoic police” going around making sure of everyone’s Stoic orthodoxy but, guess what, there weren’t!  In Marcus Aurelius’ day there wasn’t even a leader of the Stoic school so there was nobody with the authority to enforce any sort of rigid orthodoxy any more than there is today – thank goodness.  The last Stoic scholarch (head of the school) was Panaetius and he’s been pushing up daisies, six feet under, since the second century BC, nearly three hundred years before the time of Marcus Aurelius.

At the end of the day, though, it’s fundamentally indifferent whether you call yourself a “Stoic” or not.  The only advantage is that you can more easily hang out with other fascinating people who like to call themselves “Stoic”, most of whom happen to be agnostics or atheists anyway, whether the fundamentalist-types like that or not.  By contrast, if you said “I’m totally into everything Marcus Aurelius said and I try to live my life by it but I’m not actually a real Stoic because I don’t worship Zeus” most people would probably look at you like you were crazy.   By the way, people who are really into religion and Stoicism nevertheless vary tremendously in their level of commitment to the ancient traditions.  One guy got really annoyed with me for using the phrase “worship Zeus” although that’s literally what the ancient Stoics were talking about.  I pointed out to him that another guy I’d been arguing with online actually had a profile picture of himself dressed in the robes of an ancient Greek priest and that he did literally worship the Greek gods.  (Over the years I’ve met quite a few modern-day individuals who combine Stoicism with Hellenistic religious practices.)  At the other end of the scale someone who was arguing with me about how all Stoics absolutely must believe in divine Providence suddenly changed his tune after admitting that he didn’t know what the word “Providencemeans (pronoia in Greek) and I showed him a dictionary definition.   “Oh, if that’s what it means then, no, I don’t actually believe in it; sorry for bothering you.”   Often, I find that the more determined someone is to  argue to the death about something on the Internet the more likely it is that they probably haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about.  There are plenty of people online who will argue with you about Stoicism until they’re blue in the face and call you all sorts of idiots if you don’t agree with them.  Then, a few hours, or days, later they’ll casually admit they’ve not actually got round to reading any books on the subject yet.   That’s life, folks:  welcome to the Internet!

So, anyway, if you’ve got to the end of this and you’re a super-religious Stoic who’s still really angry with me for not being sure whether God exists or not then, well, thanks at least for your patience.  I really don’t hate you or anything you believe.  I’m just not 100% sure you’re right.  I also think that, especially as Stoics, we should all be more tolerant of others who happen to disagree with our beliefs.  In any case, being so angry and sending me these emails and messages calling me names probably just does you more harm than good, my friend.  If you ever want to talk about it in a sort of friendly dispassionate way feel free to get in touch, though.  Thanks! 😉

Postscript

Just out of curiosity, I polled my Facebook group for Stoicism to find out their religious views.  Surprisingly, most of those who responded (n=663) are atheists, and agnostics like me are not the majority.

  • 50% – I’m an atheist.
  • 29% – I’m an agnostic.
  • 14% – I believe God exists but I don’t believe he resembles the Stoic conception of Zeus or Providence.
  • 8% – I believe God exists and he resembles the Stoic conception of Zeus or Providence.

So 78% are either atheists or agnostics, although they’re “into” Stoicism, and only 22% believe in God, either Stoic-style Zeus or some other definition.

Free E-book: Marcus Aurelius in the Roman Histories

Roman Histories MockupFree download available for one week only!

Marcus Aurelius in the Roman Histories is a new e-book that I created, which contains the main excerpts from historical sources describing the life of Marcus Aurelius and his reign as emperor of Rome. This mini-course contains download links that you can use to obtain copies of the EPUB, Kindle (MOBI) or PDF versions of the book. This text has been carefully edited and proofread to make it more accessible to modern readers.

There are several excellent modern biographies of Marcus Aurelius available. However, most of the material they draw upon can be found in a handful of ancient histories, which are relatively brief and fairly easy to read. This e-book brings together the main sources for the life of Marcus Aurelius in a new edition, specially designed to be read online or on mobile devices. The chapters included are small excerpts, containing the passages most relevant to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, from the following three histories.

The History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus by Herodian of Antioch, a minor Roman official who witnessed the reign of Commodus first-hand.

The Roman History (Historia Romana) of Cassius Dio, who served as a senator under Commodus. I’ve also included Cassius Dio’s chapter on the life of Commodus as an appendix, as it provides a valuable addition to the writings that more directly address the reign of his father, Marcus Aurelius.

The Augustan History (Historia Augusta) is a collection of biographical chapters, attributed to four different authors. In addition to the chapters on Marcus Aurelius I’ve also included those on his co-emperor Lucius Verus and the usurper Avidius Cassius as they pertain directly to the relationship between these men and Marcus.

Marcus Roman Histories Hero Banner

What do the Stoic Virtues Mean?

Stoic Virtue Infographic by Rocio de TorresThe Stoics often refer to the four cardinal virtues of Greek philosophy: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.  (Or if you prefer: wisdom, morality, courage, and moderation.)

We don’t know where this classification originated.  It appears to go back as far as Plato or Socrates, although probably even further.  This was a very ancient, conventional schema for understanding virtue.  The Stoics don’t appear to have assumed it was the only or the best way to conceptualize the virtues.  They often prefer to think of virtue, from a slightly different perspective, as living in harmony with Nature at three different levels.  In some ways these models overlap.

However, the cardinal virtues have remained popular as a way of interpreting ancient philosophical ethics throughout the ages.  One of my hesitations about introducing newcomers to Stoicism through this model is that the Greek words are difficult to translate into modern English and the meanings were probably also somewhat stretched by the Stoics to fit their philosophy.  It’s a slightly ill-fitting classification, although it’s simple and appealing, so we shouldn’t get to hung up on taking it literally, as if these words provide the only way to describe virtue.

People often wrangle over the definitions of Greek philosophical terms, which can lead to some rather speculative translations.  Believe it or not, though, we actually have a Greek philosophical dictionary that survives from the time of Plato.  It’s called Definitions, and is believed to have probably been written by one of Plato’s followers at the Academy.  So there’s are not Stoic definitions of the virtues but knowing how Platonists defined them certainly helps us a lot.  For instance, this is how the Academy defined the word “virtue” itself:

aretê (virtue/excellence).  The best disposition; the state of a mortal creature which is in itself praiseworthy; the state on account of which its possessor is said to be good; the just observance of the laws; the disposition on account of which he who is so disposed is said to be perfectly excellent; the state which produces faithfulness to law.

It’s also worth mentioning the notoriously tricky eudaimonia, which is conventionally rendered as “happiness”, although most scholars agree that’s a misleading translation.  Its meaning is closer to the archaic sense of the word “happiness”, which was the opposite of hapless, wretched or unfortunate.  A better translation would be “fulfillment” or “flourishing”, as you can see from the Academic definition.

eudaimonia (happiness/fulfilment).  The good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well; perfection in respect of virtue; resources sufficient for a living creature.

This will be a slightly more scholarly blog post than some.  I’ve listed the four cardinal virtues below with the definitions from the Academy and also some notes on what the early Stoic fragments say in Diogenes Laertius, Stobaeus, etc.  I’ve not referenced everything extensively here, though, for the sake of brevity.  (It’s just a quick blog post.)  You’ll find most of this information in the Stoic fragments from Diogenes Laertius and Stobaeus, though, and in Pierre Hadot’s Inner Citadel and A.A. Long’s Epictetus.

The Cardinal Virtues

phronêsis (prudence/practical wisdom)

The ability which by itself is productive of human happiness; the knowledge of what is good and bad; the knowledge that produces happiness; the disposition by which we judge what is to be done and what is not to be done.

In a sense, all of the virtues can be understood as wisdom applied to our actions, or moral wisdom.  Prudence is the most important and most general of the Stoic virtues because it refers, as here, to the firmly-grasped knowledge of what is good, bad, and indifferent in life.  In other words, understanding the most important things in life or grasping the value of things rationally.  It’s opposite is the vice of ignorance.  Most crucially for Stoics it means firmly grasping the nature of the good: understanding that virtue or wisdom itself is the only true good, and living accordingly.  Prudence is therefore closely related to the very meaning of the word “philosophy”: love of wisdom.

However, it can also refer to our ability to discern the value (axia) of different external things rationally, i.e., distinguishing wisely between different “preferred indifferents”.  (A point discussed in detail by the Stoic Cato of Utica in Cicero’s De Finibus.)  Marcus refers to this as acting and responding to things “in accord with value”.  Stobaeus likewise says the early Stoics defined it as knowing the nature of the good and bad, understanding indifferent things, and knowing what would be “appropriate action” under different circumstances.  Diogenes Laertius says that Chrysippus and others sub-divided prudence into good counsel (euboulia) and understanding (sunesis).  That’s intriguing because it links prudence to Stoic Rhetoric, and the ability to communicate the truth appropriately to other people, honestly but tactfully, such as the way Marcus described his wise Stoic teachers expressing their doctrines.  It’s also clear that the Stoics believed the wise man is able to offer himself good counsel.

The Stoics divided their curriculum into three: Logic, Ethics, and Physics.  They may have linked Prudence with the topic of Stoic Logic, which encompassed epistemology and psychology, and appears related to the practices that Epictetus called the Discipline of Assent.

dikaiosunê (justice/morality)

The unanimity of the soul with itself, and the good discipline of the parts of the soul with respect to each other and concerning each other; the state that distributes to each person according to what is deserved; the state on account of which its possessor chooses what appears to him to be just; the state underlying a law-abiding way of life; social equality; the state of obedience to the laws.

This is perhaps the most problematic translation.  Our modern word “justice” seems too formal or narrow for what the Stoics meant.  The Stoics don’t just mean what’s just in the legal sense but what would be moral in our dealings with others more generally.  For instance, they take it to encompass a mother’s attitude toward her children or our sense of piety toward the gods.  In the past it was therefore often translated more broadly as “righteousness”, or some modern authors simply refer to it as social virtue or morality.  It’s opposing vice occurs when we are unjust or do wrong by another person morally.

We’re told that it was composed mainly of the subordinate virtues of kindness and fairness.  So although it may not be apparent from the word “justice” this is a much broader concept of social virtue, which encompasses the numerous references to kindness, benevolence, or goodwill toward others found in Stoic writings, particularly throughout The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.   Indeed, Marcus actually says that justice is the most important of the virtues.

You can view justice largely as moral wisdom applied to our actions, particularly in relation to other people individually or society as a whole.  Stobaeus says that it is the knowledge of the distribution of proper value to each person or fair “distributions”, i.e., in relation to preferred indifferents (external things).  Diogenes Laertius says the Stoics divided justice mainly into impartiality (isotês) and kindness/courtesy (eugnômosunê).  It may have correlated with the Stoic topic of Ethics, including politics, and what Epictetus calls the applied Discipline of Action (or Impulse to Act, referring to our voluntary intentions).

sôphrosunê (temperance/moderation)

Moderation of the soul concerning the desires and pleasures that normally occur in it; harmony and good discipline in the soul in respect of normal pleasures and pains; concord of the soul in respect of ruling and being ruled; normal personal independence; good discipline in the soul; rational agreement within the soul about what is admirable and contemptible; the state by which its possessor chooses and is cautious about what he should.

This is also a slightly difficult term in some ways.  It refers to moderation or self-discipline/self-control but also to self-awareness or being self-possessed.  We could even view it as closely related to what many people today mean by “mindfulness”.    It’s the opposite of the vice called “wantonness” or “licentiousness”.  The many references to appropriate feelings of “shame” in Epictetus are related to this virtue and we could view it as (very) loosely related to the Christian idea of moral conscience.  Stobaeus says that it entails knowledge of “what is to be chosen, avoided, and neither” in the domain of “impulses”, i.e., it guides our intentions to act on certain desires.   Diogenes Laertius says the Stoics defined moderation mainly as good self-discipline (eutaxia) and propriety/decorum (kosmistês).

Surprisingly, some academics, most notably Pierre Hadot, view this and fortitude as being the virtues corresponding with the topic of Stoic Physics and Epictetus’ applied Discipline of Fear and Desire, which we could also call the Stoic Therapy of the Passions.  That’s easier to understand when we observe many of the Stoic exercises related to Physics and cosmology.  By viewing events in a detached manner, like a natural philosopher or a physician, the Stoics aimed to achieve an “Objective Representation” of them, suspending any judgements of good or bad, and therefore eliminating fear and desire.  Think of the modern notion of scientific detachment and objectivity.   Likewise, Hadot refers to the Stoic practice of imagining the whole of space and time as the View from Above or cosmic perspective.  This is obviously related to cosmology and Physics but the Stoics employed it to rise above their fears and desires and achieve apatheia or freedom from unhealthy passions and attachment to external things.

andreia (fortitude/courage)

The state of the soul which is unmoved by fear; military confidence; knowledge of the facts of warfare; self-restraint in the soul about what is fearful and terrible; boldness in obedience to wisdom; being intrepid in the face of death; the state which stands on guard over correct thinking in dangerous situations; force which counterbalances danger; force of fortitude in respect of virtue; calm in the soul about what correct thinking takes to be frightening or encouraging things; the preservation of fearless beliefs about the terrors and experiences of warfare; the state which cleaves to the law.

This is one of the simpler virtues.  It clearly means courage, although the Stoics also extend it to include endurance of pain and discomfort more generally.  It’s the opposite of the vice of “cowardice”.  It appears to form a pair with the virtue of moderation.  Both refer to the master of passions: moderation to desires and courage to fears.  Hence, they probably correlate also with Epictetus’ famous slogan: endure and renounce.  The virtue of courage allows us to endure fear and the virtue of moderation to renounce unhealthy desires.

As Seneca observed, paradoxically, these virtues cannot exist without at least some trace of fear and desire for us to master, and the Stoics insist that even the perfect Sage requires moderation and courage because he is still subject to the first movements of passion or “proto-passions” (propatheiai).  Seneca explains this in detail in On Anger and elsewhere but it’s also very vividly described by Epictetus, as recounted by Aulus Gellius’ story of the Stoic teacher caught in a storm at sea.

Stobaeus says the Stoics defined courage as knowledge of what is terrible, what is not terrible, and what is neither or “standing firm”, i.e., endurance guided by wisdom.  Diogenes Laertius says they divided courage primarily into constancy/determination (aparallaxia) and tension/vigour (eutonia).  This final virtue may correspond, alongside courage, with Stoic Physics, as described above, and also with Epictetus’ applied Discipline of Fear and Desire.

Free Mini-Course on Stoicism

Donald! This is a wonderful and wonderfully compact introduction to Stoic philosophy… Thank you for making this available to people free of charge. I will be recommending this to friends of mine who are curious to see what this is all about. – Ronald William Brady

If you’re interested in learning more about Stoicism, check out my my free Crash Course in Stoicism.  I specifically designed it for newcomers to the subject.  It will  teach you everything you need to know to get started learning about Stoic philosophy, in less then ten minutes.  I’ve tried to answer the most common questions people ask.  Update: Over, 2,800 people have already enrolled on this course so far. Just click the button below…

Enlightening, lucid, to the point and life affirming. – Lorne Stormont Darling

Rocio Epictetus Wallpaper

You’ll also find my current blog posts here and an archive of the old ones.

Warm regards,

Donald Robertson Signature