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Socrates Stoicism Stoicism

Interview with Ward Farnsworth

Thought you might be interested in today’s latest article from The Plato’s Academy Centre, this new interview with Ward Farnsworth, author of The Practising Stoic and The Socratic Method.

…the Socratic style of thought is what our culture needs right now. It’s an antidote to social media and to the toxic state of our politics.

Ward Farnsworth

Ward talks in this interview about his love of the Socratic Method and the influence of Socrates on the Stoics. Read the Interview

You’ll find dozens of articles about philosophy and its modern applications now on our new website, which launched officially at the start of the year. If you’re interested, you can also find details of how to support us in our project to bring philosophy back to the grounds of the Plato’s Academy in Athens.

Finally, stay tuned for details, including program of speakers, coming very soon for our inaugural virtual conference in May this year!

Regards,

Donald Robertson

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Books Comic Comics Marcus Aurelius Stoicism Stoicism

Get Verissimus for 25% off at Barnes and Noble

Good news! We’re delighted to announce that from Wednesday 26th until Friday 28th January, for three days, you can get 25% off when pre-ordering either the ebook or hardback edition of our new graphic novel from Barnes and Noble, in the US. NB: Make sure you enter the special offer code PREORDER25 when ordering to claim your discount!

Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius is a philosophical epic, 2-3 years in the making, a 250pp. full-colour publication with stunning artwork from our award-winning illustrator Zé Nuno Fraga. It’s like Gladiator meets The Meditations: and combines a lot of carefully researched historical action, from the life of Marcus Aurelius, with philosophical insights from Stoicism. Go to Barnes and Noble now, and claim your discount using the code above.

We hope you enjoy the book and look forward to hearing your comments.

Regards,

Donald Robertson Signature

Donald Robertson

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Stoicism

Reddit Discussion of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor

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Stoicism Stoicism

Follow me on Medium

I’ve been writing on Medium for just over 2 years now since it was recommended to me by one of my friends, a bestselling author.  I’ve now published well over 100 articles on Stoicism there, have over 21k followers, and became one of the top 1,000 authors on the platform.  I also founded my own online publication hosted by Medium, called Stoicism – Philosophy as a Way of Life, which h​as published nearly 500 articles on Stoicism from dozens of writers, ranging from newcomers to well-known authors.  You can follow it on Medium or sign up to receive its email newsletter.

Medium has a new feature, which allows you to sign up for email notifications so you don’t miss out on any new articles by an author:

Subscribe to get Notified of New Articles

You can also follow my profile on Medium for mobile notifications, etc., about new articles  If you’re not already a Medium subscriber you can follow this referral link to join, otherwise you’ll get free access to three articles per month.

So happy reading!  Hope you enjoy, and thanks as always for your support.

Regards,

Donald Robertson Signature

Donald Robertson

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Stoicism Stoicism Video

How can Socrates save America?

By popular demand! Check out this live video of me reading the entire article on our @verissimusgraphicnovel Instagram account. You can still read the original article on Medium’s Curious publication.

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Military Stoicism Stoicism

Marcus Aurelius and the Military Metaphor in Stoicism

In one of the most famous passages of The Meditations, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius writes that everything physical is as transient as a stream rushing past us, everything belonging to the mind is as insubstantial as vapour and deceptive as smoke or mist, and that…

…life is warfare, and a sojourn in foreign land. — Meditations, 2.17

Only one thing can save us from all this confusion: philosophy, the love of wisdom.

He goes on to say many striking things about the philosophy he followed, called Stoicism. However, many scholars have been struck by the oddness of this apparent allusion to his own situation, in a book that’s notoriously vague about time and place.

Indeed, Marcus was literally engaged in warfare, in a foreign land, when he wrote this. Nearby in the text we find the rubric “At Carnuntum”, the name of the Roman legionary fortress in Upper Pannonia where Marcus had stationed himself during the early stages of the First Marcomannic War. (Today Carnuntum is in Austria, near Vienna.)

As emperor, and commander-in-chief, he was responsible for the largest army ever amassed on a Roman frontier, numbering approximately 140,000 men altogether. Throughout his reign, Marcus was engaged in almost constant warfare, following the Parthian invasion of Armenia in 161 CE, and the invasion of the Danube provinces, and northern Italy, by the Marcomanni and their allies in 167 CE. The Meditations is believed to have been written some time between the years 170 and 175 CE, which happen to coincide with the middle and end of the First Marcomannic War. There don’t seem to be direct or explicit references in The Meditations to the war. Nevertheless, there are several curious allusions to military life.

Read the rest of this article on Medium.

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Podcast Stoicism

Podcast: Stoicism on the Break it Down Show

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Books Stoicism

Tim Ferriss on Stoicism and the Art of Happiness

Tim Ferriss recently brought out his own edition of the letters of Seneca, called The Tao of Seneca, which includes an interview I did about Stoicism. He also included Stoicism and the Art of Happiness in his recommended reading list:

Donald Robertson’s book [Stoicism and the Art of Happiness] was highly recommended by the Stoic community on Reddit. The book has great reviews and as one reader wrote, “In my opinion, Robertson is superior to Hadot, Long, or any other writer on Stoicism because of his psychotherapy background and his ability to reach the common man.”

Ferriss also gave a shout out to one of my other books on an episode of his show called Favorite Books, Supplements, Simple Technologies and More:

Across the board, I would say the most useful tool that I have found for impulse control or emotional reactivity where you get steered by your emotions, as opposed to the other way around, is looking at Stoicism and something called CBT, which is cognitive behavioral therapy. There’s actually a great book on this, which I recommend called – it’s a bit of a mouthful, so don’t mind the title – The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Subtitle: Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy.

It’s written by Donald J. Robertson. You can just look up Donald Robertson. The cover has what looks like a bust of Marcus Aurelius in the middle of two chairs, one on either side. But it’s a fantastic book. I would suggest people check it out. If you want an overview of Stoicism which is used by top NFL teams right now, a lot of the CEOs I know of the fastest growing companies in Silicon Valley because it makes them better competitors, you can check on Tao of Seneca. It’s a free introduction to all of this stuff that I put out there, which has no trick, no nothing. It’s just something I think is valuable and should be out in the world.

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Stoicism

Response: Why is Silicon Valley so Obsessed With the Virtue of Suffering?

I’ve just read the op ed Why Is Silicon Valley So Obsessed With the Virtue of Suffering? by Nellie Bowles in The New York Times.

This won’t be a long response. The essence of her argument appears to be that Stoicism advocates self-inflicted suffering and that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are obsessed with it for that reason. Of course, the premise is false. Stoicism does not advocate self-imposed suffering. Her examples are things like the following:

They [Silicon Valley types] sit in painful, silent meditations for weeks on end. They starve for days — on purpose. Cold morning showers are a bragging right. Notoriety is a badge of honor.

Stoics didn’t sit in painful, silent meditation for weeks on end. They didn’t normally seek notoriety either. Some modern followers of Stoicism, myself included, fast. That’s not the same as starving yourself. Lots of people fast for health reasons and thereby develop self-discipline and acquire other benefits. The Stoics would be against unhealthy forms of fasting, which is what I take “starving” yourself to mean. The ancient Stoics didn’t take cold showers but they did sometimes bathe in cold water. Some modern Stoics, myself included, regularly take cold showers. That’s hardly unusual either – so do lots of other people. It’s healthy, it wakes you up better than a cup of coffee, and it arguably leads to a greater ability to endure cold and other forms of physical discomfort. (I’m pretty happy walking around Toronto without a jacket in the snow because it doesn’t feel very cold to me, although everyone else seems to be wrapped up in thick jackets.) So people don’t do it just to “suffer” but because it’s good for them both in terms of physical health in terms of developing strength of character and self-discipline, etc.

Not all modern Stoics take cold showers or fast, though – I’m guessing less than 5% of them do. The ones who do are no more “obsessed with suffering” than are people who do Pilates, lift weights, walk long distances, go camping in the wilderness, or follow diets. Lots of people do things that require self-discipline and endurance because they consider them healthy or beneficial in certain respects. The Stoics don’t follow regimes in terms of eating, sleeping, or exercising primarily to improve their physical health. They’re supposed to be doing it mainly to improve their character by developing self-control and endurance, etc. However, they choose disciplines that are healthy rather than ones that are unhealthy because physical health is a “preferred indifferent” in Stoicism, i.e., something that’s preferable to its opposite despite not being among the most important things in life. If you’re going to develop self-discipline, in other words, you might as well train yourself to do something healthy rather than unhealthy, even if health isn’t your main reason for doing it.

Anyway, we’re clearly told that this is an article about Stoicism…

So the most helpful clues to understanding Silicon Valley today may come from its favorite ancient philosophy: Stoicism.

A word of advice to readers… Articles like these which claim to be discussing Stoicism (or any similar topic) but make no reference whatsoever to the relevant primary sources should set alarm bells ringing. It’s not clear that the author actually researched the subject by reading the Stoics as there’s literally no mention of anything they wrote. Seriously, there’s not a single quote from a Stoic in the entire piece. Yet their philosophy is being criticized. It is, in fact, being totally misrepresented.

As for the other mistakes in the article, I’ll just cover those by providing a list with brief comments:

  • “Virtue of suffering” – Suffering is not a virtue in Stoic ethics; it would either be classed as something bad or indifferent depending on whether we’re talking about emotional suffering (pathos) or unpleasant physical sensations such as pain, cold, or discomfort.
  • Cicero – Cicero was not a Stoic but rather a follower of the rival Academic school, albeit one who admired some aspects of Stoicism. The article almost acknowledges this but not clearly enough as it seems to focus on him as its main example of a historical proponent of Stoicism.
  • “tenets of stoicism” – The word “stoicism” (lower-case) denotes the modern concept of a psychological personality trait or coping style in which upsetting emotions are concealed or suppressed, like having a stiff upper-lip. The word “Stoicism” (capitalized) denotes an ancient Greek school of philosophy. They’re two very different things.
  • “Stoicism has been the preferred viral philosophy ‘for a moment’ for years now — or two decades, by one count.” – I don’t know how you’d quantify this but Stoicism has gone through various periods of popularity. I’d say the seeds of it’s modern resurgence were planted in the late 1950s with, among other things, the cognitive revolution in psychotherapy, during which authors such as Albert Ellis drew inspiration from Stoicism in developing modern cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). That reinvigorated interest in Stoicism as a form of psychological self-help from the 1980s onward around the time CBT went mainstream. (Indeed, publication data from Google Ngram shows that the popularity of Stoicism began rising in the late 1970s, four decades ago.)
  • “Stoicism’s popularity among the powerful elites of ancient Rome” – There’s no question that Stoicism was popular with wealthy and powerful Roman elites. However, it’s not a “Roman” thing. Right from the very outset, early Greek Stoicism was popular with the ruling elite. Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, taught King Antigonus II Gonatas of Macedonia and other early Greek Stoics had wealthy and powerful students. Moreover, Stoicism was not confined to the elite. Zeno, by some accounts, lost his fortune at sea and lived like a beggar. Cleanthes, his successor as head of the school, was an ex-boxer who watered gardens at night to earn a living. Epictetus, the most famous Stoic teacher of the Roman imperial period, was a crippled former slave who lived in relative poverty.
  • “Joe Lonsdale […] sexual abuse” – This comes across as an ad hominem argument against the philosophy, i.e., one of the figures the author associates with Stoicism in the article has been criticized on the grounds listed. How does that actually reflect on Stoicism, though? Is Joe Lonsdale even a Stoic? (Not as far as I’m aware after searching on Google.) Is this meant to discredit Stoicism through some kind of guilt by association?
  • “Cicero Institute” – The whole article seems to be premised on the notion that the Cicero Institute has got something to do with Stoicism. Does it, though? I can’t actually see any mention of Stoicism anywhere on their website despite using a Google site search for the keyword .
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Stoicism

Graphic 1: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor