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Stoicism

Review of The Philosophy of CBT (2nd ed.)

The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy: Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy (2nd edition) was reviewed in the journal Cognitive Neuroscience by Andrea E. Cavanna. Dr. Cavanna is Honorary Reader in Neuropsychiatry and Consultant in Behavioural Neurology at the Department of Neuropsychiatry, Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation NHS Trust. He is also Deputy Director for the MSc in Clinical Neuropsychiatry. You can view the original article here. Also see my article from The Behavior Therapist on Stoicism as a form of cognitive psychotherapy.

Some excerpts below:

What do ancient Stoicism and cognitive behavioural therapy have in common? As shown by Scottish psychotherapist Donald Robertson, they might well share the very core principles. The new edition of The philosophy of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT): Stoic philosophy as rational and cognitive psychotherapy sees the light ten years after its first edition, the first detailed account of the influence of Stoic philosophy upon modern psychotherapy (Robertson, 2010).

Robertson’s excellent work joins a growing number of recently published academic books that mark the revival of interest in ancient Western philosophy, especially Stoicism, as a guide to modern living… Overall, Robertson’s exploration of the relationship between ancient Greek philosophy and cognitive-behavioural therapy has provided evidence-based support to the idea that philosophy and psychotherapy were not always separate disciplines (Gill, 1985, 2013). Among mental health specialists, this book appeals particularly to practitioners working in the field of neuropsychiatry, where cognitive behavioral therapy interventions can have a significant positive impact on the health-related quality of life of patients with chronic conditions.

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Stoicism

Stoicism as a Martial Art

The art of living is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s in this regard, that it must stand ready and firm to meet whatever happens to it, even when unforeseen. — Marcus Aurelius

Greek and Roman youths typically engaged in combat sports, including wrestling, boxing, and the pankration, which combined elements of both. It should be no surprise that we find many references to these sports in the writings of ancient philosophers, many of whom must have had personal experience engaging in them, as well as watching others compete.

The Historia Augusta says that in his youth the Stoic philosopher, and Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius was “fond of boxing and wrestling”, and that he had been trained to fight in armour. However, we’re told that over time he became more physically frail, suffering from chronic health problems, and his interest in philosophy came to distract him from these physical pursuits.

Nevertheless, Marcus’ early enthusiasm for combat sports perhaps inspired him to write of boxing, wrestling and pankration in The Meditations. In the quote above, he describes the whole “art of living” as resembling the art of wrestling. The Stoic philosopher must be psychologically resilient, he’s saying, and prepared in advance to meet the blows of fortune, like a wrestler facing his opponent.

Read the rest of the article on Medium here…

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Socrates Stoicism

Socrates and the Plague of Athens

4×5 original

[Socrates] was so orderly in his way of life that on several occasions when pestilence broke out in Athens he was the only man who escaped infection. — Diogenes Laertius

In 430 BC, Athens was devastated by plague. We don’t exactly what caused it but it’s been speculated that it was a form of typhus, typhoid, or possibly smallpox. What happened during the Athenian Plague seems to foreshadow aspects of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Our own experiences probably also help us to better understand what the ancient Athenians must have been going through. I won’t labour the obvious parallels but rather I’ll just tell the story and mention some comparisons briefly along the way…

The epidemic spread throughout the Mediterranean but Athens, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the region, was hit hardest of all. Attica, the area encompassing Athens, had a total population of roughly a quarter of a million, including thousands of foreign residents and maybe a hundred thousand slaves. The disease was apparently brought into the Greek port of Piraeus by travellers and merchants, from whence it quickly escalated into an epidemic, tearing through the population of neighbouring Athens.

After the first outbreak began to relent, the Athenians must have breathed a collective sigh of relief. Unfortunately, though, there were two further major outbreaks of the plague in Athens, occurring in 429 and 427 AD. Altogether, it killed approximately one third of the population, including Pericles himself, their most senior statesman and general. Even worse, the plague struck at the outset of the lengthy Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), in which Athens and her allies, known as the Delian League, faced Sparta at the head of the rival Peloponnesian League.

The Spartans and their allies had just invaded Attica, the area surrounding Athens, when the plague struck the city, but it didn’t really affect the Peloponnese region, where Sparta is located. The Spartans occupied Attica for 40 days, we’re told, before departing, possibly frightened off by the plague affecting Athens. So the plague’s effect on the war was very one-sided. As we’ll see, the philosopher Socrates, was caught right in the middle of all this.

Read the rest of this article on Medium.

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Stoicism

Two New Articles on Stoicism and the Pandemic

Below are links to two new articles that I wrote for The Guardian newspaper and the Institute of Art and Ideas (IAI). They were both shared by thousands of people online. I wanted to try to explain very simply why Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism might be relevant to people struggling with the psychological challenges of the pandemic.

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Stoicism

Emerson on Stoicism and Marcus Aurelius

Let a Stoic open the resources of man, and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear… and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history. — Emerson, Self-Reliance

The American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the leading figures of the Transcendentalist movement in the mid 19th century. There is some basic theoretical common ground between Stoic philosophy and Emerson’s writings, most notably that Emerson appears to believe that virtue is its own reward, a fundamental doctrine of Stoicism. For instance, he wrote:

The heroic soul does not sell its justice and its nobleness. It does not ask to dine nicely and to sleep warm. The essence of greatness is the perception that virtue is enough. — Heroism

That “virtue is enough” is something an ancient Stoic could easily have written. For the Stoics, virtue is the only true good and the belief, which they inherited from Socrates, that it is sufficient in itself for the good life is a cornerstone of their distinctive ethical position.

The quote above from Self-Reliance makes it clear that Emerson admires the Stoics. He also says in the same excerpt that Stoicism teaches “that a man is the word made flesh, born to shed healing to the nations, that he should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries and customs out of the window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him.”

Rather than carry out a detailed analysis of the parallels between Emerson’s thought and Stoic philosophy, though, I want to begin by accomplishing the more modest task of summarizing what he explicitly says about them. There are probably more references to the Stoics in his writings than most people realize. Emerson frequently mentions important precursors of Stoicism such as Socrates, Xenophon, and Diogenes the Cynic, as well as Academic philosophers influenced by them such as Cicero and Plutarch. He mentions the Stoics Epictetus and Seneca. However, the one he says most about is Marcus Aurelius, or as he sometimes calls him, using the cognomen of his imperial dynasty, Marcus Antoninus.

Read the full article on Medium.

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Stoicism Video

Video: Stoicism, the emotions, and psychotherapy

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Resilience Stoicism

Stoicism and Psychological Resilience

One of my main areas of research is the relationship between Stoic philosophy and modern psychology. I’m particularly interested in the promise that Stoicism appears to hold as a form of what psychologists today call “resilience training”. As we’ll see, there are some interesting data emerging from initial research on Stoicism as a form of resilience training.

Emotional or psychological resilience basically refers to our ability to endure stressful events, without being overwhelmed by them. Through cognitive and behaviour skills training we can improve resilience and prepare ourselves to cope better with future adversity.

In a sense, Stoicism has long been virtually synonymous with resilience. Indeed, one modern expert, Michael Neenan, refers to the Stoic teacher Epictetus as the “patron saint of the resilient”. 

Read the rest of this article on Medium.

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Stoicism Video

Video: Stoicism and Resilience in the Time of Pandemic

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Interview Podcast Stoicism Uncategorized

Stoicism at the US Marine Corps University

In February, I had the pleasure of being invited to give a talk on Stoicism and mental resilience to the US Marine Corps University in Quantico. While I was there I went into their studio to record an interview for their podcast Eagles, Globes and Anchors. You can listen via any of the links below. (There’s a short clip embedded here with a waveform and links underneath to the full show.)

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Stoicism

Stoicism and Islam

Al-Kindi’s Device for Dispelling Sorrows

I will describe what I hope will be suffiŽcient for you, and may God protect you from all worries. — Al-Kindi

People often ask me whether there’s any relationship between Stoic philosophy and Islam. Islam probably shares some common themes with Stoicism, as do certain strands in Jewish and Christian thought. There may also be subtle indirect influences, which are hard to trace. However, scholars believe that the writings of arab Muslim scholar Al-Kindi may provide the best example of a more direct link between Islam and Stoicism.

Read the rest of this article on Medium.