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.)

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.

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Piensa como un emperador romano

I’m delighted to announce that How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius is now available in Spanish from the publisher Planeta.

Me complace anunciar que Cómo pensar como un emperador romano ya está disponible en español en la editorial Planeta.

ISBN 9786070767050.

Stoicism in the Time of Plague

This is a dramatized account of the events surrounding the Antoninue Plague, which spread across Europe in the late 2nd century AD. It inspired the discussion of these events in relation to Stoic philosophy found in my book How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.

A horrific plague has been ravaging the Roman empire for nearly a decade, as the First Marcomannic War begins to draw to a close. Emperor Marcus Aurelius is putting the finishing touches to the journal we call The Meditations. The odor of death still lingers in every corner of the land, albeit less now than during the initial outbreaks, and the air in towns and cities was often thick with smoke and incense. Marcus regularly casts his mind back to the time when the pestilence first appeared… The co-emperor Lucius, his adoptive brother, had persuaded Marcus to accompany him as he rode through the streets of Rome in triumph after his victory in the Parthian War. Behind them followed a train of carts displaying all the treasures seized from conquered cities, including a beautiful statue of Apollo, stolen from a Parthian temple.

To help curb the victorious emperors’ pride two trusted gladiators stood behind them in the imperial chariot, holding laurel wreaths above their heads, whispering: “Remember thou must die.” That particular Roman tradition had become associated with Stoic philosophy. The Romans embraced Greek Stoicism because it seemed to echo the sober-minded values of the old Republic. From the time of Socrates onward, philosophers had meticulously contemplated their own death, as a way of purifying their character, and focusing their attention on the here and now. It was said that when Socrates’ student Xenophon was told that his son had been killed in battle he calmly replied: “I knew that he was mortal.” Five hundred years later, the most famous philosopher in Rome, Epictetus, advised his Stoic students to say to themselves: “I knew that I was mortal”. He taught them that death in itself is neither good nor bad; it’s merely something that happens to us, not something we do. The fear of death does more harm than death itself.

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Stoicism and the Military

When I first became involved with teaching Stoicism, I noticed that the audience at talks and conferences was quite a mixed bunch. At first there were mainly classicists and academic philosophers and then psychotherapists like myself, and some research psychologists, became interested in Stoic philosophy. Then I began to notice quite a few life coaches and people involved in corporate training, some sports coaches, and also a number of men and women who were serving in the military.

Each of these groups approaches Stoicism from a different perspective. However, the wonderful thing is that they will all happily sit around and discuss philosophy because they have enough common ground, a shared interest in Stoic literature and ideas. There are also some prominent figures in the modern Stoic community who approach the philosophy from a military perspective.

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How Stoic was Thomas Jefferson?

I’m passing through DC at the moment and took the opportunity to visit the Thomas Jefferson’s Library exhibition at the Library of Congress. I’m the author of several books on Stoicism, including How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. I know that Jefferson, like some of the other Founding Fathers, was well-read in classical philosophy, so I naturally wondered what he thought of Stoicism, the philosophy that most influences me.

However, it’s generally assumed that Jefferson was a follower of Epicurus’ philosophy because he owned several texts on the subject and, in 1819, wrote a letter to William Short stating: “I too am an Epicurean”. In the same letter, although he praises Seneca as a “fine moralist”, he also criticizes Stoicism. Nevertheless, there are obvious Stoic influences in Jefferson’s writings, especially toward the end of his life.

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