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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The Stoicism of Benjamin Franklin

One man of tolerable abilities may work great changes, and accomplish great affairs among mankind, if he first forms a good plan, and, cutting off all amusements or other employments that would divert his attention, makes the execution of that same plan his sole study and business. — Ben Franklin

The great Benjamin Franklin has more in common with Stoic philosophers than most people realize. Franklin barely ever mentioned the Stoics. Nevertheless, as we’ll see, in his remarkable Plan for Attaining Moral Perfection, he drew inspiration from an ancient philosophical tradition, which also played an important role in Stoicism.

Franklin believed that the republic would flourish only if the freedoms secured by the U.S. Constitution were combined with wisdom and virtue. I think it’s fair to say that the Founding Fathers’ original emphasis on character, especially the virtues necessary for true leadership, has been largely sidelined from modern political discourse in the United States. However, Franklin took the challenge of improving his own character incredibly seriously.

In his Autobiography, he proclaimed that around 1728, in his early twenties, he “conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.” He reasoned that due to inattention and habit, it was impossible to develop good character without a certain amount of effort and self-discipline, applied in a systematic manner.

I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct.

“For this purpose”, he concludes, “I therefore contrived the following method”, and he proceeds to lay out his plan for attaining moral perfection.

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Announcing: Modern Stoicism Toronto

I’m delighted to announce that we now have a small team working to represent the Modern Stoicism movement in Toronto. Stoicon, the international Modern Stoicism conference will be hosted again in Toronto this year and in the lead up to that event we’ll be working to develop the Stoicism community locally.

The first step is the creation of several social media accounts to help everyone stay in touch. We recommend joining all of them, or as many as possible, so that you don’t miss out on any information about Stoicism in Toronto or the surrounding area.

Stoicism: Courage Under Fire

I said I was going to the Marine Corps University to talk about Stoicism and asked you to vote for books you’d like me to review. The poll winner was Stockdale’s Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot. So here is my article with a fairly in-depth review… it’s one of the most unique and inspiring books I’ve ever read on Stoicism. Hope you enjoy!

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Medium: Stoicism in Gladiator 2

“The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor.” — Commodus, Gladiator

Deadline recently announced that Paramount Pictures have green-lit a sequel to the hugely successful sword-and-sandals action movie, Gladiator (2000). Gladiator 2 will be directed, like its forerunner, by Ridley Scott. Back in 2006, the musician Nick Cave wrote a fairly surreal script for Gladiator 2 that was perhaps bound to be rejected by the studio. This time it’s been announced that Peter Craig, who worked on two of the Hunger Games films, is writing a new script.

Of course, Maximus, Russell Crowe’s character, dies at the end of Gladiator. So how can there be a sequel? Well, it’s been reported that Gladiator 2 will continue the story of Lucius Verus II, the young son of Lucilla and grandson of Marcus Aurelius in the original movie. In reality, although Lucilla and her husband Lucius Verus did have a son called Lucius Aurelius Verus, he died young unlike the corresponding character in the movie. Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius, is described in the movie as Lucius’ uncle.

Producer Walter F. Parkes has confirmed “It picks up the story 30 years later… 25 years later.” Lucius was a child of about twelve years old in the original, so we can probably expect to see him in his late thirties or early forties. Given that Gladiator was set in 180 AD, it seems the sequel will be set around 205/210 AD. In the real world, this would be during the reign of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus.

Will I be known as the philosopher, the warrior, the tyrant. — Marcus Aurelius, Gladiator

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Stoicism versus Jordan Peterson on Anger

I run a large Stoicism discussion forum and write books about Stoic philosophy. Periodically, we tend to get posts from people who think Jordan Peterson is a Stoic.

In a sense, that’s surprising. As far as I’m aware, Peterson’s never once mentioned Stoicism and there’s no hint in his talks or writings that he’s ever even read the Stoics. Despite this, some people clearly feel that they’re saying similar things. Then again, there appear to be just as many, if not more, people who have concluded that Peterson’s writings are fundamentally at odds with what Stoicism teaches. One of them is, Massimo Pigliucci, author of How to be a Stoic, who recently wrote an article called simply Nope, Jordan Peterson Ain’t No Stoic.

My personal area of specialism is the relationship between ancient Stoic philosophy and modern evidence-based psychotherapy. (I’m the author of six books on philosophy and psychotherapy, the latest being How to Think Like a roman Emperor, about the Stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.) Peterson is a professor of clinical psychology; I’m a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist. So we come, as it happens, from virtually the same professional field. I think it would be impossible to provide a comprehensive overview of Peterson’s writings from a Stoic perspective because there would, frankly, be far too much to address in a single article. Instead, I’m going to focus specifically on the topic of anger.

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