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”.
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.)
Al-Kindi’s Device for Dispelling Sorrows
I will describe what I hope will be sufficient 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.
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.
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.
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.