My new online course, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, on the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius, and applying it to modern living, starts today. I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who’s taking part!
Last chance to enrol on my new How to Think Like a Roman Emperor online course.
Utere non reditura.
Use the hour, it will not come again.
Today is your last chance to enrol on How to Think Like a Roman Emperor!
Remember, if you enrol on this pilot version of the course, you’ll be receiving $50 discount off the standard price, including e-learning and live webinars. You’ll also have access to any future updates or improvements, via lifetime access. I’m also providing a bonus live webinar to people taking part in the first course.
If you’re interested but have questions, please feel free to get in touch. (I get loads of emails from people about courses and answer all of them personally.)
Thanks once again for your support and feedback, and I look forward to seeing you in person on the course!
Announcing some webinars to chat about the new How to Think Like a Roman Emperor online course.
Enrolment has now opened for my new How to Think Like a Roman Emperor online course and you can find out more by clicking the button below:
I’ll be hosting a YouTube Live webinar on Tuesday 15th August at 2pm Eastern Time, to chat about the course and hopefully answer some of your questions.
To make sure nobody misses out because the time, I’ll also be doing a Facebook Live broadcast on the same day at the later time of 7pm Eastern Time. If you’re interested in attending either, go there now and set up a reminder notification for yourself.
Some quotes from the Stoics about not wasting time on frivolous discussions or abstract philosophical debates.
One of the recurring themes in the Stoic literature is the notion that doing philosophy exposes us to the risk of becoming preoccupied with trivial digressions and becoming distracted from the true goal of life.
Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one. (10.16)
Be not a man of superfluous words or superfluous deeds. (3.5)
Elsewhere he even says:
Away with your books! Be no longer drawn aside by them: it is not allowed. (2.2)
And again, “But away with your thirst for books, that you may die not murmuring but with good grace” (2.3).
Do the external things which befall you distract you? Give yourself leisure to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around. But then you must also avoid being carried about the other way. For those too are triflers who have wearied themselves in life by their activity, and yet have no object to which to direct every movement, and, in a word, all their thoughts. (2.7)
For the Stoics, philosophy should aspire to be clear and simple, where possible, and focused on the most important practical questions in relation to ethics.
In the ancient world a sharp contrast was often made between Diogenes the Cynic and Plato, to illustrate two very different attitudes toward philosophy after the death of Socrates. Diogenes sneered at Plato for being too “Academic”, in the modern sense – too concerned with abstract or long-winded arguments and not enough with practical training in virtue. Plato called Diogenes “Socrates gone mad”. Cynics apparently rejected the study of Physics and Logic, and bookishness in general, as intellectual vanity, not unlike Sophistry, and as diversions from practical philosophy. Zeno of Citium, who was originally a Cynic and later studied in the Platonic Academy, appears to have adopted a middle ground. He did encourage his Stoic followers to study Physics and Logic but Stoics also appear to warn us that we should not become lost in these subjects but should be careful to keep the goal of virtue in mind. We shouldn’t indulge in arguments like the proverbial “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” or become so engrossed in philosophical wordplay that we “disappear up our own backsides”, as it’s crudely put today.
Marcus Aurelius was apparently introduced to philosophy by his painting master, Diognetus, aged around twelve, who seems to have been influenced by Cynicism. He says that one of the first things he learned was “not to busy myself about trifling things”. He repeatedly counts his blessings that he’s been lucky in his education to avoid getting sidetracked by scholastic trivialities.
From the gods… that when I had my heart set on philosophy, I did not fall into the hands of a sophist nor sat alone writing, nor untangled syllogisms nor preoccupied myself with celestial phenomena. (Meditations, 1.17)
Epictetus taught that we should constantly remind ourselves that reading books is a means to an end, for attaining eudaimonia, and avoid getting sidetracked by frivolous subjects.
For what purpose do you choose to read? Tell me. For if you only direct your purpose to being amused or learning something, you are a silly fellow and incapable of enduring labour. But if you refer reading to the proper end, what else is this than a tranquil and happy life? But if reading does not secure for you a happy and tranquil life, what is the use of it? (Discourses, 4.4)
Although the Stoic curriculum covered Logic and Physics, the Stoics consistently attach the caveat that these subjects should be approached with caution by students. They should serve Stoic Ethics, and not become a diversion from it. We shouldn’t get caught in hairsplitting arguments about logic or become absorbed in idle speculation about metaphysics or theology. To do so would be the opposite of Stoicism.
What does it matter to me, says Epictetus, whether the universe is composed of atoms or uncompounded substances, or of fire and earth? Is it not sufficient to know the true nature of good and evil, and the proper bounds of our desires and aversions, and also of our impulses to act and not to act; and by making use of these as rules to order the affairs of our life, to bid those things that are beyond us farewell? It may very well be that these latter things are not to be comprehended by the human mind, and even if one assumes that they are perfectly comprehensible, well what profit comes from comprehending them? And ought we not to say that those men trouble in vain who assign all this as necessary to the philosopher’s system of thought? […] What Nature is, and how she administers the universe, and whether she really exists or not, these are questions about which there is no need to go on to bother ourselves. (Epictetus, Fragment)
Marcus Aurelius likewise warns himself to remember, with humility, that many philosophical subjects remained obscure even to the greatest Stoic thinkers.
Things are in a sense so wrapped up in mystery that quite a few philosophers, even the exceptional ones, have concluded that they are wholly beyond our comprehension. Even to the Stoics themselves they seem difficult to understand. Indeed, every assent we give to the impressions of our senses is liable to error, for where is the man who never errs? (5.10)
Marcus even describes those as “wretched” or “struggling” in life, who preoccupy themselves with things that cannot be known with any certainty.
Nothing is more wretched than a man who goes all around and “pries into the things beneath the earth”, as the poet [Pindar] says, and speculates about what is in the minds of his neighbours… (2.13)
Moreover, in addition to avoiding pointless hairsplitting debates, Epictetus advised his students to speak less in general:
Be mostly silent; or speak merely what is needful, and in few words. (Enchiridion, 33)
Today, Epictetus’ warnings about associating with uneducated people in a way that leads us to become swept along with their habits and conversation could be applied to Facebook.
If a man frequently interacts with others for talk, or drinking together, or generally for social purposes, he must either become like them, or change them to his own fashion. For if a man places a piece of quenched charcoal close to a piece that is burning, either the quenched charcoal will put out the other, or the burning charcoal will light that which is quenched. Since the danger is therefore so great, we must cautiously enter into such intimacies with people of the common sort, and remember that it is impossible that a man can keep company with one who is covered with soot without getting soot upon himself. For what will you do if a man speaks about gladiators, about horses, about athletes, or what is worse about men? “This person is bad, this person is good; this was done well, this was done badly.” Further, what if he scoff, or ridicule, or show an ill-natured disposition? (Discourses, 3.16)
This is reminiscent of the old saying: “If you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas.” I don’t think Epictetus means to be dismissive of all common people. He thinks Stoics should debate in public, and should marry, have children, and engage with public life, if nothing prevents them. However, he’s warning his students to avoid bad company, and being drawn into time-wasting activities, particularly joining in with badmouthing other people, etc. The Stoics in general were wary of gambling and spectator sports, which became an obsession for many in the ancient world. For example, Lucius Verus, the co-emperor and adoptive brother of Marcus Aurelius, was obsessed with supporting his favourite chariot racing team and criticized for neglecting his duties as emperor. Marcus says he’s thankful he was taught early in life not to get too into supporting one team or another, or to waste his time in pursuits like gambling. He also repeatedly warns himself not to be overly concerned with what other people say or think unless it actually contributes to the common good.
Fritter not away what is left of your life in thoughts about others, unless you can bring these thoughts into relation with some common good. (3.4)
Announcing the forthcoming How to Think Like a Roman Emperor online course.
“The mind, unconquered by violent passions, is a citadel, for a man has no fortress more impregnable in which to find refuge and remain safe forever.” – Marcus Aurelius
Thanks for following my blog. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve got a big announcement coming up. For the last six months I’ve been busy doing research for a new online course, which I will be making public in a few days. It’s been a real labour of love for me.
It’s a new sort of training in applying Stoic philosophy to daily life, for a more meaningful existence, using Stoic psychology to build emotional resilience. There are a lot of resources in it that I wouldn’t be able to put into a book, like audio and video recordings, discussions, quizzes, graphics, and even some of the written content. It’s based around the example of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, the most famous Stoic of all. It’s called How to Think Like a Roman Emperor. The course is four weeks long, and each week includes reading, videos, quizzes, discussion, and also live webinars you can choose to attend. You can view the main page already. However, enrolment won’t open for another couple of days…
I’m looking for people who want to join the first group to take the course and to provide feedback on ways it could possibly be made even better. So stay tuned for more information over the next few days. And thanks for being a part of this…
Some quotes about Marcus Aurelius’ reign and his attitude toward political freedom.
Just a few quotes worth putting side-by-side…
In the first, Marcus gives thanks that he learned to love his family, truth, and justice from the Aristotelian Claudius Severus. He learned from him the concept of a republic in which the same law applies to all, administered with equal rights and freedom of speech, where the sovereign’s primary value is the freedom of his subjects.
From my “brother” [Claudius] Severus, to love my kin, and to love truth, and to love justice; and through him I learned to know Thrasea, Helvidius, Cato, Dio, Brutus; and from him I received the idea of a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed; I learned from him also consistency and undeviating steadiness in my regard for philosophy; and a disposition to do good, and to give to others readily, and to cherish good hopes, and to believe that I am loved by my friends; and in him I observed no concealment of his opinions with respect to those whom he condemned, and that his friends had no need to conjecture what he wished or did not wish, but it was quite plain. (Meditations, 1.14)
Surprisingly, from an Aristotelian, Marcus learned of the Stoic opposition to Nero, two of the leading figures being Thrasea and Helvidius. (Notably Marcus mentions these famous Stoics but not Seneca, whose collaboration with Nero they criticized.) The other figures he has in mind are thought to be as follows… Cato of Utica, the famous Stoic who opposed Julius Caesar, and tried unsuccessfully to prevent him turning the Roman Republic into a dictatorship. Brutus, his nephew, influenced by Stoicism and Platonism, who was the leading assassin of Caesar. And the Dio he mentions is most likely Dio Chrysostom, a student of Epictetus, who opposed the Emperor Domitian, and was influenced by a mixture of Cynicism, Platonism, and Stoicism. The overall theme is one of political opposition by philosophers against the tyrannical Roman emperors Nero and Domitian, and the dictator Julius Caesar.
The following come from the Historia Augusta and describe Marcus’ rule in terms that echo his remarks about freedom in The Meditations.
And now, after they had assumed the imperial power, the two emperors [Marcus and Lucius] acted in so democratic a manner that no one missed the lenient ways of [Antononius] Pius; for though Marullus, a writer of farces of the time, irritated them by his jests, he yet went unpunished. (Historia Augusta)
The following is particularly striking when compared to Marcus’ remarks above:
Toward the people he [Marcus] acted just as one acts in a free state. He was at all times exceedingly reasonable both in restraining men from evil and in urging them to good, generous in rewarding and quick to forgive, thus making bad men good, and good men very good, and he even bore with unruffled temper the insolence of not a few. (Historia Augusta)
Quick announcement explaining some changes to the site, and some news about elearning on Stoicism.
You may notice some slight changes over the next few weeks. I’ve migrated all users from this site to a Teachable elearning site, which is on the subdomain:
That performs much better, is more secure, and looks much nicer than our old WordPress elearning. If you go there now, you should be able to log in. Otherwise, just create a new account. Please feel free to email me if you need any help.
You’ll find some new courses appearing there. It’s already hosting our Crash Course in Stoicism, which over 1,200 people have already done. It’s a free mini-course that is designed to take under ten minutes. Also the Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training (SMRT) course for 2017, in which a whopping 1,850 people are taking part this year. Soon the new How to Think Like a Roman Emperor course will be open for enrolment.
Those of you who were following philosophy-of-cbt.com have now been migrated over to followers of this site, which is replacing the old WordPress.com one. That domain is in the process of being diverted here. Just in case you wonder what’s going on.
If you’re not already following this blog, you can do so by submitting your email below, and WordPress will notify you each time a new article is added:
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