Excerpts Stoicism

Seneca’s Stoic Role-Models

Seneca’s Stoic Role-Models

Copyright (c) The Trusteest of the British MuseumCopyright © Donald Robertson, 2013.  All rights reserved.  An excerpt from Teach yourself Stoicism.  Image of Zeno, copyright the trustees of the British Museum.

The followers of Epicurus placed importance on possessing portraits or rings bearing his likeness, which may perhaps have helped them imagine his salutary presence accompanying them in life (Hadot, 2002, p. 124).  The British Museum actually possess an ornate gem from the Roman imperial period depicting Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, which possibly served a similar purpose.  Seneca likewise says that Stoics should keep likenesses of great men and even celebrate their birthdays (Letters, 64). He lists his favourite philosophical role-models as:

  • Socrates
  • Plato – somewhat surprisingly for a Stoic!
  • Zeno, the founder of Stoicism
  • Cleanthes, the second head of the Stoa
  • Laelius the Wise, one of the first famous Roman Stoics
  • Cato of Utica, the great Roman Stoic political hero

There are some notable things about this list:

  1. It begins with Socrates, whom most Stoics appear to treat as their supreme role model.
  2. It includes Plato.  Zeno’s Republic, the founding text of Stoicism, was a scathing critique of Plato’s book of the same name.  However, Panaetius and Posidonius reputedly integrated Stoicism and Platonism, so this may indicate that Seneca is more aligned with the Middle Stoa, which would arguably be consistent with the rest of his writings.
  3. It includes Zeno and Cleanthes, the first two Stoic scholarchs, although Seneca seldom mentions them in his writings.  Yet it ignores Chrysippus, the third scholarch and most frequently cited of all Stoics.
  4.  Seneca makes a point of including two famous Roman Stoics: Laelius and Cato.
  5. The inclusion of Laelius the Wise, a student of Panaetius, highlights his importance, and that of the Scipionic Circle to Stoicism.
  6. Epictetus, by comparison, most frequently cites Socrates, Diogenes the Cynic, and Zeno, as his influences, and he also quotes Pythagoras and mentions Heraclitus with admiration.
  7. Marcus Aurelius lists Socrates, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Epictetus, and Chrysippus, as philosophers he particularly admires.
  8. Seneca does not include any reference to Diogenes or other Cynics in this list, which perhaps suggests he aligned with a branch of (Middle) Stoicism that distanced itself from the Cynics and placed more emphasis on Platonism instead.

Elsewhere, he gives a beautiful account of this practice, drawing on Epicurean teachings:

‘We need to set our affections on some good man and keep him constantly before our eyes, so that we may live as if he were watching us and do everything as if he saw what we were doing.’ This, my dear Lucilius, is Epicurus’ advice, and in giving it he has given us a guardian and a moral tutor – and not without reason, either: misdeeds are greatly diminished if a witness is always standing near intending doers. The personality should be provided with someone it can revere, someone whose influence can make even its private, inner life more pure. Happy the man who improves other people not merely when he is in their presence but even when he is in their thoughts! And happy, too, is the person who can so revere another as to adjust and shape his own personality in the light of recollections, even, of that other. (Letters, 11)

The image of this exemplary person should therefore be recalled frequently “either as your guardian or as your model”, as someone observing us, and perhaps offering guidance, or as an ideal to emulate. Seneca puts it nicely when he says that we need the concept of a genuinely “wise and good” person as a standard against which to measure ourselves because “Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.”

News Stoicism

New Book: The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition (2016)

The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition

Edited by John Sellars.

ISBN: 978-0-415-66075-4

Find it on Amazon / From Routledge, the publisher
Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition
Introduction: Stoicism, Doctrines and Sources John Sellars

Part 1: Antiquity

  1. Stoicism in Rome Gretchen Reydams-Schils
  2. Stoic Influences on Early Christianity Troels Engberg-Pedersen
  3. Stoicism and Neoplatonism Lloyd Gerson
  4. Augustine’s Debt to Stoicism Sarah Byers
  5. Boethius and Stoicism Matthew Walz

Part 2: The Middle Ages

  1. Stoicism and Byzantine Philosophy Katerina Ieodiakonou
  2. Stoic Themes in Peter Abelard and John of Salisbury Kevin Guilfoy
  3. Stoicism in Later Medieval Philosophy Mary Beth Ingham

Part 3: Renaissance and Reformation

  1. Recovery of Stoicism in the Renaissance Ada Palmer
  2. Stoicism and Humanism Letizia Pannizza
  3. Stoic Themes in Fifteenth Century Philosophy Jill Kraye
  4. Erasmus and Calvin on Stoicism Barbara Pitkin
  5. Justus Lipsius and Neostoicism Jacqueline Lagrée
  6. Shakespeare and Early English Literature Andrew Shifflett

Part 4: Early Modern Europe

  1. Medicine for the Mind in Early Modern Philosophy Guido Giglioni
  2. Stoic Themes in Early Modern French Thought Michael Moriarty
  3. Spinoza and Stoicism Jon Miller
  4. Stoic Themes in Leibniz David Forman
  5. Early Modern Science Dana Jalobeanu
  6. Stoicism in the French Enlightenment Ed Andrew
  7. Stoicism and the Scottish Enlightenment Christian Maurer
  8. Kant and Stoic Ethics José Torralba and Daniel Doyle

Part 5: Recent Impact

  1. Stoicism in Nineteenth Century German Philosophy Michael Ure
  2. Stoic Themes in Romantic Literature Simon Swift
  3. Stoicism in Victorian Culture Heather Ellis
  4. Stoicism in American Literature Kenneth Sacks
  5. Stoic Themes in Twentieth Century Ethics Christopher Gill
  6. Stoicism and Twentieth Century French Philosophy Thomas Benatouil
  7. The Stoic Influence on Modern Psychotherapy Donald Robertson

Appendix: Transmission of Stoic Texts, A Bibliographical Essay John Sellars.

News Stoicism

New Book: Teach yourself Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013)

Teach Yourself:
Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013)

Teach Yourself: Stoicism and the Art of Happinessby Donald Robertson

Due for publication by Hodder, winter 2013. ISBN: 9781444187106. You can pre-order from the publisher, or from Amazon and all major online booksellers.

Why, then, do you wonder that good men are shaken in order that they may grow strong? No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley. It is, therefore, to the advantage even of good men, to the end that they may be unafraid, to live constantly amidst alarms and to bear with patience the happenings which are ills to him only who ill supports them. – Seneca, On Providence

This new addition to Hodder’s popular Teach Yourself series provides a detailed introduction to Stoic philosophy, with particular emphasis on applying Stoic ethics and therapy to modern living. Donald Robertson is a registered psychotherapist, specialising in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) for anxiety and other evidence-based approaches, with a background in academic philosophy. He is the author of four previous books, two of which also deal with Stoicism and its relation to modern psychology and psychotherapy:

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness is the product of Donald’s experience over the past fifteen years, in his attempt to integrate the ancient wisdom of Stoic philosophy with modern evidence-based approaches to psychological therapy and stress management.

Chapters Include

  1. Preface: modern Stoicism
  2. The way of the Stoic: “Living in agreement with Nature”
  3. Stoic Ethics: The nature of the good
  4. The promise of philosophy (“therapy of the passions”)
  5. The discipline of desire (Stoic acceptance)
  6. Love, friendship, and the ideal Sage
  7. The discipline of action (Stoic philanthropy)
  8. Premeditation of adversity
  9. The discipline of judgement (Stoic mindfulness)
  10. Self-awareness and the “Stoic fork”
  11. The view from above & Stoic cosmology
  12. eBook Appendix: The contemplation of death

Stoicism Group on Facebook has nearly 300 members now!

Stoicism Group on Facebook has nearly 300 members now!

We’re nearing 300 members already on the new Stoicism discussion forum on Facebook.  It’s very active and is proving an excellent resource for meeting other students of Stoicism and exchanging ideas!

Excerpts Stoicism

Stoicism and the death of Socrates

Stoicism and the Death of Socrates

Excerpt from Teach yourself Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013), copyright © Donald Robertson.

Socrates-Wanted-PosterXenophon wrote that his friend and teacher, Socrates, faced the death-sentence with absolute serenity and fortitude, and that it was “generally agreed that no one in the memory of man has ever met his death more nobly” (Memorabilia, 4.8). We’ve already mentioned the events surrounding the trial and execution of Socrates. The Stoics undoubtedly treat this as the example par excellence of a “good death”. In reading about Socrates’ preparing to meet his death, in a sense, we accompany him and prepare ourselves for our own deaths.

Plato wasn’t there himself but, in an eponymous dialogue, portrays Socrates’ friend Phaedo recounting his astonishment at the philosopher’s composure during his final hours. “Although I was witnessing the death of one who was my friend, I had no feeling of pity, for the man appeared happy both in manner and words as he died nobly and without fear” (Phaedo, 58e). So what did Socrates do? Well, he acted normally. He saw his persecutors, the men responsible for his death, as simply misguided rather than hateful. The Enchiridion of Epictetus makes a point of concluding with a remarkable quotation attributed to him: “Anytus and Meletus [who brought the charges] can kill me, but they cannot harm me.” (Obi-wan Kenobi echoes this in the movie Star Wars!)

In prison, awaiting execution, Socrates spent his final hours debating amiably with his friends about philosophy. Given the proximity of his own demise, he chose to explore the question of what happens to the soul after death, coolly examining several possibilities while keeping an open mind, tolerant of uncertainty. More importantly, he explains his view that philosophy is essentially a lifelong “meditation on death” (melete thanatou), as the reason for his surprising indifference. He says that those who practice philosophy in the right way are constantly training for death, and true philosophers fear dying least of all men (Phaedo, 67e). The “contemplation of death” therefore emerged right at the most dramatic moment in the birth of Western philosophy, spoken at the heart of what Socrates called his philosophical swansong. When the time came, he calmly drank the poison and waited to die, something he’d clearly reconciled himself to, and faced with supreme equanimity and an attitude of philosophical curiosity.

Excerpts Stoicism

Stoics are not unemotional!

Why, they [the Stoics] maintain that one wise man is friendly to another even when he does not know him. There is, in truth, nothing more lovable than virtue, and the man who has attained to that will possess our affection in whatever part of the world he is.

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods

The misconception that Stoics are unemotional like robots, or like the Vulcan “Mister Spock” in Star Trek, is so widespread that I’ve decided to put together some brief notes to summarise the opposing view, taken with modifications from my book Teach yourself Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013).

The founder of Greek Skepticism, Pyrrho of Elis, was jokingly said to be so apathetic, or indifferent to the world, that his followers had to chase around after him to prevent him walking off cliffs or into the path of speeding horse-drawn wagons.  That joke was never made about the Stoics because, by contrast, they were well-known for their active engagement in family life and politics.  Likewise, the Epicureans made the attainment of tranquillity, or the avoidance of pain, the goal of life, and saw no intrinsic value in fellowship with other human beings.  This often led them to withdraw from politics or family life, and even to live in relative seclusion. 

By contrast, the Stoics, for whom tranquillity is only good when it accompanies the virtues of wisdom and justice, believed that fellowship with the rest of mankind is natural and fundamental to the goal of life, which entails “living in agreement” with reason, the Nature of the universe, and the rest of mankind.  In fact, the founding text of Stoicism, Zeno’s Republic, centred on his “dream” of an ideal Stoic society, consisting of enlightened and benevolent friends, living in harmony together, under the patronage of Eros, the god of love.

Epictetus therefore said that it’s the Stoic concept of “appropriate action”, in our family and civil relationships, and of the “discipline of action” through which Stoics train themselves to act justly and philanthropically, which lay to rest the misconception that they are aloof and unemotional like certain other ancient philosophers (Discourses, 3.2). The Stoics believed that we are essentially rational and social animals who experience a feeling of “natural affection” for those closest to us, which it is natural and rational to extend to the rest of mankind, forming the basis of an attitude sometimes called Stoic “philanthropy”. However, arguably, by placing value on others, even in a somewhat detached manner, Stoics also open themselves up to a variety of naturally-occurring emotional reactions, including distress when valued things appear to be threatened.

For how can a vine be moved not [i.e., grow] in the manner of a vine, but in the manner of an olive tree? or on the other hand how can an olive tree be moved not in the manner of an olive tree, but in the manner of a vine? It is impossible: it cannot be conceived. Neither then is it possible for a man completely to lose the movements [i.e., feelings] of a man; and even those [eunuchs] who are deprived of their genital members are not able to deprive themselves of man’s desires. (Epictetus, Discourses, 2.20)

According to the ancient Stoics, even the perfect Sage feels natural affection, or love for other human beings, and is not completely insensitive to other feelings that naturally follow from maintaining these affectionate social relationships.  For example, Marcus Aurelius surely loved his notoriously wayward son Commodus (shown above dressed as Hercules), while accepting that it was ultimately beyond his control completely to remedy his heir’s folly and vicious character.  Indeed, Marcus described the ideal Stoic character, as exemplified by his own teacher, Sextus of Chaeronea, as being “full of love and yet free from passion” (Meditations, 1.6).  The Greek word for love that he uses can also be translated as “natural affection” or “family affection” – it’s the kind of love parents have for their children.

The Stoics, indeed, sought to emulate Zeus, the father of mankind, by extending their natural affection to the whole of mankind.  This dilutes the emotion and prevents it from becoming an infatuation with any individual, or an irrational “passion” of the kind they sought to free themselves from.  Hence the word he joins this expression with, apatheia, means absence of irrational, unhealthy, or excessive “passions”.  As we’ll see, the Stoics repeatedly emphasised that by this they did not mean “apathy” or complete lack of feeling for other people.  Later, Marcus wonders when he will ever attain such a state of affection and contentment himself (Meditations, 10.1).  Scholars have noted, however, that various Roman authors of the period, specifically portrayed Marcus as being renowned for his “philanthropic” attitude, or love of mankind.

As this is a common misconception about ancient Stoicism, it’s worth briefly reviewing some of their own comments. For example, after describing the Stoic theory of irrational passions, Diogenes Laertius wrote of the founders of Stoicism, probably meaning either Zeno or Chrysippus:

They say the wise man is also without passions [apathê, whence our word “apathy”], because he is not vulnerable to them. But the bad man is called “without passions” in a different sense, which means the same as “hard-hearted” and “insensitive”. (Lives, 7.117)

Epictetus says something quite similar, that Stoics ought not to be free from passions (apathê) in the sense of being unfeeling “like a statue”, and that this has to do with “appropriate action” and maintaining one’s natural and acquired relationships, as a family member and a citizen (Discourses, 3.2).

Cicero portrays the Stoic Laelius as saying that it would be the greatest possible mistake to try to eliminate feelings of friendship, because even animals experience natural affection for their offspring, which Stoics viewed as the foundation of human love and friendship (Laelius, 13). We would not only be dehumanising ourselves by eliminating natural affection between friends, he says, but reducing ourselves below animal nature to something more like a mere tree-trunk or a stone and we should turn a deaf ear to anyone who foolishly suggests that the good life entails having “the hardness of iron” in terms of our emotions. Seneca, likewise, says:

There are misfortunes which strike the sage – without incapacitating him, of course – such as physical pain, infirmity, the loss of friends or children, or the catastrophes of his country when it is devastated by war. I grant that he is sensitive to these things, for we do not impute to him the hardness of a rock or of iron. There is no virtue in putting up with that which one does not feel. (On the Constancy of the Sage, 10.4)

There’s a problem, as Seneca points out, with the notion that the Stoic Sage is completely devoid of emotion. It recalls a story about Diogenes the Cynic, who was asked by a Spartan if he was feeling cold, when training himself by stripping naked and embracing a bronze statue in winter. Diogenes said he was not, and the Spartan replied: “What’s so impressive about what you’re doing then?” (Plutarch, Spartan Sayings, 233a).

As Seneca implies, the virtues of courage and self-discipline appear to require that the Stoic Sage must actually experience something akin to fear and desire – otherwise he has no feelings to overcome. A brave man isn’t someone who doesn’t experience any trace of fear whatsoever but someone who acts courageously despite feeling anxiety. A man who has great self-discipline or restraint isn’t someone who feels no inkling of desire but someone who overcomes his cravings, by abstaining from acting upon them. The Sage conquers his passions by becoming stronger than them not by eliminating all emotion from his life. The Stoic ideal is therefore not to be “passionless” (apathê) in the sense of being “apathetic”, “hard-hearted”, “insensitive” or “like a statue” of stone or iron. Rather, it is to experience natural affection for ourselves, our loved-ones, and other human beings, and to value our lives in accord with nature, which arguably opens us up to experiencing emotional reactions to loss or frustration. Seneca elsewhere explains that whereas the Epicureans mean “a mind immune to feeling” when they speak of apatheia, this “unfeelingness” is actually the opposite of what the Stoics intended (Letters, 9). “This is the difference between us Stoics and the Epicureans; our wise man overcomes every discomfort but feels it, theirs does not even feel it.” The virtue of the Sage consists in his ability to endure painful feelings and rise above them, with magnanimity, while continuing to maintain his relationships and interaction with the world.

Elsewhere Seneca wrote:

I do not withdraw the wise man from the category of man, nor do I deny to him the sense of pain as though he were a rock that has no feelings at all.  I remember that he is made up of two parts: the one part is irrational, — it is this that may be bitten, burned, or hurt; the other part is rational, — it is this which holds resolutely to opinions, is courageous, and unconquerable. […] You must not think that our human virtue transcends nature; the wise man will tremble, will feel pain, will turn pale, for all these are sensations of the body. (Seneca, Letters 71)


Since I wrote this article, Brad Inwood’s excellent Stoicism: A Very Brief Introduction has been published, in which the author makes essentially the same point:

There is a stereotype of Stoicism familiar to everyone, the claim that Stoicism involves being relentlessly rational, but without a trace of emotion—Mr Spock from Star Trek, only more so. That this isn’t the right view of Stoicism is now generally understood, and specialists will even point out that the passions (pathē) from which the Stoic wise person is said to be free are not what we mean by emotions but a more narrowly defined group of states of mind that are by definition pathological. The wise person may well be perfectly rational, but that doesn’t deprive him or her of all affective or emotional experience.

Brad Inwood is one of the leading academic scholars of Stoicism, and a professor of philosophy and classics at Yale.

And following that, another excellent introduction to Stoicism by a leading academic scholar in this field was published: Lessons in Stoicism by John Sellars.

In modern English the word ‘stoic’ has come to mean unfeeling and without emotion, and this is usually seen as a negative trait. […] When the ancient Stoics recommended that people ought to avoid emotions, it was these negative emotions [such as anger] that they primarily had in mind.

He adds,

Contrary to the popular image, the Stoics do not suggest that people can or should become unfeeling blocks of stone. All humans will experience what Seneca calls ‘first movements’. These are when we are moved by some experience, and we might feel nervous, shocked, excited or scared, or we might even cry. All these are quite natural reactions; they are physiological responses of the body, but not emotions in the Stoic sense of the word. Someone who is upset and momentarily contemplates vengeance, but does not act on it, is not angry according to Seneca, because he remains in control.

And he concludes,

The Stoics certainly do not envisage turning people into unfeeling blocks of stone. So, we’ll still have the usual reactions to events – we’ll jump, flinch, get momentarily frightened or embarrassed, cry – and we’ll still have strong caring relationships with those close to us. What we won’t do, however, is develop the negative emotions of anger, resentment, bitterness, jealousy, obsession, perpetual fear or excessive attachment. These are the things that can ruin a life and that the Stoics think are best avoided.

Excerpts Philosophy of CBT Stoicism

How to Deal with Overwhelming Feelings: Postponement in Stoic Practice

The Postponement Strategy in Ancient Stoic Practice

Copyright © Donald Robertson, 2010.  All rights reserved.  This is a brief excerpt (modified) from my book, The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy: Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy (2010).


  • Learn to spot the early-warning signs of unhealthy desires or irrational emotions before they spiral out of control
  • Don’t allow yourself to be “carried away” by your feelings but take them as a signal you should pause for thought
  • Gain “cognitive distance” from your feelings by reminding yourself that the underlying impression (value-judgement) is not the thing itself but just the internal representation of it, and that you are upset not by things themselves but you your value-judgements about them
  • If the feelings is overwhelming, postpone responding to it, or even thinking about it, until things have calmed down and you’re able to rationally evaluate it
  • First apply the general precept of Stoic practice by asking yourself whether the underlying value-judgement is about something “up to you” (directly under your control) or not.  If it is not, then remind yourself of the reasons why Stoics judge external or bodily things (not “up to us”) to be ultimately “indifferent” with regard to the goal of life
  • Consider what the hypothetical ideal Sage, someone perfectly wise and good, would do in response to the same situation, and try to emulate their example.  Alternatively, ask yourself what faculties or virtues nature has given you that correspond with the demands of the situation, such as the capacity for courage or self-control, etc.

The emphasis upon self-awareness or mindfulness in ancient philosophical therapeutics was associated with the recommendation that extreme desires and emotions (the irrational, unhealthy, and excessive “passions”) should be handled with care.  This often consisted in the incredibly sound and commonsense advice that no important decision should be taken when in the grip of rage, depression, or other irrational emotions, but time taken to calm down and recover one’s composure before acting.  Iamblichus attributed the origin of this practice to the ancient Pythagorean sect,

If however at any time any one of them fell into a rage, or into despondency, he would withdraw from his associates’ company, and seeking solitude, endeavour to digest and heal the passion.

Of the Pythagoreans it is also reported that none of them punished a servant or admonished a free man during anger, but waited until he had recovered his wonted serenity.  They use a special word, paidartan, to signify such [self-controlled] rebukes, effecting this calming by silence and quiet. (Iamblichus, 1988, p. 105)

The strategy of postponement was also frequently referred to as an important Stoic practice by Epictetus.  He discusses the example of a man temporarily assailed by impressions of irrational avarice or inappropriate sexual impulses and emphasises that although these initial impressions may occur to almost anyone we are immediately presented with a choice as to whether we indulge them or challenge them in ourselves.  He makes it clear that his students must remind themselves that to give in once to an unhealthy impulse is to weaken ourselves so that we become more vulnerable to it again in the future, whereas to question it forcefully is to strengthen ourselves by forming a stronger habit of resistance to it in the future.  This strategy of focusing upon the longer-term consequences of an action is often found in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT).

Epictetus gives various specific examples of how such an impulse might be counter-acted and controlled, including praising oneself for seeing that it is merely an impression of desirability and not a thing good in itself, and reminding oneself of the example of Socrates’ behaviour, as a role model in respect of similar situations.

If you set these thoughts against your impression, you will overpower it, and not be swept away by it.  But, in the first place, do not allow yourself to be carried away by its intensity: but say, ‘Impression, wait for me a little.  Let me see what you are, and what you represent.  Let me test you.’  Then, afterwards, do not allow it to draw you on by picturing what may come next, for if you do, it will lead you wherever it pleases.  But rather, you should introduce some fair and noble impression to replace it, and banish this base and sordid one.  If you become habituated to this kind of exercise, you will see what shoulders, what sinews and what vigour you will come to have.  But now you have mere trifling talk, and nothing more. (Discourses, 2.18.22-6)

First, though, the Stoic must learn to pause for thought and observe his situation, an aspect of mindfulness that is essential to most remedial action.  The Stoics believed that although irrational ideas could always impose themselves upon the mind, especially in adversity, nevertheless, by maintaining emotional calm and self-awareness, the Sage could choose to either grant or withhold his assent to his initial impressions.  A similar notion is found in Dubois’ rational psychotherapy,

We should react briskly, act enthusiastically for good, obey the impulse of our better feelings.  But however spontaneous this reaction may be, we must nevertheless leave time for calm reason to exercise a rapid control.  Our reason is that which as an arbiter judges finally the value of the emotions of sensibility which make us act.  It is a sentiment of goodness, of pity, which carries us away, reason very quickly gives its approval.  But when we are about to give way to a feeling of anger, envy, vexation, reason should intervene to correct the first impression and modify the final decision. (Dubois & Gallatin, 1908, p. 56)

Similar “stop and think” techniques are employed in modern CBT to control impulses by “nipping them in the bud” before they have a chance to grow out of control.  There’s good evidence to support their efficacy, particularly in the treatment of worry in Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).  However, they seem to be effective for a range of different emotional problems, such as anger, addictions, and sometimes even depressed mood.


Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Excerpts Stoicism

Stoicism and Rational Psychotherapy

Charles Baudouin and Stoic Psychotherapy

Teach Yourself Stoicism and the Art of Happiness

Copyright © Donald Robertson, 2012.  All rights reserved.

The French academic, Charles Baudouin was actually one of the first modern authors to integrate Stoic philosophy with psychotherapy, several decades before CBT or even its precursor REBT. Baudouin explored the relationship between psychotherapy and various religions and philosophies, including Christianity, Buddhism, and Stoicism in his book entitled The Inner Discipline (Baudouin & Lestchinsky, 1924).

Baudouin was a follower of the father of modern self-help Émile Coué, who developed hypnotism into his immensely popular “conscious autosuggestion” method. He was also influenced by the Swiss psychiatrist, Paul Dubois, who had earlier drawn on elements of Stoicism, particularly Seneca, in expounding his “rational persuasion” psychotherapy, an early precursor of CBT. However, Baudouin dedicated a whole chapter of The Inner Discipline to Stoicism and its use in modern therapy and self-help. He wrote that “one of the most original characteristics of Stoicism was the stress it laid upon a vigorous discipline, upon the education of the character”, and for this reason he considered it the branch of classical philosophy most relevant to modern therapy. Baudouin stressed the need for regular daily practice in therapy and self-help, which he found also emphasised in Stoicism. He provides a particularly good account of the morning and evening meditation practices, which he recommends to his readers and patients.

Baudouin says that self-mastery, of the kind espoused by the Stoics, can only be acquired by daily training. He agreed that one of the first philosophical precepts we must master is the distinction between things that are in our power and those that are not. In particular, the first hour of every day demands our attention as a time for mental preparation and rehearsal of philosophical precepts “for the attitude we adopt at this time sets our course for the day”. Baudouin cites the fact that the Pythagoreans “recommended silence and meditation during the first hour after waking”, quoting Marcus Aurelius’ remark about them having us lift our eyes to the heavens at dawn (Meditations, 11.27). Baudouin suggests we follow Marcus’ advice that good resolutions can be made with the best effect at the start of the day, and that we should take this opportunity to counter slothful tendencies: “This initial victory will pave the way for the victories of subsequent hours.” Baudouin advises us that we can acquire good habits of living through daily practice in this way, becoming watchful of our thoughts and actions, and continually exercising our minds in a healthy direction: “Thanks to the suppleness acquired by this course of moral gymnastics, the mind will be enabled to overcome all obstacles.”

Like Dubois before him, Baudouin agreed with the Stoic view that a “scientific” belief in universal determinism is of profound psychotherapeutic importance. He found that contemplating this helped to remind him how many things are beyond our direct control, and of the ultimate worthlessness of the countless things our passions crave. With regard to things not within our power, he employed Epictetus’ maxim, “endure and renounce”, which he calls the principle of “economy of effort”. We must do nothing without a purpose and must not waste our energies by running our heads against a brick wall: “We must not wish for the impossible, or try to do what is impossible.” He quotes Phocylides, a poet from the 6th century BC, who wrote “Do not let past evils disturb you, for what is done cannot be undone.” Baudouin compares this Stoic attitude to a modern adage: “If we can’t get what we like, we must like what we have”, adding, “instead of lamenting because we cannot change our lot, let us learn to love it.”


Stoic Infographic by Michel Daw

Source: Uploaded by user via Michel on Pinterest


See www.livingthestoiclife.org