Recent essays, #18

Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, my Patreon site devoted to practical philosophy. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription levels at $1, $3, and $5), but the majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

Stoicism is 9 parts practice and 1 part theory. Simon Drew interviews Gregory Lopez and yours truly about Stoicism and our latest book: “A Handbook for New Stoics – How to Thrive in a  World Out of Your Control.” We discuss the fact that every philosophy of life, or religion, for that matter, is much more a question of practice than of theory. Which is why the book presents a whopping 52 exercises to get people to be Stoic, and not just talk about it. That said, a bit of theory is, of course, crucial. And A Handbook for New Stoics is organized around the famous three disciplines of Epictetus: desire and aversion, action, and assent. The first discipline trains us to re-orient our desires (and aversions) toward the sort of things that are under our control; the second discipline teaches us how to most effectively deal with other people and generally act in society; and the third discipline refines our ability to arrive at correct judgments about whatever matters we are considering. (listen to the podcast)

Cicero’s Academica, part I. Marcus Tullius Cicero is one of our best sources concerning the early and middle Stoas, i.e., the period of the evolution of Stoicism that goes from the founding of the sect by Zeno of Citium in Athens, circa 300 BCE, to the period of Panaetius (185-109 BCE) and Posidonius (135-51 BCE), the latter being one of Cicero’s teachers. Yet, Cicero himself was an Academic Skeptic, not a Stoic, despite his general sympathy for Stoic philosophy. The reason to look at Academica (“The Academics”), then, is to learn more about a different practical philosophy and how it differentiated itself from Stoicism. “Skepticism” is a rather vague term, which indicated a number of different philosophical positions in the ancient world, and that today refers mostly to so-called scientific skeptics, i.e., people who are critical of notions such as the paranormal, astrology, UFOs, and so forth. While I consider myself a skeptic in the latter sense, that’s not what we are going to talk about today. (continue to read)

Cicero’s Academica, part II. Academica is a treatise on Academic Skepticism and its differences with Stoicism, written by Marcus Tullius Cicero in 45 BCE, two years before he was killed on the order of Mark Anthony, and the same year his beloved daughter Tullia had died in childbirth. No wonder Cicero wrote, at the beginning of Academica: “Having been stricken to the ground by a most severe blow of fortune, and being discharged from all concern in the republic, I seek a medicine for my sorrow in philosophy.” (I.3) In part I of this essay I have covered book I of Academica, and we have seen what Cicero had to say on Stoicism from an Academic Skeptic perspective. I have also given a short introduction to the Skeptics’ philosophy, discussing in what sense skepticism about knowledge can lead to ataraxia, and therefore how Academic Skepticism is not just a theoretical position, but also a philosophy of life, on par with Stoicism, Epicureanism, and the rest. Here I will comment on selected quotes from book II, again with particular reference to what Cicero has to say regarding Stoicism. (continue to read)


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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.