Recent essays, #9

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:

Stoic advice: I’m in love, and terrified to lose her. M. writes: Recently, I’ve been very fortunate to get in a relationship with someone I fancy, respect, and empathize with, a lot. I love her, very much. So much so, every day after work, I sit down and read books about how to love better, as I try to understand this strange, yet touching feeling. I want to learn to love her, not just the feeling. The problem is, I’m extremely scared of her leaving me. In all of my past relationships, I’ve been cheated on (my ex, for example, is currently engaged with my “best friend”). So, after that, I find it incredibly hard to trust anyone. More than simply romantic relationships, my parents too, when I was young, kept threatening each other to leave/kill themselves when shit went wrong. So, as a result, I’ve developed an anxious attachment style. (continue to read)

Thoreau’s Journal: on writing (why and how). I have already written a couple of essays on Henry David Thoreau (here and here), because his brand of personal philosophy — within the broader umbrella of American Transcendentalism — fits very much the mold of practical philosophy to which Figs in Winter is devoted. Here I wish to briefly comment on some excerpts from his personal journal (published as part of a broader collection edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer), partly because of its inherent interest, and partly because of course journaling is a major Stoic technique (as evident from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations), though implemented somewhat differently from what Thoreau does. (continue to read)

Here’s how to practice Stoicism and de-stress — Even if you’re a complete beginner. An excerpt from A Handbook for New Stoics, focusing how to carry out the evening meditation exercise, an approach known in modern psychotherapy as cognitive journaling. (continue to read)

Is going to a strip club or following hot people on Instagram cheating? An interview I did recently with ABC-Australia on the application of virtue ethics to a peculiar everyday ethical problem: micro-cheating. “Ask your friends whether visiting a strip club, watching porn or following hot people on Instagram is cheating, and you’ll likely get mixed responses.” (continue to read)

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Recent essays, #8

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:

Seneca to Lucilius: 39, on healthy and unhealthy desires. According to Seneca, right at the beginning of his 39th letter to his friend Lucilius, we need both to study things in a sustained manner and to keep a handy breviarium, that is, a summary of the fundamental points. We learn by way of the first approach, and are reminded of what we know by the second. This is splendidly illustrated by the two works by Epictetus (well, actually, by his brilliant student, Arrian, based on Epictetus’ lectures): the Discourses, of which we have unfortunately lost four of the original eight volumes (together with a biography of Epictetus, also written by Arrian), are the meat that sustains our main course of study. The Enchiridion, or Manual, is the little thing we carry with us as a refresher always at hand. And what sort of things should we be reminded of, according to Seneca? (continue to read)

What Would a Stoic Do? I met a sophist, and it didn’t go well.

Damn. Recently I had the perfect opportunity to practice my Stoicism, in the quiet of my home, surrounded by friends, and I blew it. Big time. Let me tell you what happened, as a learning lesson for myself and as a warning to other practicing Stoics. I invited over for dinner a good friend of mine and her recently anointed new boy friend. My daughter (who has been asked by her professor of philosophy to do an in-class presentation about Stoicism!) was there too. I invited the sophist — we shall call him Hippias— to come over and discuss a documentary on the 2008 financial collapse over dinner and a good scotch (I promised at the least a 15 years old, turned out to be 18). (continue to read)

Recent essays, #7

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:

How I learned to stop worrying and rediscover the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. The great insight of the philosophy of Stoicism is : shaping your character is the only thing under your control. This article is an excerpt from “A Handbook for New Stoics: How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control” by Massimo Pigliucci and Gregory Lopez, 2019. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold. (continue to read)

The perils of neuro-philosophy. The more I reflect on what I write, the more I flatter myself that I’ve slowly but surely become a gadfly for a number of communities: “skeptics” who are too quick to dismiss and ridicule, scientists who embrace the excesses of scientism, and philosophers who engage in dubious or even pseudo-philosophy. Or maybe it’s just a leftover effect from watching the wonderful “Socrates” by Tim Blake Nelson. Be that as it may (and hoping nobody’s going to give me some hemlock), today is the turn of neuro-philosopher Nayef Al-Rodhan, who wrote a recent piece for the blog of the American Philosophical Association. (continue to read)

Socrates on stage, with notes on the problem with democracy. The other night I went to see “Socrates,” a play (currently at the Public Theater in New York), by Tim Blake Nelson, with the title character played by an awesome Michael Stuhlbarg. (In the accompanying photo, he is facing his disciple, Plato, on the right, played by the impressive Teagle F. Bougere). Despite the mandatory grumpiness by New York Times’ reviewer Laura Collins-Hughes, the play is well worth seeing, and not just for people interested in Ancient Greek philosophy. The performance is almost three hours long, and yet it feels like a breeze because you can’t take your eyes off Stuhlbarg whenever he is on stage, nor can you avoid being transported in the time and place of Socrates, in part because of the set, designed by Scott Pask (the walls include passages from Pericles’ funeral oration — in Greek). (continue to read)

Recent essays, #6

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:

What is and is not in our power, part II. My colleague and critic of Stoicism Christian Coseru’s second major issue with Stoicism concerns the dichotomy of control. Like many, he thinks that a dichotomy is too strict (after all, aren’t there things we can influence, though only partially?) and that it is not in sync, again, with modern research in cognitive science (which has uncovered that much of our thinking takes place below the conscious level). He is incorrect on both points. (continue to read, part I can be found here)

How to practice Stoicism. My friend Greg Lopez (co-author with me of the newly released A Handbook for New Stoics) talk to the folks over at The Switch podcast about how to practice Stoicism, giving an overview of the book and what it means to “be a Stoic.” (continue to read)

Book Club: The Inner Citadel, 8, The discipline of action, in the service of humanity. After a fairly long hiatus, welcome back to our book club! My apologies, but Pierre Hadot’s The Inner Citadel is rather slow going. Long chapters, not exactly accessible prose. But well worth the effort, which is why I keep continuing this series, of which we are probably going to have one or two more entries before all is said and done. This time, let’s take a look at one of the longest and most complex chapters, n. 8, on the discipline of action. (continue to read)

Recent essays, #5

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:

What is and is not in our power, part I. Last year I was part of a small group of scholars who debated the merits (or lack thereof) of Stoicism as modern practical philosophy, first at a session of the American Philosophical Association in Savannah, Georgia, then in print, on the pages of Reason Papers. I have already published here the opening salvo of that session, an article I wrote entitled “Toward the Fifth Stoa: The Return of Virtue Ethics” (part I& part II). I have also written about my response to the first criticon the panel, my friend Brian Johnson of Fordham University (author of the excellent The Role Ethics of Epictetus), who raised interesting issues about the Stoic conceptions of friendship and grief. Here I will address the second critic on the panel, Christian Coseru, of the College of Charleston, who objected to a number of notions surrounding the famous dichotomy of control, the distinction between what is and is not “up to us,” as Epictetus puts it. Christian’s full paper is available on line. (continue to read)

Bad ideas in practical philosophy, Nick Bostrom edition.

Nick Bostrom is a prominent Swedish philosopher, currently at the University of Oxford. In 2011, he founded the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, and is the founding director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford. In other words, someone to reckon with in the field of practical philosophy — if one considers humanity’s existential risks practical enough. Bostrom first came to prominence because of his idea that it is likely that we live in a computer simulation. You know, kind of like the Matrix sci-fi movie. His argument for this goes along the following lines. He maintains that one of these three propositions must be almost certainly true. (continue to read)

Stoicism, virtue, and thriving in a world out of our control. A wide-ranging conversation with The Human Experience podcast on Stoicism as practical philosophy for everyday life. We cover the basics of Stoic theory, how to practice it, and why it is making a positive difference in so many people’s lives. We also talk a bit about my new book, co-written with Greg Lopez: A Handbook for New Stoics, How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control, coming out in bookstores and online on May 14th. (continue to read)

Recent essays, #4

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:

Book Review: John Sellars’ Stoicism, a no-nonsense guide to the ancient philosophy. Pretty much the only thing to object to in John Sellars’ Stoicismis the cover (over which, likely, he had little say). It features “pseudo-Seneca” instead of the actual Seneca. Other than that, it’s one of the best, most clear and concise introductions to ancient Stoicism currently available. Originally published in 2006 and consisting of little above 200 pages, it is organized around six chapters. The first one is, unfortunately, simply titled “Introduction,” and so it is likely to be skipped by several readers. Do yourself a favor and read it. It includes a concise definition of Stoicism, a brief history of the philosophy from Zeno of Citium to Marcus Aurelius, and a section on the kind of historical sources from which we actually know about Stoicism, including Cicero, Plutarch, and Galen. (continue to read)

David Brooks and the five lies culture tells us. Readers who have followed several incarnations of my blogs (like this one, and this one, and this one) will have easily figured out that, politically speaking, I lean left, though with a number of qualifications and caveats. But I make a point of reading conservative authors and columnists, for a couple of reasons: first, to keep up with what they say and how they think (so to sharpen my own opinions and arguments), and second because they too, at least some of the times, have something interesting or constructive to say. A recent example is David Brooks, a regular New York Times columnist, who is defined by Wikipedia as a Canadian-born American conservative political and cultural commentator who writes for The New York Times. On April 15, he has published a column for said newspaper entitled “Five lies our culture tells us.” I’d like to examine each of the lies in turn, in order to stimulate a discussion that may help us all see why such lies contribute to (or even, as Brooks argues, are at the root of) our political problems. (continue to read)

Recent essays, #3

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:

Some of my most loved relatives are sexists and racists. Now what? When I was growing up in Rome I went to a high school whose student and teaching bodies leaned heavily toward the left of the political spectrum. The outside wall still bore the mark of police bullets fired during an anti-Vietnam student protest that took place a couple of years before I began attending the school. I was actually considered a moderate by my schoolmates, and only very occasionally participated in street demonstrations, during one of which I saw some of my friends being charged and beaten by the police. (continue to read)

Silicon Valley style Stoicism. Nellie Bowles, over at the New York Times, has recently published yet another harsh criticism of Stoicism. This time taking inspiration from the creation of something called “the Cicero Institute,” which is attracting Silicon Valley types by promising the usual cocktail of “life hacks” to become rich and famous. Bowles is half right, and I think it’s important to distinguish between the part she does get right and the one she gets distinctly wrong. (continue to read)

Marcus Aurelius – the Unemotional Stoic? Happy 1,898th birthday, Marcus! Here is a short essay to explain why the famous philosopher-king was not an unemotional robot. And why Stoics in general don’t actually spend their time trying to suppress emotions and go through life with a stiff upper lip. (continue to read)