Stoicon-X NYC 2019: the videos

On this past 19 September I hosted the first Stoicon-X New York at the Society for Ethical Culture. Stoicon-X is a mini-version of the annual Stoicon event, which this year has been held in Athens, Greece. See here for more information about Stoicon. We were lucky to have three presenters, authors of three new books on Stoicism that have appeared this year.

The first one was Don Robertson, author of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor.

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was the last famous Stoic philosopher of the ancient world. The Meditations, his personal journal, survives to this day as one of the most loved self-help and spiritual classics of all time. In How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, cognitive psychotherapist Donald Robertson weaves the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius together seamlessly to provide a compelling modern-day guide to the Stoic wisdom followed by countless individuals throughout the centuries as a path to achieving greater fulfillment and emotional resilience. 

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor takes readers on a transformative journey along with Marcus, following his progress from a young noble at the court of Hadrian―taken under the wing of some of the finest philosophers of his day―through to his reign as emperor of Rome at the height of its power. Robertson shows how Marcus used philosophical doctrines and therapeutic practices to build emotional resilience and endure tremendous adversity, and guides readers through applying the same methods to their own lives.

Combining remarkable stories from Marcus’s life with insights from modern psychology and the enduring wisdom of his philosophy, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor puts a human face on Stoicism and offers a timeless and essential guide to handling the ethical and psychological challenges we face today.

Here is the video of Don’s talk:

Our second speaker was Bill Irvine, author of The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient.

Some people bounce back in response to setbacks; others break. We often think that these responses are hardwired, but fortunately this is not the case. Stoicism offers us an alternative approach. Plumbing the wisdom of one of the most popular and successful schools of thought from ancient Rome, philosopher William B. Irvine teaches us to turn any challenge on its head. The Stoic Challenge, then, is the ultimate guide to improving your quality of life through tactics developed by ancient Stoics, from Marcus Aurelius and Seneca to Epictetus.

This book uniquely combines ancient Stoic insights with techniques discovered by contemporary psychological research, such as anchoring and framing. The result is a surprisingly simple strategy for dealing with life’s unpleasant and unexpected challenges—from minor setbacks like being caught in a traffic jam or having a flight cancelled to major setbacks like those experienced by physicist Stephen Hawking, who slowly lost the ability to move, and writer Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered from locked-in syndrome.

The Stoics discovered that thinking of challenges as tests of character can dramatically alter our emotional response to them. Irvine’s updated “Stoic test strategy” teaches us how to transform life’s stumbling blocks into opportunities for becoming calmer, tougher, and more resilient. Not only can we overcome everyday obstacles—we can benefit from them, too.

Here is the video of Bill’s talk:

Finally, yours truly, on A Handbook for New Stoics: How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control.

Stress often comes from situations that are beyond our control—such as preparing for a meeting, waiting for test results, or arguing with a loved one. But we can control our response to these everyday tensions—through the wisdom and practice of Stoicism.

Stoicism is an ancient pragmatic philosophy that teaches us to step back, gain perspective, and act with intention. In A Handbook for New Stoics, renowned philosopher Massimo Pigliucci and seasoned practitioner Gregory Lopez provide 52 week-by-week lessons to help us apply timeless Stoic teachings to modern life.

Whether you’re already familiar with Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, or you’re entirely new to Stoicism, this handbook will help you embrace challenges, thrive under pressure, and discover the good life!

If you’d like to practice with us, join the online discussion group for A Handbook for New Stoics!

And here is the video of my talk:

How to practice Stoicism

Despite the title of the video below, this isn’t about my first book on Stoicism, How to be a Stoic, but rather the more recent one, A Handbook for New Stoics, co-written with my friend Greg Lopez.

The talk was presented at the HowTheLightGetsIn festival, organized in Hay (Wales) by the Institute of Arts and Ideas, May 2019. The video is about 40 minutes long. Enjoy!

Recent Stoic Meditations, #27

When Fortuna allows, I publish a short morning meditation based on a short quote from a Stoic writer, seeking to apply that ancient wisdom to life in the 21st century. Here are the most recent entries:

If sickness had carried off that glory and support of the empire Gnaeus Pompeius, at Naples, he would have died the undoubted head of the Roman people, but as it was, a short extension of time cast him down from his pinnacle of fame. (listen here)

If anyone pities the dead, he ought also to pity those who have not been born. Death is neither a good nor a bad thing, for that alone which is something can be a good or a bad thing. (listen here)

He who dies need fear no darkness, no prison, no blazing streams of fire, no river of Lethe, no judgment seat before which he must appear, and that Death is such utter freedom that he need fear no more despots. (listen here)

Recent essays, #27

Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, both on Patreon and Medium. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription at $3 for Patreon, $5 for Medium, but the latter comes with access to additional authors as well). The majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

Secular pilgrimages: the Academy, the Lyceum, and the Stoa.

I’m writing this while flying back to New York after having spent a few days in Athens, on the occasion of the annual Stoicon event, where I conducted a workshop on practical exercises in Stoicism. While there, my wife and I did what can only be described as the secular equivalent (neither of us is religious) of a pilgrimage. Three of them, in fact. I think it may be worthwhile to reflect on why we did it, and more in general on the meaning that these sorts of things add to our lives.

The three Meccas in question were the place were Plato established his Academy; the one were Aristotle, a bit later on, founded his Lyceum; and the location of the Stoa Poikile, the open space to the margin of the ancient Agora, where the Stoics used to preach their practical philosophy to whoever would listen. (continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

Suggested readings, #27

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

The consciousness illusion. Phenomenal consciousness is a fiction written by our brains to help us track the impact that the world makes on us. (Or not, I’m going to write about this “illusion” craziness soon.) (Aeon)

I read one book 100 times over 10 years… Here are 100 Life-Changing lessons I learned. (About Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations) (Medium)

The fast track to a life well lived is feeling grateful. (I’m a bit skeptical about this sort of quick achievement of wisdom, still…) (Aeon)

Stoicism, insults, and political correctness. What Stoic philosophy would say about offensive behaviour. (Medium)

But is it science? Theoretical physicists who say the multiverse exists set a dangerous precedent: science based on zero empirical evidence. (Aeon)

Recent Stoic Meditations, #26

When Fortuna allows, I publish a short morning meditation based on a short quote from a Stoic writer, seeking to apply that ancient wisdom to life in the 21st century. Here are the most recent entries:

Everything we think we have is actually on loan from the universe, so to speak, and we need to be ready to give it back whenever the universe recalls the loan, no matter in what form it does it. (listen here)

Seneca reminds his friend Marcia, who had lost a son a couple of years later, that it is better to be thankful for what she had, rather than resentful for what she has lost. (listen here)

Believe me — says Seneca to Marcia — [women] have the same intellectual power as men, and the same capacity for honorable and generous action. (listen here)

Every time we lose a loved one it means that we have, in fact, loved. So we should not be resentful for what the universe has taken, but rather thankful for what it has given. (listen here)

Recent essays, #26

Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, both on Patreon and Medium. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription at $3 for Patreon, $5 for Medium, but the latter comes with access to additional authors as well). The majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

How to deal with insults, the Stoic way. “Remember that it is we who torment, we who make difficulties for ourselves — that is, our opinions do. What, for instance, does it mean to be insulted? Stand by a rock and insult it, and what have you accomplished? If someone responds to insult like a rock, what has the abuser gained with his invective?” (Discourses I, 25.28-29)

There has been a lively discussion of late, in Stoic circles, about insults and how to deal with them. A discussion, I believe, that has implications far outside of Stoic philosophy, affecting pretty much anyone who has ever felt insulted at some point or another in their life. Which means almost every human being who ever lived.

The quote above from Epictetus makes it crystal clear what the Stoic advice is concerning insults: ignore them. This is a direct consequence of the fundamental Epictetean notion that there is a sharp distinction between facts and opinions. Facts are objective descriptions of things or events. Opinions are value judgments about those things or events. Facts are independent of the existence of human minds, opinions are generated exclusively by human minds. (continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

Book Club: The Art of Living, 2, The concept of spiritual philosophical exercises. Let’s continue our reading of John Sellars’ The Art of Living: The Stoics on the Nature and Function of Philosophy. Last time we began with chapter 4 (I’m skipping around a bit), dedicated to the debate between Stoics and Skeptics on the nature of knowledge, and we learned that, in the end, the two schools converged toward similar practical positions: the Skeptics had to agree that even if human knowledge is impossible, some opinions are more likely to be correct than others, which makes action possible and not random. On their part, the Stoics had to agree that even if human knowledge is possible, it is a rare feat, reserved for the sage. The rest of us are left pretty much in the same predicament that the Skeptics attribute to all humankind.

Here I want to explore the fifth chapter in the book, which focuses on the concept of philosophical exercises, and which is therefore eminently practical in nature. As usual, it all goes back to Socrates. As John says right at the beginning of the chapter, we find Socrates, in the Gorgias, arguing that mastering principles is necessary but not sufficient, one also needs some kind of practical training. In other words, philosophy conceived as the art of living involves both theory and practice, and it is the latter that turns those who make progress into sages. At least once in a long while, since sages are exceedingly rare. (continue to read on Patreon, Medium)