I'm currently visiting Vienna and nearby Carnuntum, the remains of the Roman legionary fortress where Marcus Aurelius stationed himself during some of the First Marcomannic War and wrote part of The Meditations. I'm here in Austria answering questions on 16th March, the day before the anniversary of Marcus' death (reputedly) at Vienna. My special areas of interest are Stoic philosophy and cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy (CBT), especially the relationship between them. I'm the author of six books and (lots of) articles on ancient philosophy and modern psychotherapy.

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250196620

The Modern Stoicism Team: https://modernstoicism.com/contributors/

Proof: https://donaldrobertson.name/2019/03/15/reddit-ask-me-anything/

eLearning: https://learn.donaldrobertson.name/courses/introducing-how-to-think-like-a-roman-emperor/

Comments: 216 • Responses: 87  • Date: 

bloodymake27 karma

Let's say someone just lost their job or is getting divorced. How can Stoicism help a person in a situation like that? How could they go about applying Stoicism to their lives?

SolutionsCBT101 karma

Dozens of different ways. So I'll have to simplify and pick a few basic examples.

  1. Stoicism teaches us to distinguish more clearly between aspects of our lives that are under our direct control and aspects that are not (everything else) - our own actions versus stuff that happens to us. Stoics carefully train themselves, each day, to take more responsibility for their own voluntary acts and to be more emotionally accepting of events that befall them, outside of their sphere of control. Most people find that basic strategy ("The Dichotomy of Control") helpful.
  2. Stoics also use a strategy I'd call a form of "Cognitive Distancing" that involves remembering that it's not events that upset us but our judgements about them, which there's solid research now showing can alleviate strong emotions.
  3. Stoics also downgrade the perceived catastrophic nature of setbacks to a more balanced and realistic level ("threat appraisal") by focusing on the transience of external events. Clients who are recently divorced might imagine themselves several weeks, months, or years in the future looking back on events with greater detachment. That's similar to what modern therapists call "Decatastrophizing" events.

Ezl17 karma

TIL I’m a Stoic.

SolutionsCBT28 karma

I like to think that everyone is a Stoic, they just don't know it (yet).

StreetPen8 karma

What’s the limit to accepting how much an event is something you can control? E.g., divorce. At some point your actions or lack of actions are part of why the divorce is happening

SolutionsCBT24 karma

What the Stoics really mean is that only our own volition is under our control. (The word they use is a technical term, prohairesis, which is hard to translate but means something like moral choice, choice of values, or volition.) They're not really trying to parse what aspects of an external situation are or are not changeable. Their moral psychology centres on the idea that we have to take absolute responsibility for our voluntary actions and accept everything else in life, in a sense.

So, in your example, the Stoic would accept that his own voluntary action, or inaction, is up to him, and his moral responsibility, while resigning himself to the fact that the outcome isn't really up to him.

I'm not sure but I think you might also be implying that you're talking about past actions. Those would be morally indifferent in the Stoic technical sense because they're no longer under our direct control - they're history. What matters is how we respond in the here and now. The Stoics thought it was largely pointless to blame people for their past actions, although, of course, you might learn something about your own or other people's characters from the past. We should only feel strongly, though, about our own current voluntary actions because those are the only things under our direct control at any given moment.

Sauce-Dangler2 karma

Damn... just realized I may be a stoic :)

SolutionsCBT3 karma

We're all Stoics, in the making.

learningtig19 karma

Assuming Stoicism is your favourite philosophy, what's your second favourite philosophy? Or to put it another way - for folks that have come to Stoicism, and realised that they like philosophy, what would be a good next topic to learn about, and to complement a basic knowledge of Stoicism?

SolutionsCBT30 karma

That's really easy: Socrates. Stoicism was apparently viewed by some of its followers as a Socratic sect, perhaps even a return to the original teachings of Socrates, which it was believed Plato had somewhat distorted by making them too "Academic", introducing the metaphysical theory of forms, etc. Epictetus refers to Socrates very frequently, far more than to any Stoic author, and even straight-up tells his students they must become emulators of Socrates to become wise.

We can try to reconstruct a more authentic picture of Socratic teaching by looking at the early Platonic dialogues, the Socratic dialogues of Xenophon, and a handful of other sources. I believe that the Socratic dialogues set the stage for much of Stoicism and they often provide much more detailed arguments supporting views that I like to say we get in Stoicism (at least in most of the surviving texts) in a relatively "bullet point" format, by comparison.

For instance, perhaps the most famous and characteristically Stoic quote from the literature is "It's not things that upset us but our judgements about them" (Epictetus, Encheiridion, 5). The next sentence, though, mentions Socrates as an example. Indeed, this concept, and piece of psychological advice, occurs several times in the Socratic dialogues of both Xenophon and Plato so I'd say there's a good chance Epictetus was knowingly deriving it from the much earlier philosophy of Socrates. (Read what Cephalus says, for instance, in Book 1 of Plato's Republic, which actually provides a more sophisticated and nuanced argument for this Stoic teaching; also see what Socrates tells his son Lamprocles in Xenophon's Memorabilia, for an example showing that it wasn't just Plato who associated this notion with the teachings of Socrates.)

ppwoods16 karma

I find it interesting that stoicism is becoming more and more popular (r/stoicism has more than 130 000 subscribers) but people today seem to have a less stoic approach than before.

Do you think the popularity of stoicism is a reaction to our current society becoming more divisive and noisy?

SolutionsCBT19 karma


SolutionsCBT30 karma

Sorry but that just seems to call for a simple "yes" answer! ;) It's kind of obvious to me that's a factor because for years a big part of my life has been talking to hundreds, if not thousands, of people about their interest in Stoicism and time and time again they refer to the noisy and intrusive nature of modern society, such as the sense of being bombarded by social media and manipulated by popular culture into a set of values that appear quite toxic: hedonism, narcissism, celebrity culture, consumerism, etc.

609venezia12 karma

Thank you for being here! I hadn't heard of your work before but I will check out your books.

I read somewhere that CBT owes a lot of its history to Stoicism. Could you point out some key differences?

Do you think combining classical stoic approaches with techniques like mindfulness is useful? What about third-wave cognitive therapies?

SolutionsCBT14 karma

I wrote a book about the historical and theoretical relationship between Stoicism and CBT called The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (2010). I also published an article updating this, more concisely, in the journal The Behavior Therapist recently. https://donaldrobertson.name/2019/02/12/stoic-philosophy-as-a-cognitive-behavioral-therapy/

SolutionsCBT16 karma

So it would take a long time to properly answer that question. There's in-depth information in my book and article. In a nutshell, Stoicism and CBT both share the same premise: the cognitive theory of emotion, which holds that our emotions are largely (if not entirely) determined by underlying beliefs. The main (but far from only) difference would be that Stoicism is a philosophy whereas is CBT is a therapy, to put it very simply. Stoicism has a much broader scope, is more preventative in orientation, but it also aligns itself with a specific set of moral values. It's also a lifelong pursuit, whereas CBT is usually remedial and time-limited in scope.

SolutionsCBT20 karma

Yes, I think it's very useful to combine Stoicism and mindfulness. In fact, the Stoics already had a form of mindfulness (prosoche) in their philosophical practice. Third-wave therapies have many things in common with Stoicism that were omitted by second wave researchers and clinicians, such as the emphasis on mindfulness, acceptance, and valued action - all central teachings of Stoicism that were overlooked largely by Beck and Ellis.

houseofeorl9 karma

Do you have or had anxiety disorder?

SolutionsCBT9 karma

No. I've had clinical depression in the past but not really a fully-fledged anxiety disorder, although as a teen I had quite bad social anxiety and I'm naturally prone to blood phobia (it's believed to be partly a genetic trait).

Missy954483 karma

How did you get through your depression?

SolutionsCBT30 karma

Exercise. Quitting drugs and alcohol. Getting out more. Making myself do things that I would do if I wasn't depressed but had stopped doing because of depression. Pets. Spending more time with people who had a positive effect and less with people who brought me down or encouraged me to engage in unhealthy thoughts or actions. Using cognitive therapy techniques and reading the Stoics. Becoming more aware of the way I was using my mind and not allowing myself to indulge in morbid rumination, e.g., by monitoring the duration of ruminative episodes. Eating healthy. Trying to be active and creative, so not letting myself just lie in bed or watch dumb tv. Facing up to things I was avoiding rather than allowing them to continue. Stuff like that.

Missy954487 karma

Basically brute force self discipline?

SolutionsCBT20 karma

I don't really think of it that way. I don't really believe there's such a thing as "brute force" self-discipline. People do things for various reasons. Self-discipline is about engineering situations so that we do certain things. Sometimes it's about strategy, or planning, or sometimes about tricking or manipulating or bribing ourselves, or sometimes just about picturing things clearly or admitting certain things. I don't think that self-discipline is usually just about gritting our teeth and trying harder, though. That way of looking at it just tends to set people who are depressed up for failure, tbh, because they conclude they lack what it takes rather than realizing they're just going about it the wrong way.

HelpSheGotAStrapOn7 karma

How are you ?

SolutionsCBT8 karma

Majestic. How are you?

Nationals7 karma

What are your thoughts on how Stoicism compares to eastern philosophies, especially Buddhism (non-mystical parts)?

SolutionsCBT34 karma

Over and over again people tell me they're drawn to Stoicism because they perceive it as offering "a Western alternative to Buddhism" and other Eastern philosophies. I studied Buddhism and Hinduism at university in the history of religions department, as part of my first degree in philosophy, I was secretary to the Buddhist society - heck, I even have a Buddhist tattoo. But I lost interest in Buddhism somewhat over time and turned increasingly to Stoicism and Western philosophy. It's concepts and values are just more familiar to me. When I studied Buddhist texts I often felt Western Buddhists were either puzzled by the more cryptic aspects or forced to read them very selectively in order to turn Buddhism into what they wanted it to be. I met several Buddhist teachers from the East and their views were generally quite at odds with the young Western students who were "into Buddhism". For example, a Sri Lankan Buddhist abbot I met said that he ate meat. I asked him how he reconciled that with the Buddhist doctrine of ahimsa (not harming sentient life) and he said that it was okay because it was slaughtered by the butcher so he got the bad karma and not the monks. I tried to explain to him that Westerners would find that sort of ethical reasoning baffling but he just told me he couldn't see the problem. I had quite a few conversations like that and realized that the Buddhist tradition had been rather sanitized in many of the Western books I was reading.

There are also important philosophical differences between Buddhism and Stoicism. It's hard to make a comparison (I've had this conversation countless times so I know how it goes!) because Buddhism is such a diverse set of traditions. Someone will always object that's not what it means to them. However, the goal of Buddhism, ultimately, is usually defined as nirvana or the cessation of desire and of consequent suffering. The goal of Stoicism is wisdom and virtue, by contrast. The Stoics will argue those are not the same thing but there are important practical differences. Indeed, it was Socrates who first argued very powerfully that often two philosophies (his versus the Sophists') may look virtually identical on the surface but if their ultimate goals are different then the whole meaning of what they're doing might be quite at odds with one another, and that's important.

bright-morningstar9 karma

I really liked this answer and I agree with you on that people who are reading Buddhism tries to tweak the texts into what they want to hear, to sanitize it. Do you think the same thing also happens time to time in Stoicism? Also would you say Buddhism is somewhat pretty "Nihilistic", even tho they always claim that Buddha denied nihilism and said choose Middle Way, but the nihilism he was talking about was not the same Nihilism we use as today.

SolutionsCBT11 karma

I think people definitely have to adjust Stoic texts to fit modern values but I feel that it's less of an issue than with Buddhism. That's why so many people, it seems to me, say they find Stoicism more appealing as a "Western alternative to Buddhism". They obviously find it more consistent with their existing cultural concepts and values, for some reason.

Buddhism actually used to be called a form of "nihilism" by Western academics. It's hard to generalize because the Buddhist tradition is so diverse and some forms are more nihilistic than others. In general, I do think that Buddhism is more nihilistic than Stoicism, though. The Stoics historically had more interest in politics and social virtue than the Buddhists.

bright-morningstar7 karma

Thanks Donald. One last question if you have time. I'm just begginning to rebuild myself from past issues like depression, childhood traumas and emotional abuses. I'm gonna start using Stoicism and CBT but I find Virtue as the sole good in all circumstances is too over the skies for now. Would it be still good if I just take my time and just take what I find useful for now while try to be more virtuous but without pushing too much?

SolutionsCBT8 karma

Yes, of course. That's what the Stoics would advise. You have to begin with baby steps, in a sense. Small changes, though, often have big consequences. In my experience as a therapist, few people go wrong because they start too small. Most people bite off more than they can chew and set themselves up for failure because they can't achieve unrealistic goals. Just begin by making small strategic changes in your life, and observing the consequences. Virtue (arete) for Stoics just means doing your best, and thinking clearly about what's good and bad in life. Someone might start, though, just by reducing or eliminating certain vices, such as giving way to anger less often.

TalkingBackAgain4 karma

it was okay because it was slaughtered by the butcher so he got the bad karma and not the monks

Any philosophy or school of thought that uses this kind of reasoning to weasel out from under their own argument is a default ’no’ for me. If you talk the talk you have to walk the walk. It’s the butcher who gets the bad karma. Come on already.

SolutionsCBT6 karma

He seemed pretty confident that made sense to him and all his monk friends. It's obviously like saying if you hire a hit man to murder your ex wife that's morally fine and dandy because the bad karma is all on the hit man for actually pulling the trigger.

Dassiell2 karma

On one hand I agree that, philosophy and especially religion, it tends to get “sanitized” into different viewpoints. On the other hand, I’d have no problem with that if they didn’t claim to be following the source material to the letter in the first place. If you took what you liked from Buddhism and left parts that didn’t make sense, or even added other things, it’s a whole new philosophy and that is okay.

SolutionsCBT1 karma

Sure but I felt that by continuing to do that I ended up with a "whole new philosophy" that, in some regards, was closer to Stoicism than to Buddhism.

mcotter126 karma

Why do you think Stoicism is good or worthwhile?

SolutionsCBT17 karma


  • I've been talking to thousands of people about it over the past twenty years and they keep telling me it helps them a lot, and it seems to me that's true.
  • We have mountains of research from modern cognitive therapy that show Stoicism-inspired ideas are effective in psychotherapy and we have some initial data from Modern Stoicism that directly measures benefits of Stoic training and seems to show benefits for emotional wellbeing.
  • I found it very helpful myself as a way of coping with stress and developing a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life.
  • I think it addresses many of the shortcomings in modern self-help literature, e.g., by encouraging people to think critically, like a philosopher, rather than just take things on faith, but also to do so in a way that's psychologically self-aware and healthy.
  • I think it encourages people to find a healthy alternative to some of the worst ethical aspects of modern culture by challenging consumerism, hedonism, narcissism, and narrow self-interest in general with a more healthy and admirable worldview that places wisdom and other character virtues squarely at the centre and aligns them with the common welfare of mankind, arguing that we can't flourish if we're feeling alienated from other human beings, and so on.

SolutionsCBT8 karma

Also, as I pointed out in my first book, the literature is (mostly) very beautiful and that makes it memorable and easier to digest than the sort of dry stuff we get in modern self-help or therapy literature.

Kzilao5 karma

What do you think about Freud in regards to modern therapy?

SolutionsCBT15 karma

I started off studying Freudian psychoanalysis and the early history of psychotherapy in general. (My first book is the edited collected writings of James Braid, who invented hypnotism, the Victorian precursor of psychoanalysis.) I also have a masters degree in psychoanalytic therapy and trained as a psychodynamic counsellor.

With that in mind, I really don't think Freud has much to offer modern psychotherapy at all, to be honest. When people try to defend Freud they typically make the mistake of attributing innovations to him that were already found in the writings of psychotherapists who preceded him. What's good in Freud isn't original and what's original in him isn't good, basically. I'd go even further and argue that Freud's negative attitude toward scientific research can be shown to have set back the field of psychotherapy roughly half a century. (I'd need to spend a lot more time responding in detail to flesh that out, though, so I'll need to just leave it there.)

Missy954485 karma

What about Frankl‘s approach of logotherapy? It seems so much like come alongside Stoicism where the therapist just helps the patient find some context

SolutionsCBT5 karma

A lot of people think it resembles Stoicism, although Frankl gives no indication, as far as I know, of ever having read the Stoics. Also, Logotherapy never really established itself as a major modality of psychotherapy. It's got some value but has largely been superseded by other models of therapy now.

ryanaldred5 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA. I’m currently reading your book “Stoicism and the Art of Happiness”, and I’ve found it to be perhaps the most comprehensive and well-written introduction to Stoicism I’ve yet read. Do you happen to have any favourite bits of trivia or humorous anecdotes that you’ve come across in the course of your research?

SolutionsCBT5 karma

Quite a few, actually. I don't know if I have time to write them all up here so I guess I'll have to just pick one as an example. I mentioned elsewhere that we're told Chrysippus died laughing at one of his own jokes, about a donkey. One random bit of trivia is that Marcus Aurelius was a distant relative of Barea Soranus, one of the leading members of the Stoic Opposition, executed by Nero. One of my favourite things is to notice how metaphors used by Marcus in The Mediations might be related to events in his life. For instance, I just shot a video at Carnuntum talking about how he says attachment to externals is like setting your heart on a little sparrow which is bound to flit away and disappear before long. As soon as I finished speaking the little birds in the background started chirping. I can easily imagine that when Marcus refers to little birds in The Meditations he was hearing the same sound, in the countryside here near the Danube.

houseofeorl3 karma

Other than you, do you have any reference for Modern Stoicism? Any lady?

SolutionsCBT8 karma

Do you just mean information on the Modern Stoicism organization in general? The website is the best place to start:


Do you mean are there any women involved in modern Stoicism? Well, sort of. Yes and no. There are definitely more men (about 70-80% male) although that's true of philosophy in general. If you look over our list of past conference speakers and people who contribute to the blog you'll see quite a lot of women, although still in the minority. Some of the female academics aren't wholeheartedly Stoic - they may be interested in but also critical of Stoicism. For example, in general, Nancy Sherman, Margaret Graver, Antonia Macaro, Martha Nussbaum, Elen Buzaré, Sharon Lebell, and others, write and speak about Stoicism.

stig9473 karma

Do you think Marcus Aurelius failed as a parent? What are your thoughts on Stoicism and parenting?

SolutionsCBT4 karma

It's hard to say. It's actually a more complex historical question than people normally assume so I've written a detailed blog post about it: https://donaldrobertson.name/2018/01/19/why-did-marcus-aurelius-allow-commodus-to-succeed-him/

The short answer is that we're told (if we can trust the histories) that Marcus did his best to educate Commodus. He would also have had limited time with him because throughout most of his youth, Marcus was busy in another country (Pannonia, encompassing modern day Austria and some adjacent lands) fighting a major war. One historian says that Commodus wasn't a bad person at first, but rather gullible and easily led, and that he was corrupted by falling in with the wrong crowd and abandoning his mentors and teachers, especially Pompeianus, Marcus' son-in-law and senior general. (Incidentally, that's one of the individuals Russell Crowe's character Maximus is loosely based upon in Gladiator.)

There are a growing number of resources for Stoicism and parents, as well as Stoicism in schools. I collected some together a while back in another blog post: https://donaldrobertson.name/2018/05/21/stoicism-and-parenting-stoic-mums-and-dads/

I think Stoicism has a huge amount to offer parents. I'd even go as far as to say that it's the perfect operating system for loving parents. (I'm not alone, Musonius Rufus said something that basically amounts to the same thing.)

flyfrog3 karma

Its hard for me to accept your last paragraph here. While listening to Meditations, I couldn't help but feel disturbed by how he encourages parents to easily let go of children. I can't help but feel like he removes emotion too much in this case. A child isn't born with only logic, and to not experience the passion of a parent, that would cause so much confusion as to where the child belongs in the world. I think this is even supported by how you describe Commodus falling in with a bad crowd.

"34. As you kiss your son good night, says Epictetus, whisper to yourself, “He may be dead in the morning.” Don’t tempt fate, you say. By talking about a natural event? Is fate tempted when we speak of grain being reaped?"

"Independence and unvarying reliability, and to pay attention to nothing, no matter how fleetingly, except the logos. And to be the same in all circumstances—intense pain, the loss of a child, chronic illness. And to see clearly, from his example, that a man can show both strength and flexibility."

"Not “some way to save my child”—but a way to lose your fear."

Now as for love for your child, he does show that a little. But the bond between parent and child has been proven to be more than logical. Think of Harlow's experiments with monkeys. Treating a child on the basis of pure logic I think could only cause disfunction.

"To show your teachers ungrudging respect (the Domitius and Athenodotus story), and your children unfeigned love"

SolutionsCBT2 karma

I disagree. I have a young daughter and I practiced thinking about her death every night. It doesn't make me love her any less. In fact, to be honest, I believe that helps me to have a more rational and constructive way of experiencing parental love. That's exactly what the Stoics say. Epictetus says we should, of course, love our children. He even says it's not within our power to do otherwise, something many people today might question - he means that parental love is a powerfully innate instinct and part of our fundamental nature. But he believes it should be realistic and that means fully comprehending our own mortality and that of our loved ones because otherwise the Stoics argue that we're committing a sort of lie of omission by excluding these things from our perception of the relationship. They just want us to face the truth, and yet love one another authentically on that basis. As Marcus Aurelius puts it, the Stoic ideal is to be free from irrational passions and yet "full of parental love" (philostorgia).

Marcus' private letters show that he was an extremely affectionate friend and parent, much more than many modern readers. Stoicism didn't take that natural affection for his children away, it just helped him to make it more realistic, and to improve it in certain ways, e.g., by making the parent less dependent on their affection being reciprocated by the child. The wise person loves their child (or anyone else) as a mortal, who might be lost at any moment, and who lies outside their sphere of control, and might turn against them or reject them. That's a powerful means of getting past the all-too-common toxicity of "I love you as long as you love me back."

thekillercook3 karma

How can cbt and stocism help deal with cognitive issues that come with a TBI?

SolutionsCBT5 karma

Like the question about short-term memory loss and CBT, that's not really my field. I mainly work with anxiety disorders in the general population whereas someone with TBI would be receiving help from one or more specialists. CBT would be possible but potentially more difficult depending on the symptoms and nature of the injury. It would need to be carefully adapted based on an individual assessment of the patient's needs, perhaps simplified. It might be that behavioural interventions would be easier, in some cases, than more cognitive-oriented techniques, for example.

KnockingInATomb2 karma

Outside of the Stoics, what are a few books you think everyone should read? Any specific suggestions for someone going into the mental health field?

SolutionsCBT1 karma

That's a good question. It depends. I don't like recommending books because I think different people benefit from different books. I really like The Odyssey and Xenophon's Memorabilia of Socrates. I think everyone should read the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

For people going into mental health is a bit more of a specific question... I think everyone should read the relevant research journals and textbooks reviewing research evidence, e.g., in psychotherapy. (Depending if that's what they're doing.) Two of my favourite books are Conditioned Reflex Therapy by Andrew Salter and The Practice of Behavior Therapy by Joseph Wolpe but those are very old now. Everyone should read a little bit of Albert Ellis, although that's also old now. On the other hand, I think all clinicians should read Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change by Stephen Hayes at al., and Beck and Clark's Cognitive Therapy of Anxiety Disorders - for two fairly important modern clinical manuals of evidence-based behaviour therapy / CBT.

bright-morningstar2 karma

Donald what is your opinion about ACT and his book Getting out of your mind and into your life? Would you recommend it with people who specially deal with rumination and feeling guilt about past mistakes?

SolutionsCBT1 karma

Yes. I like ACT. My only criticism is that I think they overstate how much more effective it is compared to traditional CBT, based on the research findings they're about as good as one another, although ACT is simpler and maybe requires fewer sessions. I'm a bit more into Metacognitive Therapy (MCT) but they're broadly similar approaches. ACT would be good for the problem you described.

nickinthecorner2 karma

How does a Stoic deal with something like the massacre this week in New Zealand? A colleague "mistakenly" shared the video of the shootings on the work WhatsApp group, with no explanation. Although I didn't watch it I did click through to see what it was. I feel quite haunted by the image I saw; I'm troubled that this sort of thing happens in the world; I'm troubled that people are sharing images and footage of this sort of thing. And I'm troubled that people can innocently be exposed to this sort of imagery.

SolutionsCBT7 karma

The first thing I tend to do is remind myself that there were also many massacres and natural disasters, etc., in the ancient world, during the lives of the ancient Stoics. That's not just a piece of historical trivia but itself part of the Stoic psychological strategy for coping with adversity. Marcus had to deal with the Antonine Plague, which killed an estimated five million people during his reign, as well as floods and earthquakes that killed many innocent people. Then the Marcomanni and their allies invaded the Roman empire, looting and pillaging, and reputedly capturing and enslaving hundreds of thousands of people. There was a lot of violence and injustice in the ancient world. Nobody gets upset about it now, though.

We have to consider how much control we have over external events. Most of the catastrophes we see on the news are almost totally beyond our control so why do they upset us more than similar or worse events that happened in the past? Or the knowledge that worse disasters will inevitably happen after we're dead? That's not an excuse for passivity, though, but rather a reason to recalibrate and focus on what's actually within our sphere of control. The goal of Stoicism is, in part, to find a way of balancing moral action with emotional resilience, which necessarily means a less intense emotional reaction to such events. Seneca said that the wise man isn't heatless: he's grazed by events but not wounded by them.

Joeleflore2 karma

i sometimes spend days being angry about years old experiences, replay them in my head over and over. Can you recommend one of your books to start with to change my ways? And thanks!!!!

SolutionsCBT1 karma

The Stoics were very concerned to deal with anger. Seneca wrote an entire book called On Anger, which survives today. Marcus Aurelius opens The Meditations by commenting on the even-tempered nature of his grandfather and goes on to say that he struggled with his own temper as a young man. The Meditations contains numerous references to Stoic strategies for coping with anger but one passage in particular stands out (11.18) because in it Marcus actually lists ten different Stoic strategies for managing anger. Elsewhere in The Meditations he keeps returning to various subsets of this list, drawing several techniques at a time from this master list.

My new book has a whole chapter on anger (Chapter 7: Temporary Madness) which describes these Stoic strategies in detail. You might also find the article below helpful:


Theli72 karma

Stoicism is typically intended as a personal life philosophy. Being already familiar to a limited extent with Zeno's Republic and Hierocles' circles of concern, what else may be found within Stoic thought with regards to an ideal society?

SolutionsCBT2 karma

Not much. We have to reconstruct an idea of Zeno's Republic from various fragments, some of which are a bit obscure. I would argue that we need to also look at what we're told about the Cynic Republic, because that's lumped together with discussion of the Stoic political ideal by some authors, and it's implied they're very similar. We can also compare Zeno's Republic to Plato's and ask why they're different because in a sense Zeno was reacting to Plato and critiquing his political vision.

We also find some quite striking political remarks at the start of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations.



Joeleflore2 karma

While we have you here, what’s a good translation of The Meditations?

SolutionsCBT1 karma

Translation is a balancing act between readability and literalness. Different readers prefer one or the other.

The Gregory Hayes translation is very readable but perhaps not the most faithful to the original text. The Robin Hard translation isn't quite as much fun but it's still very modern and readable and it's a bit closer to the Greek original.

Marcus' Greek, incidentally, is very different from Epictetus', as you'd expect. (Although Epictetus' Discourses were actually written by Arrian.) Marcus trained most of his life with the leading Greek and Latin rhetoricians of his day. Epictetus wasn't illiterate, though - his role as a slave for Nero's secretary may even have involved writing letters.

Nevertheless, Marcus clearly displays a much bigger vocabulary and more sophisticated use of language. Epictetus' writing is quite repetitive and formulaic - it implies that there's an underlying system of ideas being discussed and he's not just speaking off the cuff. That's less obvious in Marcus because he might use six different words in different places to describe basically the same idea. Sometimes his meaning can be obscured a little by translation. For instance, if we arbitrarily pick the first sentence of The Meditations, Marcus says his grandfather was ἀόργητος, which might be translated as "even tempered" or something. However, it's a bit more obvious in the Greek that he meant the man never got irritated or lost his temper - he didn't get angry. That's interesting because Marcus later says he struggled not to get angry and lose his own temper as a young man, so it makes sense he'd open The Meditations by talking about how his grandfather was an important role model to him in this regard. Anger management, indeed, is one of the main recurring themes in the text.

Lynntropy1 karma

The Gregory Hayes translation is very readable but perhaps not the most faithful to the original text. The Robin Hard translation isn't quite as much fun but it's still very modern and readable and it's a bit closer to the Greek original.

I've seen what you mean about the variety of modern or readable versus accuracy ("closer to the Greek original") and how strongly that can affect the meaning and how it resonates with me. I hadn't thought about things like:

That's less obvious in Marcus because he might use six different words in different places to describe basically the same idea.

So now I'm even more curious about learning to read the original texts. When/why did you decide you needed to learn to read Greek? Had you begun reading Stoic translations and were becoming a practitioner and desired to be able to read the actual text directly (which is kind of how I'm feeling) or was it more about being a scholar who writes about these texts and needing to analyze every exact word, or both? I wonder if it's similar to reading subtitles (some French a long time ago) in a movie and the fulfillment of recognizing the simplicity of the translation versus the nuance and meaning of what the character actually said and being thankful to experience the original content. Is reading Marcus in the original text enjoyable in that kind of way?

Would you advise learning to read the originals? Why or why not? Often even to build a vocabulary in another language you learn a lot more context about the society and day to day life and people; would you say that's true to learn this Greek and whether that's complicated further by the texts being written in such a different time? How did you learn? What did you read first? With Marcus using more nuance and more variety, does that clearly equal a larger vocabulary? If so, a new reader might pick up Epictetus before Marcus? (I would still most desire to be able to read Marcus; even with a dictionary in the other hand.)

I'm really curious about your experience and opinion on this. But, also, as I haven't seen the Robin Hard translation, I should probably read through it which will also inspire me toward or away from this desire to read the originals. Is there one that's even "closer" even at the expense of "modern" or "readable"?

I also just started Stoicism and the Art of Happiness on vacation (after reading lots of your other stuff elsewhere including your courses). Thank you very much for everything you do and the content you put into the world.

SolutionsCBT1 karma

I'm not a professional classicist and my knowledge of ancient Greek is pretty basic but it's good enough to help me re translate certain passages and spot some nuances that are lost in translation. I began reading Greek because I realized it would help me to analyze the texts and understand the philosophy in certain ways. I don't think everyone needs to do that. It's hard to explain but the work I was doing required going deeper into the texts to spot the use of formulaic phrases or technical terms, and tease out subtle nuances of meaning in order to properly compare the ancient writings to specific ideas in modern psychotherapy.

SolutionsCBT1 karma

For instance, in Hard's translation,

From Rusticus: I gained the idea that my character was in need of correction and cultivation... (1.7)

Παρὰ Ῥουστίκου τὸ λαβεῖν φαντασίαν τοῦ χρῄζειν διορθώσεως καὶ θεραπείας τοῦ ἤθους

The word translated "cultivation" by Hard is actually therapeia or "therapy", which is kind of helpful to know if you're interested in comparing the whole process to modern cognitive therapy! Instead of psychotherapy, though, or therapy for the psyche, he says therapy for one's character (ethos). We can than compare this to what we know about the Stoics' use of this expression elsewhere. For example, Galen wrote a book about the therapy of the passions loosely based on earlier Stoic writings, which arguably sheds light on what Marcus is saying here about his relationship with Rusticus, his own Stoic mentor.

SaulsAll2 karma

What parallels do you see between Stoicism and Eastern schools of thought? When you see lines such as this from the Bhgavad-gita:

Bg 2.14 — O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.

Do you think, "Why, that's exactly what Stoicism teaches!," or do you see overt or subtle differences? Which school of Eastern thought do you think most closely resembles Stoicism?

Edit: I see you've already made a post comparing Buddhism, have you looked into Hindu or Taoist schools of thought as well?

SolutionsCBT2 karma

Well, there are lots of similarities between many different schools of ancient philosophy and religions. I actually studies the Gita at university in Aberdeen. Our lecturer all those years ago, Prof. Thrower, began the term by warning us that it's easy to find similarities between different religions but that becomes kind of reductionist and it's usually more interesting to look closely at the subtle differences.

I think there are probably passages in the Gita that are more akin to Stoicism than the one you've quoted, to be honest. It's not actually clear in that quote whether the Gita is saying that it's our value judgements that mainly determine our emotional disturbance, and that would be the core teaching of Stoicism in this regard. You could possibly interpret that passage as evidence that the Gita is at odds with Stoicism, actually.

There are so many different eastern philosophies that I couldn't say which one is most like Stoicism. None of the major religions are really good candidates but there are bound to be obscure offshoots of them that are closer to what Stoicism actually teaches. You don't really get the emphasis on virtue ethics and on the intellectual (cognitive) of emotions in other traditions that are so characteristic of Stoicism, IMHO. If you're looking for a Western philosophy that resembles Buddhism, incidentally, the more obvious choice would be Skepticism, founded by Pyrrho after he'd visited India, which some scholars believe may even be inspired by exposure to Hindu or Buddhist teachings.

Your edit... I might as well explain this in a bit more detail to avoid confusion... When I was about fifteen I started reading various classical religious texts. My father was a Freemason and that led me to read the Bible and then the various Gnostic gospels. Then I read the Upanishads and Gita and some other Hindu texts. I read Sun Tzu, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and the I Ching. I read the dhammapada and other Buddhist scriptures. A few year later I studied philosophy at Aberdeen University and studied history of Indian religions as an elective (as well as cultural anthropology). I was the secretary of the Buddhist society and was quite involved with Buddhism for 2-3 years. Then I started to become more interested in Stoicism, around 1996 roughly, and lost interest in eastern religions. Along the way I read quite a lot of other more obscure religious and New Age books.

HalpertWingerPeralta2 karma

Do you yourself hold to the tenants of Stoicism. If not, why not?

SolutionsCBT1 karma

Yes, I think I do. Not everyone agrees with that appraisal, though! As I interpret the ancient Stoics, I agree with their central teachings and I've been trying to follow them in my daily life for the past twenty years or so. I don't really believe in Stoic theology but I don't think the ancient Stoics considered that absolutely essential, based on what they say about it. Other people have a much stricter, kind of doctrinaire, interpretation of ancient Stoicism that insists you have to believe in Zeus being a provident deity, etc., but I'm an agnostic. I agree with the core principles of Stoic ethics, though.

JimiSlew32 karma

If I had one 50 minute period to teach Stoicism to students would recommend any texts (that they can read beforehand) and/or activities to do in class?

SolutionsCBT3 karma

Just get them to read The Enchiridion, the Handbook of Epictetus.

Questions + Stoics train themselves to distinguish more clearly between what's voluntary, or up to them, in any given situation, especially when facing stressful events. What are the pros and cons of that strategy? + Stoics remind themselves that it's not events that upset us but rather our opinions about events, especially strong value judgments about events beyond our direct control. What are the consequences of looking at stressful situations in that way? + The Stoics would remind themselves each day of their own mortality, and that their loved ones might die at any time. Why wouldn't that just leave them feeling depressed? + Epictetus was a crippled slave who lived in poverty. Marcus Aurelius was emperor of Rome at the height of its power, one of the most important men in history. Do you think Stoic philosophy is more suited to a slave, an emperor, or to both? + Epictetus says that most of our fears in life are irrational and do us more harm than the things of which we're frightened. He even says that death cannot be truly fearsome because Socrates for one was unafraid of dying. What, if anything, should we fear in life?

Activities + View from above - maybe audio from web + Two columns headed "desired" and "admired" - first list what you desire to have in life then what you admire about other people. Are the columns different? Why? What would your life be like if you moved all the admired items into your column for desire, and made it your goal to possess these qualities yourself? + Contemplation of transience. Pick a stressful event. Ask yourself what next? What would realistically be most likely to happen in the days and weeks that follow? What if you tried to cope wisely versus giving in to upsetting emotions? How would you feel looking back on the event a year, ten years, twenty years from now?

washboardsam2 karma

I think my wife is a stoic. But not me. How do stoic/non-stoic pairings work out?

SolutionsCBT6 karma

Stoics are inherently very accepting of non-Stoics. They assume the majority of people are foolish and vicious, and in a sense insane, but accept the fact with total equanimity.

GD_WoTS2 karma

Three questions:

What might 21st century politics look like if officials were earnest Stoics, if the world’s superpowers were graced with their own modern Marcus Aurelius’?

Do you think Stoic theology holds any water?

What’s your view on recreational (or medicinal) drug usage and alcohol usage?

Edit:last q

SolutionsCBT9 karma

To your third question... By some accounts the Stoics, like some other philosophical sects, were "water drinkers", presumably meaning they didn't drink much wine. However, according to other accounts (perhaps caricatures, though, by critics) famous Stoics like Chrysippus and Cato were heavy drinkers.

I think different Stoics may have had different attitudes toward drugs and alcohol. I think some would say that it's bad to do anything that diminishes our self-control unnecessarily or harms our ability to reason and think clearly, etc. To some extent it would turn, though, on the empirical question as to how "healthy" or "unhealthy" taking drugs is for an individual. That might vary. I was a drugs counsellor for a couple of years in South London. I've met many people who drink heavily or take drugs regularly and seem to do okay in life - perhaps it even helps them in some ways. However, I've also seen people go off the rails very badly, even just drinking moderately or using a "mild" drug like cannabis. In particular, people who already have serious mental health problems often (but not always) fare badly when they begin regularly (i.e., every day or so) using drugs and/or alcohol as a way of coping.

SolutionsCBT7 karma

  1. First of all, what we know about Stoic politics is quite fragmentary and tricky. See my articles: https://donaldrobertson.name/2017/11/23/stoic-politics-and-the-republic-of-zeno/


However, the Stoics cherished wisdom and virtue, so they'd encourage society in small steps to move in that direction, preferring to lead by example rather than lecturing others, though. They were also known for their ethical cosmopolitanism which argues that all humans should be viewed as our kin, regardless of status, age, sex, religion, or race, etc.

  1. Stoic theology is also notoriously slippery. The Stoics were pantheists, basically, but perceived as virtually atheists by some critics. They often interpreted established myths as metaphors for natural phenomena, and their Zeus is synonymous with Nature, albeit intelligent and provident. I think it's clear that the ancient Stoics themselves often (but perhaps not always) argued that theological beliefs were (important but not) necessary to belief in Stoic ethics and the attainment of virtue.

GD_WoTS3 karma

Thanks! Will check out those articles. If I may ask one more question—why are you so active and motivated in promoting Stoic philosophy?

SolutionsCBT5 karma

I wrote about that in the introduction to How to Think Like a Roman Emperor. (Because people kept asking me to go into more detail about how I got involved in this field.) The short answer is that I was very interested in philosophy, psychology and self-improvement (meditation, self-hypnosis, etc.) as a teenager. When I discovered Stoicism it was a revelation to me because it seemed to weave all my interests neatly together into one subject. So I became personally very committed to studying Stoicism and learning how to apply it in daily life. That was over twenty years ago, and I'm still very much involved in Stoicism - it's my full-time job, effectively.

As a psychotherapist, I became convinced that prevention is better than cure and interested in what we call resilience training, i.e., using CBT and other psychological skills to reduce future risk of mental health problems. See my book, for instance, Build Your Resilience (2012). Stoicism is a powerful preventative approach and can be viewed as something bigger and more profound than CBT - a whole philosophy of life, not just a short-term therapy technique. But also as I've worked with Stoicism I've been kind of sucked into other people's enthusiasm. I get bombarded with emails and other messages every day from people who are benefitting from Stoicism, and for many of them it's life-changing or life-saving. So I ended up committing all of my time to researching and teaching Stoicism and helping people to find ways to use it to address problems like coping with anxiety or chronic pain, etc.

Lantore2 karma

Named my son Aurelius after Marcus Aurelius, what's a good age to get him reading meditations? Currently 4 years old, so I have time!

SolutionsCBT4 karma

Marcus started training in philosophy at twelve, which was exceptionally young, normally it would be fifteen at the earliest for a Roman noble.

My daughter is seven. I started telling her stories about Greek mythology and philosophy around three or four. I wouldn't start with The Meditations, obviously. Marcus actually mentions Aesop's fable of the town mouse and the country mouse in there. Start kids with little stories about animals, etc., from Aesop and with simple stories from the Greek myths. Those easily develop into discussions about philosophy later. I have some web comics based on Marcus Aurelius and Aesop's Fables.


(Those are part of a free online course about my new book, incidentally.)

bright-morningstar3 karma

Can I give the modern translation of Meditations to my brother 15, which he is struggling with emotional abuse and neglect from my mother and having depressive tendencies? I already gave him the Feeling Good book from David Burns. But I want to support him with this wisdom so he can learn to defend his mind even when he cannot control what my mother does or says to him.

SolutionsCBT2 karma

Maybe. Some fifteen year olds would get into it but others might be a bit young for it. Try it and see. Some of the modern self-help books on Stoicism might be easier for him to get into, perhaps. I'm about to start work on a graphic novel about the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. It's meant for adults but I'm guessing it would appeal to teenagers.

onedavester2 karma

How do you give cognitive therapy to someone with short term memory loss?

SolutionsCBT3 karma

That's not really my field. I specialize in anxiety disorders. Cognitive therapy can be difficult with people who have cognitive impairments but may still be beneficial. The procedures would usually have to be simplified more and tailored for the individual. Some people have carried out clinical work and research in this area, e.g., with dementia suffers: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/Care-and-cure-magazine/summer-18/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt-dementia

fetishiste2 karma

How would you recommend applying stoic philosophy in therapeutic contexts in a way that aligns with some of what we know about the mood disorders related to chemical imbalance, or developmental neurodivergence?

I ask because I’m a social worker in training, and my partner is autistic and found Stoicism incredibly helpful as a philosophy to get him through the travails of adolescence. I’m really interested in CBT and Stoicism as frameworks, but some of the big complaints I’ve seen from people who disliked CBT were that it made presumptions that everyone existed within the same cognitive reality and everyone had the same things under their own control.

SolutionsCBT2 karma

Well, if your partner found Stoicism helpful then he should stick with it. Stoicism actually assumes that human nature varies and it doesn't really make any assumptions about what's under our control and what isn't. So I honestly don't think it's a real problem. The question it poses for us as individuals is "what's under your control?" We each have to answer that in our own way. The Stoic assumption is that some of our mental activity is voluntary but that a lot of it is automatic, and that everything else is outside of our sphere of direct control, pretty much by definition.

Did you have specific questions about mood disorders? It's going to depend which ones you have in mind, obviously. And you're probably thinking of some specific aspect. The Stoics lacked the specific knowledge we have today about some of the distinctions between different types of emotional disorders. For example, they probably didn't realize that certain forms of depression are maintained in part by ruminative patterns of thinking and the extent to which that's under our voluntary control. One risk perhaps with Stoicism is that it might foster a ruminative thinking style. However, I think that seldom happens except where people have seriously misunderstood the Stoics. They thought we should be mindful of how we use our thoughts and curtail unhealthy trains of thinking where possible. Their approach is actually largely metacognitive, which is way ahead of its time, because they ask us to focus on challenging the underlying (metacognitive) assumption that certain values exist in external events rather than being projected onto them by our minds. So we're not so much challenging our thinking (which can foster morbid rumination in depression) as challenging our thinking about thinking, in a more general sense, which is now believed to be a safer option therapeutically.

TalkingBackAgain2 karma

I like the idea of stoicism, yet I also love a good laugh every now and then, how do I reconcile the sensibility of the one with the enjoyment of the other?

SolutionsCBT3 karma

The Stoics weren't humourless. In fact some of them did comedy - they wrote satires. Persius was a Stoic satirist and Horace, who studied both Epicureanism and Stoicism, wrote satires about Stoicism. Even Seneca wrote some satire. Marcus Aurelius admired the Old Comedy. Chrysippus, the third head of the school, wrote about puns and we're even told he died laughing at one of his own jokes, about a donkey.

jjbeard882 karma

I’m still a bit mixed on the Stoics stance on retaliation/ defense against physical injuries. I know the stories of Cato being hit in a Roman bath and brushing off the incident and Socrates doing the same when batted on the ear. Could you further elaborate on the Stoic perspective on this matter?? Thanks

SolutionsCBT7 karma

Socrates also risked his life defending his companions in battle. I'm not 100% clear what your question is, though. I think I'd need you to say a little more about what's puzzling you here. For Stoics, it's pointless to retaliate against insults but we also have a duty to protect ourselves and others from physical harm, within reasonable bounds, i.e., insofar as doing so doesn't conflict with the exercise of wisdom and virtue. So a Stoic wouldn't just stand around and let someone kill them but they might risk their life to save a child or defend their family and country in a war. Socrates didn't respond to minor blows or insults because it wasn't worthwhile and he would have risked damaging his own character by allowing himself to be drawn into a fight. Epictetus actually goes so far as to say that this is the main thing Socrates has to teach Stoics: how to face criticism while avoiding needless quarrels.

jjbeard882 karma

Thank you, Donald, actually your response was helpful. To clarify, though, I just wanted to know, if for example, you were punched in the face how would the stoic handle that situation.

SolutionsCBT3 karma

It would depend on the circumstances. I still think you'd need to say more about the question. For instance, if you were being mugged and someone punched you in the face you'd (potentially) defend yourself. But if someone just does it to provoke you, you might be better advised used to walk away. The Stoics don't say that we can't defend ourselves, in fact it's a duty, but that we shouldn't become angry and seek revenge, and so on.

jjbeard882 karma

Perfect, really appreciate your responses. I have one more thing to ask you. I recently read “The Practicing Stoic” by Ward Fansworth and your review of his book. What really struck me was his suggestion that Stoicism being the philosophy of a thousand trials; The wiseman who has lived for so long that he’s gained equanimity from the many years of experiencing the trials of life. This idea really gave me clarity and better understanding of Stoicism. I wanted to know your opinion on the idea of Stoicism being a short cut and/or compensation of the shortness of time and if any of the Stoics viewed it in this way. I feel my question, yet again, is vague, so I apologize, in advance.

SolutionsCBT2 karma

No, that's a good question. I really liked this way of conceptualizing Stoicism. I'm not sure if I remember any Stoics explicitly stating it quite like that but I do believe it's implicit in some of their remarks. They constantly talk about how the wise man isn't surprised by events because it's common sense that life entails certain broad categories of misfortune, and so on. We all die, so to act surprised when death is near is foolish. We need to get used to what reason (common sense) tells us is our common lot. It reminds me of a story... I had my phone or wallet stolen about three times when I worked in central London, at my clinic in Harley Street. Every day, coming out of Oxford Circus tube, I'd see pickpockets. (I don't think they're as common now.) I actually figured out that they'd lean against the wall facing the turnstiles so they could watch people take out their tickets. If they put them back in a purse or wallet, they could see which pocket it went in, and if it was easy to reach, like a jacket pocket, they'd follow them up to the street level then while they were crossing the busy street one guy would bump into them and when they turned to look someone else would grab their wallet on the other side. I watched some kids once who went around showing a map to people in Starbucks and asking for directions. While they were talking, in a confused way in poor English on purpose, they'd reach with one hand underneath the map to sneak their phone off the table.

So I told myself that even if I was careful, given that I was in this environment four or five days a week for over a decade, I'd probably get my phone or wallet pinched sooner or later. When it happened rather than going "I can't believe it!", I just said "That's life, I knew this would happen one day, I've seen it happen to loads of other people over the years..." We should look at history and the lives of other people and react as if what's happened to them has already happened to us so many times that the novelty has worn off.

lord0voldemort2 karma

how can any student apply principles of stoicism to make his learning experience and life better ? what is longest period of time during which you maintained your tranquillity ?

SolutionsCBT2 karma

I don't really think of Stoicism as being primarily about maintaining tranquillity, although it's undoubtedly somewhat related to that idea. Do you mean students at college, say, or students of Stoicism itself?

School or college students would apply Stoicism much in the same way as anyone else. For example, here's a very simple outline of Stoic practices I created to introduce newcomers: https://learn.donaldrobertson.name/p/stoic-therapy-toolkit

peepalapeep2 karma

Why can't I find your books on audible? Would you be interested in recording audio?

SolutionsCBT2 karma

I've actually just spent the past week recording the audio for my new book. It's already available for pre-order on Audible. I don't think there are audio versions of my older books, though.

Audible: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor http://www.audible.com/pd/B07FB135GG

peepalapeep2 karma

Would you like to work on audio for your past titles? Im an audio engineer with a professional studio btw :)

SolutionsCBT2 karma

Possibly. It would be down to my publisher. I'm not sure whether Hodder create any audiobooks of the Teach Yourself series because the format might make it difficult. Also, where's your studio? I'm based in Toronto.

peepalapeep2 karma

Understood. I am in Texas. I've spent the last 18 years recording and mixing music but I've become a voracious consumer of audio books so I think that might be an edifying field to explore. Thank you for this AMA, your response, and all the work that you do.

SolutionsCBT2 karma

Thanks. Texas would be a bit far for me to go to record in a studio anyway. I've been doing the audio recordings for my current book in a studio in downtown Toronto, where I live.

CaesarsInferno2 karma

I don’t know if this will be answered by now. I can’t verify this but we’re you recently featured on the art of manliness website? Regardless, would be interested to hear your take on whether Stoicism may “extinguish the fire of life”: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/does-stoicism-extinguish-the-fire-of-life/

SolutionsCBT3 karma

I don't think I've been on the Art of Manliness but I kind of lose track sometimes, tbh, and sometimes people mention my books without me knowing. That article is a bit odd because the author mainly seems to be drawing the information about Stoicism from a second-hand source, the book Roman Honor, which isn't actually a book about Stoicism, rather than reviewing what the Stoics themselves actually said. For instance, it kind of centres on the idea that the goal of Stoicism is to be like a stone, metaphorically. That's actually the opposite, though, of what the Stoics actually said: they consistently denied that the ideal of the Stoic wise man was being like a rock, or a man of stone, or someone with a heart of stone, etc.

Again, this is a subject that I've already got a whole article about... https://donaldrobertson.name/2013/05/29/stoics-are-not-unemotional/

wolf_lynch2 karma

How literally should one read the meditations? What is the best way to read and reflect on Marcus Aurelius writings, since I’ve heard you shouldn’t take him literally. I tried reading one a day and writing in the morning and the evening. Beneficial but I’m wondering is there a broader context I should be thinking about?

SolutionsCBT1 karma

I'm not sure what would be meant, to be honest, by not taking him literally. Can you elaborate? I mean, not taking what aspects literally? There are obviously a mixture of literal statements and metaphors throughout the text, same as most other books. Which bits are you talking about?

What's the sort of "broader context" you have in mind? Do you mean a sort of framework for how to approach reading the text? In terms of how much time you spend on it? I'm not really sure I could give a general answer because i'd think it depends very much on the individual person reading the text and their circumstances and preferences. I've studied the text very closely for about 20 years now, but I didn't follow a structured approach to reading it. I just read it when I felt like it, and then went back over different parts when I needed to do so.

houseofeorl2 karma

What's your opinion about religion in Stoicism?

SolutionsCBT7 karma

I touched on that already, in response to someone else's question. I think the Stoics had a position that was somewhat diverse, was questioning and philosophical rather than dogmatically theologically, and was even open to the possibility of agnosticism or atheism. From our perspective today, looking back, Stoic attitudes toward religion can be confusing because they're quite different from what we now think of as being "religious". At the end of the day, it's reason that's king in Stoicism not faith, revelation, or tradition - put simply that's because it's a philosophy not a religion.

I've written a couple of much more in-depth articles about this question:



jamaicansupply2 karma

Thanks for doing this! I’ve been into stoicism for 2-3 years now, but recently I also enjoyed and found comfort in Albert Camus Myth of Sisyphus. The idea that you can live in the moment only by eliminating hope from your life made perfect sense to me, and seemed quite stoic. What do you think about it, and about Absurdism / Existentialism ?

SolutionsCBT6 karma

In some ways, Stoicism resembles existentialism but in other ways they're quite at odds and almost opposites. The Stoics wouldn't agree that we create meaning. They were ethical naturalists. They would say that meaning comes from within us, and is planted their by nature. We have a duty to make our lives meaningful by fulfilling our natural potential for reason, or doing what makes sense to us. (Not just behaving arbitrarily.) The Stoics live in the moment by suspending fear and hope, in a sense. But that's because they see hoping for or fearing external events as irrational when it's our own actions that are truly ours to control. So their focus shifts on to the present moment and the way they're using their experiences, and acting in response to them.

StefanG502 karma

I'm interested in Stoicism/CBT and practice mindfulness meditation. But there seem to be different approaches to thinking. In CBT and Stoicism its more about changing the way one thinks and in mindfulness meditation its more about getting some distance and disidentify from tnougts. What is the best way to bring these approaches together?

SolutionsCBT3 karma

Well CBT already assimilated the influence of mindfulness meditation over a decade ago. We call it the "third wave" of CBT or "mindfulness and acceptance based CBT". It's actually a bit of a complicated question to answer so I'd need to refer you to read some of the texts available, of which there are now many, but I'll make some very brief (incomplete) observations. Stoicism actually always emphasized "cognitive distancing" (as we call it in cognitive therapy - part of what you mean by "mindfulness") over the disputation of beliefs. Marcus, for instance, talks repeatedly about the "separation" of his value judgements from external reality - that's cognitive distancing. He's not so much arguing with his (for instance) angry thoughts but rather observing that they're events in his mind, being projected onto external reality. He refers several times to Epictetus' famous saying that it's not things that upset us but our judgements about them, for instance. We can bear that in mind without having to get into the pros and cons, or evidence for and against the specific judgement we're addressing. The Stoics thought the main thing was that we should pay attention (prosoche - Stoic "mindfulness") to the way we project our values onto external events and continually suspend those judgements, from moment to moment, thereby remaining self-aware and grounded in the here and now.

Sol_Invictus3 karma

...the "third wave" of CBT or "mindfulness and acceptance based CBT" <snip> I'd need to refer you to read some of the texts available, of which there are now many

I'd love to hear a few of those if you have the time.

...And thanks for your AMA

SaintBrentonTerrant2 karma

How possible is it for one to truly own one's own time in the sense that Marcus put it in this modern world?

SolutionsCBT2 karma

Do you mean to have leisure time or to make good use of your own time? Surely just as possible today as it was in imperial Rome.

elda942 karma

What’s your view on Adlerian psychology? Do you agree with his ideas and teachings, and how do you view his teachings from a stoic perspective?

SolutionsCBT3 karma

Some people see Adler as a precursor of the humanistic tradition in psychotherapy or even cognitive therapy. I'm not a huge fan of Adlerian psychotherapy. It's about a hundred years old now. It's more of a historical curiosity now rather than a currently relevant model of psychotherapy, in the age of evidence-based practice. That's not to say Adler didn't have some interesting ideas but it's a very dated approach and lacking scientific support overall. I believe therapists have an ethical duty to use theories and techniques with their clients that are supported by research evidence where possible.

Quasimurder2 karma

I've struggled with diagnosed depression and anxiety for most of my life (28). For as long as I can remember my philosophy has been something along the lines of "who's going to hold me responsible? Me? Fuck me."

There's often a very strong disconnect between my current self and the idea of my future. For a long time I was operating like I was committing passive suicide/suicide through inaction. Basically, allowing myself to blow up my life until I die at 35 from a heart attack (last 3 men in my paternal line died of heart disease, each one 10 years younger than the last). The only drug I've ever gotten into was pot. It's very helpful for me in moderation but unfortunately I don't moderate. Currently cold and sweating because I haven't smoked in over 24 hours.

Did the intensive therapy thing, have a support network and medication.

I don't even know if I have a question. Just having a hard time. I'm back in school and can't focus and still hate it. Just looking for any suggestions or to be pointed in the right direction.

SolutionsCBT1 karma

The obvious thing is that the weed doesn't sound like it's doing you any favours. Cannabis use in moderation is usually fine but it doesn't always combine well with mental health problems and regular use can potentially make depression or anxiety worse in the long-run, even if it feels like it's helping short-term. I can't give you much advice, though, except to say that you should probably seek assessment and additional support from a qualified mental health professional. They'd need to assess you to properly/safely advise you about treatment options, which is why you should be a bit cautious about therapy advice on the Internet. Stoicism might be of some benefit, if you're interested, but the main thing would be to get assessed and seek a proper evidence-based treatment plan tailored to your needs.

ShabbieShockwave2 karma

Have you read much on Michael De Montaigne and his take on Stoicism? If so what is your opinion of him and his take on it? If not I think you would really enjoy reading him or about him!

SolutionsCBT1 karma

Yes but not for quite a few years. Montaigne was more of a Skeptic who drew inspiration from the Stoics. He's an amazing writer and has some great things to say about major Stoic themes like the contemplation of death.

moshe4sale2 karma

What can I do? I am deeply Disturbed. Because of our tribalistic nature, We are headed to all destroy ourselves. So so few have the understanding to turn this tide.

We must view ourselves in an evolutionary context. Like David Slone Wilson.

SolutionsCBT1 karma

Well, I think the Stoics offer us a different way of looking at life. Their philosophy is cosmopolitan as opposed to tribalistic. We're to identify with others on the basis of our shared humanity, our ability to be self-conscious and think, rather than alienate ourselves from others on the basis of more arbitrary or superficial differences like gender, race, nationality, religion, etc.

moshe4sale2 karma


Again, How is this comforting? I am frustrated. We are headed to all destroy ourselves. And the stoics won't escape the slaughter. Because we all refuse to see ourselves in an evolutionary context.

SolutionsCBT1 karma

How does seeing ourselves in an evolutionary context save us from destruction? I think you'd need to explain, for everyone's benefit, what you mean by that.

moshe4sale2 karma

We must understand evolution and try to work with it and manage it. If we understand why we are naturally driven to group conflict and reject “good and evil”, We will have the tools to foster cooperation.

Many interpret evolution as being synonymous with progress. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. Left to it’s own devices, David argues evolution can take us places where we wouldn’t want to go.



; https://youtu.be/61tChpN3lhY

SolutionsCBT1 karma

What's that got to do with Stoicism and why would it not be compatible with it?

KubrickIsMyCopilot2 karma

In your opinion (personal, professional, any of the above), why did Marcus Aurelius not follow his own axioms of governance in imposing his son on the Empire and vice-versa? Was it simply the old human blind spot, or was there some subtle rationalization at work that corrupted his reasoning?

SolutionsCBT2 karma

I think someone else already asked a similar question. This comes up a lot and the answer is quite complex so I've written an in-depth article about it:


Basically, Marcus probably didn't spend much time with Commodus in his youth because he was busy fighting the Marcomannic Wars, in another country (Austria and the Balkans). I don't think he had much choice but to appoint Commodus Caesar, for the reasons explained in the article. Passing him over would have been extremely controversial and would have created a rival dynasty threatening to split the empire, something the Senate greatly feared. A bad emperor was arguably seen as less of a threat than causing a civil war.

thesilv3r2 karma

I’ve been a stoic for many years and done a lot of reading of Plato, Epictetus, Aristotle, Aurelius etc. and at the end of all that reading my main question is: how do I use these philosophies to increase my happiness, not just minimise my suffering?
Aristotlean principles have helped me maintain drive, and stoic principles have helped me get through hard times, depression, etc. but I just don’t find any path to happiness/experiencing joy from them.

SolutionsCBT2 karma

I do find happiness in Stoicism. First, though, I'd need to emphasize that I think we have to distinguish carefully between "happiness" in the modern sense of just feeling good and "happiness" in the archaic sense of the word, the opposite of hapless or unfortunate, which is closer to the meaning of eudaimonia. The goal of ancient philosophy wasn't just to walk around with a big smile on our faces all of the time but rather to experience a deeper sense of fulfilment in life. We can be fulfilled and "happy" in this deeper sense while nevertheless feeling anxiety, or sadness, in a sense, to some extent. I think that's very important. (Particularly from the perspective of modern research on emotion and third-wave psychotherapy.)

The Stoics actually had specific mental exercises that were designed to induce joy (chara), the affective component of eudaimonia. The main one is to invest value in our own flourishing, to love wisdom, because when we get what we want we tend to feel satisfaction, as Epictetus puts it, so the wise person wants what it's within his grasp to achieve, and is never frustrated, always having satisfaction within his power.

However, Marcus makes it clear that another type of "joy" comes from contemplating the virtues of others, e.g., having good friends, the sort of people we genuinely admire, and not just fairweather friends. He also says we should regularly make an effort to contemplate what we admire about others and thereby to cultivate this healthy type of joy and satisfaction.

Finally, both Marcus and Epictetus refer to gratitude (charis) as an important source of joy in Stoicism. We need to train ourselves each day to properly engage with gratitude. Marcus says something, in my view, very profound about the psychology of gratitude. He says that when we desire things we present what is absent to our minds as though it were present, and this causes emotional pain. By contrast, when we imagine what is present as though it were absent, we can experience gratitude and this is a much healthier positive emotion - it heals the mind. Desire for what we want easily becomes excessive but gratitude of this kind for what we already possess does not as long as we bear in mind that nothing lasts forever and what we have can be taken from us at any time and are nevertheless grateful anyway.

thesilv3r2 karma

The point on gratitude is useful, thank you. I had tried some of those “daily gratitude questions” apps but they never seemed to hit the mark, this seems like an approach which works better for me.

That said, the opening of the enchiridion where Epictetus basically opens with “every day imagine your wife and child are dead, and remember that your love for them can be replaced, because you don’t love them, you just love a human” always turned me off everything else in the treatise.

I guess what I’m taking from this is not to expect too much from the philosophies to reach “joy” beyond self improvement. The point around having good friends is important, but the emphasis on contemplation is another exercise that can be experienced in isolation, rather than emphasising that you should just spend time with your friends, work on “being present” during that time and enjoy it. In terms of Kahnemann’s two selves model, it is maximising the enjoyment of the “experiencing” self in that time, while the stoic principles seem to be maximising the enjoyment of the “remembering self” through satisfaction. Finding a balance between the two is important but taking the time to reflect now, it feels like the stoic reflections that stay present in my mind take it as a given that you will be maximising for the “experiencing self” and seek to guide you to more satisfaction, whereas I find myself sacrificing this experience (in the form of joy) to achieve more satisfaction (through exercise, learning and wealth generation/career). When I actually remember to enjoy myself (e.g. going to a concert) it makes me wonder whether I have the balance right by putting such an emphasis on “growth” in line with my stoic mindset. Anyway, not a point to address but maybe someone else here will get some value from these thoughts.

SolutionsCBT1 karma

The Stoics do also emphasize keeping the company of good friends.

Zuroll2 karma

Do you have an opinion on utilitarianism?

SolutionsCBT1 karma

I don't really agree with consequentialist theories of ethics. Utilitarianism, historically, has more to do with Epicureanism, the rival philosophy of Stoicism. Some people think the Stoics were more of an inspiration to Kant, although these are really different ethical models from one another.

Zuroll2 karma

Thanks for the answer although I got seizures because you mentioned Kant ;). What guidelines will a stoic follow for example in the trolley dilemma?

SolutionsCBT1 karma

Well Stoicism, like most ancient philosophies, was a virtue ethic. The agent's intentions are the main consideration. For Stoics our intentions should align with the common welfare of mankind. They should be just, fair, and beneficent. However, they should also be rational and consistent. As is often observed, virtue ethics doesn't necessarily lead to a specific outcome in ethical thought experiments like this, though. One agent might decide that sacrificing five people is the most just, fair, and beneficent course of action. Another might argue that the agent wouldn't want someone to sacrifice them to save five strangers, if they were in that situation, so it's inconsistent for them to do it to someone else.

TulaSaysYAY2 karma

I graduated High School with someone named Donald Robertson, did you play sousaphone in marching band?

SolutionsCBT2 karma

Was this in Scotland? If not, probably a different person.

Luger82 karma

What would you say are the three most important (to you) ancient stoic texts or books?

SolutionsCBT2 karma

I wrote an article about that recently that goes into more detail but basically the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, The Handbook (and Discourses) of Epictetus, and the Letters of Seneca to Lucilius. See below for a longer discussion and some other references.


havinababymaybe2 karma

I teach gifted middle school students who struggle with anxiety and perfectionism. I’d like them to do a project on anxiety management techniques, and so far I have these options in mind: stoicism general philosophy, cbt, meditation, gratitude practices, mindfulness, etc. Are there any other topics you’d recommend I suggest as research topics? Thank you!

SolutionsCBT1 karma

Awesome! The Clark and Wells model is the main cognitive therapy for social anxiety. You could mention that Adrian Wells has now developed a new approach called Metacognitive Therapy, which is part of the third wave and more about the way we control attention. Look at the statistical correlation between self-focused attention and social anxiety and note that focus of attention is potentially under voluntary control. Look at social anxiety in relation to fear of negative evaluation. Alcohol abuse correlates highly with severe social anxiety. Consider subtle avoidance and safety seeking behaviour. Ask what the difference is between social anxiety and animal phobia. Social anxiety isn't just fear of people, like fear of dogs. What implications does that have for exposure therapy?

Consider assertiveness training and social skills. Why isn't this more common as a treatment? What drawbacks might mindfulness have given the correlation between social anxiety and self-focused attention?

otisthekangaroo1 karma

I'm not sure if I'm too late, but I've been a fan of stoicism for a few years. I seem to get into moods where I am content with coasting in life, and why be great? Why excel? Then at other times I am hair on fire driven towards my dreams.

How would you recommend staying on that upward path?

Thank you for the time.

SolutionsCBT3 karma

Marcus frequently talks about the importance of remaining committed to our fundamental goal in life. For Stoics, it's a matter of being clear about what that goal is, keeping it simple, and giving ourselves continual reminders. The Stoics had a system of regular daily practice, which helped them remain on track. Also, they tend to weigh up the consequences of remaining self-disciplined versus letting control slip, and allowing passions to take over, in order to help maintain their motivation.

bright-morningstar-4 karma

There's a lot of saying that some Stoics believed both women and men are equal have the same capacity for reason and they can both generate virtue and be a Stoic. However I don't believe it, I'm not misogynistic, or whatever, but I also don't support that everyone is the same or should be the same, from my own life experiences, from what I see, if Logos(reason) is something to be used and cultivated, I can clearly say that women were not in the category of using Logos or cultivating it, and yes I can make generalizations I believe if something is too observable in sample size, women are acting from passions more than men. I'm not afraid to say what I've seen with my own eyes in my life, so I'm not interested in pushing equality because that is what society push to us. What is your opinion about this? I'm not saying women don't have capacity, but let go of capacity, their innate nature pushes them to using less Logos and more with passions, that might sound harsh on what I write here, but if the reality is like that, will we reject the truth?

SolutionsCBT4 karma

Probably all Stoics believed that virtue is the same in men and women, and that doctrine arguably goes right back to Socrates. That's not the same as saying that men and woman are morally equal, although that's also something the Stoics appear to have believed.

I don't think the Stoics are necessarily committed to the view that men and women, or any individuals, literally have an equal capacity for reasoning. That's also a slightly different claim. I'm also not sure it matters much anyway. The main ethical point is about whether we should treat other people with respect. The Stoics don't believe everyone is literally the same in terms of abilities in general or has the same capacity for reasoning - that would be absurd. Nobody believes that surely. Some people are clearly smarter than others, and some are wiser.

I think you have to be cautious about making generalizations concerning other groups of people. There's a thin line between making a reasonable statement about mean trait-like differences and making sexist, for example, over-generalizations, which are false and understandably offensive to other (non-Stoic) people. For example, it would be absurd (and false) to say "men are fat" because their mean body weight is more than that of women - apart from anything else that way of phrasing things ignores the fact that body weight varies substantially from one man (or woman) to another. Making generalizations like "women are x" based on mean statistical differences between genders falls into the same trap, and that's why it tends to upset people and cause arguments online. We need to be more careful about how we phrase these things if we want to state the truth accurately and avoid misunderstandings, and unnecessarily offending people.

You said "women are acting from passions more than men" and that their "innate nature [pushes] them to use less [reason] and [act?] more with passions". Surely it would be more accurate to say that some women do this rather than that women in general do so because in many specific cases the opposite would actually be true? William Blake once said "to generalize is to be an idiot". It certainly causes many problems. The philosopher Wittgenstein once suggested that much philosophical confusion can be reduced to faulty generalization. Cognitive therapists know that it's one of the most common types of cognitive distortion or "thinking error" at the root of client's anxiety, anger, or depression. So we have to be cautiously about generalizations of this kind, I think, and try to state things more carefully, even if making things more accurate seems laborious.