I believe that Stoic philosophy is just as relevant today as it was in 2nd AD century Rome, or even 3rd century BC Athens. Ask me anything you want, especially about Stoicism or Marcus Aurelius. I’m an expert on how psychological techniques from ancient philosophy can help us to improve our emotional resilience today.

Who am I? I wrote a popular self-help book about Marcus Aurelius called How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, which has been translated into eighteen languages. I’ve also written a prose biography of his life for Yale University Press’ Ancient Lives forthcoming series. My graphic novel, Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, will be published on 12th July by Macmillan. I also edited the Capstone Classics edition of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, based on the classic George Long translation, which I modernized and contributed a biographical essay to. I’ve written a chapter on Marcus Aurelius and modern psychotherapy for the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius edited by John Sellars. I’m one of the founders of the Modern Stoicism nonprofit organization and the founder and president of the Plato’s Academy Centre, a nonprofit based in Athens, Greece.


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Comments: 509 • Responses: 73  • Date: 

Carlos_Huato174 karma

What would a Stoic have done when faced with depression?

SolutionsCBT383 karma

We have some answers to that scattered throughout ancient sources. First, as a (former) evidence-based clinician, I have to say that people should go to a qualified professional first for assessment, and an evidence-based treatment plan for clinical depression. That said, Stoicism can probably also help many people - ideally in addition to modern scientific psychology. The Stoics would advise us to separate our value judgments from the external events to which they refer. That's a tricky concept to describe but it's the basis of one of the most successful modern techniques "cognitive distancing" - it's best to read up on that to find out more about how it works. The Stoics have about 18 distinct psychological strategies so it's hard to summarize them all here. (See my Stoicism and the Art of Happiness for an in-depth explanation.) Another common strategy that helps many people is the View from Above, which involves training yourself to broaden the scope of your perspective in both space and time. Again, you'd be best to look that up, as it's tricky to describe in a few sentences, but, for instance, when people are depressed they typically narrow their scope of attention to focus on negative experiences and exclude other experiences that provide context that could moderate their (depressed) emotions. So the Stoics were on the right track.

Apero_40 karma

Interesting! I often look at decisions and try to think "Would the me of 40 years from now regret (not) doing this?". Would the "View from Above" concept apply here? By distancing myself from the current time?

SolutionsCBT78 karma

That's a great Stoic / CBT technique - actually one of my favourites. These are variations on a similar theme. If a client has experienced a break up in a relationship, e.g., I'll often ask how they feel about it now, how they will feel about it a week from now, and a month from now, a year, ten years, and maybe even how they'll feel in the distant future, looking back toward the very end of their life. Of course, they usually say it won't seem as upsetting. So I ask "But why shouldn't you feel about it that way now?" They'll say "Because it just happened!" And I'll say, "But what difference does it really make whether it was five minutes ago or five years ago - it's still in the past, right?"

VergilHS38 karma

Okay, to me, that just means the reverse is also true. Something could have happened 5 years ago and still hurt like it happened 5 days ago. With such scenario, isn't it rather demeaning to the perception of one's experiences to just say "it's still in the past - right?".

SolutionsCBT52 karma

To be honest, it's rare in my clinical experience that emotions don't abate at all over a long period of time. It does happen but it's not the norm in our emotional life. I can see that potentially being true of severe trauma but not typically of events within the normal range of emotional distress.

I'm not sure I totally get what you mean by "demeaning to the perception..." But I'll try to imagine what I think you might mean. So, of course, if someone has a very traumatic experience, there would be no need to use this strategy with them. Why would we? If it doesn't make sense from their perspective then we'd talk through the feelings in another way, that's all. But for most people, in my experience, this strategy actually works very reliably, and so it's often used in modern CBT.

nanidin52 karma

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you.

  • Marcus Aurelius

A stoic would distance themselves from their current feelings and lean into their nature and what they should be doing.

SolutionsCBT18 karma

Not sure about "distance from current feelings" - depends what you mean. We'd separate the thoughts underlying those feelings from the external events to which they refer - that's how I prefer to put it. And, yes, lean into our nature, is a good way of putting things.

Bruv0234 karma

Or perhaps of being mindful of our feelings? I also think putting distance sounds a bit odd ...

SolutionsCBT27 karma

What the Stoics really want us to do is a little more specific. It's to separate our value judgements from the external events to which they refer. For instance, suppose I feel that losing my job is awful. Well, that's really a thought disguised as a feeling. We lose sight of the thought because it gets "fused" with our experience - they blend together normally. It's an opinion about the event, which colours our experience of the event. When I realize that the event of losing your job is, in itself, neutral, and the "awfulness" of it is my own reaction, due to my value judgment, that creates a crucial separation between my experience of the event and my opinions about the event.

That's basically what modern psychotherapists call "cognitive distance". Aaron T. Beck, the founder of cognitive therapy described it as follows to clients. Suppose your wearing rose coloured glasses. And you've had them on for years so you don't even notice them on your face anymore, you just assume the world is pink. Houses are pink, cats and dogs are pink, people are pink, etc. Then one day someone knocks them off your face and you remember that the world is not really pink out there, in itself, by its nature. The glass was pink that was before your eyes, that's all. Except that it's not "pinkness" that we colour our experience with normally but "awfulness" or "I need this" or other value judgments, which shape our emotional responses. Cognitive distance, says Beck, occurs when we realize that it's not the world that is pink but the glasses that are pink. We separate the pinkness from the external world, and realize it resides in the filter we're looking through - we're projecting it, in a sense, onto the world.

Britoz10 karma

"You don't love yourself enough"

Well, yeah. I'm depressed.

SolutionsCBT15 karma

I think the Stoics would say the challenge is figuring out how to love ourselves. They would say there's healthy and unhealthy love for oneself, etc. We need to learn, and it takes time and effort, how to befriend ourselves, and nurture ourselves, in the right way. Most people do find that a challenge but it's worth attempting.

LifeSimulatorC13727 karma

My original read was "when faced with a depression." And I thought that was interesting.

Since that wasn't the question I'll ask it.

How would a stoic go about facing a world with an economic collapse?

SolutionsCBT24 karma

I think someone else just asked the same question elsewhere on this post. So look for that. But, in a word, Stoics would prepare for it by imagining it's already happened and rehearsing (in several technical ways) a philosophical attitude toward adversity. (You'll find more in depth explanation of exactly how in books on Stoicism, etc.)

brbnow5 karma

Hello. Thanks for this AMA. Is this "rehearsing" anything like what elite athletes do, visualizing and feeling a ski course (for instance, or any other activity) many times before they do it IRL to program their minds, and go through the feelings/thoughts/actions mentally, create an imaginal act so to speak (to borrow from Neville Goddard). Or is it like re-programming ourselves into a new set of feelings and reactions (aka Joe Dispenza as well) by imagining a different (more positive feeling) rehearsing --- or I imagine other type of CBT may do that (I am not sure)-- when you say "imagine it's already happened" is seems up there with these kinds of teachings. Thanks for the learnings.

SolutionsCBT16 karma

Yes, I've written in my books about how there are actually many different types of visualizing techniques in CBT with different rationales. People are often confused by this and mix them up but it's very helpful to be able to distinguish between them because they work differently and have different goals. Visualization can often, though, be doing several things at once.

I think for the Stoics it is a combination of what we'd today call "emotional habituation" and "cognitive distancing" - whereas I think above you're talking more about a sort of skills rehearsal perhaps.

Emotional habituation is the mechanism underlying modern "exposure therapy", probably the single most robust technique in the entire field of psychotherapy. It's very simple. Our emotions, mainly anxiety but also some others, tend to abate naturally through repeated prolonged exposure to the upsetting event (as long as we avoid doing certain things that inhibit that from happening naturally). So if you visualize losing your job and that's upsetting, but you just wait and keep picturing it for long enough (often roughly 15 - 20 minutes say) then the anxiety should wear off naturally. Most people do not realize this because it requires an awful lot of patience unless a therapist is guiding you.

Cognitive distancing is tricky to explain but I've tried to so so in several other comments here. It's our ability to separate our thoughts from external events. That's easier if we've already waited for our emotions to abate naturally (see above). The Stoics think this is really the key thing we should be doing during mental rehearsal, i.e., we visualize misfortunes in order to practice really adopting the attitude: "It is not this event that upsets me but my opinions about it."

monsieurpommefrites117 karma

Do you have Stoic approaches in regards to someone with severe ADHD (inattentive)?

SolutionsCBT120 karma

That's tricky, and to be honest, it's not my area of expertise. My specialism was in treating anxiety disorders, particularly social phobia. Maybe this article on Stoicism and ADHD is helpful, though. Stoicism can probably help with emotional stress associated with ADHD symptoms much in the same way that it's applied to emotions in general. You'll find lots of detailed discussions of how to do that online. It may be that, if you find audio recordings a useful way to do exercises, the Stoic Week course run by Modern Stoicism would be a good fit.

pixelatedcrap78 karma

When my father passed this January- I listened to The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (free version by Librevaux) and The Enchiridion by Epictetus from Audible on repeat for months.

I've been diagnosed with ADD (inattentive) for about a decade, and have a bit of a struggle with controlling my emotions. These two books have been very, very helpful. Especially as someone who is looking for distraction- you have to sort of interpret the ideas yourself instead of having some already successful person explaining to you why you're messed up.

To me, atleast- I found it better to take advice from someone long dead, that I had to interpret myself, than listen to a distilled ready-to-eat style. The Enchiridion and Discourses is an excellent introduction to stoicism, in my opinion. My problem now is that oftentimes I can't tell if I am being stoic or insensitive.

But I'm not very smart, so it didn't occur to me to focus on mastering "how to not break down crying at work or in public" but also "being nice and upbeat", something required for my job...and I suppose, life. We are social animals, after all. Excuse my babbling addition.

SolutionsCBT101 karma


The Stoics also want us to cultivate prosocial attitudes and feelings. Marcus has some guidance on ways to do this, e.g., by spending time regularly contemplating, verbalizing, and reviewing, the qualities we most admire in other people, and focusing on replacing anger, for instance, with the desire to improve others.

CrassostreaVirginica88 karma

What do you think Marcus Aurelius would think about the internet?

SolutionsCBT531 karma

Someone asked me this a few days ago on a podcast. I think, to be completely blunt, Marcus would think that our society has become much stupider and more gullible. I mean that very seriously. Marcus, like most Stoics, had studied logic in depth. He also spent decades, almost daily, training himself in classical rhetoric, in both Greek and Latin, under the tuition of the finest scholars in the empire. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion but it also teaches us how to avoid being duped by other people's persuasion strategies. Rhetoric and logic are, in a sense, two sides of the same coin. For instance, we have to understand logical fallacies to avoid them, in logic, but in rhetoric they are sometimes used on purpose to manipulate others. Educated Romans would wipe the floor with us in this regard. I think Marcus would take one look at the Internet, and modern news media, and think we're already living in a kind of idiocracy where logic has gone out of the window and crazy rhetoric proliferates, with obvious fallacies being used to manipulate the audience in an hourly basis. I really think, because of his training and education, that he'd see through a lot of this manipulation a lot more easily than most people today.

zazieely59 karma

My father lived his life by the words of Marcus Aurelius. He collected volumes of his writings, and after my dad's death, we all took a copy to keep and pass on.

Mine is full of notes, not by my dad, but from a lady called Vi, who was given the book by her friend Peg for Christmas in 1930 (according to the inscription). The front blank page has this written in it. It's also got her address and surname. If I ever find the family, I will pass the book on!

What do you think is the most fundamental aspect Marcus's teaching that makes him relevant and resonant to people almost a century apart?

SolutionsCBT74 karma

Wow! That's amazing.

Well, I think that the key to Stoicism has always been perceived as its emphasis on virtue ethics, and especially the doctrine that virtue is the only true good, i.e., that the quality of our lives can and should turn on our own actions rather than on what merely happens to us. That requires a radical u-turn in our perspective and values, at least in relation to the prevailing values of society - then as now. Most people are overly preoccupied with external goods such as wealth and reputation. But Marcus relentlessly brings his attention back to the notion that his own character is all that really matters, which gives him purpose, but also a certain resilience in the face of adversity, that comes naturally enough from placing less value on things outside our direct control.

sour0137 karma

How did Marcus deal with failure? More specifically, how did he deal with failing to live by the standards he set upon himself?

SolutionsCBT120 karma

That's a really good question. We'd have infer that to some extent but I think there's good evidence. In the Meditations we can clearly see him criticizing his own character. To cut a long story short, the Stoics think we need to learn to talk to ourselves, and befriend ourselves, so that we can become our own inner mentor and teacher. Marcus is doing that in the Meditations. He tells himself not to be ashamed, for instance, to ask for help, as long as he's trying his best. Stoics reviewed their behaviour using a method described in the Golden Verses of Pythagoras. If Marcus followed this - found in Epictetus, Galen and Seneca - he would review his actions three times each evening and ask himself three questions: What did I do well? What did I do wrong? What could I do differently next time? (To paraphrase slightly.) He'd try to learn from his failures, in other words, quite systematically, and commit to improving the next day. Stoics do not blame themselves, for their failures, though. What's beyond remedy is beyond regret! We should learn from mistakes not dwell morbidly on them. We have to move forward, in life, not get stuck looking backwards.

tpdominator31 karma

What does Stoicism have to say about coping mentally with chronic health conditions?

SolutionsCBT67 karma

I hope it's okay to post a link but we actually have a free online course that teaches people how to apply Stoicism to chronic health problems, and pain management. I think nearly a thousand people completed the beta version and the feedback showed they found it very helpful. I'd give a quick summary but there's probably too much to fit into a few sentences, it's best to read something more in-depth. But, in short, the Stoics have a cluster of psychological techniques that can be used to cope with chronic health problems.



What’s your take on the perception that stoicism has lately been more heavily associated/co-opted by the alt-right and adjacent groups?

I love stoicism and I apply it to the extent I am able to in my own life, but when it comes to mentioning it to other people in conversations, I’ve been perceiving a need to preemptively distance myself from these groups, because it’s likely that without this disclaimer people will jump to conclusions about my political leanings.

(TL;DR I kinda hate that when I mention stoicism to people some of them assume I’m deep into the right wing of the political spectrum, because I’m definitely not.)

SolutionsCBT41 karma

I've heard this said a few times, and read articles about it. The strange thing is that although I've been very extensively involved with Modern Stoicism for a long time now, and have spoken to thousands of people... I've not really seen much evidence of this, to be honest. It could be that I'm just not frequenting the alt-right forums where it perhaps is on display. There's not much discussion of alt-right views, though, on the main Stoicism forums or at conferences, etc., in my experience.

I mean, there are some Republicans who are into Stoicism and overall perhaps I meet more people on the right who are into Stoicism, but there are also loads of people on the left who read the Stoics. Bill Clinton is a fan of Stoicism, for instance. I have socialist friends, and even anarchist friends, who are big fans of the Stoics. One day, maybe I'll write an article explaining this properly but I really think Stoicism transcends this left/right political divide and actually has the potential to save us from the tribalism that it entails. In a word, Stoicism teaches us to suspend judgment about the value of externals, so we shouldn't get as worked up about economics, etc., although we can hold opinions about these matters lightly, so we're more open to discussing them in a civil way. Stoics would not be political fanatics, left or right, basically.

tangywangyrealtor25 karma

What is love?

SolutionsCBT93 karma

For Stoics it's not just a sensation or feeling but also a way of thinking and acting, and I think this is a much more enlightened perspective on love, shared by some modern thinkers. Love, in part, is the desire to help others, rather than harm them, but it's also acceptance of them. That's a paradox: it's two conflicting desires. But I think the Stoics do a good job of resolving that conflict in their philosophy. To love someone is to accept them for who they are, while wishing that they should flourish and achieve wisdom, fate permitting.

SolutionsCBT24 karma

I'm going to bend the rules slightly because there are a lot of similar questions, which I think I can answer more easily with a general comment - and I feel like this will help a lot more people as it lets me answer in a bit more depth. (We can also post a link maybe to this comment under questions that it might help answer.) Also if you read Verissimus, my graphic novel, it has a lot of this information in the story, including specific tips on Stoic anger management.

Stoicism is important today because it teaches us that the prevailing values of society are back to front. We grow up learning to value external possessions such as wealth and reputation but that dooms us to misery because they're never completely under our control, so they're always under threat in some sense. Even if we get them it feels ultimately unsatisfying because we realize that they're not entirely down to us - there's always an element of good fortune, which we didn't necessarily deserve any more than other people. (Spoiler alert: material success and fame turn out to be overrated goals, which can leave you feeling kind of hollow inside!)

The Stoics were revolutionary thinkers who wanted to smash through what they call the tuphos (smoke, i.e., "smoke and mirrors") of society's prevailing values - like consumerism, narcissism, hedonism, materialism, etc. They claimed that something called arete (conventionally translated "virtue" but I think "moral wisdom" is more accurate) is not only more important than wealth and reputation but even that it is the only true good in life. This sort of moral wisdom is a character trait, though, it's a quality our voluntary actions exhibit - it's up to us, in any given situation.

If we can persuade ourselves to undergo this radical u-turn in our moral worldview (epistrophe, means u-turn or conversion) then we not only gain a sense of purpose but also gain emotional resilience. Someone who believes that the whole value of their life resides in how much money they earn or what other people think of them is inherently vulnerable to fortune's whims. They make themselves a victim by placing their life in the hands of external fortune. The Stoics want us to take back the helm, and invest value solely in our own free actions. That means that if we lose wealth or reputation, although it might be a practical disadvantage (technically what the Stoics called a "dispreferred indifferent") it is not the end of the world, or worth getting terribly upset about.

So Stoicism is, first and foremost, an ethical world view - a very radical one. It just happens that those values also lead, obviously, to a radical psychological therapy, or a form of resilience training. The Stoics thought that we have to work every day, throughout our lives, to keep on track, because the whole society around is constantly tries to drag us back into the mire of its crazy irrational values. Marcus Aurelius, for instance, began training in Stoicism aged twelve. He began writing the Meditations, probably, in his early fifties. He'd already been training, more or less every day, in Stoicism for four decades!

Marcus explains very clearly that he was taught to maintain his Stoic philosophical outlook on life by using regular contemplative practices. In essence, Stoicism teaches us that our emotions are based on underlying beliefs, and that became, in the 1960s, the foundation of modern cognitive therapy, now the leading form of modern evidence-based psychotherapy. When we realize that our emotions are actually thoughts we open up a whole toolbox of cognitive therapeutic techniques. We can challenge whether the thoughts are consistent, whether they are supported by evidence, what the pros and cons of believing them are, and whether there's a better alternative way of looking at events. When the cognitions or underlying beliefs change, when our philosophy of life changes, our emotions change - we become more emotionally resilient.

So what specific techniques do the Stoics teach. Well, in my first book I listed about eighteen different strategies. So that's something best learned from books rather than online comments, which can't go into them in as much detail. But here are three..

  1. The dichotomy of control. Carefully distinguish between what is up to you and what is not in any given situation. When we accept that something is not under our control we tend to stop struggling as much with it - the Stoics realized that when people are neurotic this line becomes blurry. We need to bring back into clearer focus where our locus of control actually resides - and it's always with our own actions, i.e., our volition.
  2. Cognitive distancing. This is arguably the most important Stoic psychological technique but it's a subtle concept. Epictetus happens to sum it up nicely when he says, in probably the most widely quoted passage from Stoicism: "It is not things that upset us but rather our opinions about them." When we get upset we tend to fuse our opinions with our perception of external events, we lose sight of the way our own thinking is shaping our emotions. To regain control we need to separate our thoughts form the facts, e.g., Epictetus says that if you have been sent to prison, tell yourself "I have been sent to prison" but do not then go on to add "...and it's awful!" - as that entails projecting a value judgment on to the event, which in its nature is neutral. We can certainly prefer wealth over poverty, health over sickness, life over death, friends over enemies, according to Stoicism, but we have to be aware that these preferences come from within us the perceived value does not reside by nature in the event itself. When we lose sight of this distinction, we lose control of our desires and emotions. There are many tactics for gaining cognitive distance used in modern CBT. For example, you can just practice spotting upsetting thoughts and telling yourself "I notice right now that I am telling myself... [insert thought]" - where the thought would be "this is a disaster" or "nobody likes me" or whatever. Some people get this concept immediately whereas others need a bit more time but once you understand it, it's a very simple move to make psychologically.
  3. The View from Above. This is a different but related technique. It requires imagining events from a broader spatial and temporal perspective. Think of the gods looking down from Mount Olympus, as an example. We now know that when people become highly angry or anxious, etc., they tend to narrow the scope of their attention on to perceived threats and to engage in highly selective thinking. The Stoics wanted us to anticipate that and protect ourselves against cognitive bias by broadening the scope of our attention. Normally people respond to threats ether by putting them under a magnifying glass or by avoiding thinking about them - both toxic strategies. The Stoics want us to follow a third way by accepting the upsetting event but broadening the context so we're taking in other information as well, which tends to moderate our emotional response.

I'll try to answer specific questions about Stoicism and therapy but I thought it would be helpful to give a general summary as a lot of the questions here are repeating things because often people are new to the philosophy and don't have the context of the basic teachings at hand.

Iarwain_ben_Adar23 karma

Your area of expertise seems very niche and cool.

How did you arrive on applying your field of study to Marcus?

SolutionsCBT74 karma

Ha ha! Yes, it's really cool. I was extremely lucky to find my niche. I dropped out of school aged 15/16, was put on a rehabilitation scheme for young offenders, in Scotland, and started reading books on philosophy, partly because I was bored and had a lot of time on my hands. I ended up doing a philosophy degree at Aberdeen University. After graduating, I was struggling to figure out how to put my degree to good use and someone suggested that psychotherapy is a good profession for philosophers. So I began training around 1996, and I completed my masters degree in philosophy and psychotherapy at Sheffield. Studying the relationship between the two subjects at an interdisciplinary centre was fascinating and I guess it paved the way for the rest of my career. I started studying existentialism (Sartre/Heidegger) and psychoanalysis but became frustrated with that - it seemed useless in practice and overly-obscure. I discovered Stoicism and switched to CBT, because it was more evidence-based. From the late 1990s onward, that became my niche, and I've now been writing about Stoicism and CBT for nearly a quarter of a century. I focus on Marcus because he's the most popular Stoic and the one about whose life we know the most - which helps for biography!

CalmerThanYouAre_71621 karma

I've recently been listening to talks on stoicism and noticed there are some overlaps with Buddhism, notably the idea of accepting that which you cannot change. Were the stoics influenced by Buddhist philosophy?

SolutionsCBT44 karma

We can only speculate. First of all, the ancient Greeks and Romans did have some limited contact with India but they don't distinguish between Buddhism and Hinduism, etc. The Greeks refer to Indian sages simply as the gymnosophoi or "naked wise men". Why wasn't there more communication? Because Persia is in the way, basically, and tightly controlled travel and commerce with the far east. Alexander the Great busted through that when he conquered Persia, and reached the north of India. He took three philosophers with him, including Pyrrho of Elis, the founder of Greek Skepticism, a school of philosophy. So there are some books exploring the idea that Indian thought may have influenced Greek philosophy via Skepticism, a rival school to Stoicism. There are also some other bits and pieces of fragmentary evidence. Bit of trivia: We're told that one of Marcus Aurelius' teachers travelled around the near east and met gymnosophoi, although it's not certain this refers to Hindus sages, but it's possible Marcus Aurelius knew people who had contact with Indian philosophy or even that he'd met envoys from that region, or nearby, himself.

MerlinsSister18 karma

How do you feel about certain authors taking philosophy and repackaging it as life hack self help product? It's interesting it's always ancient philosophers who are used (stoics/Buddhist philosophy/ancient chinese philosophy). There's a reason academic philosophy moved on, why can't pop philosophy?

SolutionsCBT11 karma

I guess I have mixed feelings. In a sense, this has always happened. It's human nature. If it helps people that's okay, but, of course, sometimes it harms them, or at least it misleads them, and that's something I'd prefer to avoid, if possible. The main issue is probably with people confusing stoicism (the unemotional coping style) with Stoicism (the Greek philosophy), which you see happening all over the Internet. One is bad for mental health; the other is good for mental health. So we really don't want to confuse those two things.

I don't think of it as being an issue with needing to move on because I see Stoicism as having some very radical ideas that are still very relevant today. I don't really see academic philosophy as having entirely moved on either. As Whitehead notoriously said, the history of Western philosophy can be viewed as a series of footnotes to Plato. Of course there is progress in modern philosophy but we also tend to return to classical questions and revitalize them, over and over. For instance, I think existentialism clearly had many things in common with Stoicism, and some (so-called) existentialist authors, such as Heidegger, are very preoccupied with Greek classical thought. Likewise, some parallels could be drawn between Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy as therapy and the Stoic conception of therapeia.

Filmcaptain16 karma

I picked up a copy of Mediations a while back based on briefly reading portions, but have not seriously sat down with it. Is there any other reading or knowledge you would encourage someone to pursue before reading it, for context or otherwise?

Also, if one wanted to seek this kind of therapy, is it relatively easy to find?

SolutionsCBT26 karma

Yes, it's usually very easy to find a CBT practitioner. It will depend on your region but you should find your country or state's professional register and contact them.

We actually made a free illustrated PDF Guide to Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism specifically for that purpose, to provide background and context to help people get into reading the Meditations.

If you're interested in more academic books read Pierre Hadot's The Inner Citadel. Or, of course, any of my books on Marcus Aurelius would help as an introduction.

SolutionsCBT14 karma

Oh, I should probably say you should check out Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, our graphic novel, if you haven't already - it comes out on 12th July. A small team of us worked on it, for about 2-3 years. So it's a relief to finally see it hitting the shelves. I hope people enjoy it and it helps Stoicism reach a wider audience. It's kind of like a prequel to Russell Crowe's Gladiator but with way more philosophy., if you can imagine that!

Actually, apparently Russell Crowe is really into Stoicism and wanted there to be more references to it in the original movie. Gladiator 2 has been written and greenlit by the studio so I'm hopeful it may now have a little more Stoicism in the script. I heard that the screenwriter was reading How to Think Like a Roman Emperor as part of his research.

WW_III_ANGRY13 karma

How has living in Greece influenced your mood, your philosophy and or your interests, as well as your outlook on Marcus Aurelius?

SolutionsCBT30 karma

I love Greece. It's honestly changed me a lot, in so many ways. I think living in a different culture and speaking a different language will do that but I have a special connection with Greece because my work involves writing about Greek history and philosophy.

I notice that I'm happier and more relaxed in Greece, I think. I find it a very inspiring place to live, so that helps with writing. It's humbling, in a sense. I love my Greek friends and talking to them about philosophy has had a big impact on me - it helps me keep things more real, I guess, somehow.

Sensitive-Sky-356211 karma

3 in a row? Of the same dude? How did you keep things Spicy?

SolutionsCBT14 karma

Luckily they're three completely different types of book.

  1. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor is a self-help book, combining anecdotes about his life with discussions of modern evidence-based cognitive behaviour therapy
  2. Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, is a graphic novel, telling the story of his life and philosophical journey (so no references to CBT or modern self-help and a lot more emphasis on the visual storytelling)
  3. Marcus Aurelius: Ancient Lives is more of a conventional academic prose biography (part of this series), albeit focused especially on his character and how Stoic philosophy guided him as emperor - so it's a more scholarly book and provides a more complete analysis of his life

VerySilentLion11 karma

How do you think Stoicism could specifically benefit those suffering from social anxiety? Any good passages from Meditations that you would recommend for that purpose?

Thanks for doing this AMA! I've recently been getting into Marcus Aurelius' writings and wish his thoughts and views were more well known. It's been such a help for me with my own mental health and world view!

SolutionsCBT19 karma

I'm sure I wrote about this a bit in Stoicism and the Art of Happiness or How to Think Like a Roman Emperor - maybe both! Forgive me if I can't remember exactly where right now, but that would be a good resource. In a sense, actually, I remember first becoming interested in Stoicism because it struck me that the Stoics were hitting on something more fundamental than CBT about social anxiety. In CBT we have very effective techniques for retraining attention, learning new coping behaviours, and challenging unhelpful beliefs, in social anxiety. But the Stoics said, very bluntly, that we're only anxious about what other people think of us because we place way too much value on their opinions in the first place. I could not argue with that! They're right. So it's perhaps a harder strategy to employ - in practice CBT is maybe where I would still begin - but Stoicism digs deeper into what I consider the root cause of social anxiety.

I can't point to an individual passage that's most helpful for this, tbh, because I think the advice is spread out and sometimes has to be interpreted, if you understand what I mean. Maybe for individuals there would be one quote that really helps them, though. For me the most helpful thing is the tattoo I have on my arm, from Zeno, which simply says (in ancient Greek): Nothing terrible has happened to me.

iheartmagic9 karma

What role does stoicism play in helping those experiencing material oppression and inequity?

SolutionsCBT7 karma

I'll try to add more later but in a sense Stoicism has always appealed to the oppressed. Zeno was a foreigner (metic) at Athens, who has lost his future, his successor, Cleanthes was a poor labourer. Epictetus was a freed slave. Stoicism was partly developed by the disenfranchised and oppressed, but it also appealed to the powerful.

blrps9 karma

Hi Donald, In „Ways to yourself“ Marc states that (something along those lines) that it’s ok, to end things if you tried everything and are still unhappy/unsuccessful in life. What’s your take on that?

Many thanks in advance, I appreciate your feedback!

SolutionsCBT39 karma

Do you mean the Stoic attitude toward suicide? I think the Stoics have a very rational position on this. They don't view it religiously but more pragmatically. I think, for context, we have to know a bit about suicide and euthanasia in ancient Greece and Rome, which I can't cover fully in a few sentences. But there were more situations where people in the past would have to contemplate taking their own life, which they often did by refusing food, etc. The Stoics think that suicide is a vice, a moral error, if it's the result of a passion, which would include what we call clinical depression. So they'd say it's (usually) a mistake for someone to take their own life just because they're depressed. However, if someone had been captured in war, which might mean terrible abuse and exploitation, or that they'd be used to blackmail their friends, they might consider, under such extreme circumstances, that it's acceptable for someone to take their own life. Likewise, given the lack of medical care, they considered it acceptable (as did most Greeks and Romans) for someone to employ euthanasia in extreme old age or illness, if reason told them that their quality of life was so impaired that it was not worth continuing. (And in the ancient world that could happen easily, and also they would be concerned about being a burden to their family.) Today, our circumstances are very different, however. The Stoics would, nevertheless, say that taking one's own life could be rational in exceptional circumstances, such as euthanasia, but that it is a mistake to do so if it's not necessary, e.g., due to depression.

BuffaloSol9 karma

What were his thoughts on Slavery?

SolutionsCBT11 karma

I wrote an article going into this in a lot of detail. It's a very complex and controversial question and there's a lot of evidence to consider. In short, though, the evidence from Roman legal digests shows that Marcus' followed an agenda of improving the rights of slaves to attain manumission (perhaps with on exception). He even seems (perhaps) at one point in the Meditations to condemn the capture of slaves as a form of theft or injustice. The Stoics were known for condemning the institution of slavery so that would be consistent with Stoic teachings. See the article for more elaboration.

Pina_Ka_Lada9 karma

How does someone find their purpose in life? A purpose/goal to pursue relentlessly for the rest of their life. Career-wise and personally.

SolutionsCBT18 karma

There's actually a good answer to this, a very fundamental answer, in Socrates and later the Stoics. We can find our purpose by exploring the qualities we most admire (or detest) in other people, by looking outward first of all, and then asking how we can live up to that standard ourselves. What sort of person do you want to be in life? Socrates asked a youth named Critobulus "What are the qualities of a good friend?", an ideal friend. They talk about what sort of friend Critobulus would like to have. Then Socrates turns it around and asks him how many of those qualities he possesses himself.

BLB998 karma

Hi Donald! Thank you for doing another AMA! I listened to your interview on Modern Wisdom yesterday and it was great! Also, in your last AMA you recommended the Earl of Shaftesbury book to me and I love it.

I have two quick questions on stoicism. First, I rarely hear stoic ethics discusses in the teleological or deontological dichotomy like we do other common ethical perspectives. Is stoic ethics more teleological or deontological oriented. I have my thought, but I’d love to hear what you think.

Second, and similar but maybe more difficult question, what about stoics on the nature of human nature question? Do stoics think that we are more inherently selfish (Hobbes), blank slate (Locke), or inherently good (attributed to Rousseau)?

Thank you so much!

SolutionsCBT18 karma

Thanks, and you're welcome. Yes, the Earl of Shaftesbury is a legend - ha ha! That's a hidden gem of Stoicism for sure.

Stoicism is technically a virtue ethic, which is usually considered a third class, separate from deontology and consequentialist (utilitarian/teleological) ethics. It has parallels with both deontological and consequentialist ethics. I'd say overall, though, it's a bit closer to the deontological tradition, as exemplified by Kant.

The Stoics explicitly think we're inherently self-interested but that when we acquire reason, as adults, that self-interest is (or should be) radically transformed by our capacity for rational thought, so that it should become more consistent with a kind of holistic perspective, derived from their pantheism. Marcus says that what is good for the hive, for instance, is good for the bee - that enlightened self-interest is wedded to social interest.

SolutionsCBT6 karma

Hi everyone, had a short break because I was hosting a webinar on Marcus Aurelius but I'm back now and trying to catch up with all your comments. I'll try to answer as many as I can briefly and maybe circle back later if more in-depth answers are required. Often people are asking about things that would require quite a lengthy response so I'll try to give a summary and then link to literature that goes into things in more depth, where appropriate.

ordinary_kittens6 karma

Are there any common misunderstandings that people have of Stoicism, which you would caution someone about who is new to learning about it?

SolutionsCBT13 karma

Yes, Stoicism has always suffered from two major misconceptions.

  1. That it means being unemotional - this is due to people confusing "stoicism" (lowercase), which is a modern term for an unemotional coping style or personality trait, with "Stoicism" (capitalized), an ancient Greek school of philosophy, which inspired modern cognitive psychotherapy -- two completely different things
  2. That Stoicism is passive -- this is due to the stuff Stoics say about emotional acceptance being taken out of context, i.e., by people who read that but don't read the stuff they say about the Discipline of Action and virtue of Justice, and how Stoicism is about being committed to action in the service of the common good

You should be able to see through these misconceptions if you read a good modern book on Stoicism, although many blog articles and podcasts contain misinformation about Stoicism, which can fuel this confusion.

wakka555 karma

In order to write a whole book out of historical stuff that was already written, do you have to make some new stuff up?

SolutionsCBT5 karma

Yes and no. In this case there was enough material that we didn't completely "make up" anything but we did have to modify material or make choices between interpretations, etc. For instance, for a graphic novel, if two histories say conflicting things, you have to pick one to follow, whereas in a more academic biography you'd be able to talk more about the comparison between the two sources. For dramatic effect, we have to imagine conversations, but when we do that we're basing them closely on surviving texts, such as letters, or Marcus' private reflections.

yoyoyoitsconnyg5 karma

Have you heard of the band Sons of Aurelius? Funny enough that tech death band was what introduced me to Marcus Aurelius. I feel I've drifted so far from what I've learned. I deal with a lot of fear, stress, and adrenaline as a climber for work. Any techniques to calm the mind while 50ft up with a chainsaw?

SolutionsCBT4 karma

Never heard of them. Checking it out now. Have you tried listening to the audio recordings we made for Stoic Week? Or listening to audiobooks of Seneca or the Meditations? (Not sure that's safe while up a tree with a chainsaw, but at other times, as a reminder.)

Sidenote, we usually refer to monarchs and emperors/empresses by their first name so he's called "Marcus" usually rather than "Aurelius" (his adoptive family name). Formally, we can see he tends to be addressed by Romans as "Antoninus" the cognomen of his imperial dynasty.

HotSauceHigh4 karma

Why read your book instead of just reading his own writing?

SolutionsCBT8 karma

I wrote an article answering that question in depth. Short answer: I don't think you should read my book "instead" of reading Marcus Aurelius. I absolutely think you should read both. My books, and those of other modern writers, provide historical and philosophical context that most people find makes it much easier to understand what Marcus is saying.

otajeong4 karma

When a person has a panic attack but also has a personality of not good at making a choices by himself/herself and not necessarily want to fight to get better, what is change of getting better from the panic attack disorder?

SolutionsCBT14 karma

Clinical trials consistently show that CBT has an extremely high success rate in treating panic attacks, fortunately. It's actually one of the great success stories of modern evidence-based psychotherapy. (But you should verify the diagnosis of "panic attack" with a qualified professional to be sure that's actually what you're experiencing, as people do very often mislabel their anxiety.) A good therapist should be able to help you deal with the traits you mention. Also, treatment for panic attacks is usually very short term so client personality traits don't interfere as much as they would with longer-term therapy.

christoper4 karma

Apart from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, what other foundational texts on stoicism do you recommend?

I also have some works by Cicero, Seneca, and Epictetus on a Starting with Stoicism reading list here: https://www.26reads.com/list/32200-starting-with-stoicism

SolutionsCBT4 karma

If you're talking about classics as opposed to modern texts... Then I usually recommend reading in this order...

  1. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
  2. The Handbook of Epictetus
  3. The Discourses of Epictetus
  4. The Moral Letters (to Lucilius) of Seneca
  5. The Lectures and Fragments of Musonius Rufus
  6. Books 6 and 7 of Diogenes Laertius' Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers
  7. Seneca's other letters and dialogues
  8. Cicero's De Finibus and other Stoic texts by him, such as Tusculan Disputations, etc.

Although, honestly, I would also strongly recommend reading Plato and Xenophon, especially Plato's Apology, which is a masterpiece.

DeathCafe4 karma

What are your thoughts on Epicurianism? It seems like a lot of modern attributions to stoicism are often actually epicurean teachings.

SolutionsCBT4 karma

I would say Bill Irvine's book on Stoicism sounds more like Epicureanism at times but I'm not sure that's more generally true. I guess it depends who you're talking to, though. I mean, Epicureanism is a great philosophy and I think we can learn a lot from it. The Stoics would say that they can borrow concepts from Epicureanism but the underlying rationale for them is totally opposite, pretty much.

As a psychotherapist, I think Epicureanism has failed to grow in popularity in recent decades, unlike Stoicism, partly because it immediately strikes modern evidence-based clinicians as containing some obviously (at least prima facie) bad psychological advice. To cut a long story short... It's well-established now that people who place too much importance on controlling subjective feelings, such as avoiding unpleasant or painful sensations, tend to be more vulnerable long-term to mental health problems. Epicureanism pretty much sounds like it's advocating what we call today subtle avoidance or "safety seeking" behaviour. In fact, even the underlying belief that "anxiety is bad" has been found to correlate negatively with emotional resilience. Most therapists will be able to give many examples explaining how this becomes more and more of a problem with more severe cases. We normally find that encouraging tolerance and acceptance of unpleasant feelings is key to emotional resilience and there's a growing body of research, over the past few decades, supporting that shift in focus.

FlaxwenchPromise3 karma

How do you compare Aurelius' take on stoicism to Seneca's?

SolutionsCBT5 karma

Personally, I see most of the Stoics as largely consistent. They're all typically following orthodox Stoic teachings. That said, we're told Stoicism split into three branches, representing followers of the last three Greek scholarchs, or heads of the school. I believe Seneca followed one branch and Epictetus and Marcus both followed another. Seneca is much more explicitly influenced by the middle Stoics and admires Plato, but doesn't list Diogenes the Cynic as a hero. Epictetus, by contrast, is pretty negative about Platonism and absolutely adores Diogenes and the Cynics. So we probably have one more progressive and eclectic form of Stoicism represented by Seneca that draws on Aristotle and Plato and another more old-school Cynic inspired approach, with Epictetus and Marcus.

Sidenote: We usually call a monarch or emperor/empress by their first name, e.g., "Queen Victoria" or "Emperor Napoleon". So we usually call him "Marcus" rather than "Aurelius" (his adoptive family name). (The Romans officially tend to refer to him as "Antoninus" - his dynastic cognomen.)

don_Mugurel3 karma

For me the fact that Marcus Aurelius, arguably the most successful man in history needed 30 minutes each day to “will himself out of bed” and do some work dimisticied the whole “work now so you’re successful enough that you do not need to work anymore”.

Question: What was (for you) the most striking aspect or learning from his life ?

SolutionsCBT4 karma

I think the thing that initially struck me the most was the technique modern scholars call the View from Above. I used to train psychotherapists. I started off talking about this technique in psychotherapy conferences and on training courses and was amazed how the students/audience reacted. They immediately thought it seemed like a natural technique and couldn't understand why similar things weren't already more common in modern psychotherapy. Then I made recordings for them to try and, to cut a long story short, that led to Stoic Week the Modern Stoicism organization, and, in a sense, it was an impetus for everything I subsequently did on Stoicism and CBT.

Parapolikala3 karma

If stoicism is good life advice, why was Commodus such a fuckup?

SolutionsCBT5 karma

Short answer: Commodus was not, and never claimed to be, a Stoic. (Although he had probably, like other Roman elites, studied some Stoicism as a young man.) See my response to a similar question above, and also this article that examines the evidence in more depth.

ChaosOnline3 karma

Did you consult any historians when writing this work? If so, who did you work with?

SolutionsCBT8 karma

Yes but which of my books do you mean? I can't actually give the names of everyone I've worked with here but, yes, I've been very lucky to have worked with lots of different academic philosophers, classicists, and historians, over the years, both in my own activities, and via the publishing houses. For instance, James Romm is my editor for the prose biography, I just wrote about Marcus Aurelius and on the book I also worked very closely with a freelance editor who's a classicist. For the graphic novel, Verissimus, I had input from several historians and classics scholars, including Robin Waterfield, who I owe thanks, a consultant who advised us on Roman military apparel, etc., and you can actually see my interviews with the CEO and research director of the Carnuntum archeological park on YouTube - who gave us some helpful advice at an early stage of our research. There are dozens of other people I'd have to thank, though!

o16un3 karma

How do you respond to the criticism that stoicism = fatalism?

SolutionsCBT5 karma

Actually, that's one of the most common criticisms but it's really the opposite almost of what the Stoics actually teach. That's partly why I became interested in writing the biography and graphic novel, because it's much easier to demonstrate by pointing to a real Stoic, like Marcus Aurelius, who was the opposite of "fatalistic" in the sense of being passive. Marcus was, if anything, a workaholic, who risked his life defending the empire, and was surprisingly active despite his poor health.

Technically, the whole point of Stoicism is that it tries to reconcile emotional acceptance with a commitment to action. That's why, IMHO, Stoic philosophy is so important today. It addresses something we all struggle with. How can we act according to values such as justice, on one hand, but not become neurotic and depressed about the world, on the other hand? The Stoics address this by challenging our conception of value at a very deep philosophical level - that's the cornerstone of their entire philosophy.

For instance, Epictetus says that his students must learn three disciplines. The disciplines of desire (or desire and aversion/fear = the passions), the discipline of action (or impulse to action), and the discipline of assent (or judgment). The goal of Stoicism, in a sense, is to combine the discipline of the passions (emotional acceptance) with the discipline of action, i.e., acting ethically in the real world, with justice, courage, and self-discipline. Epictetus, interestingly, tells his students they must begin by mastering their desires and emotions before they can progress to focus on ethical action, which makes a lot of sense. (If you want to fight for justice, you need first to overcome your anger and frustration about injustice, otherwise you risk it clouding your judgement, and you may do more harm than good.)

michiru9573 karma

What does it mean to be a stoic? Because I have this picture of just someone who's very serious and doesn't show emotion

SolutionsCBT3 karma

That's because the word has changed its meaning. Many words from ancient Greek philosophy mean something different today. For instance, Cynic, Epicurean, Skeptic, Sophist, Academic, and Stoic, all mean something else. They used to be names of complex and nuanced schools of philosophy but today people use the words just to refer to crude ideas - over centuries, they've become caricatures of the original meaning. So normally we capitalize the words when referring to the original meaning but use lowercase when we're referring to the modern meaning.

In other words, "Stoic" (capitalized) and "stoic" (lowercase) mean two completely different things. The first is an ancient Greek school of philosophy, which inspired modern cognitive psychotherapy. The second is a modern term for an unemotional coping style or personality trait. Not only are they crucially different but in many cases someone exhibiting "stoicism" would be doing the opposite of what ancient "Stoicism", the philosophy, teaches.

Lowercase "stoicism" is actually an area of considerable interest in modern psychology. There's a large volume of scientific research that shows it's quite toxic and unhealthy for several reasons, it actually leads to heightened emotional vulnerability long-term. By contrast, there's evidence that Stoicism, the philosophy, is very healthy, and builds emotional resilience. So you really don't want to mix them up as one is good for you and the other bad for you, psychologically.

This article explains the difference in much more detail.

theguyfromtheweb72 karma

Hello! I'm a new cognitive behavioral therapist fresh out of a MA program for clinical counseling psychology! Have you done prolonged exposure therapy and, if so, what do you think about it? How would Marcus Aurelius have viewed it?

SolutionsCBT3 karma

Sure, exposure therapy is a mainstay of modern CBT, right? We should be using it with virtually all phobic clients and some variation of it (such as imaginal exposure) with many other clients experiencing different forms of anxiety. It's central to modern CBT practice. It's probably the most robustly established intervention, in fact, in the entire field of psychotherapy research. To be honest, that's a bit like asking "You've been a chef for twenty years, have you ever hard boiled an egg?" I'd be pretty concerned, as a supervisor, for instance, if I had a CBT practitioner under me who wasn't regularly doing exposure therapy, at least if they were in general practice and working with anxiety disorders.

I think there are hints that the Stoics had a similar concept. We can certainly find similar ideas more widely in the ancient literature, e.g., there's even a well-known fable of Aesop (whom Marcus had read) called the Fox and the Lion, which describes the basic concept of "emotional habituation", which is what exposure therapy is based upon, i.e., anxiety tends to abate naturally during prolonged, repeated exposure, under normal circumstances, if nothing prevents it from doing so. The Stoics use a mental technique called premeditatio malorum (in Latin) which is similar to what we call today "imaginal exposure" in CBT.

inmeucu2 karma

In the show Rome his son was an idiot by comparison. Why?

SolutionsCBT3 karma

I think you mean the Netflix show Roman Empire (not the HBO show Rome). We don't know. One of our sources says that Commodus was just naturally gullible and then was exploited by his friends and hangers on. It's implied that he began to abuse alcohol perhaps, which could potentially be part of the problem, if he really succumbed over the longer-term to binge drinking and alcoholism.

Also, though, I think Commodus was perhaps disturbed by the civil war, during which he probably feared that he was about to be assassinated. My guess is that traumatised him, and contributed to mental health problems, combined with alcohol abuse, which may explain his erratic behaviour.

mcboogerballs19802 karma

This is the second post I've seen in the last day about Marcus Aurelius and stoicism. Did something interesting happen around those topics recently?

SolutionsCBT2 karma

Stoics are taking over the Internet! ;)

I'm just posting because I have a book coming out on Tuesday, a graphic novel, about Stoicism and Marcus Aurelius, called Verissimus. I guess Joe Rogan mentioned Stoicism recently so that's caused a buzz online.

sock_templar2 karma

Is there any benefit of applying stoic thinking to deal with trauma/issues that aren't in the past (recent events)?

SolutionsCBT3 karma

Yes, for sure. We have to be careful when working on recent trauma, in counselling or therapy, that we don't interfere with natural emotional processing, which should be allowed usually to run its course, but Stoicism can be helpful, definitely.

mng8ng2 karma

What are your top book recommendations on Ancient Rome?

SolutionsCBT3 karma

That's a good question. My favourite recently was Lucius Verus and the Roman Defence of the East by M.C. Bishop but that's a bit niche. And I really enjoyed The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire by Susan P. Mattern, maybe also a bit niche. I'm not such a fan of the more general overviews - I prefer books that focus on specific individuals or angles, e.g., also The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire by Kyle Harper or Domina: The Women Who Made Imperial Rome by Guy de la Bédoyère, for instance.

Ferguson002 karma

Stoicism - can it have specific applications for addicts / alcoholics and those with debilitating depressive illnesses?

SolutionsCBT2 karma

Yes, although those are quite different things, so I can't say much to cover all of those in one comment. It's a complex question. Stoicism is the inspiration for modern CBT, which is widely used for all of these issues. And Stoic philosophy can potentially be used to complement CBT. I wrote an article about Stoicism and alcoholism, which perhaps helps to answer that part of your question. Depression is a topic covered to some extent in How to Think Like a Roman Emperor and the courses I run about Stoicism. The Stoics would use a combination of techniques to help with these and other issues - some of which I've already described in my replies to other questions and in the longer comment a made on this post earlier.

vagabond92 karma

Was that the dude from Gladiator?

SolutionsCBT2 karma

Yes, and Gladiator 2 is the works, which may refer back to him.

Buffalove2 karma

Do you have a general study roadmap of sorts, for someone with no knowledge of stoicism to learn from? A booklist for sure.

About all I've got right now is Meditations, I would greatly appreciate a guide to expand my knowledge and introduce my significant other to stoicism.

Plug your own writing here as well, I'm all in.

SolutionsCBT6 karma

I'm starting a webinar soon so I'll be quick and add more later. I normally recommend reading in this order:

  1. Meditations
  2. Enchiridion of Epictetus
  3. Discourses of Epictetus
  4. Moral Letters (to Lucilius) of Seneca
  5. Musonius Rufus
  6. Cicero's bits on Stoicism, starting with De Finibus

For modern books, I'll add a list later but basically Hadot's Inner Citadel for Marcus and A.A. Long's book on Epictetus. Also may other good intros by John Sellars, Massimo Pigliucci, et al. Also, see the Modern Stoicism website and try doing Stoic Week.

jert32 karma

Do you have a funny or interesting favorite historical ancedotes about the an ancient Stoics who perhaps took his passion for the belief too far?

Maybe I'm really asking about Diogenes the Dog, who I vaguely recall from school.

SolutionsCBT4 karma

Well Diogenes was a Cynic, a precursor of Stoicism, rather than a Stoic per se. I have lots of stories. I like that we're told by one (dubious) author that Chrysippus, the third head of the Stoic school, died laughing, at one of his own jokes, about a donkey. So Stoics were by no means humourless.

brownaffy2 karma

With respect to leadership what advice would the stoics give to a startup CEO in a time where a recession may loom ahead?

SolutionsCBT3 karma

I actually wrote an article some time ago collating loads of advice from other sources on Stoicism for leaders and entrepreneurs. Your question is more focused on a specific threat, though, that of recession. I think the Stoics would have loads of relevant advice, which you can read about in the books, but one example would be that we should prepare in advance for threats by imagining they've already happened and rehearsing a philosophical attitude toward them. Stoics call that premeditatio malorum and it's sometimes called "mental rehearsal of coping" or an emotional fire-drill in modern psychotherapy. You will need other strategies to use while imagining these events, though, but you'll learn those from good books on Stoicism. The most important would be what we call "cognitive distancing" in modern therapy, which I've described a little bit in one of my answers to another question here.

nutellagangbang2 karma

Where do I draw the line for my sphere of influence in the globalised digital world?

SolutionsCBT5 karma

Well that's technically an easy question for Stoics, and Epictetus gives a very clear answer. Your sphere of influence, in the sense the Stoics are interested in, extends exactly as far as your own voluntary thoughts and actions, or rather the impulse or intention to act. It's the same as our volition. Everything else is external to our moral choice, for Stoic philosophy.

Ipride3622 karma

How did his Stoic philosophy fail to address the obvious issues with his son and the transition he was going to have being different from how he and Verus as well as Hadrian had passed on the purple?

How would he have addressed having a blood child and the succession plans preceding him had been adoption?

SolutionsCBT5 karma

That's actually quite a complex question. I've written a lengthy article about it, and discuss it in more detail in my forthcoming biography. It's hard to give a short answer without knowing more about the background assumptions you're making in your question, if that makes sense. For instance, Marcus actually made multiple plans for the succession but I'm not sure if you're aware of those or how they figure into your question. The main point I'd make to people, though, in short, is to ask: what was the alternative? The big fear of the Senate was civil war. Marcus faced several uprisings and one full-blown civil war. Romans, especially in the provinces, feared a civil war much more than they did a bad emperor. By appointing Commodus Caesar, alongside his brother, at a very young age, it looks like Marcus was acting, at the behest allegedly of Lucius Verus, his co-emperor (and presumably the Senate), to try to minimize the risk of civil wars arising.

AliveAndWellness2 karma

First off, I'd like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading 'How to think like a Roman Emperor'. So much so, that I purchased the audiobook as well. Your narration was fantastic btw.

I recently experienced an extremely tragic death within the network of people in my life. I won't get more specific than that to retain anonymity.

I've read a fair amount about the prominent Stoic philosophers, and I find that I'm able to apply some of the practical lessons to my normal day-to-day. However, this death has seemed to eclipse my capability of focusing on what I can control and ability to remain calm.

Do you have any advice for staying grounded and keeping natural anxieties in check when life throws an unexpected curveball which has a more forceful effect than usual?

SolutionsCBT5 karma

Thanks, glad you liked the book. Well, first thing worth mentioning is that the Stoics were the leading proponents of a genre called "consolation letters", of which there are about five in Seneca's extant writings. (There are also three works by Plutarch in this genre, which draw on Stoicism.) Those typically focus on bereavement so that could be helpful, although the cultural differences between ancient Greeks and Romans, on one hand, and our modern society make it difficult for most people to read - as their cultural norms toward bereavement can seem quite cold to us today. If we can see beyond that, though, there's a lot of specific advice about coping with bereavement.

Otherwise, the Stoic advice is potentially going to be general coping strategies. The most flexible and general-purpose strategy in these situations is what we call "cognitive distancing" in CBT, and it was also central to ancient Stoicism. It would take a while to explain here but you'll find descriptions in my books How to Think Like a Roman Emperor and Stoicism and the Art of Happiness. If you can identify the thoughts that are most distressing and modify your relationship with them (without necessarily removing the thought itself) then you'll be able to adapt more easily. We use about half a dozen different tactics to achieve that in modern CBT, e.g., one would be just to say to yourself "I notice right now that I am having the thought...", and then name the thought, as if you're commenting slowly on someone else's thinking - the goal being to shift to a detached observer perspective on your own troubling thoughts, enabling you to accept the thought without being very disturbed by it. Epictetus' saying "It's not things that upset us but rather our opinions about them", actually contains the same strategy, basically.

ConsciousData16541 karma

What's the link between Stoicism and modern day capitalism? Is it absolutely vital is how modern day industrialism is run?

SolutionsCBT3 karma

I'm not sure. Could you elaborate on your question? What sort of link were you asking about? For instance, historically, Adam Smith, one of the pioneers of free market economics, was heavily influenced by Stoicism. (But economics is not my area of expertise, so I'll admit I may not be able to help as much here as I'd like.)

PhnomPenny0 karma

Have you ever met a Ronald/Robert Donaldson?

SolutionsCBT1 karma

Nope. Have you?

basicallybradbury-2 karma

Mr Robertson sir, some teenagers called me a "bitch boi" while I was walking down the street. Unmoved, I told them their words had no effect because I was a stoic, but they laughed at me and said it was pronounced "stow-ic" not "stoike" which cause me to break down and cry. My question is this - is four inches normal?

SolutionsCBT3 karma

Um, I'm sure you'll somehow find happiness one day.