Gone vacationing, back soon!

Dear Readers,

Time for yours truly to take a (deserved, I think) vacation to recharge my intellectual batteries and come back ready to put out new essays and podcasts.

The very word “vacation” comes from the Latin vacare, meaning to be empty, free, or at leisure. Which is precisely what I intend to do.

I will be back in mid July, eager as always to share my thoughts and engage with yours.

Until then, remember: Philosophia longa, vita brevis!

~Massimo

p.s.: in the meantime, you can still read plenty of my essays, check out my Stoic Meditations podcast, read one of my books, or simply browse through my blog for suggested readings and other sources. Enjoy!

How to practice Stoicism

A collection of articles on implementing the wisdom of Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius in our daily life

by Massimo Pigliucci

My Philosophy as Way of Life (PWOL) series of essays has now being going on since July 2018, and has produced 393 articles and counting. Naturally, people have a tendency to focus on the latest entries, but — if I may be forgiven for saying so — some of the early ones are worth reading as well. Which is why I am proposing this occasional series meant to highlight early PWOL entries grouped by interesting themes.

Today we are going to revisit the practice of Stoicism. There is a large literature on this out there, but I believe the articles grouped below are going to be particularly useful if you don’t want just a bunch of more or less random “life hacks” but are interested in Stoic philosophy as a coherent, lifelong practice. Enjoy, and keep working toward becoming the best human being you can! (Follow the links for the full text.) … (continue at Medium)

Podcast: Stephen Angle on Confucianism

In this episode of the Philosophy as a Way of Life podcast my friend Rob Colter and I talk to Stephen Angle, author of Growing Moral: A Confucian Guide to Life. At its core, Confucianism describes a way for humans to live and grow together in our world–a way characterized at its best by joy,  beauty, and harmony. Stephen’s  book builds a case for modern Confucianism as a way of life well worth the attention of reflective modern readers no matter their age, where they live, or the paths they’ve taken so far. (listen at Anchor)

Cicero’s political philosophy — V — How to build a nation that actually works

Which system of government is best? Here’s an ancient answer that can teach us a lot

by Massimo Pigliucci

“Our political community is not the work of a single genius but of many, nor was it formed in the life of one person but over a number of generations and centuries.” (Cicero, De Re Publica II.2)

What sort of system of government work best for human beings? This is a hugely important question that has been pursued for millennia and that is still very much relevant nowadays. In this next to the last installment of our book club series devoted to Walter Nicgorski’s Cicero’s Skepticism and His Recovery of Political Philosophy, we are going to examine the surprisingly original and, more importantly, useful answer articulated by the Roman advocate, statesman, and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero.

[See also part Ipart IIpart IIIpart IV]

As is well known, the Greeks and the Romans invented democracy, though of different kinds. (I will likely write more about this soon.) Ancient Athens was an experiment in radical democracy, where the people would directly vote on all sorts of matters and the motion would carry by a simple majority. The result wasn’t always great, as exemplified by the trial and death of Socrates. The Roman Republic, by contrast, was closer to what we today call a representational democracy, where the chief political offices — those of Consul and Tribune — were decided by ballot and were characterized by term limits (one year). It is true that the Senate was more of an aristocratic body, but new members could also be admitted to it by merit, as was the case for Cicero himself, who was a “new man” from a family outside of Rome and without aristocratic pedigree. … (continue at Medium)

Podcast: A Stoic’s take on modern celebrity

In this episode, host John Bruni is joined from New York by returning guest Prof. Massimo Pigliucci. John and Massimo speak frankly about the problems posed by modern celebrities looking at the two recent controversies that caught out prolific American podcaster, Joe Rogan. They also look at the celebrity of Canadian Clinical Psychologist Emeritus Prof. Jordan B. Peterson. Hang onto your hats folks, this is a broad-ranging and interesting take on Stoicism and its response to modern celebrity. (listen here)

Suggested reading: How to argue with people

[Articles I come across that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Paul Pardi

My wife and I had a conversation recently about how to talk to someone on a topic about which they disagreed. She and this person had many discussions on the topic but couldn’t seem to move toward any sort of a resolution. Both she and this other person had strong views with neither being clearly right or wrong and she asked how to change the context of the discussion so they could get beyond their impasse. I’ve taught logic for many years but in many cases, being “more logical” isn’t really the problem. Both she and the other person were making logical arguments.

The situation in which she found herself involved a lot of different factors including personality, background beliefs, how ideas were presented, and, of course, the rationality of what they both were saying. As I thought of the feedback I’d offer, I found myself drawing from my philosophical training but also my nearly two decades of experience as a manager at one of the top tech firms in the world. Working with very smart and passionate people means you’re constantly having to navigate disagreements to resolve them in the best way possible.

While every argument is as unique as the people having them and there is no cut-and-dried approach that will “always work” in finding a resolution, there are, I think, some general strategies that can at least help make a conversation more productive–or at least more interesting. … (continue at Philosophy News)

Seneca: The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius

When someone important and of questionable character dies, should we make fun of them?

by Massimo Pigliucci

“His last words heard among mortals — after he had let out a louder sound from that part with which he found it easier to communicate — were as follows: ‘Good heavens. I think I’ve shat myself.’ Well, I don’t know about that, but he certainly shat up everything else.” (The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius, 4)

This irreverent bit about the recently deceased (13 October 54 CE) emperor Claudius was written by Seneca the Younger, otherwise known as one of the major Stoic philosophers, advisor to Claudius’ successor, Nero, and — among other things — a playwright who ended up influencing Shakespeare.

The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius was written shortly after the emperor’s demise, likely on the occasion of the Saturnalia festivities of December 54 CE, an appropriate moment, given both that Claudius was fond of festivals and that the Saturnalia were meant to be irreverent and to (temporarily) overturn social conventions. … (continue at Medium)

Suggested reading: When I First Saw Elon Musk for Who He Really Is

[Articles I come across that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Edward Niedermeyer

On a beautiful day in May 2015, I drove the 13 hours from my home in Portland, Oregon, to Harris Ranch, California, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. At the time, Tesla was touting a battery swap station that could send Tesla drivers on their way in a fully powered vehicle in less than the time it takes to fill up a car with gas. Overtaken by curiosity, I had decided to spend a long Memorial Day weekend in California’s Central Valley to see if Elon Musk’s latest bit of dream weaving could stand up to reality.

There, amid the pervasive stench of cow droppings from a nearby feedlot, I discovered that Tesla’s battery swap station was not in fact being made available to owners who regularly drove between California’s two largest cities. Instead, the company was running diesel generators to power additional Superchargers (the kind that take 30 to 60 minutes to recharge a battery) to handle the holiday rush, their exhaust mingling with the unmistakable smell of bullshit. … (continue at Slate)

Suggested reading: Aristotle goes to Hollywood

[Articles I come across that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Philip Freeman

If you wanted to write a screenplay for a blockbuster film, Aristotle is the last person you might ask for advice. He lived more than 2,000 years ago, spent his days lecturing on ethics and earthworms, and never saw a movie in his life. But some of the best contemporary writers of stage and screen, such as Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet, think that this ancient Greek philosopher knew exactly how to tell a gripping story for any age. ‘The rulebook is the Poetics of Aristotle,’ Sorkin says. ‘All the rules are there.’

Aristotle seems like an unlikely guide for storytellers. He was born in the wild land of Macedonia in northern Greece where his father was serving as court physician to the local king, the grandfather of Alexander the Great. After his parents died while he was still a teenager, Aristotle travelled to Athens to study with Plato, the student of Socrates and most famous philosopher of the day. Plato was a brilliant theorist but had little interest in the practical and experimental work that Aristotle loved. The younger man dissected oysters and waded through swamps collecting tadpoles, basically inventing the science of biology, while Plato was busy discoursing on the invisible reality underpinning the cosmos. After Plato died, Aristotle returned to Macedonia for a time to become the tutor of young Alexander, then founded his own school in Athens called the Lyceum, devoted to research and teaching. … (continue at Aeon)

The sacred island of Delos

I spent a few hours on soil that has seen millennia of fascinating human history. It’s well worth reflecting on it

by Massimo Pigliucci


The story goes that one day Zeus seduced and impregnated yet another mortal woman, Leto. Hera, Zeus wife, was royally pissed off. As usual. So Hera banished Leto from earth. Zeus then implored his brother, Poseidon, to raise from the underwater world an island in the middle of the Aegean, changing it from invisible (Adelos) to visible (Delos), and allowing Leto to give birth there to the twins Apollo (the Sun) and Artemis (the Moon).

At the least, such is the legend. The history of Delos, which I was lucky to visit a few weeks ago, is just as fascinating. And it tells us much more about the human condition than yet another tale about the philandering Zeus.

Delos is located near the center of the archipelago of the Cyclades, a half-hour boat ride from the nearby party island of Mykonos. The Cyclades have been populated for a long, long time, and sure enough archeologists have discovered stone huts on Delos that date back to the third millennium BCE. … (continue at Medium)