The Inner Citadel: The philosophy of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius

A detailed summary of Pierre Hadot’s classic book, which helped put Stoicism and ancient Greco-Roman philosophy back on the map

by Massimo Pigliucci

My Philosophy as Way of Life (PWOL) series of essays has now being going on since July 2018, and has produced 388 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 a whopping nine essays I wrote about a highly impactful book authored by French scholar Pierre Hadot and entitled The Inner Citadel: the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Despite the subtitle, the book is just as much about the famous emperor-philosopher as it is about the major Stoic teacher who influenced him: Epictetus. Hadot’s book has been instrumental in putting not only Stoicism, but practical Hellenistic philosophy, back on the map, and you will hardly gain a better understanding of either Marcus or Epictetus by reading anything else about them. … (continue at Medium)

On Pigeon Chess and Debating

by Massimo Pigliucci

“Debating creationists on the topic of evolution is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon—it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.”

This famous quote is by Scott D. Weitzenhoffer, who wrote it as an Amazon.com review for Eugenie Scott’s book Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction. It raises an important question: When and how should we debate people who hold to opinions that we consider entirely unscientific and either ideologically or religiously motivated?

When I first encountered the notion of creationism, as a young assistant professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee in the mid-1990s, I was astounded that there were creationists around so close to the end of the twentieth century. The mythical year 2000 was looming over the horizon. Not only were the much-promised flying cars nowhere to be seen, but now I had to deal with these nutcases! … (continue at Skeptical Inquirer)

Suggested reading: After Derrida

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Peter Salmon

On 2 October 2020, the French president Emmanuel Macron gave a two-hour speech entitled ‘The Fight Against Separatism – The Republic in Action’ at Les Mureaux, a north-western suburb of Paris. In it, Macron described Islam as ‘a religion that is in crisis all over the world today’ due to ‘an extreme hardening of positions’. While acknowledging that France was partly responsible for the ‘ghettoisation’ of large numbers of Muslim residents (‘initially with the best intentions in the world’), and that it had failed to confront its colonial past including the Algerian war, Macron insisted that radical Islam was organising a counter-society that was ‘initially separatist, but whose ultimate goal is to take over completely.’

Against this, Macron proposed a ‘republican reawakening’, including legislation that would defend the values of laïcité, enshrined in Article 1 of the French Constitution, which separates Church and state, and mandates France’s neutrality on religion – ‘Secularism,’ stated Macron, ‘is the neutrality of the state.’ One is invited to join this neutrality – an individual’s adherence to ‘the Republic’s universal principles’ gives one claim to citizenship of France. ‘We are not,’ he said, ‘a society of individuals. We’re a nation of citizens. That changes everything.’ … (continue at Aeon)

Cicero’s political philosophy — IV — Social duties and personal virtues

Duties toward others are deeply intertwined with the cultivation of personal virtues in our attempt to live in agreement with nature

by Massimo Pigliucci

“And Socrates properly persisted in condemning that man who first separated the useful from the right, for that, he charged, was the source of all moral disorder.” (Cicero, Legibus I. 33–34)

It is a common assumption, even and perhaps especially nowadays, that what is right is often in tension with what is expedient, that is, useful for us personally. Apparently, the problem goes all the way back to Socrates, and Cicero wrote an entire book, On Duties, to deal with it.

The surprising and counterintuitive answer that Socrates sketches and Cicero elaborates in detail is that any perceived conflict between ethics and utility is just that, perceived, apparent, not real. Once we properly understand what is actually useful to us then we see that it coincides with the right thing to do. … (continue at Medium)

Stoicism, Epictetus Style

[Part of an occasional series of free books based on previously published essays by yours truly. You can find all other free downloads here.]

Epictetus was a first century slave, born in Hierapolis, modern day Pamukkale (Turkey). He eventually became one of the most successful teachers of the Roman Empire, as well as a Stoic philosopher we still read and learn from today, almost two millennia later. This is a collection of essays on various aspects of Epictetus’s philosophy that I think are both of general theoretical interest and have very practical implications. We’ll discuss how to be a Stoic, Epictetus-style; the famous “dichotomy of control,” which Epictetus labeled “the fundamental rule of life”; the three disciplines in which we need to train ourselves to become better human beings; the notion of “role ethics;” Epictetus’s conception of freedom; his attitude toward suicide; and his criticism of other schools, such as the Epicureans and the Academics. (download E-pub here)

Suggested reading: In praise of anxiety

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Tracy Dennis-Tiwary

Nobody likes to feel anxious. Anxiety is among the most pervasive and reviled of human emotions. An entire industry has sprung up to aid us in eradicating it, from self-help books and holistic remedies to pharmaceuticals and cutting-edge cognitive behavioral therapy. Yet we are an ever more profoundly anxious society. Epidemiological studies show that over 100 million people in the U.S. will suffer from an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Rates, especially among the young, have been rising for the past decade. Our efforts to contain anxiety aren’t working. … (continue at The Wall Street Journal)

Paper: Stoic therapy for today’s troubles

by Massimo Pigliucci

[Part of an occasional series presenting academic papers I have published but that may be of general interest. Full list with links here.]

Why would anyone want to resurrect ancient Stoicism as a way to tackle today’s troubles? Isn’t it all about going through life with a stiff upper lip while doing one’s best to suppress emotions? It may have been good for Roman legionnaires, but hardly suitable to the uber-technologic society of the twenty-first century, with its fast-paced life, recurring economic upheavals, and possible environmental catastrophe.

Also, wasn’t Stoicism a man’s thing? After all, the very Latin root of that crucial word, “virtue” [vir] means “man.” And we know that women in ancient Roman and Greek societies were confined to very restrictive roles, not really citizens in any meaningful way of the word. How is that going to square after three waves of feminism, the #metoo (fourth wave) movement, and the increasing, if still painfully slow, undoing of the patriarchy? …

[From: Kelly Arenson (ed.) (2020) The Routledge Handbook of Hellenistic Philosophy, Routledge. Read the full paper here.]

Suggested reading: How to change your mind about COVID-19 (or anything else)

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Olga Khazan

In the spring of 2020, as Americans continued to proclaim their excitement for basketball games and parades, an ER doctor named Dylan Smith watched in dismay. Was everyone else ignoring reality? That March, New York City hesitated to close its schools during the city’s first COVID wave. Smith was horrified. A major pandemic was arriving, and softening its blow would require closing schools, which he believed was the best way to protect kids. “There were a lot of suggestions that kids would be these super–carrier vectors,” he says, “where they would come home and they would infect Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa, and they would infect teachers at school.” … (continue at The Atlantic)

Is Stoic virtue “foolish”? Not so fast

Stoicism deserves criticism on a number of fronts, but the Stoic conception of virtue ain’t one of them

by Massimo Pigliucci

I’ve recently quit social media. I’ve consciously, willfully left close to 50,000 followers on Twitter and a few thousands on Facebook. Why? Because, I reckoned, it was the virtuous thing to do. The case against social media and their increasingly pernicious effects on society is increasingly well established on empirical grounds. And as a welcome side effect, I regained some peace of mind and control over my own time.

Am I under the illusion that my quitting those platforms will make any dent in the global situation? Of course not. But since when one has to be assured of having a planetary impact before doing anything? Virtue, as they say, is its own reward.

Which brings me to an article by Douglas Bates provocatively entitled “Stoic ‘virtue’ is delusional,” to which I wish to respond because it raises interesting questions about Stoicism in particular and the broader notion of virtue — common to most of the Hellenistic philosophies — more generally. Besides, I’d rather not be thought of as delusional. … (continue at Medium)