Posts by Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at platofootnote.org and howtobeastoic.org. He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

Audio series: Epictetus’ Enchiridion

Here is the latest — and last! — complete audio commentary series from my Stoic Meditations, dedicated to Epictetus’ Enchiridion. This is one of the most important texts of ancient Stoicism, a very short but very powerful guide to a life worth living. I decided to conclude my long running Stoic Meditations series (5 years, 1094 episodes, over 8 million downloads) with Epictetus because he has been a major influence on my own philosophical path. I hope he will guide you as well.

Some things are up to us, while others are not. Up to us are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not up to us are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.

The audio commentary runs for 21 episodes.

Podcast: Simone de Beauvoir, existentialism and how to be authentic

In this episode of the Philosophy as a Way of Life podcast Rob and Massimo chat with Skye Cleary, author of How to Be Authentic: Simone de Beauvoir and the Quest for Fulfillment. We talk about existentialism, authenticity, bad faith, and all sorts of other ideas relevant for an existential way of life.

How to Be Authentic is a lively introduction to Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophy of existentialism, as well as an exploration of the successes and failures that Beauvoir and other women have experienced in striving towards authenticity. Skye C. Cleary takes us through some of life’s major relationships and milestones: friendship; romantic love; marriage; children; and death, and examines how each offers an opportunity for us to stretch toward authenticity. While many people don’t get to choose their path in life―whether because of systemic oppression or the actions of other individuals―Cleary makes a compelling case that Beauvoir’s ideas can help us become more conscious of living purposefully, thoughtfully, and with vitality, and she shows us how to do so in responsible ways that invigorate every person’s right to become poets of their own lives.

Skye C. Cleary, PhD is a philosopher and writer. She teaches at Columbia University, Barnard College, and the City University of New York, and is the author of Existentialism and Romantic Love and co-editor of How to Live a Good Life. Cleary’s writing has appeared in The Paris Review, Aeon, The Times Literary Supplement, TED-Ed, and Los Angeles Review of Books, among other outlets. She won the 2017 New Philosopher Writers’ Award and was a 2021 MacDowell Fellow. She lives in New York City with her partner and son. (listen at Anchor)

Book to consider: Anger, Mercy, Revenge

[Books I’ve read that I think may be of general interest. See also my book club entries under essays.]

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BCE–65 CE) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, dramatist, statesman, and adviser to the emperor Nero, all during the Silver Age of Latin literature. The Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca is a fresh and compelling series of new English-language translations of his works in eight accessible volumes. Edited by world-renowned classicists Elizabeth Asmis, Shadi Bartsch, and Martha C. Nussbaum, this engaging collection restores Seneca—whose works have been highly praised by modern authors from Desiderius Erasmus to Ralph Waldo Emerson—to his rightful place among the classical writers most widely studied in the humanities.

Anger, Mercy, Revenge comprises three key writings: the moral essays On Anger and On Clemency—which were penned as advice for the then young emperor, Nero—and the Apocolocyntosis, a brilliant satire lampooning the end of the reign of Claudius. Friend and tutor, as well as philosopher, Seneca welcomed the age of Nero in tones alternately serious, poetic, and comic—making Anger, Mercy, Revenge a work just as complicated, astute, and ambitious as its author.

[Get the book here]

Musonius Rufus — Lecture XV: Should every child that is born (or conceived) be raised?

by Massimo Pigliucci

Ever since I got interested in practicing Greco-Roman philosophy, and especially one form or another of Stoicism, I’ve had to face the inevitable fact that sometimes the ancients seem so hopelessly out of touch that one wonders whether the whole enterprise is actually worth it.

Stoicism, of course, is not the only philosophy of life to incur in this problem. Confucianism is often, rightly, accused of being too patriarchal. And of course there are countless ethical anachronisms marring all three Abrahamic religions, just to mention a few cases. … (continue on Medium)

The philosophy of Stoicism

What is the best life we can live? How can we cope with whatever the universe throws at us and keep thriving nonetheless? The ancient Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism explains that while we may not always have control over the events affecting us, we can have control over how we approach things. In this short video, one of my favorite so far, I describe the philosophy of Stoicism. Lesson by yours truly, animation by Compote Collective.

Suggested reading: I didn’t want it to be true, but the medium really is the message

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

by Ezra Klein

In 2020, I read a book I’d been ignoring for 10 years, Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” It was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 and much loved among people who seemed to hate the internet.

But in 2011, I loved the internet. I am of the generation old enough to remember a time before cyberspace but young enough to have grown up a digital native. And I adored my new land. The endless expanses of information, the people you met as avatars but cared for as humans, the sense that the mind’s reach could be limitless. My life, my career and my identity were digital constructs as much as they were physical ones. I pitied those who came before me, fettered by a physical world I was among the first to escape.

A decade passed, and my certitude faded. Online life got faster, quicker, harsher, louder. “A little bit of everything all of the time,” as the comedian Bo Burnham put it. Smartphones brought the internet everywhere, colonizing moments I never imagined I’d fill. Many times I’ve walked into a public bathroom and everyone is simultaneously using a urinal and staring at a screen. … (continue at The New York Times)

Suggested reading: The five best novels about Stoicism

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

by Donald Robertson

One of the most commonly asked questions about Stoicism is whether there are any novels dealing with this philosophy. The question often gets quite varied responses, including lots of references to poker-faced or unemotional characters. There’s a big difference between Batman, though, or Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name”, on the one hand, and Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius, on the other. All over the Internet, people tend to confuse “stoicism” (lowercase), the unemotional personality trait or coping style, with “Stoicism” (capitalized), the ancient Greek philosophy — two quite different things.

What if you are not looking for cold-blooded stoic characters, though, but for works of fiction that contain some genuine Stoic philosophy? Fortunately, there are a handful of interesting novels whose characters explicitly discuss Stoicism. These books vary enormously in style and content and will probably appeal to different types of readers. However, they can all contribute something of value to our appreciation of ancient Stoic philosophy. … (continue at Medium)

Suggested reading: An ancient geometry problem falls to new mathematical techniques

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

by Steve Nadis

Around 450 BCE, Anaxagoras of Clazomenae had some time to think. The Greek mathematician was in prison for claiming the sun was not a god, but rather an incandescent rock as big as the Peloponnese peninsula. A philosopher who believed that “reason rules the world,” he used his incarceration to grapple with a now-famous math problem known as squaring the circle: Using a compass and a straightedge, can you produce a square of equal area to a given circle?

Surprisingly, mathematicians are still working on this question. And they’re making headway. A paper posted online last week by Andras Máthé and Oleg Pikhurko of the University of Warwick and Jonathan Noel of the University of Victoria is the latest to join in this ancient tradition. The authors show how a circle can be squared by cutting it into pieces that can be visualized and possibly drawn. It’s a result that builds on a rich history. … (continue at Quanta magazine)

Suggested reading: A.I. is not sentient. Why do people say it is?

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

by Cade Metz

As the sun set over Maury Island, just south of Seattle, Ben Goertzel and his jazz fusion band had one of those moments that all bands hope for — keyboard, guitar, saxophone and lead singer coming together as if they were one.

Dr. Goertzel was on keys. The band’s friends and family listened from a patio overlooking the beach. And Desdemona, wearing a purple wig and a black dress laced with metal studs, was on lead vocals, warning of the coming Singularity — the inflection point where technology can no longer be controlled by its creators.

“The Singularity will not be centralized!” she bellowed. “It will radiate through the cosmos like a wasp!” … (continue at The New York Times)

What, if any, is the essence of Stoicism?

by Massimo Pigliucci

A few days ago my friend and co-author Greg Lopez and I co-hosted the 7th edition of Stoic Camp New York, inspired by the original Stoic Camp that another friend and colleague, Rob Colter, has facilitated for several years in Wyoming. It was an unusual edition of Stoic Camp, not only because it was the first one in person since the beginning of the covid pandemic, but because the objective was to trace the early origins of some Stoic ideas (Presocratics), to map the major direct influences on the Stoics (Cynicism, Megarian School), and to identity whatever distinctive features characterize Stoic philosophy.

As part of this exploration, I proposed to the students that we carry out an exercise. You may want to try it now before continuing to read this essay. Take a few minutes to make a list of ideas you think are fundamental to Stoicism and without endorsing which, in your opinion, one could not reasonable call herself a Stoic. Try to do this regardless of whether or not you yourself agree with said ideas. … (continue on Medium)