Of the many things I’ve come to appreciate about Stoicism is the fact that it attracts people from all walks of life. It inspires them to pursue new interests, to understand different types of philosophy through unique lenses and everyone has their own story about coming to Stoicism in general.
Stoic Athenaeum recently interviewed What is Stoicism?, an epic online resource packed full of actionable insights. It was a pleasure to hear this unique tale of Stoicism told and how the brand has developed over time.
Appreciate you taking the time to chat. What were your first experiences with philosophy and what led you to Stoicism?
I’m a long-time listener of the Tim Ferris’ show and it was through him that I found Stoicism. It didn’t initially click with me but the more he talked about it, and the more he introduced people like Ryan Holiday and Massimo Pigliucci, the more I knew I had to see what it was all about.
It wasn’t until I read William Irivine’s A Guide to the Good Life that I really understood how Stoic philosophy could be applied to daily life in a practical way. I actually had a similar experience to Derek Sivers reading this book in that I realised I was already sort of a “natural Stoic.”
This is the introduction to his notes on the book:
“Almost too personal for me to give an objective review, because I found when reading it that the quirky philosophy I’ve been living my life by since 17 matches up exactly with a 2000-year-old philosophy called Stoicism. Mine was self-developed haphazardly, so it was fascinating to read the refined developed original. Really resonated.”
I’m grateful that I’ve been able to create a more solid foundation to my philosophy of life by understanding aspects of Stoicism that I never would have discovered on my own.
What Is Stoicism? is a great resource for bringing the philosophy to a wider audience. What inspired you to create the website and how has it evolved over time?
Thank you! There were a few reasons for creating the website originally. The first, to put it in Stoic terms, was to make a contribution to the common good – knowing the benefits of Stoic practices I was keen to share that with others, particularly those who may not otherwise have found Stoicism at all.
I also knew that writing articles and producing other content would help in my own journey of learning about Stoicism. As Seneca put it, the process is a mutual one: as we teach, we learn.
Finally, it was an opportunity to develop a habit of creativity which I didn’t really have an outlet for at the time. Since starting What Is Stoicism? I’ve experimented with everything from video production to podcasting to drawing to graphic design which has been a fun part of the process. Maybe something will eventually stick and I’ll manage to focus on one thing!
What specific Stoic practices have you found helpful in your day-to-day life?
Separating things into what I can and can’t control has been helpful for me. It’s not always easy to just stop worrying about what we can’t control but with practice it gets easier and that’s the key thing to remember – that we need to be practicing every day if we are to improve.
Negative visualisation is another practice that has noticeable benefits. Defining specific worries makes it easier to prepare for them or even to realise in some cases that they probably won’t become a reality. When I feel vaguely worried about something it always helps to put it into concrete terms so it can be better dealt with; as the saying goes: “a problem well stated is half solved.”
Beyond Stoicism, what are some other types of philosophy that you’re interested in?
There’s something to be learned from every philosophy so I think it’s important not to discount all ideas of a certain philosophy simply because you don’t “follow” it. Stoicism was formed by developing the ideas of other philosophies, like Cynicism, after all.
Seneca’s line is somewhat relevant here:
“I shall never be ashamed of citing a bad author if the line is good.”
I like how there are certain parallels between Buddhism and Stoicism but I admit I haven’t looked at other philosophies anywhere near the depth I have with Stoicism. It’s something I plan to make time for and I recently found this article which has some helpful advice for an amateur like myself.
Who are some of your favourite philosophers throughout history?
Beyond the “big three” Stoics (Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus), Musonius Rufus is another who has work that has survived and is worth checking out. He held some unconventional (for his time) views that would be much more accepted today which speaks to the courage that Stoics sought to show.
Schopenhauer and Montaigne articulated a lot of Stoic-inspired ideas and in general I like reading how people express ancient principles relative to their own time.
Of course I have to give a mention to Socrates who inspired so much of what came after him. I’d recommend Bettany Hughes’s book, The Hemlock Cup, for anyone keen to learn more about his life (and death!).
If you could grab a beer or drink with any philosopher, who would it be and what would you talk about?
From the past it would have to be Marcus Aurelius. So much is written about him and yet we only have a small piece of his own writing, so it would be cool to hear first-hand how he coped with being Roman Emperor and how he would describe his Stoic practices.
Among the living, Derek Sivers, who I mentioned earlier, has described himself as a pop-philosopher so I think he qualifies. I’ve listened to most of his interviews so there mightn’t be much left to ask him!
What other philosophy websites or online resources would you recommend that people check out?
Here a few “best of” lists of online Stoicism resources that people might find useful:
You recently launched the What Is Stoicism? podcast. What are some of the themes you plan to explore through this medium and how do you see it developing?
For now I’m focusing on short episodes that use Stoic principles to rationally work through common problematic thought patterns (common to me at least!) So far I’m enjoying creating them and I hope they will be of practical use to listeners.
I’ve been listening to The Stoic Handbook podcast recently and have been impressed by the guided meditations being produced by the host, Jon Brooks. It may inspire me enough to try some episodes of a similar format with the What Is Stoicism? podcast.
Another format I’ll be considering is interviews. From established names to newcomers, the Stoic community is filled with people to learn from and it would be a shame not to take that opportunity and interact with as many as possible!
How do you see Stoicism progressing in the coming years and is there room for new ideas in the philosophy?
In terms of popularity, it only seems to be increasing. It’s hard to tell, of course, how that translates to people actually practicing Stoic techniques and using it to craft their philosophy of life. I do hope people continue to discover and benefit from it in the way the ancient Stoics intended.
That said, there is certainly room for new ideas. Assuming the fundamentals are maintained and prosocial behaviour guided by reason is the driving force, then evolution can happen just as it did when the likes of Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus were shaping Stoicism in the early days.
Massimo Pigliucci put it well when I interviewed him:
“Philosophies of life are living, dynamic sets of ideas, and they need to be in sync with the times in order to be useful.”
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