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You Don't Have to Be Mr. Spock to Be a Stoic

Being a Stoic doesn’t mean eschewing your emotions like Mr. Spock on Star Trek.
book cover of "How to Be a Stoic"Professor Massimo Pigliucci (GC/CCNY, Philosophy) says that’s a common misconception of the philosophy he describes in his new book, How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life. Stoicism does not seek to suppress emotions. Rather, Pigliucci explains that, Stoics learn to “shift our emotional spectrum from negative and unhealthy emotions — fear, anger, hatred — toward positive and healthy ones — joy, love, a sense of justice.” Focusing on love, death and morality, stoicism is about how to lead a life worth living.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has called Pigliucci “something of the academic face of Stoicism.” In addition to his book, he writes a blog called How to Be a Stoic: An evolving Guide to Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century. Recent entries have explored questions about romantic love and commitment, and professional life and responsibility. Earlier this year, his presentation on “Better Living Through Stoicism” at the Night of Philosophy and Ideas at the Brooklyn Public Library, was packed.
We asked Pigliucci why the ideas and practices of Stoicism seem to resonate so strongly with people today. He noted that, “In a sense Stoicism has never gone away. … Stoicism, like its Eastern counterpart, Buddhism, arose initially in the midst of a society in turmoil. Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE, just a couple of decades before the foundation of the first Stoic school. His death plunged the Mediterranean world into chaos (as happened in India two or three centuries earlier, coinciding with the onset of Buddhism), and people naturally responded to a philosophy that offered a way to navigate [it]. … We live once again in that sort of world, [and] Stoicism teaches you how to deal with both the small and the big issues in life. It’s eminently practical.”

Pigliucci described his practice of Stoicism in a 2015 New York Times essay that led to his book. His day begins with Stoic meditation in which he rehearses “the challenges of the day ahead, thinking about which of the four cardinal virtues (courage, equanimity, self-control, and wisdom) one may be called on to employ and how.” Throughout the day, he practices mindfulness and ends with more meditation and reflection.

Submitted on: AUG 13, 2018

Category: Faculty | General GC News | Philosophy