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Announcing the new Plato’s Academy Centre Podcast

We’re delighted to announce that we have just launched a new podcast hosted on Substack, which is also distributed via Apple and Google Podcasts.

🎧Nancy Sherman: Courageous Defiance Plato's Academy Centre Podcast

This episode features Nancy Sherman, distinguished university professor and professor of philosophy at Georgetown University. She was also the inaugural Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the United States Naval Academy. Prof. Sherman is the author of several books including Stoic Wisdom: Ancient Lessons for Modern Resilience and Stoic Warriors, The Untold War.Thanks for reading Plato's Academy Centre Newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.Highlights* How Aristotle defines courage* Courageous leaders must defy norms* The story of Army Major Ian Fishback, whose documenting and protest of systematic torture led to the US amendment that banned the practice * The story of Susan L. Solomon who co-founded the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) after her son was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes. See our EventBrite profile page for details of forthcoming events.Thank you for reading Plato's Academy Centre Newsletter. This post is public so feel free to share it. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit platosacademycentre.substack.com
  1. 🎧Nancy Sherman: Courageous Defiance
  2. 🎧 Mick Mulroy: Lead Like a Spartan
  3. Who was Socrates?
  4. Eugenia Manolidou: Disrupting Me Stoically
  5. Donald Robertson: "Socrates on Leadership and Self-Discipline"

Andrew McConnell: Get Out of My Head

Andrew McConnell is the Founder and CEO of Rented.com, and the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Get Out of My Head: Creating Modern Clarity with Stoic Wisdom. Prior to launching Rented, he founded and ran VacationFutures, Inc. as well as Rented Capital, LLC. Before setting out on his own, Andrew worked with some of the world’s largest public and private entities as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, and as a Director, Solutions Design at Axiom Global, Inc. His prior experience also includes putting his law degrees to more immediate use at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP and Ashe, Rafuse & Hill, as well as time at Merrill Lynch. A former member of the US National Team in Open Water Swimming, Andrew received his A.B. in History from Harvard University, his J.D. from Harvard Law School, and his LL.M. from the University of Cambridge, Trinity Hall. 

How did you become interested in this area?

I studied philosophy some in college, but admittedly it did not really stick. The books remained on my shelf, read but not understood. As I began my career, I felt a depth missing from my life. I was an avid reader of contemporary non-fiction, and from Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday, and others, I came across more and more references to Meditations, the letters of Seneca, and the teachings of Epictetus. At a certain point it became a critical mass pointing me in the direction of the source materials, and my journey to becoming a student of philosophy began.

In our modern and materialistic society there remains a single asset we can own:
our mind.

Andrew McConnell

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

In our modern and materialistic society there remains a single asset we can own:our mind. And yet, despite this, we unthinkingly give our mind away constantly, living as tenants rather than owners. Though this is our default state, and in many ways “natural,” it need not remain our end state. Mind ownership is something we should all aspire to and can all achieve.

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

Do the thing or don’t, but don’t spend your time not doing the thing thinking about it.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

Other people aren’t the problem.

paraphrase from Charlotte Joko Beck, “The Other Person is Never the Problem”

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

What I “do” is not singular. I write, and you can learn more about that from my book, as well as my blog. I also build companies. You can follow my journey through my 100 articles for Forbes. I am a husband, a father, an athlete, and a lifelong student, and I share my journey on all of this on my blog, through third party outlets, and through social (LinkedIn and Instagram).

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, in Athens.

I would feel intimidated and inspired to deliver the performance of my life. I could not imagine a greater honor than to be on the spot of so much history, and to be able to speak on topics that are innately human and as applicable today as in Plato’s time.

Tiisetso Maloma: Ubuntu Stoicism

Tiisetso Maloma is a South African author of 8 books. He is also an entrepreneur, innovation scholar, and Stoic. In the last twelve years, he has co-created and launched over 100 self-funded products in multiple industries. Tiisetso studies innovation from an evolutionary lens. He has two published books on the topic: Innovate the Next and Understanding the 4th Industrial Revolution. His other books include The Anxious Entrepreneur, Forget the Business Plan Use This Short Model, Township Biz Adjacent and Township Biz Fastrack.

His upcoming book, Money is Biological, details how biology has had the action potential to enable money since 3.8 billion years ago. It follows the human inventive brain over millions of years and further looks into the future of money given today’s newer currencies, such as decentralized money like Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Tiisetso’s topics explore and marry diverse domains such as innovation, entrepreneurship, anthropology, complexity, creativity, biology, evolutionary psychology, and economics. His love of creation and teaching “how to” led him to become a guest lecturer at business schools such as Wits Business School and Johannesburg Business School.

Maloma has been featured on CNBC Africa, How We Made It In Africa, The Huffington Post, Under 30 CEO and, Destiny Man.

Maloma’s founded and co-founded businesses include Bula Buka, Startup Picnic, Gabble Heights Clothing, eKhaya Moji, and Defuse Anxiety.

Ubuntu means humility. It’s an Africa philosophy that is carried through proverbs mostly. These proverbs usually reinforce motivation, humility, inspiration, meaning, and cautionary discipline.

Tiisetso Maloma

How did you become interested in this area?

We are all ever looking for mental frameworks that can help us navigate the world better. I was raised Christian and at some point, in my early twenties, I became a borderline atheist. I was searching for meaning. Still, in search of meaning, I went back to believing in God. I think from that point on, I was open to exploring meaning in different areas. It wouldn’t take away from my faith but overall add to me as a person.

A few years later I was going through some anxieties brought about by the venture that is entrepreneurship. Then through podcasts, I discovered Stoic philosophy. It resonated with me practically. Then Stoicism became my go-to philosophy. II find its perspective healthy for me. I would eventually write a book on the subject, Introducing Ubuntu Stoicism: Gain Joy, Resilience, Productivity, and Defuse Anxiety.

Ubuntu means humility. It’s an Africa Philosophy that is carried through proverbs mostly. These proverbs usually reinforce motivation, humility, inspiration, meaning, and cautionary discipline. I am South African, and I grew up on our vernacular proverbs. Ubuntu and Stoicism play hand-in-hand, in my opinion. They both caution and reinforce healthy and productive perspectives.

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

That philosophy is about healthy perspectives. A healthy perspective carries you in good and bad times. In bad times, if you do not have a healthy perspective, you can entropy into chaos. As Marcus said,

Does what’s happened to keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfil itself? So, remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

It’s good counsel. Imagine if someone makes you angry. The aforementioned quote is a good reminder to not let this anger spill into your other interactions (e.g., with family).

So, I say to people that they should collate perspectives that they deem useful in living a good life. These perspectives could be in the form of quotes. It could be quotations by others and even their own. They should read them often, at least weekly.

…we’re not always perfect. Therefore, we need to extend grace and humility to ourselves as well.

Tiisetso Maloma

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

That philosophy is a collection of good perspectives to try to live a virtuous life. This virtuous life cannot be lived in words but through action. Philosophy is reading these good perspectives often. It’s a good reference point to see if we are living per our ideals.

Also, that we’re not always perfect. Therefore, we need to extend grace and humility to ourselves as well. It is the Ubuntu part. Ubuntu means both grace and humility. Philosophical people can be hard on themselves harshly.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

Yes, my own personal reminder.

Philosophy is perspective. Perspective is either healthy or unhealthy. A healthy perspective does not mean the situation is good necessarily. If you are in a bad situation, the healthy perspective is to act upon the probability that if you let yourself disintegrate, you will entropy in chaos.

Tiisetso Maloma

I created this reminder to mind the lens in which I view events and the world.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

I’ve been blogging for over 10 years about my entrepreneurship ventures. I think the best place to start is there, my blog and its newsletter. Otherwise, the content is varied. There is an amalgamation of entrepreneurship, innovation, life advice, comedy, philosophy, satire, and other little pockets of interests that I have.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, in Athens. 

I would feel fantastic. Even the mental image of it feels good.

Talking Walls: Barbara Kondilis and Kalliope Koundouri of Art, Graffiti in the City

Art Graffiti in the City (AGC) is a nonprofit (AMKE) based in Athens, Greece but it aspires to be active around the globe. Its primary research field is arts and culture in contemporary urban public spaces. More specifically, AGC critically investigates, processes and assesses, in an interdisciplinary manner, how graffiti -tagging and street art- affect and interact with preserved monuments, urban landmarks, antiquities, and public art works. AGC is also a pioneer in Greece regarding the examination of how the above affect local business, residents, visitors, and tourists. AGC focuses its research on select historic city centers in Greece and abroad. For more information, visit their Facebook page.

This is an interview with the President of AGC, Barbara Kondilis, and its Chief Art Consultant, Kalliope (Popi) Koundouri.

It is my belief that we can use philosophy to transform individuals and communities for the better, in urban and suburban environments, through open dialogue but also via public art.

Barbara Kondilis

How did you become interested in philosophy?

Barbara: Philosophy of mind, and eventually working with individuals and groups utilizing cognitive behavior therapy as a certified social worker and wellness counselor brought me back to the basics. It is my belief that we can use philosophy to transform individuals and communities for the better, in urban and suburban environments, through open dialogue but also via public art. In my younger years I could be found wandering while working in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, in my attempt to come closer to the cultures and pieces I so much admired, to attempt to understand the inspirations and aspirations. How can life be without art, music, science, and philosophy?

Kalliope:  I was a restless youth. Initially, I found philosophy, as a general term, to be a logical mechanism which penetrates the bedrock of both inner reality and the outer word to reach the core of things and humans; their essence or quintessence, in a remotely Aristotelian sense. Pursuing further studies in art, I inevitably crossed paths with aesthetics. It was a crash and a crush at the same time!

Lastly, for the past 7 years, I have been privileged to teach an Intro to Philosophy (Highschool level), and Ancient Greek Philosophy 101 to my Hellenic American University (HAU) students.  Although I find the often market-driven ill-handling and ubiquities of philosophy nowadays – as a panacea – to be a degenerating factor, and although I am also appalled by formalist and stagnant wit games between some of today’s “popular philosophers”, I remain still an amateur aficionado of the discipline.

AGC: The public space and/versus the individual/citizen debate is a privileged ground for philosophical inquiry now perhaps more than ever in the story of mankind. We are set on exploring the socio-aesthetic and ontological reverberations of that debate on the city walls and other public places, and the outcomes of this tension for society.

Graffiti, in its varied manifestations, is by now a serious constitutional cultural element which massively contributes to the shaping of what is perceived as the contemporary face of cities.

Kalliope Koundouri

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

Barbara: Becoming global citizens, in the modern sense, and reflecting on what it means to be a consciously-engaged citizen resembles what Socrates and Plato taught in ancient Athens. This idea was followed by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and other ancient thinkers, and it has continued to influence our present popular or motivational speakers, as well as college and university professors, even beyond classics departments. Aligning the goals of Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities with this ideal would entail promoting the fundamentals of democracy, social justice, and public health, including personal and social responsibility in the globalized world. These values are fundamental to my core teachings. Success for students, in other words, requires opening their eyes to possibilities, and a better future.

Kalliope: That is tough one to tackle. Having “γνώθι σεαυτόν”- “gnothi seafton” as a milestone, that the individual is/should not be an island, that we are all interconnected not just between us, but principally with the world around us.

AGC: Graffiti, in its varied manifestations, is by now a serious constitutional cultural element which massively contributes to the shaping of what is perceived as the contemporary face of cities. It is often open for osmosis, but also a battlefield for controversy. In spite of its innate facets, such as locality, transience and temporaneity, graffiti can also be inscribed in both our material and immaterial heritage, in the form of a hybrid, and be incorporated in the archival memory of the city.

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

Barbara: The interplay of disciplines can apply to any situation, and the environment and physical structure of communities and their walls can affect people’s inner worlds.

Kalliope: Talent and vision go hand-in-hand with hard individual and group work.

AGC:

If you want to learn about a city, look at its walls

INO, internationally acclaimed Greek street artist

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

Barbara:

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

attributed Martin Luther King Jr.

Kalliope: It is indeed a Herculean feat to choose from some many intellectual milestones! I would go for the first thing that came to mind:

Every form of knowledge when sundered from justice and the rest of virtue is seen to be plain roguery rather than wisdom.

Plato, Menexenus, 247a

AGC:

Urban street space is a space for debate […] A space where word becomes writing. A space where word becomes “primitive” and, by escaping from rules and institutions, it is inscribed on walls.

H. Lefevre

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

Barbara: Take a walk with me in the city streets to get a snapshot of what is going on for better or worse. It will allow for the senses to better take in the experience.

Kalliope: Join us on our journeys into the city’s underbelly. Then visit our Facebook.

AGC: Walking around in the city, one sees that the walls speak. Α cultural palimpsest is unfolding in an ostensibly chaotic visual narrative, and this is the subject matter of contemporary urban space, both public and private.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, in Athens. 

Barbara: Privileged and ecstatic about sharing our ‘in- group’ knowledge with the greater population in understanding at a more intimate level the interplay of environment, individual, and transforming, or simply observing and recognizing patterns.

Kalliope: Humble, empowered, proud.

Then, most excellent friend, we must not consider at all what the many will say
of us, but what he who knows about right and wrong, the one man, and truth
herself will say,

Plato, Crito, 48a

Mark Tuitert: Train Your Stoic Mindset

Mark Tuitert

Mark Tuitert is a former Dutch speed skating champion. He won gold at the 1500m at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He is now a public speaker, podcaster, and author. Mark is the author of the book DRIVE: Train je stoïcijnse mindset, from Maven Publishing, due to be translated into English as DRIVE: Train your stoic mindset in 2023.

[This interview was transcribed by Kasey Robertson from audio provided by Mark Tuitert]

How did you become interested in philosophy?

As a teenage boy, I was really interested in history. I loved it, in fact. I was always curious as to how history played out and why things happened the way they did, why historical figures made the choices they did etc. Wars of the last century intrigued me but also the classical age. The Romans and the Greeks particularly fascinated me.

When I was 20 years old, I became really ambitious and focused on professional sports. I was one of the big talents in speed skating. So, I pursued my dream of wanting to become an Olympic champion. I signed a big contract and I had a lot of media requests, so I was the new rising star leading up to the Olympics of Salt Lake City in 2002.

On the other hand, I was also struggling at home. My parents were having a rough divorce, constantly fighting. As the eldest of three boys, and because I loved my family, I tried to take charge and intervene thinking I could stop it. However, the harder I tried the worse it seemed to get.

I wanted to release all of this pent-up negative emotion, so I trained harder. I trained relentlessly, thinking that I could cope better by proving myself, but I wound up overtraining. So, in 2002, during the Olympic Games at Salt Lake City, I laid in my bed sick. I laid there for probably 6 months. I simply could not train, and so I was forced to rest. I began to hear whispers in my world of sports like, “It’s the end of his career” and “We won’t be seeing him back again…” To me, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I knew I had to do something about this. So I thought, “I’ll just train even harder! Yeah, that’s it…”

When I’m in the tunnel of training hard, I put blinders on that block everything else out. I knew I was fooling myself, though. I was seeing things from an unhealthy perspective, and my life and health were reflections of that. That’s when I found philosophy. I wanted to learn how to achieve balance in my life, to make the right choices, be a good person, live a good life, but still keep my ambition and pursue my dream of being a successful speed skater.

I found that Stoic philosophy helped me in all areas of my life, both personal and career.

I found that Stoic philosophy helped me in all areas of my life, both personal and career. I now view all facets of my life through a Stoic lens. Yes, I had looked into other schools of philosophy but the Stoics really inspired me most. They helped me find a stronghold in the storm of life and I love it.

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

I teach a couple of concepts, but I think the most important concept is about anger. Many people have expressed that they related to my feeling anger towards my father, and how it was unknowingly keeping me back.

I had missed a few Olympics by 2006, my goal was to win a medal…but I didn’t get there. I wasn’t reaching my full potential somehow. I didn’t skate the way I should and it became quite unsettling. Determined to find what this roadblock was, I dug deep within myself. That’s when I realized that it was my deep-seated anger that was holding me back; my anger towards my father for the agonizing divorce from my mother. However, viewing the situation again through a Stoic lens, I could see that I needed to separate how I felt about him from the divorce. I held onto the initial reaction, though, and I had a hard time moving forward because of that.

One of the greatest Stoic philosophers puts it beautifully: “When we are frustrated, angry or unhappy, never hold anyone except ourselves – that is, our judgments – accountable” and “It is not events that disturb us but our judgements about them.” If you have an event, something that happens to you and it provokes an emotion, we accept the initial emotion as how we truly feel and adopt it as truth. But that’s the wrong way of thinking. There’s something in between judgment and the event, and that’s your own opinion. What a powerful concept. For me, the event was the divorce of my parents fighting each other while my emotion was anger towards my father. But in between is my opinion, or my judgment about my father.

Once I found the source of my personal and professional hindrance, I asked myself what are the judgements I currently have about my father? Well, he was a bad father. The next question was, are you a better father today than he was then? Also, do you know what it’s like not to have contact for 6 years with your sons? I strive to be a better father, but also no, I don’t know what it’s like to not have contact with my children for 6 years. However, I’m the one who chose not to have that contact. So, instead of judging, I think it’s wiser to try to understand, to ask good questions and suspend judgment like Socrates would.

I promote this example in my talks and in my book, Train Your Stoic Mindset. My goal is to teach people to separate their judgements from the event, much like Epictetus. For separating our own judgements from the events that occur in our lives helps us achieve clarity, allowing us to see the fallacy in our perspective. I worked on separating those judgements over the course of 4 years, leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It was there that I won the gold medal.

This process of questioning my initial judgments, and letting go of them, freed me. I felt so much room to excel and I didn’t feel angry anymore. I chose to lose those negative emotions and for me, that’s what Stoicism is especially about – learning to detach yourself from a situation to gain a healthier perspective. You have the power to rid yourself of these negative emotions. It’s your choice. One you do, life becomes better overall, more fun. I now have more energy, positive energy, that I use to follow my own path as an athlete, as a man, and as a person.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

Yes, I do, A couple actually. I often quote Marcus Aurelius, as I think he writes down his quotes beautifully. I love “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” I refer to that a lot to cope with setbacks. My perspective has become that it’s not an obstacle that blocks our paths, we can actually move further. It’s up to us to find a new direction.

I love also what Epictetus tells us about how if we’re in the classroom, we think we know how everything works. But when you drag us out into the field, out into the real world, we don’t know anything.

We indeed are able to write and to read these things, and to praise them when they are read, but we do not even come near to being convinced of them. Therefore what is said of the Lacedaemonians, “Lions at home, but in Ephesus foxes,” will fit in our case also, “Lions in the school, but out of it foxes.” – Discourses, 4.5

There’s a sort of humbleness in this philosophy. You never think of yourself as superior to anything or anyone. You reflect on life. To live is to wrestle, like Marcus Aurelius would say, right? The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing. We have to be ready for the unforeseen.

You touch on being careful not to use that you are “too busy” as an excuse in a blog on your site. Can you elaborate?

Yes, well, I sometimes use that as an excuse. When you say to friends “No, I’m too busy to do this; I’m too busy to do that”, you’re actually fooling because it’s not that you’re too busy. You have priorities in life, and you act according to those priorities. I have my kids, my family, my work, my book, my presentations. I do some television work too. So, of course, I’m busy, but I do the things I want to do. I have a sort of hierarchy in the things I find important in life, and I start with that hierarchy. I always put the things I find most important on top. So that means I cannot do other things, but I cannot use the excuse of being “too busy”.

If I’m honest with myself, I have to say, yeah, this is not important enough to me for me to spend my time on right now. Of course, that’s not always the way in real life. Sometimes you can say you are too busy and that’s okay but only if you’re not kidding yourself. So, if you say to somebody else that you’re too busy, and you really think you are too busy, you are self-deceived.

If you can say you’re too busy and know consciously that it’s because what’s being asked of you seems less important to you than other things, that’s okay. I don’t find anything wrong with that. But if you use the excuse often, and you actually think you are too busy, then you have it wrong. The thing you are struggling with saying yes to is probably something that is not important enough to you.

A friend of mine once replied, “Mark, you’re not too busy.” When I used to say I was too busy he would say: “You have a lot of things going on in your life that you find more important. But ‘too busy’ is not the proper excuse. You would just rather do something else.” I thought, yeah, that is true. So from that moment on, I’m really keen on avoiding using that term too often.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

If you’d like to, you can read my book, DRIVE: Training Your Stoic Mindset. It’s slated to release in English next year. I have given quite a few talks as well, using my Olympic story and its Stoic foundation. Many people ask me about Stoic philosophy right after my talks. They hit me up on Instagram as well or send emails. I think that’s beautiful. That’s really become my mission in these last few years is getting in touch with people in order to get them in touch with Stoicism. I believe the philosophy can help them deal with life’s challenges, with parents, with work, with negative emotions and so on. It has really become my mission to help people who are struggling in their everyday lives, to light a fire under them and inspire them to read more about Stoicism and apply it.

DRIVE: Training Your Stoic Mindset, reads like a training manual because I’m used to training manuals. I believe we should not just train our bodies to become fit, but train our minds to be flexible and resilient.

You can also check out my website. It’s in English too. There you’ll find some info and also look at my YouTube channel for some short presentations. You can also follow me on Instagram, although most of my captions are in Dutch. I hope to transition more to English because I would love to be part of the international Stoic community.

Suppose you will be able to give a workshop at Plato’s Academy in Athens about resilience. How would you feel about that?

Well, that would be great. I think I have my own take on Stoic philosophy, performance and life, and I would love to share that take. So hopefully people are inspired or I can light up the spark that lights the fire within someone’s mind to think about things in a different way, to open up, to free themselves of negative emotions.

I think that’s one of the main reasons why we are all philosophers in some way. We try to work our way through life by thinking and asking ourselves questions, such as “Are we living a good life? Is this worthwhile? Does it resonate for me and for other people? And who am I in a community? What do I bring to the community? What what are the most important things in life? And do I live my life by these standards?” So many questions to ask yourself, and that’s, I think, a beautiful part of philosophy. It’s the life questions you ask yourself. It’s the the inspiration you get from the big philosophers coming after Socrates, of course, and the philosophers before that too, like Heraclitus. They inspired me a lot.

So I would love to come to the Plato’s Academy Centre. I would love to come to Athens again. I was there two weeks ago with all of you and it really inspired me. It’s really cool to feel the connection with the original place where philosophy flourished – and also democracy, trade, life flourished there. I think we are drawn to that place, and to that philosophy, again, especially now with the world seeming to be in chaos because of war, inflation, economy, environmental crises. It’s an interesting time and an interesting place. So I think, maybe more than ever, we can benefit from classical philosophy.

Mark Tuitert speaking at the original site of Plato’s Academy in Athens

If I can play a part in that whole, I would love to do so. That would be a really great thing! I would cherish doing that worldwide, like a real cosmopolitan, meeting people all over the world who are inspired by philosophy or inspired by Stoicism. If I can help to share that inspiration, that passion, and do it from my own points of view, such as being an athlete, and being a father, yeah, I would just love to do that. Thank you for giving me the opportunity with his interview. I’m sure we’ll meet again. I would love to be part of future events in Athens.

Mark Tuitert, Drive

Feature in Stanford Social Innovation Review

Reviving the Ancients

Plato’s Academy Centre aims to make ancient philosophy accessible and easily digestible to the public.

The Plato’s Academy Centre project is featured in the latest issue (Fall 2022) of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). SSIR is an award-winning print and digital magazine publication, and website, covering cross-sector solutions to global problems. It was launched by the Center for Social Innovation (CSI) at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and currently published at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS). It’s aimed at social change leaders from around the globe, and online it reaches an estimated 2.5 million visitors per annum. So we’re very pleased with the publicity this brings to our nonprofit startup in Greece!

The article, titled Reviving the Ancients, was written by journalist Aisha Malik. She interviewed Donald Robertson, our president, and Justin Stead, from our board of advisors.

For centuries, Greece was the cornerstone of Western philosophy. To walk where philosophy originated, to walk in the footsteps of Plato and Socrates is to imagine how this tradition began.

Donald Robertson, president of Plato’s Academy Centre

“The center’s mission”, Malik writes, “is to make ancient philosophy—from the Socratic method to Plato’s dialogues that illustrate the method in practice—accessible and easily digestible to the public.”

The intention, says the center’s communications director, Kasey Robertson, is “to bring international business to Greece and build up an area that could use some development.” She says that the nonprofit will add jobs to the economy by employing local youth to assist with event programming.

The center receives funding from the Aurelius Foundation, an organization that shares similar goals about the preservation of philosophical integrity and the pursuit of knowledge. “We are partnering and supporting the Plato Academy project, as this initiative fits squarely into our mission,” says Justin Stead, who launched the foundation in 2019 to promote Stoicism. “We are looking to increase the awareness and application of Stoicism within younger generations,” he says, including CEOs and business leaders who could apply Stoic principles to “the development of their strategic plans, tactical executions, and cultural/teamwork initiatives.”


This is great publicity for our project. Donald previously wrote a feature on Stoicism and mentioned the Plato’s Academy Centre project in the 2021 edition of Governance Matters, published by the Chandler Institute. This new article goes into more detail about Plato’s Academy Centre and, we hope, will introduce our nonprofit’s work to a wider international audience.

Please check out the full article online, Reviving the Ancients, and help us spread the word by sharing the link on social media.

Announcing Virtual Event: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Leadership

Stories of Character, Confidence and Success

Virtual conference from Plato’s Academy Centre

What does it mean to be a great leader? How can leadership help others to succeed? And how should we define success in the modern world? If you’re interested in these questions, this is the online event for you!

When you register you’ll have the option to donate an amount of your choosing (or even nothing).* All proceeds go toward the Plato’s Academy Centre nonprofit. Not available or in a different time zone? Don’t worry as recordings will be provided afterwards if you book your tickets now. Thanks for your support – it helps us to keep running these events in the future. (If you do not wish to make a donation, though, you can use the promo code NODONATION.)

What’s it all about?

We bring together a special program of world-class thinkers and renowned authors for an exclusive online event that you absolutely won’t want to miss.

Each speaker will share with you their knowledge and captivating insights into philosophy and leadership, including real life examples, practical advice, and effective strategies.

Speakers

Additional speakers and presentation titles to be confirmed shortly!

  • Keynote: Justin Stead, CEO of Radley, founder of the Aurelius Foundation (30 min.)
  • Donald Robertson, author of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor and Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, president of Plato’s Academy Centre (20 min)
  • Kasey Pierce, editor of Verissimus and 365 Ways to be More Stoic
  • Vitaliy Katsenelson, author of Soul in the Game
  • Tom Morris, author of The Everyday Patriot and If Aristotle Ran General Motors
  • Diane Kalen-Sukra, author of Save Your City, and founder of civic leadership academy
  • Andrew McConnell, author of Get out of My Head
  • Ivan Biava, Senior Customer Director at Omie, founder of Estoicismo Prático
  • Tiišetšo Maloma, author of Ubuntu Stoicism
  • Artemios Miropoulos , author of The Nameless King:15 Stories of Leadership from Ancient Greece
  • Eugenia Manolidou, founder of Elliniki Agogi
  • Mick Mulroy, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for the Middle East. Senior Fellow for National Security and Defense Policy with the Middle East Institute, an Analyst for ABC News, and the Lobo Institute’s Co-founder
  • Anya Leonard, founder of Classical Wisdom Weekly
  • Dr. Sean Lyons, Professor of Leadership and Management, Department of Management, University of Guelph

NB: Details may be subject to change without prior notification.

Who will be hosting?

Our hosts will be Donald Robertson, the president of the Plato’s Academy Centre, and Anya Leonard, the founder and director of the Classical Wisdom website.

About Plato’s Academy Centre

The Plato’s Academy Centre is a new nonprofit, based in Greece, run by a multidisciplinary team of volunteers from around the world. Our mission is to make ancient Greek philosophy more accessible to a wider international audience and to celebrate the legacy of Plato’s Academy in Athens. Everyone is welcome to join us.

FAQ

  1. Will recordings be available? Yes, everyone who orders a ticket in advance will automatically have access after the event to recordings of all presentations. So don’t worry if you’re unavailable at these times or located in another time zone.
  2. Will it be too academic for me? While many of our speakers are notable academics, the sessions are aimed at a nonacademic audience.
  3. How much does it cost? We’re making it free to register, so it’s available to the widest possible audience, but you’ll have the opportunity to make a donation, amount of your choosing. As a rough guide, tickets for a physical conference like this might normally cost €150. Your generosity helps support our nonprofit’s work and allows us to reach more people through future events. *If you do not wish to donate anything whatsoever, you may contact us directly to apply for a free ticket or simply enter the promo code NODONATION when booking.
  4. Where can I get updates? Follow our Facebook Event page and our Twitter account for updates on this event.

Thanks

We’re grateful to our board of advisors, Orange Grove incubator, Classical Wisdom, and the Aurelius Foundation, for their support in bringing you this event. Special thanks to Phil Yanov, Gabriel Fleming, and Kasey Robertson for their help organizing the event.

YPO in Athens – Stoicism for Modern Life and Business

Plato’s Academy Centre (PAC) recently provided a helping hand to the YPO and Aurelius Foundation, who organized a historic four-day Stoicism event in Athens.

The YPO is an international business networking organization for young CEOs. The Aurelius Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to spreading Stoic wisdom, through the four cardinal virtues, including doing outreach in universities and prisons. The Aurelius Foundation organized this unique event in Athens in collaboration with the YPO, and PAC were pleassed to offer some advice on local venues, etc.

Reception: Gennadius Library Gardens

The opening reception was held on the evening of 22nd September in the beautiful east gardens of the Gennadius Library. Tassos Economou, the emeritus chair of YPO, set the tone perfectly for the event. Lina Mendoni, the Minister for Culture and Sports, was out of the country but kindly sent a letter expressing her support for the event. Adonis Georgiadis, the Minister for Development and Investment, and George James Tsunis, the US Ambassador to Greece gave rousing speeches about Stoicism. They were followed by Bettany Hughes OBE, author of The Hemlock Cup, who got everyone excited for all the philosophy and history to come over the next few days.

Lina Mendoni, the Minister for Culture and Sports, was unable to attend, unfortunately, as she was abroad, but she forwarded a statement of support for the event.

Organizing “Stoicism in Business” in Athens, the womb of classical Greek culture, hosted by the Aurelius Foundation and the YPO, combines and connects humanities with business in an exemplary and original way. In recent years, more and more successful business executives, organizational and administrative managers are expressing a strong interest in humanities and especially philosophy. […] I welcome you to Athens, the city whose history of thousands of years is everywhere visible and legible. I would like to warmly congratulate the initiators and organizers of this inspiring conference and wish you success in your endeavours.

Lina Mendoni, Greek Minister for Culture and Sports

This was followed by a joint networking event with the YPO Aegean / Macedonia chapter in the National Gallery. VIP guests on the first evening were Dr. Maria Georgopoulou, Director of the Gennadius Library, and Pantelis Panos, General Manager of the American School for Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).

Kasey Robertson with the statue of Pericles, outside City Hall, Athens

Main Conference: Cotsen Hall

The main conference was held the following day in Cotsen Hall, with support from the American School for Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).

Donald Robertson, of the Plato’s Academy Centre, and Justin Stead, of the Aurelius Foundation, hosted the event, which featured keynotes from Dr. John Sellars (“Modern Stoicism”), chair of the Modern Stoicism nonprofit, and Angie Hobbs (“Stoicism and the Good Life”), professor of the public understanding of philosophy at Exeter University.

Our other speakers included Karen Duffy, author of Wise Up; Artemios Miropoulos, author of The Nameless King; Pat Cash, a former Wimbledon tennis champion; and Tim LeBon, research director of Modern Stoicism, who organized workshops on Stoicism and emotional resilience. We also had a panel discussing Stoicism in Business, including Tassos Economou, Michalis Michael, Justin Stead, and Greg Galant.

Donald Robertson and Karen Duffy, on Mount Lycabettus

Conference: Plato’s Academy Park

We are especially grateful to the mayor and municipality of Athens for permission to hold an open-air event, under a marquee tent, in the historic location of Plato’s Academy Park. Keynotes on 24th were by Bettany Hughes OBE (“The roots of Stoicism – Socrates, Confucius, Buddha”) and Donald Robertson (“Plato’s Academy Park: The Past and Future”), with presentations from Andy Small, about Stoicism in UK prisons; Anthony Magnabosco, on Street Epistemology; and Mark Tuitert, an Olympic gold medallist in speed skating. We also had a panel (“What can we learn from classical wisdom?”) featuring Angie Hobbs, Bettany Hughes, and John Sellars.

Kostas Bakoyannis, the Mayor of Athens, spoke to the audience, and stressed his support for the event, and his desire to see it return to this historic location in the future. The conference was followed by tours of the Ancient Agora and Acropolis.

Meeting Mayor of Athens with YPO
Donald Robertson, Justin Stead, Kostas Bakoyannis, Pat Cash, and Michalis Michael, at Plato’s Academy Park

Regarding the event at Akadimia Platonos, Minister Mendoni, wrote in her speech:

Over time, there have been different influences on philosophical currents. However, the space of the Academy echoes the principles of Plato’s “State”. The grove of the Academy was one of the three important groves of ancient Athens. The archaeological site of Plato’s Academy coincides with the ancient “Gardens of Academus”, a verdant idyllic place, in the western suburbs of ancient Athens, where in the 6th century BC. the Gymnasium of Akadimia had been founded.

In this area, where there were sanctuaries of the Muses, Athena, Zeus Morius – patron and guardian of the sacred olive trees of Athens – , Hephaestus, Hercules, etc., Plato founded in 387 BC. his philosophical school, named Akadimia, after Academus. It was a place dedicated to education and sports, the first university in history, which also gave the concept of having a campus to universities all over the world.

Lina Mendoni, Greek Minister for Culture and Sports

Cruise to Cape Sounion

The event concluded on the 25th with a boat trip to Cape Sounion and the ancient Temple of Poseidon. We had a mini conference on the boat with talks from Mick Mulroy, of the Lobo Institute, on Stoicism in the military, and Eugenia Manolidou, of Elliniki Agogi, on philosophy and the power of the ancient Greek language.

There was also a panel of young Stoics, discussing Stoicism and leadership, including Sukhraj Gill, Ross Paton, Dhruv Makwana, and Lori Huica.

The Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounion

The event seemed to be a huge success overall, based on the feedback we’ve had so far, and we learned many things that will benefit us when running future events in Athens. We already have plans for several new events in Athens, which will be open to everyone.  If you want to be notified about them, just subscribe to our email newsletter or follow our social media accounts.

Elizabeth Smith: Stoicism and School Aged Children

Elizabeth Smith says she “creates curriculum and plays games – in an incredible learning environment – inspired and blessed daily by the most amazing children.” She works with children ages five to twelve, through the US Navy’s Child and Youth Program (CYP).

Elizabeth is a sculptor, illustrator, and has worked as an International Baccalaureate (IB) middle school teacher, teaching the subjects of art, reading, and approaches to learning. During her first-year teaching, she created an Art History/Art Program for 760 students (Grades K-5). She has an M.Ed. in Cross Cultural Teaching, holds a Professional Clear Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and a Supplementary Authorization in Art. For fun, she writes and illustrates children’s books.

Elizabeth also graduated from San Diego State University where she earned a BA in Art/Applied Design, with an emphasis on metalwork and jewelry design. She trained under artists Arline Fisch and Helen Shirk. She currently resides in California and is “the proud mother of a true artist.”

How did you become interested in Stoic philosophy?

I was introduced to philosophy through Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. As an art major, one of my favorite courses was on Ancient Roman Art History. I found the subject exciting, eccentric, and entertaining. I later found myself intrigued – and equally entertained – by Epictetus and Seneca. Stoicism touches my heart and calms my mind – it serves as an owner’s manual for operating one’s brain, and a light for finding one’s humanity.  

I am extremely interested in Stoicism. I am especially interested in the profound and unexpected way Stoicism has influenced the children I teach. I am interested in the impact Stoicism – if introduced to children at an early age – could potentially play in the positive development of humanity. 

To answer your question, I became interested in philosophy while playing on the playground.

I believe by introducing children to Stoicism at an early age – through play and recreation – we will find our children’s behavior positively shaped, and their character exude wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance.  

Elizabeth Smith

What is the most important idea that you promote through your work?

Young children benefit from learning about and practicing Stoicism in social settings. Children learn through play. I believe by introducing children to Stoicism at an early age – through play and recreation – we will find our children’s behavior positively shaped, and their character exude wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance.  

I work for the federal government serving military dependents, ages five to twelve. This summer, I created and implemented the nine-week camp program, Summer with the Stoics. As with much of our programing, this program was youth inspired. 

When I started teaching Stoicism to the youth, it was by accident. 

I find it important for the youth to see their teachers (adults in general) reading for enjoyment and recreation. Modeling my own enjoyment, I was reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, Epictetus’ Discourses, and Donald Robertson’s book, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor. As the children and I would sit outside, leisurely reading, they began to ask me questions about the books I read. When I told them about Marcus Aurelius they were instantly hooked. Fascinated by the ideas the books contained, some children would ask if they could take my books home to keep – despite their inability to read. I began to act out scenes from the books for the children. The children joined in – they were beyond intrigued.   

One day at snack time, two boys were debating over an issue and unable to come to an agreement, when a third student {called X, age 7) looked towards my direction and asked, “What would Marcus Aurelius do?” I could not contain my surprise and replied, “He would probably bake you a plate of warm cookies because you just melted your teacher’s heart.” His smile was priceless, as was this inspiration. The children were giving me so many inspirational moments, due to their interest in the Stoics, I began creating games. 

Sculpture of Marcus Aurelius as a youth

I had to create the games, activities, and program. The type of Stoicism program I was looking for did not exist. Not finding anything online, and looking for guidance, I contacted two of my favorite philosophers, Donald Robertson and Massimo Pigliucci. Each confirmed that Stoicism resources for children were limited. Still determined, I began looking for something exciting, eccentric, and entertaining. 

I found what I was looking for out on the playground. 

Children learn through play, as well as meaningful social interactions with peers and adults. They are social beings searching for wisdom and are naturally at one with nature. Children are open minded, enthusiastic, and receptive. Our program’s youth have taken to Stoicism not just because they love a good game of Zeno Tag, enjoy having philosophical conversations, or are excited about the Marcus Aurelius Fan Club’s Friday raffle…They have taken to Stoicism because it is useful for navigating life on the playground. 

The practice of Stoicism enhances resiliency and develops strength of character. Through the philosophy of Stoicism, the children have learned to observe their playground problems from a different view – the view from above (one of their favorite practices). They ease the pain of an injury by noting that it is only a small part of their body that is hurt – not their whole body.  In the morning, some youth find the courage to face their day by practicing Marcus Aurelius’ morning ritual… preparing themselves for the types of people they may encounter on the playground. Some children, during a fierce game of dodge ball, find it helpful to utilize the same anger management strategies as their favorite Roman emperor. 

Through daily practice, analyzing social situations, and humorous interactive games, such as – The Dichotomy of Control – with YOUR Host Epictetus, our youth have developed an amazing grasp for what is inside and outside of their control.

To introduce the dichotomy of control, I walked around the playground with several thumbs up/thumbs down paddles. As I came upon children experiencing some type of conflict, I would point out what was inside of our control and what was outside of our control. A common frustration for many, “They don’t want to play with me!”

While addressing this concern, I immediately take out a thumbs up/thumbs down paddle and say, “Welcome to your favorite gameshow The Dichotomy of Control – with YOUR Host Epictetus – guest staring Rosey Rose (age 6)” At this point, upon hearing the intro, many children approached to join the game. I gave all the children paddles. “Rosey Rose’s friend does not what to play with her. Is that inside or outside of Rosey Rose’s control?”

Many children, including Rosey Rose, flipped their paddle to the thumbs down.  “That’s right, boys and girls. What people think about us, their opinions, what they say about us…IF they want to play with us – is OUTSIDE of our control. And because it is outside of our control, we are not going to spend a lot of time and energy worrying about it – WE are going to focus on what is INSIDE of our control.”

At this point of the game the children start offering suggestions, while using the thumbs upside of the paddle, “Yes! Looking for other friends to play with is INSIDE of Rosey Rose’s control.” 

We have a second version of the game where we call a guest up to the front of the group to act out a scenario. “Welcome, Glitter Sparkle (I have let the children choose their own fake names for my writing purposes) I am so glad you have joined me on this trip to Disneyland. What ride shall we go on first?” At this point, I asked the audience, and Glitter Sparkle, if this decision is inside or outside of her control. The children answered by using the paddles. We continued our journey encountering long lines and ride closures. As a group we explore what is inside and outside of our control in the Magic Kingdom. 

The children love these games. The games have eased their perceptions regarding disappointment, intense social situations, and future expectations. As they navigate the playground, practicing an awareness for Stoicism, the dichotomy of control has empowered the children to focus their attention on their choices and actions rather than their feelings of disappointment. 

The children now use this thought process effortlessly. A fellow teacher reported to me that Bismarck (the 7-year-old boy – not the German battleship) had approached her asking to join her cookie project. The teacher had to tell Bismarck that the activity had just finished. She did not expect Bismarck to take the news well, as he loves cookies.  Instead, Bismarck replied, “Ok. That’s outside of my control.” Calm as could be Bismarck set sail to find another activity. 

Another little girl, Jennanana (age 6), hurt her finger in the Marcus Moments raffle prize box, “Ooooutside my control. It’s ok it’s just my finger that hurts not my whole body.”  I have had other children report their injures in this way as well.  Very interesting.    

Summer with the Stoics was an eye-opening experience. I learned through our many philosophical discussions, and games, that children crave philosophy – specifically Stoicism. Despite their young age, children can contribute to the field of philosophy through their philosophical insights, energy, and unique observations. This summer I witnessed children as young as six years old practicing Stoicism with more recall, flow, consistency, and enthusiasm than most adults. I see them for the children they are – but I also see them for the adults they will soon become. I would like for those future adults to have had an upbringing in Stoicism. Not just for the quality of their own lives – but for the sake of humanity. 

Military youth (dependents) often grow up to serve in the military. I see a certain percentage of my children as potential military officers, politicians, world leaders, and policy makers. Mick Mulroy (Senior Fellow for the Middle East Institute, ABC News National Security Analyst, and a co-founder of the Lobo Institute) and Donald Roberson have spoken – as well as written – extensively on the importance of teaching Stoicism and its place in the U.S. military. They write, “The U.S. military must inject this concept of wisdom, and flexible thinking, at the earliest possible stage.” I absolutely agree, and the earliest possible stage is childhood not bootcamp. Children are flexible. Their brains are built for Stoicism. Marcus Aurelius was proof.

“That is inside of your control. You can take good care of yourself, make good choices…Make your life last longer. You can try. Trying is inside of your control. Good idea. But what happens if the freezer gets unplugged or the electricity goes out?”

The children thought this was funny. “The ice cream melts.”

“Just like life.” many added; that it was outside of our control and that’s ok.  

What do you think is the best piece of practical advice we could give to our children to help them through the rest of life?

Practice the four virtues while embracing the dichotomy of control. 

Through games and storytelling this advice is well received by the youth in our program. The four virtues serve as our center’s rules and are reinforced by our Marcus Moments incentive program.

A Marcus Moment is much more than a raffle ticket. It is a moment for self-reflection, appreciation, and pride. With every ticket given we explain to the receiving youth that Marcus Aurelius had many moments in life, as they do, where he practiced -or had to call upon – the four virtues (wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance). Each ticket lists the four virtues. There is space provided on the ticket to write the child’s name, brief description of child’s action/situation, circle the virtue(s), and for the giver to sign their name. The Marcus Aurelius Fan Club (which was started by a child while I was on a lunch break) holds a weekly Friday Marcus Moment Raffle. For each ticket drawn, we read the virtue(s) and description out loud to the group prior to announcing the winner’s name. We post the Marcus Moments on the wall as they are earned. Throughout the week – the wall gets fuller – children love looking at the Marcus Moments on the wall.   

We use Marcus Moments not only to celebrate desirable actions, but for redirection. Two children might be having a disagreement, “Wow, it looks like you both are having a Marcus Moment.” At this point the children are made aware that the moment they are experiencing – regardless of the perceived difficulty – can be addressed through their actions/the four virtues. We have had such success with this form of redirection. Some children need only to hear a virtue gently mentioned and they immediately pause to self-reflect. French Toast (age 8) responds well to the word temperance. This word serves as a subtle reminder for French Toast to be mindful with his friends when Lego domination starts to occur in the building area. 

Youth often come up to tell me, “I had a Marcus Moment just now…” and not just because they would like a raffle ticket but because they wish to discuss the details of their moment. Other children have pointed out Marcus Moments occurring in movies we’ve watched, and the books we’ve read. The children love looking for Marcus Moments. With that said, the children give Marcus Moment tickets to their friends and teachers. 

A “practical advice for life” art project the children really enjoyed was an art installation we created as a group, Epictetus Dichotomy of Control Ice Cream Sundae Party.  Working with three children at a time, each child made a fake ice cream sundae. I stared off by giving each youth a clear plastic dessert cup. “This cup is your life. I know it is your life because I just wrote your name on the bottom with a Sharpie. In life you have control over your wishes, hopes, and desires – the syrup.”

The youth were encouraged to use the chocolate and strawberry syrups (acrylic paints) to coat the inside of their cups. They would ask me how and I would reply, “Anyway you would like. These are your hopes and dreams… it’s in your control.” Right as they were just getting going, I would interrupt their process and fill their cups with white caulking foam spray. “Your life will be filled with things outside of your control. That’s the ice cream. Maybe you don’t like vanilla. Maybe you were hoping for chocolate. This is outside of your control.”

The children began talking about their favorite flavors of ice cream. A few children said vanilla ice cream was their favorite. I congratulated them, “That’s wonderful. Sometimes things that are outside of our control turn out to be exactly what we wanted.” Others did not like vanilla ice cream. I pointed out to them, “The ice cream is outside of your control – so we will not be spending time worrying about what is outside of our control. What is inside of your control?” The youth then made the connection, seeing assorted glitter bottles and beads. They replied, “The toppings!” I commended them, “Yes. Those are your choices, your actions… the four virtues.” 

After they were finished with their toppings, I presented the youth with plastic spoons, “This spoon is your philosophy, without it life could get messy. You will want to make sure to put your philosophy deep into your life.” The children carefully placed their spoons deep into their sundaes. Daboss (age 9), asked that she receive three spoons because she wanted a lot of philosophy. I gave them all fake plastic cherries to place on top, telling them the thing you value most in life is the cherry – it goes on top. Many of the children said the cherry was their family, a talent, or a hope. 

Their sundaes were still changing and expanding because of the foam. They were surprised to see their sundaes were looking so different from what they expected. I assured them that this was nature – everything changes. I asked them, “What happens to ice cream?”

“It melts,” they replied. “Yep, that’s the nature of ice cream. That’s what it does. What should you do with ice cream?”

They all knew what to do with the ice cream, “Eat it up!”

“Yes. Just like life. Enjoy it. Eat it up.”, I advised.  I then added a twist, “What if you want the ice cream to last longer – what could you do?” They suggested that the ice cream be put in the freezer.  I told them that was an excellent idea, “That is inside of your control. You can take good care of yourself, make good choices…Make your life last longer. You can try. Trying is inside of your control. Good idea. But what happens if the freezer gets unplugged or the electricity goes out?”

The children thought this was funny. “The ice cream melts.”

“Just like life.” many added; that it was outside of our control and that’s ok.  

The ice cream sundaes were displayed on a large birthday party looking table. Red plates were set with Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius quotes written on them, as well as the philosophical description of our sundaes. Photos of the children with messy whipped cream faces were placed next to their sundaes. The table had balloons and bright colored party hats. The children had fun showing their parents the Epictetus art installation at our art gala.  

Stoicism is more than a philosophy or a way of life. It is common ground. In this world, we need common ground.  

Elizabeth Smith

We have been following your progress over the summer, the work you are doing is inspirational. Now that Summer with the Stoics has ended, and the school year is upon us what are your plans?

Thank you, I appreciate your interest.

Next up – School Year with the Stoics, of course. I am also working on creating Stoicism curriculum in the hopes that we can have our curriculum implemented throughout Navy CYP. That would be a dream come true. I am working with Donald Robertson, with the goal of providing the high standard of trainings required to bring our Navy CYP professionals onboard. Donald Robertson’s contributions to the fields of philosophy, cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as his work with the military (Stoicism – resiliency trainings) make him the best choice for bringing this goal forward. 

When I consider 45,000 youth are served by my place of employment… I see an exceptional opportunity to bring the benefits of Stoicism to a diverse population of people – our children, families (service men and women), and childcare professionals.  Stoicism is admirable in the eyes of the right, as well as the eyes of the left. Stoicism does not offend the religious nor insult the agnostic. Stoicism is more than a philosophy or a way of life. It is common ground. In this world, we need common ground.  

In the fields of education and youth programing, the recent spotlight has been on STEM. The fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have actively increased their outreach efforts in the desire to attract children to these fields. Universities, tech companies, and STEM related professionals are addressing a widespread future concern for establishing a workforce, highly proficient and dominant, in the STEM fields. The countries with such workforces will secure relevance. It’s like the space race but with children. 

With technology and science progressing at an exponential rate it is crucial we use Stoicism to develop our children’s minds so as they can ethically handle complex responsibilities and navigate a future world of rapid change. They will need resiliency… The four virtues are essential. Now is the time for the field of philosophy to follow the lead of the STEM fields and seriously focus on youth outreach.  

Do you have a favorite philosophy quote?

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.

Seneca

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about the work you are doing?

Put down the philosophy books and play. Take what you have learned throughout your study of Stoicism and creatively apply to all recreational opportunities that you may encounter. 

To learn more about my work – games and activities – I am in the process of writing, Zeno Tag: A Stoic’s Guide to the Playground.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, how would you feel about that?

Beyond thrilled. Without a doubt it would be a privilege and an honor.  What an amazing and beautiful space to contemplate humanity and engage in a fierce game of Zeno Tag. So many wonderful people discussing incredible ideas, while wearing running shoes…or barefoot.  How fun.   

Socrates as Sergeant Major

Antonio Canova - Socrates Rescues Alcibiades

The ancient Greek philosopher and war hero

By Donald Robertson and Mick Mulroy

Antonio Canova - Socrates Rescues Alcibiades

[Socrates] was the first to go out as a soldier, when it was necessary, and in war, he exposed himself to danger most unsparingly.

Epictetus, Discourses, 4.1

The Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War was fought between the two most powerful city-states in ancient Greece, namely Athens and Sparta, and their allies, known as the Delian and Peloponnesian Leagues, respectively.  During this time, the Mediterranean region was engulfed in one of history’s longest and most brutal wars, spanning almost three decades.  At the outbreak of the war, in 431 BC, Socrates, the famous Athenian philosopher, was aged forty, and would already have seen intermittent military service as a citizen-soldier, fighting in minor conflicts since his early twenties.

At the outset of the Peloponnesian War, Athens, Greece’s dominant naval power, and Sparta, with her legendary infantry, were evenly matched adversaries.  However, Persia’s involvement and the growing confidence of the Spartan navy, led to the catastrophic destruction of the Athenian fleet by the Spartan general Lysander, at the Battle of Aegospotami in 405 BC. The city of Athens was blockaded and, before long, forced to surrender, leaving Sparta as the controlling power in Greece.  With both Athens and Sparta significantly weakened, though, during the 4th century BC, the way was clear for a new power, the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great, to rise and gradually take their place.

Socrates went on to become a veteran of at least three major battles of the Peloponnesian War.  Indeed, he was well-known in Athens not only as a philosopher but also, to some extent, as a war hero.

Socrates the Soldier

At the end of his life, Socrates cited his military service, and reputation for bravery, during his trial, as recounted in Plato’s Apology.  The experiences he had in war clearly shaped his perception of the world, and his philosophy.  

At eighteen, he would have taken the sacred oath of the Ephebic College, through which he received his basic training:

I will never bring reproach upon my hallowed arms, nor will I desert the comrade at whose side I stand, but I will defend our altars and our hearths, single-handed or supported by many. My native land I will not leave a diminished heritage but greater and better than when I received it. I will obey whoever is in authority and submit to the established laws and all others which the people shall harmoniously enact. If anyone tries to overthrow the constitution or disobeys it, I will not permit him, but will come to its defense, single-handed or with the support of all. I will honor the religion of my fathers. Let the gods be my witness, Agraulus, Enyalius, Ares, Zeus, Thallo, Auxo, Hegemone.

During these years, Socrates learned to serve as a heavy infantryman or hoplite, using the sword and spear as a member of the phalanx, the standard Athenian military unit. His weapons and equipment would have weighed around 66 pounds.  He had to travel great distances bearing these, with little sleep, camped outside in the elements, eating basic soldier’s rations, just to engage the enemy in brutal physical combat where few would escape injury or death.

Socrates went on to become a veteran of at least three major battles of the Peloponnesian War.  Indeed, he was well-known in Athens not only as a philosopher but also, to some extent, as a war hero.  His circle of friends included several military veterans and elected generals.  Indeed, Xenophon and Plato, our two main sources, both portray Socrates being consulted by the officer class about military questions, including training, strategy, and tactics. 

He saved the life of a young officer (and future general) called Alcibiades, who had been wounded during the Battle of Potidaea.  As a consequence, Socrates was nominated for the “prize of pre-eminent valor” but declined to accept the award.  He was also known for protecting general Laches, who had been unhorsed during the retreat from the Battle of Delium, when the Athenians were being sorely harassed by the enemy.  Laches reputedly commented on the high regard he had for Socrates “ever since the day on which you were my companion in danger and gave a proof of your valor such as only the man of merit can give.”  

All three major battles in which Socrates participated ended in defeat for Athens.  According to Plato, nevertheless, Alcibiades said of Socrates’ courage: “when you behave as he did, then the enemy does not even touch you; instead, they pursue those who turn in headlong flight.”  Laches is likewise portrayed as saying that if every man under his command at Delium had fought as bravely as Socrates, their enemy would have erected no victory statues.  Xenophon, another famous general, said that Socrates was the most disciplined man he knew in terms of his appetites, that he had built up his endurance of extreme hot and cold weather, and other such hardships, and had learned to be self-sufficient and content with minimal possessions. 

The last major battle he fought was at Amphipolis, in northern Greece, in 422 BC.  Socrates, by this time, was aged forty-eight, and still trekking over hills with heavy weapons and armor, to stand his ground in the phalanx, alongside much younger men.  He appears to have been the type of soldier who would be selected as a centurion in the Roman army, or a Ranger or Green Beret today – he would be a perfect Sergeant Major.  Socrates became the most famous philosopher in history, though, and his reputation as a thinker, therefore, eclipsed his renown as a warrior.  We remember him as a philosopher rather than a soldier. Perhaps it should be as a philosopher-soldier, though. How, indeed, might Socrates’ experience as a soldier have shaped his views as a philosopher?

Temperance (Self-Discipline)

Socrates was renowned for his mental and physical endurance. He was said to be stronger than most men.  He could go longer than anyone without food, water, or rest. He would even volunteer to take other soldiers’ watches, so they could get some sleep. He was obviously a natural leader and set an example for the younger infantrymen to emulate.  Socrates thought it should be self-evident that true leaders require self-control. A military officer, for example, who is easily swayed by desire, cannot be trusted, for that reason, to act consistently in accord with his knowledge and expertise. However, “just as those who do not exercise their bodies cannot carry out their physical duties, so those who do not exercise their characters”, by developing self-control, “cannot carry out their moral duties.”  

It was also Socrates’ belief, though, according to Xenophon, that self-discipline itself is a question of knowledge and that those of us who lack self-control invariably also lack a sort of wisdom.  Temperance, or moderation, comes from having a clear understanding of what is good for us.  He said that “all men have a choice between various courses, and choose and follow the one which they think is most to their advantage.”  We must train ourselves to look beyond appearances at the underlying reality, to see more clearly what is in our own interest and in the interests of our society. 

Socrates’ military service had taught him to risk his life for the sake of his moral values. 

Justice (Fairness)

During his trial, for alleged impiety and corrupting the youth (by teaching them philosophy), Socrates brought up his military service.  He reminded the jurymen that he had stood his ground in the phalanx, under the command of the elected generals, facing mortal danger alongside his fellow hoplites at Potidaea, Delium, and Amphipolis.  Nobody questioned his bravery or honor when risking his life in this way.  Some people, however, thought it was ridiculous for Socrates to risk his life in court by insisting on practicing philosophy.  Socrates told them that the opposite was true.  

He believed that the god Apollo, whose commandment was “know thyself,” had, like a general, given him orders that he was duty-bound to obey.  His mission was to question his fellow Athenians about the nature of wisdom and virtue.  It would be even more dishonorable and ridiculous for him now to desert that post.  What point was there risking his life to defend the city of Athens against Sparta if he was not prepared to do the same to preserve the moral character of the city he loved and the citizens within its walls?  In other words, Socrates’ military service had taught him to risk his life for the sake of his moral values.  Back in civilian life, this actually brought him into conflict with powerful political figures, and it came to a head because he was willing to risk his own safety as an individual in the name of justice to preserve the moral integrity of the city.  

Fortitude (Courage)

Socrates was fascinated by the concept of courage and discussed it in depth with several Athenian generals in Plato’s Laches.  Did his experience of military service contribute to his questions about the nature of courage?  When Socrates asks Laches for a definition of courage, he begins by offering a conventional Greek military example: that it consists in standing one’s ground, i.e., remaining in phalanx formation, when facing the enemy.  He’s describing what courage among infantrymen looks like from the perspective of an external observer, such as their commanding officer.  

Socrates questions this narrow definition very thoroughly and arrives at an alternative account focused more on mental attitude: courage is knowing what it is and is not appropriate to fear.  In Plato’s Apology, after mentioning his military service, Socrates likewise goes on to raise some very radical questions about whether or not it is wise to fear death.  He said that only a fool would embrace a known evil in order to evade something whose dangers are unknown.  He, therefore, arrived at the typically paradoxical conclusion that we should be more afraid of committing injustice than we are of our own death.  When the jurymen voted in favor of the death sentence at his trial, he reputedly said that his accusers, Anytus and Meletus, could kill him but they could not harm him.  He meant that although they could take away his life, they could never take away his honor.   


About the Authors

Michael “Mick” Patrick Mulroy is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, a retired CIA officer, a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute, an Analyst for ABC News, on the board of directors for Grassroots Reconciliation Group, a co-founder of End Child Soldiering, and the co-founder of the Lobo Institute. He writes and speaks often on Stoicism. For other publications please visit here.

Donald J. Robertson is a cognitive-behavioural therapist and writer, living in Athens, Greece, and Ontario, Canada. He is the author of six books on philosophy and psychotherapy, including Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, and How to Think Like a Roman Emperor.