fbpx

Bringing Ancient Greek Philosophy Back to Life

One of the goals of the Plato’s Academy Centre is to bring ancient Greek philosophy and literature to a wider audience by making it more relevant to modern life. This Prada advert directed by Ridley Scott shows one creative way that an ancient text can be brought to life:

The words are from Thunder, the Perfect Mind, a 3rd century Gnostic mystical text, discovered in Egypt and written in the Coptic language, but believed to have originally been composed in Greek.

In the video below, Akira the Don, has put the words of the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, from the Meditations, to music.

I think that there’s plenty of opportunity for other ancient Greek texts to be utilized creatively in ways that potentially introduce them to a new audience.

The lord whose is the oracle at Delphi neither reveals nor conceals his meaning, but shows it by a sign.

Heraclitus

Translators can play a crucial role in this, though, by working with artists to create new translations, or even paraphrases, of ancient texts, which are both faithful to the original but also complemented by the music. There are many ways we can, and should, continue to work with ancient texts to keep them alive by making them more accessible and relevant to a wider modern audience.

Aphorisms like the sayings of Heraclitus or poems like Empedocles’ On Nature or the work of the same name by Parmenides, perhaps lend themselves to creative modern presentations like those above.

It is all one to me where I begin; for I shall come back again there.

Parmenides

Street Art

Another interesting opportunity for keeping Greek philosophy alive and reaching a new audience is through street art, such as the large portrait of Solon, one of the Seven Sages, found in Metaxourgeio in Athens.

Images of Greek thinkers are great but it would be nice to combine these with some of their words. There’s a backstreet in Kypseli, Athens, where artists have covered the walls with quotes from ancient Greek literature.

The Plato’s Academy Centre could, for instance, organize events to raise funds for street art projects to celebrate Greek philosophy.

Feel free to comment below if you have any suggestions for ways in which music or artwork could be used to bring Greek philosophy to a wider audience. You may also want to check out our forthcoming virtual event: Ancient Philosophy Comes Alive!

Martha C. Beck: Spiritual Humanism

Dr. Martha C. Beck is Professor of Philosophy at Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas. She’s the author of fourteen books and over fifty book chapters and articles on Plato and Carl Jung, Plato and Greek tragedy, Aristotle and Greek tragedy, Aristotle and the United Nations’ Capabilities model for human development, Aristotle and Systems thinking, Aristotle and Environmental philosophy, Aristotle and feminist theory, the goddesses of Greece and feminist Jungian psychology, and her experiences growing up as a liberal.

Her articles have been published in journals in the United States, Greece, The Russian Republic, the Czech Republic, Australia, and China. She’s also delivered papers in Athens, Olympia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Beijing, Shang Hai, Prague, and Ascea, Italy.

She received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach Western Thought at an Islamic State University in 2012 and received an Indonesia-funded grant to teach Environmental Ethics at the Islamic State University in Jakarta in 2017. She welcomes opportunities to teach abroad and hosts a YouTube channel, Dr. Martha Catherine Beck, Greek Philosophy that contains seventy-six videos and ten Playlists, all focused on the theme, “The Legacy of Ancient Greek Civilization in the Era of Globalization”.

How did you become interested in Greek philosophy?

My mother was an Art History teacher at the local state university. When I was eight, we went to England. She showed us all the cathedrals, museums, monuments, etc. I began to wonder, “What makes great art great?” That question has stuck with me.

When I was 10, my father, a Methodist minister, marched with Martin Luther King, jr. in Selma, Alabama. I remember it well. People called us and swore at him over the phone, so I knew that people disagreed about justice and injustice, virtue, and vice. I was also amid social unrest connected to the Vietnam War, attending high school from ’69-‘71. Greed fueled the war and in the name of “making the world safe from Communism”, we were engaged in building an empire. My father preached on these things, as well as the need for environmental conservation and sustainable living. All of this got me thinking even more about justice and virtue. Over time, I began to ruminate over more questions like whether the universe is created or eternal, and why that matters in terms of environmental sustainability.

It was in high school that I began intensely reflecting on my surroundings, and my past experiences with social unrest, injustice, the future of the environment, and my father’s ministries. I wasn’t aware there was entire subject based on this existential practice of questioning all that is, “Philosophy”.  So, in my second semester of my junior year in college, I declared it my major.

In my studies, I felt Plato’s story was my story. It felt as I was reading my own mind. Plato stole all my best ideas! I thought that I made those ideas up, but I found out Plato already did a much better job of it than I did. So, I wanted to be a Plato scholar because his works resonated so much with me. Plato’s dialogues are, to me, a huge map of the whole and all the parts, good and evil, with an image of a human being managing to live by the power of his mind (nous) throughout it all. What is piety? (Euthyphro), What is art? (Ion)… I asked these same questions throughout my life.

I describe Greek philosophy and culture as “Spiritual Humanism”. Aristotle’s virtues and Socrates’ way of life are a paradigm of how to live that can be applied to Jesus (Sermon on the Mount), Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius, Gandhi, and so many others. I use the word “spiritual” to mean the daimonic as Socrates describes it in the Symposium, but as is implicit throughout Greek myths, tragedy, Homer, Hesiod and so on. We are born to understand the patterns in the world, both in the universe and in human affairs. The way we understand these things always leads to a way of life.

Greek humanism appeals to our common humanity, making it very relevant today. Greek myths and stories can resonate with anyone with any walk of life. The patterns are everywhere and this is becoming more and more obvious. As the world is moving away from free and open societies and toward more authoritarianism, Plato’s dialogues are more relevant than ever. I’ve delivered my lecture on “The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy” worldwide to a receptive audience that understood my point well.

All of the aforementioned is only a small fraction of why I feel Greek philosophy and culture are vital and pertinent. My publications tie Aristotle to Greek tragedy, Plato, the United Nations Capabilities model of development, environmental protection and the formation of sustainable societies, the habituation of children for moderation and sustainability, and the place of the arts in developing a flourishing society.

We must be engaged citizens, to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Dr. Martha Catherine Beck

What is the most important concept that you teach people?

Perhaps it is the model of liberal arts education and the liberal arts educator. This model is disappearing for many reasons. One is overspecialization and the model of higher education as the university model rather than the model of small, liberal arts colleges, like Plato’s Academy. My entire undergraduate, graduate, and professional life has been spent in liberal arts colleges. I get to know my students well and they know my character also. Faculty evaluations include engagement in the life of the college and in volunteer activities beyond it. We must be engaged citizens, to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Lyon College’s catalog contains five characteristics of a liberally-minded adult which I have outside my office, which I tell my students that I structure my classes around, to model and I ask them to follow:

  1. Commitment to truth, understanding that one has to examine what “truth” is or what the word means
  2. Intellectual honesty (don’t think you know when you don’t know)
  3. Fairness to opposing points of view (avoid polarization and stereotyping)
  4. Patience with complexity and ambiguity (the problems we need to solve collectively are very difficult, so accept it and don’t look for simple solutions or believe political leaders that claim to have them);
  5. Tolerance of reasoned dissent

I ask students on the first day of class if they like the polarization they are living. In short, they don’t. So, I tell them that the only way to cease this is for them to decide to end it right here, in this classroom, while we’re discussing this incredibly relevant material. Then each student presents what they thought of the reading and then other students ask follow-up questions. I tell them that for their own sake they should decide not to polarize. They will have to lead the nation in twenty years, and they do not want to have to lead a severely divided society. So, now is the time that they should begin to create a better future. This idea sets the tone for the semester.

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

I would quote from Seneca’s On Tranquility of Mind, where he talks about how Socrates lived. Before the 30 Tyrants took over, Socrates was getting up every morning, talking to Athenians, trying to make them transparent about how they use their freedom and accountable for abusing it. Preserving a democracy requires people to render an account of how they live and why this way of life promotes flourishing. After he failed, during the reign of the 30 Tyrants, Socrates still went out and tried to comfort and encourage those who were grieving about the loss of their democracy, reproach those who had brought this about through their greed and ignorance, and set an example of how to live in the face of repression.

Socrates did not allow fear to control him. I have argued that Socrates is the paradigm example of Aristotle’s person with practical and theoretical wisdom. He exercises all the activities of soul in accordance with virtue in a complete life that Aristotle talks about.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

You are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honors as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul?


Socrates, Apology

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

Visit my YouTube channel, Dr. Martha Catherine Beck, Greek Philosophy. I have 76 video and 10 playlists all focused on the theme, “The Legacy of Ancient Greek Civilization in the Era of Globalization.” Then contact me for a follow-up conversation. I agree with Plato that the written word is not worth much. People project themselves into it and make it into whatever they want or need it to be. The real dialogue is in one’s soul, triggered through conversations with other minds. The light of the mind is triggered by two minds engaged in dialogue.

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

This is why I hope the Center has extensive opportunities for conversation in the summers. I spent 16 summers in Greece, just letting my mind be free to think about Plato and Greek culture in the way that was driving me crazy. When I read other scholarship, I hated it, so I had to figure out what I thought was true that made me think all of this was so bad. Gradually, I figured out my own mind. I decided that for 2800 years people have been coming to Greece to remember the culture and to be inspired in ways they could take home and inspire others and improve the quality of life where they lived. They are still doing this.

I am hoping that at least some of the people at the Center are also going out into the public and that we can meet in the summers and talk about our experiences. We should tell our own stories of the kinds of encounters we have and then we should make analogies with something in Plato or an application of something in Aristotle or some other ancient texts. Then we can talk about whether we think the analogy is good, but mostly how to add to it.

I want scholarship that is always tied not only to a model of a way of life, but to how we are all actually living. I wish we could meet every summer and meet long enough to create friendship bonds and a long history of working together on creating more flourishing societies wherever we live in the world.

David Fideler: Why Ancient Philosophy Matters Today

In our highly polarized world, ancient philosophers continue to remind us of unity, harmony, and the importance of human community.

David Fideler has worked as a college professor, editor and publisher, and the director of a humanities center. He studied ancient Greek philosophy and Mediterranean religions at the University of Pennsylvania and holds a PhD in philosophy.

Born in the United States, he currently lives in Sarajevo with his wife and son. He is the editor of the Stoic Insights website and an advisor to the Plato’s Academy Center in Athens.

David was recently interviewed by Michael Nevradakis, for the Greek magazine Orthos Logos, about “Why Ancient Philosophy Matters Today.” This is a version of the interview in English.

Michael Nevradakis: You’ve had an interesting life journey, making your way to Bosnia and specifically to Sarajevo, from Western Michigan. Tell us about that life path and what brought you to this part of the world.

David Fideler: That is an interesting question, and there are several dimensions to it. One part is that my wife is from here. But another reason I came here was because of the long history of spiritual pluralism in Sarajevo, where we live. When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many came here, and we have one of the largest, ancient Jewish cemeteries in all of Europe. They liked life in Sarajevo and called it “Little Jerusalem” and “the Jerusalem of Europe.” And they lived side by side with Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Catholics.

The amazing thing to us today is that all these religious groups got along and lived in harmony, in Sarajevo, for around 500 years, until the Bosnian war in the 1990s. For example, the main mosque is practically across the street from an old synagogue. And both of those buildings are about a three-minute walk from the Old Orthodox Church and the Catholic Cathedral. So you have this very small area in which all these religious buildings from different faiths are located.

Sarajevo is also amazing because it’s the meeting point of so many different cultures, which you can see reflected in the architecture. It’s the southern boundary of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the northern boundary of the Ottoman Empire, the eastern boundary of the Catholic Church, and the western boundary of the Orthodox Church. One moment you can be walking through a section with Austro-Hungarian architecture and suddenly be walking in a section with Ottoman architecture.

MN: What first motivated you to dedicate yourself, in this day and age, to ancient Greek philosophy and the works of Plato and the Stoics?

DF: When I was a teenager, I became interested in Plato and the Pythagoreans. So I started reading those kinds of writings, including Plato’s dialogues, when I was a teenager. I was also interested in ancient Greek religions, including the mystery religions and how they influenced the development of Christianity. Over the years, I worked my way through many different areas and topics relating to ancient philosophies and religions, and my interest never died out, even though it expanded into other areas. For example, I’ve also studied the history of science and the rediscovery of classical knowledge in the Italian Renaissance.

MN: What is Stoicism and Stoic philosophy all about?

DF: Stoicism is a philosophical school that originated in Athens around 300 BC. It was founded by Zeno of Citium, who spoke in the Stoa Poikilē, or “Painted Stoa”, in the agora. Unfortunately, Zeno and his followers in Athens produced dozens or even hundreds of writings, but none of those have come down in complete form. And the Painted Stoa today is just an unattractive ruin.

That said, there are many reports about what the Stoics thought, and they were heavily influenced by Socrates. Some ancient writers even called the early Stoics “Socratics”.

The Stoics followed Socrates in believing that “virtue is the only true good.” By that, they meant that people should develop an excellent inner character. So then, everything we do can be informed by excellence.

They also believed that nature was permeated by logos or rationality. Zeno said that if human beings want to find happiness or eudaimonia, we should “Live in agreement with nature.” This means that human beings should develop their own rational nature or the spark of logos we have within. That would allow us to accept the laws of nature and lead happy, tranquil lives.

While the early Greek Stoics focused on the study of nature (physics), logic, and ethics, the later Roman Stoics focused more on ethics—how to live a good and happy life.

The Stoics believed that some things are “up to us”, especially developing a good character, while most other things are not entirely up to us. They also believed that many kinds of emotions are based on mental opinions. A very famous Stoic line is, “It’s not things that upset us, but our opinions about things.” Today this is called the cognitive theory of emotion, which the Stoics discovered, and it forms the basis of modern-day cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

MN: Stoicism is said to have been the most influential philosophy of the Roman Empire. How did it impact the world during and after that era in history?

Figure 1. The three main Roman Stoics: Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.

DF: The three most famous Roman Stoics were Seneca (c. 4 BC–AD 65), Epictetus (c. AD 50–135), and Marcus Aurelius (AD 121–180). And unlike the earlier Greek Stoics, most of their writings have come down to us.

Seneca’s writings cover hundreds of pages, and are the most comprehensive account of Stoic philosophy that we have in any surviving work. Epictetus was a Greek slave, who became freed, and started his own school of Stoic philosophy in Rome, after the death of Seneca. And Marcus Aurelius, of course, was both a student of Stoic philosophy and a Roman emperor. His Meditations sells well over 100,000 copies per year in English today. In terms of the influence of Stoicism, we can see that it was embraced by people ranging from a slave to a Roman emperor. And its influence continues today.

Stoicism went into decline after Marcus Aurelius, but it was quite influential during the Italian Renaissance. In fact, Petrarch, the founder of Renaissance humanism, read a bit of Seneca each day, which is a habit I developed too.

Over the past decade or so, there has been a huge revival of interest in Stoicism in the English-speaking world. I think that’s because our time closely resembles the Hellenistic period and the early Roman Empire. In other words, our world feels increasingly out of control. It felt that way before Covid and before the Ukraine war, and feels even more out of control now. One of the appeals of Stoicism, I think, is that it teaches people how to live good, worthwhile, and tranquil lives regardless of what is going on in the world at large. Another thing that is appealing about Stoicism is that some people see it as resembling a Western form of Buddhism.

The growing interest in Stoicism, though, isn’t just limited to the English-speaking world. My book Breakfast with Seneca, which is a guide to Seneca’s ideas for a general audience, is being published in sixteen languages worldwide.

MN: You are also regarded as an expert on the Pythagorean school and Pythagoreanism. What does this philosophy and this school of thought teach us today?

DF: According to ancient accounts, Pythagoras was the first person to call himself a philosopher or “a lover of wisdom.” He also was the first to call the universe a kosmos, “a beautiful order.” While we don’t have any first-hand writings from Pythagoras himself, I do think we have access to the most important Pythagorean ideas, which we find in Plato and other writers, relating to number, kosmos, and harmony.

The Pythagoreans believed that the world has a mathematical structure. Today, we can see this in the mathematical proportions of nature and living things, and the mathematical laws we discover in nature. Pythagoras said that the universe is a kosmos or beautiful order, but the reason why it is beautiful is because of mathematical harmony and proportion. The parts of a living creature, or a well-designed building, harmonize with one another to create the beauty of the overall structure. 

MN: How is such philosophical thought relevant and applicable in the present day, both individually and collectively?

DF: Harmony means “fitting together,” and the world itself, and living creatures, consist of whole/part relationships. Harmony gives rise to beauty. But without harmony, life itself wouldn’t exist, because life depends on these kinds of relationships. That makes the principle of harmony quite relevant.

Harmony is also essential for creating beautiful things, like buildings. The Greeks and Romans were very aware of these principles, which were rediscovered in the Renaissance. We can use harmony to understand many things about the workings of nature. But we can also use harmony, like they did in the Renaissance, to create a world that is beautiful, satisfying, and really worth living in. The Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti understood harmony very well, and he described it in this way: “I define beauty to be a harmony of all the parts . . . fitted together with such proportion and connection that nothing could be added, diminished, or altered, but for the worse.”

Figure 2. Harmony means “fitting together,” and the world itself, and living creatures, consist of whole/part relationships. Harmony gives rise to beauty.

MN: What is your view on the meaning of life?

DF: I think the meaning of life is not a theory or a concept, but an experience, when our lives feel meaningful. And people’s lives feel meaningful when they sense a deep connection to a reality that goes beyond our limited selves. This could be your family or other people. It could be society. It could be found in the act of helping others. It could be nature. It could be the universe as a whole. For religious people, it could be God or the spiritual dimension of reality. Or it could be all of these things.

To feel meaning, we need to feel a connection to a larger reality that goes beyond our limited selves, because if we are isolated, we don’t feel meaning—we feel loneliness. This sense of meaning depends on a kind of harmony, too. As Seneca said, “Friendship creates between us a partnership in all things. . . . You must live for another if you would live for yourself.”

MN: Tell us about philosophy as an art of living, as explained in your most recent book, titled Breakfast with Seneca: A Stoic Guide to the Art of Living.

DF: I started reading Seneca about twelve years ago and developed a little ritual of reading one of his letters every morning at breakfast. That’s where the title of the book came from.

The idea of philosophy as an art of living goes back to Socrates, and Seneca is very much part of this tradition. Today, philosophy has become hyper-specialized, very intellectual, and very detached from everyday life. Seneca, on the other hand, focuses on the practical side of philosophy, or how philosophy can help us deal with the important issues of day-to-day life: how to overcome negative emotions like worry, anxiety, and anger; how to develop a better personal character; how to deal with setbacks and adversity; how to understand yourself and live with authenticity; and many other topics.

Seneca was not only a philosopher, but he was a kind of proto-psychologist who wrote about things that didn’t even have names until fifty years ago, so he was very far ahead of his time. He also believed in the power of friendship and person-to-person relationships, to help us become better people and to make progress in life and philosophy. You can see how important this was to Seneca, because every one of his philosophical writings was addressed to a person—either to a friend or a family member.

MN: What does classic thought and practice regarding politics, such as Plato’s Republic, provide to us as far as solutions to the challenges the world faces today?

DF: One of the goals of Plato’s Republic was to define the nature of justice, which exists both within us and in society. In the Republic, Plato discusses the other cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, and moderation. These four virtues were essential to the Stoics, too. If we could really understand these four virtues and put them into practice, I’m sure that we’d be living in a better world. Plato’s goal in starting the Academy was the same goal of the Renaissance humanists. They both wanted to create more virtuous leaders to improve society.

MN: You have also previously written, “In the ancient world, Stoic ideas about human equality and fellowship contributed to the early Christian idea of the universal brotherhood of humanity.” Tell us about this universal brotherhood of humanity and the extent to which something like it is feasible.

DF: The Stoics believed that all human beings possess the faculty of reason or logos. The idea that we are rational creatures is even reflected in the term homo sapiens. Because of this spark of reason we all possess, we are born equal to one another, and we are brothers and sisters of one another. This means that we are all members of a cosmopolis or “world community.”

Of course, if you believe that other human beings are your brothers or sisters, you will treat them well, with love and respect. This is closely related to the Latin word humanitas, which simultaneously means humanity, kindness, benevolence, civilization, and learning.

Can this be applied in the real world? Of course it can. But we need to identify as human beings first, before we identify with any other kind of group, tribe, or nationality. Before we start thinking about differences, we need to first understand that we are part of a common humanity that unites us with others.

MN: A few years ago you organized a symposium about the future of education and the humanities in Athens, and you visited the site of Plato’s Academy. What was it like to walk in Plato’s footsteps and to contemplate and discuss ideas in such a setting?

DF: It was fantastic to finally get there because a long time ago, in 1996, I was hired by the Ross School to write a history of Plato’s Academy and the other schools that developed from it. This is something that most philosophers never even think about: Why did Plato set up the Academy and what actually went on there? If you really want to understand Plato, I think those questions are essential.

One reason I became so interested in Plato’s Academy is because it was so ignored. The other reason is that I’m very interested in the philosophy of education, and I’ve always been very dissatisfied with the kind of educational system we have today. So I wanted to go back to the very beginning of education in the Western world and to understand what Plato was trying to accomplish by establishing his school. Maybe, I thought, we could learn something valuable from it to improve education today.

MN: From what I understand, you, as well as other Stoics and philosophers, including Donald Robertson (who we had the opportunity to speak with last year), are involved in the recently launched Plato’s Academy Centre project. What is this about and what inspired this project?

DF: It’s actually something of a miracle, but the Academus Park in Athens, where Plato founded his school, has survived for well over 2,000 years. It’s surrounded by a neighborhood, but it’s a historical miracle that it’s still a park, and no one built houses over it in the course of 230 centuries.

I had long dreamt about offering a workshop in Athens on the ancient philosophical schools there, starting with Plato’s Academy. But then Donald Robertson moved to Athens, and he came up with this great idea of creating a conference center near the site of Plato’s Academy, which made the possibility of doing things there much more feasible.

Figure 3. The shady pathways in the Academy Park, which still exist today, were described as being “famous” by writers two-thousand years ago.

The goal of the Plato’s Academy Centre is not to reestablish Plato’s Academy. Of course, we’d need a Plato for that. The idea is to create a small conference center next to the Park Academus, which will host events relating to ancient philosophy. There are also plans to create a center there on Socratic questioning and dialogue, which was the main educational method used at Plato’s Academy. In addition to putting Plato’s Academy “back on the map”, as they say, people associated with the project want to preserve the park and its archaeological sites and improve the economy of the surrounding neighborhood in Athens.

OL: Do you think we can use these ideas from ancient philosophy to help solve the conflicts in our highly polarized world today?

DF: Yes, absolutely. There’s no denying that people are different in many ways, which the ancient philosophers recognized: we are a mixture of sameness and difference. But at the deepest level, we are all human beings, with the same human needs. We all want to have good lives and live in a world where justice and fairness is superior to corruption.

In the thought of the Pythagoreans, Plato, and the Stoics, there was an incredible emphasis on the idea of unity as a cosmic principle—and also on the kinds of things that bind us together in unity, as human beings, like the idea of the cosmopolis. So we should always think about our common humanity first and try to engage in dialogue with people who think differently—not necessarily to change their minds, but for the sake of mutual understanding.

Unfortunately, I think that a lot of social and political polarization today is driven by the news media, and social media, because that kind of polarization is very profitable, even if it is extremely harmful. The people who encourage that kind of polarization often appeal to the worst aspects of human nature, so I want to do the opposite and explore our common humanity. I’m convinced that overcoming polarization and realizing the ideal of human unity and equality—human brotherhood—is one of the most urgent social tasks of our time. As Seneca said, “Remove fellowship and you will tear apart the unity of the human race on which our life depends.”

For Further Reading

Photo credits: Photos in the article copyright by David Fideler. All rights reserved. Photo of the Erechtheum from Depositphotos.

Scott Waltman: Revising the Framework of Socratic Questioning

Dr. Scott Waltman, PsyD, ABPP, is a clinician, international trainer, and practice-based researcher. His interests include evidence-based psychotherapy practice, training, and implementation in systems that provide care to underserved populations. He is certified as a qualified Cognitive Therapist and Trainer/Consultant by the Academy of Cognitive & Behavioral Therapies. He also is board certified in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology. He is a board member for the International Association of Cognitive Psychotherapy.

More recently, Dr. Waltman, worked as a CBT trainer for one of Dr. Aaron Beck’s CBT implementation teams in the Philadelphia public mental health system. He is the first author of the book Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors: Learn How to Think and Intervene like a Cognitive Behavior Therapist. Clinically, Dr. Waltman strives to flexibly and compassionately apply cognitive and behavioral interventions to help people overcome the barriers in their lives, to facilitate building meaningful lives that are guided by passion and values.

How did you become interested in philosophy?

I first became interested in this area when I read the first edition of Donald Robertson’s The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapies. I had always leaned toward the thinking of Albert Ellis in regard to cognitive therapy and learning more about the Stoic philosophy lit a fire within me. I went on to become a trainer for therapists who were learning Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).

As a CBT trainer I found that clinicians had a hard time learning to use good Socratic dialogue strategies. They had a strong tendency to focus on telling people what to think instead of teaching them how to think. This is something we demonstrated empirically, which caused us to rethink how we taught the skill and we created a revised framework teaching Socratic questioning skills to therapists and counselors. Our book Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors: Learn How to Think and Intervene Like a Cognitive Behavior Therapist is currently being translated into several different languages and has been really well received. Therapists around the world are excited about learning how to apply principles of Stoicism to their clinical practice!

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

The most important concept that I teach people is known as “Collaborative Empiricism” or “Collaborative Curiosity”. This is the idea is that it is the job of the therapist to collaboratively work with the client to help them mentally take a step back, identify what they are thinking, how that is affecting them, and then to jointly evaluate the situation in more accurate and balanced terms. Therapists often want a list of questions to challenge or disprove the target thought, but our goal is joint curiosity instead of being adversarial.

The most important piece of practical advice from my work is to first focus on trying to see if from their point of view instead of trying to show them why you think they’re wrong.

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

The most important piece of practical advice from my work is to first focus on trying to see if from their point of view instead of trying to show them why you think they’re wrong. If people believe you’re in earnest trying to see it how they see it, they’ll be more willing to explore their blind spots.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by their opinions about those things.”

Epictetus, The Enchiridion, 5

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


The best way to learn is experientially and with the help of a good guide. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and Donald Robertson’s How to Think Like a Roman Emperor is the foundation to build on. For clinicians who are looking to improve their use of the Socratic Method, I would encourage you to check out our book Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors: Learn How to Think and Intervene Like a Cognitive Behavior Therapist.

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


I would jump at that. I have loved watching the process of the Academy be re-established and that way I could get my copy of Verissimus autographed!

From Wise Up by Karen Duffy

Wise Up by Karen Duffy

This is an excerpt from Wise Up: Irreverent Enlightenment from a Mother Who’s Been Through It reproduced by kind permission of the author, Karen Duffy, and her publisher, Seal Press.


Stoicism is a good and faithful companion. When you’re alone, it offers good company. When you’re ambitious, it inspires self-discipline. When you’re lazy, it motivates action. When you’re fortunate, it reminds you to be grateful and moderate. When you’re suffering, it teaches you to dig deep and be resilient. When you are anxious and fearful, it gives you the knowledge that you have the guts to carry on.

Anxiety and fear want to protect you from harm. In keeping you from engaging the tests you face, they also keep you from the good things in life.

Karen Duffy

Donald Robertson, the best-selling author and noted Stoic philosopher, has a particularly sharp insight: “Worry is a horror story we tell ourselves where we exaggerate the probability, imminence, and severity of a perceived threat and minimize our ability to cope with it.” Anxiety and fear want to protect you from harm. In keeping you from engaging the tests you face, they also keep you from the good things in life.

Wise Up by Karen Duffy
Wise Up by Karen Duffy

Courage is not a limited resource. In a pinch, you can borrow it. Be inspired by others. Borrow a philosopher’s courage, or your mother’s. You can borrow courage from the wisdom of Epictetus or the valor of Theodore Roosevelt. Your father or your friends can all lend you courage. They’ve all been tested. They’ve all faced huge obstacles. You can borrow courage from your teammates, who are prepared to mix it up with the other guys to protect their goalie. You can repay the loan by letting others borrow from you.

Don’t confuse borrowing courage with giving up your belief in your own decisions. You can try to avoid tough challenges by allowing other people to tell you what to do. Coaches, parents, teachers, and friends all have wisdom to share. Do not lose sight of your own wisdom. Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Look well into yourself, there is a source of strength which will always spring up if you will look.” Courage is thinking for yourself.


This is an excerpt from Wise Up: Irreverent Enlightenment from a Mother Who’s Been Through It reproduced by kind permission of the author, Karen Duffy, and her publisher, Seal Press.

Darren Kelsey: Storytelling and Collective Psychology

Darren Kelsey is Reader in Media and Collective Psychology at Newcastle University’s School of Arts and Cultures. Darren’s teaching, research and publications have focused on storytelling, psychology and mythology in media, politics and popular culture. Darren currently lives in County Durham with his wife and daughter.

Darren’s forthcoming book, Storytelling and Collective Psychology: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Life and the Work of Derren Brown, is available for pre-order and will be published in the Spring.

How did you become interested in this area?

Serendipitously! Back in 2018, I was receiving Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for anxiety. CBT hadn’t really clicked for me straight away and I was still adapting to this unfamiliar world of counselling and therapy, which I had never been open to in the past. 

It was then by chance that I stumbled across the magician and psychological illusionist, Derren Brown talking about Stoicism and ancient philosophy on a couple of podcasts. The connections Brown drew between CBT and Stoicism really intrigued me. So I read Brown’s book, Happy

After learning more about Stoicism and understanding how it formed the foundations of CBT, Happy became a recurring talking point with my therapist. I found countless similarities between my thought patterns and Brown’s examples of the stories we tell ourselves and how deeply our stories affect us.

Brown’s work nudged me into a reading marathon on Stoic philosophy: I had soon read the works of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus followed by more recent Stoic endorsements from the likes of Massimo Pigliucci, Donald Robertson, William Irvine and Ryan Holiday. Reflecting on this experience, I wrote a book about Stoicism and Derren Brown in relation to storytelling and collective psychology – showing how Brown’s writing and other performances offer us personal and societal wisdom for modern life and wellbeing.

“Street philosophy” is for everyone – it should help us live well and be taught beyond the corridors of academia.

Darren Kelsey

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

Drawing on what Socrates established prior to the Stoics, I share the principle that “street philosophy” is for everyone – it should help us live well and be taught beyond the corridors of academia. In terms of Stoicism, my teaching shows how philosophy can help us tell better stories for our collective psychology. 

For example, the Stoics teach us to focus on the things that are within our control rather than worrying about what’s beyond our control – seemingly simple, but tricky in practice – give it a try! They also teach us that events themselves do not disturb us, but rather our perception of those events and how we interpret them. 

These things all relate back to the stories we tell ourselves in order to make sense of the noise and confusion of daily life. Derren Brown describes the “infinite data source” that we are constantly bombarded by, and the only way to make sense of anything is through neatly packaged and well edited stories. 

Those stories can cause us problems. The habits we form in our storytelling are where the Stoics critically intervene and make us rethink the narrative. This is one reason why ancient Stoicism bridges gaps between psychology and philosophy – because storytelling is a fundamental part of what makes us human.

Hence, I see the Stoics as ancient mentors who can help us to become better storytellers about our own lives and the lives of others. 

Rather than allowing media and political stories to divide us, we need to find ways of telling stories that foster a sense of collective ownership of our future – and one that enables human flourishing. 

Darren Kelsey

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

To be more sceptical about our stories – as people and societies. So often our personal crises and social conflicts are due to broken stories. 

So much of my own anxiety was due to the fact that I was a terrible storyteller. I could pick apart the stories of others – in media, politics, work and play – but seldom would I stop to question my own stories that were making me so unhappy. Many of those inner stories about myself and my place in the world were unconsciously ruling my life in unhealthy ways. 

Sure, my stories were often based on past experiences that formed my identity and perceptions of the world around me. But they weren’t the only stories that were possible, and my stories about what might happen in the future were nearly always wrong. I realised that my fears made me more uncomfortable than fate itself. In a real crisis I could fix things, but in a future crisis that I was creating in my mind, I was causing myself unnecessary discomfort. 

There are also collective lessons to learn from the Stoics here. If we live in a society that constantly teaches us to be fearful of other social groups, then we live in a state of high alert that encourages tribalism. Instead, through our reason and virtue, the Stoics encourage us to rise above our tribal tendencies and approach other people as if every human belonged to an ideal city, which they called the cosmopolis

Rather than allowing media and political stories to divide us, we need to find ways of telling stories that foster a sense of collective ownership of our future – and one that enables human flourishing. 

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

No, I don’t. The Stoics are so full of wisdom in many different ways. But there are a couple of standout quotes from Marcus Aurelius, which I think encourage kindness, tolerance and compassion in current times – especially when so many people might be struggling to reach out and ask for help:

Don’t be ashamed of needing help. You have a duty to fulfil just like a soldier on the wall of battle. So what if you are injured and can’t climb up without another soldier’s help?

Marcus Aurelius

Reaching out for help doesn’t make us weak, it makes us stronger, and it’s our duty to support each other. As the courageous Helen Keller once said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light”.  It takes courage to help and be helped.

Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.

Marcus Aurelius

This is so important. You never know what someone else’s story might be or what baggage they are carrying. It is likely that the things that irritate you in others are characteristics you quietly resent in yourself. 

It is better for everyone if we put more work into fixing our own faults and flaws than criticising them in other people. Easier said than done, I know. But well worth aspiring to. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is darren2.jpg

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

Firstly, take advantage of modern Stoicism. We live in our own digital Athenian marketplace where some of the wisest minds mix among us on podcasts, YouTube, blogs and social media. Engage with this material and listen to conversations about the role of ancient philosophy in modern life, and discover what’s possible for the future. It’s exciting.

Secondly, of course, read the Stoics and enjoy those original texts and translations. Try applying Stoic toolkits in your daily life to learn more about the challenges of seemingly simple virtues that can be harder to stick to than you expect. Learn more about yourself in order to learn about how the philosophy speaks to you. 

Thirdly, a shameless plug: my forthcoming book shows how we can analyse personal and societal stories to understand more about collective psychology in ways that are practical, applicable and evidently beneficial in daily life. Readers will learn how ancient philosophy can be combined with modern psychology to analyse stories and the role of celebrity mentors that we look to for wisdom in modern life. 

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

I would be so excited that I would be anything but Stoic. It would be a great opportunity to explore positive aspects of popular culture and show how the wisdom of ancient philosophy is more accessible and applicable to modern life and future societies than ever before. 


Click here for more works from Darren Kelsey, including published articles.

Darren’s previous books on media and mythology can be found here: 

From Plato’s Republic: A Ladybird Expert Book by Angie Hobbs

Plato's Republic: A Ladybird Expert Book

This is an excerpt from Plato’s Republic: A Ladybird Expert Book reproduced by kind permission of the author, Prof. Angie Hobbs, and her publisher, Penguin.

GIVEAWAY: We’re currently giving away five copies of Plato’s Republic: A Ladybird Expert Book. To enter the giveaway just register for our forthcoming virtual conference before 1st May 2022, and Tweet @platoacademycen to let us know you’re coming!

Philosophers, sophists, and alternative facts

Plato's Republic: A Ladybird Expert Book

Why is Plato so committed to the existence of knowledge? Why is he not prepared to countenance the possibility that humans might have to withhold judgement?

The answer partly lies in his distrust and dislike of the sophists, the professional teachers of skills in public speaking and debate (such as Thrasymachus). Throughout his work, Plato is particularly opposed to those who teach their students how to make the weaker argument appear the stronger, peddling tricks in argumentation for argument’s sake rather than making an honest and collaborative effort to search for the truth. He is also alarmed by the claim of one of the most famous sophists, Protagoras, that there is no such thing as objective truth and that each human simply creates his own subjective version of what is and what is not – that each ‘human is the measure’ of all things. Questioning and examining purported ‘facts’ is fine and good and what a philosopher should do, but doing away with any possibility of agreed reality is, Plato believes, both wrong and dangerous.

In his view such sophists give philosophy a bad name, and philosophy and sophistry need to be clearly distinguished. Commitment to the objective – indeed absolute – truth of the Forms and to knowledge of the Forms is the way to do this. […]

Plato's Republic: A Ladybird Expert Book
The philosopher seeking truth beyond the world of flux.

The Simile of the Cave

The contrast between the mortal world of shifting phenomena and the intelligible and divine realm of perfect and unchanging Forms is illustrated by the powerful Simile of the Cave. We are bound by the legs and neck in a dark cave, facing a wall; behind us is a fire and between the fire and our backs runs a curtain-wall above which puppets are mysteriously moved.

Although at first we will be dazzled, we will in time adjust to the true objects there and eventually be able to gaze at the sun itself…

Angie Hobbs

All we can see on the wall in front of us are the shadows of puppets, which we mistake for real objects, both animate and inanimate. But if we are painfully released from our shackles and forced up a tunnel into the bright world above, although at first we will be dazzled, we will in time adjust to the true objects there and eventually be able to gaze at the sun itself, and realize that before we were prisoners in a world of deceptive shadows. And those few who do get to look upon the sun are compelled to return to the cave and use their knowledge to improve the lives of those who dwell there. […]

The implications of the simile for education are profound. The task of the teacher is to turn the mind’s eye of the pupil in the direction of the light; the acquisition of knowledge has to be an active and internal process which the pupil undertakes for her- or himself.


GIVEAWAY: We’re currently giving away five copies of Plato’s Republic: A Ladybird Expert Book. To enter the giveaway just register for our forthcoming virtual conference before 1st May 2022, and Tweet @platoacademycen to let us know you’re coming!

Diane Kalen-Sukra: Save Your City

Diane Kalen-Sukra is the founder of Kalen Academy, an interactive online school for civic leaders and engaged citizens, which she launched after retiring as a city manager. She is also an acclaimed author, speaker and coach. Diane’s most popular book “Save Your City: How Toxic Culture Kills Community & What To Do About It”  takes readers on a successful journey from Bullyville to Sustainaville, which includes a visit to classical antiquity, calling for a renaissance of civic values and civic education as vital to fostering the type of culture that can sustain us, our democracy and our planet.

How did you first become interested in philosophy?

In university, I switched out of commerce to pursue studies in political philosophy. While there is renewed interest today in business ethics and the social and environmental responsibilities of business leaders and corporations, it was not in vogue then. Political philosophy asked the right questions. Questions which great minds have turned their attention to for thousands of years, like: What is the best way to organize society so that it brings about human flourishing? How can we decide what is right, just and good? What frameworks exist to discern whether an action or decision is ethical? Why is there so
much inequality and injustice in the world?

This interest in and conviction regarding the importance of philosophy only deepened as I entered the world of work and politics. It was striking to me that in a modern democracy, it wasn’t just citizens that seemed to be suffering from collective amnesia about basic duties, rights and responsibilities of citizens. Political leaders and high-ranking public servants, too often, have inherited political institutions and processes for which there is, at best, a lack of appreciation for the fragility and preciousness of our democracy and gravity of our responsibilities.

In these times of polarization and anemic levels of empathy, the civic values-based philosophy of the Ancient Greeks, which also champions shared dialogue are an excellent prescription for arriving at shared understanding and social unity, cornerstones of healthy community building.

Diane Kalen-Sukra

In these times of polarization and anemic levels of empathy, the civic values-based philosophy of the Ancient Greeks, which also champions shared dialogue are an excellent prescription for arriving at shared understanding and social unity, cornerstones of healthy community building.

The good news is that a renaissance of philosophy in civic leadership and in the public square is already underway in our cities and in City Halls. You can get an encouraging glimpse of it in my piece, The Rise of the Philosopher-CAO, published by Public Sector Digest.

Save Your City

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

Love is the greatest civic virtue.

Kalen Academy courses are centered on this idea. Registration is open for the next upcoming course starting in April 2022: “Fostering Compassionate City Culture: A Guide to Human Flourishing”. This course is being hosted by the global Charter for Compassion and is open to civic leaders and engaged citizens.

My book Save Your City: How Toxic Culture Kills Community & What To Do About It charts a way forward to the love-based cultures of compassion that lead to human flourishing. The citizen’s edition has a green cover.

Are you a city leader? There is an exclusive edition of this book, Save Your City, published by Municipal World that includes a workbook for Councils, Boards and city staff to work through, available here. This edition has the blue cover.

Without a good spirit, as Aristotle calls it, that seeks the well-being of all, democracy will fail.

Diane Kalen-Sukra

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

Champion civic education that cultivates the heart and mind.

So much of the toxicity we experience in the public square and our lives today, begins in the heart.

What we call toxicity can be defined as unjust behaviours towards our neighbours and citizens. The great Athenian lawmaker Solon reminds us that an injustice to one, is an injustice to all. Injustice tears at the social fabric.

The ideal society is a just society.

Like every system before it and every system after it, without justice, democracy will fail. Without active, engaged and informed citizens, it will fail. Without a good spirit, as Aristotle calls it, that seeks the well-being of all, democracy will fail.

As much as we like to say, every vote counts, a much richer understanding of what creates and maintains thriving democracies is every heart counts.

Plato would have agreed with this. He believed “the city is what it is, because the people are what they are”. It was the citizens of Athens, after all, that executed his mentor Socrates. Civic academies should help make us better people.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

I love this cautionary quote from the introduction to Aristotle’s Politics:

The society that loses its grip on the past is in danger, for it produces men who know nothing but the present, and who are not aware that life had been, and could be, different from what it is. Such men bear tyranny easily; for they have nothing with which to compare it.

Aristotle

Considering these consequences, the study of philosophy and history are imperatives, not luxuries.

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

Join me on LinkedIn.

Sign up for Kalen Academy’s e-newsletter “Ancient Wisdom for Modern City Builders.”

Stay up to date with recent publications here.

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

I would be deeply honoured to host a discussion of modern philosophers and governance experts at Plato’s Academy on the new forms of city governance that are emerging around the world, from administrative centres in master-planned communities by developers like Disney, to control and command centres in some Smart Cities. Isn’t that what Plato would do if he saw all these new forms of city government emerging? Which modern city governance structure can best lead to human flourishing and why?

Gregory B. Sadler: Don’t Cheat Yourself

Dr. Gregory B. Sadler is the author of Reason Fulfilled by Revelation: The 1930s Christian Philosophy Debates in France and the president of ReasonIO, a company dedicated to helping others put philosophy into practice. He takes resources from complex and often difficult philosophical texts and thinkers and makes them applicable to everyday life– transforming ancient philosophy intro useful tools for reflection, decision-making, and action.  

His main areas of study are the History of Philosophy, Ethics and Moral Theory, Critical Thinking, Philosophical Counseling, and Existentialism. He also teaches at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, is the co-editor of Stoicism Today Selected Writings Volume 3, and has created over 1,500 videos on philosophy in his popular YouTube channel.

How did you become interested in this area?

There’s a complicated answer to that one!

It didn’t happen all at once, and there were different areas and aspects of philosophy that I got interested in along the way. The shortest answer would be, I suppose, that since childhood I’ve found asking the questions about why very captivating. I discovered later that philosophy was a field where – at least in theory, and in some of its representatives – asking that question, and working out answers wasn’t discouraged.  Then again, there’s more than one kind of why, isn’t there? We can ask not just “Why is this matter the way it is?”, but also “Why should it be that way?”, and a number of other related questions.

The first book of philosophy I read was Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. My uncle had a copy, and since I was interested in Greek mythology, I asked him if I could have it. I maybe understood a tenth of what was in it back then! At the Catholic high school I went to, I actually had a philosophy class, and it was pretty awful! The instructor basically taught from a textbook, expected us to memorize the answers he liked (even for essay questions), and there wasn’t any real discussion. 

By contrast, I lucked out when we got a last-minute substitute for our Sacraments class, a little monkish guy who was very much into St. Augustine. He reasoned that in order for us to understand Augustine, we’d need to learn a good bit about Plato, Aristotle, ancient cosmology, attempts to resolve the problem of evil, and a host of other topics. The other students didn’t like the class because it was him giving us some ideas and then a lot of open discussion. But I loved it.

When I was in the Army, I remember buying a few books that had to do with philosophy at the PX (post exchange – a kind of shop on base), and I gleaned some ideas from them.  After I got out, worked a while, and then decided to go to college, my mother’s old boyfriend gave me a bit of advice: “Declare a major right away, so that you get in with the professors and other students in a department”. And that’s what I did.

Without knowing much about it, I decided on a philosophy major, and just kept on taking classes, reading works in the discipline, and getting into conversations with people. And by a kind of inertia, perhaps reinforced by an affinity with some of the key authors, ideas, texts, and approaches of philosophy, I just kept on going.

Now I’m more than 30 years past that decision to major in philosophy, and I can say I’m pretty happy with the way my life, my work, my studies, and my relationships have gone because of it.

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

Well, that’s a very interesting one!

I was tempted at first to say that there isn’t any one single “most important” concept or idea for me, since I draw upon a lot of them from a number of different sources and traditions. Even just with Stoicism, I’m often the person saying to others: “Hold on there with those claims that X is the absolutely most central idea. Stoicism is a complicated network of ideas, practices, insights and so on, like Seneca himself tells us.” Being the eclectic that I am, there are even more ideas or concepts packed away in the proverbial philosophical toolbox. And yet. . . there is a very powerful practice and a capacity that I do see philosophy as particularly strong in. And that is making needed distinctions well, at the right time, in the right manner

It’s not as if philosophy has the market cornered on making good distinctions. (And there are plenty of people in the philosophy field who don’t do this well) However, it does seem to me that when one studies and practices philosophy in productive ways, one does get better at making distinctions that wind up being helpful; in the course of trying to figure something out, or even in the middle of seemingly intractable arguments. 

I do this all the time when I’m working with my clients on their personal or organizational problems, explaining something to confused students, working through things in committee or board meetings, or even just figuring out what a tricky passage from a philosophical text actually means. There’s definitely a set of skills involved in knowing when to point out that a term is being used by different people in different ways, or to say “if you look at it this way, then you’re right, but if you look at it this way, you’re off-base”.  There’s nothing magical about this, but it is pretty remarkable how very intelligent people from all sorts of disciplines and walks of life get mixed up and into conflicts by not recognizing when a distinction can be helpful.

So is there an idea or concept that corresponds to this skill, capacity, or practice?  Maybe it would be the notion that things are often more complicated than we realize, and that we’d do well to make good distinctions when we’re working through things?  These would be distinctions that aren’t just quibbling or unnecessary classification, but which really get to the heart of the matter, and divide things along lines that make sense.  Now, do I teach people this concept?  Well, yes and no, to introduce a distinction. . .

You put the two of these together – rationality and will – and you’re at the core of what human being is, and not just in the abstract, but in ways that we can relate to throughout our day-to-day practical life.

Gregory B. Sadler

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

That’s also a really tough one to answer! 

I suppose that since a significant part of my work is oriented around the problems and processes of integrating our emotions, our rationality, the habits we make and break, and our capacity to choose, there is an insight that I find myself pointing out over and over again. It turns out to be illuminating in a variety of frameworks, ranging all the way from discussions with fellow researchers at academic conferences to very practically-focused group discussions or client work.  You could express it in a very simple way like this: Working on yourself through practical philosophy involves deliberately using the parts of yourself we traditionally call your rationality and your will upon themselves to make them progressively less and less screwed up.

Unpacking that formula or catch-phrase into something a bit more meaningful requires saying a lot more, just a bit of which I’ll do here.  If you spend much time reading in ancient and medieval philosophy, and you’re really paying attention to what’s being worked out in those texts by those thinkers, one of the things that will jump out at you is how central our intellectual or rational capacity is for distinctively human beings, as opposed to the more general kind of thing we are, animal being. You’ll also find the progressive articulation of something that eventually comes to be identified as the will, which you can think of as the faculty of choice, though “choosing” is just one of its activities and functions. You can call this prohairesis, as Epictetus did, you can call it voluntas as Augustine did, or whatever else you like.  You put the two of these together – rationality and will – and you’re at the core of what human being is, and not just in the abstract, but in ways that we can relate to throughout our day-to-day practical life.

Another key insight of the ancients and medieval – and there’s many (perhaps complementary) ways to think about this – is that our rational faculties and our wills are not only parts of ourselves that have to develop themselves over time. By the time we start paying close attention to them, they’re usually messed up in one way or another – if we’re lucky! More often, they’re messed up, they have mis-developed, in more ways than we actually realize when we start looking at them. And this is where practical philosophy comes in and can help us out quite a bit. We need models of what it would look like to screw up less with respect to our rationality and will. The “sages” that some schools of ancient philosophy talk about provide some such models, but we can actually find others closer to where we are in those philosophers themselves who openly tell us that they aren’t sages. If we’re paying attention, we can also find myriad useful insights, distinctions, concepts, practices and the like in those philosophical works.

Rationality and will are not just higher parts of ourselves, in ancient and medieval thought. They are parts of ourself that extend and apply to, even govern you could say, other aspects and dimensions of ourselves, our relations to others, our engagements in the rest of the world.  Realizing that can be quite liberating or inspiring, but there’s another insight that is even more so. Rationality and will are reflexive, that is, they don’t just apply to everything else, but also to themselves. Again, this is something that Epictetus is crystal clear about. The rational faculty is one that governs itself. The prohairesis, which is what he says we are, determines itself. Even when other things do determine it, that is because prohairesis in some way allowed, chose, or gave in to that.

Put all these things together, and notice what you get as a result. We realize we’re messed up in complicated ways, and practical philosophy can help us extricate ourselves from that mire. How so? In a lot of ways, one of which is to show us that there are higher parts of ourself that can “run the show”, so to speak. But those parts are themselves all messed up as well. Yep, that’s true. But we’re lucky that they can also work on themselves, fix or replace the bits that are broken, improve and strengthen the parts that are running more or less right. And that’s us working upon ourselves through doing practical philosophy.

…a person doesn’t have to be the paragon of virtue in order to be on the whole good, to impress that goodness upon others, and to provide a kind of needed orientation or example.

Gregory B. Sadler

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

I guess I do, but it doesn’t come from philosophy as far as I know.  It’s actually something that my gym teacher and track coach used to say to us when I was in high school. It’s a very simple phrase: Don’t cheat yourself!

I think that phrase probably wouldn’t have made the impact it did upon me if the guy who said it, Chuck Bova, wasn’t, upon retrospect, a pretty virtuous person.  I won’t make the claim that he was an exemplary individual in every respect – how would I know that, after all? But coach Bova was certainly a pretty good guy, as I got to observe in classes, practices, conversations, and other interactions.  And as Cicero and Seneca tell us – this is something I think is really important – a person doesn’t have to be the paragon of virtue in order to be on the whole good, to impress that goodness (in however confused a way) upon others, and to provide a kind of needed orientation or example.  I didn’t have the words for it at the time, but looking back, I saw Bova display and act on those virtues that have long been recognized as the cardinal ones – wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice.

“Don’t cheat yourself” was the mantra he would say to us when he could tell we were tempted to do precisely that, when we were flagging.  It might be when we were lifting weights, running laps, doing sprints, running hills, or anything else. And he meant exactly what he said. It wasn’t about us as his students or athletes. He didn’t take our performance, good or bad, as reflecting upon him, because he knew he was already doing his part. He genuinely cared about us as people, and wanted us to put in the work required to develop ourselves. So not cheating ourselves was something he wanted for each of us. 

I’ll just say two more things about Bova here…

The first was that not every student was gifted athletically at that age, and I saw him tailor his expectations of each person in his class to what they could realistically achieve at that point. A level of effort that might count as “cheating myself” for me might be more than enough for one of my classmates. That was an exercise of prudence on his part. The second is that what he was teaching us – what really stuck with me at least – was how to persevere. For some of us, perhaps it was even more basic – that we could persevere.  As ancient virtue ethicists recognize, this is something absolutely central to personal development.  For the Stoics, it is a key aspect of courage. For Aristotelians, it is an analogue of self-control.  This lesson of perseverance, and that quote – or better put, maxim – “Don’t cheat yourself”- is applicable to pretty much every aspect of our lives, careers, relationships, and education.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is B09MYWV8TX.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_SX500_-1.jpg

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

I’m pretty easy to find on the internet. If you search on “Gregory Sadler,” a lot of entries will pop up.  The top listings will generally be my social media profiles, my YouTube channel and videos, my Sadler’s Lectures podcast, my writings in various blogs (especially Medium), and interviews with other people and platforms (like this one here!).  I’ve been on YouTube for over a decade now, and have produced well over 2,000 videos on all sorts of topics, mostly within the field of philosophy broadly speaking, but also a good bit in religious studies and literature.

I have my own business, ReasonIO, whose motto is “putting philosophy into practice”.  I offer a number of services to individual and business clients, including tutorials, academic coaching, consulting, and philosophical counseling (my certification for the latter is through the American Philosophical Practitioners Association.)  Another one of the services I provide (and particularly enjoy) is public speaking, providing talks and workshops for academic institutions, businesses, professional organizations, libraries, religious organization, and even restaurants.

Over the last two decades, I have taught at a number of colleges, universities, and academic startups, so you’ll find quite a few references to those when you search for me.  In recent years, I’ve been paring back on that, so I can focus more on my work in public and practical philosophy. The one academic institution I still routinely teach for is Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and you can find my faculty webpage here.  As an academic, I have engaged in research and scholarship, culminating at this point in one book, Reason Fulfilled by Revelation: The 1930s Christian Philosophy Debates in France, and dozens of academic articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries.

In 2016, I joined the Modern Stoicism team as editor of Stoicism Today, where we publish weekly pieces of interest to the modern Stoic community.  Last year, I also co-edited Stoicism Today Selected Writings Volume 3, a book bringing together some of the best essays from Stoicism Today in recent years.

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

I’d feel grateful and honored to be asked, excited to travel to an original home of philosophy, and happy to share useful ideas with attendees!  One of the great things about philosophy is that it can be studied and practiced anywhere in the world, with relatively few material requirements. And in the age of the internet you can access resources, participate in workshops, listen to lectures, and connect with people all over the globe. And yet. . .  there’s something about being in a place that has a history, isn’t there?

What precisely I’d talk about, I don’t know off the top of my head. There are so many topics that I’ve covered in the talks and workshops I’ve given just in the last decade, and I’ve got so many different research projects going right now. I suppose I’d see what the Plato’s Academy people thought might be most appealing to their students and attendees.

I will say, to bring this to a close, that giving talks in-person is something that I have missed during these last two years marked by the covid-19 pandemic.  Last month, I was invited back to one of the local libraries I partner with, to give a face-to-face, though masked up talk in the Philosophers In The Midst of History series, this one specifically on the Middle Platonist Plutarch.  I really enjoyed getting to engage with the audience in the same room, rather than over Zoom!  So, here’s hoping we’ll have a lot more of that, both at Plato’s Academy, and everywhere else, in the coming years.

Announcing: Plato’s Academy Centre Virtual Conference

Virtual Conference: Ancient Philosophy Comes Alive

Ancient Philosophy Comes Alive

Virtual Conference on Greek Philosophy and the Good Life

If you’re interested in how Greek philosophy can help us live better lives today, this is the online event for you!

Tickets now available on EventBrite. Payment is by donation, an amount of your choosing, and 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 available afterwards to everyone booking tickets in advance.

What’s it all about?

We bring together a special program of world-class philosophers 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 the most famous ancient philosophers, including effective and practical advice and strategies to help understand and manage the challenges of our uncertain and complex daily lives.

Speakers

  • Prof. Angie Hobbs, University of Sheffield; author of Plato’s Republic: A Ladybird Expert Book
  • Prof. Voula Tsouna, University of California, Santa Barbara; author of Plato’s Charmides: An Interpretative Commentary
  • Prof. Nancy Sherman, Georgetown University; author of Stoic Wisdom: Ancient Lessons for Modern Resilience
  • Prof. Chloe Balla, University of Crete; author of Platonic Persuasion: From the Art of the Orator to the Art of the Statesman
  • Dr John Sellars, Royal Holloway, University of London; author of Hellenistic Philosophy and The Pocket Epicurean
  • Robin Waterfield, classicist and translator of Plato and Xenophon
  • Donald Robertson, author of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

NB: Presentation titles will be added shortly. 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 this event payment by donation, amount of your choosing, so it’s available to the widest possible audience. As a rough guide, tickets for a physical conference like this might cost €150. Your generosity helps support our nonprofit’s work and allows us to reach more people through future events.
  4. Why this date? 21st May is the approximate date of the Platoneia, on which Plato’s birthday is traditionally celebrated. The event begins at 12pm EST.
  5. 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.