fbpx

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.

Register Now for “How to Think Like Socrates!”

Socratic Method Virtual Event

Our virtual conference on the Socratic Method will take place on 27th August, so make sure you register now.

How to Think Like Socrates

Virtual conference on reasoning like a Greek philosopher

If you’re interested in how Greek philosophy and the Socratic Method can help us think more clearly and live better lives today, 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.

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 the Socratic Method, including effective and practical advice and strategies to think critically, reason more clearly, and protect yourself against misleading information and sophistry.

Speakers

  • Opening Keynote: “Socrates and Alcibiades: How to Think About Statesmanship”, Massimo Pigliucci, author of How To Be Good: What Socrates Can Teach Us About the Art of Living Well (30 min)
  • “Socrates as Cognitive Therapist”, 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)
  • “Socrates and Civility”, Alexandra O. Hudson, author of Against Politeness (20 min)
  • “How to Question Like Socrates”, Christopher Phillips, PhD, author of Socrates Cafe and Soul of Goodness, founder of SocratesCafe.com (20 min)
  • “Cognitive Therapy and Socratic Self-Doubt”, R. Trent Codd, III, CBT Counseling Centers; Co-author of Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors (20 min)
  • “Street Epistemology: How to Think about Thinking”, Anthony Magnabosco, Executive Director of Street Epistemology International (20 min)
  • “Self-Socratic Method for Personal Growth”, Scott Waltman, PsyD, ABPP psychologist and co-author of Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors (20 min)
  • Closing Keynote: “The Socratic Method”, Ward Farnsworth, author of The Practicing Stoic and The Socratic Method (30 min)
  • Q&A with Panel (20 min)

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.

Anthony Opoka: A Stoic and Didn’t Know It

Anthony Opoka

by Mick Mulroy

Several years ago, after serving most of my career in warzones, I lived and worked in Uganda. One of the missions we had was to support what the United States called Operation Observant Compass, the joint effort between the U.S. and the Ugandan military to end the Lord’s Resistance Army  or LRA. 

The LRA is an insurgency group against the government of Uganda that was founded in 1987 by Joseph Kony, one of the most wanted persons in the world. The group is known for its widespread use of abducted children forced to be soldiers and commit atrocities such as murder and rape and would be killed for refusing to obey. Estimates vary, but 10 to 20 thousand children were forced into the LRA as soldiers. 

While serving in Uganda and working on this operation, I first met Anthony Opoka at a remote Base in the jungle of Central Africa. He was a ‘cultural advisor’ to the operation. I told Anthony that I had spent almost my whole career fighting alongside local militaries and militias in conflict areas. I was also very much a student and a practitioner of irregular warfare, including insurgencies and counterinsurgencies.

We became friends almost immediately, something that from my perspective usually takes more time. I asked him if he had an injury to his arm as I had noticed him holding his wrist. He said that he did have ‘big injury’ where he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.  I asked whether that happened while fighting the LRA, and he responded ‘No, I was LRA.’

Anthony single handedly talked dozens of child soldiers into defecting and leaving the fight, likely saving their lives. It was Anthony that positively identified Dominic Ongwen, the deputy of Joseph Kony, 2014 who was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, rape, torture, and enslavement at the International Criminal Courts in 2021. 

One thing that most people recognize about Anthony is how easy it is to talk to him and how he puts you at ease almost immediately. He truly exhibits the ‘Stoic Calm’ that all of us Stoics seek in ourselves. He does it without effort. I started trying to emulate him. In addition to the counter-LRA mission, we had a significant counter-terrorism mission with the Al Qaeda affiliate Al Shabab from Somalia, posing a significant threat to Uganda and the Americans there. Including an attempt that we thwarted at the last minute.  

I started to see that everything that made a Stoic a true Stoic was right there in a person who had never even heard of the concept or the philosophy.

I started to see that everything that made a Stoic a true Stoic was right there in a person who had never even heard of the concept or the philosophy. The Cardinal Virtues that Stoics derived from Plato’s Republic of Courage, Justice, Wisdom, and Temperance. That and living in conjunction with nature were how to achieve eudaimonia.

Anthony was well known for his Courage. I began to interview many of them while researching the counter-insurgency efforts before the U.S. participation in the academic journal Center for the Studies of Intelligence. Everyone that served with him had stories of his bravery in combat (although in the LRA, the soldiers had an unusual bond to one another far above and apart from their allegiance to Joseph Kony). 

There were no awards for this, no accolades; he risked his life to save his friends because that is who he was. When Anthony asked his friend to smuggle his wife Florence and children out of the bush, he did so, thinking that he would undoubtedly be executed for that act. When I asked him if the decision at least gave him pause before deciding it, he simply said ‘no.’

Justice was something that was never afforded to Anthony. He was from a very rural village of mud huts with no running water or electricity. The government of Uganda treated the Acholi (the tribe of Anthony) as second-class citizens. They were brutal in their treatment, leading to multiple uprisings, including the establishment of the LRA. The same group ostensibly established to protect the people of northern Uganda soon turned on them, essentially enslaving them as a child army. 

In the LRA justice was swift, brutal, and at the whims of Joseph Kony, who could, with one decision, kill an entire village or turn on his own soldiers ordering their execution. Anthony was often on the receiving end of this brutality. When he finally escaped and had the opportunity to leave this horrible part of his life behind him, he didn’t. He became the leading person talking other LRA soldiers into escaping as well. 

After their escape, he and his wife were often the only support they had as many of their villages refused to take them back. Anthony became an integral part of the program to help them get accepted. A process that still exists today and is run by a organization called Grassroots Reconciliation Group, of which Anthony and Florence are still a part. They fought for justice for those who had never had it in a community that refused to provide it at first. Justice for Anthony was fairness tied to compassion.

Wisdom in the Stoic sense is beyond just knowledge of a subject; it is also genuine intellectual curiosity, ingenuity, and the ability to develop a position based on where the facts lead and not just where you want them to lead. Anthony had an uncommon wisdom. It did not come from former extended schooling, as that was limited and cut short with his childhood abduction. Anthony is the most clever person I have ever met. It likely saved his life many times over. 

When he was injured severely, he no longer could fully be a soldier. Something the LRA leadership may have considered a liability. He could have quickly been shot and discarded as not worth keeping around, but Anthony had a skill they needed more than ever. He could navigate by using the stars, a skill his father had taught him and one that the LRA required as they could only travel at nights as the Ugandan Army had begun indiscriminately targeting the LRA with helicopter gunships during the day, likely saving many of his fellow soldiers. 

After this, Anthony was chosen to be a radio operator and code-talker for the leadership to, include Joseph Kony because of his ability to learn new skills. These skills made Anthony valuable in assisting the mission to end the LRA as a viable insurgency and save countless future child soldiers that would have been forced into that organization. 

Temperance can often elude someone who has seen even a fraction of what Anthony had seen. Often, former child soldiers become the most violent of militia leaders and perpetuate the abuse that was inflicted upon them. Anthony somehow managed to avoid any of these problems.. 

Like others of my CIA generation, I had many friends killed in the Afghanistan, Iraq, and others wars. After leaving Uganda, more friends were killed, and my wife and I was part of the notification of the family. Families that were essentially our own. It was my conversations with Anthony that helped me get through this. Someone who knew what I was talking about, but also someone that had already become the rock for many, and now me.

My interest in exploring the pre-U.S. counter-insurgency effort soon became a fascination with Anthony and Florence’s personal story. I believe a story could inspire former child soldiers around the world or anyone who thought they faced overwhelming odds that were not worth fighting.  Their story proved that it was always worth the fight. 

I started an amateur documentary and recruited my friends to assist as I was required to have other Americans with me to travel to this area of Uganda due to the remoteness and potential hazards. Matt Sullivan, Brina Bunt, Cara Dana and my future business partner Eric Oehlerich who along with Mark Rausenberger put the eventual documentary together with me. 

At the time, it would take us six hours to drive to Anthony and Florence village. It was as remote as it was when they were there as children.  After filming the documentary (eventually called My Star in the Sky) every day with the villagers as the actors, we would sit around the fire and eat. Very basic food cooked over the fire, and watch people tell stories or sing. No TV, no iPads, no nothing but people and a camp fire. People laughing, talking, and just being there in that moment.  

I don’t want to overly romantize it. Its was a tough life, but everytime when were driving back to Kampala and the urban diplomat life, the American with me would comment on how surprised they were at how happy they all were. How they would love to sit around the dinner table and just talk with their kids without the distractions of modernity.  It was the last in the pillars, living in harmony with nature.  It showed me that what really matters in not what you own, its who you are.

 Anthony was by all accounts a ‘Stoic and didn’t know it.’ 


The story of Anthony and Florence will soon be available for all to know as award winning New York Times best-selling author Mark Sullivan is in the final stages of a book on their life. A portion of the proceeds will go to the charity End Child Soldiering, founded by Eric Oehlerich and the author.

About the author:

Michael “Mick” Patrick Mulroy, is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, a retired CIA paramilitary operations officer from their Special Activities Center and U.S. Marine, an ABC News national security and defense analyst, a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute, a co-founder of the Lobo Institute and End Child Soldiering, on the board of advisors for Grassroots Reconciliation Group and on the board of advisors for Plato’s Academy Centre. He is also the godfather of two of Anthony’s son’s.  

Anthony Opoka

Christopher Phillips: The Socrates Café Movement

Christopher Phillips

Christopher Phillips, PhD, is founder of the global Socrates Café movement, dedicated to making ours a more understanding, connected and participatory world through rigorous, methodical yet accessible philosophical questions. Hundreds of ongoing Socrates Cafés and kindred groups have been established, including in Saudi Arabia, with people of many ages and walks of life at venues including community and cultural centers, libraries, universities and schools, coffee houses, hospitals, prisons, as well as via virtual platforms.

In addition to many scholarly essays, he has authored an array of general interest books translated into many languages, including the acclaimed international bestsellers, Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy, Six Questions of Socrates, as well as Socrates in Love, A Child at Heart and the upcoming Soul of Goodness. His various popular philosophical children’s books includes Philosophers’ Club and Day of Why.

Christopher has been Network Ethics Fellow at Harvard University, Senior Research and Writing Fellow at University of Pennsylvania, the first-ever senior education fellow at the National Constitution Center, and was recipient of the Distinguish American Leadership Award. Christopher’s newest book is Soul of Goodness: Transform Grievous Hurt, Betrayal and Setback into Love, Joy and Compassion. You can find out more about his work at ChristopherPhillips.com.


How did you become interested in this area (Philosophy)?

I had little choice but to become interested. As I write in my newest book, Soul of Goodness, when I was quite young my Greek grandmother, or Yaya, Calliope Kavazarakis Phillips, began to instill me with philosophical teachings that she herself had learned from her own parents. She was the oldest of eight, and as such in that matrilineal society (the oldest female sibling received and all inheritances, per tradition), she was a forbidding, astute, loving, incredibly intelligent and passionate person. Though I was raised in the Tidewater region of Virginia, I spent all my childhood and adolescent summers in Tampa, Florida, under my Yaya’s wing and tutelage. So while my friends back in Virginia were enjoying a leisurely break from the formal school year, I was being schooled by my Yaya, who took advantage of this time to instill me in all things bright and beautiful about my Greek heritage.

After immigrating (not once, but twice) from the tiny volcanic island of Nisyros, in the South Aegean, to the U.S. through Ellis Island and eventually settling in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, my yaya Calliope (named after the ancient Greek muse of wisdom and poetry) put out her shingle as a teacher of Greek language and culture. I believe she’s the very first one to have done that in Tampa.

As a youngster, I learned from my Yaya her unique take or slant on (what follows is notes I took when I was 11):

  • eudaimonia – Guarantor of human flourishing, wellness, prosperity, blessedness. Spirit of joy obtained through suffering and agony, when your heart is in another. “The one who lives well”—for arete—is blessed, prosperous and joyful.— Socrates, Plato’s Republic, Book 1
  • and atopos – Spirit of a wanderer rooted at home, apart from yet connected, out of place yet belonging, strange yet familiar, marvelous and distasteful – “This is a custom of [Socrates]: . . . he stands apart wherever he happens to be.”
  • and daimon – Divine voice of conscience, reflection, self-awareness, goodness
  • and sophrosyne – Spirit of a sound and healthy (good and just) mind and soul. Conductor of the spirit orchestra. Teaches you when to restrain and when to let loose, when to go it alone and when to team up. Socrates, Plato’s Republic, Book 4: “Sophrosyne . . . stretches through the whole, from top to bottom of the entire scale, making the weaker, the stronger, and those in the middle . . . sing the same chant together.”

As I write in Soul of Goodness, this is in essence “the chant of arete, a Hellenic Greek term for all-around excellence in all life’s dimensions. A siren song with sophia-scored notes, compelling you to lead a life outside common hours, marching to your own drummer. It does not lead one to set out to achieve the comparatively puny goals of happiness or the good life—goals commonly and scandalously misattributed to Socrates himself—but leads one to reach for kinds of excellence and joyousness on the other side of (or more likely, along with) suffering, agony, despair.

Even though I have since gone on to earn lots of lots of degrees, including three masters degrees and.a PhD, philosophy has remained earthy and down to earth for me, thanks to my Yaya Calliope, but in ways that inspire me forever to push outwards the bounds of creating, sculpting human ways of being

So I also learned about these rich concepts in ways that differ quite markedly from how they’re typically bandied about these days in academia and elsewhere. I try to set the record straight about them in Soul of Goodness, not as an end in itself but so readers can learn how to channel these concepts, which are also kinds of ‘spirits,’ I maintain, that can help get us through the most trying times.

I also was schooled by my Yaya Calliope about the pre-Socratics, about Zeno of Citium, to whom she took a particular shine; but her heart and soul was with Socrates. She gave me a collection of Plato’s Socratic dialogues when I was about 10, and I had but little choice to pour over it. Thankfully Plato, a poet and dramatist of the life of reason, was an engaging writer, and most of what he wrote wasn’t as over my head as I worried it might be. I became smitten with the Socrates he adumbrated – not just the historical version but latter versions that Plato featured and that also to me had an integrity and imaginative vision and intellectual honesty, even if that particular ‘iteration’ of Socrates didn’t exist in real life.

But these were not by any means mere didactic teachings. For her, the life of excellence and virtue hinged on cultivating what she referred to as the ‘Socratic spirit,’ a curious, fascinating amalgam of forces and practices and knowledge traditions that could see you through the most difficult times. I never really realized, until my father’s devastating unexpected death, how critical these teachings and practices of hers were in enabling me to see my way through all the terrifying ugliness that ensued in the wake of my father’s passing, and about which I write in Soul of Goodness – and not just as a memoir, but as a guide or path of sorts for others who themselves are experiencing grievous or extreme setbacks, reversals, loss, in their personal and private lives.

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

That’s a challenging question for me, in part, because I don’t consider myself a teacher (probably why I feel atopos in the academic cloister 🙂 – more of a ‘modeler.’ I consider myself an ‘openist’ (which is different that a ‘pluralist’), and by that I mean I try to be open to new discoveries, ‘surprises,’ paradigm shifts in knowing and creating, and to model and sculpt a type of persona, sensibility, ethos in which to live a life of conscience, excellence, integrity, boundless childlike curiosity.

Be that as it may, there are key Hellenic Greek concepts by which I live and do try to impart whenever given the opportunity. I sport a heart-shaped tattoo on my forearms with the Greek lettering for the concepts of arete and meraki. These are words I was brought up with on how to live. The one I would choose above all the others, since you have asked for one, is arete. As the great Greek scholar H.D.F. Kitto put it, arete is about being an excellent all-rounder, but with an ethos imbued, in which duty to self and to others goes hand in glove.

Christopher Phillips Tattoo

By the lofty benchmark of arete, we should, each in our singular way, strive to be excellent doers, thinkers, makers, strive to learn between and above and beyond any specific discipline or knowledge category, and strive for a kind axiological and existential way of being in which we never try to advance by self-aggrandizement, at the expense of others, but rather to immerse ourselves in this world in ways in which we’re always trying to make conditions more fertile for all our other fellow humans to be all to ‘be all they can be,’ always while cultivating a keener social conscience, sculpting ideas and ideals (and maybe imagining, discovering and realizing new ones along the way) that make our mortal moment one in which those who came before us would be most proud.

The concept of meraki (as well as others) is entwined (I say this as someone with dual Greek-U.S. citizenship) with this unique Greek way of living out loud, with passion, and commitment and joy, soulfully, rather Zorba-like – probably the towering public intellectual and philosopher Cornel West, my dear friend, a great Socratic thinker and unswerving supporter, would call it living a life of jazz, guided by an existential ‘Coltrane-ian’ ethos and pathos. In this way, you live with ‘Socratic spirit,’ with poetry and passion and commitment and unwavering discipline and stick-to-it-ive-ness that not only is about living an engaged present, spending yourself in a way that does justice to those who came before you (many if not most of whom had no opportunity to articulate much less realize) their more sublime aspirations, those present with you know, maybe starting with your own family and forever expanding outward the circle of inclusion from there, and those still to come, not just in the next immediate generations, but for hundreds of generations hence. I believe we’re largely lacking that kind of imaginative and empathic vision today in the age of woke and cancel culture and extraordinary polarization that can lead us to be isolated even from ourselves. All the more reason to try to model and example of how to live rightly and righteously, not in a one size fits all prescriptive way, but in a way that inspires others to find and chart their own unique path that always takes into account arete and meraki.

I have this tattooed on my forearms not so much as a reminder but an impetus that these are at the core of how I live. Socrates said in Plato’s Republic that all questions we examine should ultimately lead to greater insight into that question of questions, namely how one should live. But I think we need to cultivate concomitantly the spirits of arete, meraki, atopos, eudaimonia, sophrosyne, as we explore these questions – indeed, it’s sort of a ‘feedback loop,’ the spirits driving the Socratic method, and the method driving the spirits.

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

I’m not very practical by today’s benchmarks. Probably my most important piece of impractical advice is: you never know when your time is up, so give every day everything you have, take sublime risks if you have the opportunity, and try to do some good. Nietzsche said something to the effect that we shouldn’t requite evil with evil, but show those who have deliberately acted upon us and others in an evil way how they did us some good. But that can be too self-centered. I think we should, instead, when we are the victims of betrayal, loss, setback, and worse, because of the deliberate actions of others who may be filled with malignance, maliciousness, malevolence in this increasingly Age of Rage, that we should strive more than ever not to show how it did US some good per se, but how it drives us, more than ever, to DO GOOD, period. My own beloved father’s mysterious and untimely death certainly has, and all the ugly events that continue to swirl around it, more than anything else has made me even more driven to do what I can, while I can, to make ours a more heart-shaped world.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

That question has always resonated with me. I believe he posed that question at a high school discourse in 1967, as part of his speech’s overarching “What is your life’s blueprint?” theme. I never was called upon, by any legal statute (like conscription) to serve my country or world, yet for me it was incumbent to do so. I don’t really preach to others, but try to live by example. Here I am, nearly 63, and continuing to live on a wing and prayer, even though I have a family (a young one!) to provide for. It’s more important than ever to try to make ours a more connected and understanding world. One of our longtime Socrates Cafe organizers in San Antonio, Texas (we have over 500 Socrates Cafe ongoing gatherings around the globe – go to SocratesCafe.com to learn more), a wonderful retired educator named Marta Amezquita, recently wrote me to tell me, “I truly don’t know another person whose intent is to create community whose sole purpose is to deliberately make participants feel seen & be heard. It is the epitome of love.” I was deeply moved by Marta’s kind words to me, which I hope describe to the core all that I’ve sought to do this last quarter century (and more, really).

I relate in Soul of Goodness my formative experiences, living just outside of Washington, D.C. There I witnessed the aftermath of the riots after Dr. King’s assassination, bearing witness to ‘Resurrection City,’ a vast but temporary encampment that was a key part of the great people’s anti-poverty campaign in the Mall area of Washington, D.C. This drew tens of thousands from across the U.S. to give voice to the voiceless and address the glaring inequalities in society. I write in my new book about the serendipitous experience helping an overwhelmed single mother there that surely laid the foundation for everything I have done since. My grand aim in life is to make sure everyone not just has a voice, but the opportunity to develop, discover, contribute their voice as participatory co-creators of this world.

“No one recognized the linkage between, and drilled down into, Plato’s conception of a healthy soul and Shakespeare’s “soul of goodness” like the American transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. He is the only writer and thinker I’ve ever come across to link the two conceptions. In “Character,” Emerson tells us that “a healthy soul stands united with the Just and the True, as the magnet arranges itself with the pole; so that he stands to all beholders like a transparent object betwixt them and the sun, and whoso journeys towards the sun, journeys towards that person. He is thus the medium of the highest influence to all who are not on the same level. Thus, men of character are the conscience of the society to which they belong. Such a soul is the epitome of autonomy and social conscience, which aren’t at opposite ends of a continuum but inseparable.

from Soul of Goodness

Emerson then goes on to say that one with a soul of goodness escapes from any set of circumstances; whilst prosperity belongs to a certain mind, and will introduce that power and victory which is its natural fruit, into any order of events.

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

First, I’d encourage them to take part in a Socrates Cafe. There are gatherings everywhere, and I also preside over them virtually by Zoom, so they are welcome to write me so I can let them know when our next ones are taking place. (If you can’t find a gathering near you, we have a guide on our SocratesCafe.com website on how to start and facilitate a Socrates Cafe) One other way to learn about me is to dip or dive into my books, from my first ones, Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy and Six Questions of Socrates: A Modern-Day Journey of Discovery through World Philosophy, to my latest, by far my most intimate and personal work, Soul of Goodness: Transform Grievous Hurt, Betrayal, and Setback Into Love, Joy, and Compassion.

In part, they might want to accompany me on the journey to sculpt a soul of goodness – and they can do that in part by using the complementary/complimentary guide that my wife and life partner Ceci (whom I met at a Socrates Cafe! she was the only one who attended that magical evening, as I write in ‘Socrates Cafe’) lovingly put together.

We also have a Socrates Cafe Youtube channel, which features everything from mini Socrates Cafes with my daughters to exchanges with luminaries like Cornel West,
author of the class ‘Race Matters’ .

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

I would be thrilled out of my mind. (And the prominent Greek publisher Livanis, which sponsored my Greek citizenship application – it flew through in record time –
is publishing my newest book in Greek, so all the more reason to venture there, as well as also pay a visit the island from which my forebears came to the U.S. and where I visit whenever possible. My last visit to Nisyros starts off my Soul of Goodness – nowhere else on this universe to I feel more connected to myself, my family, and the immensity
itself, then Nisyros.

If I gave a talk or workshop, it’d likely center around, ‘How to question like Socrates?’ The artful framing, and answering, of meaningful questions, as timely as they are timeless, has in large measure been lost, I lament. A method of questioning, from scientific to Socratic (they are kindred – and I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the Socratic Method) without an ethos of heartfelt listening with all one’s being, is bereft of something critical. It would be interactive, and so I’d model it by actually having participants such a questioning love-in. I’d certainly touch on key influences in my decision to commit my life to spreading Socratic inquiry far and wide – starting with Socrates, but also including Hannah Arendt, Walter Kaufmann, Justus Buchler, and ever so many others.

When you learn to truly question like Socrates – not as a Socrates imitator or emulator, but as someone who understands that the best methods of questioning evolve over time – you learn better to ‘do’ like Socrates, because you become ever more imbued with the Socratic spirits about which I write in in Soul of Goodness – because make no mistake, daimon, sophrosyne, atopos, daimon, even arete and meraki, are comprised of spirits among other things.

In fact, I have held Socrates Cafes in the very agora area where Socrates once held court in Athens, and I lead off with that in my Six Questions of Socrates. I’d have at it in really immersive inquiry, guiding it with the Socrates Cafe method that I’ve sculpted and evolved over these past 25 years. I’m something of an accidental scholar and academic, and never dreamed I’d have three masters degrees (in the humanities, in education with an unheard-of specialty in Teaching Philosophy for Children), and in the natural sciences (with a specialty in DNA science), and then earning a PhD in Communications from an amazing university in Perth, Australia, long after graduating in 1981 from the College of William & Mary with a BA in Government. But through a serendipitous chain of circumstances, I did become a lifelong learner who straddles the informal and formal teaching and learning and doing disciplines, and I believe I’m a better human being for it. I’ve never aimed or sought to be a full-time prof, but I simply love to learn about things that give me more of a poetic-metaphorical approach to live and living, not as an end in and of itself, but that helps me discover more about what I can and must do to make life more worth living – and perhaps more worth dying for – for one and all.

My aim in large measure is always this: We simply must counteract the pervasive predisposition to think in black and white terms. We have to go back to thinking in nuance, to thinking in a dazzling array of colors in ways that lead us to continually reflect and to challenge ourselves, to explore the lapses and loopholes in any given way of seeing things, especially our own. There is a lot of preaching and proselytism these days, but not even of the kind of introspection that can lead us to mordantly yet gently examine whether our own ideas and ideals are all they are cracked up to be. The ongoing Socrates Cafe gatherings – hundreds of them now, the world over (I never dreamed it would become a global phenomenon, much less that it would have such staying power and even momentum after all this time) – are places and spaces where listen to one another with all our being, with all our might and mind, where we use philosophical questions as the springboard and platform to further discover uncommon common ground and forge meaningful connections, even or especially with those with whom don’t see eye to eye, but are my fellow beloved human beings.

Soul of Goodness

Olga Perdikouri: Hellas Revival

Olga Perdikouri

Olga is the Founder and Managing Director of Hellas Revival, a company organizing workshops, educational programs, and events based on ancient Greek themes, for visitors to Athens and students from schools and universities. She was born in Greece, lives in Athens, is the mother of a teenager, holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and MBA in Tourism Management, and is a huge fan of ancient Greek history!

Democracy event on Pnyx Hill.
Democracy event on Pnyx Hill in Athens

How did you become so interested in Greek history?

My mother used to work for the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and before that for the Salamis Museum as a guard. I was able to go with her to excavations in Salamis island and also I used to visit her at the National Museum very often. Although her position did not require any historical knowledge, she learned lots of history by listening to the tour guides who were explaining the sites and their history to the visitors. She would come home and tell me everything with much enthusiasm. I think she passed this enthusiasm to me over the years, and I am grateful for that.

Tell us about Hellas Revival. How did the company begin and what sort of workshops and activities do you organize?

Hellas Revival is a dream which came true. First, it was my love for ancient Greek history. Then, during my MBA studies in Tourism Management, our professors insisted that Events and Activities are the future of tourism. They were absolutely right and imagine that this advice came almost 20 years ago!

Moreover, when I became a mother, I realized that my son was learning much faster (and with less resistance) when we were doing things instead of reading them in the books. I used to perform historical facts for him and he was joining with pleasure. At the same time, he was bored during schools’ walking tours in historical sites and forgetting everything he heard after a day or two – I must admit the same for myself.

It really felt like we had become ancient Greeks philosophizing at the original ground of Plato’s school.

Finally, in 2011, I participated in a Philosophy workshop at Plato’s Academy Park. It was more of a lecture, but in the end, there was about 20 minutes for questions and answers. It was the most emotional part of the workshop, it really felt like we had become ancient Greeks philosophizing at the original ground of Plato’s school.

Then it hit me! People need to feel it, to do it, instead of just listen to it! I searched a lot to find events and activities based on ancient Greek history, philosophy, theater etc. There was absolutely none, except for pottery. So, I started organizing such myself, for parents and other associations, but back then it was more like a hobby than an occupation.

In 2019 I decided to create a professional organization, and this is how Hellas Revival began. It was not easy, not at all. Although I found hundreds of people with relevant university degrees and teaching experience, almost none of them could understand the interaction part. History and philosophy were seen as a lesson, or as many lessons, so my idea of making it possible for people with no previous knowledge to DO IT for a just a couple of hours, and have fun at the same time, sound kind of weird.

Eventually I found the right people and now we are able to offer interactive sessions of history, philosophy, theater, games and more. Plus, we do it in the most authentic way, with the original teaching methods, the original materials and of course at the original location.
This year we are organizing:

  • Experiential philosophy workshop at Plato’s Academy Park and Digital Museum
  • Self-enlightening journey with Aristotle’s guidance at his Lyceum
  • Experiential democracy workshop at Pnyx
  • Ancient Greek family games
  • Ancient Greek pottery hands-on experience
  • Ancient Greek theatre workshop

Depending on the program, besides adults, teenagers and kids can also participate. The Democracy Workshop is actually the only one in the entire historical center of Athens which is approved as educational program by the Greek Ministry of Culture. This allows us to bring bigger groups of students from schools and universities. And this is not our only achievement. We have been awarded as Unique Experience in 2021 and as Learning Experience of the Year 2022, for Attica region, by the Travel & Hospitality Awards.

What do you think is the most important thing that people can gain from your events?

Feeling like ancient Greeks! The best way to learn about the ancient Greek culture is to do yourself what these incredible guys were doing. People can combine their visit to significant archaeological sites with a fun and educational experience. We have open discussions, case studies, role plays, team games and much more. And believe me when I say, they learn a lot from it, and, most important, they remember it forever!

Just an example, during our democracy program, participants take roles from the ancient Athens social classes. A case study is given to them and then they have to think, speak and vote according to their role. Their speaking time is counted by a replica of an ancient greek timer (klepsydra), while their votes are carved on real ostracons (pieces of pottery). All of this while standing next to the ancient speaker’s platform, at the very same location where the Citizens’ Assembly (Ekklesia tou Dimoy) took place 2500 years ago!

Do you have any favorite quotes from Greek history or philosophy?

If you want to make someone wealth, do not give him money, take away his desires.

Epicurus

How many religions and life coaches are teaching this!?

From history, I always liked the story (we know it from Lysias speech) of the disabled man who tried to convince the juries that he deserved the state’s pension, against the accusation that he could still work despite his disability. Most people do not realize (and schools do not teach this) that most ancient Greek men had some kind of disability, simply because they were participating in battles very often (philosophers included). 2,500 years ago, the state was taking care of them, provided that they could not work. That says something about the culture of the society.

What sort of events have you organized at the Akadimia Platonos park? What’s the significance of this location for you?

As mentioned before, the idea of Hellas Revival was born at this inspired place. Furthermore, it is the place where we organize Plato’s Philosophy Workshop, which was the first program of Hellas Revival. In antiquity, this idyllic grove right outside the city center, was the ideal place for philosophers and their followers, since it was nearby one of the city’s Gymnasiums (place for training). Many philosophers used to gather there, so that they spread their teachings and theories amongst the youngsters. We know that Plato built his school there, although archeologists have not found the exact building ruins yet. Doing Plato’s philosophy at the place where this great mind used to teach, is a blessing, and –in my opinion– a duty.

Unfortunately, the Park needs lots of improvements, and only recently the municipality started organizing philosophy events. I am a member of the neighborhood cultural association ‘’Ηεκαδεμεια’’, which, since 2013, has pushed the state to develop the area according to its significance. Another goal is to create the Academy of Nations, this was the dream of Mr. Aristofron, the person whose money and will brought the archeologists here in the first place, 100 years ago. Even today excavations use his fund.

I was very glad to hear about Plato’s Academy Centre. Your efforts are crucial for the development of the place. We all need to raise awareness and your Center does this internationally. We hope that during the next years, both private and public sector will see the potential of the place and make it more accessible, more famous, and more interactive for the visitors.

I believe that each little step is important. For example, we encourage the participants of Plato’s workshop to put a public review, not only for the workshop, but for the site as well. A good review for the site is promoting the place. But even a bad review is good, it points that the place needs improvement, which is true (hopefully the municipality people will notice it).

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

They can visit our Hellas Revival website for information about our mission, our team and of course to view our programs. We are also on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. Besides promoting our programs, we post interesting information about ancient Greek history. However, the only way for someone to fully understand what we do, is to join one of our programs. We keep our rates reasonable and we have special prices for groups up to 5 people, which are attractive to families (usually with teenage kids) and to youngsters visiting Athens – and this is our goal, to be easily accessible and be able to spread the knowledge around!

Announcing: Socratic Method Virtual Conference

Socratic Method Virtual Event

How to Think Like Socrates

Virtual conference on reasoning like a Greek philosopher

If you’re interested in how Greek philosophy and the Socratic Method can help us think more clearly and 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 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 the Socratic Method, including effective and practical advice and strategies to think critically, reason more clearly, and protect yourself against misleading information and sophistry.

Program

  • Opening Keynote: “Socrates and Alcibiades: How to Think About Statesmanship”, Massimo Pigliucci, author of How To Be Good: What Socrates Can Teach Us About the Art of Living Well (30 min)
  • “Socrates as Cognitive Therapist”, 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)
  • “Socrates and Civility”, Alexandra O. Hudson, author of Against Politeness (20 min)
  • “How to Question Like Socrates”, Christopher Phillips, PhD, author of Socrates Cafe and Soul of Goodness, founder of SocratesCafe.com (20 min)
  • “Cognitive Therapy and Socratic Self-Doubt”, R. Trent Codd, III, CBT Counseling Centers; Co-author of Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors (20 min)
  • “Street Epistemology: How to Think about Thinking”, Anthony Magnabosco, Executive Director of Street Epistemology International (20 min)
  • “Self-Socratic Method for Personal Growth”, Scott Waltman, PsyD, ABPP psychologist and co-author of Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors (20 min)
  • Closing Keynote: “The Socratic Method”, Ward Farnsworth, author of The Practicing Stoic and The Socratic Method (30 min)
  • Q&A with Panel (20 min)

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

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

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.

Will it be too academic for me? While many of our speakers are notable academics, the sessions are aimed at a nonacademic audience.

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.

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.

Socratic Method Virtual Event

Trent Codd: Socrates and CBT

Trent Codd
Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors

R. Trent Codd, III, Ed.S., is the Executive Director of CBT Counseling Centers, a multi-disciplinary practice specializing in evidence-based mental health care with several locations across North Carolina. Trent completed his graduate work at the University of Florida and has extensive post-graduate training in several empirically-supported treatments. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Trent has authored and co-authored several peer reviewed publications and books including Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors: Learn How to Think and Intervene like a Cognitive Behavior Therapist. He can be found online at trentcodd.com.

How did you become interested in cognitive-behavioural therapy?

I developed a strong interest in behaviorism as a young graduate student, which led me to the writings of B.F. Skinner and other behaviorists. Consuming this literature led to my developing, among other things, a strong appreciation for philosophy. I am a psychotherapist and early in my clinical training the confluence of my interests in psychotherapy, behaviorism, and philosophy resulted in an admiration of the clinical applications of behavioral psychology.

Since most of the applied behavior analytic literature focused on the problems experienced by individuals with developmental disabilities, the literature pertaining to clinical problems seen in the psychotherapy clinic was immature. This is still the case today. Consequently, I gravitated to the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies where I encountered the writings of Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis, both of whom articulated the Stoic underpinnings of their psychotherapies. This literature is where I first contacted Stoicism. Subsequently, I became particularly interested in Socratic dialogue because it was so central to Beck’s Cognitive Therapy. I was also influenced by Massimo Pigliucci and Donald Robertson’s work on Stoicism.

It is important to take the time to determine which ideas are truly problematic…

Trent Codd

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

The most important concept that I teach people is that of identifying truly meaningful targets. By this I mean it is important to take the time to determine which ideas are truly problematic and play a central role in a client’s maladaptive emotional and behavioral patterns; it is easy for a clinician to be distracted by a range of problematic thoughts reported by a client that on their face appear to be clinically significant. This may lead to premature and ineffective intervention. For example, many troubling thoughts reported by a client are fleeting and will resolve given the simple passage of time.

Furthermore, not all ideas contribute equally to the distress a client experiences. A more sophisticated clinical approach is characterized by a clinician who is patient and resists the temptation to intervene until they are confident they have identified a thought or belief, in collaboration with the client, that truly matters to the difficulty of interest. That is, they have identified a clinically meaningful cognitive target. Analogously, an individual working with their distressing thoughts on their own would similarly be wise to learn to identify the key ideas that are central to their challenges.

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

Don’t believe everything you think. This phrase did not originate with me, but I think it perfectly captures the essence of the most important advice I have to offer.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.

Socrates

The modern version –

If I know anything, it is that I don’t know everything and neither does anyone else

M.P. Lynch

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

I would recommend pursuing reading in the area, such as our book Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors. I would also recommend pursuing experiential learning methods. One option in this regard is the workbook Mind over Mood.

I would also consider working with a good cognitive-behavioral therapist who is skillful in these methods. An effective way to identify this type of clinician is the international therapist listing maintained by the Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies.

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

An opportunity such as this would be an absolute honor.

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.