A quick browse of the self-help section of your local bookstore will show you that Stoicism has become popular in the last decade or so with a strong surge during the pandemic. In this week’s discussion, Peyton Bowman and I discuss this phenomenon alongside my own interest in the ethics of the ancient world and my dissatisfaction with contemporary moral systems — something I discussed in this essay which we discuss.
Peyton suggests that Stoicism is appealing because it speaks to our need to take what ends we’re required to achieve in our jobs and our life and to make the most of our situation. Modern Stoicism seems to emphasize what’s sometimes called the dichotomy of control, an idea traced back to the 1st-2nd century philosopher, Epictetus.
People, he believed, can’t be held responsible for things beyond their control — it’s essentially pointless, then, to worry about anything except that which one can control. In the modern context, Peyton contends that this makes the philosophy extremely compatible with people inside organizations or bureaucracies which dictate the ends to which people’s work will be directed — those people being the means of achieving those given ends. Of course, as a system of ethics, modern Stoicism is not blind to the worth or otherwise of our labour — and has its own ideas about how virtue works in the modern world — but this along with other aspects of ancient Stoicism seem to receive less emphasis.
Towards the end of the discussion, I talk about Effective Altruism, what a great thing it is, and also how much it bugs me and why :) If you’re like me and you prefer listening to watching and listening, the audio is here.