Agora Speaker Series 2020 - Professor Dirk Baltzly

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Nothing really helps you unless it is true – Stoicism and self-help

Times are tough. Should you take a leaf from the books of Epictetus, Seneca or Marcus Aurelius to cope? Novelist and journalist Brigid Delaney says the answer is Yes, it’s a good time to read the Stoics. In this brief discussion, I’ll present some of the ethical, epistemological and metaphysical costs that come along with the putative benefits of Stoicism.

The writings of the Roman Stoics like Epictetus stand apart from earlier ancient moral philosophy by virtue of being particularly concerned about how the reader should internalise Stoic theory so as to live like a Stoic. But this does not mean that the Roman Stoics were unconcerned with theory. The reason is simple and this reason shines a spotlight on an important distinction between (at least some) contemporary self-help writing and ancient philosophy. The Stoics (and Aristotelians and Epicureans) would insist that nothing really helps you unless it is true. The Stoics would insist that you should not put on the armour of Stoicism unless you are satisfied that its essential claims accurately represent the objective facts about what it takes to lead a good life.