Sunday, March 9, 2008
First Aired: 
Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What Is It

People who don't seem affected by emotions are often called "stoic."  But there's a lot more to Stoicism than simply being unaffected.  Stoicism dates back to ancient Greece and Rome and offers a comprehensive approach to living life.  Who were the original Stoics?  What were their arguments?  And is being stoic a good idea?  John and Ken delve deep into Stoicism in this episode with John Cooper from Princeton University.

Listening Notes

John and Ken begin by noting the incredible influence that Stoicism has had on our culture--it even has an adjective/noun that is part of normal speech! But is Stoicism applicable today? And does it mean more than just emotional attachment? John and Ken discuss the wide range of issues Stoic Philosophy covers and some of the famous philosophers of the movement. John talks about his inner Stoic and how appreciative he is of this ancient philosophy.

Ken introduces John Cooper, Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University and author of many works on ancient philosophy, including Stoicism. John asks John Cooper about the wider scheme of Stoic philosophy, since most people's knowledge of Stoicism is limited to the prototypical silent emotionless Stoic character. John Cooper discusses the metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and phenomenology of Stoicism, as well as how this philosophical movement was one of the first to have such a systematic and encompassing foundation.

Ken returns the discussion to the Stoic view on emotions. What are emotions? Which emotions are okay to have if you're a Stoic, and which lead you astray? John Cooper discusses the differences between emotions and what the Stoics see as the problem with becoming too emotional in daily life. Ken questions some of these arguments, and John Cooper explains that even in ancient times many people had difficulty agreeing and comprehending some of their claims about emotions and happiness. Isn't it normal and good to be overcome with happiness or sadness about truly great or horrible things? What is wrong with being attached to our lives and feeling strongly about what happens to us? John Cooper tries to answer these questions and more from a Stoic perspective.

John Cooper, John Perry, and Ken Taylor respond to listener comments and questions about Stoicism ranging from the strange metaphysics of "bodies" and the relationship between Stoic ideas and Buddhist philosophies.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 4:05): Polly Stryker interviews William Stephens, Professor at Creighton University and expert on Stoicism to dispel some common misconceptions about this ancient philosophy and learn how it can help us in modern life.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 49:37): Ian Shoales takes us on a trip through Stoic history and illuminates some Stoic teachings at lightning speed in this installment of the fastest philosopher we know.