- How can philosophy help your life?
- What is Stoicism and why is it misunderstood?
- Nelson Mandela
- Viktor Frankl
- How applying some of Massimo’s suggestions transformed the life of one of his coaching clients
- The new book: A Field Guide to a Happy Life
- What is the difference between Happiness and Flourishing?
“This short book is a ‘field guide, ‘ written with busy non-specialists in mind. By dipping into its pages, readers can simultaneously develop an understanding of Stoicism and gain important insights into how best to live. Those who are already familiar with Epictetus will appreciate Pigliucci’s bold ‘update’ of Stoicism in the book’s closing pages.”–William B. Irvine, author of The Stoic Challenge
“A shrewd take on Stoic philosophy that’s one part inspiration and one part manual for cultivating resilience in daily life. Pigliucci’s prudent advice will have broad appeal among philosophically inclined readers of self-help.”–Publishers Weekly
“A wonderfully fun introduction to Stoic philosophy, bursting with practical wisdom and engaging stories. I particularly admire how Pigliucci revisits and reinterprets Epictetus’s Enchiridion while showing why we need a ‘Stoicism 2.0’ for twenty-first century happiness, and clearly illustrating how his version differs from the original. It’s an excellent book, written in Pigliucci’s splendidly lucid and accessible style.”
—Skye C. Cleary, author of Existentialism and Romantic Love
“An engaging introduction to the Stoic life through an updated version of Epictetus’s Handbook. An unusual and helpful feature is an appendix in which Pigliucci highlights his modifications of the original Stoic text to take account of modern thinking.”–Christopher Gill, author of Greek Thought
“Pigliucci reimagines Epictetus’s Handbook (a.k.a. the Enchiridion) and updates it for the twenty-first century. The result is a work more timely than ever, for it warns us of the dangers of superstition while it reminds us that reason and virtue are essential to happiness. Pigliucci speaks directly to us as readers and justifies his updates along the way. He thereby invites us to treat Epictetus and this very book as a reasonable guide rather than as an oracle from on high.”–Brian E. Johnson, Fordham University
“Pigliucci’s A Field Guide to a Happy Life provides a user-friendly manual for applying Stoicism to daily life in the twenty-first century. Stoicism 2.0 tweaks the philosophy in order to adapt it to the moral intuitions shared by most modern readers. It therefore provides a good place to start your journey when exploring Stoic practices.”–Donald Robertson, author of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor
“This is a bold, contemporary updating of Stoicism for the present day. Taking the ancient Stoic Epictetus as his inspiration, Pigliucci has rewritten Epictetus’s Handbook in order to update it, make it more relevant to a modern audience, but also to ensure that the core Stoic ideas shine through. The result is what Pigliucci calls Stoicism 2.0. This is a manual for living for those who approach the ancient Stoics as guides, not masters.”–John Sellars, author of Stoicism
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Tony Winyard 0:00
Happy versus flourishing Episode Four. Welcome to the podcast where we give you ideas on how to have a better life, how to get more fun out of life, how to get more of a more meaningful life. I guess they matter Massimo Pigliucci. He's a professor at a university in New York. And he's written a few books on this very subject. So he's very much an expert. So definitely someone to take some tips from one on how to have a better life. If you have just joined this podcast for the first time, why not subscribe so you get regular updates as to when new episodes come out, which is every Tuesday lunchtime? please do leave a review for us that really helps the algorithms to get the podcast shown to more people who may be interested in listening to it. And I hope you enjoy this week's episode. Happy versus Flourishing My guest today Massimo Pigliucci how are you Massimo?
Massimo Pigliucci 1:07
good. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Tony Winyard 1:09
Well, I'm Thank you for coming on. You're over in New York?
Massimo Pigliucci 1:13
Yes. Right in downtown Brooklyn right at the beginning of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Tony Winyard 1:18
You not a native New Yorker though?
Massimo Pigliucci 1:21
No, I'm definitely, definitely not. I was born in Monrovia in Liberia, West Africa, because my father was working there in supervising road construction for a British company. But I grew up in Rome in Italy. And then I moved to the United States when I was 26. So in fact, just a few days ago, I celebrated 30 years of living in the United States.
Tony Winyard 1:45
Wow. And what was it made you go to New York?
Massimo Pigliucci 1:50
That was it. That's an interesting question. It was the first time in my life actually where I made a decision based on quality of life rather than my profession. You know, I've been an academic all my life, you know, usually an evolutionary biologist and then a philosopher. And in an academic area, you really usually can't choose that much. You can't be that picky about where you're going to live, whatever, there are jobs that are good, you have to go and, and that's what happened to me. And then I was, at some point I was working at Stony Brook University, which is long gone, and it's about 40 miles away from New York. And at that point, that the city really started calling me the in terms of quality of life, I really decided that I should move to New York. And for the first time I moved in a place before I actually found a job there. So I was commuting there, from Stony Brook, which is like two hours by train each way for a couple of years. And then I finally decided, you know, I need to just get a job in New York and lucky for me, so University in New York was looking for a philosopher of science and they hired me
Tony Winyard 2:59
You touched on some of the things that you do, being into philosophy and so on one, so for listeners who maybe aren't so familiar with you, do you want to explain what it is that you do?
Massimo Pigliucci 3:11
Yeah, that's what my mother used to ask me all the time. And and I had a little bit of a hard time explaining it. Well, basically what a philosopher of science specifically does is we look at science from the outside, trying to figure out how it works. And think about it this way, there are actually three disciplines that look at science from the outside sociology of science, philosophy of science and history of science. So history of science, of course, looks at how science progresses over time, right? What happens, you know, how do new scientific discovery come about in terms of new historical historical trend in social settings? and sociology of science looks at the science as a human activity, which of course is characterised just like any other human activity by social structures, you know, power structures, and so on and so forth. And then philosophy, science looks at the logic of science. We are interested in figuring out how scientists go, scientists go about their work from a logical analytical perspective, what is the connection between scientific theories and scientific, you know, and experiments and observations, for instance? What is the internal structure of scientific theories? Are they How did they evolve over time, you know, in an analytic, logical fashion, that sort of stuff. It's a lot of fun, if you're into that kind of kind of thing.
Tony Winyard 4:33
And you say, you've been in academia for over 30 years now?
Massimo Pigliucci 4:38
Yeah, actually, I guess depends on when you're going to start counting. But if you count from my from the beginning of my doctorate, that's since 1987. So yeah, that's a long time.
Tony Winyard 4:51
Wow. And you've got what three PhDs haven't you?
Massimo Pigliucci 4:54
Yeah. It's kind of embarrassing. So the first one was in in genetics and that's from Italy from the University of Ferrara in northern Italy, near Venice. And that was kind of the the normal step to do. You know, I did I take I was I finished my undergraduate master's degree at the University of Rome, Lhasa piensa. And then I enrolled in this doctoral programme, and Marisa Ferrara. Then after that, I was looking for a postdoc in the United States. And because I wanted to get some international experience, and the guy that I was really interested in working with, was at the University of Connecticut, Carl schlichting. And we're still friends after all these years. But Carl, at the time, was a very freshly appointed assistant professor, so he did not have money, you know, grant money to pay for a postdoc, and he proposed that I would come as a PhD student and I said, Well, why would I want to come as a PhD student, I already have a PhD. And Carlos said, Well, you know, we're gonna catch a special deal. You will pay you more, you'll Teach lasts and you'll do pretty much whatever you want. I said, All right, that sounds good. And so that's that's what brought up the second PhD, which we, which is in evolutionary biology. Many years later, I was at the University of Tennessee and I had already gone through the, you know, standard steps of an academic career assistant professor as a tenured associate professor and full professor. And at that point, I was looking for something different to do, you know, sort of expand my interest in different directions. And I always had an interest in philosophy, since I studied philosophy back in high school in Rome. And the newest of Tennessee hired a brilliant young philosopher of science, Jonathan Kaplan. We started collaborating, we became friends and at some some point I, the father struck me as like, Hey, this is an interesting thing. So, so I proposed to Jonathan I said, Well, what about if I go back to school and run the Ph. D. programme in philosophy, you'll be my mentor. And remember, so I was a full professor with tenure. He was an assistant professor without tenure. So it was much younger than I was. So it was a little strange proposal that I met that I made. And in fact, True enough, Jonathan. Jonathan's immediate reaction was, how many glasses of wine Did you have today? And I said, none because I don't drink at lunch. And so we started discussing the thing and it happened. So I went back for three years, I was both running the laboratory at the University of Tennessee in the biology department. And at the same time in the evening, I would cross campus and take evening courses in philosophy. And during the weekends, I will work on my dissertation. In other words, for three years, I basically had no life outside of Memphis. But it worked out because then then what happened was initially I didn't actually mean to change careers shift career, I just wanted to expand my my interests and but then as I said, I moved to Stony Brook as a biologist and when I decided to live in New York, the first job that was available was in philosophy. And so I figured, okay, I guess I can apply to this one. And that's how this switch actually happened.
Tony Winyard 8:09
And so are you a full time professor in philosophy?
Massimo Pigliucci 8:14
Yeah, I'm actually one of those lucky bastards who have what is called an endowed chair at City College in New York an Endowed Chair is essentially somebody, one of our former students, made a lot of money on Wall Street and donated a few million dollars to city City College in order to endowed the chair that I have. And what that means is that not only I'm paid a summer salary, which is unusual for faculty actually most, university professors are only paid nine months a year, not during the summer. But more importantly, it's in demand comes with a research stipend, which allows me to travel for conferences, organised conferences, you know, this, of course, was before COVID then people could still travel but that's So there's a lot of discretionary use of funds that I can that I have at my disposal, and I have a reduced teaching load, which means that I can actually enjoy my teaching because I have, I only teach one course or two courses per semester depending. And that means that I can actually devote a good, good amount of time to prepare, you know, accordingly and then to do a good job with my students. So yeah, it's a very, I'm very lucky, and I'm very happy in the position that I have.
Tony Winyard 9:28
And so apart from teaching of philosophy, do you do some research or anything?
Massimo Pigliucci 9:34
Well, my research, you know, research in the humanities is it's a funny term to use, as we usually refer to as a scholarship more than research but yes, basically, except that my research is all about how science works as as any philosophy of science Therefore, I don't need a lab. I just need an internet connection in a library. And that's about it, which means that now that we're stuck in, you know, essentially semi quarantine. I'm working all day from my home office and it works okay, I can teach online as well. And you know CUNY has allowed provided both faculty and students with you know, decent tools for for doing online teaching. So things are actually remarkably good considering the general situation
Tony Winyard 10:26
At the university that you're at, do you just do general philosophy or do you specialise in any particular area of philosophy?
Massimo Pigliucci 10:38
Now I specialise in particular well, philosophy of science itself is a specialisation but even within philosophy of science, I actually do mostly philosophy of biology, which, of course, was my former field of research and which is, makes it easier for me because the I'm very familiar with the literature. But then there are other philosophers of science like there is a colleague of mine at City College who does philosophy of physics. And so she even though she's a philosopher of science as well, she is she does a very different kind of work working in very different areas of science. And then of course there is Stoicism, which is kind of strange because I don't have a background in in ancient philosophy. I'm certainly not an ancient philosophy scholar. But ever since I got into slices, my study reading stuff also at a on stoicism also at the academic level and and then at some point, people started asking me to write papers and book chapters and stuff like that, about stores. And so this has kind of become a secondary area of research. And for the listeners who maybe aren't so familiar with stoicism, explain what it is. Yeah, so Stoicism is a ancient Greek Roman philosophy of life. I think of it often as kind of analogous to Buddhism. Their their metaphysics is very different than the stoic and Buddhist metaphysics is very different, meaning that they think they have very different opinions about how the world works. But their ethics is very similar meaning meaning how we should live our life on a day to day basis. And so basically stoicism started started about 23 centuries ago in Athens. And it's a philosophy that teaches endurance that teaches virtue, by which we mean that we should engage in pro social behaviour being being helpful to the to the human society at large, as much as we can. It essentially teaches you to become the best meaning the most moral, the most ethical human being that you can you can be
Tony Winyard 12:41
You've done quite a few books on on the subject of Stoicism?
Massimo Pigliucci 12:45
Yeah, as soon as I get interested in something, I start writing books about it, and which, you know, it's just just the way I operate. Yes, I wrote three, the third one is coming out. In fact, in a few days, first one was "How to be a Stoic" which came out in 2016 and it's a gentle introduction to stoicism for the for the general public. It goes into the theory the practice a little bit and, and then it takes a number of specific topics or subject matters, like friendship, for instance or disease, you know, and how to cope with those or how to handle those from a Stoic perspective. The second one I co wrote with my friend, Gregory Lopez, and it's called "A handbook for new Stoics". And it's entirely devoted to practice it's basically a book of exercises. It's if you're really interested in practising Stoicism, that's the It's a unique book. Actually, I don't think there's anything else like that on the market. it really gets you from the beginning and moves you through regular exercises so that you know, just you can become a proficient practitioner of Stoicism, the one that is coming out now it's called "A field guide to a happy life". Essentially, it's a short book, it's 53 short sections. And it's very practical in the major goal is to update voices into the 21st century because you know, Stoicism is, as I said, 23 centuries old. And just like nobody today is a Christian, let's say in the way in which Christians were 2000 years ago, nobody is a Buddhist in the way in which Buddhists were two and a half millennia ago, you know, things evolve and philosophies and religions get updated. The goal of this new book is essentially to bring up stories into the 21st century to present in an only modern language, but also taking account of modern trends in culture, society, and even more than advances in science. I mean, this, the Stoics are very, at the vanguard of their the science of their time, but again, this was two millennia ago. So science has made a little bit of progress in the meantime.
Tony Winyard 14:57
And a lot of people really misunderstand what Stoicism is all about?
Massimo Pigliucci 15:02
They do and you know, it's like, like everything else there are there are misconceptions and stereotypes and stereotypes do have a little bit of a grain of truth in them but but then they distort many things. So typically, people think of Stoics as individuals that go around with stiff upper lip and trying to suppress emotions, right kind of Mr. Spock from Star Trek sort of thing. And that's not not at all what it is about, but there is a little bit of truth in there. So about the stiff upper lip stores ism does teach endurance. Because our conception of life is that certain things in life are up to us. And if if you can act if you can change things you should, it is in fact your duty to to change things for the best for the better. But if you cannot, if you can't change then then you only have two choices. Either you endure them or you throw tantrum. And throwing a tantrum is something that children do. And it's not very useful, and therefore you shouldn't do it. So the only alternative you have if you cannot change something is just to endure it. But that doesn't mean you know, the stiff upper lip kind of thing, because Stoics actually are very much into enjoying life, as it comes, in fact, very much focused on the living in the moment because we think that, that what what is happening here, and now it's the only thing that actually matters. In terms of suppressing emotions, there are two there is a little bit of a grain of truth, but but then there is a big distortion. What Stoics tried to do is to shift the emotional spectrum of, you know, the normal emotional spectrum of a human being away from what we consider unhealthy emotions, like anger, hatred, and fear and toward actively cultivating what we consider healthy emotions such as love, joy, a sense of justice, and so on. So it's not about selling emotions, but it's it's about cultivating mindfully cultivating the right emotions and mindfully trying to get away from from the unhealthy ones.
Tony Winyard 17:11
And people also have the wrong perception and Stoicism is that Stoics just take everything and don't really participate in life so much, which is far from the truth.
Massimo Pigliucci 17:24
it's kind of the opposite effect. Yeah. Because, Stoicism, one of one of the major things about Stoics is social and political environment. The ancient Stoics started out being politically involved. In fact, several of them, especially during the Roman Empire, opposed the tyranny of several of a number of emperors, including neuro Vespasian in the mission, and as a result, they got killed or sent into exile. The new book that I just mentioned, a field guy for a happy life is inspired by a second century stoic, whose name is Epictetus, and Epictetus. was a very prominent teacher of stoicism in ancient Rome. But he was also outspoken about tyranny. And so the Emperor domitian sent him into exile, thinking that he would finally get rid of him. And instead, Epictetus went to nicopolis, which is on the northwestern coast of Greece and reestablished his school there. And the school became incredibly successful, arguably the most important School of philosophy of the second century. And a lot of Roman patricians actually sent their kids to study with Epictetus and a later Emperor, Adrian actually became a friend and started visiting frequently, the school so so yeah, statistics are very much into social and political action. Except the only the only difference is that we try to do things that by keeping in mind that our efforts are up to us, in our decisions of how to act are up to us, but are the outcomes are not. So you You have to accept from the get go that sometimes you will prevail and sometimes you want and you have to be fine with that from the beginning.
Tony Winyard 19:08
Are you aware of any political leaders in any country that had Stoic leanings?
Massimo Pigliucci 19:15
The best example probably Nelson Mandela, the former South African president. He wasn't really a stoic per se, but he was definitely influenced we know that it was influenced by Marcus Aurelius meditations. Mandela is, you know, spent and a large number of, you know, a lot of years in prison during the apartheid government. And he was he was very, understandably very angry and full, full of hatred about that situation. But he wasn't getting but he realised that it wasn't getting anywhere with the anger and the hatred. And at some point, a fellow prisoners smuggled in a copy of Marcus Aurelius' meditations, which is a lot a lot of it is about controlling your anger and turning into a more pro social attitude. You know, turning your anger into something positive. And that's exactly what Mandela tried to do. And it worked. He started actually befriending the guards and even the guy that was torturing him. And, and trying to treat them as human beings who are misguided or doing the wrong thing, but, but not as, you know, evil or anything like that. And it worked. And, of course, he used the same approach then after the collapse of the apartheid government to establish his own government, you know, based on reconciliation based on reaching out rather than vengeance and anger.
Tony Winyard 20:39
You mentioned a couple of times in the title of your new book, as well as Stoicism is really about helping people to have a happier, better life in in many respects, and I think a lot of people just seem to get really intimidated by the whole subject of philosophy and well, most people have no idea what really Stoicism or any school of philosophy is about. so what I was going to say so, I've read your your previous two books and I recently got hold of a book of you contributed to "How to live a good life". and with your your new book that's coming out as well which they're all really about giving some great suggestions. This is my take on it anyway, some great suggestions on how life can just be better by taking on board some of those suggestions made by using examples from people from thousand 2000 years ago. It's a shame that they're not more widely known about because it could help so many people it seems.
Massimo Pigliucci 21:50
Yeah, that's right. And that's that's one major reason why I keep writing stuff and having you know, conversations like the one we're having is because I am absolutely convinced that it can help people and sure enough one of the really rewarding things about writing about Stoicism and talking about this is that I get testimonials all the time from people saying, you know, this changed my life, this is, you know, I'm handling my problems much better, and so on, it's where it's very nice to be able to actually help other people. Now, you're saying, you know, most people are not aware of these philosophies. That's true. On the other hand, I also argue that everybody has a philosophy of life, whether they realise it or not. Yeah, and and so, if you do, then it's better to think about it. And figure out if it's the right one for you, or, or if we can be improved. We for one thing, I think of every religion as a type of philosophy of life. Yeah, because I define a philosophy of life in a broad sense, as having three components, a metaphysics and ethics and a practice. So metaphysics is a is a picture of how the world works. Right? So if you are a Christian, of course, the world is the creation of a Creator God, who is it You know, benevolent and omnipotent, etc, etc. If you're a Stoic The world is, is a place where cause and effect is determines everything and and the laws of nature are just what you have to deal with in life. The ethics is about how to live your life, particularly with respect to other people. So if you're a Christian, you know, you're going to follow the 10 commandments, you're going to be inspired by Jesus teachings and, and so on. If you're a stoic, you use what we call the four cardinal virtues. As a moral compass, you asked yourself, you know, if what you're doing is virtuous, or you use several approaches that come out of Epictetus or Seneca or Marcus Aurelius and the in terms of practice, you know, if you're a Christian, you go to church, right? You listen to your preacher or your priest, you read the Bible or the Gospels, you pray, you know, you do those kind of things. And if you're a Stoic you do you engage in a number of practices including meditation, you know, writing your your in your journal so that you can reflect on your experiences and learn from them. You engage in mild exercises of self deprivation, such as fasting and things like that. So they're really very similar is a structure the content is different, but but the structure is very, very similar. So I think that, that everybody has a philosophy life and it will be good and it will be, I think, instructive for people to occasionally at least pause and think about, okay, so what do I want from life? And how am I how am I doing here? You know, before you get to the end of life, and then you look back and you realise that you actually miss lived it, but that you actually missed your chance of having a good a good life. We don't, you don't want to go there at that point, in that kind of situation.
Tony Winyard 24:55
And you spoke about Christianity just and my understanding is that stoicism helped form some of those major parts of Christianity when they were first put in the early version of a Bible?
Massimo Pigliucci 25:11
yeah, the early versions of the christian writings were definitely influenced by the Stoics. Paul of Tarsus, you know, known as St Paul, actually knew Seneca, his brother and he addresses the Stoics directly in one of his letters that survived. Other major early church fathers, including Augustine of Hippo, you know, St. Augustine, were aware of the Stoics and admiring of the Stoics. And the thing actually kept going throughout the Middle Ages and into modern times. For instance, the stoic Epictetus well he didn't write anything but one of his students put together a book called The Enchoridion, which is a manual for a good life and the Enchiridion was used throughout the Middle Ages by Christian monks as a book of spiritual exercises, so it was very influential through Christianity. Several of the early modern philosophers, including several Christian philosophers were influenced by Stoicism back to the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas and Thomas when he articulated the seven Christian virtues, he took on the four Stoic virtues and incorporated them into Christianity, the Stoics the four Stoic virtues are practical wisdom, courage, justice and temperance, to which Thomas Aquinas added faith, hope and charity, which are the more more typical Christian virtues. And the whole thing, you know, really keeps going into the 20th century and beyond. So like, probably, some of your listeners might be familiar with the Serenity Prayer, which was written by an American theologian at the beginning of the 20th century and it basically asks God the wisdom to tell the difference between what you can change and what you cannot change the courage to change what you can and the serenity to accept what you cannot. Well, that that notion is present in a number of other cultures. It's found in mediaeval Jewish thought, and also in eighth century Buddhism. But the the earliest version that we know of actually goes back to the to the Stoics, and Stoicism This is called the dichotomy of control. As Epictetus puts it, some things are up to us and other things are not up to us. And in life, what you should do is to focus on the things that are up to you, and then develop an attitude of equanimity and acceptance are the things you don't control.
Tony Winyard 27:41
You talked of the four Stoic virtues just then, courage, applied wisdom, justice, temperance; I'm guessing there's some people listening to this maybe not so familiar with what thye are especially temperance, could you explain the four virtues?
Massimo Pigliucci 27:58
sure and I'll give you also a practical example of how to to actually implement them in your in your day to day life. So, practical wisdom is the knowledge of what is good, really good for you and are not good for you and for the stoics. That knowledge boils down to. Anything that improves your character that makes you a better person is good and anything that undermines your character, it makes you a worse person. It's bad. That's pretty much the end of the story. Courage is moral courage, not just you know, the courage of physical danger in front of digital the physical danger, but particularly moral courage, justice means treating other people fairly with equanimity and and like you would like to be treated in return. And then temperance is doing thing itself essentially self control it doing things in the right measure neither too much nor too little. Right. Now, suppose that that I am in a situation you know, day to day situation I go to work and my boss sees is harassing a co worker. The question I'm facing now is, well, should I intervene or not? And so as a stoic I look at the four virtues, which I'm using as a moral compass, essentially a guidance to action. And I say, Okay, well, according to practical wisdom, I should intervene because intervening in that sort of situation makes me a better person, not intervening next me awards a worse person. So the answer the first answer is yes. In terms of courage, well, yeah, it does require courage, because this is my boss, so I could face retaliation, right. So it takes courage. So the answer is yes. In terms of justice, well, is it fair toward my co worker, you know, what I like? If I were in this situation? Would I like somebody to step in and help me out? Of course, I would. So again, the answer is yes. And then in terms of temperance, like well, so now now that I decided that I should intervene, how should I intervene? Well, I could simply mother Some some words below my, you know, my breath so that my boss doesn't actually hear me, well that's not enough, that's under doing it right. And at the opposite extreme, I could jump up and punch my boss on the nose, well, that's too much reaction that the situation doesn't require physical violence. So temperance tells me that I should do something in the middle, so I should speak, you know, forcefully, clearly, but also, you know, calmly and and try to address the situation. So that's that's the way essentially works. You're supposed to do these kind of quick analysis on of a situation pretty much everything you do, from the big things in life to the small ones. And initially, you know, it's like driving a car initially you have to pay a lot attention to it. You know, if you remember learning how to drive a car, especially a shifting stick, as I did in Europe, you know, there's a lot of things you have to pay attention to right in the brake and then the the gears and and the accelerator, and the Steering wheel and you have to look at the traffic light and the car is near you, etc. And initially it's a little bit stressful because you have to consciously pay attention to a lot of things. But then the more you do it, the more it kind of becomes second nature and becomes automatic, you don't have to think about most of this stuff, right? If somebody, all of a sudden cross the street in front of you, your foot automatically goes through the to the brake, it doesn't, you don't need to think about it. In fact, it would be inefficient to think about it because by the time you thought about it, you probably already killed the person. The same goes with the Ford virtues. Right? So initially, it takes practice and mindfulness to you know, to pay attention and say, Okay, well, so wait a minute, what should I do here? But the more you do it, the more you reflect on things and why you do things and how you should do things, the more it kind of becomes second nature and at some point becomes automatic. And in fact, Epictetus explicitly says in the, in the comedian that that's the goal that you shooting fast work to work These judgments about things becoming automatic so that you can do them as he say it as he says, you can, you should be able to do them even if you're drunk. Even if you're drunk, you should still be able to do what the know what the right thing to do is and do it.
Tony Winyard 32:14
And in the time that you've been teaching stoicism and writing books on it, and so on, Can you think of any examples where you've really helped to transform someone who maybe wasn't aware of any of these sorts of things, and by taking them on board, they have had a much better life or anything like that.
Massimo Pigliucci 32:36
Yeah, several and one of my favourite examples is a former client of mine I do from time to time I do something called philosophical counselling, which essentially applies philosophy in my case, particularly stoicism, but not only to people's like you know, life daily, daily daily life problems not we're not talking about pathologies when I'm talking about people were depressed or Moeller, anything like that you have to go to a psychologist or psychiatrist for that. But, you know, the rest of us have, you know, in fact, even those people, even after they go to the psychologist or the psychiatrist, they still have problems like, you know, friends and love and career and so on and so forth. Right. And so there was this this woman a few years ago that came to me with, you know, serious problems. She was, you know, going through a crisis, a life crisis in terms of, she was unhappy about her relationship status, about a job about her prospects in life in general. And, and so she wanted to try philosophical counselling and I don't actually impose of course Stoicism to my clients, I explore different possibilities depending on what the client's leaning is and what the specific situation is. But I had impression by talking to her very early on, that she would be responsive to sort of a Stoic approach to things and so I introduced her to little by little to Stoic concepts. And she responded immediately, very, very positively. And she wanted to know more. And we engaged in now for a little bit in what it's called babliotherapy bablio therapy simplest situation where I assign you readings, either books or essays. You do, you go home, do it. And then you come back in the next session, and we talk about it. And within a few sessions, like, you know, I forget exactly, but like four or five sessions, she herself, said, you know, this is really changing the way I look at things and it's, it's making my priorities much more clear. Now, within a year, she had quit her job, moved to a different country, and essentially restarted entirely her life. And I still keep in touch with her and she is much happier than she was at the time. Now, of course, I don't want to give the impression to your listeners that you know that Stoicism is a silver bullet. or a panacea You know, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't this is philosophy. It's not quantum mechanics you know, it's not it's not physics. It depends it depends in part on the on the individual independent the situation and also, of course, it depends on your efforts. You know, some people take it seriously and other people don't. But yes, I have a number of examples like that where, where things really did work out very well for people and they changed their lives.
Tony Winyard 35:28
Why do you think... for so long, Well up until the early first and second century, Stoicism was really popular, and then Christianity took over, but why do you think there's been a resurgence recently?
Massimo Pigliucci 35:42
I think we're living in a situation very similar for certain respects to the situation that led to the flourishing of Stoicism and of a number of other Hellenistic philosophies such as Epicurean, Aristotileanism and Scepticism and so on. So I think about it this way Hellenistic period was of major turmoil in the Mediterranean area. We're talking about the period between the deaths of Alexander the Great and therefore the collapse, the sudden collapse of the Macedonian Empire, and therefore the disorder and chaos and war that ensued, and the Battle of axiom of 31 bc where Octavian defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra, therefore, thereby beginning the Roman Empire Rioch Octavian became became the Emperor Augustus, the first Roman Emperor. So it's a it was a period of major turmoil that lasted like more than a century, century and a half. where people live seem to be completely out of control, things were spinning out, and he had no no way to tell where they were going and how what would you have to do in order to retain some degree of sanity? That is a period where philosophies personal philosophies of life, including stoicism, flourished a similar situation took place just a couple of hundred years earlier in India and gave origin to Buddhism. And a similar situation was happening about the same time in in China and gave origin to Confucianism. So this has happened several times throughout history in across cultures. Now if you think about it, Stoicism as well as in fact, Buddhism, and other philosophies of life have become more popular over the last few decades. And why might that be? Well, there's a number of reasons, one of which certainly is that between the 20th century in the beginning of the 21st century, we are living a hell of a you know, hell of a time if you think about it. We, you know, during the 20th century went through to not one two world wars. We still live you know, people tend to forget it, because not in the news very much. But we still live under the constant threat of nuclear Armageddon, because we have developed enough nuclear weapons to destroy the planet several times over. We live in under the threat of a global climate collapse if we don't do something about it. And we've seen a lot of, you know, political upheaval in the late 20th century, 21st century, we've seen now we live in the middle of pandemic, like, yeah, there is the reasons why people think that feel that the things are out of control, and then they can't, you know, they don't know what we're to do, what to do and where to turn. And that is one major reason I don't think it's the only one. But it's one major reason for the resurgence of stores and another one is actually the phenomenon of social media. It is now very easy to join, you know, online groups devoted to the discussion study of stoicism support groups. There is an organisation called the Stoic fellowship that you can join and they will direct you to other Stoic practitioners in your town, so that you can actually meet with people and establish what are called local stores. So social media has made it much more easy for people to Find out about the philosophy to to practice it with the help of people who are a bit a bit more advanced in the in the practice and so on.
Tony Winyard 39:11
In the the books you've published previously, Are you aware of any stories of people who discovered it who had no knowledge of Stoicism and found them really helpful?
Massimo Pigliucci 39:25
Yeah, here there are several. One of the most well known, I suppose stories is that of James Stockdale, as you may remember, Stockdale was a one time vice presidential candidate in the United States with Ross Perot. But for for a large part of his career, he was in the Navy and he was involved in fighting in Vietnam. And at one point he was shot down. his plane was shot down and and he spent like seven years, I think In what used to be euphemistically called the Hanoi Hilton, which was in high security prison in Vietnam, he was tortured. He was put in isolation, and so on and so forth. And he credits Stoicism and particularly Epictetus for surviving that kind of ordeal. And the way he discovered it was completely by chance, before enlisting, and moving to Vietnam, he went to Stanford University to do a master's in I think, political science or international affairs once, something like that. And one of the courses he had to take was philosophy. It was a kind of a general philosophy course it wasn't it was not a course about stoicism was a general philosophy course. But But at the end of the semester, the professor that was teaching the course. And James Stockdale had a number of conversations. And because James was interesting, was intrigued by a number of philosophical questions. And the professor said here, I know you're leaving. I'm going to give you this little book and that was the Enchiridion, Epictetus' book, I think that you find it useful and and you know, it might it might actually change your life, your life. And it did, because Stockdale read several, many, many, many times over The Enchiridion and really incorporated this notion of the dichotomy of control that I was talking about earlier that some things will happen to you and other things are not up to you. And he wrote a memoir, where he says that when he was when his plane was hit, and he parachuted himself out, and he realised that, you know, a few minutes later, he was going to be captured, and there was probably going to be years before he was going to be released. And, and he thought to himself, you know, what you're about to leave the world as you know it and entered the world of Epictetus, a world in which In other words, there is very little that is going to be under your control, because Epictetus was a slave. Initially, eventually was was freed and he became a teacher, but initially, it was a slave. So you He had very, very little under his control, he was entirely dependent on the whims of his of his master. So that's one example among many of people sort of stumbling into Stoicism is not because they were looking for a philosophy of life or not, because they were somehow particularly interested in Stoicism and then and then suddenly getting into it and and that decision making a huge difference in their life
Tony Winyard 42:23
In your new book is it called, How to live a happy life?
Massimo Pigliucci 42:28
It's "a field guide to a happy life. And the reason it's called a field guide is because life happens in the field in practice, and so it's a it's a reference to that notion.
Tony Winyard 42:39
So for anyone who's listening and is maybe intrigued by what you've been speaking about so far, could you give a sort of synopsis of it and how it might help someone who has no knowledge of any of this?
Massimo Pigliucci 42:53
Well, so let me give you a couple of examples. Maybe it's the best way to go about it. So I have the book In front of me, there is a short introduction about Stoicism in general and just for people who don't know much about it, and about Epictetus because as I said that these the major, major inspiration about the book, but but the bulk of the book is a series of short sections. As I said, there's 53. And the reason there is 53, is because that's the number that Epictetus used in his original version. The the field guide is an update to the 20th 21st century of Epictetus Enchiridion, so I maintained the same exact structure and I cover the same exact topics, just that my version is updated to the 21st century in terms of both philosophy and, and science, in fact, scientific advancements, so you can open the book does not it really shouldn't be read necessarily cover to cover, you can just open open in random and find a section that you find intriguing and some of these sections are like two or three paragraphs or maybe a couple pages long. Some of them actually want only one paragraph later. For instance, section 28 I can read it to you in your in its entirety. It says, suppose someone takes your body and gives it to someone else to do as they please, surely you will be upset now. So why is it that you don't get upset when other people manipulate your mind so that they can do with it whatever they please that this is think about it for a moment we live in an environment in a situation where there is fake news and politicians trying to manipulate your your life and and, you know, international corporations trying to manipulate your life and we just don't seem to mind we don't seem to object to this at all. But of course if somebody were to grab our our body and cut off a part of it or manipulate part of it, then we'll be absolutely outraged. And so the point here is like Why don't you stop and think about why it is that you're that you're not paying attention to certain things why it is that you're so disconnected we become so numb from about the general situation that you know, a lot of people say I keep running into people who say, Oh, I'm not into politics. It's like, what do you mean you're not into politics? I said, Well, it doesn't affect me. Of course it affects you. There's no way in on Earth, that that politics not gonna affect you. You can just let it affect you without knowing it, or or thinking or actually taking part in making decisions and you know, things like that. Section 27, the previous section says, nothing in the world is evil or for that matter, good. The world just is, it is up to us to decide what to do with whatever comes our way. This is a fundamental Stoic precept, that has to do with the notion that value judgments are not out there in the world, events and things and people don't come with a label attached to them that says good or bad. We make judgments judgments are things that we arrive at, on the basis of whatever information we gather about the world. So sometimes we cannot change the world as it is because it's outside of our power, but we can strip that each choose to think of The same exact situation in a very different way. For instance, let's say somebody loses his job, right?
Which unfortunately, during this pandemic is happening at an incredible rate, and you know, very worrisome rate, but nevertheless, losing one's job, you know, most people would immediately think of this as a catastrophe. Right? But catastrophe is a label that you put on a situation the objective situation is you don't have a job anymore. That's a fact. Right? That you can't with that one, that's a fact. However, whether that's fact is a catastrophe or an opportunity, whether it is you know, a horrible situation or or just a setback, in a way perhaps for you to move in a different direction that actually depends on your own judgement. You can think of it differently. It's up to you to think of in a certain way, and psychological research shows. That is very clear if people catastrophize that's actually a term in psychology. If it catastrophize things they don't, they can't move forward, they get stuck into this loop of oh my gosh, she's a catastrophe, I can't do anything about it. Oh, this is awful, etc, and you get stuck there. And things only get worse. On the other hand if people choose to say, all right, that's a setback. But I'm going to think about this as a challenge. Right? This is going to be a test of my ability to be resilient, that it's gonna be a test of my ability to overcome obstacles and things like that. Then they actually doing much better. Right now, again, this is not this is not to invoke magic. It's I'm not suggesting that all of a sudden, and you think differently about things and angry, everything is going to be fine. You're not going to get your your job back just because you think positively about it. Right? But the evidence is pretty clear that the Stoics are were right, that if you if you change your judgement about things that actually is going to change the way you act about about things and it is going to make it Difference in in the way you overdo overcome on actually whether you overcome your problems or your setbacks.
Tony Winyard 48:08
The title of this podcast is Happiness versus Flourishing, and obviously, well, you will know this word far more than probably anyone listening, you know, referring to eudaimonia. And, I imagine that you'll be able to give me a better explanation than anyone I'm likely to interview. What eudaimonia really is?
Massimo Pigliucci 48:31
So eudaimonia is often unfortunately translated as happiness. And that's, that's, that's a problem because for one thing, happiness is a little bit of a fuzzy concept. You know, happiness often simply refers to us. emotional state of mind, right? Oh, I'm happy to see you. Right. Or I'm happy that I'm having a gelato tonight for dessert or something like that. Clearly, that's not what we're talking about. If anything, we're talking about long term What sometimes psychologists refer to as long term happiness, which has actually has to do more with meaning in life than then happiness per se. Now, a better translation of eudaimonia is flourishing. Right? So it's a life of flourishing life that allows you to live in what is a satisfying, you know, good way for a human being. However, even that one I find a little bit problematic because it kind of favours certain particular ways of looking at at eudaimonia. I mean, the more general conception of eudaimonia is the life worth living. And there may be very different kinds of life that are worth living. Right. So for instance, let me give you an example. Nelson Mandela's life that I mentioned earlier, was definitely not a flourishing a life of flourishing. I mean, the guy spent 27 years in prison, you don't think that that's flourishing, right? It was not able to pursue his own projects, he was not able to have his own family and time to work until much later in life, right? So if you understand eudomonia as flourishing, you say, well, then too bad for Mandela definitely did not have a eudaimonic life. However, what he was doing had meaning. He was driven by a sense of injustice, he was driven by a sense of trying to help these people. And in fact, in the end, he actually prevailed he actually succeeded. So from that perspective, Mandela's life of most definitely worth living, even though, you know, a third of it was spent in prison. So that's what I think is a good translation of eudaimonia. The Stoics would say, look, of course, if you can, you should try to flourish if you can, you should try to pursue your projects have good relationships, you know, even enjoy pleasure. Whenever is you know, it's possible though those things are great. But what if you can't, what if you are in a situation where all those things are precluded to you because you're poor or because you're in a warzone or because you are, you know, in prison for the wrong reason and so on and so forth, then that would say your life may still be worth living if you try to live it in the best way that it's allowed by the circumstances. And the best way allow, but the circumstances always means in a way that is resilient and helpful to others. You know, one of the great 20th century psychologists was Viktor Frankl who wrote a book on meaning, you know, life meaning for for human beings for men. And Frankl spent, you know, World War Two, much of world war two in a concentration camp, which he barely survived. Right. And he thought that that experience even that experience was worthwhile. Not a good one. Not you know, it wasn't having any fun there, obviously, and people were dying right and left around him. But it was a meaningful experience because he spent much of that time trying to help his fellow prisoners. Right. And and that is what allowed him to survive in the first place, he had hope, because hope was not the result of this sort of vague notion that Oh, things are gonna get better. Because he didn't know that things were gonna get better. You know, you're in the middle of World War Two, you don't know whether the Nazis are going to win or not. But you don't have a sense of hope, because you're actually doing the only thing that you can possibly do that is meaningful under those conditions. You're trying to alleviate other people's sufferings, and it worked for him. And that's the fundamental message of Stoicism. By all means, if you if you can, if you're in a position to live a flourishing life, you should, but if you're not, that doesn't mean your life is not worth living.
Tony Winyard 52:41
You refer to Viktor Frankl; is there any evidence that he read any Stoic literature?
Massimo Pigliucci 52:47
You know, I looked into it because several people say so and it doesn't look like it. He was influenced by actually the existentialists more more than the Stoics. However, that said, there are other very similar traditions in modern psychotherapy, particularly rational emotive behavioural therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy, whose founders, Albert Ellis, and back were actually directly influenced by the Stoics that that we know for sure, because they write about it about it. These are some of the most successful evidence based therapies these days. And they did start out precisely because these people read, you know, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca and Epictetus and saying, Well, hold us hold on a second this there's quite a bit going on here that can be actually updated, you know, with, you know, confirmed by scientific research and large updated and actually put into practice so that people can live better lives.
Tony Winyard 53:41
Where do you see your future over the next little 5, 10 years Massimo?
Massimo Pigliucci 53:47
I don't I try not to think about the future.
What I do is I try to really live in the here and now. I run now I am enthusiastic about doing certain things. I I love teaching, I'm writing a new book that will come out hopefully sometime next year.
Tony Winyard 54:09
Is that for the Great Courses?
Massimo Pigliucci 54:10
Yeah, thank you for mentioning that the Great Courses, I just finished up writing 24 lectures for the Great Courses company, and we're going to record them sometime in November that's going to come out next year, the book that I'm referring to is actually going to be finished hopefully by next summer. And it's, it's about the very interesting in my mind, very fascinating relationship between Socrates and one of his friends and and students, Alcibiades, Alcibiades was an incredibly charming and charismatic Athenian general who was arguably half responsible for the disaster of the Peloponnesian War. And, and so the book is about the relationship between philosophy and politics basically, seen through the lenses to the lens of of these particular very, you know, fascinating relationship. So, in terms of the future, you know, I would like to keep doing what I'm doing because because I am excited about it and then finding meaningful, but I've learned, you know, I've went through enough changes in my life, that I know that I should should never say that, Oh, this is not what I'm going to do for the rest of my life. We'll see, you know, next year we might have this conversation and the situation will look very different and, and I might be doing something completely different. That is one of the things that Stoicism teaches you, as Marcus Aurelius puts in an interesting way, he says that whenever there is an obstacle in front of you the best thing to the worst way to think about it is not as an obstacle, not not insisting in banging your your head on the wall, but in finding a way in other path finding a way around the obstacle as as sometimes the concept is presented, you know, the obstacle becomes the way so I have no idea what obstacles life will put my way. Over the next year or five years or 10 years, but I, I hope that my story practice as prepare me for acting and reacting in the best way possible and you know, we'll see whatever the path is going
Tony Winyard 54:12
I think what you're really telling me is by the time we next meet, you'll be doing a fourth PhD!?
Massimo Pigliucci 56:20
I hope that I'm done with that kind of stuff, but you never know
Tony Winyard 56:25
If people want to find out more about you and your books and what you do, where would they go.
Massimo Pigliucci 56:31
There is a place where everything about me is kind of archived and stored and linked and everything and it's a site called www.MassimoPigliucci.com People can also find me on Twitter @MPigliucci
Tony Winyard 56:51
And you have a daily podcast as well.
Massimo Pigliucci 56:54
I do. It's called Stoic Meditations. It comes out every day during the week. It's very short thing. It's about five minutes long and the way it came out is because, as part of my practice, I do one of those meditations every day, which basically consists in opening a random writing of the ancient Stoics, reading a couple of paragraphs, and then reflecting for a few minutes about what that means and how it may apply to my life. And then at some point, I realised that, just in the way it is useful to me, maybe useful to other people. And so I turned that into a podcast. And now we're, I think we're about 650 episodes and like, almost 5 million downloads. So apparently, I was right. Some people do find it useful
Tony Winyard 57:36
It is excellent. I've listened to it many times. Yeah, it's very, it's very short. So I think everyone could really fit it into their day.
Massimo Pigliucci 57:43
Tony Winyard 57:45
And so just before we finish, Massimo, apart from your own wonderful books, is there a book that you would recommend to listeners that they they might really enjoy?
Massimo Pigliucci 57:57
Well there is a lot, of course, there's a lot of them I'm thinking about things that I'm reading right now. And I'm really enjoying an historical novel called Augustus by John Williams. And it's really interesting, it's about the first Roman Emperor. And it's fascinating because it's written as an epistolary novel. So it's a series of letters that either Augustus himself or some of his friends or some of his enemies write to each other. And it's fascinating because not only not just if you're interested in in Roman history, which of course I am, but just if you're interested in the human condition, because it touches on the connection, the relationship between personal life and political life, the relationship between power and friendship and love. So these are universal themes that and Augustus as a, main character in the novel just happens to be an excuse basically, for John Williams to talk about about it. But it's a fascinating book. I highly recommend.
Tony Winyard 59:02
And before we finish, is there a quotation that you particularly like?
Massimo Pigliucci 59:08
Sure, and this is what has to be by Epictetus is is one of the very first things that I read by Epictetus. And it goes something along the lines of, "Well, if I have to die, I die now, but it doesn't look like now it's the time for my death. Therefore, I need to think about lunch". And it's a great example of Epictetus sense of humour and practicalities, like sure. You know, thinking about death is important. You want to prepare about that, but it doesn't look like it's happening now. And there are more pressing things to do like having lunch. So let's talk about those
Tony Winyard 59:44
Wasn't that when we was about to be sentenced or something like that happened?
Massimo Pigliucci 59:48
We don't know what the context is that but yes, actually, that you're right, you're right. there is actually quoting somebody and it was was a Roman senator, a Stoic Roman senator who was in fact, waiting for condemnation. And because he was opposed to the Emperor and when his friends came to with the verdict he asked, so is it death or exile? And they said it was exile. Oh great. And do I get to keep my property outside of Rome or not? And his friend said, Yeah, you do keep keep your property. And so the guy said, Okay, then let's go out for lunch. That's clearly the thing to do at this point.
Tony Winyard 1:00:33
He did have a good sense of humour.
Massimo Pigliucci 1:00:36
Absolutely. he had a sense of humour and to some extent, bordering on sarcasm, but it's the kind of constructive sarcasm, makes you realise things, look at things in a way that we normally don't look at
Tony Winyard 1:00:49
Massimo, I really appreciate your time and the wonderful nuggets of wisdom that you shared over the last hour. So thank you very much.
Massimo Pigliucci 1:00:57
It was a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Tony Winyard 1:01:02
Next week is Episode Five, of Happy versus Flourishing. And my guest is Simon Jordan, who has done many things. He set up an organisation A few years ago, called Five Things Clear, which was to try to battle the situation with people just leaving rubbish all over the beaches and forests and streets and, and he encouraged people to try to pick up five things a day, and take a photograph of them and an app was created. within a very short space of time, millions of items were being picked up. And photographs were coming in from all over the world, not just this was in the UK that this was started, but it soon spread all over the world. He's also he is a branding expert. He coaches people in branding and marketing. He swims in the sea every morning off the coast of England, he's quite a character. That's next week's edition of Happy versus Flourishing with Simon Jordan. Hope you've enjoyed this week's show. Maybe share it with someone who you think would get some real benefit from some of the tips that Massimo gave on, on how to improve your life, how to have a more meaningful life. Why not subscribe and leave a review for us. That really helps us get the show to more people. In the meantime, hope you have a great week.
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