Stoics

Marcus_Aurelius

Portrait Convener

Christopher Gill, University of Exeter

Introductory lecture (mp3 file)

 


Readings

  • Christopher Gill, ‘Stoics on Integrity‘. The text of a lecture given at York University in 2014 which discusses these Stoic ideas and consider how they relate to modern moral theories and to questions we (moderns) might raise about these ideas.
  • Various passages from Stoic philosophical sources and from Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus (Stoic or Stoic-influenced writers).
  • Christopher Gill. Lecture notes 1: a study of the main philosophical argument of Cicero, On Duties 3
  • Christopher Gill. Lecture notes 2: a study of the relationship between this work and Cicero’s political life in 44-43 at the time when he was deciding to challenge Mark Antony (a challenge that cost him his life- he was executed in 43 by Antony and others when they gained supreme power at Rome
  • Christopher Gill, ‘Marcus Aurelius: Philosophy and the Rest of Life’, in M. van Ackeren and J. Opsomer (eds.), Selbstbetrachtungen und Selbstdarstellungen: Der Philosopher und Kaiser Marc Aurel in interdisziplinären Licht. (Reichert, 2012), 35-64.

Background reading

  • John Sellars, Stoicism (Acumen, 2006), chapter 5, ‘Stoic ethics’. For a general introduction to Stoicism.
  • Oxford World Classics, Marcus Aurelius Meditations, trans. R. Hard, introduction and notes by C. Gill.
  • Cicero, Selected Works (Penguin Classics), trans. M. Grant, which contains On Duties 3 as well as letters by Cicero and his speech attacking Mark Antony (the Second Philippic).

Introduction to readings

Stoicism was a philosophical movement that was highly influential for about five centuries (3rd century BC – 2nd century AD). It was noted for its ethical rigour – sometimes regarded as unrealistic in its demands – and was also a special source of influence on Roman politicians in the late Republic and Early Empire as a ‘philosophy for life’. In this session, I suggest we focus on two main questions. First of all, what did the Stoics think about integrity and what does it have to offer us, moderns, in thinking about this quality? The Stoics, like all ancient ethical thinkers, assumed an intellectual framework we now characterise as ‘virtue ethics’ and ‘eudaimonism’ (happiness-centred theory). The distinctive features of Stoic thinking about integrity derive from distinctive features of their version of this framework: notably their conviction that virtue, by itself, constitutes happiness and that all human beings are capable of developing towards recognising the identity of virtue and happiness in a way that reshapes their whole pattern of one’s emotions and desires. Their thinking about psychological and ethical cohesiveness and wholeness (‘integrity’ in this sense) derives from this conviction.

Secondly, I want to ask: how did this idea of integrity work out in practice, in the lives of those influenced by Stoic ideas. I take two case-studies. One is Marcus Aurelius, the second-century AD emperor whose Meditations (an unpublished philosophical notebook) give us a unique insight into the thoughts and world-view of a politician and emperor during a period of huge external pressure (168-180 AD), when he was both directing the Roman empire and leading an army in Germany to protect the borders of the empire from invasion. Another is that of Cicero, the Roman Republican orator, politician and intellectual, writing at the end of his life (44-43 BC), when he was deciding how to respond to what he saw as the emerging tyranny of Mark Antony (following the assassination of Julius Caesar in March 44 BC). I am interesting in exploring questions such as: how far did Stoicism help to provide these men with an ethical framework that underpinned (what they saw as) integrity in their political lives, including periods of great stress and demand? How did Stoicism link up with other important influences on these people, including, in Marcus’ case, the example of his adoptive father and predecessor as emperor (Antoninus Pius), and, in Cicero’s case, the social and political ethos of Roman republican aristocratic life? How far can we recognise the way that they responded, as emperor or politician, to challenges and crises as ones that express ‘integrity’ either in their terms (Stoic or Roman) or ours?

 

If anyone want to have any more reading recommended or provided feel free to contact me at C.J.Gill@exeter.ac.uk.


3 Responses to Stoics

  1. Hi all, Just to let you know that Chris Gill has asked if the session on the Stoics (February 27th 2015) could run 3pm–6pm (an hour later than usual) to allow him time to get up to Newcastle from Exeter on Friday. Let me know if this is going to cause anyone a major problem. Rachael

  2. Readings for Chris Gill’s workshop on the Stoics are now available. I have a copy of his ‘Marcus Aurelius: Philosophy and the Rest of Life’ which I will be happy to send you by email should you require it.

  3. ack77 says:

    The audio track of Christopher Gill’s introduction to the reading group session on the Stoics is now available here on the website.

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