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Philosophy Workshop: The Stoic Art of Living (Part 2) — Providence and the World

April 18 @ 10:00 am - 12:30 pm


In the final chapter of his Handbook, Epictetus quotes a few lines from the “Hymn to Zeus” written by the earlier Stoic philosopher Cleanthes:

Guide me, O Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
To wheresoever you have assigned me;
I’ll follow unwavering, or if my will fails,
Base though I be, I’ll follow nonetheless.
               (Epictetus, Handbook 53, trans. Robin Hard)

For the ancient Stoics, sentiments like these were a profound source of comfort.  But for many modern people, they might seem overly fatalistic, even insane, if they encourage us to ignore evil and suffering in the world.  So why the difference?  That’s what this workshop will try to uncover. 

This workshop represents part 2 of a 2-part series on the Stoic art of living.  Here, we’ll go “under the hood” to explore what philosophical machinery might be needed, to get Stoic ethical views to actually work.

The ancient Stoics, like philosophers of other traditions, described a world that was characterized by providence, and they defended that worldview with a variety of arguments.  There are two basic claims:

  1. The world is basically, essentially, at bottom, good.
  2. The Gods exist, and take an interest in each of us as individuals, personally.

These views, along with a helping of determinism in the physical world, are supposed to provide the foundation we need for Stoic ethics.  (The first claim is also the direct opposite of the Buddhists’ description of the world as basically, at bottom, characterized by suffering.)

In this workshop, we’ll look at:

•     How the ancient Stoics defended these two positions. What are their arguments?  And how, if we’re able to prove these two claims, do they help Stoic ethics make sense?

•     How ancient philosophers from other traditions (especially Platonism) defended these same two positions, in very different ways. This will give us a sense for some alternative routes to the same destination.

•     What happens if we reject either or both of these positions. Does it still make sense to act the way Epictetus and his fellow Stoics suggest, if we don’t share their belief in providence?

As we examine these issues, we gain new insight into the ancient philosophers, and also, more generally, into the ways that our beliefs about how the world is (i.e., physics) provide important foundations for how we should respond to the world (i.e., ethics).

We’ll leave the workshop with:

•     A deeper understanding of the traditions and arguments;

•     New, richer questions to ponder and explore; and

•     Suggestions for further reading and study

Workshop Leader: David Nowakowski.  No background in philosophy is required to participate in this workshop.  All ages welcome. FREE.  $15-$30 suggested donation (if you are of the means to do so).  Donations help to cover workshop leader honorariums and community “workshop scholarships” for those in need.  

Light snacks & hot tea provided. Space is limited.  Learn more about the workshop leader & reserve your spot here! 


Reeder’s Alley Interpretive & Convention Center
101 Reeder's Alley
Helena, MT 59601 United States
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Marisa Diaz-Waian
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