We continue our series of posts, following our tradition of asking presenters at the main Stoicon conference and at the local Stoicon-X events to provide transcripts or summaries of their presentations. Each year, quite a few of those presenters do that, and we usually run those posts well into the following year. This post is by Massimo Pigliucci, who spoke on the topics below at the main 2020 Stoicon

There has been much talk of late regarding the possibility, and even desirability, of updating Stoicism for the 21st century. So I gave it a try with my new book, A Field Guide to a Happy Life: 53 Brief Lessons for Living, which is nothing less than a section-by-section rewrite of one of the classic texts of Stoicism: Epictetus’ Enchiridion.

Two questions immediately spring to mind: first, why? And second, who the hell are you, Massimo, to pretend to update none other than Epictetus? I’m glad you asked.

To begin with, does Epictetus, or Stoicism more broadly, actually need an update? Yes. And this should not come as a surprise at all. Stoicism is a philosophy of life, similar to Buddhism, Confucianism, Epicureanism, and so forth. It is also similar to a religion like Christianity, not in the sense that Stoics go to temple to venerate Zeus (Cleanthes’ hymn notwithstanding), but because religions themselves are types of life philosophies.

Typically, religions and philosophies of life come equipped with three components: (i) a metaphysics, that is, an account of how the world works; (ii) an ethics, that is, an account of how we should behave in the world, more or less connected to the metaphysics; and (iii) a set of practices to help us live our chosen ethics.

For instance, Christianity’s metaphysics includes a creator God who is benevolent,

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