This course has concessions available

The Stoics

Available Classes:

Who is this course for

This course would be a great choice for someone who has studied a little philosophy before - particularly if they have already completed some of the Intermediate Philosophy courses at Mary Ward Centre. If you are completely new to philosophy, then the Philosophy for Beginners course we offer would be wiser choice. However, anyone with an interest in Stoic philosophy and an enthusiasm to discuss its meanings is most welcome. It is not expected that you will have great prior proficiency in Stoic writings, as this is what the course will provide.

What does this course cover

This course will provide a comprehensive introduction to the thought of the Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome in its first half, before considering commonalities of approach and influence in other cultural traditions. It begins in the Stoa Poikile (or painted porch) of the marketplace in ancient Athens, where Zeno of Citium and his followers would meet to discuss how one might live a good life. In a space both public and marginal (Zeno could not afford a proper site, unlike Plato or Aristotle), these early Stoics pursued a form of eudaimonia that consisted in living in accordance with nature. We will follow how Stoicism travelled from Greece to Rome, its influence spread first through the freed slave and philosopher Epictetus, up to influencing the summit of Roman power and society, in Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. How did such a practical, ethically-minded outlook speak to so many? We will explore and debate the ideas of Marcus and Seneca in depth.

We will ask, as the ancient Stoics did: what aspects of human life are truly under our control? What is the balance between living frugally and with nature against living a rich, enjoyable human life? How does an awareness of death and dying heighten a desire to live? How can a philosophy aimed at neutralising painful emotions avoid desensitising oneself from the ability to feel altogether?

Our first four weeks tour through Zeno, Epictetus, Marcus and Seneca. Stoicism was a gender-egalitarian philosophy. While writings by female Stoic philosophers do not survive, we will reconstruct the core ideas of figures like Porcia Catonis and Fannia. From there, we expand our focus to consider Stoicism as a kind of broader philosophical outlook, associated with self-knowledge, compassion and living respectfully with nature. We will explore its commonalities with Buddhism, using the Dhammapada, as well as in the poetic reflections of 11th century Persian mathematician, Omar Khayyam. We explore Stoic themes in the Jewish philosopher Maimonides. We then turn to a Neo-Stoic revival in Renaissance Europe, reflected in the soul-searching essays of Michel de Montaigne, the melancholia of Hamlet and King Lear by Shakespeare, as well as themes of death, vanitas and memento mori in Renaissance art and poets like John Donne. Our final sessions turn to how Stoicism has influenced modern psychotherapy. We explore Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and explore how classic Stoic ideas influenced Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis in the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. We will conclude by asking what Stoicism means today. Claimed by thinkers as diverse as Jordan Peterson and Martha Nussbaum, what does it mean to live with nature, and as a citizen of the world, today?

At the end of this course, you will be able to:
- Explain how the Stoics inform topics in philosophy, psychology and ethics
- Discuss a range of Stoic thinkers and what their approaches have in common
- Recognise how Stoic themes are also present in other religious, cultural and literary traditions
- Reflect with greater confidence on the core Stoic proposal: how should I live?

What will it be like

The course will combine an initial lecture, class discussion, close readings and small group work. Videos and clips will be used to supplement class-based activities. At times we will discuss explore the topic through artwork, everyday life, current affairs, film, music and literature. There are opportunities for further discussion and reading outside of the class via the course Moodle webpage. These classes are particularly organised around open-spirited, warm and generous discussion.

What else do you need to buy or do

There are many good introductory guides to Stoicism out there, both online (e.g. Daily Stoic) and in any large bookshop. John Sellars and Massimo Pigliucci have written good introductory guides recently. But no single book will cover the whole range of this course. Reading materials will be provided online via the Mary Ward Centre's Moodle website . Each class will have a small amount of set reading expected outside class, no more than 30 mins per week.
The course will be run via the zoom platform, please make sure you have installed it in advance of your first class on your computer or mobile device. You can sign up for free here:

You will need a microphone (it's fine to use whatever is built into your device) and camera, so we can see you via video. You may also want to use headphones during the session.
Make sure you have a small space to work in during the session.
If you have a device, find a way to prop it up so you can work and we can see your face.
By signing up to the course you are consenting to being on camera. The content of the lesson may be recorder by the tutor for internal education and training purposes.

What this course could lead to

Other Intermediate or Advanced level Philosophy courses at the Mary Ward Centre or other similar institutions. The course also corresponds well with another running the previous term, 'Existentialism: Nothing Really Matters', taught by the same tutor and at the same level, and taking place on the same day and time the previous term.

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I've been to many Centres to study in London and the Mary Ward Centre is one of the nicest I've studied in.

MWC student


This course has concessions available for people who meet certain criteria

Got a Question about this Course?

Contact The Departmental Administrator.

Why come to Mary Ward Centre?

Mary Ward Centre is the adult education centre with a difference.   We provide a wide range of subjects for people at all levels and run courses during the day, evening or weekend to suit your timetable.

Get inspired and enjoy excellent teaching in an environment where each individual’s learning experience is valued. That’s what makes Mary Ward Centre ‘the friendly place to learn.’