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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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Massimo Pigliucci — How to Live a Good Life and Create a Just Society

How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life (book cover) The Quest for Character: What the Story of Socrates and Alcibiades Teaches Us about Our Search for Good Leaders (book cover)

In this episode Michael Shermer speaks with the stoic philosopher and evolutionary biologist Massimo Pigliucci on how to apply the ancient wisdom of stoicism to our personal lives and to our society.

Shermer and Pigluicci discuss:

  • his journey from Rome to New York
  • from evolutionary biology to stoic philosophy
  • science and philosophy: similarities and differences
  • facts and values: can there be a science of meaning and morality?
  • stoicism and ultimate questions
  • desire and action
  • how to react to situations
  • depression and suicide
  • anger and anxiety
  • love and friendship
  • practical spiritual exercises
  • virtue: can it be taught?
  • teaching virtue to politicians
  • philosophy and politics
  • character and leadership
  • the nature of evil.

Massimo Pigliucci is the K. D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. The author or editor of sixteen books, he has been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Salon, among others. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. His books include: Making Sense of Evolution; Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk; Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem; Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to a More Meaningful Life; A Field Guide to a Happy Life; A Handbook for New Stoics; How to Be a Stoic; The Quest for Character.


How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life

A philosopher asks how ancient Stoicism can help us flourish today Whenever we worry about what to eat, how to love, or simply how to be happy, we are worrying about how to lead a good life. No goal is more elusive. In How to Be a Stoic, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci offers Stoicism, the ancient philosophy that inspired the great emperor Marcus Aurelius, as the best way to attain it. Stoicism is a pragmatic philosophy that focuses our attention on what is possible and gives us perspective on what is unimportant. By understanding Stoicism, we can learn to answer crucial questions: Should we get married or divorced? How should we handle our money in a world nearly destroyed by a financial crisis? How can we survive great personal tragedy? Whoever we are, Stoicism has something for us — and How to Be a Stoic is the essential guide.

The Quest for Character: What the Story of Socrates and Alcibiades Teaches Us about Our Search for Good Leaders

Is good character something that can be taught? In 430 BCE, Socrates set out to teach the vain, power-seeking Athenian statesman Alcibiades how to be a good person — and failed spectacularly. Alcibiades went on to beguile his city into a hopeless war with Syracuse, and all of Athens paid the price. In The Quest for Character, philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci tells this famous story and asks what we can learn from it. He blends ancient sources with modern interpretations to give a full picture of the philosophy and cultivation of character, virtue, and personal excellence — what the Greeks called arete. At heart, The Quest for Character isn’t simply about what makes a good leader. Drawing on Socrates as well as his followers among the Stoics, this book gives us lessons perhaps even more crucial: how we can each lead an excellent life.

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on January 31, 2023.

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