I’ve recently written a short book on Aristotle. It is currently being copyedited and is due to be published by Penguin in February 2023. It will come out in their revived Pelican imprint. After some back and forth, the final title is going to be The Mind of Aristotle: Understanding the World’s Greatest Philosopher. The subtitle came from the publisher but it’s not merely marketing hype; I genuinely do think that Aristotle is the greatest philosopher ever.
The book is longer than my last two Penguin books, but still fairly short - a brief introduction that sets out who Aristotle was and some key themes in his work. It touches on his metaphysics, biology, logic, poetics, ethics, and politics, as well as thinking about his later legacy and what it might mean to describe oneself as an Aristotelian.
Part of the motivation for writing this book came from my own experience as a philosophy student. When I first started out I was all too aware that Aristotle was a major figure but he just seemed very intimidating. Whenever I tried to dip into his works I found myself almost immediately lost! The few introductions I tried to read didn’t help me much either because they seemed to presuppose too much existing knowledge.
As time went on I slowly found my footholds, especially in his Nicomachean Ethics and Physics. Then I had the opportunity to teach various bits and pieces of his work and really started to appreciate his genius. That doesn’t mean that I thought he was right about everything; it was as much admiration for the way he did things as it was for what he was saying. Ironically, what had once seemed like impenetrable prose was now one of the things I admired most!
Now, I really do think he’s the greatest philosopher ever to have lived. The more I read him, the more I feel sure of this. If I didn’t used to think this, it was simply because I hadn’t read him enough. And you need to know how to read him too, which is slowly! But, if my first experience is anything to go by, it can be intimidating to dive straight in. I hope my book will encourage some to try and offer some guidance along the way. Whatever you might be interested in, Aristotle probably has something to say about it somewhere. And although you might think that on first encounter what he says is simply wrong, I suspect that it will remain niggling in the back of your mind and at some point you’ll come to realise that what he said has more to it that you first saw - indeed, you might come to realise that it’s one of the smartest things ever said on the topic. That’s been my experience again and again.
I'm very fortunate to have been awarded some research leave for this coming autumn term. That means I'll be focused on a number of writing projects for the rest of 2021 and for the most part resisting invitations to speak or interview or write other things. I've got three books in particular that I hope to finish. These are:
Here’s a quick round up of online talks I’m giving this autumn, along with links:
1. ‘What is Stoicism?’ at Stoicon, Saturday 17th October, register at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/stoicon-2020-virtual-conference-tickets-103616048390
2. 'Stoicism and Social Media', The Aurelius Foundation Webinar, Friday 30th October, register at https://www.aureliusfoundation.com/events/webinar-170720-s2c3l-eh844-ent3c-t39ta
3. ‘Marcus Aurelius and Journaling’, Stoicon-x Journaling with the Stoics, Sunday 1st November, register at https://www.subscribepage.com/stoiconxsalon
4. ‘’How to Be a Stoic’, The Philosopher Webinar, Monday 2nd November, register at https://www.thephilosopher1923.org/events-sellars
5. ‘Hellenistic Philosophy as a Guide to Life’, De Nacht van de Vrijdenker Filosofiefestival, Friday 13th November, register at https://www.nachtvandevrijdenker.be
Over the last few months I have signed three new contracts for books, all of which are collaborations with others. They are (in the most likely order of completion):
1. Barlaam of Seminara on Stoic Ethics (Mohr Siebeck), with C. R. Hogg, comprising a text and translation of Barlaam’s work on Stoic ethics, along with a series of interpretative essays.
2. The Cambridge Companion to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (Cambridge University Press), with a chapter by myself and 10 other contributors.
3. Brill’s Companion to Musonius Rufus (Brill), co-edited with Liz Gloyn, my colleague at Royal Holloway, and many, many contributors.
I’ve just had an article published, entitled ‘Renaissance Humanism and Philosophy as a Way of Life’. This has been kicking around for a while; its first outing was at a conference in Italy in 2015, and I read it more recently at a conference in London I co-organized in 2019. It has been published in a special issue of Metaphilosophy devoted to the theme of philosophy as a way of life. Due to an existing agreement between Royal Holloway and Wiley, it has been published open access.
It’s part of a larger project I’ve been working on over the last few years on this topic. I have recently sent off two other papers that complement it, both of which will appear as chapters in edited volumes. The first looks at the Renaissance interest in biographies of ancient philosophers and what that might tell us about how they conceived philosophy in the period (‘Philosophical Lives in the Renaissance’). The second looks at works of philosophical consolation in the Renaissance and again what that might tell us about how they understood philosophy (‘Renaissance Consolations: Philosophical Remedies for Fate and Fortune’).
I’ve had tentative plans to try to develop a book on this topic, building on these three preliminary papers. A much earlier paper on spiritual exercises in Justus Lipsius could also feed into it (here). I have not fully decided either way, but even so these three new pieces together try to make the case for the claim that during the Renaissance a number of thinkers embraced the idea of philosophy as a way of life, and by acknowledging this we can make better sense of what they were doing.
Last year, my colleague Liz Gloyn and I organized a workshop on the Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus (and off the back of that we'll be editing a volume on Musonius). This year we are organizing a second workshop, this time focused on early Stoic ethics. We hope that this will become an annual 'Royal Holloway Stoicism Workshop'. For further details and the call for papers, see the PhilEvents page.
I am very pleased to announce an event I’m involved in that will take place in March. It will be the inaugural event of The Aurelius Foundation, a new non-profit organization. The Foundation’s goals are:
Its first event will take place in Mayfair, London on 6th March 2020. This event will be an opportunity for people to learn more about the basic ideas behind Stoicism and to hear from people who apply Stoicism in a variety of personal and business contexts - from professional sport to prisons to business and finance.
The goal of the event is to offer guidance and support for people at the outset of their adult and professional lives in the 18 to 30 age group. It hopes to bring together university students, recent graduates, and young entrepreneurs in order to foster useful networks for the future.
The all day event - completely free - will be in central London (W1). Refreshments will be provided throughout the day. Further details about the Foundation will be available shortly at www.aureliusfoundation.com. In order to register for a place email Hollie.Boe@radleyandco.com with ‘Aurelius Foundation Event’ in the subject line.
Want to know more about Stoicism? Start here: https://theconversation.com/want-to-be-happy-then-live-like-a-stoic-for-a-week-103117