There comes a time when studying something new where you are no longer a beginner, but not yet an expert. In Stoicism, maybe this point comes when you have already read the classics: Aurelius’ Meditations, Epictetus’ Discourses, and Seneca’s Letters on Ethics. You certainly know a lot about Stoicism, but you want to deepen your studies.
However, at this point it can be difficult to know where to turn next. Most content is aimed at beginners, and advanced content can be obscure, difficult to navigate, and not user friendly.
To help this problem, here at Stoa we have curated a list of the best advanced resources to help deepen your understanding of Stoicism, its context, and its present relevance. These are all books that I read over the course of my PhD on Stoicism, so I can attest to their benefit.
Books on Stoicism in General:
For those looking for a more advanced understanding of Stoicism in general, these books are for you. They do not focus on any specific topic but discuss the philosophy as a whole.
- The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, Edited by Brad Inwood
The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics is a collection of essays by world experts on various topics in Stoicism, like ethics, psychology, physics, and its history. This format leads to two main benefits. First, because the essays are short and self-contained, it can make them manageable even though the content can be difficult. Second, you get exposure to a variety of writing styles, insights, and perspectives. If one essay does not suit you, you can skip to the next and find the topic you are looking for. It is also helpful to have on the shelf for quick reference when you want a complete Stoic topic explained clearly.
2. A New Stoicism, by Lawrence C. Becker
A new Stoicism attempts something incredible. It asks: can we construct a version of Stoicism which can exist as a modern-day ethical system? Can we make a coherent argument for Stoic ethics today? Does a Stoic world view make sense, even if we do not accept the Stoic God? I think the answer is a maybe, but it is incredibly inspiring to see Becker attempt this project, and it helps the reader think about which parts of Stoicism are essential and which can be changed.
Books on Specific Stoics:
If a certain Stoic has stood out to you, and you want to deep dive into their content, then check out these books by famous scholars.
3. Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life by A.A. Long
Anthony Long is one of the stars of contemporary Stoicism research (and he appears again on this list). His 1971 edited collection “Problems in Stoicism” reinvigorated scholarly interest in Stoicism, and Hellenistic philosophy in general. In this book he turns his attention towards Epictetus. This is the first book focusing exclusively on Epictetus since the 1970’s and at this time it is still the best single work on the famous Stoic. What is great about this book is that Long both provides a detailed account of Epictetus’ and provides a large degree of context. In particular he explains how Socrates has influenced Epictetus as a philosopher.
4. The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot
In the modern Stoicism movement, Hadot might be the most famous name on this list. And for good reason. He reinvigorated the idea of ancient philosophy as a “way of life”, an idea that has become immensely popular. This collection of essays digs deep into the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. Like most other books in this collection, it is best read after you have developed a strong foundation in Stoicism. But for those willing to put in the work required to read it, it is one of the best scholarly discussions of Marcus Aurelius as a philosopher.
5. Reading Seneca by Brad Inwood
While Seneca is well loved by Stoic fans, he is also an eclectic thinker who main arguments or insights can be difficult to pinpoint. His thought is spread out over many more books than Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius, and some of remaining work is not even philosophy, but plays with philosophical themes. Brad Inwood does the interpretative work for us here in this collection of essays exclusively on Seneca. What follows from reading this book is an understanding of Seneca as a thinker who did not just write well, but also made unique contributions to Stoic theory.
6. Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosophy by Gregory Vlastos
Ok, so Socrates was not a Stoic. But hear me out. Socrates was the foundation of Stoicism, and the role-model that nearly all the Stoics idealized, Epictetus in particular. If you read certain passages of Plato’s Socrates after reading Stoicism, you will think he plagiarized the Stoics! But of course, Plato’s Socrates comes first. The problem with Socrates as a philosophical figure, is that we do not have any writings by him. We only have representations of him by others, most famously Plato and Xenophon. In this book Gregory Vlastos does an amazing job of reconstructing what we can know about Socrates’ own thought and philosophy, separate from those who wrote about him.
Books on Specific Topics:
Maybe there is some part of Stoicism that has piqued your interest. It could be a topic that is particularly difficult and you want to understand it better, or maybe it is a part of Stoic philosophy that you think people are not talking enough about. If so, these books are for you.
7. Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy by Suzanne Bobzien
Freewill is one of the most popular topics in philosophy, and the Stoics have a lot to say about it. However, what the Stoics have to say is also spread across several texts, and complicated by their physics and logic. In this book Bobzien provides the definitive account of the Stoic view on a person’s capacity for freewill and how this relates to Stoic determinism (their view that all events are necessitated by prior causes). These two seemingly contradictory ideas are resolved through a compatibilist theory. If that sounds at all interesting to you, this book is a must have.
8. Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism by Brad Inwood
In this book, Inwood takes a deep dive into Stoic psychology, and their understanding of human action. This includes questions like human motivation, and how the Stoics account for people who seem to know they shouldn’t do something, but do it anyway. Stoicism is typically divided into periods of early, middle, and late Stoicism. The most famous Stoics were all from the late period: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus. But the early Stoics (Zeno, Cleanthes, Chrysippus), were the founders of the school, and the originators of most Stoic theory. However, very little writing by the early Stoics remain By focusing on the early Stoics, Inwood does the difficult job of reconstructing Stoic psychology from the few sources still intact.
9. Stoicism and Emotion by Margaret Graver
Emotions are at the core of Stoic theory. This is why the term ‘stoic’, in the modern sense, refers to someone without extreme emotions. And a lack of extreme emotions or passions was one of the goals of ancient Stoicism and is one of its most popular aspects today. However, the Stoic theory of emotions is often misunderstood and misrepresented. Graver does an excellent job explaining this theory in a way that is both accurate and clear. Of particular value is the discussion about the difference between “Passions”, and “good-feelings”, and how the Stoics did not want us to eliminate all emotions, but only the harmful ones based on false judgements.
10. Emotion and Peace of Mind by Richard Sorabji
Sorabji takes up the same topic as Graver, Stoicism and emotions, but with a different focus. While Graver focused on explaining theory, Sorabji turns towards the practical and historical. Sorabji examines the specific exercises and methods the Stoics used to achieve peace of mind and develop a healthy relationship with our feelings. The book also looks at how this influenced the Christian concept of emotion.
11. The Philosophy of CBT by Donald Robertson
If Sorabji looked to the historical, then Robertson brings Stoicism into the contemporary. This book is a fantastic account of how Stoicism influenced contemporary psychology and laid the philosophical foundations for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a popular contemporary form of psychotherapy. Robertson shows us how the Stoics were innovators in human psychology and therapy. The book also helps to ground the value of Stoicism in something beyond its intuitive appeal. Stoic exercises, adopt by CBT, have been proven to help people overcome their psychological challenges.
Books on Hellenistic Philosophy:
I think there becomes a point in studying Stoicism where it becomes impossible to understand Stoicism any better without understanding its intellectual context. Stoicism was a philosophy developed in conversation with other philosophies, like Skepticism and Epicureanism. Hellenistic philosophy refers to the period after Aristotle but before the rise of Christianity (approx. 300 BC – 200 AD) when Stoicism and these philosophies developed and gained popularity. These books cover that time.
12. The Hellenistic Philosophers by A.A. Long and David Sedley
If I had to pick only one book from this entire list, this one would be the most holistically valuable. Famous scholars Long and Sedley have collected here a list of quotes and passages separated by theme (God, Death, The Soul, Free Will etc.), and by philosophical school (Stoics, Epicureans, Skeptics). If that was not enough, they also added detailed commentary at the end of each section, explaining what can be taken from these quotes. This is a must have for any bookshelf and is the perfect reference guide to know what the major Hellenistic philosophies thought about any major subject. For those able to read Latin and Greek, the second volume contains the quotes untranslated (so if you can’t read Latin and Greek, make sure you buy volume 1!).
13. Therapy of Desire by Martha Nussbaum
A crucial metaphor that developed in Hellenistic philosophy was the idea of philosophy as medicine to cure the soul of its sickness. In this book, Nussbaum sets out to develop that metaphor fully. She explores how the major Hellenistic school developed the medical analogy, and what remedies they developed to help cure our sickness. As a literary device, Nussbaum uses a fictional character who visits each school, and who changes and develops as they adopt what each school has to offer.
14. The Morality of Happiness by Julia Annas
This is another one of my favorite books on this list. Here Annas argues that most of the Hellenistic schools of thought were ‘eudaimonistic’. This means that they all saw the goal of ethics as the achievement of eudaimonia, or happiness, and the disagreed only on what happiness consisted of (virtue, pleasure, or some combination of these). It is a great book because it focuses as much on what ancient philosophies have in common, as how they differ. And when we focus on these differences, we can lose sight of some of the most interesting assumptions and ideas, like the concept of eudaimonia in general, which the ancient thinkers take for granted.
15. On Ends by Cicero
Finally, this last book is not by a contemporary scholar, but an ancient one. Much like Annas’ work, Cicero takes the task of comparing how the major ancient schools answer the question of what happiness consists of. While the content is interesting, and Cicero is a skilled writer, what is fascinating about this book is its historical context. Cicero is someone we consider a historical figure. But here we get to see him reasoning through how to live – just like us. He is wrestling with the philosophy and thought of those who came long before him, trying to extract the value that can help his life.
Congratulations on making it to the end of this advanced Stoicism reading list! Hopefully you found a couple news books to try. This list was not meant to be exhaustive, but it represents the books I found most helpful on my journey to better my understanding. If you are still looking for new ways to grow your understanding of Stoicism, consider Stoa. It is a Stoicism meditation and theory app, designed to help people practice and learn about Stoicism. It includes a daily meditation, discussions of Stoic theory, and conversations with experts.