As our world becomes increasingly hi-tech, more and more people have been turning to ancient wisdom traditions in search of meaning. There are two schools of ancient philosophy in particular that have seen a meteoric revival in recent years: Platonism and Stoicism. Cognitive scientist John Vervaeke joins us to explore why this is happening.


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Transcript of the Episode's Prologue

As our world has become more technologically advanced and ultra-modern, more and more people have been turning to ancient wisdom in search of meaning. Cases in point: Yoga, Buddhism, and Tai Chi.

In the realm of ancient Greek philosophy, two schools of thought in particular have experienced a huge resurgence in recent years: Stoicism and Platonism. Now, there were many philosophical schools in ancient Greece. So, why are these two making such a big comeback? And what value, meaning, or practical wisdom can they offer us? That’s what we’re going to find out today.

Before we jump into the conversation, a quick timeline for those of who are interested. Plato founded his school called the Academy in Athens in the 380’s BC. Zeno of Citium founded his school, later known as the Stoa or Stoicism also in Athens, in around 300 BC. Both of these schools continued to exist for hundreds of years, enduring long after the Roman conquest of Greece. During those many centuries, groups of philosophers in each school incessantly debated, refined, and expanded upon the work of their schools’ founders. But eventually, well into the Roman period, Athens’ status as a prestigious college town and the amount of philosophical activity happening there declined. That’s why the most famous Roman stoics all lived and wrote elsewhere.

In the 200’s AD, more that 500 years after Plato’s death, his philosophy was rekindled in Egypt by the Greeks and Greek-speaking Egyptians living there, and that movement became known as Neo-Platonism. Figures such as Plotinus and Porphyry took the ideas of Plato and developed them much further while incorporating elements from numerous other philosophical schools into their system. So, when we say "Neo-Platonism" we’re talking about Platonic-inspired philosophy from the 200’s AD onward. That’s the basic time-line.

Now, I’m thrilled to welcome back on the show someone who has studied how human thought systems have evolved over the millennia. John Vervaeke is a cognitive scientist at the University of Toronto. He has a fantastic YouTube series called the Meaning Crisis, which I’m sure many of you know about already. And we had him on this show a few months ago to talk about Plato’s Cave and why Plato’s Theory of Forms is still relevant to debates about human cognition, and how we think. John Vervaeke, welcome to ancient Greece Declassified.