Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior

Hoover Press
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When physical disability from combat wounds brought about Jim Stockdale's early retirement from military life, he had the distinction of being the only three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Congressional Medal of Honor. His writings have been many and varied, but all converge on the central theme of how man can rise with dignity to prevail in the face of adversity.
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About the author

Vice Admiral James Stockdale, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution, served in the navy from 1947 to 1979, beginning as a test pilot and instructor at Patuxent River, Maryland, and spending two years as a graduate student at Stanford University. He became a fighter pilot and was shot down on his second combat tour over North Vietnam, becoming a prisoner of war for eight years, four in solitary confinement. The highest-ranking naval officer held during the Vietnam War, he was tortured fifteen times and put in leg irons for two years. His books include Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot (1995, Hoover Institution Press) and In Love and War (second revised and updated edition, 1990, U.S. Naval Institute Press), coauthored with his wife, Sybil. In early 1987, a dramatic presentation of In Love and War was viewed by more than 45 million viewers on NBC television.
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Hoover Press
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Published on
Dec 31, 1993
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Biography & Autobiography / Military
History / Asia / Southeast Asia
History / Military / Vietnam War
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Philosophy / History & Surveys / Ancient & Classical
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From the Introduction: "Stoic philosophy, of which Epictetus (c. a.d. 50-130) is a representative, began as a recognizable movement around 300 b.c. Its founder was Zeno of Cytium (not to be confused with Zeno of Elea, who discovered the famous paradoxes). He was born in Cyprus about 336 b.c., but all of his philosophical activity took place in Athens. For more than 500 years Stoicism was one of the most influential and fruitful philosophical movements in the Graeco-Roman world. The works of the earlier Stoics survive only in fragmentary quotations from other authors, but from the Renaissance until well into the nineteenth century, Stoic ethical thought was one of the most important ancient influences on European ethics, particularly because of the descriptions of it by Cicero, through surviving works by the Stoics Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and also Epictetus--and also because of the effect that it had had in antiquity, and continued to have into the nineteenth century, on Christian ethical views. Nowadays an undergraduate or graduate student learning about ancient philosophy in a university course may well hear only about Plato and Aristotle, along perhaps with the presocratics; but in the history of Western thought and education this situation is somewhat atypical, and in most periods a comparable student would have learned as much or more about Stoicism, as well as two other major ancient philosophical movements, Epicureanism and Scepticism. In spite of this lack of explicit acquaintance with Stoic philosophers and their works, however, most students will recognize in Epictetus various ideas that are familiar through their effects on other thinkers, notably Spinoza, in our intellectual tradition."
One of the great fears many of us face is that despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life. In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives. In A Guide to the Good Life, Irvine offers a refreshing presentation of Stoicism, showing how this ancient philosophy can still direct us toward a better life. Using the psychological insights and the practical techniques of the Stoics, Irvine offers a roadmap for anyone seeking to avoid the feelings of chronic dissatisfaction that plague so many of us. Irvine looks at various Stoic techniques for attaining tranquility and shows how to put these techniques to work in our own life. As he does so, he describes his own experiences practicing Stoicism and offers valuable first-hand advice for anyone wishing to live better by following in the footsteps of these ancient philosophers. Readers learn how to minimize worry, how to let go of the past and focus our efforts on the things we can control, and how to deal with insults, grief, old age, and the distracting temptations of fame and fortune. We learn from Marcus Aurelius the importance of prizing only things of true value, and from Epictetus we learn how to be more content with what we have. Finally, A Guide to the Good Life shows readers how to become thoughtful observers of their own lives. If we watch ourselves as we go about our daily business and later reflect on what we saw, we can better identify the sources of distress and eventually avoid that pain in our life. By doing this, the Stoics thought, we can hope to attain a truly joyful life.
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