Even the great philosophers were marketers

Image: Nils Huber

I’m reading a great book right now about Stoicism. In it, the author describes how schools of philosophy in ancient Rome — yes, even back in those days — did what they could to fight for ‘market share’ and make their school more attractive to prospects. The men (yep, all dudes in those days) with astute beards and flowing robes were not too righteous to do what they could to get students (customers) in the door.

We can trace Stoicism back to Athens, Greece with Zeno of Citium. I won’t go into a historic diatribe here, but a big part of classic Greek Stoicism was the idea of living a life of ‘virtue’. As time went on, and Stoicism spread to Rome, the Roman Stoic schools were seeing a drop-off in attendance. After looking into reasons why, they thought people might be getting bored of the concept of ‘virtue’ (I mean, who reeeeally wants to be ‘virtuous’, right?), so they decided to change the copy — erm, philosophy — from ‘virtue’ to ‘tranquility’.

And just like that, attendance went back up and the Stoic schools kept the lights on for years to come.

I just thought that was funny. Some people might look down upon that type of behavior, but I applaud it. Keeping your ideas alive takes adjusting to the needs of the market. If you don’t, your ideas will die before reaching and helping more people.

I think what the great Stoics did was quite virtuous… I mean, tranquil.


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