E  P  I  S  O  D  E   25 & 26



w. Kai Whiting

How can philosophy help us become better persons whilst improving sustainable development? According to sustainability researcher Kai Whiting, the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, which is based on wisdom, self-control, courage and justice, can help us reach collective societal goals whilst taking care of our environment. 

IbN # 25: Stoicism as environmental philosophy

w. Kai Whiting

IbN # 26: Work out and read a book a week

w. Kai Whiting

"Reducing ignorance and increasing justice, to me is the foundation of sustainable development"

Our guest this week is lecturer and sustainability researcher Kai Whiting from the University of Lisbon, Portugal. Kai specialises in topics surrounding sustainable materials and the philosophy of Stoicism.

Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy which today is mainly popularised as a life hack for  self-empowerment and resilience used by a growing elite of entrepreneurs, start-ups and other powerful individuals. This is known as the Silicon Valley interpretation of Stoicism. 

So what does a philosophy, hyped by some parts of society, have to do with environmentalism and sustainable development?

Kai claims that the 'Silicon Valley interpretation' has ignored many of the central virtues within Stoicism, in particular the virtues of justice, wisdom, self-control and courage. These four virtues are what underlines sustainable development and can help us create better societies for all if we apply them to all aspects of our everyday actions. 


We need wisdom to always make well-informed decisions based on science. Acting with the intention to maximise justice helps us do what is right not just for ourselves but also for other people and the environment. Self-control helps us resist buying things we don't need or goods that has been produced in a damaging, un-just manner. Lastly, we need courage to stand up against those who take advantages of our world and who don't create further justice. 

I was so intrigued by this way of reducing our actions to comply with four "simple" virtues that I allowed the interview with Kai to carry on a little longer than normal. Therefore, I have decided to split the interview up into two parts. 

Part I, episode 25: 

  • What is stoicism and where did it come from?

  • Silicon Vally Stoicism: You can only control your thoughts and your actions. Personal development and self-help. 

  • Academic Stoicism consists of ONLY four virtues which is going to lead to your happiness - or your flourishing 

  • Be wise, have self-control, be just and have courage

  • You cannot control death - only how you react to it

  • Why is philosophy important? 

  • If you don’t understand philosophy then you don’t understand why you are doing as you are doing

  • Why Marx and Engels were in fact interested in the environment 

  • Why is Silicon Valley Stoicism more popular and the "environmental" Stoicism?

  • How can I use Stoicism as an environmentalist in the way that I am acting in the world?

  • Example: Applying Stoicism to the action and thought surrounding buying a car - and how the virtues of Stoicism views the Diesel Gate Scandal

Part II, episode 26:

  • How does Stoicism apply to sustainable development?

  • Our power as citizens in bringing about change.

  • What is societal wellbeing? Material consumption vs material services

  • How does Kai apply stoicism to his own life? And where does it challenge him?

  • How can you start applying stoicism to your life?

  • Why you should work out for half an hour every day and read a book a week

Show Notes

First of all, go in and follow Kai on Twitter at @KaiWhiting. 

  • The article that Kai recently published on the link between sustainable development and Stoicism can be found here

  • Book on Stoicism 101: How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci

  • For Stoic-leaning personal development, Happy by Derren Brown

  • modernstoicism.com is a website dedicated to Stoicism. Here, you can find one of Kai's less academic papers on Stoicism and sustainability.

  • Kai mentioned the yearly conference on Stoicism; Stoicon, which in 2018 takes place in London and is open to the public. Kai will be one of this year's presenters. 

  • We talk about the difference between materials and material services which you can read more about here.

  • Curious about where Kai bought his wooden wedding ring to avoid using gold? Then check out the Wood Hut.

Listen. Learn. Explore.

Sustainable tourism to protect our oceans wit Sea Going Green
The Sustainable Development Goals with Emily Boyd
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