Stoic Meditations

Stoic Meditations

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By Massimo Pigliucci
Occasional reflections on the wisdom of Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. More at patreon.com/PlatoFootnotes Please consider supporting Stoic Meditations.
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No need to be anxious even in front of a king
Epictetus explains why king Antigonus was anxious to meet Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, and not vice versa. The king had not yet internalized the fundamental principle of the dichotomy of control: making a good impression on others is not up to us.
02:21
November 19, 2018
Take the view from above
A quote from Seneca leads us into a discussion of the difference between Stoicism and modern philosophies of despair. For the Stoic, knowledge of the vastness of time and space is no excuse for nihilism, but simply a way to put things in perspective and get back to the task of living well.
02:32
November 16, 2018
Not just endurance, but tranquillity of mind
Seneca tells Lucilius how Cato, after losing an election, went out to play; and how, before taking his own life, he retired to his room to read a book. Stoicism isn't just about enduring things, it's about achieving serenity in the face of ill fortune.
02:15
November 15, 2018
Philosophy is serious business
Seneca invites his friend Lucilius to consider that philosophy is too serious a business to be left only to professional philosophers, especially those who engage in clever wordplay and logic chopping just to show how smart they are.
02:09
November 14, 2018
Decide on the big picture, the details come later
Seneca makes an argument for why we should adopt a philosophy of life (be it Stoicism or something else). It provides us a framework to make decisions and prioritize things. The rest is details.
01:40
November 13, 2018
Seneca on suicide
Seneca elaborates on how the Stoics see suicide: nature gave us one entrance into life, but many exits. And it is the existence of these exits that guarantees our freedom.
02:48
November 12, 2018
The Stoic argument for the right to suicide
Seneca continues his discussion of suicide with his friend Lucilius, arguing that maintaining agency and exercising our judgments are fundamental ingredients of a good life. It follows that we should be in charge of when and how to quit.
02:00
November 9, 2018
Life: it isn't about length, it's about quality
Seneca makes a point that is still controversial two millennia later. The important thing about life is not its length, but its quality. And it is up to the individual to judge the quality of her own life.
02:14
November 8, 2018
How to avoid temptation and practice virtue
Seneca gives some very commonsensical advice, backed up by modern psychological research, on how to best avoid temptation. Which leads us to a discussion of what we should avoid, and what, by contrast, we should seek out in order to act virtuously.
03:18
November 7, 2018
We are all sick, but we can help each other
Seneca says to his friend Lucilius that he is no wise man or doctor, but rather an unwise and sick person. Which brings us to a discussion of Stoic humility and how it is that we can all make progress toward wisdom.
02:27
November 6, 2018
The difference between tranquillity and flat calm
Seneca argues that tranquillity of mind is the result of an active, but realistic, engagement with the problems posed by life. By contrast, refusing to rise up to challenges simply leads to a flat and meaningless calm.
02:02
November 5, 2018
Racism and Stoic compassion
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that people do and say things not because they are evil, but because they are mistaken. The proper response, then, is education and pity, not hatred.
02:35
November 2, 2018
Gelato and the Cynic wing of Stoicism
Musonius Rufus advises us to follow a minimalist life style, closer to the so-called "Cynic" wing of the Stoic movement. Why is that? Because reducing temptations helps us practicing virtue, as we'll see by way of an example featuring gelato.
02:36
November 1, 2018
The most important mental trick of your life
Epictetus says that a lyre player plays beautifully when he practices on his own. But gets very nervous in front of an audience. That's because he wants something that is not under his control. Learn and internalize this lesson and your life will be happy and serene.
02:42
October 31, 2018
The unity of virtue thesis
Seneca argues that the four cardinal virtues are a tightly coordinated council, which makes the best possible decisions for us. In this episode we explore the Stoic concept of the unity of virtue, and make sense of it by analogy with going to the gym to improve our health.
02:04
October 30, 2018
Tackle illness with virtue
Illness is not something to look forward to, as Stoics are not mad. But it is a fact of life, and so it becomes a question of how we deal with it: by kicking and screming, or as a test of our virtue of temperance?
02:09
October 29, 2018
Be prepared to endure prosperity
Seneca argues that, strange as it may seem, prosperity is to be endured, just as bad times are. It's yet another Stoic "paradox," of which we make sense in this episode.
01:58
October 26, 2018
Epictetus gets punched on the nose
Epictetus tells the story of when he first started preaching, instead of teaching, philosophy. It did not go well, and he got punched on the nose. He quickly learned the difference between preaching and teaching.
02:05
October 25, 2018
The last day of Epicurus
Seneca recounts the last, painful day, of the life of the rival philosopher Epicurus, who claimed that even that day he was happy. Which leads us into a discussion of what the Stoics and Epicureans meant by happiness.
02:15
October 24, 2018
All good people are equally worthy
Seneca states the fundamental Stoic principle that the measure of a person has nothing to do with externals like wealth, health or good looks. It depends on one thing and one thing only: goodness of character.
02:29
October 23, 2018
Virtue is nothing but right reason
Seneca gives a straightforward, simple, yet rich definition of virtue to his friend Lucilius. It has huge consequences for every one of us, every day.
02:10
October 22, 2018
Be charitable toward others
Marcus Aurelius says that other people do wrong out of lack of wisdom, and so do we, which means we should be forgiving toward others. Besides, life is short, and others can't harm the most important thing: our faculty of judgment.
02:43
October 17, 2018
Do like Socrates, have a dialogue instead of a dispute
Epictetus reminds us that Socrates made an effort to talk to people while avoiding rudeness and invectives. Imagine if we did the same today, instead of indulging in the current climate of acrimony about social and political issues.
01:56
October 16, 2018
Love requires virtue, not externals
Seneca says that one shouldn't love a person because they are rich, or strong, but because they are virtuous. Which gets us into a discussion of the meaning of the word "axia," referring to things that have value but are not crucial.
02:13
October 15, 2018
Rich vs poor
Seneca says that being rich does not make you a good person, nor does being poor make you a bad one. We then use this quote to explore the relationship between externals and virtue.
02:00
October 12, 2018
Joy vs pain
Seneca says that it is natural to seek joy and avoid pain. But the virtue involved in both cases is the same. In the quote we examine today, then, there are a lot of crucial Stoic concepts to be parsed out.
01:58
October 11, 2018
What is virtue, anyway?
Seneca tells us that virtue lies in how you handle things, both good and bad. If you are sick, be gentle with those who are taking care of you. If you get a promotion, don't brag to your colleagues. It's the virtuous thing to do.
02:27
October 10, 2018
Talk to people like Socrates would
Epictetus reminds us that it is senseless to talk to others just in order to score points. That way we don't learn, understand, or persuade; we just puff ourselves up and waste opportunities.
02:35
October 9, 2018
All virtues are related
Seneca states the classic Stoic view that all virtues are aspects of a single underlying one: wisdom. In this episode we explore what that means in practice, every day.
02:29
October 8, 2018
What matters is how you handle things
Seneca tells us of one of the well known Stoic paradoxes (i.e., uncommon opinions): it is equally good to be joyful or to endure torture. How can we make sense of this? Find out in this episode.
02:16
October 5, 2018
Death is change and not to be feared
Seneca is at peace with the notion of death, and in this episode we talk about why the Stoic attitude toward this natural process of cosmic recycling makes a lot of sense.
02:22
October 4, 2018
Let us celebrate those truly worth celebrating
Seneca suggests that we should remember and honor the people that have made positive contributions to humanity, and I add that perhaps, conversely, we should get away from modern "celebrity" culture.
02:14
October 3, 2018
I want something on which I may test my endurance
Seneca is asking for trouble. Well, not exactly. But he reminds us that Stoicism is about constant practice, so we shouldn't just be prepared to meet a challenge, but positively welcome it.
02:24
October 2, 2018
Whatever can happen at any time can happen today
Seneca says that we have no idea when Fortuna will take friends and loved ones away from us, so the sensible way to live our lives is to take full advantage of every moment we spend with them.
02:35
October 1, 2018
Make friends, oppose Fortuna
Seneca says that making friends is one way to counter the doings of Fortuna, because having friends is one of the great consolations in life, no matter what happens to us.
01:51
September 28, 2018
Nothing good comes out of a static universe
Marcus Aurelius reflects on the famous concept the Stoics inherited from the pre-Socratic Heraclitus: panta rhei, everything changes. What would happen if we took this seriously, in our everyday life?
02:10
September 27, 2018
Don't make fun of others, be helpful
Epictetus says that if we encounter someone who is lost we don't make fun of him, but give him directions. Why, then, do we engage in sarcasm against people who disagree with us?
02:00
September 26, 2018
Practice self control to become more virtuous
Musonius Rufus reminds us that self control is a crucial component of the cardinal virtue of temperance. This doesn't mean we cannot enjoy pleasures, only that we need to do it in proper measure.
01:56
September 25, 2018
Enjoy your friends and loved ones, now
Seneca says that we should greedily enjoy our loved ones, right now. Because we have no idea how long we will enjoy the privilege of their company and affection. Pay attention to the here and now.
02:04
September 24, 2018
The Stoic approach to grief
Stoicism is often accused of counseling to suppress emotions. This quote from Seneca clearly shows it doesn't. Then again, we don't want to wallow in grief and let it paralyze us, because we have duties toward the living.
02:15
September 21, 2018
Converse with the best minds, read a book
Seneca reminds us that one of the simplest and cheapest of pleasures is to engage in a continuous conversation with the best minds humanity has ever produced. By reading a (good) book.
02:18
September 20, 2018
Are you really that busy?
Seneca suggests that we should change our attitude toward being busy: don't surrender yourself to your affairs, but loan yourself to them and you will live a happier life.
02:29
September 19, 2018
Greed leads to unhappiness
Seneca says that for many people the furnishings of their lives are more than enough, but they keep wanting more, thus dooming themselves to unhappiness and turmoil.
02:31
September 18, 2018
How to think about life and death
Seneca clarifies one of the famous Stoic paradoxes: no, you shouldn't live every day as if it were your last. But you should live every day to the fullest because you don't know which one will be your last.
02:29
September 17, 2018
Are you dead before the time, by your own choice?
Seneca reminds Lucilius that a full human life is about being useful, and particularly about helping others. Sure, you can withdraw from the world and live in peace, but then you are arguably already dead.
01:48
September 14, 2018
No matter what, keep your emerald color
Marcus tells us that, regardless of how people around us behave, we should keep following our moral compass, just like an emerald keeps its color regardless of what others are doing.
01:50
September 13, 2018
Epictetus asks a student a trick question...
Epictetus engages in a short dialogue with one of his students, asking him a trick question. How would you answer the question of whether pleasure is a good thing, something to be proud of?
02:02
September 12, 2018
The right thing to do is often painful
Musonius Rufus articulates the Stoic equivalent of "no pain, no gain," in part as a rebuke to the Epicureans. Engaging in social and political life is painful, but it's the right thing to do.
01:44
September 11, 2018
On exotic food consumption
Seneca is critical of the fact that many ships are required to convey the requisites for a single meal, bringing them from no single sea. Still today so many people indulge in pleasures that cost a lot and cause much environmental damage. Time to revise our priorities about where our food comes from?
02:09
September 10, 2018
That which Fortuna has not given, she cannot take away
Let's talk about the ancient Roman goddess Fortuna, or what the Greeks called Tyche, to whom Seneca often refers in his letters to Lucilius. Why does she play such an important role in Stoic philosophy?
02:34
September 7, 2018
We all want lasting joy
Seneca argues that we want joy in life, and we want it to last. And yet, we insist in seeking it in all the wrong places, from ephemeral pleasures to the fickle praise of others.
02:36
September 6, 2018
Beware of flattery, it gets in the way of genuine progress
Seneca claims that flattery is a subtle enemy of our work toward becoming better persons. Too readily we agree with those who tell us that we are good, sensible, holy even. What's a good attitude toward praise, then?
02:28
September 5, 2018
Practicing philosophy is like going to spiritual gym
Seneca reminds Lucilius that we can't relegate our quest for becoming better persons to intervals between indulgences. It's like going to the gym: you have to do it regularly and often, or you won't get the benefits.
01:55
September 4, 2018
Adversity is just a gym to exercise your virtue
Seneca says that the wise person (and, by extension, the practitioner of Stoicism) will deal with poverty, sorrow, disgrace or pain, because she is alert and fortified, ready to treat adversity as a way to improve her character.
02:02
September 3, 2018
Old age, frail and not
Seneca tells Lucilius that old age is natural and to be welcomed. So long as it maintains our mind in working order. If that's not the case, then the Stoics prefer to exit through the open door, as virtue itself becomes impossible to practice.
02:31
August 31, 2018
Take care of your body, with temperance
Seneca reminds us that we have some power to make our body last longer, by exercising temperance in our pleasures. Enjoy your next meal, just don't over do it. And remember, Stoics drink wine, but they don't get drunk.
01:48
August 30, 2018
How to excel at being human
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that there is no difference between acting according to nature and according to reason. What did he mean?
02:05
August 29, 2018
Where philosophy begins
According to Epictetus philosophy gets started when we are genuinely interested in why people disagree about things. Not in terms of factual matters, which empirical evidence can settle, but about values and how we should think about the world and therefore act in it.
02:09
August 28, 2018
We should study broadly in order to increase understanding
Seneca tells Lucilius that he welcomes knowledge from all fields, not just philosophy. That's why he wrote books on natural questions, including on the nature of comets, earthquakes, thunderstorms, and the causes of the flooding of the Nile.
02:03
August 27, 2018
Choose your entertainment virtuously
Seneca tells Lucilius that we need rest and relaxation, but we can exercise virtue even in our choice of how we relax and entertain ourselves. Consider how you refresh your mind, the next time you pick a movie or organize a vacation!
02:04
August 24, 2018
Everything flows, so don't get attached
Seneca quotes the Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus to the effect that everything changes all the time, panta rhei. It follows that it is futile to get attached to things, including our own bodies. Enjoy what you have, but consider it a temporary loan from the cosmos.
02:52
August 23, 2018
Always do what is in harmony with the common interest
Marcus Aurelius talks about being helpful to society. And yet he was an emperor who waged war and presided over slavery. How do we reconcile his actions with his Stoicism? At least in three ways, explored in this episode.
02:11
August 22, 2018
Do you think you know the difference between good and bad?
A splendid example of Epictetus' sarcasm by way of a bit of dialogue with one of his students. In the course of which we learn about the virtue of practical wisdom, the discipline of desire, and the dichotomy of control.
03:24
August 21, 2018
The difference between proto-emotions and fully formed ones
Seneca nicely explains what a proto-emotion is, and we discuss how proto-emotions can then develop into fully formed healthy or unhealthy emotions. It all comes down to what cognitive judgment we apply to our initial response.
02:32
August 20, 2018
How to get a good night's sleep
Seneca reminds us that real tranquillity comes from a relaxed mind with a clear conscience. Which is why Stoics engage in an evening meditation on the major events of the day, learning from their mistakes, and filing them away before going to sleep.
02:07
August 17, 2018
Self-sufficiency comes from inside, not from externals
Seneca challenges the common assumption that someone is self-sufficient if he has enough money, a nice place to live, and so forth. True self-sufficiency requires serenity, which comes from inner strength, not from externals.
01:48
August 16, 2018
Death is like pre-birth: there is nothing to be feared
Seneca agrees with Epicurus: death is a state of non-existence, therefore we do not feel anything, and there is nothing to be afraid of. Moreover, it is no different from the aeons before we were born, and we don't regret those, do we?
01:46
August 15, 2018
Practice philosophy constantly, life doesn't stop
Seneca tells us that philosophy, understood as a way of life, cannot be relegated to spare moments. Just like someone can't be a Christian only on Sunday mornings, so a Stoic applies her principles at every opportunity, big or small.
02:14
August 14, 2018
Learn from teachers who do, not just talk
Seneca advices his friend Lucilius to pay attention to people who act right, not just talk right. When we pick a role model to improve our character, let's pick someone whose actions we want to imitate, they are a better guidance to virtue.
01:39
August 13, 2018
Compel Fortuna to play on equal terms
Seneca argues that we can force Fortuna, the goddess of luck, to deal with us on equal terms, by not being slaves to external things we cannot control. Cultivate equanimity, and Fortuna will play fair with you.
02:03
August 10, 2018
Pay attention to what others say, inhabit their minds
Marcus Aurelius gives some commonsensical advice on how to interact with other people, which leads us to a brief discussion of what counts as "Stoic" advice in the first place.
01:49
August 9, 2018
Revenge is not justice
Epictetus reminds his students that engaging in a wrong act, even one done in response to an injustice, stains our own character, and therefore hurts us first and foremost. Stoics don't favor retributive justice systems.
01:55
August 8, 2018
What's the problem with the passions?
Seneca reminds us of the distinction between unhealthy and healthy emotions: being overwhelmed by the first ones tears us apart internally, while cultivating the second ones brings harmony to our psyche.
02:05
August 7, 2018
No pain no gain, says Musonius
Musonius Rufus, in an implicit rebuttal to the Epicureans, reminds us of all the things that is worth experiencing pain to achieve, most importantly being a good, just, and temperate person.
02:16
August 6, 2018
You should live neither in a place of torture nor in a cafe
Seneca gives rare advice on one's abode. It should be a place that does not get in the way of practicing virtue, which means neither too uncomfortable (if we can avoid it) nor too luxurious or distracting.
02:11
August 3, 2018
Philosophy may be painful or a pleasure, but it's worth it
Seneca disagrees with Epictetus: the first says that philosophy is a pleasant medicine, the second that it is a painful one. And yet they agree that it is a remedy that, taken regularly, makes for a wholesome life.
02:44
August 2, 2018
Is the problem with the place, or with you?
Seneca says that more often than we realize we blame our problems on the time and place we live in, without understanding that the fault may be with us, and that we should work on ourselves, instead of finding excuses.
01:57
August 1, 2018
You want to change the world? Begin by changing yourself
Seneca argues that we are born with the ability to reason and to improve our reasoning. We are also naturally social, and prefer virtue over vice. Hard to believe, right? And yet, he's got a point.
02:12
July 31, 2018
A good life depends not on length, but on our use of it
Seneca argues that it is the quality, not the duration, of one's life that is important, and that we often live long when measured in years, and yet too little in terms of what we accomplish.
02:18
July 30, 2018
What's really important in your life?
A straightforward quote by Epictetus allows us to reflect on what a philosophy of life is, and why everyone needs one.
02:22
July 27, 2018
On the difference between philosophy and logic chopping
Seneca says that he'd prefer to be told how to help people, rather than how many different meanings of the word "people" there may be.
01:38
July 26, 2018
Things themselves have no power to form our judgments
Life is hard as it is, says Marcus Aurelius, there is no need to make ourselves more miserable by adding unnecessary opinions that increase our suffering.
02:22
July 25, 2018
Reflect on the roles you play, and play them well
Epictetus introduced a major innovation in Stoic ethics with his theory of roles. We are first and foremost members of the human cosmopolis. But also fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends, colleagues. How do we balance the conflicting demands of such diverse roles in life?
03:27
July 24, 2018
Won't you be my neighbor?
Seneca reminds us that we can't live happily if we transform everything into a question of our own utility. We must live for your neighbour in order to live for ourselves.
02:10
July 23, 2018
What do you think is truly good for you?
Marcus provides us three options for what sort of thing is truly good for you, and argues that a person of understanding will go for the third one. Have you reflected on what is good for you, and why?
01:40
July 20, 2018
On family matters, take the high moral ground
Epictetus advises us to forgo issues of material resources and remember that family relationships in great part define who we are. After all, if we can't practice virtue with our brothers, sisters, and parents, with whom can we practice it?
01:45
July 19, 2018
Everyone who craves externals is a slave to them
Seneca says that if we are going after the satisfaction of lust, greed, ambition, and so forth, we make ourselves slaves to fortune. Not so if we regard what we have as loans from the universe, which the universe can take back at any moment, by any means.
01:41
July 18, 2018
Calibrate your desires, achieve serenity
Musonius Rufus reminds us that it is far easier to curb our desire for our neighbor's wife than to pursue it Not to mention that it is the right thing to do.
02:04
July 17, 2018
Don't buy a horse on the basis of its saddle
Seneca reminds us that all too often we judge people on the basis of what they wear, or of their social rank, mistakenly assuming that those are good indicators of their character.
02:13
July 13, 2018
“They are slaves,” nay, rather they are people
Seneca reminds his contemporaries that slaves are human beings like everyone else. In this episode, we talk about slavery in the ancient world, what the Stoics thought about it, and what follows from their philosophy.
02:28
July 12, 2018
Beware of the difference between friendship and flattery
Seneca warns us to be careful with people who pretend to be our friends, or simply feed our narcissism. Like, you know, most of the "friends" you likely have on social media...
02:14
July 11, 2018
Philosophy did not find Plato a nobleman, it made him one
Seneca reminds us that philosophy is open to all, no matter what our background and means. Engage the philosophical life and you will get to converse with noble minds across time and cultures.
02:13
July 10, 2018
What does your inner daimon say?
Seneca observes our tendency to boast of the good things we do and to keep quiet about the not-so-good ones. As if our own judgment, the judgment of our conscience, didn't matter.
01:51
July 9, 2018
How on earth did I get here?
Seneca says that Stoic mindfulness is about paying attention to what is happening to us. We need to keep charting and re-charting our way forward, as our mind needs to be prepared for the vagaries of Fortune.
01:37
July 6, 2018
Fortune has no jurisdiction over character
Seneca says that Fortune may take just as much, and as suddenly, as she can give. But we can work on improving our character so that we can accept with equanimity both the good and the bad stuff in life.
02:09
July 5, 2018
Observe the goodness of those around you
Marcus Aurelius suggests some simple therapy for our troubled souls: pause and observe some good things done by people around you. Appreciate what they are doing. And use it as an inspiration for becoming better yourself.
01:57
July 4, 2018
Whenever you yield to externals, you become their slave
Epictetus warns us that if we let an external take precedence over the integrity of our character we are doomed to become slaves for life. And who wants to be a slave, right?
01:47
July 3, 2018
Our predecessors are our guides, not our masters
Seneca reminds us that Stoicism is a live philosophy, which must evolve over time in order to incorporate new truths and, if needed, reject old ideas that turned out to be wrong.
02:28
July 2, 2018
Be forgiving of liars and unjust people
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that Stoicism is both self forgiving and forgiving of others, and that while we should take the path of truth and justice, we should also be tolerant of people who are even further from wisdom and are gooing the wrong way.
01:42
June 29, 2018
But I couldn't do otherwise! Yes, you could...
Epictetus tells us that nobody can force us to agree to a judgment we think is incorrect. Surprisingly, this has countless applications to everyday life.
02:16
June 28, 2018
Make yourself happy through your own efforts
Seneca reminds us that, regardless of external circumstances, the only life worth living is one of virtue, and the only life to avoid is one dominated by vice.
02:23
June 27, 2018
Above all, we are citizens of the world
Marcus Aurelius recognizes that, as Antoninus, he is a citizen of Rome. But more fundamentally, he is a citizen of the human cosmopolis. Some pretty radical consequences immediately follow...
02:28
June 26, 2018
Only the truly educated person is free
Epictetus reminds us that education, which involves the ability to shape our moral values, is the only ticket to achieving freedom. Something to remember, in these days in which people freely elect tyrants and autocracts.
02:12
June 25, 2018
Would the Stoics approve of assisted suicide?
In this episode we discuss a quote from Seneca which, together with several other passages in other authors, clearly points to the conclusion that the Stoics were in favor of suicide in the case of disease and frailty in old age. Which does not mean they took suicide lightly at all.
02:07
June 22, 2018
Being bad requires a lot of work
Musonius Rufus rather sarcastically reminds us that being bad requires just as much work as being good, so why not choose the latter instead?
02:01
June 21, 2018
Teach them then, and show them without being angry
Marcus Aurelius says that people make mistakes because they don't know better. So there is no point in getting self-rigtheous and angry about it, instead we need to teach them where they go wrong.
02:13
June 20, 2018
Go hug a philosopher, will you?
Epictetus defends the apparently strange notion that philosophy, like mathematics (or science, or lots of other things) is a profession, requiring expertise. He is not being elitist, he's just being reasonable.
02:33
June 19, 2018
We belong to the world, not to a particular corner of it
Seneca reminds us that even though we belong to different social groups, religions, ethnicities and so forth, we are, most fundamentally, members of the human cosmopolis.
01:50
June 18, 2018
It's either gods or atoms...
Marcus Aurelius reflects on what happens to us when we die: either we are absorbed in the seminal principle of the universe, or we become atoms scattered in the void. Either way, we still need to behave decently toward other human beings.
02:32
June 15, 2018
Ethics is a practice, so do it
Epictetus asks us a simple question: if we didn’t learn these things in order to demonstrate them in practice, what did we learn them for?
02:05
June 14, 2018
Moving will not help you, if your trouble is internal
Seneca tells Lucilius that moving to the other end of the world will not be helpful if his troubles are generated by his own attitudes, because he will carry the same person around the globe, if he doesn't address the real issue.
02:22
June 13, 2018
The truth does you no harm, but error does
Marcus Aurelius reminds himself of something that modern politicians need to pay attention to: if someone shows you that you are in error, the right thing to do is to admit it and learn from the other.
02:09
June 12, 2018
How Epictetus lost his lamp and the thief became a brute
Epictetus tells the story of a thief stealing his lamp at night, and reflects on what each of them lost in the process. He concludes that he came ahead of the thief.
02:07
June 11, 2018
Sound minds are hard to find, or buy
Seneca, with rather uncharacteristic sense of humor, says that one can't buy a sound mind, and even if that were possible, there would be no market for them.
02:15
June 8, 2018
Annoyed by people? It's an opportunity to practice virtue
Marcus Aurelius suggests we think of others as partners at the gym: don't hate or hold grudges against them, think of them as opportunities to improve your virtue.
01:39
June 7, 2018
Good judgments improve your character
Epictetus says that the way we improve our character is by paying attention and making good judgments, while if we keep making bad ones we make our character worse. So today reflect carefully on your decisions, and ask yourself what would Epictetus do.
01:54
June 6, 2018
I may become poor, then I shall be among many
Seneca lists the worst things that could happen to him, and that we all fear, and reminds himself that the only truly terrible thing is being a bad person who holds to bad values and makes bad decisions.
02:35
June 5, 2018
Always examine your assumptions
Musonius Rufus reminds us that we often act out of simple habit, without paying attention to what we are doing and why. Not the best way to proceed in life.
01:40
June 4, 2018
Why do you care for the opinion of posterity?
Marcus Aurelius observes that some people are obsessed with what posterity will think of them, even though they have no idea what sort of individuals will make that judgment. Meanwhile, how about taking care of those we know here and now?
01:40
June 1, 2018
Good and evil are entirely up to you
Epictetus says that externals (health, wealth, education, good looks) are the means by which we do good or evil in the world. So it is entirely up to us, really.
01:39
May 31, 2018
The glass is neither half full nor half empty, it just is
Seneca reminds Lucilius that we ought to hope for justice, but brace ourselves for injustice. This is just the way the world works, which doesn't absolve us from our responsibility to do something about it.
01:53
May 30, 2018
Do not seek fame, seek to be useful to others
Marcus Aurelius reflects on what is worth doing, and decides that it's not seeking fame, but rather being helpful to fellow human beings.
02:09
May 29, 2018
Nobody wants to believe falsehoods, and yet...
Epictetus says that people cannot assent to what they think is false. We always want to be right, but we are often not, which is why we rationalize things. That's why we need to improve our ability to arrive at correct judgments about things.
02:24
May 28, 2018
Think about bad stuff happening, get comfortable with it
Seneca introduces a classic Stoic exercise, the premeditatio malorum, thinking about bad things happening, playing them in your head, so you get comfortable with accepting whatever may come.
02:37
May 25, 2018
After every disturbance, re-center yourself
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that all sorts of things will disturb our rational soul, and that we therefore need to practice re-centering it in order to respond to situations with reason and equanimity.
02:07
May 24, 2018
Can you tell the difference between the baths and the mill?
Epictetus has a little bit of fun with the Skeptics, who denied the possibility of human knowledge. If that's the case, he says, how is it that you reliably go to the thermal baths when you want to relax, and to the mill when you want bread?
01:53
May 23, 2018
Some people get to the end without having lived at all
Seneca observes that some people begin to really live their life only near the end. And some never begin at all. So what's sort of life you want to live, and have you started already?
01:28
May 22, 2018
Take care of your body, it helps your virtue
Our body is a preferred indifferent, but Musonius Rufus tells us to take whatever care we can of it, as it is also an instrument of virtue. In other words, go to the gym...
01:58
May 21, 2018
No matter what, do your duty as a human being
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that whether we are cold or warm, ill-spoken of or praised, and dead or "doing something else," we still have a duty to make this a better world.
02:03
May 18, 2018
Where are you going to hide from death?
Epictetus uses his dark sense of humor to remind us that death is inevitable. At the same time, though, fear of it is not. Moreover, awareness of death is what, in a sense, gives meaning to our life.
03:01
May 17, 2018
Are you on the right path, or do you need a correction?
Seneca says that the right path in life consists in a good conscience, honourable purposes, right actions, contempt of luck, and an attitude of equanimity toward whatever the universe throws our way.
02:13
May 16, 2018
Think and act the right way, happiness will flow
Marcus Aurelius maintains that if we think and act the right way our life will be an equable flow of happiness. This is because we will do our best, but look at outcomes with equanimity.
02:20
May 15, 2018
What is philosophy, anyway?
Epictetus says that philosophy begins with awareness of one's mental fitness. So let's work on that, shall we?
02:00
May 14, 2018
What about pleasure?
Seneca says the problem with pleasure is that if one is too much into it, it rushes us into the abyss of sorrow. So it's time to discuss what pleasure means for a practitioner of Stoicism.
02:04
May 11, 2018
If this were you last day, what would you be proud of?
Marcus writes near the end of his life about the sort of things he did that he values, from discounting honors and other externals to having been kind even toward people who were not kind to him.
01:50
May 10, 2018
Respond to insults as if you were a rock
Epictetus counsels us to react to insults as if we were a rock, that is, by ignoring them. An insult is only effective if you let it be, and that power resides exclusively in your own faculty of judgment.
02:42
May 9, 2018
Above all, learn how to feel joy
Rather unusual advise from Seneca to his friend Lucilius: learn how to feel joy. Which doesn't sound Stoic only if one buys into the incorrect stereotype of Stoicism as a practice to suppress emotions. Let's learn how to feel joy, then.
02:52
May 8, 2018
The duty of a social animal capable of reason
Marcus says that we have a duty to do what a social animal capable of reason ought to do. And that's to practice virtue for the betterment of humankind.
02:08
May 7, 2018
Epictetus and the open door policy: Stoicism and suicide
Tough topic for this episode: what is known as Epictetus' open door policy, that is, the Stoic idea that suicide is permissible, under certain circumstances. And indeed, that it is its possibility that gives us freedom and courage to fight on.
03:00
May 4, 2018
Take truth wherever you find it, it's public property
Seneca explains that one doesn't have to be an Epicurean in order to find value in the words of Epicurus. It's like in the Senate: you vote for the parts of a motion you approve of, and reject the rest.
01:33
May 3, 2018
How to calibrate your moral compass
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that justice is a crucial virtue in Stoicism, and we need to constantly keep it at the forefront. He also says that we need to evaluate our impressions of things, before acting. Don't just do it, stop and think about it first!
02:22
May 2, 2018
The universe is your trainer, get ready for the Olympics
Epictetus uses a nice metaphor in which the universe is our trainer, sending us tough stuff to deal with so that we get used to breaking a sweat and prepare for the Olympics of life.
01:57
May 1, 2018
Changing your life doesn't happen by magic
Musonius Rufus tells us that it isn't enough to know that we should be virtuous, we need to constantly practice virtue. Stoicism is not a magic wand, but it will change your life, and is well worth the effort.
01:54
April 30, 2018
Practice poverty as an exercise in endurance and gratitude
Seneca tells Lucilius that it is crucial, from time to time, to engage in exercises of self deprivation, so to prepare ourselves for whenever luck will turn, and also to be grateful and appreciative of what we normally have and may take for granted.
02:00
April 27, 2018
Praise or blame do not make a thing better or worse
On the day of Marcus Aurelius' birthday, April 26, let's reflect on a simple Stoic precept: good or bad lie in actions, thoughts, and words, not in the praise or blame that those things get from others.
02:22
April 26, 2018
Focus on what is up to you, the rest may or may not come
Epictetus clearly states one of the fundamental principles of Stoicism: the dichotomy of control. Once we realize that some things are up to us and other things aren't, it follows that we should focus on the first ones and cultivate equanimity toward the latter ones.
03:04
April 25, 2018
Are you practicing, or just talking?
Seneca says that talk is easy, but the real measure of whether we are making progress lies in our practice. Have our desires for the wrong things decreased? Are we focusing on what is truly important?
02:08
April 24, 2018
15 minutes of fame? Why would you want that?
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that fame is ephemeral and intrinsically meaningless. What we do for others and to improve ourselves here and now is what really counts.
02:28
April 23, 2018
We all agree to do good, but disagree on what good is
Epictetus notes that people want to be good, regardless of their ethnicity, citizenship, or religion. But then they get lost in arguments over whether it is acceptable or not to eat pork.
01:52
April 20, 2018
No cell phones at dinner, just friends
Seneca tells Lucilius that one can learn a thing or two even from Epicurus, particularly that it is the company we keep that is the most important part of our meals.
02:03
April 19, 2018
Death is coming, what are you doing in the meantime?
Marcus Aurelius reminds himself that his life is finite and brief. How to live it, then? As a good person would, which is in his power to do.
01:40
April 18, 2018
Whose praise are you so desperately seeking?
Epictetus tells his students that they are fools if they think that being praised is important, particularly by people who they themselves do not think highly of!
02:04
April 17, 2018
Anger is temporary madness
Seneca tells us that anger is a form of temporary madness, not to be indulged by the person who cultivates reason.
02:15
April 16, 2018
Do you have reason? Why don't you use it, then?
Marcus Aurelius asks himself the rethorical question of whether he has reason, and then the less obvious one of why he is not making good use of it. What about you?
01:37
April 13, 2018
Is your mind in the dark, or are you just blind?
Epictetus explains why being blind is far less of a problem than having your mind in the dark.
01:48
April 12, 2018
Practice poverty to remind you of the important things
Seneca explains the Stoic practice of eating poor and scant food, and going outside dressed with old clothes, in order to remind ourselves that we can cope with difficult situations, and to appreciate anew what we have.
02:24
April 11, 2018
Change your mind, if others have better reasons
Marcus Aurelius reminds himself to use his faculty of judgment at its best, which includes changing his mind, should others have better reasons than his own.
01:57
April 10, 2018
A crown of roses looks better than one of gold
Epictetus mocks a student who is bent on pursuing power and wealth. Those things are neither good nor bad for the Stoics, it's a matter of how we use them.
01:59
April 9, 2018
How to handle the holidays, Stoically speaking
Seneca tells Lucilius about two levels of engagement with drunken crodws during the holidays. Good to remember for your next Thanksgiving, Christmans, or whatever you celebrate.
01:54
April 6, 2018
Harm comes from opinion, take away the opinion, then
Marcus Aurelius says that there is a difference between objective facts and our opinions of them. And much of our misery comes from the opinions, not the facts.
02:18
April 5, 2018
Practical philosophy is called practical for a reason
Musonius Rufus tells us that theory is important, and needs to precede practice. But it is the latter that makes the whole thing worth it.
02:14
April 4, 2018
People do bad things because they are fools
Epictetus reminds us of the Stoic doctrine that people don't do bad things on purpose, but rather because they are mistaken about the nature of good and evil.
02:02
April 3, 2018
Fate, God, or Chance, it doesn't really matter
Seneca says that whether the universe is controlled by universal laws, by a god, or by chance, we still have to do the right thing. And philosophy is our guide for that.
02:17
April 2, 2018
What are you going to do today to improve the human polis?
Marcus Aurelius articulates a series of if...then statements that argue that we are all members of a community of reasoners, and that reason dictates that we be helpful to such community.
02:01
March 30, 2018
Got a headache? Excellent opportunity to practice endurance!
Epictetus advises us to start practicing with small things. The next time you are sick, try not to curse or complain. You'll discover in you the power of endurance, and you'll be far less annoying to other people...
02:19
March 29, 2018
Practical philosophy is not an oxymoron
Seneca tells Lucilius that philosophy is not just a way to amuse the mind, but an exercise to guide our actions and mould our souls.
02:37
March 28, 2018
The universe is transformation, life is opinion
Marcus Aurelius here sounds like a Sophist, or a post-modern relativist. But he is a Stoic, so his message is a little more subtle than that.
02:02
March 27, 2018
Ultimately, it is always your decision
Even when threatened with your life, says Epictetus, you are the one in charge, you make the decision to yield or not to yield.
02:10
March 26, 2018
Take care of the body, but don't treat it as a temple
Seneca says that it is incumbent on us to take care of our body, but that we should even be willing to destroy it, if virtue demands it.
02:29
March 23, 2018
Fame is fickle, and irrelevant
Marcus reminds us that the number of Facebook likes we get is irrelevant to our happiness.
02:01
March 22, 2018
Study logic, reason well about life
Epictetus reminds his students that without logic there is no serious talking about how to live the life worth living.
01:51
March 21, 2018
Be afraid of the right things
Seneca says that we often spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the wrong sorts of things.
02:12
March 20, 2018
How the Stoics saw women's education
Musonius Rufus says in no uncertain terms that men and women are capable, and indeed deserve, the same education, including in philosophy.
02:41
March 19, 2018
Nobody does wrong voluntarily
Marcus Aurelius reminds us of one of the most difficult, and yet most profound, doctrines of Stoicism: nobody commits wrongs on purpose, but only because they lack understanding of good and evil.
02:18
March 16, 2018
Reason is the name of the game
Epictetus argues that the only way to criticize reason is by way of applying reason. There are no alternative facts for the Stoics.
02:04
March 15, 2018
The truth belongs to everyone
Seneca explains to his friend Lucilius why on earth he approvingly quotes one of the Stoics' main rivals, Epicurus.
01:57
March 14, 2018
The inner citadel of peace
Marcus Aurelius reminds himself that he can always retreat into what Pierre Hadot famously referred to as the Inner Citadel, our own mind, where we can pay attention to and refine our faculty of judgment.
01:57
March 13, 2018
It takes time for a fig to ripe, or a character to mature
Epictetus cautions us to be patient while working on improving our character. Nothing important comes into being overnight.
02:21
March 12, 2018
The advantages of old age
Seneca tells Lucilius to pay attention to the joys of old age, and to be grateful for every day we live.
02:05
March 9, 2018
Fame is fleeting, focus on the here and now
Marcus Aurelius engages in a view from above meditation, reminding himself that the quest for fame is just plain irrational.
02:35
March 8, 2018
Make sure you work on your faculty of judgment
Epictetus reminds us that when we face an impression about an external thing we should consider carefully whether to assent to it, withhold assent, or remain neutral.
02:34
March 7, 2018
Pick a role model
Seneca advises Lucilius to choose a good role model to improve his character, for we cannot straighten what is crooked unless we use a ruler.
02:08
March 6, 2018
Philosophy as medicine for the mind
Musonius Rufus says that philosophy is like medicine: if it does not make you a healthier person, it is not useful.
02:23
March 5, 2018
With great power comes great responsibility
Epictetus reminds people with power that they should remember whom they have power over: fellow human beings, made of the same stuff, wanting the same things.
01:58
March 2, 2018
Keep a sound and upright soul, despise Fortune
The wise person, according to Seneca, needs others to live her life, but not to live a life worth living. For that, all she needs is to keep her faculty of judgment in good order.
02:03
March 1, 2018
Work for the public good
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that we need to work for the public good, not pursue power, fame, or pleasure.
01:54
March 1, 2018
Judgments, Not Externals
Epictetus reminds us that we are in charge of our judgments about things, and talks about Socrates, who chose to be in prison
02:21
March 1, 2018
It's All About Character
Seneca says that it makes no difference whether your house has a roof of gold, what matters is the character of the person who lives there.
02:07
March 1, 2018
Do The Right Thing, Now
Marcus Aurelius says that we need to stand erect of our own accord, not wait to be propped up by others.
01:34
March 1, 2018
Opinions Cause Suffering
Epictetus on the fact that it isn't exile, pain or death that determine our actions, but our opinions of those things.
02:16
March 1, 2018
Beware Of The Company You Keep
Seneca warns us that the path to virtue is easily disrupted by exposing ourselves to temptation and unsavory company.
02:06
March 1, 2018
We Are All Brothers & Sisters
Hierocles instructs us on a simple mental exercise to practice the Stoic concept of cosmopolitanism.
02:52
March 1, 2018
Philosophy As A Way Of Life
Musonius Rufus reminds us why we study philosophy, a different pursuit from what goes on in the modern academy.
01:52
March 1, 2018
Living According To Nature
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that to care for all people is according to (human) nature.
01:51
March 1, 2018
Against Nationalism
Epictetus tells us that Socrates never replied to the question "where are you from?" with "I am from Athens," but always with "I am a citizen of the world."
01:56
March 1, 2018
Courage Requires Justice
Seneca makes the surprising (to some) statement that Stoicism is all about community and sharing.
01:44
March 1, 2018
Use Your Thoughts Well
Marcus Aurelius tells us to ignore the opinion that others have of us, and to focus our energy instead on positive projects.
01:46
March 1, 2018
Character Is Crucial
Epictetus says that the measure of a person is the goodness of her character. Let's work on it, then!
02:11
March 1, 2018
The point of philosophy is...
Seneca makes a surprising statement about the primary aim of philosophy. Surprising, that is, if you confuse Stoicism and stoicism...
01:43
March 1, 2018
What happens after death?
Marcus Aurelius sounds agnostic about the after life. He also seems to think it doesn't matter.
02:03
March 1, 2018
Beware of superficial judgment
Epictetus observes that even if Plato were handsome and strong, that doesn’t mean those are the traits that made him a great philosopher...
02:07
March 1, 2018
Wealth not a measure of worth
Seneca has a problem with people who measure their worth by fashion or wealth.
01:35
March 1, 2018
Don’t be an imbecile!
Hierocles reminds us that it is useless to blame things that have no fault. Rather, look at how clumsy or stupid we are sometimes when we use them.
01:51
March 1, 2018
Radical idea: women equality
Musonius Rufus says women have the same reasoning abilities as man, the same faculty of distinguishing good from bad.
01:49
March 1, 2018
Remember, everything passes
Marcus Aurelius lists a number of important people who are no more, as a reminder of the impermanence of things, and to help us keep what happens to us in perspective.
01:49
March 1, 2018
What good did you do today?
Epictetus says that not doing awful things isn’t enough, it’s too lazy. The point is to positively do good things.
02:02
March 1, 2018
Beware of relying on luck
Seneca uses a beautiful analogy to explain why the Stoic practitioner should not rely on luck, and indeed should be positively weary of it.
01:48
March 1, 2018
Keep your inner demon clean
Marcus Aurelius talks about how we should keep our “daimon,” i.e., our deliberating faculty, or our conscience.
01:53
March 1, 2018
Follow the counsel of reason
Epictetus reminds us that sometimes the reasonable thing to do is to suspend judgment. And always to face reality rather than engage in wishful thinking.
01:52
March 1, 2018
What counts as a good life?
Seneca says that the important thing is not how long a life you live, but what you do with it.
01:51
March 1, 2018
What matters is the here & now
Marcus Aurelius thinks that it’s good to keep things in perspective, and that we only control the here and now.
01:43
March 1, 2018
Doing beats complaining
Epictetus reminds his student that certain things are an inevitable feature of the universe, and that it is better to work on them than just wish them away.
01:46
March 1, 2018
On death & the value of life
Seneca uses Epicurus’ argument for why we should not be afraid of death, focusing instead on how to best live our life.
01:48
March 1, 2018
What makes your life worth it?
Marcus Aurelius introduces us to the apparently paradoxical notion that life, death, honor, dishonor, pleasure and pain are neither good nor bad.
02:15
March 1, 2018
Caring about your soul
Epictetus makes an interesting contrast between taking too much care of our bodies and too little care of our minds.
01:51
March 1, 2018
True friendship is rare
Seneca advises us on how to behave with true friends, and reminds us of how important they are in our life.
01:57
March 1, 2018
We are all brothers & sisters
Hierocles reminds us that we are fundamentally social animals, and that we are here to help each other.
01:40
March 1, 2018
Practice, practice, practice!
Musonius Rufus says that nobody is born a writer, musician, or athlete. People get there by studying and practicing. The same goes for virtue.
01:46
March 1, 2018
Clean up your own thinking
Marcus tells us that it’s too easy and unnecessary to worry about other people’s thoughts. It is far more difficult, but useful, to worry about our own.
01:23
March 1, 2018
Don’t argue with stones
Epictetus says that some people hardens their opinions into stones. It’s their problem, don’t waste your time arguing with them.
01:49
March 1, 2018
On wealth and virtue
Seneca tells Lucilius that wealth should be limited, something that exposed him to charges of hypocrisy. Regardless, what is the relationship between wealth and virtue?
02:03
March 1, 2018
Use your time well...
Marcus reminds us that our life is short, and that we don’t really know what day will be our last. So why not use our time in the best possible way?
01:34
March 1, 2018
Virtue is a matter of practice
Epictetus says that we become virtuous in the same way as athletes and musicians become more proficient at what they do: by constant practice.
01:52
March 1, 2018
Find wisdom wherever it is
Seneca wanders into Epicurean territory, as a scout, not a traitor.
01:35
March 1, 2018
Opinions cannot hurt you
Marcus is summarizing here some of the most important concepts of Stoicism, especially why we should pity, and not get upset with, people when they make mistakes.
02:41
March 1, 2018
On dealing with nasty people
Hierocles reminds us how to best respond to another human being who has ill feelings toward us.
01:38
March 1, 2018
Philosophy is about doing
Musonius Rufus says that philosophers should speak clearly, and most of all should live the way they talk.
01:45
March 1, 2018
Don’t sell your soul cheap!
Epictetus asks us at what price we are willing to sell our soul, and advises us to aim for the highest one possible.
02:33
March 1, 2018
Read well, not a lot
Seneca reminds us that reading is serious business, and that time is limited. Choose well the authors in whose company you wish to spend time.
02:08
March 1, 2018
The duties of friendship
Marcus reminds us that we have duties toward the people we live with, and how to be positive about our friends.
02:04
March 1, 2018
How to act toward others
The second century Stoic Hierocles sounds very Christian, and for good reasons.
01:48
March 1, 2018
Seneca on not wasting time
This could be the last day of your life. Are you going to waste it by binging on a mediocre television show?
01:42
March 1, 2018
Is the wise person self sufficient?
Seneca puts forth a paradox: the wise person is self-sufficient, and yet she desires friends and neighbors. How is this possible?
02:09
February 28, 2018
Take care of your mind, it's precious
Epictetus notes that we can do a lot more with our mind than with our body. And yet we obsess over the latter and care little for the former.
01:59
February 28, 2018
Don't do anything that requires a wall or a curtain
The emperor-philosopher tells us that there is no profit for our character in doing things that require lying, being hypocritical, or otherwise damage our integrity.
02:09
February 28, 2018
Time to die or to go lunch?
Epictetus tells us that we have to tend to whatever is happening right now. If we are about to die, let’s deal with it. But if not...
01:53
December 30, 2017
Don’t postpone, life speeds by
Seneca tells us that time is a precious commodity, and one that, once loaned, can never be paid back.
01:53
December 29, 2017
Useful vs pedantic knowledge
Musonius Rufus reminds us of the difference between useful philosophy and dull mind games.
01:52
December 27, 2017
Focus on what is in your power
Epictetus reminds us of the wisdom of understanding what is and is not under our control.
02:18
December 26, 2017
Marcus on not getting offended
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that it is a strange thing to get offended by what people say or do.
02:05
December 24, 2017
Epictetus on what is good
Epictetus teaches us what is truly good in life.
01:56
December 22, 2017
Marcus is thankful
Marcus Aurelius is thankful to his grandfather and his mother.
01:52
December 21, 2017
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