Stoic Meditations

Stoic Meditations

By Massimo Pigliucci
Occasional reflections on the wisdom of Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. More at massimopigliucci.wordpress.com. Please consider supporting Stoic Meditations. (cover art by Marek Škrabák; original music by Ian Jolin-Rasmussen, www.jolinras.info).
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Of bitter cucumbers and thorny briars

Stoic Meditations

Of bitter cucumbers and thorny briars

Stoic Meditations

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The root of virtue: self love
Cicero has Cato the Younger explain a fundamental concept of Stoic developmental psychology: how virtue is rooted in innate self love, and how we do things that are good for us regardless of pleasure and pain.
03:11
February 19, 2020
The crucial importance of technical words
Cicero explains why philosophy needs a technical vocabulary, and we look at the sort of issues this may cause when talking to people who are unfamiliar with such vocabulary.
02:59
February 18, 2020
Virtue vs pleasure
At the onset of book III of Cicero's De Finibus, Cato the Younger explain the difference between the Epicurean and Stoic positions on the respective values of pleasure and virtue.
03:00
February 17, 2020
Teach or endure
People exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or bear with them.
02:45
February 14, 2020
Two scenarios for the after-death
Marcus Aurelius contemplates two possible scenarios for what happens after we die. Neither one of which justifies our fears on the matter. Better to focus instead on the fact that we are alive, here and now.
02:51
February 13, 2020
What is properly ours and what is not
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that just as we do not control other people's bodies, so we do not control their opinions and judgments. We should, therefore, be concerned chiefly with improving our own.
02:28
February 12, 2020
Of bitter cucumbers and thorny briars
“A cucumber is bitter.” Throw it away. “There are briars in the road.” Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, “And why were such things made in the world?”
02:17
February 11, 2020
The inner citadel
The mind that is free from passions is a citadel, for we have nothing more secure to which we can fly for refuge and repel every attack.
02:41
February 10, 2020
The courage to stay
Marcus Aurelius reminds himself that if life is unbearable, one has the option to leave. But we have a duty, toward ourselves and others, to stay, if at all possible.
02:32
February 7, 2020
Value judgments are not inherent in things
If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.
02:27
February 6, 2020
Achieving ataraxia
Take me and cast me where you will; for there I shall keep my divine part tranquil, that is, content, if it can feel and act conformably to its proper constitution.
02:31
February 5, 2020
On fame, posthumous or not
Those who rather pursue posthumous fame do not consider that the people of tomorrow will be exactly like these whom they cannot bear now; and both are mortal.
02:35
February 4, 2020
Three things to care about
It is my delight to keep the ruling faculty sound without turning away from any of the things that happen to people, but looking at and receiving all with welcoming eyes and using everything according to its value.
02:15
February 3, 2020
The nuanced conflict between pleasure and virtue
I see no virtue that is opposed to justice; but I see a virtue that is opposed to love of pleasure, and that is temperance.
02:32
January 31, 2020
How not to get overwhelmed by problems
Do not let your thoughts at once embrace all the various troubles that you may expect to befall you: but on every occasion ask yourself, What is there in this that is intolerable and past bearing?
02:46
January 30, 2020
A prepared mind is a mark of wisdom
All things happen in a more endurable fashion to people who are prepared for them.
02:22
January 29, 2020
The true meaning of human freedom
Freedom consists in raising one’s mind superior to injuries and becoming a person whose pleasures come from himself alone.
02:15
January 28, 2020
When it comes to people insulting you, you are in complete control
It is a sort of revenge to spoil a man’s enjoyment of the insult he has offered to us … the success of an insult lies in the sensitiveness and rage of the victim.
02:13
January 27, 2020
The insult conundrum
Do these things befall me deservedly or undeservedly? If deservedly, it is not an insult, but a judicial sentence; if undeservedly, then he who does injustice ought to blush, not I.
02:10
January 24, 2020
The best way to respond to insults
When insulted, Cato did not flare up and revenge the outrage, he did not even pardon it, but ignored it, showing more magnanimity in not acknowledging it than if he had forgiven it.
02:39
January 23, 2020
Rich people are worse than beggars
The wise man will not admire himself even if many rich men admire him; for he knows that they differ in no respect from beggars — nay, are even more wretched than they; for beggars want but a little, whereas rich men want a great deal.
02:24
January 22, 2020
On the invulnerability of the wise person
Wise persons are without anger, which is caused by the appearance of injury. And they could not be free from anger unless they were also free from injury, which they know cannot be done to them.
02:33
January 21, 2020
Is sagehood possible?
Seneca argues that Cato the Younger was a sage, but a modern biography casts some doubt on that. Do sages ever walk the earth? Who would you put forth as your favorite candidate?
02:56
January 20, 2020
How to react to both prosperity and adversity
Bear adversity with calm and prosperity with moderation, neither yielding to the former nor trusting to the latter.
02:16
January 17, 2020
The simplified dichotomy of control
Fortune can take nothing away save what she gave. Now fortune does not give virtue; therefore she does not take it away.
02:18
January 16, 2020
The meaning of invulnerability
Invulnerable is not that which is never struck, but that which is never wounded. In this class I will show you the wise person.
02:27
January 15, 2020
We are free no matter what
"For Cato did not outlive freedom, nor did freedom outlive Cato." On the Stoic conception of suicide.
02:30
January 14, 2020
The path to virtue is not as steep as some may think
“But the way by which we are asked to climb is steep and uneven.” What then? Can heights be reached by a level path? Yet they are not so sheer and precipitous as some think.
02:33
January 13, 2020
The joke's on the thief
Nobody wants to do what is bad for them. So when the thief steals, he is under the wrong impression about what is and is not good for him. We should therefore pity him, and help him understand, if possible.
02:46
January 10, 2020
The importance of logic
A student asks Epictetus whether we should really bother to learn logic. "Would you like me to provide you with an argument?" Yes. "How would you know if my argument is a good one, if you don't understand logic?" QED.
02:51
January 9, 2020
Humanity's problems stem from ignorance
According to Epictetus, the root of our problems is that we don't know, or refuse to acknowledge, how the world works. As opposed as to how we wished it worked.
02:40
January 8, 2020
Practice, practice, practice
If someone gets the habit of writing ungrammatically, their art is bound to be destroyed and perish. In the same way the person of honor keeps their character by honest acts and loses it by dishonest.
02:28
January 7, 2020
Don't behave like a sheep or a wild beast
What sets aside human beings from the rest of the animal world is our ability to reason and our propensity to be pro-social. So let's reason well, and be helpful to fellow humans.
03:04
January 6, 2020
The power of using impressions
Since plants do not even have the power of perception, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are not applicable to them. Evidently, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ presume the power of using impressions.
02:20
January 2, 2020
What if you were sent to Gyara?
The island of Gyara was the exile place of choice for troublesome people during the Roman Empire. How would you handle being sent into exile?
02:37
December 30, 2019
The wonder and curse of consciousness
Because we’re the only animals who not only die but are conscious of it even while it happens, we are beset by anxiety.
02:13
December 27, 2019
Microcosm and macrocosm
Because what is a human being? Part of a community – the community of gods and men, primarily, and secondarily that of the city we happen to inhabit, which is only a microcosm of the universe in toto.
02:20
December 26, 2019
The true nature of humanity
Human beings are neither mindless drones in a beehive nor entirely self-contained individuals. We are highly social animals, and a number of ethical implications follow from this biological fact.
02:32
December 23, 2019
Going on a trip? Here's what's up to you (and what isn't)
A nice analogy from Epictetus between our choices in life and those we have when we go on a trip. Even when the trip doesn't end well...
02:43
December 20, 2019
What really matters
Material things per se are indifferent, but the use we make of them is not indifferent.
02:10
December 19, 2019
The crucial importance of trust
Trust is crucial for intimate relationships, for friendships, and even among fellow citizens. Research shows that nations with the highest degree of self-reported happiness among its citizens are those in which people feel like they can trust each other.
02:40
December 18, 2019
Prosoche, or Stoic attention
We know how to analyze arguments, and have the skill a person needs to evaluate competent logicians. But in life what do we do? What today we say is good, tomorrow we'll swear is bad. That's because we don't pay attention.
02:24
December 17, 2019
Better swallow the bitter pill from the get go
When I see that one thing, virtue, is supreme and most important, I cannot say that something else is, just to make you happy.
02:31
December 16, 2019
Don't get lost in the details and miss the big picture
Some become captivated by all these things and don’t want to proceed further. One is captivated by deductive or equivocal arguments, someone else by yet another ‘inn’ of this kind; and there they stay and rot as if seduced by the Sirens.
02:26
December 13, 2019
Don't confuse a rest stop with your destination
People act like a traveller headed for home who stops at an inn and, finding it comfortable, decides to remain there. You’ve lost sight of your goal, man. You were supposed to drive through the inn, not park there.
02:20
December 12, 2019
Anger is a waste of time
Why should we, as though we were born to live forever, waste our tiny span of life in declaring anger against any one? Life is a matter which does not admit of waste, and we have no spare time to throw away.
02:30
December 11, 2019
The simplest and bets trick in life: be prepared
Is anyone surprised at being cold in winter? At being sick at sea? Or at being jostled in the street? The mind is strong enough to bear those evils for which it is prepared.
02:19
December 10, 2019
How to keep a philosophical journal
Seneca gives us a rationale and detailed instructions on how too keep a philosophical journal. And modern cognitive science confirms that it works in order to improve self-analysis and let go of negative emotions.
03:44
December 9, 2019
The problem is money
Money is what wearies out the law-courts, sows strife between father and son, concocts poisons, and gives swords to murderers just as to soldiers: it is stained with our blood.
02:25
December 6, 2019
Examine your balance sheet of giving and receiving
Do you ask, what is your greatest fault? It is, that you keep your accounts wrongly: you set a high value upon what you give, and a low one upon what you receive.
02:21
December 5, 2019
Envy is the root of much unhappiness
A person will never be well off to whom it is a torture to see any one better off than themselves. Have I less than I hoped for? Well, perhaps I hoped for more than I ought.
02:18
December 4, 2019
Treat fools like fools, don't get angry with them
It makes no sense to get angry with children or non-human animals, because they can't reason. So why get angry with an adult who has temporarily lost the use of reason?
02:10
December 3, 2019
The futility of revenge
Revenge takes up much time, and throws itself in the way of many injuries while it is smarting under one. We all retain our anger longer than we feel our hurt.
02:24
December 2, 2019
Understand and forgive
Let us  be more gentle one to another: we are bad people, living among bad people. There is only one thing which can afford us peace, and that is to agree to forgive one another.
02:21
November 29, 2019
I have entrusted the guidance of my life to reason
Say to fortune: Do what you will, you are too feeble to disturb my serenity: this is forbidden by reason, to whom I have entrusted the guidance of my life: to become angry would do me more harm than your violence can do me.
02:32
November 27, 2019
On magnanimity
Seneca runs us through a long list of reasons why people do us wrong. And then concludes that we should be magnanimous, not vengeful, toward them, in part because they are human beings like us, and like us they make mistakes.
02:42
November 26, 2019
Act the opposite of anger
Let us replace all of anger’s symptoms by their opposites; let us make our countenance more composed than usual, our voice milder, our step slower. Our inward thoughts gradually become influenced by our outward demeanor.
02:27
November 25, 2019
Abstain from action when under the spell of anger
While you are angry, you ought not to be allowed to do anything. Why?, do you ask? Because when you are angry there is nothing that you do not wish to be allowed to do.
02:26
November 22, 2019
Humor, not anger
It is said that Socrates when he was given a box on the ear, merely said that it was a pity a man could not tell when he ought to wear his helmet out walking.
02:38
November 21, 2019
Practical steps to curb your anger
Do something that relaxes you, change your environment to make it soothing, and most importantly don't engage in anything major if you are tired, stressed, or hungry.
02:45
November 20, 2019
Be careful with the company you keep
We should live with the quietest and easiest-tempered persons, not with anxious or with sullen ones: for our own habits are copied from those with whom we associate.
02:30
November 19, 2019
Anger betrays what is best in humanity
Anger pays a penalty at the same moment that it exacts one: it forswears human feelings. The latter urge us to love, anger urges us to hatred: the latter bid us do good, anger bids us do harm.
02:37
November 18, 2019
The difference between anger and other negative emotions
Other vices affect our judgment, anger affects our sanity. Its intensity is in no way regulated by its origin: for it rises to the greatest heights from the most trivial beginnings.
03:08
November 15, 2019
The awful things we do when angered
Men, frantic with rage, call upon heaven to slay their children, to reduce themselves to poverty, and to ruin their houses, and yet declare that they are not either angry or insane.
02:28
November 14, 2019
It takes two to have a fight
If anyone is angry with you, meet their anger by returning benefits for it: a quarrel which is only taken up on one side falls to the ground: it takes two people to fight.
02:30
November 13, 2019
On revenge and retaliation
Revenge and retaliation are words which men use and even think to be righteous, yet they do not greatly differ from wrong-doing.
02:22
November 12, 2019
Think of everything, expect everything
People think some things unjust because they ought not to suffer them, and some because they did not expect to suffer them: we think what is unexpected is beneath our deserts.
03:01
November 11, 2019
Don't rush to judgment, give time to reason to do its work
Is it a good person who has wronged you? Do not believe it. Is it a bad one? Do not be surprised at this; by their sin they have already punished themselves.
02:36
November 8, 2019
We have other people’s vices before our eyes, and our own behind our backs
Someone will be said to have spoken ill of you; think whether you did not first speak ill of them; think of how many persons you have yourself spoken ill.
02:50
November 7, 2019
It is foolish to be angry at your computer
We are so foolish that we actually get angry at inanimate objects, who neither deserve nor feel our anger. But in fact, no one deserves our anger: not animals, not children, and not even adults.
02:55
November 6, 2019
Fake anger vs real anger
Often the pretense of passion will do what the passion itself could not have done. Sometimes, it may be effective to fake anger. Just don't make the mistake of actually becoming angry.
02:28
November 5, 2019
Reason and goodness are candles in the dark
We need a long-breathed struggle against permanent and prolific evils; not, indeed, to quell them, but merely to prevent their overpowering us.
02:58
November 4, 2019
Forgiveness first and foremost
To avoid being angry with individuals, you must pardon the whole mass, you must grant forgiveness to the entire human race.
02:28
November 1, 2019
The nature of emotions
The Stoics’ opinion is that anger can venture upon nothing by itself, without the approval of mind. It follows that we are in charge, not whatever circumstances happen to trigger our initial reactions.
02:57
October 31, 2019
The difference between reason and anger
Reason wishes to give a just decision; anger wishes its decision to be thought just.
02:21
October 30, 2019
Anger is not a weapon, it's a liability
Seneca uses Aristotle's own analogy between negative emotions and weapons to show that it is flawed: we control our weapons, but destructive emotions control us.
02:29
October 29, 2019
A good judge condemns wrongful acts, but does not hate them
People who do wrong should be treated like sick patients. By all means, restrain them if they are liable to hurt others. But do not be angry with them. They need help.
02:24
October 28, 2019
Don't be angry, be useful
When someone is wandering about our city because they have lost their way, it is better to place then on the right path than to drive them away.
02:25
October 25, 2019
Anger is like drunkenness, it doesn't help
Seneca responds somewhat sarcastically to the Aristotelian suggestion that a bit of anger is good because it makes soldiers more willing to fight. So does being drunk, but no general would want a drunken army.
02:30
October 24, 2019
Why are love and a sense of justice not enough?
Defenders of the right to be angry say that we should be angered by injustice. But why is it that positive emotions, like love, concern for others, and a well developed sense of justice, aren't enough?
02:28
October 23, 2019
The three movements of anger
The best plan is to reject straightway the first incentives to anger, to resist its very beginnings, and to take care not to be betrayed into it: for if once it begins to carry us away, it is hard to get back again into a healthy condition.
02:36
October 22, 2019
Anger is a short madness
Anger is very like a falling rock which breaks itself to pieces upon the very thing which it crushes. That you may know that they whom anger possesses are not sane, look at their appearance.
02:59
October 21, 2019
Receive wealth or prosperity without arrogance; and be ready to let it go
Stoics have no problem with wealth. We are not Cynics, after all. So long as it is not ill-gotten, or ill-used, it represents yet another preferred indifferent, yet another occasion to exercise virtue.
02:21
October 18, 2019
The difference between impressions and assent
An eye, when open, has no option but to see. The decision whether to look at a particular man’s wife, however, and how, belongs to the will.
02:47
October 17, 2019
Begin to reckon age, not by years, but by virtues
To have lived 60 years, or 70, or 100 is an interesting factoid, but the real question is: have you lived well?
02:18
October 16, 2019
No one dies too soon
Unless you believe in miracles, you agree that events are regulated by cause and effect. In which case the notion that someone dies "too soon" is highly problematic. Not just metaphysically, but for your own mental well being.
02:53
October 15, 2019
Go through life like a traveler stopping at an inn
Life is short, and we should thread lightly, mindful of the fact that it is up to us to leave the place in good conditions, so that the next travelers will enjoy it as much as we did.
02:53
October 14, 2019
Sometimes people live too long for their own good
If sickness had carried off that glory and support of the empire Gnaeus Pompeius, at Naples, he would have died the undoubted head of the Roman people, but as it was, a short extension of time cast him down from his pinnacle of fame.
02:32
October 11, 2019
On the nature of death
If anyone pities the dead, he ought also to pity those who have not been born. Death is neither a good nor a bad thing, for that alone which is something can be a good or a bad thing.
03:04
October 10, 2019
Do not fear the netherworld, don't listen to the fantasies of poets and priests
He who dies need fear no darkness, no prison, no blazing streams of fire, no river of Lethe, no judgment seat before which he must appear, and that Death is such utter freedom that he need fear no more despots.
02:33
October 7, 2019
Nature is fair in her bargains
Whenever we decide to do something, we enter in a bargain with the cosmic web of cause-effect. The decision and effort is up to us, the outcome not so.
02:18
October 4, 2019
The common lot of mortals
Every time we lose a loved one it means that we have, in fact, loved. So we should not be resentful for what the universe has taken, but rather thankful for what it has given.
02:32
October 3, 2019
Women are just as capable as men of achieving eudaimonia
Believe me -- says Seneca to Marcia -- [women] have the same intellectual power as men, and the same capacity for honorable and generous action.
03:05
October 2, 2019
Which is the better lot, to be happy for a short time or not at all?
Seneca reminds his friend Marcia, who had lost a son a couple of years later, that it is better to be thankful for what she had, rather than resentful for what she has lost.
03:17
October 1, 2019
No regrets, only thankfulness
Everything we think we have is actually on loan from the universe, so to speak, and we need to be ready to give it back whenever the universe recalls the loan, no matter in what form it does it.
02:39
September 30, 2019
Pay attention to the setbacks of others
One way to prepare for setbacks in life is to pay attention when they happen to others. We are not exceptions to the fabric of the universe, we are an integral part of it. What happens to others may or will happen to us.
02:44
September 27, 2019
Reasonable vs unreasonable grief
Feeling grief and sorrow at the loss of a loved one is natural and inevitable. Dwelling on it to the point of becoming paralyzed and not being able to resume an active role in society is something we need to avoid.
02:24
September 26, 2019
Everyone is a good pilot if the weather is fair
In consoling Marcia, Seneca reminds her that one's virtue is on display when the universe challenges with adversity, not when life glides easily with a favoring current.
02:36
September 25, 2019
Challenging the cognitive component of our emotions
Our feelings may end up feeding upon their own bitterness, until the unhappy mind takes a morbid delight in grief. But we can challenge the cognitive component of our own emotions and move forward.
02:52
September 24, 2019
The path to a life worth living
Stoicism leads us to a life of benevolence toward other human beings, in pursuit of a constant refinement of our  judgments and understanding of how the world actually works — so that we can more effectively live in it.
02:41
September 23, 2019
The first rule of Stoic Club
Plato said that "every soul is deprived of the truth against its will." Which means that we need to treat people who make mistakes with sympathy, not criticize and dismiss them.
02:39
September 20, 2019
Stoic epistemology and humility about knowledge
Cicero's reports a famous metaphor used by Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, to explain the progression from perception to assent to comprehension to knowledge. Which is then used as a reminder about the limits of our own knowledge.
03:07
September 19, 2019
Chrysippus on the various philosophies of life
According to Chrysippus, when it's all said and done, there are only three conceptions of the chief good for human beings.
02:34
September 18, 2019
Aristo, the Stoic dissenter
Aristo of Chios disagreed with the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, in pretty fundamental ways. A powerful reminder that Stoic philosophy isn't written in stone, and never was.
03:20
September 17, 2019
Always challenge your impressions
The basic Stoic psychological account of our desires and actions is a powerful guide to willfully change our behavior for the better.
03:03
September 15, 2019
Panaetius, the dissident Stoic
Let's learn why the middle-Stoic Panaetius disagreed on a major point of "physics" with the early Stoics: he didn't believe in divination!
03:10
September 13, 2019
Skeptics vs Stoics
The Academic Skeptics were one of the major rival schools to Stoicism. Yet, on the nature of human knowledge, and on what it means in practice, for everyday living, the two philosophies were not very far apart.
02:58
September 12, 2019
Chrysippus and the logic of paradoxes
If you have some sand and you start adding grains, when do you have a heap? Chrysippus' answer to this sort of paradox will leave logicians frustrated and the rest of us with something to think about.
03:10
September 11, 2019
Ignorance, knowledge, and things in between
The wisest approach is to not commit to opinions until we have strong evidence in their favor, or to hold opinions very lightly, and not attach our ego to them.
03:14
September 10, 2019
Stoic materialism
The Stoics are materialists, in the sense that they believe that anything that has causal powers must be made of stuff, whatever that stuff turns out to be.
02:47
September 9, 2019
Four interesting Stoic doctrines
Virtue can only be perfected by reason; all virtues are really just one, namely, wisdom; virtue is intrinsically good; and one needs to continuously practice in order to be virtuous.
04:10
September 6, 2019
What Zeno said
Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoic sect, says that there are three sets of things in the world: virtue, things according or contra to nature, and neutral things. From which a solid moral compass for everyday living follows.
03:44
September 5, 2019
The importance of Socrates
Socrates was the first to draw philosophy away from matters of an abstruse character, in which all the philosophers before his time had been wholly occupied, and to have diverted it to the objects of ordinary life.
02:44
September 4, 2019
The consolations of philosophy
Cicero begins his treatise Academica by seeking a medicine for his sorrows in philosophy.
02:40
September 3, 2019
Gods or atoms, you should blame no one
Blame is not a Stoic thing. We bear responsibility for what we do, of course, but to blame people isn’t particularly useful. As Marcus Aurelius says, teach them, if you can, or bear with them.
02:47
September 2, 2019
The problem with Paris (not the city)
Paris stole Menelaus' wife, Helen, thereby starting the Trojan War. He did that because he assented to the impression that it was good to pursue the wife of his host, and that misjudgment resulted in ten years of misery for so many.
03:01
August 30, 2019
That which is according to nature is the beginning of the good
And what is this Good? I shall tell you: it is a free mind, an upright mind, subjecting other things to itself and itself to nothing.
02:53
August 29, 2019
Stoics vs Epicureans
Avoiding pain and seeking pleasure comes natural to human beings. But, so argue the Stoics, being prosocial is even more fundamental to our nature as social animals.
03:08
August 28, 2019
Bad thoughts are like catchy tunes
Just like a catchy tune won't leave your mind easily, once it has gained access, so with thoughts of unvirtuous actions. So don't grant them entrance in the first place.
02:32
August 27, 2019
Stoicism is not good for consumerism
How many things are superfluous; we merely used them not because we needed them, but because we had them. How much do we acquire simply because our neighbors have acquired such things, or because most people possess them!
02:44
August 23, 2019
How to tell a Stoic
Finding yourself at a party and want to know if someone else is practicing Stoicism? Ask them what they think is the chief good and the chief bad. 
02:47
August 22, 2019
The right attitude about the world
To have whatsoever they wish is not in people's power; it is in their power not to wish for what they have not, but cheerfully to employ what comes to them.
03:05
August 21, 2019
Everything tastes good if you are hungry
“Bad bread!” you say. But just wait for it; it will become good. Hunger will make even such bread delicate and of the finest flavor. And the same goes for any other external thing, whether a necessity or a luxury.
02:31
August 20, 2019
Anger is a self inflicted wound
Nothing need provoke our anger if we do not add to our pile of troubles by getting angry.
02:39
August 19, 2019
A simple way to go right, many ways to go wrong
It's relatively easy to stay on the right track by following simple methods, but there are countless ways to go wrong if we don't pay attention. Here are three basic rules from Stoic philosophy to keep your life on the right track.
02:29
August 16, 2019
The balance between inner and outer resources
How do we strike a good balance between cultivating externals, like wealth, and focusing on the improvement of our own character? Different philosophical schools gave different answers to this question.
02:48
August 15, 2019
Ethics and human nature
Philosophers have debated for millennia the nature of ethics. Is it arbitrary? Or are there universal moral laws that we can apprehend through reason? Neither, say the Stoics. Theirs is a thoroughly naturalistic philosophy.
02:54
August 14, 2019
What the virtues are for
Desires have to be reined in, fear to be suppressed, proper actions to be arranged, debts to be paid; we therefore include self-restraint, bravery, prudence, and justice among the virtues – assigning to each quality its special function.
02:43
August 13, 2019
The difference may be subtle
There are, as you know, vices which are next-door to virtues. Carelessness looks like ease, and rashness like bravery.
02:39
August 12, 2019
Of friendship, dogs, and meat thrown in the middle
No doubt you have seen dogs playing with, and fawning before, each other, and thought, ‘Nothing could be friendlier.’ But just throw some meat in the middle, and then you’ll know what friendship amounts to.
02:33
August 9, 2019
The analogy between physical and mental health
The Stoics understood what bodily health is, and from that they deduced the existence of a certain mental health also. They knew about bodily strength, and from that they inferred the existence of mental sturdiness.
02:57
August 8, 2019
Nothing is good which can be put to wrong use by any person
The Stoics regard nothing as good which can be put to wrong use by any person. And we can all see for ourselves to what wrong uses many people put their riches, their high position, or their physical powers.
02:53
August 7, 2019
The difference separating Aristotelians, Stoics, and Cynics
Externals — such as money, possessions, and the like — are how we exercise our virtue, which cannot be expressed in a vacuum. And one of the four cardinal virtues is temperance.
02:38
August 6, 2019
Where's your stopping point?
He who has much, desires more – a proof that he has not yet acquired enough; but he who has enough has attained that which never fell to the rich man’s lot – a stopping-point.
02:35
August 5, 2019
Three disciplines to live a better life
In order to live a meaningful life (ethics) we need to reason well about things (logic), and we need to have a good grasp of how the world works (science). How are your logic and science, then?
02:24
August 2, 2019
A starving man despises nothing
We take a lot of things for granted, when life is going well for us. But — fools that we are — we really appreciate what we had only once we’ve lost it. That's why the Stoics devised a series of exercises in mild self-deprivation.
02:43
August 1, 2019
Are you conducting yourself virtuously in your profession?
Here is a basic Stoic equation: external thing or activity + virtue = good, while its opposite is: external thing or activity + vice = bad. So, is your profession good or bad, according to this approach?
02:39
July 31, 2019
The hedonic treadmill will not make you happy
People think that externals are good, and then, after having won their wish, and suffered much, they find them evil, or empty, or less important than they had expected.
02:21
July 30, 2019
Fortune, I ask no favors of you
Fortune sometimes favors villains and turns against good people. That's why our happiness should depend on our own decisions, not the vagaries of chance.
02:30
July 29, 2019
The playthings of children and the shackles of adults
External goods like fine clothing, gourmet food, and nice houses ought to be regarded as the playthings of children, not the shackles of adults.
02:36
July 26, 2019
The importance of not wasting time
Nature has not given us such a generous and free-handed space of time that we can have the leisure to waste any of it.
02:39
July 25, 2019
The value of money, beauty, and high social position
The Stoic concept of preferred and dispreferred indifferents always gets people confused or, the other common human response to lack of understanding, scoffing.
02:37
July 24, 2019
Rationalizing is not the same thing as reasoning
We are in love with our vices; we uphold them and prefer to make excuses for them rather than shake them off. The reason is unwillingness, the excuse, inability.
02:20
July 23, 2019
How to tell whether you have achieved wisdom
Do you find yourself in the thralls of fear, jealousy, or anger? Do you act inconsistently in life? Then you ain't wise yet.
02:36
July 19, 2019
Negative emotions are diseases, they are not good even in small measure
One of the major differences between Stoics and Aristotelians has always been the treatment of disruptive emotions, such as anger and fear. They are helpful, in small measure, for Aristotle, but definitely to avoid for the Stoics.
02:53
July 18, 2019
The true value of things
We have become alternately merchants and merchandise, and we ask, not what a thing truly is, but what it costs.
03:07
July 17, 2019
Are you a slave, a fool, or what?
From the point of view of someone who has managed to overcome his attachment for externals, people going after riches and luxuries look like fools. Are you one of them?
02:49
July 16, 2019
The problem with fame, wealth and power
Seneca reminds us that in the time of Nero - just like today - famous, rich and powerful people are hiding much evil under a thin coating of titles.
02:22
July 11, 2019
The problem with excessive wealth
Seneca, who knew a thing or two about wealth, warns us about pursuing it. A mind that revels in luxury, he says, is a mind that has lost its balance.
03:11
July 10, 2019
Why are you doing what you are doing?
Seneca reminds us that striving to be a better person is an end in itself, not to be pursued in order to boast to others of our accomplishments.
02:31
July 9, 2019
What brought down Alexander the Great
Seneca reminds us that Alexander the Great conquered everything, except his own destructive emotions, which led to endless grief for him and his friends. Beware, therefore, of reacting in anger to your problems.
02:43
July 8, 2019
Who's got the time?
Doesn't it take time to practice Stoicism? We are all so busy! Here is Marcus Aurelius' response to that question. A response that applies also if you are a Christian, or a Buddhist, among other things.
02:30
July 5, 2019
What's the difference between useful and useless?
Epictetus argues that things are useless or useful not in themselves, but as a result of what we do with them. As usual in Stoicism, the answer comes from within, from our own attitudes toward things.
02:40
July 4, 2019
The definition of courage
Seneca explains that courage has little to do with rushing into battle to face an enemy. It's about how we handle the good and the bad that Fortuna throws our way. Also, wanna play ball with Socrates?
02:42
July 3, 2019
What are we talking about, and why?
Human beings have an unparalleled ability to communicate with each other. And yet, Seneca suggests, much of the time we talk about things that are neither improving ourselves, nor making the world a better place.
02:31
July 2, 2019
On the vanity of mental gymnastics
Philosophers can be clever. Too clever for their own sake, suggests Seneca. Indeed, one measure of wisdom is precisely the ability to tell the difference between cleverness and usefulness.
02:25
July 1, 2019
Have you changed your mind yet?
Epictetus bluntly tells us that if we have not been affected by philosophy and have not changed our mind about something important as a result of it, we are simply playing a game. So, has philosophy changed your mind yet?
02:19
June 28, 2019
Have you taken the easy step yet?
Seneca says that being able to do without luxuries is but a small and easy step toward virtue. And yet so many of us have much trouble taking that  step. Have you?
02:17
June 27, 2019
The difference between thinking and worrying
Seneca advises Lucilius to think, but not to worry, about the future. It is reasonable to plan for things to come and to act in the best way possible. So long as we don't delude ourselves into thinking that we actually control outcomes.
02:53
June 26, 2019
In a little time you will be like Hadrian and Augustus
Marcus Aurelius takes the long view of things in order to remind himself that whatever troubles us so much right now will soon be over, one way or another. This isn't nihilism, but rather the conscious adoption of a healthier perspective on human affairs.
02:39
June 24, 2019
Pick your virtue buddy
Think of practicing philosophy as going to the gym: sure, you can do a lot on your own. But if you choose a good partner to keep you focused on the task, you'll see more steady improvement. So, who's your virtue buddy?
02:27
June 21, 2019
Thus the study of wisdom has become the study of words
Seneca says that some people are interested in studying philosophy not to improve their souls, but to sharpen their wits. Time to reflect on what, exactly, we are doing and why.
02:41
June 20, 2019
Consider vegetarianism
Seneca says that we have enough sustenance without resorting to blood, and that a habit of cruelty is formed whenever butchery is practiced for pleasure. Something to meditate on a bit.
02:56
June 19, 2019
On the best way to resist temptation
Seneca and Epictetus agree: the best way to resist temptation is to avoid it altogether, because it's hard to practice temperance, at least initially. Modern cognitive science agrees.
02:57
June 18, 2019
The fortune of everyone is molded by their character
Cicero explains a classic Stoic paradox: only the wise person is free, while everyone else is a slave. To what? To externals that they think are indispensable for their happiness, and yet lay outside of their control.
03:05
June 17, 2019
The true hearer is ravished and stirred by the beauty of the subject matter, not by the jingle of empty words
Seneca briefly tells us both how to approach philosophy, and how not to. Are you a passive consumer of the stuff, or are you looking to become a better human being?
02:41
June 14, 2019
Philosophy rubs off of you
Seneca says that associating ourselves with a philosopher we cannot help but learning something that may change our lives. So today try to get a friend or relative into philosophy. You'll be doing some good for the whole human cosmopolis.
02:55
June 13, 2019
That which you cannot reform, it is best to endure
Is Stoicism about going through life with a stiff upper lip? No, but enduring what cannot be changed is part of the philosophy. Modern Stoic Larry Becker called it the "axiom of futility."
02:42
June 12, 2019
No matter what trouble you mention, it has happened to many
Seneca reminds us that, regardless of how terrible a problem or event appears to be right now, plenty of others have gone through something similar before. They can be an inspiration to us to overcome whatever is happening in the same way.
02:38
June 11, 2019
What illusion about myself do I entertain?
Without knowing about modern psychological research, Epictetus figured out that we all too easily fool ourselves. Here are three Stoic techniques to at least partially remedy the problem.
02:51
June 7, 2019
What things you can be robbed of, and what things you can't
Cicero explains that we may lose any external good, because it isn't truly ours, but rather on loan from the universe. However, our judgments, considered opinions, and consciously embraced values are truly ours and cannot be taken away.
02:35
June 6, 2019
How to do a premeditation of adversity
Seneca talks about the premeditatio malorum, an exercise that allows us to be mentally prepared for possible negative outcomes of our action. The key to it is to engage your reasoning faculty, not your emotional reactions.
03:15
June 5, 2019
Life is like a journey: some things that you don't like will be thrown at you
Seneca uses a metaphor of life as a journey, or as a trip to the thermal baths, to make the point that obstacles will be thrown our way, either on purpose or by accident. The question is: how do we deal with them?
02:34
June 4, 2019
"Busyness" is no proof of happiness
Seneca anticipates modern social psychological research in arguing that keeping oneself busy for the sake of being busy does not lead to happiness. On the contrary.
02:35
June 3, 2019
People will do the same things even though you would burst with rage
Marcus Aurelius joins Seneca in his rejection of anger as a valid or effective motivator of human action. We should, instead, be moved to act by positive triggers, such as a sense of justice, or duty, or love.
02:45
May 31, 2019
The most important contribution to peace of mind is never to do wrong
Seneca explains why not doing wrong is your best bet toward achieving serenity of mind. Of course, it's also the virtuous thing to do.
02:43
May 30, 2019
What goads people into destroying other people?
Seneca gives a disturbing list of reasons why we kill each other. Most of them are precisely the kind of negative emotions that Stoic training is attempting to move away from.
02:27
May 29, 2019
No need to be Cato in order to practice virtue
Seneca discusses the grand example of Cato the Younger, his favorite role model. But even in ordinary life we can be courageous and just, if we pay attention to what we are doing and why.
03:19
May 28, 2019
The answer is always going to be "it depends"
Cicero reminds us that in virtue ethics the answer to moral questions is always going to depend on circumstances, a striking contrast with modern - and arguably less useful - universalist frameworks like deontology and consequentialism.
03:03
May 24, 2019
Spend some time with Zeno and Socrates instead
Want to become a better person? Forget about traveling, since you will bring with you the same problems you are trying to flee. Read a good book instead, enter in conversation with the best minds humanity has produced across time.
02:50
May 23, 2019
The problem is that you are travelling with your emotions and are followed by your afflictions
Seneca continues his analysis of the relationship between traveling and self-improvement. While there are good reasons to travel (leisure and learning), self-improvement isn't one of them, because that requires critical reflection, wherever one happens to be.
02:52
May 22, 2019
If you travel in order to escape yourself, don't
As Socrates said to someone who was complaining that traveling brought him no benefits: "It serves you right! You travelled in your own company!"
02:49
May 21, 2019
We must suffer for the sake of those we love
Seneca dispels the stereotype of Stoics going through life with a stiff upper lip by explicitly advocating suffering for those we love. What marks the Stoic is not that she doesn't suffer, but how she handles suffering.
02:29
May 20, 2019
Theory is fine, but useless if you don't practice
Epictetus complains about something that hasn't changed much in two millennia: people who are happy to discuss the fine logical points of ethical dilemmas, but are apparently not that interested in becoming better human beings.
02:49
May 17, 2019
Remember what you should offer and what you should withhold
Seneca reminds us how to behave with fellow human beings, but also that, from a Stoic perspective, what is and is not to be valued (one's good and bad judgments) is not quite what most people value, focused as they often are on externals.
02:31
May 16, 2019
Humanity is what it is, not what we would like it to be
Seneca reminds us that our fellow human beings aren't always trustworthy or well intentioned. Nevertheless, we have a duty to treat others, and ourselves, with forgiveness, to be helpful when we can, and to endure when we cannot.
02:40
May 15, 2019
Your role model may be closer than you think
In which I compare my adoptive grandfather to Cato the Younger. Not because he fought battles against tyrants, but because he was a decent and kind human being.
02:38
May 14, 2019
Virtue is all-or-nothing, and yet, we can make progress
Cicero talks about one of the classic Stoic paradoxes: virtue is all-or-nothing, and yet one can make progress toward it. How is this possible? In this episode we explain, by way of a geometrical analogy.
02:59
May 13, 2019
Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do
Marcus Aurelius argues that when we do something right we shouldn't expect either recognition or a return. Otherwise, we are doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
02:35
May 10, 2019
Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s account every day.
Seneca reminds us that we do not actually know when "the remorseless law of Fate" has fixed the time of our death. Therefore, we should prioritize what's important, postpone nothing, and balance our life’s account every day.
02:37
May 9, 2019
No sensation of evil can reach one who is dead
Seneca agrees with Epicurus: there is no sense in fearing what happens after death, since we won't be there to experience it. Therefore, we should not allow religious and political authorities to manipulate us through that fear.
02:39
May 8, 2019
Not feeling pain would make us inhuman, not sages
Seneca talks to his friend Lucilius about how to console the bereaved, dispelling the stereotype of Stoics as individuals who go through life with a stiff upper lip.
02:59
May 7, 2019
The universe is morally neutral
Seneca says that good and evil are not in the world per se, but in our judgments about the world, and the actions we take as a consequence of those judgments. Which is why training ourselves to arrive at better judgments is so crucial.
02:15
May 6, 2019
Challenge your impressions, don't "just do it"
Epictetus tells us about a fundamental Stoic technique: never act on first impressions and implied judgments. Always pause, challenge your impressions, make the judgments explicit, and see whether they were on target or not.
03:11
May 3, 2019
The view from above, Seneca style
Here is Seneca's version of an exercise most often associated with Marcus Aurelius: when you feel overwhelmed by your problems, take a minute to consider a broader perspective. When your mind is calmer, come back to earth and tackle the problems.
02:46
May 2, 2019
What ought to be done must be learned from one who does it
Seneca suggests we pick a role model to help us become better persons. This ancient practice actually gets some empirical confirmation from modern psychology. So, who's your model, and why?
02:47
May 1, 2019
If someone can withstand fire or exile, surely you can overcome something...
Seneca lists an impressive gallery of ancient Roman role models, who have done brave things to safeguard their ideals. Surely, then, we can find the courage to overcome our comparatively small problems in everyday life, no?
03:37
April 30, 2019
Don't suffer before it is necessary
Seneca reminds us that the future is not under our control, and that the best way to prepare for it is to act here and now, where we actually have causal efficacy.
02:32
April 29, 2019
The skill of the pilot is independent of the value of the cargo
Cicero uses a metaphor involving ship pilots and their cargo to remind us that a more or less valuable "cargo" doesn't make us better or worse "pilots." It is our skills, that is our virtue, that make the difference.
02:21
April 26, 2019
The universe is morally neutral
Seneca, differing from Epictetus in a metaphysical sense, says that the universe is - as we would put it - morally neutral to us. What matters, then, is how we handle so-called "good" and "bad" things.
02:48
April 25, 2019
A long life is like a long journey: there is bound to be rain and mud on the way
Seneca uses a colorful analogy between life and a journey. Sure, we'd like to live longer, but when the journey is longer a number of unpleasant things are bound to happen, like rain and mud. Just bring good gear with you for the trip.
02:44
April 24, 2019
Want to be alive? Pay the taxes of life
Seneca uses an interesting economic analogy to remind us that the privilege of being alive comes with the tax of suffering setbacks and losses. Understanding this helps us to cope with problems and even to look forward to them as further exercises in virtue.
02:52
April 23, 2019
Expand your circles of concern
Seneca says that it is natural for us to be virtuous. Modern scientists say that it is natural for us to be prosocial. Either way, it is reason that allows us to expand our instinctive circles of ethical concern.
03:33
April 22, 2019
It's far easier to change yourself than others
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that we spend far too much time trying to change other people, which is outside of our control, and too little time attempting to improve ourselves, which we certainly have the power to do.
02:23
April 19, 2019
The problem with expensive meals
Seneca echoes the advice of Musonius Rufus when he says that we don't need to pay for extravagant meals with ingredients brought from all over the world. Every time we sit at the table to eat we have a chance to exercise temperance.
02:47
April 18, 2019
We should prosecute our politicians and generals
Continuing his criticism of the state's war machine, Seneca exhorts us to prosecute our politicians and generals for the crimes they commit in our own name.
02:29
April 17, 2019
Seneca on war as human folly
Seneca writes words about the foolishness of war that were surprisingly modern for his time, and unfortunately very much still pertinent to us today.
03:01
April 16, 2019
A surprisingly difficult simple precept
Seneca tells us something that may appear to be a no-brainer, and yet is difficult to apply: never believe that you can be happy through the unhappiness of another.
02:34
April 15, 2019