Stoic Meditations

Sometimes people live too long for their own good

An episode of Stoic Meditations

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By Massimo Pigliucci
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Occasional reflections on the wisdom of Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. More at patreon.com/FigsInWinter. Please consider supporting Stoic Meditations. (cover art by Marek Škrabák; original music by Ian Jolin-Rasmussen, www.jolinras.info).
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Occasional reflections on the wisdom of Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. More at patreon.com/FigsInWinter. Please consider supporting Stoic Meditations. (cover art by Marek Škrabák; original music by Ian Jolin-Rasmussen, www.jolinras.info).
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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
Happiness is an inside job
Cicero reminds us that happiness - meaning our satisfaction with our own life - is guaranteed if we don't hitch it to external events, but only to our own reasoned judgments.
03:07
April 12, 2019
The proximity of good people is good for you
Seneca reminds us that it is important to associate with good people. Their goodness is both an inspiration and a guide to make ourselves better human beings.
02:46
April 11, 2019
Repetition is useful
Seneca says that we should remind ourselves of things we know, because all too often we don't pay attention to them.
02:50
April 10, 2019
Approach your life all things considered
Modern Stoic Larry Becker, building on Seneca, advises us to approach the problems we encounter not one at a time, but within the context of our life treated as a whole dynamic project.
03:17
April 9, 2019
Seneca agrees with Ricky Gervais on the afterlife and the meaning of existence
Seneca points out that it doesn't matter if there is no continuation of life after death. Just like British comedian Ricky Gervais did recently in his series, aptly entitled "After Life."
02:49
April 8, 2019
Cut off anger at its inception
Epictetus treats anger as an addiction: we should suppress the urge as soon as we begin to feel it, and celebrate the days we have managed to stay away from this temporary madness.
02:53
April 5, 2019
How long you live is not up to you, how you live is
Seneca uses the dichotomy of control to get us to move away from our obsession with living longer, and toward paying attention to living better.
03:00
April 4, 2019
Marcus Regulus and the hard core of Stoicism
A good Stoic can be "happy" even on the rack. This phrase happened to be true in the case of the Roman general Marcus Regulus. And his story is worth pondering to see that we can be helpful and find meaning in so many small ways.
03:24
April 3, 2019
Virtue is like the sun behind a cloud
Seneca says that when negative developments affect our lives, virtue is like the sun behind a cloud: it keeps shining, and eventually dissipates the clouds.
03:14
April 2, 2019
The fanciness of your scabbard says nothing about the effectiveness of your sword
Seneca uses the analogy of a scabbard and a sword to remind us that external goods, like wealth or health, are indeed preferable, but only in a limited fashion. What's truly important is the shape of our character.
02:51
April 1, 2019
What does it mean to live every day as if it were your last?
Marcus Aurelius advises us to live by avoiding both violent emotions and torpor, and by not being a hypocrite. But also, to treat every day as if it were our last. What does that mean?
03:07
March 29, 2019
The importance of sound judgment
Seneca provides a very clear explanation of the Stoic distinction between virtue and external things, leading to the surprising conclusion that even health is not an unquestionable good.
03:04
March 28, 2019
How to achieve serenity
Seneca talks about a major "side effect," so to speak, of the Stoic stance: achieving tranquillity of mind through the development of an attitude of equanimity.
02:33
March 27, 2019
Virtue is the only good, naturally
Cicero asserts the standard, and apparently paradoxical, Stoic position that virtue is the onyl true good. Let's see why.
02:54
March 26, 2019
Be aware of what you can and cannot change
Seneca says that Nature does not discriminate, it hands out suffering and death to everyone, eventually. But we can still make our life better by developing equanimity toward what we cannot change while trying to change what we can.
03:13
March 25, 2019
How to shape your character
Epictetus reminds us that character is a matter of habit. Willfully change your habits, and you will be on your way toward becoming a better human being.
02:36
March 22, 2019
Welcoming Cicero to our line up
This episode features our first discussion of Cicero. While not a Stoic (he considered himself an Academic Skeptic), he was sympathetic to Stoic philosophy, and frequently borrowed from it to create his own eclectic blend of moral philosophy.
03:07
March 21, 2019
These are your choices
Seneca, building on the Stoic concept of universal causation, reminds us that we don't get to say how the universe works. Our only choices are to accept it (and work within it), or take "the open door," as Epictetus puts it.
03:14
March 20, 2019
Can we really improve ourselves?
Seneca reminds us that although some people are naturally more virtuous than others, and that much depends on our family upbringing, we are capable of making rational decisions as adults. So make the decision to practice every day to become a better human being.
03:41
March 19, 2019
Wisdom as a better filter to examine your life
Seneca provides us with one of the best definitions of wisdom. Let's see what it means, and how to apply it to our daily life.
02:55
March 18, 2019
Marcus Aurelius and the chocolate cake
Marcus Aurelius exhorts us to not just do it, but slow down, think about it, and then see if we really want to do it.
03:04
March 15, 2019
Stoicism and war
Seneca says it no uncertain terms: it is not wisdom that contrives arms, or walls, or instruments useful in war; nay, her voice is for peace, and she summons all mankind to concord.
03:09
March 14, 2019
The three parts of philosophy
Seneca summarizes the reasons why to live a good life (the domain of Ethics) one has to learn how to reason well (Logic) and how to better understand the world (Physics).
03:21
March 13, 2019
Concern yourself with careful living
Seneca criticizes the tendency of some philosophers to spend a lot of time trying to develop more careful ways of speaking, at the expense of figuring out more careful ways of living.
03:07
March 12, 2019
Here's your top priority in life
Seneca says that it causes far too much discomfort to the ears of others to be recognized as a learned person. Better for us and everyone else to be recognized as a good person.
02:37
March 11, 2019
In order to learn something new you need to forget what you think you already know
Epictetus advises his students, and all of us, to drop our preconceptions and actually open our minds to new notions. Try to practice that the next time you engage in a "conversation" on social media.
02:43
March 8, 2019
Seneca criticizes the institution of war
In a rather forceful passage Seneca makes a strong political statement, referring to Roman imperialism as "sacrilege on a grand scale." Unfortunately, two millennia later, we still honor that sort of sacrilege, which flies in the face of the virtue of justice and the concept of cosmopolitanism.
03:08
March 7, 2019
Wealth doesn't make you a better person
Seneca constructs another logical argument to make the point that wealth is not an intrinsic good. Rather, it is how it is used that can be good or bad. Know any virtuous billionaires, by chance?
02:32
March 6, 2019
Chance events are not good for you
Seneca builds a simple argument to show that random events, like winning a lottery, are actually not good for you, despite appearances to the contrary.
03:02
March 5, 2019
Much of what we have is superfluous
Seneca says that his life's journey taught him that much of what we possess is superfluous, and indeed positively gets in the way of living a good life. He ought to know, as we discuss in this episode.
02:54
March 4, 2019
When to care, or not, about other people's opinions
Marcus Aurelius reminds us that all too often we care far too much about the opinions of people we do not actually hold in high esteem. If they judge us badly according to mistaken values, the problem is theirs, not ours.
02:42
March 1, 2019
Make your life the best it can be given the materials you are given
Seneca brings up a parallel between the life of virtue and the art of a sculptor like Phidias. Just like a good sculptor will make the best art that the materials at his disposal permit, so we can be good human beings regardless of the specific circumstances of our lives.
02:57
February 28, 2019
Everyone is a good pilot on a calm sea
Seneca uses a sailing metaphor to remind us that hardship in life, just like a storm at sea, is what truly tests our virtue, as the storm tests the pilot's skills.
02:37
February 27, 2019
Treat yourself as you would a sick friend
Seneca dispels the stereotype of Stoics as going through life with a stiff upper lip. Stoic training doesn't insulate us from sufferings. It gives us tools to deal with suffering.
02:48
February 26, 2019
Moderate insanity is not a good thing
Seneca directly takes on the Peripatetics, followers of Aristotle, and criticizes their notion that virtue always lies in the middle. Some things, like insanity, or anger, are not good even in small quantities.
02:55
February 25, 2019
Planning is more important than worrying about outcomes
Epictetus wonders why people pay attention to outcomes, which are outside of their control, and not so much to planning, which very much is under their control.
02:54
February 22, 2019
The orchestra of your mind
Seneca draws a beautiful analogy between the harmonious sounds of an orchestra and the harmonious thinking of a well structured mind.
03:12
February 21, 2019
If you want to understand things, write them down
Seneca suggests that we should alternate between reading and writing in order to truly understand and internalize new concepts. Which, of course, is yet another way to achieve a major goal of Stoic training: arrive at better and better judgments.
02:48
February 20, 2019
Read books, it's good for you
Seneca gives this most sensical of advices: read books by others, especially if they disagree with you. Turns out, it's a good way to improve our judgments of things, a major goal of Stoic training.
02:57
February 19, 2019
Pay attention to the past in order to tackle the future
Seneca reminds us that -- although we live in the here and now -- we profit from reflecting on our mistakes, so long as we do not indulge emotionally on them. Regret is not a Stoic value. Learning is.
02:45
February 18, 2019
Life is more like wrestling than dancing
We take a look at one of the most famous metaphors in Stoicism, the notion put forth by Marcus Aurelius that life is a bit like wrestling: we need to be prepared and alert, because the next move may be unexpected.
02:59
February 15, 2019
Too much logic is not good for your health
Seneca reminds us that logic is crucial in order to figure out how to live a good life. But logic chopping is actually deleterious to it.
03:06
February 14, 2019
Not all indifferents are created equal
Seneca reminds us that there is a difference among the so-called indifferents. Life, health, and education, for instance, are a bit more highly ranked than your favorite gelato flavor.
03:16
February 13, 2019
The difference between Stoicism and stoicism
In our 300th episode we look at how Seneca very clearly separates Stoicism (the philosophy) from stoicism (the attitude of going through life with a stiff upper lip).
03:00
February 12, 2019
Be magnanimous toward others
Seneca reminds us that we should interpret other people's actions and words in a generous manner, instead of conjuring the worst possible scenario. It is, after all, the way we would like to be treated.
03:00
February 11, 2019
Do you still need somebody to wipe your nose?
Epictetus, with his sarcastic sense of humor, reminds a student that he doesn't need to pray to deal with a bad situation. He already has all the tools he needs: courage, fortitude, and endurance.
03:02
February 8, 2019
Virtue is its own reward
If the Pope or the Dalai Lama say that being good is its own reward, usually people take it at face value. But if a Stoic says it, they demand logical proof. Let's discuss this.
03:17
February 7, 2019
How much are you worth?
Seneca gets to the bottom line of Stoic philosophy: If you wish to set a value on yourself, put away your money, your estates, your honors, and look into your own character.
02:52
February 6, 2019
Get rid of fear of death and poverty
Seneca agrees with Epicurus: fear of death and poverty is crippling, and we need to work toward overcoming it. 
03:23
February 5, 2019
Three simple steps to live a good life
Seneca reminds us that the tools for becoming a better person are simple and inexpensive. In this episode we discuss the three basic tools of the Stoic practitioner.
03:16
February 4, 2019
Why we need to focus on our own improvement
A quote from Marcus Aurelius sounds a lot like what Ayn Rand would say. But it couldn't be further from it.
02:47
February 1, 2019
Fortuna is your sparring partner
Seneca reminds us that it may be just as difficult to deal with good fortune as with the bad variety. Regardless, everything life throws at us is an opportunity to exercise our virtue.
02:49
January 31, 2019
Practical exercises in self-deprivation
Seneca says that doing without things for a while renews our appreciation for them. In this episode we examine five exercises in mild self-deprivation guaranteed to reset your hedonic treadmill.
03:16
January 30, 2019
Are you sick? You can be brave about it
Seneca reminds us that courage is not just for the battlefield, but for the everyday difficulties of life, like being sick.
02:59
January 29, 2019
Pay attention to the good parts of your life
A contemporary theory of consciousness, proposed by philosopher Jesse Prinz, recalls Seneca's treatment of the emotions, and teaches us how to avert painful thoughts by focusing on the good things that happen to us.
02:41
January 28, 2019
Your "happiness" is up to you, really
Epictetus reminds us that the only things that are truly good or bad for us are our judgments, which are under our control. It follows that "happiness," in the sense of a life worth living, is also under our control.
02:24
January 25, 2019
What's a good reason to endure hardship?
Seneca reminds us that athletes willingly subject themselves to harsh regimes in order to succeed. But when it comes to becoming a better person most of us think it's just too difficult.
02:16
January 24, 2019
Turn regrets into learning opportunities
Seneca reminds us that to indulge in regret is irrational, as the past is outside of our control. That doesn't mean we can't learn from it, though.
02:16
January 23, 2019
Everything depends on opinion
Seneca tells us that our happiness, or lack thereof, is a matter of our own opinion. No, he's not making a relativist or post-modernist argument on the nature of knowledge.
02:23
January 22, 2019
40 years or 10,000, makes little difference
Marcus says that once we have observed human affairs for 40 years, it's the same as having observed them for 10,000 years. Surely he is wrong? Not necessarily...
02:25
January 21, 2019
On the importance of friendship
The Stoics, the Epicureans, and Aristotle all agreed on one thing: friends are important. In this episode we talk about why, and how the Stoics differ from the other two schools on this topic.
01:57
January 18, 2019
Life's a play, act well
Seneca uses a metaphor that later became famous with Shakespeare: life is like a play, so what counts is not its length, but how well we act our parts.
02:09
January 17, 2019
The asymmetry of being dead
Seneca points out that people regret not being alive a thousand years from now, and yet are not bothered by the thought of not having been alive for the past thousand years.
02:03
January 16, 2019
Distribute your wealth like after a banquet
Seneca recalls an ancient Roman custom according to which the host of a banquet would distribute gifts to his friends at the end. Consider doing the same after your life has ended.
02:13
January 15, 2019
A little philosophy is a dangerous thing
Epictetus warn us that a little knowledge of philosophy, without proper guidance, can actually turn us onto even more stubborn fools than we were before.
02:49
January 14, 2019
Every good life is complete
Seneca argues that life is not like a journey. Whenever it is interrupted it is a whole life, if we have been living it virtuously.
01:48
January 11, 2019
A prepared mind tackles adversity better
Today's quote from Seneca is the root of the modern Stoic technique of premeditatio malorum, a meditation in which we try to get mentally prepared to tackle adversity.
02:11
January 10, 2019
The real stature of people
Seneca uses a beautiful analogy to argue that some people may look impressive while they aren't, and other people truly are impressive and yet remain overlooked.
02:08
January 9, 2019
Navigating between good and bad fortune
Seneca tells us that virtue is useful not just in order to handle bad fortune, but also, counter intuitively, to deal with good fortune.
02:04
January 8, 2019
We are all going to die, but until then?
Marcus Aurelius takes for granted that death is a natural and unavoidable end. The real question is what you are going to do between now and then.
02:25
January 7, 2019
Would you buy a car based on its color?
Seneca explains that there are certain attributes of things and people that are important, and others that are irrelevant. Somehow, we keep focusing on the irrelevant ones.
02:39
January 4, 2019
Why virtue is the only good
In this episode we explore a quote from Seneca presenting the Stoic argument for why virtue is the only true good. And if it is, then shouldn't you pursue it above all else?
02:44
January 3, 2019