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How to Be a Stoic
Ancient Wisdom For Modern Living
- Read in 15 minutes
- Audio & text available
- Contains 9 key ideas
In How to Be a Stoic (2018), philosopher Massimo Pigliucci explores how the ancient philosophy of Stoicism can guide us toward a good life. He shows how Stoicism can help us focus on what we can change, come to peace with the prospect of death and deal with frustrations and problems in everyday life.
Key idea 1 of 9
Stoicism offers a practical and sensible guide to tackling life’s problems and challenges.
Throughout history, religious leaders, scientists and philosophers have tried to answer the question: how can we live a good life? How should we deal with life’s problems, treat our friends and neighbors, react to adversity and prepare for death?
One philosophy that can provide some answers is Stoicism, so called because its first followers met beneath the Stoa Poikile, meaning “painted porch,” in ancient Athens.
Stoicism started in Athens around 300 BCE. It thrived, and in 155 BCE spread to Rome when key Stoic philosophers were sent there as ambassadors. It developed in Rome to such an extent that Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor in the second century CE, was himself a Stoic philosopher.
Stoicism, however, is often misunderstood. When we say someone is stoical, we imply they are rather passive, tolerating what comes to them without question or emotion.
But in reality, Stoicism is not at all passive, and it is not about suppressing emotion. It is about what we can do to lead a good life. It concerns itself with three disciplines. Firstly, that of desire, or what we should and should not aim for; secondly, action, or how we should behave; and thirdly, assent – how we should react to situations.
This might sound a little theoretical. But for the ancient Stoics, their philosophy was explicitly practical.
Marcus Aurelius, the emperor-philosopher, wrote his most famous work, Meditations, as a personal guide for his own self-improvement.
One of the most influential of the Stoic philosophers, and a thinker who will often be our guide in these blinks, was Epictetus. A freed former Roman slave with a crippled leg, Epictetus became a teacher of philosophy in the first century. His thinking is recorded in the work called Enchiridion, meaning “Handbook,” which gives us a clue about his practical outlook. As we will see, Epictetus’ discourses were focused not just on the theory of what makes for a good life, but on practical considerations for the day-to-day.
Let’s dive in and take a look at one of the key Stoic principles.